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The Marquis de Condorcet was one of the few Enlightenment ideol-
ogists to witness the French Revolution and participate as an elected
politician at the centre of events during Frances transition from
monarchy to republic. His impact on French history, and on the sub-
sequent development of social scientic thought, has been immense.
Condorcet and Modernity explores aspects of his social and political
thought from 1774, the year of Louis XVIs accession, to 1794, and in
particular the interaction between Condorcets political theory, leg-
islative pragmatism and public policy proposals. David Williamss
focus is on selected essays and treatises and specic projects and leg-
islative proposals relating to rights and constitutional reform, the civil
order, voting procedures, ecclesiastical powers and privileges, the judi-
ciary and the law, economics and the grain trade, the abolition of the
slave trade, womens rights, monarchical government, revolution and
Professor Williams examines the complex links between Condorcet
as the visionary ideologist and Condorcet as the pragmatic legislator,
and between Condorcets concept of modernity, the application of
social arithmetic to government policies, and the management of
change. Texts that have hitherto received relatively little attention in
this context are examined in the light of a particular notion of human
rights, and strategies for the implementation of those rights. Based on
an extensive array of both printed and manuscript sources, this major
contribution to Enlightenment studies is the rst full treatment of
Condorcets politics to appear in English for a generation.
davi d wi lli ams is Emeritus Professor of French in the University
of Shefeld. A leading scholar of Enlightenment France, in 1999 he
was made Chevalier dans lOrdre des Palmes Acad emiques by the
French government.
caxniioci uxiviisir\ iiiss
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eBook (EBL)
For thirty years hardly a day has passed when
I have not thought about political science
(Reponse ` a ladresse aux provinces, 1790)
Acknowledgements page ix
References and abbreviations xi
Introduction 1
1 Prole of a political life 10
2 Human nature and human rights 45
3 The civil order 69
4 Managing enlightenment 92
5 Reform and the moral order 117
6 New constructions of equality 139
7 Justice and the law 172
8 Representative government 195
9 The economic order 225
10 Managing the Revolution 250
Conclusion: the human odyssey 277
Bibliography 288
Name index 301
Subject index 304
Little progress would have been made in the preparation of this mono-
graph without the help, expert advice and strong encouragement of the
many distinguished Condorcet specialists and other dix-huitiemistes I have
consulted. In particular, I wish to record my thanks to Professor Haydn
Mason (Emeritus Professor of French, University of Bristol) and Professor
Iain McLean (Nufeld College, University of Oxford) who both gave gen-
erously of their time to read through the typescript, and offer me many
valuable suggestions for improvement. My thanks also go to Mme Anne-
Marie Chouillet who graciously accorded me full access to the invaluable
inventory of Condorcet manuscripts held at the Biblioth` eque de lInstitut
de France which she is currently preparing for publication in collaboration
with M. Pierre Cr epel and others. I am also indebted to Dr Simon Davies
who thoughtfully drew my attention to manuscript material relating to
Condorcets English contacts.
I acknowledge with gratitude the help and co-operation of Mme
Annie Chassagne at the Biblioth` eque de lInstitut de France with regard
to the photographic reproduction of certain manuscripts. I am equally
indebted to archival staff at the Biblioth` eque Nationale Richelieu, the Bib-
lioth` eque Nationale Tolbiac, the Biblioth` eque de lArsenal, the Archives de
lAcad emie des Sciences and the Archives Nationales.
Chapters 1, 3, 5, 6 and the Conclusion contain material to be found in
the following articles: Condorcet and natural rights, SVEC 296 (1992), ed.
G. J. Mallinson (Oxford: The Voltaire Foundation), pp. 10321; Progress
and the empirical tradition in Condorcet, Bulletin de la Societe Americaine
de Philosophie de Langue Franc aise 4 (1992), ed. C. Michael (DeKalb: North-
ern Illinois University), 6777; Condorcet and the politics of black servi-
tude, in J. Dolamore (ed.), Making Connections. Essays in French Culture
and Society in Honour of Philip Thody (Bern: Peter Lang, 1998), pp. 6780;
Condorcet and the natural origins of justice and the law, in G. Lamoine
(ed.), Nature, Droit, Justice. Actes du Colloque des Societes Britannique et
x Acknowledgements
Franc aise du Dix-huiti`eme Si`ecle (69 septembre 1990) (Toulouse: Publica-
tions de lUniversit e de Toulouse, 1991), pp. 23342; Man in transit: the
human odyssey in Condorcets Esquisse, in J. Renwick (ed.), LInvitation au
Voyage. Studies in Honour of Peter France (Oxford: The Voltaire Foundation,
2000), pp. 27382. I wish to thank the editors of the relevant publications
for kindly giving me permission to draw on this work already in print.
My heartfelt thanks also go the Arts and Humanities Research Board
and to the British Academy for the generous grants awarded to me to
enable me to undertake archival work in Paris over a prolonged period.
I also acknowledge with gratitude the support I have received from the
University of Shefeld.
Finally, nothing would have been possible without the support, under-
standing and innite patience of my wife Colette.
This book is dedicated to the memory of my step-father, Charles Verdun
References and abbreviations
Unless otherwise stated, reference to Condorcets works (volume number
and pages in roman separated by a colon) is to the uvres compl`etes de
Condorcet, ed. A. Condorcet OConnor and F. Arago, 12 vols. (Paris: Didot,
18479; repr. Stuttgart: F. Frommann Verlag, 1968).
A Biblioth` eque de lArsenal
AN Archives Nationales
BIF Biblioth` eque de lInstitut de France
BN(R) Biblioth` eque Nationale Richelieu
BN(T) Biblioth` eque Nationale Tolbiac
D Voltaires Correspondence and Related Documents, denitive
edition edited by Theodore Besterman (The Voltaire
Foundation, 196876)
SVEC Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century
All quotations fromCondorcets works, including manuscript sources, have
been translated into modern English. An English translation of titles of
Condorcets works forming the subject of more detailed commentary in
Chapters 210 and the Conclusion has also been given on rst reference.
In this book I have set out to examine aspects of Condorcets political
thought from 1774, the year of Louis XVIs accession, and also of the
appointment of Turgot to ministerial ofce, to the marquiss death in 1794,
two decades that would bear witness to more political and social change
than had been seen before in France in any single lifetime. During these
interesting times Condorcets approach to politics gradually changed from
being that of a second-generation philosophe, prominent mathematician
and outspoken defender of human rights into that of a public servant and
advocate of a ground-breaking scientic model of civil government and
the social order. These were the years when Condorcet would also evolve
ideologically from constitutional monarchist into theorist and practitioner
of revolution and republicanism. The emergence of Condorcet as a public
gure coincided with the passing of the ancien regime and the dawn of
a modernity in Europe whose implications for the science of society he
understood more clearly than most.
His political life really had its beginnings in 1770 following his encounter
with Voltaire at Ferney, an encounter that would draw him into Voltaires
public campaign against the injustices of the French criminal procedure
fought out in the long aftermath of the notorious trial in Abbeville in
1766 of the young blasphemer, the chevalier de La Barre. However, it was
not until the appointment of his close friend Turgot as Controller-General
that Condorcet started to engage seriously with the art of government, a
path that would soon lead him into the hurricane of revolutionary politics.
From 1774 onwards he would be absorbed into the polemics and events of
a fast-moving political scenario, intent on bringing his remarkable insights
into probability theory and his concept of social mathematics to the great
project of enlightened reform and scientically planned progress.
One of the purposes of this study is to illuminate the pragmatics of
that project, and to explore the links between Condorcets meteoric career
as a theorist of political and social change and his activities as an elected
2 Condorcet and Modernity
legislator in a new, and still uncertain, world. In the shadowof the guillotine
in the last two years of his life, Condorcet worked tirelessly to ensure the
demise of the arbitrary powers of autocratic despotism, of the authority of
the priestly caste and of the inequities of the civil order as they affected
the daily lives of ordinary men and women. His vision of progress in both
contexts was extraordinarily rich, forward-looking and courageous. The
dimensions of this stupendous vision clarify when measured not only in
the context of Condorcets sustained advocacy of the values and aspirations
of the Enlightenment, and the record of his personal commitment to the
welfare of his fellow citizens, but also in the context of his engagement
with the world of mathematical physics and the calculus of probability. The
mental landscapes of the Essai sur lapplication de lanalyse ` a la probabilite des
decisions rendues ` a la pluralite des voix and the Tableau general de la science qui
a pour objet lapplication du calcul aux sciences politiques et morales interact
closely with those of the Essai sur la constitution et les fonctions des assemblees
provinciales and many other non-mathematical political essays, including
the astonishing Fragment of the tenth epoque of the Esquisse itself.
What Condorcet called memorably social arithmetic provides the intel-
lectual platform for a wide range of treatises, draft bills, legislative propos-
als, press articles, committee reports and blueprints for reform relating
to a broad spectrum of issues: economics, the criminal code, taxation,
social insurance, electoral processes, constitutional change, emancipation
and colonial reform, minority rights, contraception, education, transport
and other matters relating to French national life and its infrastructure.
Statistics and actuarial science start to come of age as an instrument of
social planning in Condorcets hands. In all of these varying contexts his
political philosophy draws its uniqueness, and much of its coherence, from
a strikingly original blend of science, visionary idealism and a hard-nosed
pragmatism to which it always remained rmly anchored, though from
which it has often been separated.
Condorcet lived politics as intensely as he thought politics, and this
sparked off a rare synergy between the proclamation of principles and their
realisation as the building blocks of a newcivil order, between the conceptu-
alisation of progress and its social, legal and political implementation. In his
view only the rational, scientic management of change, as opposed to its
purely philosophical elucidation, would allow the mission of the Enlight-
enment to have a tangible, benecial impact on the lives of ordinary people,
and on the advancement of public happiness. His views on equality, free-
dom, tolerance and rights, shared with many other radical political thinkers
of the time, thus acquire startlingly concrete applications in a number of
Introduction 3
contexts in which reections on rights, equality, sovereignty, justice, eco-
nomics, representation, constitutional reform, education and the political
reconstruction of the citizen harden into ambitious public works initiatives,
and nely detailed technicalities of complex legislation. They are given
constitutional life in the minutiae of quotidian administrative modalities
with which he adorned so many of his government bills and reports, not to
mention his essays and treatises, and into which fewcontemporary political
thinkers ventured with such relish. As a member of innumerable commit-
tees, boards and commissions, he demonstrated frequently how, in all these
contexts, political aims and ideals could be transformed through the l-
ter of mathematical calculation into powerful levers of decision-making,
strategic planning and effective policy formulation.
Condorcet was one of the few Enlightenment thinkers to witness the
Revolution and to participate fully in its constitutional aftermath. He was
a close ally of Turgot, knew Tom Paine, exchanged views with the fathers
of the American Revolution, collaborated closely with Si ey` es, admonished
Burke, defended Price, opposed Necker and crossed swords with Robe-
spierre. He was an active member of the rst Assemblee nationale (from
17 June 1789) and subsequently of the Assemblee constituante (from 9 July
1789), a member of the Assemblee legislative (from 1 October 1791) and of
the Convention nationale (from 21 September 1792). As president of vari-
ous commissions, he presented, with varying degrees of success, numerous
reports and projets de loi, many of which he drafted personally. He was a
prolic pamphleteer and journalist, contributing regularly to journals and
newspapers, and he was the ofcial rapporteur of government business for
the Chronique de Paris between November 1791 and March 1793. He took
a leading role in French political life at a time of momentous dislocation.
Although he was always by instinct a moderniser, more attuned to the
open vistas of the future than to the closed models of the past, his ideas and
initiatives were always elaborated within a framework of sustained commu-
nication with, and immersion within, the values and the traditions of the
Enlightenment. He was, in short, an outstanding disciple of the Enlight-
enment, uniquely located at the centre of great events, political debate and
constitutional and social upheaval at a seismic moment in Frances history.
At the same time, Condorcets political thought represents not only a con-
tinuity but also a signicant reorientation of Enlightenment ideology. He
looks forward to a Golden Age to come, rather than backwards to a lost
political Eden. The secular account of the Fall of Man that dominated so
many contemporary interpretations of the human journey from the state
of nature to the civil order recedes in Condorcets thought before a more
4 Condorcet and Modernity
positively charged, future-orientated vision of human perfectibility, and of
the potential power of human energies and reason to transformthe present,
and lay the foundations for a better future. His understanding of the his-
torical dynamics of progress interacted closely with an awareness of the
exigencies and realities of a rapidly mutating political and social culture, to
whose changing congurations he was always responsive.
A mathematician at the cutting edge of research into probability theory
and its applications, an engaged social scientist and elected politician, he
was above all a citizen of that highly politicised Republic of Letters of the
late eighteenth century. The continuous dialogue that he conducted in his
writings through time and space with other citizens of that glittering repub-
lic such as Socrates, Michel de lH opital, Bacon, Galileo, Descartes, Locke,
Newton, Sidney, Voltaire, dAlembert, Rousseau, Montesquieu, Turgot,
Franklin and Paine is the dening mark of his citizenship. This interna-
tional, inter-century collegiality of contemporary political discourse is well
reected in the Lettre ` a M

sur la Societe de 1789. Condorcet was very

much a product of what Coutel has called the age of political sociability,
moving easily in the public space of ideological exchange and discourse of
the various clubs and salons to which he belonged, and to whose ambience
as sympathetic locations for reection he responded. Towards the end of
his life he paid memorable tribute to the humane benets of that ambi-
ence in the Fragment sur lAtlantide. With Condorcet the notion of social
science passes indelibly into the language of modern political discourse.
Yet he has never occupied a prominent place in the pantheon of great
eighteenth-century political thinkers, even in France where as a theorist of
democracy he has always languished in the shadow of Rousseau. Perhaps,
as McLean and Hewitt have argued,
he is insufciently user-friendly. It is
true that only on rare occasions does his unappealing prose betray passion
or strive for elegance, and his treatises, often hastily drafted and stylistically
rebarbative, are by no means an easy read.
In one of his last Fragments, written in 1794, Condorcet predicted that
he would perish like Socrates and Sidney as his reward for having worked
to secure French liberty (i: 608). At the end of his life he had achieved
something approaching iconic status in European political circles, his con-
tributions recognised, if not always approved of, by Burke, Demaistre,
Sainte-Beuve, Malthus, Destutt de Tracy and others. However, in the two
hundred years or more that have passed since the appearance in the winter
C. Coutel, Politique de Condorcet (Paris: Payot, 1996), p. 31.
I. S. McLean and F. Hewitt, Condorcet. Foundations of Social Choice and Political Theory (Aldershot,
Brookeld: E. Elgar, 1994), p. 73.
Introduction 5
of 17945 of the ofcial press announcements of his death in the previous
March, he has certainly had to wait a long time for the recognition that
he deserves, and for perceptions of him as a prophet without honour to
change. Too often he has been condemned in advance to oblivion as a
second-class mind. After a brief period of Thermidorian glory, he would
fade into the shadows of intellectual history, his reputation damaged by
La Harpe, Lamartine, Baudrillart, Charma and others. With regard to the
long silence that customarily greets thinkers whose ideas run way ahead of
their times, Jean-Pierre Schandeler reminds us, in the introduction to his
study of nineteenth-century interpretations of Condorcets work, of Niet-
zsches memorable self-reference in The Anti-Christ to those who are born
Condorcet must now surely be counted in the ranks of
the posthumous newly born. For him posterity has really only just started.
The nineteenth century, and particularly the last decade of the nine-
teenth century, did not entirely ignore Condorcet as a subject for schol-
arship. This was the century that saw the publication of Francois Aragos
informative and sympathetic biography of 1841, incorporated into the rst
volume of the 18479 uvres compl`etes that Arago edited in collabora-
tion with Condorcets daughter Mme OConnor and her husband General
Arthur OConnor, A. Balandreaus 1873 biography, M. Gillets LUtopie
de Condorcet (1883) and J.-F.-E. Robinets Condorcet. Sa vie et son uvre,
17431794 (1893). C. Henry published his still authoritative edition of
the Correspondance inedite de Condorcet et de Turgot (17701779) in 1883,
and four years later an edition of the letters exchanged between Mlle de
Lespinasse, dAlembert and Condorcet. On 20 April 1890 the Societe Pos-
itiviste organised a Condorcet festival at Bourg-la-Reine, and in 1893 the
Lycee Fontanes became the Lycee Condorcet. Many nineteenth-century stud-
ies of Condorcet, however, often took the minimalist form of fragmentary
notices, brief encyclopaedia entries, portraits and monographs that tended
to treat him as a peripheral gure, one of the crowd, as in J. Guadets Les
Girondins (1856), F.-J. Picavets Les Ideologues (1891) or A. Lichtenbergers
Le Socialisme au XVIIIe si`ecle (1895).
The rst major scholarly analysis devoted more exclusively and more
comprehensively to Condorcet in the twentieth century was F. Vials Con-
dorcet et leducation democratique of 1902, soon to be followed by L. Cahens
magisterial Condorcet et la Revolution franc aise (1904), and in the same year
by F. Alengrys Condorcet. Guide de la Revolutionfranc aise (reprintedin1971).
J.-P. Schandeler, Les Interpretations de Condorcet. Symboles et concepts (17941894) SVEC 03 (2000),
p. 1.
6 Condorcet and Modernity
After the bumper Condorcet year of 1904 relatively little of substance in
the way of dedicated monographs would appear for almost another fty
years, with the notable exceptions of H. Bigots Les Idees de Condorcet
sur linstruction publique, published in 1912, H el` ene Delsauxs Condorcet
journaliste (17901794), Jammy-Schmidts Les Grandes Th`eses radicales de
Condorcet ` a Edouard Herriot, both published in 1931, and, more marginally,
Maxime Leroys Les Precurseurs franc ais du socialisme, de Condorcet ` a
Proudhon, published in 1948. That year also saw the publication in English
of Alexandre Koyr es illuminating lecture on Condorcet.
Only in the
1950s, however, did the case for Condorcets elevation to the ranks of
the worlds great pioneering socio-political scientists begin to be seri-
ously argued when he was brought to international attention with ground-
breaking studies such as K. J. Arrows Social Choice and Individual Values
(rst published in 1951, reprinted in 1963, and translated into French in
1974), G.-T. Guilbauds article Les Th eories de lint er et et le probl` eme
logique de lagr egation (rst published in 1952, reprinted in 1968), and
G.-G. Grangers La Mathematique sociale du marquis de Condorcet (rst
published in 1956, reprinted in 1984).
After 1956 studies of Condorcet as a social scientist started to prolifer-
ate in the English-speaking world, particularly with regard to his work on
probability theory and social choice, although commentary was not always
entirely positive, as in the case of Duncan Blacks illuminating study of 1958,
The Theory of Committees and Elections. More recently, still following the
lead given by Arrow, scholars like A. B. Urken, S. J. Traet, B. Grofman,
G. Owen, C. Plott, W. H. Riker, H. P. Young and I. S. McLean, from
different angles, have all brought Condorcets theory of social choice, his
jury theorem, his analysis of voting procedures and other aspects of prob-
abilistic theory with a modern relevance into closer focus. Since the 1970s
much valuable work has been done on Condorcets mathematics and its
applications by B. Bru and P. Cr epel. The availability of modern English
translations of Condorcets writings, including translations of more techni-
cal texts, owes much to the efforts of Baker, Urken, Pinkham, McLean and
Hewitt. J. Barracloughs 1955 translation of the Esquisse is still invaluable,
but a new English edition and translation is currently being prepared by S.
Lukes and U. Vogel for publication in the Cambridge Texts in the History
of Political Thought series. My own edition and translation of the Idees
sur le despotisme will appear in Volume ii of the new Cambridge Reader in
Western Political Thought, edited by I. Harris and G. Parry.
A. Koyr e, Condorcet, Journal of the History of Ideas 9 (1948), 13152.
Introduction 7
The mid-century rediscovery of Condorcet has been reinforced by the
remarkable editorial and publishing initiatives taken between 1968 and
1972, most notably when the facsimile of the AragoOConnor edition
of the uvres compl`etes was placed at the disposal of scholars (published
by Frommann Verlag), together with the SingerPolignac facsimile edition
of the Eloges des academiciens and the Slatkine reprints of the work of
Robinet, CahenandAlengry. The twelve-volume AragoOConnor edition
of 18479 is still the standard collective edition, although the dating of
texts is not always accurate and the edition is far from being complete,
a major omission being Condorcets mathematical and scientic works.
A new, much-needed third complete edition is currently in progress, and
meanwhile the publication in the last few years of useful modern editions
of individual treatises has been invaluable. What Callens has called the
canonisation laque
of Condorcet gained its most dramatic twentieth-
century momentum in the English-speaking world with the publication of
Keith Bakers Condorcet. From Natural Philosophy to Social Mathematics in
1975. As far as recent publications contributing to the internationalisation
of the great mans writings, McLean and Hewitts Condorcet. Foundations
of Social Choice and Political Theory of 1994 stands out as a scholarly tool
that opens up to a non-francophone readership key texts on the theory of
voting and human rights with twenty excellently translated extracts.
The birth of Condorcets reputation, in the Nietzschean sense, has thus
been a slowly evolving event, but it has nally taken place, and in the
course of the last half-century it has been carefully nourished by outstand-
ing specialists in France and elsewhere, to whose pioneering editorial and
exegetical achievements I am deeply indebted. Of particular interest is
the way in which Condorcet scholarship over the last few decades has
been enriched by political and social scientists, as well as economic histo-
rians, working outside France, but much interesting work on Condorcet
still remains accessible only to francophone readers. Among the still rela-
tively rare monographs published in English since 1990, the illuminating
comparative study of Condorcet and Adam Smith, Economic Sentiments.
Adam Smith, Condorcet and the Enlightenment, published in 2001 by Emma
Rothschild, an economic historian, stands out as testimony to the increas-
ing interest in Condorcet shown by modern scholars of the Enlighten-
ment. Particular attention should also be drawn to three indispensable vol-
umes of papers given by distinguished specialists at international Condorcet
S. Callens, Condorcet dans lhistoire de la politique positiviste, in P. Cr epel and C. Gilain (eds.),
Condorcet. Mathematicien, economiste, philosophe, homme politique (Paris: Minerve, 1989), p. 501.
8 Condorcet and Modernity
colloquia: rst, P. Michauds Hommage ` a Condorcet, publishedby the Centre
Scientique IBMin 1985 marking the bicentenary of the rst appearance in
print of Condorcets seminal treatise, the Essai sur lapplication de lanalyse
` a la probabilite des decisions rendues ` a la pluralite des voix; secondly, Con-
dorcet. Mathematicien, economiste, philosophe, homme politique, published
in 1989, edited by P. Cr epel and C. Gilain, and thirdly, Condorcet. Homme
des Lumi`eres et de la Revolution, edited by A.-M. Chouillet and P. Cr epel
and published in 1997. On the biographical front, interest in Condorcet
has been greatly stimulated by E. and R. Badinters dramatic, richly docu-
mented account of a life and of events that would not be out of place in
a classical tragedy, Condorcet (17431793). Un intellectuel en politique. This
landmark biography was published appropriately in the bicentennial year
of the Revolution, and was preceded in 1988 by E. Badinters illuminating
Correspondance inedite de Condorcet et Madame Suard, 17711791.
All this activity has helped to internationalise Condorcet and rescue him
from the margins of intellectual history, allowing the voice of a political
thinker of outstanding originality and relevance to be heard once more. The
contention that his voice is still worth hearing in the twenty-rst century
has become less challengeable than it was, although it would be premature
to conclude from this that the process of rehabilitation is over. Condorcets
image still suffers from disparaging association with the cold, passionless
hyper-rationality of a stereotypical Enlightenment ideologue. The unjust
irony of the charges of coldness, and even monstrousness, levelled by com-
mentators such as Sainte-Beuve and Bonald against a thinker so dedicated
to the principle of human diversity, and so opposed to any unfeeling appli-
cation to civil life of inexible political and economic dogma, is only now
starting to emerge. Condorcets remarkable contribution to the architecture
of modernity, with its bold, intricately woven, forward-looking proposals
intended to facilitate Frances transition froma world of ancien regime insti-
tutions and traditions into a more uid world of ideologies drivenby science
and economics, has still to be accurately measured, but the status of his
political writings as one of the great enduring legacies of the closing decades
of the eighteenth century is becoming increasingly apparent. Condorcet is
at last coming into his own as a thinker whose achievements helped to det-
onate the ancien regime, and usher in our modern political realities. Once
known, even among eighteenth-century specialists, only as a writer whose
reputation rested on the Esquisse dun tableau historique des progr`es de lesprit
humain, most social scientists will be now at least familiar with the title,
if not the complete text, of the 1785 Essai sur lapplication de lanalyse ` a la
probabilite des decisions rendues ` a la pluralite des voix; economic historians
Introduction 9
will be aware of the importance of the 1776 Reexions sur le commerce des
bles; social historians will knowabout the existence of the 1781 Reexions sur
lesclavage des n`egres (though possibly not of the expanded second edition
of 1788).
Condorcet was a prolic writer who treated an astonishingly wide range
of political, social, nancial, legal and scientic issues. He worked in several
intellectual dimensions that of political theorist, public servant, elected
representative, economist and mathematical physicist, and ideally his works
should be read with all those dimensions in mind. The dynamics of progress
that he elaborates in the Esquisse only really make sense in the light of what
he has to say about probability, actuarial science, rights, the civil order,
justice, the constitutional processs and human nature itself. He helped
to lay the foundation-stone of a new world whose contours he deduced
with a scientically informed prescience quite unique among eighteenth-
century political theorists. The present study seeks to bring together aspects
of his mental universe that inform his political thinking, but which have
tended to be treated in separate contexts, and to examine in the light
of that universe a selection of his essays and treatises, some familiar but
others still known today only as titles. In each chapter an attempt is also
made to illuminate that remarkable interaction, characterising so much of
Condorcets originality, between the visionary and the pragmatic legislator,
between his theoretical understanding of the dawn of modernity and his
approach to the problem of actually managing the changes needed to bring
a little good into the lives of ordinary men and women.
chapter 1
Prole of a political life
prelude: 17431774
Jean-Antoine Nicolas de Caritat de Condorcet, nicknamed the condor by
his friends,
was born on 17 September 1743 in the garrison town of Ribe-
mont in Picardy. His father, Antoine, was a cavalry captain of modest means
whose noble lineage can be traced back to early medieval times.
He was
killed on manoeuvres at Neuf-Brisach a few weeks after Condorcets birth,
and Condorcet spent his childhood until the age of eleven in rural Picardy
more or less tied to the apron-strings of his mother, Marie-Magdeleine
Gaudry, whom he adored. Fiercely protected by his mother, who by all
accounts was as superstitious and emotional as she was pious and posses-
sive, the young boy remained exclusively under her inuence for the rst
nine years of his life. The uneventful blandness of these well-cossetted, for-
mative years, during which Condorcet received little in the way of formal
education, but on which he would look back with great affection later on,
is relieved only by the graphic account that survives in the biographies of a
young boy decked out in the white dress of a girl devoted to the cult of the
Virgin that his mother insisted that he should wear, no doubt to the great
amusement of other boys in the town.
The idyll ended, anddresses were replacedby breeches, whenCondorcets
uncle, the Bishop of Lisieux, arranged for his nephew to enter the Jesuit
College in Reims in 1756.
Adolescence with the Jesuits left Condorcet with
an indelible hatred of priests, although academically he progressed well,
and his precocious brilliance was recognised. Two years later, again with
The nickname was rst used by dAlembert in a letter to Voltaire of 6 March 1777 (D20595).
On the Condorcet family origins, see S. Chamoux, LAscendance dauphinoise de Condorcet, in
A.-M. Chouillet and P. Cr epel (eds.), Condorcet. Homme des Lumi`eres et de la Revolution (Paris:
Ophrys, ENS Editions Fontenay-Saint-Cloud, 1997), pp. 219.
Prior to this Condorcet had received some tuition at home from the age of nine to eleven from his
mothers brother, see E. Badinter and R. Badinter, Condorcet (17431793). Un intellectuel en politique
(Paris: Fayard, 1988), p. 17 n. 1.
Prole of a political life 11
the help of his uncle, Condorcet went on to study at the Coll` ege de Navarre
in Paris where his mathematical talents ourished under the stimulating
guidance of the abb e Nollet, a distinguished Newtonian who held the
chair of experimental physics. He was also befriended and encouraged by
another leading scientist of the day, Georges Girault de K eroudon, and
within ten months of entering this hothouse of ideas and numbers he had
successfully defended a thesis on integral calculus before three of Frances
most respected mathematicians, Jean le Rond dAlembert, Grandjean de
Fouchy and Etienne B ezout. DAlembert, an inuential member of the
French Academy, was stunned by the young mans genius, and Condorcet
soon found himself under the great academicians protection.
After this success all thoughts of the military career that his family had
planned for him were abandoned, although on his return to Ribemont
family pressure to follow his father into the army intensied, and would
continue for another two years. He returned to Paris briey in 1761 to
present a paper to the Academie Royale des Sciences on a method of integrat-
ing differential equations in two variables. In the following year he took
up more permanent residence in the attic of K eroudons house in the rue
Jacob, where he embarked on a period of frenzied intellectual activity to
prepare himself for a career as a mathematician. With the encouragement
of dAlembert, B ezout and Joseph-Louis Lagrange, Condorcet published
in 1765 Du calcul integral, a treatise whose importance was recognised with
its publication in the Histoire de lAcademie des sciences for the year 1765.
At twenty-two he was starting to make a serious impression in Paris
as a professional mathematician of great promise, one of the ten leading
mathematicians in Europe according to the astronomer Joseph-J er ome de
Between 1765 and 1770 he would consolidate his growing repu-
tation with a series of essays, starting in 1767 with the publication of his
second great mathematical treatise, Du probl`eme des trois corps. With the
publication of the Lettre ` a m. dAlembert sur le syst`eme du monde et le calcul
integral, his rst known letter to dAlembert, published in the rst vol-
ume of the Essais danalyse in 1768, he reached international celebrity status
among mathematicians, reinforced by the publication over the next ten
years of the Memoires sur les sciences exactes addressed to the Academies of
Paris, Berlin, St Petersburg, Turin and Bologna, again on problems of inte-
gral calculus and differential equations. In 1769, with dAlemberts support,
Condorcet was elected to the Acad emie Royale des Sciences, his election
This volume of transactions was actually published in 1772, with a commentary by Lagrange.
J-J. Lalande, Notice sur la vie et les ouvrages du marquis de Condorcet, Le Mercure franc ais (30
January 1796), n. 21.
12 Condorcet and Modernity
being approved by Louis XV in March of that year. The Academy was to
be the only milieu in which he would feel completely at home.
The intellectual space in which Condorcet moved has been well mapped
by his biographers. It encompasses a wide range of salons, clubs and societies
of varying political hues. His scientic patron, dAlembert, introduced him,
not only to the world of scientic academies, but also to the salon of Julie
de Lespinasse where he rubbed shoulders with encyclopedistes, physiocrats
and ideologues,
some of whom held, or would hold, public ofce, such
as Mirabeau, Turgot and Trudaine de Montigny.
Such gures, bridging
the world of enlightened theories of government and that of enlightened
public administration, would have been particularly inuential, as were
other stars in the Enlightenment rmament like Voltaire, Condillac, Smith
and, in later years, Jefferson, Franklin and Paine.
Condorcet rst met Julie de Lespinasse in 1768, and he remained a
member of her glittering salon in the rue Bellechasse until her death
in 1776.
There is no evidence that they were ever lovers, but the inti-
mate nature of their relationship emerges clearly from surviving correspon-
dence. In the letters written to Condorcet in the summer of 1769 Mlle de
Lespinasse urges him to stop biting his lips and chewing his ngernails,
warns him of the dangers of reading in the bath, and getting chalk-powder
in his ears; she comments astringently on his too closely cropped hair,
and on his gauche way of standing, his body bowed like that of a priest
before the altar.
It is also to Mlle de Lespinasse that we owe the remark-
able portrait, composed in 1775, of the shy, impoverished young man in
whose face she saw reected a distinctive goodness and purity (i: 6267).
Mlle de Lespinasses salon gatherings in 1769 also brought Condorcet into
OnCondorcets earlier contacts withideologue circles, andespecially withregardtohis encounters with
gures who would later exercise political inuence and responsibilities after the fall of Robespierre,
such as P.-C.-F. Daunou, P.-J.-G. Cabanis, J.-G. Lacu ee de Cessac, D.-J. Garat, C.-F. Volney, M.-J.
Ch enier, P.-L. Ginguen e, A.-L.-C. Destutt de Tracy, see particularly Schandeler, Les Interpretations,
pp. 1763 (Horizons conceptuels).
K. M. Baker, Condorcet. From Natural Philosophy to Social Mathematics (Chicago and London:
University of Chicago Press, 1975), pp. 1727.
J.-F.-E. Robinet, Condorcet. Sa vie, son uvre 17431794 (Paris: Libraires-Imprimeries R eunis, 1893;
repr. Geneva: Slatkine, 1968), pp. ivvi. On the activities in Mlle de Lespinasses salon, see P. de
S egur, Julie de Lespinasse (Paris: Calmann-Levy, 1931), pp. 15792; Baker, Condorcet, pp. 1627;
J. Bouissounouse, Julie de Lespinasse. Ses amis, sa passion (Paris: Hachette, 1958), pp. 13771. Cf.
R. Grimsley, Jean dAlembert 17171783 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963), pp. 906.
See J. de Lespinasse, Lettres inedites ` a Condorcet, ` a dAlembert, ` a Guibert, au comte de Crillon, ed. C.
Henry (Paris: E. Dentu, 1887; repr. Geneva: Slatkine, 1971), Letters of 3 and 18 June 1769. See also
Baker, Condorcet, pp. 236. For further details of Condorcets physical appearance and lack of social
polish, see Badinter and Badinter, Condorcet, pp. 246, 35. Cf. the ofcial report on Condorcets body
(Robinet, Condorcet, p. 361).
Prole of a political life 13
contact with Am elie Suard, destined to become another major female inu-
ence in his life, who advised him on matters of the heart between 1771 and
1773, and of whom he wrote in affectionate terms to Turgot in the autumn
of 1771.
The picture of the good Condorcet that has come down to us
from letters is of a youth who was painfully shy, socially ill at ease, intro-
verted, quick-tempered and red only by science. Even to close friends
like Turgot he was the rabid sheep, calm but always on a short fuse. Mlle
de Lespinasse saw him as a volcano covered in snow whose eruptions of
impatience were as incandescent as they were unpredictable.
The salons whichCondorcet frequentedafter 1789were mostly associated
with the Girondins such as those of Vergniaud, Mme Roland and Sophie de
Condorcet. His wife, formerly Sophie de Grouchy, was well connected to
minor aristocracy. Cabanis was her brother-in-law. Her uncle was Charles
Dupaty, the radical magistrate at the centre of the storm surrounding the
the famous trial of the three peasants, whose fate Condorcet discusses in
the 1786 Reexions dun citoyen non gradue sur un proc`es tr`es connu and the
Memoire justicatif pour trois hommes condamnes ` a la roue. Her marriage to
Condorcet in December 1786 widened his intellectual circle considerably,
particularly with regard to England.
He worked with Sophie ontranslating
Adam Smiths works, and after his death she would publish a translation of
the Theory of Moral Sentiments. The projected translation of the Wealth of
Nations seems to have come to nothing, however. Surprisingly, there seems
to be no evidence that Condorcet ever met Hume, despite the fact that
both were members of Mlle de Lespinasses salon at the time of Humes
stay in Paris in 1763, and they shared interests in free trade theory and
also in marsh-draining problems.
Other clubs and societies to which he
belonged include the Societe des Amis des Noirs, the Societe des Trente
as a caucus machine in 1788, prior to the meeting of the Estates-General),
the Societe de 1789, the Cercle Social (also known as the Confederation des
Correspondance inedite de Condorcet et de Turgot (17701779), ed. C. Henry (Paris: Charavay, 1883;
repr. Geneva: Slatkine, 1970), p. 70. The correspondence between Mme Suard and Condorcet
started in April 1771, Correspondance inedite de Condorcet et de Madame Suard, 17711791, ed. E.
Badinter (Paris: Fayard, 1988), Letter 49.
See J. P. Lagrave, LInuence de Sophie de Grouchy sur la pens ee de Condorcet, in Cr epel and
Gilain (eds.), Condorcet, pp. 43442.
See Bouissounouse, Julie de Lespinasse, pp. 1023; R. H. Popkin, Condorcet and Hume and Turgot,
Condorcet Studies 2 (1997), 4853; Baker, Condorcet, pp. 69, 13840; McLean and Hewitt, Condorcet,
p. 9.
Condorcet was a founder member of the Societe des Trente. Other members included the comte de
Mirabeau, Turgot, Lacretelle, Roederer, Dupont, liberal aristocrats like La Fayette, La Rochefoucauld
and Montmorency-Luxembourg and liberal parlementaires like Le Peletier de Saint-Fargeau and
Duval dEpr emesnil. Talleyrand also became a member, but not Si ey` es, although the society did
nance some of his publications.
14 Condorcet and Modernity
Amis de la Verite), the Club de Valois, and the Club des Jacobins (of which
Condorcets name appears on the roster of presidents).
The seeds of Condorcets political philosophy, and possibly of his repub-
licanism, were planted well before 1774, of course, probably rst germi-
nating in the circles in which he moved just after graduating from the
Coll` ege de Navarre in 1760.
His politicisation was nurtured in 1770 in
the cauldron of events stirred by the deteriorating relations between the
party of humanity and its enemies, and culminating in the formal cen-
sorship of Baron dHolbachs provocatively atheistic Syst`eme de la nature
on 18 August 1770. The apprehensions of the beleaguered dissidents were
communicated graphically to Condorcet by Voltaire in the months follow-
ing Condorcets visit to Ferney in the summer and autumn of 1770.
returned from Ferney with his visceral hatred of the church conrmed, and
a determination to do something about the criminal justice system and the
power of the parlements. The Welches appeared to be in the ascendancy
at Louis XVs court, and the destruction of all dissident opinion in France
seemed imminent, especially after the fall of Choiseuls administration in
December 1770.
Choiseul had held power for more than two decades, and his departure
created a vacuum, to be lled by Maupeou who, with dAiguillon and
Terray, formeda triumvirate that wouldgovernFrance until the endof Louis
XVs reign in 1774. Their administration provides the historical setting
for Condorcets early political apprenticeship, a period when the French
monarchy was strong, but increasingly unpopular. Soon after Louis XVIs
accession, Maurepas became Prime Minister, and soon persuaded the new
King to dismiss the old triumvirate, and make Vergennes Minister for
Foreign Affairs, Miromesnil Chancellor and Turgot Controller-General.
On hearing of Turgots appointment, Condorcet announced that he could
now sleep as peacefully in his bed as if he were protected by the laws
of England (iv: 748), and he expressed similar sentiments to Voltaire
(D19043). Inthe summer of 1774 he prepared a memorandumfor Maurepas
Textual evidence for a possible point of departure for his later republicanism might be a text rst
published by Cahen dating from the 176570 period, namely the deeply ironic Memoires sur les
conseils quun zele republicain, devenu par hasard favori dun monarque, doit donner au prince pour
favoriser sa chute. See L. Cahen, Un fragment in edit de Condorcet, La Revolution franc aise 42
(1902), 11531. On Condorcets transition from the world of science to that of political engagement,
see Badinter and Badinter, Condorcet, pp. 57100.
See for example Voltaires letter to Condorcet and dAlembert of 11 October (D16695). On Con-
dorcets early association with Voltaire, see D. Williams, Signposts to the secular city: the Voltaire
Condorcet relationship, inT. D. Hemming et al. (eds.), The Secular City. Studies inthe Enlightenment.
Presented to Haydn Mason (Exeter: Exeter University Press, 1994), pp. 12033.
For an account of these and other ministerial changes, see D. Dakin, Turgot and the Ancien Regime
in France (London: Methuen, 1939), pp. 11835.
Prole of a political life 15
setting out proposals for the mobilisation of scientic research under the
aegis of the Academie des Sciences, reecting his increasing awareness of the
public responsibilities of scientists and academicians.
The political and legislative aftermath of well-publicised legal/religious
controversies, arising in the 1760s with the Calas, Sirven and La Barre
affairs, casts a long shadow over public life in France throughout the 1770s
and 1780s. Condorcet became closely involved in the on-going controversy,
stokedby Voltaire, arising fromthe case of La Barre, a sixteen-year-oldyouth
tortured and burnt by the Abbeville magistrates for vandalism of a crucix.
Condorcet worked hard with Voltaire to rehabilitate the young blasphe-
mers memory, and resolve the legal position of the chevalier dEtallonde,
one of La Barres surviving associates. The affair turned Condorcet into
Voltaires apostle and trompette in Paris, and conrmed his increasingly
public identication with the reformist/dissident camp.
It was at this
time that Cesare Beccarias inuential Dei delitti e delle pene (1764) started
to make an impact on philosophical circles in Paris. Impressed by Becca-
rias argument about proportionality in the matter of judicial punishments,
Condorcets opposition to French medieval court practices, the judicial use
of torture, the infamous rules of evidence, and in particular to the proigate
use of the death penalty, hardened. Condorcet knew Beccaria personally,
having met him in Sophie de Grouchys circle. His own Reexions sur la
jurisprudence criminelle appeared in 1775.
The French clergys declaration of war on the philosophes in 1770 affected
Condorcet directly in another war zone, namely that of elections to the
Academie Franc aise where the battlelines between devots and philosophes
were dened with particular sharpness.
With regard to his election as
unpaid assistant secretary to Grandjean de Fouchy in the Academie des
See Baker, Condorcet, p. 195; K. M. Baker, Les D ebuts de Condorcet au secr etariat de lAcad emie
Royale des Sciences (17731776), Revue dhistoire des sciences et de leurs applications 20 (1967), 25580.
See also F. Bouillier, Divers projets de r eorganisation des anciennes acad emies, Condorcet (papiers
in edits)TalleyrandMirabeau, Sciences et travaux de lAcademie des Sciences Morales et Politiques
115 (1881), 63673. Condorcet was possibly reecting the inuence of dAlemberts 1753 treatise, the
Essai sur la societe des gens de lettres et des grands sur la reputation, sur les mec`enes, et sur les recompenses
litteraires. In his interesting analysis of the Essai, Baker stresses the links between the views it contains
on the role of scientists and savants with regard to the expression of dissident opinion and those
contained in dAlemberts Discours preliminaire prefacing the Encyclopedie.
See D. Williams, The VoltaireCondorcet relationship and the defence of dEtallonde, in U.
Kolving and C. Mervaud (eds.), Voltaire et ses combats. Actes du congr`es international OxfordParis
(Oxford: The Voltaire foundation, 1997) pp. 52738. See also Badinter and Badinter, Condorcet,
pp. 7881.
See Baker, Condorcet, pp. 2931. Cf. M. Tourneux (ed.), Correspondance litteraire, philosophique et
critique, par Grimm, Raynal, Meister, etc., 16 vols. (Paris: Garnier, 187782), vol. ix (May 1771), p. 308,
vol. x (July 1772), pp. 1617. Condorcets reactions to these events are recorded in correspondence
with Mme Suard, BN(R), Nouv. Acq. 23639. Cit. Baker, Condorcet, pp. 2930.
16 Condorcet and Modernity
Sciences, he explained to Voltaire his understanding of his new duties in
terms that serve notice of a burgeoning sense of political and ideological
When one is not fortunate enough to stay on Mount Crupak and say from there
what one thinks, when one is not endowed with a voice loud enough to be heard
from ones retreat by tyrants of all stripes and to make them tremble in the midst
of their slaves, then one can look on this sort of position as a means of doing on
the quiet the little good that one can do. (D18372)
Tothe formative effect of the 17712 Academy machinations canbe added
the impact of Maupeous suppression of the parlements, a move defended
by Voltaire and also, reluctantly, by Turgot.
The parlements were the
bodies that oversaw the criminal justice system, and they were endowed
with powers to block the will of the monarch. Far from being enclaves of
opposition to tyranny, however, Condorcet agreed with Voltaire in seeing
them as assassins of true justice, their authorisation of La Barres barbaric
punishment being a typical example of the grotesque consequences of a
parlement-dominated system. His anger at the procedures and outcome of
the La Barre trial lay behind much of his determination to apply probability
theory to the process of decision-making by juries, the results of which were
published in the 1785 Essai sur lapplication de lanalyse ` a la probabilite des
decisions rendues ` a la pluralite des voix.
In January 1771 Maupeou denounced the abuses of the judicial system,
depriving 130 magistrates of their venal ofces without compensation, and
replacing them with six superior Councils to exercise the judicial powers of
the Paris Parlement.
Condorcet had been shocked when Voltaire praised
Maupeou in the Histoire du Parlement de Paris for this dramatic move.
Maupeou had been, after all, one of the judges who had participated in
the judicial murder of La Barre.
However, he entirely agreed in principle
with Voltaires support for the action taken against the Paris Parlement.
The public defence of Voltaire in the Maupeou affair reected the way
See N. Kotta, Voltaires Histoire du parlement de Paris, SVEC 41 (1966), 21930. Cf. Condorcets
letter to Turgot, Correspondance inedite de Condorcet et de Turgot, ed. Henry, p. 39.
The Grand Conseil, known as the Parlement Maupeou, was retained as a special court for crown affairs
and as a registry for legislation, with the right to make remonstrances. This dramatic breaking of
the power of the higher magistracy was quickly followed by the abolition of the Cour des aides
(the court for scal cases) and the Ch atelet (the central criminal court). Despite many libels and
other maupeouana, these reforms proved in the end to be a salutary step forward, as Voltaire well
understood (D19111).
See Williams, The VoltaireCondorcet relationship and the defence of dEtallonde, p. 528 n. 10.
Correspondance inedite de Condorcet et de Turgot, ed. Henry, p. 48. See Baker, Condorcet, p. 32;
Williams, The VoltaireCondorcet relationship and the defence of dEtallonde, pp. 5279.
Prole of a political life 17
Condorcets mind was working in 1771 with respect to the over-riding
need to advance the public good, and defend his cher et illustre matre
against his enemies. His position was made clear in a long letter to Mme
Suard in June/July of that year.
The public good demanded action against
ecclesiastical and governmental intolerance.
Somewhat to Voltaires dismay,
in the summer of 1774 Condorcet pub-
lished anonymously the Lettres dun theologien ` a lauteur du Dictionnaire
des trois si`ecles, a ercely anti-clerical call to arms written in response to
Antoine Sabatiers Les Trois Si`ecles de notre litterature, published two years
earlier, in which Sabatier had sought to excoriate the pernicious inuence of
the philosophes in a pseudo-encyclopaedic format that mirrored parodically
that of Diderots Encyclopedie itself.
The Lettres dun theologien represent a
forthright political defence of the Republic of Letters, and include an explo-
sive afrmation of natural rights linked to an uncompromising insistence
that the only true source of princely power and legitimacy lay in public
consent (v: 5378). With the Lettres dun theologien Condorcet mounted
his rst serious challenge to the legitimacy of the most hallowed institutions
of the ancien regime.
the beauti ful dream
Between 1774 and May 1776 Condorcets increasingly adversarial stance
coincided with growing opportunities under Turgot for public service.
For Condorcet Turgot was as inspiring a mentor in politics as dAlembert
had been in science, and their deep friendship, which dates from about
1770, lasted until Turgots death on 18 March 1781. Turgot was, in Con-
dorcets view, the epitome of the enlightened political administrator, the
D17277. This long letter is really a conation of two letters, see Correspondance inedite de Condorcet
et de Turgot, ed. Henry, p. 51; Correspondance inedite de Condorcet et Madame Suard, ed. Badinter,
pp. 445. Condorcet had in mind Arnaud who had presented in June 1771 what was in Condorcets
view a reception speech damaging to Voltaire. See L.-A. Boiteux, Voltaire et le m enage Suard,
SVEC 1 (1955), 45; cf. P. Gay, Voltaires Politics. The Poet as Realist (Princeton: Princeton University
Press, 1959), pp. 317, 3268. Already the iconic Voltaire of Condorcets Vie de Voltaire is visible, see D.
Williams, Biography and the philosophic mission: Condorcets Vie de Voltaire, Eighteenth-Century
Studies 18 (1985), 494502.
Voltaire felt that Condorcets Lettres dun theologien would iname the authorities further at a delicate
point in the dEtallonde negotiations (D19082, D19083, D19084).
A. Sabatier [Sabatier de Castres], Les Trois Si`ecles de notre litterature, ou Tableau de lesprit de nos
ecrivains depuis Franc ois I jusquen 1772, par ordre alphabetique (Paris: Guefer, 1772). This work was
revised and updated in ve further editions between 1773 and 1788. An Abrege was published in 1821,
and reprinted in 1832. Condorcet had agreed to contribute to the Supplement de lEncyclopedie on
20 March 1772.
See Robinet, Condorcet, pp. 2932.
18 Condorcet and Modernity
model public servant who always put the peoples interest before his own.
It was Turgot, more than Voltaire, who really ignited Condorcets polit-
ical ambitions and illuminated his political vision, especially in the eld
of economics. Turgot was a proponent of physiocratic views on free trade,
public borrowing and taxation, and his controversial moves to get to grips
with Frances scal problems had Condorcets enthusiastic support in the
form of pro-Turgot pamphlets and essays on the grain trade, the corvee
and tax reform. In the 1786 Vie de m. Turgot he set out the physiocratic
doctrine of free trade, and his own contribution to the economic debate
was considerable.
The dreamof public service under an enlightened minister became a real-
ity in January 1775 with his appointment as Inspecteur general des monnaies
in succession to Forbonnais. With this modest post Condorcet assumed
duties requiring the application of scientic expertise to the resolution of
the complex mathematical, and also political, problemof establishing a uni-
ed systemof weights and measures.
His duties as Inspecteur des monnaies,
which he continued to carry out until 1790, enabled him to demonstrate
the indissoluble link between scientic and political progress, a link that he
was to re-emphasise fteen years later in the Discours prononce ` a lAssemblee
nationale au nom de lAcademie des sciences.
He was considered for further
ofcial responsibilities in 1775 with Turgots reorganisation of government
but Turgots ministerial benevolence was to last only twenty
months. Condorcet wouldholdother economic posts after the Revolution
he became a Treasury Commissioner in 17912, for example. However,
witnessing and, to a minor extent, participating in Turgots rise and fall
taught Condorcet useful, though bitter, lessons about the translation of
ideals into political practice. Disillusioned, he told Voltaire in June 1776
that the beau r eve of enlightened government was over, and that he was
returning to the world of probability theory and philosophy (D20155). The
spectacle of the celebrations at Court following Turgots dismissal sick-
ened him, and in another letter to Voltaire he described Turgots successor
Clugny contemptuously as a debauched drunkard (D20194). In spite of
It was typical of the scientismof Turgot andCondorcet that solutionof the scientic problemmerged
in their thought with solution of the political problem (Baker, Condorcet, p. 65). On the general
question of weights and measures in eighteenth-century France, see J. Fayet, La Revolution franc aise
et la science, 17891795 (Paris: Rivi` ere, 1960), pp. 44256; M. Crosland, Nature and measurement
in eighteenth-century France, SVEC 87 (1972), 277309.
See Documents relatifs ` a la place dInspecteur des Monnaies, occupee par Condorcet de 1775 ` a 1790, in
Robinet, Condorcet, pp. 3413 (Annex D) for further details about the nature of this appointment.
A full account of Condorcets activities during Turgots ministry can be found in Badinter and
Badinter, Condorcet, pp. 10143.
See Correspondance inedite de Condorcet et de Turgot, ed. Henry, p. 232.
Prole of a political life 19
the disappointments involved, however, the brief but salutory experience
was enough to give him a taste for policy-making and decision-taking that
would serve him well in later years. The rst steps had been taken along a
road that would eventually lead him to the inner circles of Revolutionary
government. His views on justice and the law, economic issues, the nature
of political authority, the legitimacy of monarchical prerogatives, the rights
of individual citizens and the responsibilities of legislators would crystallise
rapidly from now on.
One of the most urgent problems facing Turgot related to the grain trade
and the Guerre des farines (Grain War). Turgot had antagonised many with
his decree of 13 September 1774 (a treatise in itself ), re-establishing the
1763 measures deregulating the movement of grain outside Paris. Turgot
wished to see the free trade in grain re-established in order to regulate
markets, standardise wages and prices and put an end to speculative dealing.
The decree, not helped by the failure of the harvest, soon ignited a erce
pamphlet war between the mercantilist and free trade schools of thought.
In March 1775 rioting spread to the capital where emergency measures had
to be taken to protect property. The controversy over the grain trade, and
the public disorder that it provoked, weakened Turgots position, and was
one of the contributory factors leading to his replacement on 10 May 1776
by Clugny, during whose ministry the corvees were reimposed, and the free
trade in grain suspended.
Condorcets subsequent defence of Turgot and free trade doctrines was
uncompromising, and provoked further public controversy. His target
was Jacques Necker, who would succeed Clugny as Controller-General of
Finance inJune 1777. The publicationof Neckers anti-Turgot La Legislation
et le commerce des grains in 1775 was thought by many to have been delib-
erately timed to coincide with the Paris bread riots of May 1775 in order to
raise the temperature of the Grain War, and put more pressure on Turgot.
Condorcet shared that view.
Towards the end of 1774, and prior to the
start of the Grain War, Condorcets Lettre(s) sur le commerce des grains was
already in draft form, possibly in anticipation of the publication of Neckers
Legislation, and he had completed the Reexions sur la corvee, ` a milord

the end of 1775.
In 17756 he was also working on other anti-Necker pam-
phlets and essays, including Monopole et monopoleur, and Sur labolition des
BN(R). Nouv. Acq. 23639, f. 30. See also Boiteux, Voltaire et le m enage Suard, 57. For an
authoritative history of these events, see also Dakin, Turgot and the Ancien Regime, pp. 177206.
Cf. V. Lublinsky, Voltaire et la guerre des farines, Annales historiques de la Revolution franc aise
31 (1959), 12745. On Condorcets attack on Necker, see also Badinter and Badinter, Condorcet,
pp. 1314.
Bakers view (Condorcet, p. 412 n. 253). The Lettres sur le commerce des grains, written in 1774, did
not appear until April 1775.
20 Condorcet and Modernity
corvees. In March/April 1776 the vitriolic Lettre dun laboureur de Picardie ` a
m. N

, auteur prohibitif appeared, and the same year saw the publication
of his most substantial treatise on the grain issue, the Reexions sur le com-
merce des bles.
With Condorcets intervention broader questions of liberty,
justice, tax reforms and feudal privilege were injected into the economic
Science, economics and politics were now converging in Condorcets
thinking as he became involved in a number of other projects, under
Turgots aegis, requiring technical as well as administrative skills. Some
almost matched the grain trade issue for political sensitivity. The weights
and measures problem, for example, had an international as well as national
dimensionwithits implications for navigation. The endof Turgots ministry
prevented the implementation of Condorcets proposals,
but he would
return to these complexities after the Revolution. Other forms of political-
scientic input into Turgots policies included the introduction of more
accurate naval instruments, the reprinting for circulation to naval ofcers
of Eulers Theorie compl`ete de la construction de la manuvre des vaisseaux
and the setting-up of a sea-water distillation machine on La Pourvoyeuse,
under the direction of Lavoisier and dEstelle.
Other projects related to schemes to improve the nations infrastruc-
ture. Condorcet urged the reform of public health provision in Paris with
detailed proposals to replace the H otel-Dieu with a more efcient system of
local hospices and health centres in a bold scheme to nationalise and laicise
health care.
Good road-building plans had already been set in motion
by Trudaine, with some success, and the new national system of roads
would continue to be developed.
Canals, however, remained a surpris-
ingly neglected aspect of the transport and communications network in the
ancien regime, little progress having been made since the construction of the
Languedoc canal under Colberts administration in the previous century.
Canal-building had been resumed in the middle years of the eighteenth cen-
tury, however, and two ambitious projects were well advanced when Turgot
See Robinet, Condorcet, pp. 3848.
On Condorcets disappointment, see Correspondance inedite de Condorcet et de Turgot, ed. Henry,
p. 277.
See L. S. Greenbaum, Condorcets Memoire sur les h opitaux (1786): an English translation and
commentary, Condorcet Studies 1 (1984), 8397. This memoire, dated 1786, was not printed until
1977. On the inuence of physiocratic theory on Condorcet in the matter of public health and
welfare, see also L. S. Greenbaum, Health care and hospital building in eighteenth-century France:
reform proposals of Dupont de Nemours and Condorcet, SVEC 152 (1976), 895930.
See J. Petot, Histoire de ladministration des ponts et chaussees 15991815 (Paris: M. Rivi` ere, 1958),
pp. 115334; E. Vignon, Etudes historiques sur ladministration des voies publiques en France aux dix-
septi`eme et dix-huiti`eme si`ecles, 3 vols. (Paris: Dunod, 1862).
Prole of a political life 21
came to power, namely the Picardy and Burgundy canal systems. To carry
these engineering projects forward, Turgot turned to Condorcet and, with
dAlembert and Bossut, Condorcet was placed in charge of experimental
research on canals. The results of their collaborative research, heralding the
advent of a new science of hydrodynamics, were published by Bossut in the
Nouvelles experiences sur la resistance des uides in 1777. The navigational
and engineering challenge was formidable, and Condorcets research was
instrumental in demonstrating the aws in existing proposals for the tun-
nels for the new canals, whose design would have made it impossible for
boats to pass through. In the course of the demonstration a whole new
branch of physics was invented. Apart from technical issues, Condorcet
also soon found himself immersed in research of a more sociological nature
in Flanders and Picardy on the impact of the new canals on local commu-
nities. This resulted in an angry report to Turgot, published in 1780 as the
Memoire sur le canal de Picardie, in which the corps of engineers and the
inadequacies of their professional training were strongly criticised.
Roads and canals brought Condorcet into the adjacent political mine-
eld of the corvee, and the whole system of forced labour organised under
Louis XV to do the actual construction work on the roads. Condorcet did
not hesitate to urge Turgot to extend to the whole of France the reforms of
the corvee that Turgot had already implemented successfully as intendant in
After seeing for himself the brutal conditions which the corvee
imposed on the Picardy labour force, with the apparent complicity of the
corps of engineers, Condorcet argued strongly for the abolition of the corvee
in Sur labolition des corvees. Unfortunately, his proposals, circulated anony-
mously as Benissons le ministre, were drafted in a style that alienated rather
than converted its readers.
Turgots subsequent half-measures embodied
in the ill-fated Six Edicts,
watered down by opposition from Trudaine,
were denounced in the Paris Parlement. Prospects for reform were damaged
further in the winter of 17756 by another provocatively worded pamphlet
on the question of seigneurial dues, the Reexions sur les corvees, ` a milord

Arguably, Condorcets lack of diplomatic nesse in seeking to resolve these
Correspondance inedite de Condorcet et de Turgot, ed. Henry, pp. 2623. For a good contemporary
account of these developments in canal-building in eighteenth-century France, see J.-J. Lalande,
Des canaux de navigation, et specialement du canal du Languedoc (Paris, Dessaint, 1778).
Correspondance inedite de Condorcet et de Turgot, ed. Henry, p. 200. Dakin, Turgot and the Ancien
Regime, pp. 23951, 2669.
Correspondance inedite de Condorcet et de Turgot, ed. Henry, pp. 198, 2257. Cf. Vignon, Etudes
historiques, vol. iii, pp. 140, 11618.
These included proposed legislation to abolish all dues levied on grain in Paris, the suppression of
ofces relating to the collection of customs duties and other tolls and the abolition of the Caisse de
Poissy which controlled the meat trade. See Dakin, Turgot and the Ancien Regime, pp. 23151.
22 Condorcet and Modernity
issues might well have helped to end the ancien regimes brief irtation with
philosophic government.
For invaluable practical experience in the formulation and management
of the social-scientic mission of progress the twenty months of the Turgot
ministry were crucial for Condorcet as the time during which he started to
cut his political teeth. By 1776 he had more or less completed the process
of intellectual relocation that took him from the private, exclusive world
of academic science to the public, inclusive world of political discourse
and engagement.
This political relocation of the scientic mission can
already be detected in the eloges of great academicians that he had started
to compose for the Academy of Sciences even before his election to the
Academy as pensionnaire surnumeraire, adjoint avec survivance in 1773.
spite of the despair and disillusionment with politics he experienced after
the fatal event of Turgots dismissal in 1776, also the year in which Julie
de Lespinasse died, his opposition to ancien regime injustice continued to
grow. In the 1780s this was to express itself in new contexts with the 1781
rst edition of the Reexions sur lesclavage des n`egres, the Recueil de pi`eces
sur letat des protestants en France, also published in 1781, and towards the
end of the decade by his pioneering advocacy of womens civil rights.
from marqui s to ci ti zen
Between 1781 and 1788 Condorcet was preoccupied with the political, eco-
nomic and social applications and ramications of probabilism, and his
reception speech to the Academie Franc aise on 21 February 1782 signalled
once more his condence in probabilism as a sophisticated instrument for
the management of social policy.
For the next few years his research was
to be conducted with the potential of probability theory for public admin-
istration foremost in his mind. The rst ve sections of the Memoire sur
On the stages of this transition, see Baker, Condorcet, pp. 2782; Robinet, Condorcet, pp. 5984.
Condorcet was elected Perpetual Secretary of the Academy of Sciences in 1776. Sixty-one of these
eloges were assembled in the rst collective edition of Condorcets works (1804) and published under
the title Eloges des academiciens de lAcademie Royale des Sciences. A second, enlarged edition was
published in 1773, see D. Williams, Condorcet and the art of eulogy, in R. J. Howells et al. (eds.),
Voltaire and his World. Studies Presented to W. H. Barber (Oxford: The Voltaire Foundation, 1985),
pp. 3645.
A vrai dire, Condorcet ne cessa jamais de cultiver les sciences, la g eom etrie principalement, qui lui
servit m eme ` a tromper les heures dangoisse pendant sa longue proscription, au cours de laquelle il sut
encore poser les bases logiques de la science sociale (Robinet, Condorcet, p. 29). On the mathematical
basis of Condorcets engagement with the world of social policy and public administration, see H.
Dippel, Projeter le monde moderne: la pens ee sociale de Condorcet, Condorcet Studies 2 (1987),
Prole of a political life 23
le calcul des probabilites, applying probability theory to the problems of
judicial reform and the assessment of evidence, appeared in 1784. It was
in that year also that Condorcet delivered two important speeches to the
Academy, the rst on the occasion of Baillys reception (25 February) and
the second on the occasion of Choiseul-Goufers reception (26 February).
The following year saw the publication of the seminal Essai sur lapplication
de lanalyse ` a la probabilite des decisions rendues ` a la pluralite des voix, a work
with revolutionary insight into the relevance of probability theory to vot-
ing procedures, decision-making and policy implementation. Condorcet
reformulated the implications for social science in less technical language
in the Elements du calcul des probabilites, not published until 1805. Social
mathematics, a termused in the full title of the latter work, was nowrmly
embedded in his political discourse.
The science of mathematics and the
science of society, the double legacy of dAlembert and Turgot, would soon
combine to form a single, coherent theory of progress whose implications
were drawn out in his discourse to the Lycee of 15 February 1786, and in
the Tableau general de la science qui a pour objet lapplication du calcul aux
sciences politiques et morales.
In spite of Turgots opposition for economic reasons to ofcial support
for the American insurrection against the British crown, France would
contribute signicantly to the victory of the Americans in the War of Inde-
pendence. It is not certain how far Condorcet shared Turgots reservations,
but it is fair to conclude that he probably did share them.
The Americans
he met in Paris provided him with most of his information about the war.
He knew Benjamin Franklin, who was American Minister in Paris between
1777 and 1783 and also an active member of the Academie des Sciences, but
he was closer to Franklins ministerial successor in Paris Thomas Jefferson,
with whom he shared scientic interests.
Jefferson and Condorcet had
Elements du calcul des probabilites et son application aux jeux de hasard, ` a la loterie et aux jugements
des hommes, par feu m. de Condorcet. Avec un discours sur les avantages des mathematiques sociales et
une notice sur m. de Condorcet (Paris: an XIII [1805]). This work was intended as a textbook for use
in the Lycee. See R. Taton, Condorcet et Sylvestre-Francois Lacroix, Revue dhistoire des sciences 12
(1959), 12758, 24362. Baker sees this as the clearest statement of probable belief that Condorcet
attempted to build upon these mathematical foundations (Condorcet, p. 81).
According to Robinet, the date of composition is 1787, and the work was rst published in the Revue
dinstruction sociale (22 June and 6 July 1795), see Condorcet, p. 378. The date of publication is also
given as 1795 in the Arago-OConnor edition. In the Almanach anti-superstitieux, the date for the
completion of the Tableau is given as mid-March 1794, see Condorcet, Almanach anti-superstitieux
et autres textes, ed. A.-M. Choulliet et al. (Paris: Universit e de Saint-Etienne, 1992), p. 26. McLean
and Hewitt, on the other hand, insist that the correct date of publication is 1793 (Condorcet, p. 79).
McLean and Hewit, Condorcet, p. 14.
F. Sommerlad and I. S. McLean (eds. and trans.), The Political Theory of Condorcet II (Oxford:
Oxford University Social Studies Faculty Centre Working Paper 1, 1991), pp. 18695.
24 Condorcet and Modernity
much to say to each other, especially with regard to issues of constitutional
reformrelating to bicameralismand the separation of powers. Jefferson was
probably the closest of all Condorcets American contacts, and the question
of their mutual inuence has been more closely explored in recent years.
Condorcet also knewFilippo Mazzei, representative for Virginia in 1779,
who returned to Paris in 1785, soon becoming part of the Condorcet cir-
cle. Part of Mazzeis Recherches historiques sur les Etats-Unis de lAmerique
septentrionale . . ., par un citoyen de Virginie was translated into French by
Condorcet and Sophie, and published in 1778. It was through Mazzei (and
also Jefferson) that the four Lettres dun bourgeois de New Haven ` a un citoyen
de Virginie, sur lunite de la legislation, Condorcets rst great essay on social
choice, came to James Madisons attention. The bourgeois in question is
of course Condorcet himself, one of ten French citizens made a Freeman
of New Haven, Connecticut, by the city on 10 May 1785. Mazzei is the
citoyen de Virginie, as described on the titlepage of his own Recherches his-
toriques. Madison possibly also knew about Condorcets second great essay
on social choice, the Essai sur la constitution et les fonctions des assemblees
provinciales, although the evidence for this is not clear. Madison did not
approve of Condorcet, and he disliked the latters views on unicameralism
and federalism.
Apart from La Fayette, the other member of the Condorcet circle
with direct experience of the American insurrection was Thomas Paine,
whom Condorcet might have met initially through Franklin and Sophie
de Grouchy whenPaine rst visitedParis in1781 to seek aidfor the American
insurgents. Paine and Condorcet certainly became close friends after Paines
second visit in 1787, and Paine owed much of his uency in French to
Condorcets help. Condorcet also had some contact with two other Amer-
ican founding father gures, namely John Adams and Governor Morris.
Adamss 1787 Defence of the Constitutions of the United States was translated
into French in 1789, and was criticised in a pamphlet by William Living-
stone. Cahen attributed the French translation with notes on this anti-
Adams pamphlet to Condorcet, although additional input from Mazzei
On the relationship between Jefferson and Condorcet, and Jeffersons role in the propagation of
Condorcets ideas in America, see particularly M. Albertone, Condorcet, Jefferson et lAm erique,
in Chouillet and Cr epel (eds.), Condorcet, pp. 18799; I. S. McLean and A. B. Urken, Did Jefferson
and Madison understand Condorcets theory of social choice?, Public Choice 73 (1991), 4457; A. B.
Urken, The CondorcetJefferson connection and the origins of social choice theory, Public Choice
72 (1991), 21316.
See J. P. Boyd, C. T. Cullen, J. Cantonziriti et al. (eds.), The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 27 vols.
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 195197), vol. xiv, p. 437; McLean and Hewitt, Condorcet,
pp. 667.
Prole of a political life 25
and Jefferson has since been identied.
Adams was familiar with the
Lettres dun bourgeois de New Haven and, as in the case of Madison, the
Lettres further conrmed his dislike of what he perceived to be Condorcets
fanciful radicalism, a dislike that was to last for more than twenty years.
Morris, a leading member of the Constitutional Convention, was not a
great admirer of Condorcet either. He met Condorcet in March 1791, and
judging from his diary entry the meeting was not a great success.
By 1786 Condorcet had recovered from his despair at Turgots dismissal,
and much of his happiness in that year can be attributed to his marriage.
He and Sophie would have one child Eliza, born in 1790. The year of
the American Declaration of Independence was also a year which saw the
publication of important works whose themes on power, sovereignty and
justice interlock closely. These include the rst volume of the Vie de m.
Turgot, the Reexions dun citoyen non gradue sur un proc`es tr`es connu, the
Recit de ce qui sest passe au Parlement de Paris le 20 ao ut 1786 andDe linuence
de la Revolution dAmerique sur lEurope, in which the American Revolution
was seen as a philosophical, as well as political, event and as an example not
to be copied slavishly in every respect by the French. Other revolutionary
texts would follow in the next two years leading up to the convocation
of the Estates-General, including the Sentiments dun republicain sur les
assemblees provinciales et les Etats-Generaux, the Lettres dunrepublicainsur les
affaires americaines, the Lettres dun citoyen des Etats-Unis ` a un Franc ais sur les
affaires presentes, the Lettres dunbourgeois de NewHaven, the Sentiments dun
republicain sur les assemblees provinciales et les Etats-Generaux, the Reexions
sur les affaires publiques par une societe des citoyens, the Idees sur le despotisme
and the Essai sur la constitution et les fonctions des assemblees provinciales. This
corpus of seminal essays was all published between 1787 and 1788 against a
background of increasing political and economic volatility in France and in
the colonies. The year 1788 also sawthe publication of the second edition of
the Reexions sur lesclavage des n`egres, and Condorcets presidency between
13 January and 31 March of the Societe des Amis des Noirs.
They generally back Livingstones republicanism against Adamss alleged monarchism (McLean
and Hewitt, Condorcet, p. 67).
He was still warning Jefferson about it in 1813, see L. J. Cappon (ed.), The AdamsJefferson Letters. The
Complete Correspondence between Thomas Jefferson and Abigail and John Adams (Chapel Hill, NC:
University of North Carolina Press, 1959), p. 355. With regard to Jeffersons reactions to Condorcets
political views, and especially to the four New Haven letters, see D. Huggins, John Adams et ses
r eexions sur Condorcet, in Chouillet and Cr epel (eds.), Condorcet, pp. 21117.
The entry is quoted in McLean and Hewitt, Condorcet, p. 68. One further American connection
with Condorcet has been suggested by McLean and Hewitt, namely Alexander Hamilton, co-editor
with Madison and Jay of the Federalist, but the link has not been nally proved (p. 69).
26 Condorcet and Modernity
The May 1788 edicts, drafted by Malesherbes,
failed as public opinion
swung to the cause of the parlementaires, and pressure to convene the
Estates-General became irresistible. Change could not come from above,
and by the middle of 1788 it was clear that the monarchy could no longer
drawits authority fromthe structures and precedents of the ancien regime.
Briennes proposals to resolve the growing nancial crisis, some of which
had already been made by Calonne,
included projets on which Condorcet
hadworkedinthe Turgot years, suchas the abolitionof the corvees, free trade
in grain, removal of tax privileges and anti-parlementaire judicial reform.
Once again he found himself defending a beleaguered reforming minister.
Condorcets renewed political commitment to the public good in the
light of anticipated change generated a number of interesting essays in
1789, including the four Lettres dun gentilhomme ` a messieurs du Tiers-Etat,
the Reexions sur les pouvoirs et instructions ` a donner par les provinces ` a leurs
deputes aux Etats-Generaux, not forgetting his clarion-call for freedom for
400,000 black slaves in the French West Indies, in response to the growing
crisis in Saint-Domingue, in the form of a series of remarkable abolitionist
addresses and press articles. By now he was a regular contributor to the
Journal de la Societe de 1789, a journal for which he wrote the Prospectus,
and which he would co-edit with Dupont de Nemours and C.-E. Pastoret
from 5 June until 15 September 1790. During the next four years he would
also contribute to other political journals such as La Bouche de fer (January
179024 July 1791), the Bulletin de amis de la verite (31 December 179230
April 1793), Le Republicain, ou le Defenseur du gouvernement representatif,
founded with Brissot and Paine (July 1791), La Feuille villageoise (from
30 September 1790), the Journal de Paris (from 1 January 1777), on which
he would briey replace Garat as the ofcial reporter of the proceedings of
the National Assembly,
the Chronique de Paris (24 August 178925 August
On Lamoignon de Malesherbess role, M. Marion, Le Garde des Sceaux Lamoignon et la reforme
judiciaire de 1788 (Paris: Hachette, 1909), is still authoritative.
For a succinct account of the undermining of divine-right monarchical structures during the years
between Turgots departure and 1788, see J. Bosher, The French Revolution (London: Weidenfeld
and Nicolson, 1989), pp. 85132.
On 20 August 1786 Calonne presented the King with his Precis dun plan damelioration des nances.
Condorcet knew Lom enie de Brienne well, having met him some twenty years previously in Mlle
de Lespinasses salon.
Baker reminds us that Condorcets support for Brienne was not unconditional. He had particular
reservations, for example, about the proposals to establish a plenary court, and had serious concerns
about Briennes overall policy (Condorcet, p. 249).
Condorcets ofcial duties lasted from 23 October until 10 November 1791 when the Directors
dismissed him following readers complaints, see Chronique de Paris 2 (1791), 1285, for the text of the
letter of dismissal. On Condorcets activities as a journalist, see H. Delsaux, Condorcet journaliste
(17901794) (Paris: Champion, 1931).
Prole of a political life 27
1793), the Chronique du mois, ou Les Cahiers patriotiques (November 1791
July 1793), the Journal dinstruction sociale, edited with Si ey` es and Duhamel
(1 June 17936 July 1793), Le Moniteur universel (fromMay 1789), Le Patriote
franc ais (28 July 17892 June 1793) and the Biblioth`eque de lhomme public,
ou analyse raisonnee des principaux ouvrages franc ais et etrangers (17902).
After the rst ill-fated meeting of the Assembly of Notables in February
1787, whose proceedings Condorcet was able to follow closely despite the
secrecy in which they were held, and with the approach of the historic
meeting of the Estates-General, Condorcets prole as a public gure grad-
ually acquired more substance. In March 1789 he addressed the Electoral
Assembly of Mantes, and although this body did not mandate him as one
of its ofcial representatives to the Estates-General, it did elect him to a
board of six commissioners responsible for the preparation of the cahiers
de la noblesse. On 20 April he registered on the role of noble electors for
the fteenth departement in Paris as a resident of the H otel des Monnaies
in the Luxembourg district. He was duly elected to the Chambre de la
A few days later he was elected to the General Assembly of the
Paris municipality as Commissaire, although again he was unable to win
a nomination to the Estates-General itself. He was kept well informed of
developments in that body by deputies like La Fayette, Montmorency and
Si ey` es with whom he shared membership of the Club de Valois. Excluded
from direct participation, however, he would concentrate for the next three
months onreworking the Essai sur la constitution et les fonctions des assemblees
provinciales, now overtaken by events and to be reissued hastily as Sur les
fonctions des Etats-Generaux et des autres assemblees nationales. Condorcet
shared the rising public concern at the interminable manuvrings of the
Estates-General, and in the Reexions sur les affaires publiques par une societe
de citoyens he proposed measures to speed things up. Incredibly, he was also
preparing at the same time the Vie de Voltaire for volume lxx of the new
monumental Kehl edition of Voltaires works, in which he was to play an
increasingly large editorial role.
There is little rm evidence of Condorcets direct participation in the
events of 1117 July 1789, or of his immediate reactions to the fall of the
Bastille. His role seems to have been little more than that of a spectator
(by no means uncritical), and his presence in Paris during those turbulent
days is conrmed by his well-documented activities in the Societe des Amis
Condorcet was chosen together with La Rochefoucauld and S emonville. The forty-seven aristocratic
deputies who joined with the Third Estate on 25 June 1789 were led by Clermont-Tonnerre, a colonel
in the Royal Navarre regiment, see L. Cahen, Condorcet et la Revolution franc aise (Paris: F. Alcan,
1904; repr. Geneva: Slatkine, 1970), p. 181.
28 Condorcet and Modernity
des Noirs and in the Academie des Sciences. Cahens reference to a moral
revolution is difcult to substantiate, though not as difcult as Michelets
delicious contention that Eliza was actually conceived on the night of the
fall of the Bastille.
All that is known is that Condorcet enlisted with some
urgency in the National Guard set up in the wake of Neckers dismissal
by the Paris Commune to assume responsibility for the administration
of the city, and destined later to become Robespierres power-base during
the Terror. He was seen wearing the uniform of the National Guard, but
carrying a large umbrella instead of a sword.
Whether Condorcet enlisted
to show support for the course that events had taken, or because he feared
their consequences for public order, is not clear,
but he emerged from the
chaotic aftermath of the storming of the prison as the representative for the
district of Saint-Germain in the new municipal body.
servant of the revoluti on
Condorcets rst task as a servant of the Revolution was to report on the
impact of foreigntroop movements onthe city, and by the end of September
he was acting as the municipalitys envoy to the Constituent Assembly at
Though there is no direct evidence, as a member of the Comite
de constitution, it is possible that he participated in the drafting of the
preamble and seventeen articles of the Declaration des droits de lhomme et
du citoyen, ofcially adopted on 4 August, though not sanctioned by Louis
XVI until 5 October. His signature is not on the document, however, possi-
bly because he was not entirely satised with the wording of the Declaration,
judging it in the Reponse ` a ladresse aux provinces, ou Reexions sur les ecrits
publies contre lAssemblee nationale to be too vague and too ambiguous as
a practical guarantee of citizens rights (ix: 491). He contributed to the
attempts to restore calm during the October Days (56 October), when
escalating public discontent, aggravated by severe food shortages, culmi-
nated in the removal of the royal family from Versailles to the Tuileries,
Cahen, Condorcet, p. 137; J. Michelet, Histoire de la Revolution franc aise, ed. G. Walter (Paris:
Gallimard, 1961), Part 1, p. 656. Alexandrine Louise Sophie was born in mid-April? 1790.
E. and R. Badinter cite a nineteenth-century source for this gem of information, Condorcet, p. 281.
Baker, Condorcet, p. 267. Baker prefers, more persuasively, to take the view that any changes in
Condorcets mind brought about by the 14 July insurrection, on the suffrage for example, was the
result of a gradual evolution rather than any sudden conversion (p. 267).
Robinet draws attention to the fact that Condorcet was not elected immediately to the Assemblee
constituante, in contrast to mediocrities such as Pluvinet, Levacher de La Torini` ere and Garnier,
Condorcet, pp. 856.
On Condorcets activities in the context of the Paris Commune, see Robinet, Condorcet, pp. 85130.
Prole of a political life 29
the relocation of the Assemblee constituante to Paris, and a further wave of
emigration. Condorcets experience of these dramatic developments bred in
him a deep fear of anarchy, and he expressed this fear in the Reexions sur ce
qui a ete fait, et sur ce qui reste ` a faire, lues dans une societe damis de la paix.
The Reexions offer an eloquent analysis of a dangerously unstable political
environment in which rights had been restored to the people in principle,
but in which the people, moved still by understandable hatred and suspi-
cion, had not yet shown themselves capable of enlightened judgement in
the exercise of those rights. The problem of educating public opinion and
of the civic formation of the citizen was to be central to Condorcets edu-
cational reforms, as can be seen from the Prospectus du Journal dinstruction
publique and also the Projet de declaration des droits, both of 1793.
The Club des Impartiaux, a caucus of constitutional royalists led by
Malouet and Maillet du Pan, had been meeting regularly since the winter
of 1789 to discuss ways in which the moral and political sciences could be
applied to the problem of restoring order.
In January 1790, as a moderate
response to the Club des Jacobins, many impartiaux, including Si ey` es and
Malouet, transferred their allegiance to the Societe de 1789, of which the rst
meeting was held at the Palais-Royal on 13 May 1790.
The rst volume of
the journal of the Societe de 1789 appeared on 5 June, and it contained fteen
articles relating to the societys procedures and aims, of which nine were
written by Condorcet. It was in this journal that his defence of womens
voting rights, Sur ladmission des femmes au droit de cite, was rst published.
By the spring of 1791 the Societe de 1789 had acquired a more reactionary
character, and many members, including Condorcet (in May), Si ey` es and
Talleyrand, defected to the Club des Jacobins, while others opted for the
Condorcets political steel was forged in the furnace of Parisian munic-
ipal politics. On 3 December 1789 he was elected to the Comite des Vingt-
Quatre, becoming president the following day. It was in that capacity that
See Cahen, Condorcet, pp. 13941, 15871. The Society of Friends of Peace, a group of moderates
meeting at La Rochefoucaulds house, mutated into the Societe de 1789.
Propaganda was disseminated through the Journal des Impartiaux (FebruaryMarch 1790).
The plans for the future of this society were set out by Si ey` es in the Ebauche dun nouveau plan de la
societe patriotique, adopte par le Club de Mil-sept-cent-quatre-vingt-neuf, probably published in March
or early April 1790. They were elaborated further by Condorcet in the Prospectus. Membership of
this group in 1790 stood at about 400. For an autograph of the Avertissement, dated May/June 1789,
in which Condorcet records the decision of a few citizens from different orders united by a love for
equality and justice to found the society, and sets out the editorial conventions, see BIF Condorcet
MS 858, ff. 312.
For an account of the history and demise of the Societe de 1789 and the Feuillants, see Baker, Condorcet,
pp. 27285.
30 Condorcet and Modernity
he elaborated a set of proposals on behalf of the Commune for the con-
stitutional reorganisation of municipal powers, printed as Sur la formation
des communes. His role as an active member of the Comite des Vingt-Quatre
was to come to an end in June 1790, but by then, astonishingly, he had
written more than forty addresses, pamphlets and essays, including the
inammatory Sur le choix des ministres (April 1790), and many probing
analyses of scal and taxation issues, foreign policy, assembly procedures,
representation and the franchise.
His stature and inuence as a political
gure, rather than simply as a philosophe and Voltaires representative on
earth, was now growing, not only as a consequence of his writings, but also
as a consequence of the network of powerful political allies he had built
up by 1790.
He was considered ministrable, although he never showed
any overt signs of ministerial ambition, and he failed in August 1790 to
win re-election to the municipality. However, his interest in public nance,
kindled in the Turgot years, was still strong, and his views on the need
to reform the Treasury and the taxation system were expressed in numer-
ous essays in 1790, including the Memoire sur la xation de limp ot, Sur les
operations necessaires pour retablir les nances and Sur la constitution dun
pouvoir charge dadministrer la tresorerie nationale. On 8 April 1791 Con-
dorcet was appointed, on the comte de Mirabeaus nomination, as one of
six Treasury administrators.
Political life in Paris was becoming bitterly factional, and Condorcet
tried to avoid open afliation with either the Girondins or the Montagnards,
despite being by now a member of the Club des Jacobins.
In an attempt
to heal divisions he published, in collaboration with Si ey` es, a Profession de
In 1790 alone these include, in addition to the ve memoires on education, the Reponse ` a ladresse
aux provinces, ou Reexions sur les ecrits publies contre lAssemblee nationale, the Reexions sur laction
judiciaire, the Reexions sur lusufruit des beneces, the Reexions sur letendue des pouvoirs de lAssemblee
nationale, the Eloge de m. Franklin, the Discours ` a lAssemblee nationale, the Lettre au President de
lAssemblee nationale and the Instructions adressees aux Directoires des quatre-vingt-trois departements
(all on the weights and measures problem), Sur les conditions deligibilite, Sur le decret du 13 avril,
Des lois constitutionnelles, Sur ladministration des nances, Sur ladmission des femmes au droit de cite,
Sur la constitution civile du clerge, Sur le prejuge qui suppose une contrariete dinterets entre Paris et
les provinces, Sur les tribunaux dappel, Aux amis de la liberte sur les moyens den assurer la duree, Sur
le mot pamphletaire, Des causes de la disette du numeraire, de ses effets et des moyens dy remedier, Sur
la constitution du pouvoir charge dadministrer le Tresor national, Sur les operations necessaires pour
retablir les nances, Sur les caisses daccumulation, Sur la xation de limp ot, Sur limp ot personnel, Sur
la proposition dacquitter la dette exigible en assignats. See Robinet, Condorcet, pp. 889.
These included La Fayette, Mirabeau, Si ey` es, La Rochefoucauld, Montmorency and Liancourt,
see Badinter and Badinter, Condorcet, pp. 2903; J. Guilhaumou, CondorcetSi ey` es: une amiti e
intellectuelle, in Chouillet and Cr epel (eds.), Condorcet, pp. 2239.
On Condorcets party allegiances, and in particular the case for associating him with the Girondins
as a cause if not as a party, see M. Dorigny, Condorcet, lib eral et girondin, in Cr epel and Gilain
(eds.), Condorcet mathematicien, pp. 33340.
Prole of a political life 31
foi patriotique which appeared just before the ight of the royal family to
Varennes. Tom Paine had arrived in Paris for the second time in June 1787
on a scientic mission in connection with his design for an iron bridge,
and by the summer of 1791 he was more or less part of the Condorcet
household, Sophie even undertaking a translation of parts of the Rights of
Man, written in response to Edmund Burkes Reections on the Revolution
in France. On the question of rights generally, and the rights of women and
slaves in particular, Condorcet and Paine shared much common ground.
Together they defended the republican cause against Si ey` es and other advo-
cates of constitutional monarchy, and towards the end of June Condorcet
founded, with Paine, Bonneville, Lanthenas and Achille Du Chastelet, the
Societe Republicaine. It was almost certainly as a result of Paines inuence
that Condorcets republicanism was by now so outspoken. With Paines
help he drafted a provocative poster which appeared on the streets on
1 July denouncing the absence of the King from Paris, and accusing him of
deserting his people.
Condorcets republicanismwas givenfurther radical expressioninarticles
for Le Republicain, a new journal co-edited with Brissot, in which De la
Republique, ou un roi est-il necessaire ` a letablissement de la liberte, originally
a speech read out to the Cercle Social in the grounds of the Palais-Royal on
8 July, together with the brilliantly satirical Lettre dun jeune mecanicien aux
auteurs du Republicainappearedinmid-July, attributedby some to Sophie.
From now on Condorcet would seek to rally public opinion to the cause
of republicanism, and Le Republicain would provide an inuential vehicle
for this. Anti-monarchical views were also expressed in Sur linstitution
dun conseil electif. Unsurprisingly, after these publications Condorcet was
crucied in the moderate and royalist press.
At the end of October 1791 Condorcet was elected president of the
Comite dinstruction publique, and his articles on education, rst pub-
lished in the Biblioth`eque de lhomme public, a journal that he had helped
to launch in February 1790, were grouped together as the ve Memoires
sur linstruction publique, and supplemented by an extended essay, Sur la
necessite de linstruction publique. The Memoires were written for the guid-
ance of the Constituent Assembly, and contained far-reaching proposals
See B. Vincent, Thomas Paine ou la religion de la liberte (Paris: Aubier, 1987), p. 209. According
to Jaur` es, De la Republique was le premier manifeste grand et noble de lesprit r epublicain, see J.
Jaur` es, Histoire socialiste de la Revolution franc aise, 6 vols. (Paris: Messidor/Editions sociales, 19836),
vol. ii, p. 419. On Sophies putative authorship of the Lettre dun jeune mecanicien, see McLean and
Hewitt, Condorcet, p. 18; Lagrave, LInuence de Sophie de Grouchy, p. 437.
See Cahen, Condorcet, pp. 2635; Robinet, Condorcet, pp. 3141.
32 Condorcet and Modernity
for a root and branch reform of the curriculum in schools and universi-
ties, plans to introduce the teaching of moral and political science as well
as the physical sciences, advice on the political responsibilities of primary
and secondary schools for the formation of citizens, the democratization
of knowledge, universal literacy and the reconciliation of natural equality
of rights with natural inequality of talents. The Rapport et projet de decret
sur lorganisation generale de linstruction publique, postulating nothing less
than a fully integrated national education system from infant school to
university, was presented for approval to the Comite dinstruction on 918
April 1792, and to what was by now the Legislative Assembly, on 204
For Condorcet, educational reformwent to the heart of the missionof the
Revolution, liberation from ignorance and prejudice being in his view the
key to true political freedom in an enlightened Republic of Citizens.
scheme would provide the basis for the next centurys framework of public
education in France, but had little chance of immediate implementation.
As with so many of Condorcets projects, it was overtaken by events. Even
as he was speaking the Assembly received the Kings reluctant invitation to
declare war on Austria, Hungary and Bohemia, and although Condorcet
was able to complete his presentation of the report on 21 April, it was
not debated. The Assembly registered general approval, but Condorcet was
deeply disappointed with the outcome.
In the rst six months of 1791 he had witnessed a serious deterioration
of the already fragile relationship between Louis XVI and the Constituent
Assembly, exacerbated by the conscation of the biens nationaux and the
introduction of the civil constitution of the clergy. The gathering constitu-
tional storm broke with the abortive attempt of the royal family to escape
from Paris on 20 June, resulting in their arrest at Varennes. The event trig-
gered a massive emigration of members of the ofcer corps, and exposed
Frances military vulnerability. On 21 June the Constituent Assembly, under
Condorcets presidency, recommended the suspension of Louis XVI from
his constitutional functions, widening the schism in the Assembly between
republicans and constitutional monarchists.
The impact of the ight to Varennes on the evolution of Condorcets
political thought has been much discussed. Before Varennes his stance
inclined towards that of the moderate Girondin camp on the question of
Condorcet was not elected to the Legislative Assembly until 25 June 1791 on his third attempt to
secure a seat, see Robinet, Condorcet, pp. 1323.
On the formative principles behind Condorcets ideal of a republic of citizens, see C. Coutel,
Condorcet. Instituer le citoyen (Paris: Michalon, 1999), pp. 85113.
See the Fragment de justication (i: 591). Cf. Robinet Condorcet, pp. 1659.
Prole of a political life 33
the position of Louis XVI within the framework of the newrepublican civil
Certainly his commitment to republicanism, encouraged by Paine,
started to growseriously after Varennes, and the resulting collapse of public
support for the royal family.
The viewthat elements of Condorcets repub-
licanism were in place long before Varennes has been raised frequently in
recent years,
and the textual evidence does suggest that his post-Varennes
position reects a measure of historical coherence, linking together the 1765
Memoire sur les conseils, the American texts of 1788, the 1789 Lettre dun
gentilhomme du tiers etat and the 1793 Projet de constitution.
In constitutional matters, as in other areas, Condorcet was a gradualist,
always as much concerned with the practicalities involved in the implemen-
tation of change as with the ideological justication for it. This was almost
certainly a crucial factor in his decision to vote for the 1791 constitution.
The 210 articles of the 1791 constitution were ratied by Louis XVI on
13 September 1791, establishing constitutional monarchy, indirect repre-
sentative democracy, the separation of powers, and a property franchise.
Under its terms, while the King retainedpersonal inviolability andexecutive
powers, he no longer had legislative or nancial powers, and was obliged
to take an oath of loyalty to the new constitution.
On 14 September 1791
Louis XVI accepted the newconstitution, and Condorcet entered front-line
See Cahen, Condorcet, p. 321.
See M. Reinhard, La Chute de la royaute (Paris: Gallimard, 1969), pp. 13955. The Cordeliers, or
Societe des Amis des Droits de lHomme et du Citoyen, mobilised public opinion against the monarchy
and the 1791 constitution, and helped to organise the events of 10 August 1792. Membership in 1791
included Danton, Desmoulins and many lawyers and journalists. The groups inuence waned after
1792, and the group disappeared from the political scene in 1794 after the execution of H ebert, by
then its leader.
According to Alengry: Sa ligne est droite. Il a toujours et e un r epublicain . . . un ami de la
souverainet e du peuple, un ap otre de l egalit e et de la libert e (F. Alengry, Condorcet. Guide de la
Revolution franc aise, theoricien du droit constitutionnel, et precurseur de la science sociale (Paris: V.
Giard and E. Bri` ere, 1904; repr. Geneva: Slatkine, 1971), p. 834. Nora and Baker, on the other hand,
refer to a post-Varennes conversion, see P. Nora, R epublique, and K. M. Baker, Condorcet, in F.
Furet et al. (eds.), Dictionnaire critique de la Revolution franc aise (Paris: Flammarion, 1988), pp. 239,
835. Guilhaumou prints an interesting MS letter (BIF Condorcet MS 861, ff. 4016) relevant to this
issue, see Guilhaumou, CondorcetSi ey` es, pp. 2359 (Annexe).
Coutel concludes: Comme la raison, lid ee r epublicaine chez Condorcet a une histoire et une
perfectibilit e (Politique de Condorcet, p. 68), and asks the more interesting question, comment
devient-on r epublicain?.
See Coutel, Politique de Condorcet, pp. 689. Condorcet was not entirely silent about the aws
he perceived in the 1791 constitution, and again advocated a gradualist approach to change in the
Chronique de Paris (26 September 1791): Atrue republican, under a monarchical government, knows
how to wait for the slow but sure effects of reason.
Condorcet, in collaboration with Si ey` es, composed an address to the Assemblee Constituante on the
need for an oath of loyalty to the new constitution in the light of anti-Revolutionary conspiracy.
The Preambule contains the draft text of the oath. See BIF Condorcet MS 861, ff. 41518. Cahen
dates this text June 1791, but Chouillet suggests a correction to August/September (A.-M. Chouillet,
P. Cr epel et al. (eds.), Inventaire des manuscrits Condorcet, BIF Usuels, p. 23).
34 Condorcet and Modernity
politics as a deputy in the Legislative Assembly, with the support of Brissot
and others now grouped around the inuential journal Le Patriote franc ais,
journal libre impartial et nationale, and bitterly opposed to the royalist
and moderate camps. Condorcet was older than the average deputy,
reputation as a philosophe and embodiment of Enlightenment values was
unassailable, but his political reputation was suspect in what was basically
a monarchist assembly. At the same time, because of his known republican
sympathies, the royalist press continued to denounce him.
He participated in the October debates on the refractory clergy of the
Vend ee and the Auvergne. He voted on 6 October for the right of the
nations legislators to remain seated with heads covered in the Kings pres-
ence, presenting various nancial measures in the same session. He was by
no means an outstanding orator, but by the end of 1791 he had emerged as
one of the most prominent theorists and defenders of the Revolution, and
also as one of the most frustrated of the peoples representatives. Caught
up in the political maelstrom, he deplored the lack of progress on pressing
matters such as the constitution, taxation, education and social welfare,
and blamed the Assemblys endemic factionalism for the inertia.
He was
also becoming increasingly aware of the threat to legislative progress caused
by the distractions of counter-revolution, and on 28 October he gave a
speech to the Assembly on the dangers posed by the armed emigres gath-
ering at Worms and Coblenz (x: 22342). The military crisis was exacer-
bated internally by the urgent need to ll more than a thousand commis-
sions in the ranks of the army caused by the emigration of royalist ofcers
after Varennes,
and also externally by the Pillnitz Declaration whereby
Leopold II of Austria and Frederick William II of Prussia threatened inter-
vention. On 9 November 1791 the Assembly declared all emigres partici-
pating in foreign troop manuvres who failed to repatriate themselves by
On his decision to stand, see his letter accepting candidacy dated September 1791 (BIF Condorcet
MS 863, f. 1). There was considerable intrigue surrounding his election, see Cahen, Condorcet, p. 273;
Robinet, Condorcet, p. 123; Alengry, Condorcet, p. 117.
Unlike its predecessor, the Assemblee Constituante (July 1789September 1791), the Legislative Assem-
bly (September 1791September 1792) drew its membership more widely from the professional
classes. Over 40 per cent were Montagnards or Montagnard supporters, see E. Lemay, La Composi-
tion de lAssembl ee Nationale Constituente: les hommes de la continuit e, Revue dhistoire moderne
et contemporaine 29 (1977), 34163; C. Mitchell, Political divisions within the Legislative Assembly
of 1791, French Historical Studies 13 (1984), 35689.
Approximately 10 per cent of the total emigration, see D. M. Greer, The Incidence of the Emigration
during the French Revolution (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1951), p. 112 (Table 1);
J. Vidalenc, Les Emigres franc ais 17891820 (Caen: Ozanne, 1963), pp. 6378; C. Blum, Condorcet
and the problem of emigration in 1791, Condorcet Studies 1 (1984), 6171. By 1792 60 per cent of
the ofcer corps had emigrated.
Prole of a political life 35
1 January 1792 guilty of treason,
and similar measures were taken against
clerics who refused to take the oath of loyalty of 27 November 1790. The
measures were vetoed by Louis XVI.
On 20 October Brissot demanded military action to disperse the emigre
troop formations, and on 23 December Condorcet supported Brissot and
the case for a declaration of war in the Opinion sur le rapport des comites
militaire, diplomatique et de lordinaire des nances reunis, and again in the
Declaration de lAssemblee nationale aux Franc ais of 16 February 1792.
Discours sur lofce de lempereur, his most detailed analysis of French foreign
policy at this time, appeared on 25 January 1792. He was elected president of
the Assembly on 5 February 1792, and it was ironically at this culminating
point in his career that he lost the support of both the Girondins, who sus-
pected him of plotting to dethrone the King, as well as the Montagnards.
The picture starts to darken as Condorcets enemies close in, and the dis-
favour in which Condorcet was now held by the Girondins was mirrored in
pro-royalist scientic circles outside France when the academies of Berlin
and Russia withdrew his membership.
The spring andsummer of 1792, a time of increasing public disorder, were
to see a sharp deterioration in Condorcets relationship with Robespierre,
for whomthe moment to unmask traitors had come. The extremist Montag-
nard, Francois Chabot, following the lead of the sea-green incorruptible,
accusedCondorcet of being a stooge of the Girondins. Condorcet responded
vigorously with counter-accusations against Robespierre in the Chronique
de Paris (26 April 1792). Robespierre dismissed Condorcets republican cre-
dentials in his own journal, the Defense de la constitution, in the following
From now on Condorcet would be perceived by the Montagnards
as an enemy of the Revolution, a perception he was never able to shake off.
On the urgency for legislation on the conscation of emigre property to help pay for the war, the
property of those traitors who are the instigators and instruments of the war, see the draft decree
of ve articles in Cardots hand, BIF Condorcet MS 863, ff. 21113. The date given for the Discours
sur les emigrants is that of the manuscript, BIF Condorcet MS, ff. 3341.
See Cahen, Condorcet, pp. 28891. On Frances right to declare war in the circumstances following
the Declaration of Pillnitz in the winter of 17912, see also BIF Condorcet MS 863, ff. 1929: Let
us show Europe that France is united in a single act of will. Y. Benot defends the coherence of
Condorcets afliation with the war party in the light of the apparent discrepancy of his support on
22 May 1790 for the decree declaring peace to the world, Condorcet et la r epublique universelle, in
Chouillet and Cr epel (eds.), Condorcet, pp. 25161. Condorcet recorded his dismay at the prospect
of war towards the end of 1790: War at this moment would be a catastrophe with incalculable
consequences (BIF Condorcet MS 861, f. 363). Cf. Cahen, Condorcet, p. 297.
For some of the texts relating to the attacks on Condorcet by the Feuillants and the Montagnards,
see Robinet, Condorcet, pp. 16981.
On Robespierres confrontation with Brissot on 23 April 1792 in the Club des Jacobins, see E.
Guibert-Sledziewski, Condorcet et Robespierre, Condorcet Studies 2 (1987), 17783.
36 Condorcet and Modernity
The anonymous, acidically satirical portrait of Robespierre which appeared
in the Chronique de Paris on 1 May 1792, attributed immediately by an
unforgiving Robespierre to Condorcet, did little to help Condorcet deect
charges of counter-revolutionary conspiracy.
The three Girondin ministers were dismissed from ofce by the King on
13 June. As the war situation worsened, the position of Louis XVI, whose
use of the veto and whose choice of ministers seemed to Condorcet to
undermine the governments authority and legitimacy, and also the position
of Marie-Antoinette, widely perceived to be openly in league with Frances
enemies, were now major preoccupations. Despite his aversion for displays
of mobrule, Condorcet didnot protest against the interruptionof Assembly
business when an armed and angry crowd invaded the royal palace on
20 June 1792 demanding that measures be taken against Louis XVI.
placing of the bonnet rouge on the Kings head and the smashing of doors
and windows did not amount in Condorcets view to mob violence. On
6 July he addressed the Assembly on the neutralisation of royal powers
in Opinion sur les mesures generales propres ` a sauver la patrie des dangers
imminents dont elle est menacee.
His views on the deployment of the
mob to force through constitutional change now evolved rapidly under the
pressure of events. Condorcet never openly condoned insurrection, but he
certainly invoked it as a threat on 18 June 1792 in the Chronique de France,
and again in 1793 in the Fragment de justication.
By August 1792 Louis XVIs authority was collapsing, as was the principle
of representative government itself, to which Condorcet would remain
unequivocally committed. The report of 69 August, which Condorcet
presented to the Assembly on behalf of the Comite des Vingt-et-un, was
a lucid and sober assessment of the implications of any move to depose
the King, but its recommendation to engage in further negotiation with
the King was not accepted.
Condorcets presentation of the report, just
See, for example, his sympathetic account of the 20 June demonstration in the Chronique de Paris
(21 June 1792).
Condorcet was speaking here on behalf of the Comite des Douze. For a text that goes further than
that printed in the Arago edition, see BIF Condorcet MS 863, ff. 20621. Parts of this MS are in
Cardots hand with Condorcets annotations.
See also the Chronique de Paris (5 August 1792), pp. 86970.
See Cahen, Condorcet, pp. 41319. As the September massacres began, Condorcets abhorrence was
unambivalent, and he was anxious to protect the people and the Revolution itself from any blame:
The massacres of 2 September, the work of a few ferocious madmen, have soiled this revolution.
They were not the work of the people who, believing that they had neither the strength or the
motivation to put a stop to them, averted their eyes. The massacres were the work of a small number
of agitators with the ability to paralyse the forces of law and order and to deceive the National
Assembly . . ., Fragment de justication (x: 6035).
Prole of a political life 37
before the historic assault on the Tuileries, removed any chance he might
have had of managing the direction of constitutional change scientically,
and in a spirit of rational moderation.
His increasing disillusionment with
monarchy was given further expression in numerous essays that appeared
in the summer and autumn of 1792, of which De linuence dun monarque
et dune cour sur les murs dun peuple libre and the Revision des travaux de
la premi`ere legislature, both appearing in September of that year, are among
the most interesting.
On 8 August the Assembly refused to sanction proceedings against La
Fayette, the General in command of the National Guard during the Champ
de Mars massacre of 17 July 1791, when republican petitions had been pre-
sented on a makeshift altar. The Assembly then set aside, in full knowledge
of plans for an uprising, the demand made by all forty-eight sections of the
Paris Commune for the deposition of Louis XVI. The next two days saw
the replacement of the Paris Commune by the Commune insurrectionnelle.
Condorcet did not participate directly in the uprising of 10 August 1792,
passing the night of 910 August in his apartment in Auteuil,
where he
drafted an address to the people of Paris urging themto support the Assem-
blys attempts to protect freedom and equality, and denouncing defecting
army ofcers (x: 5434). He was present for at least some of the sessions to
address the deputies, his presence conrmed by the Fragment de justication
in which he recorded his dismay at the bloodshed in the Champ de Mars for
which he would never forgive La Fayette. His wife and his baby daughter
had been among the crowd on which La Fayettes men had red. The liberal
aristocracy, in whose circles Condorcet had moved, continued to resent his
conversion to republicanism, and he was reviled as a class traitor, Mme
dEnville even leaving his bust on a dung-heap. Many would hold him per-
sonally responsible for the atrocities soon to come in the Terror of 17934,
and the antipathy worsened with his support for Dantons appointment as
Minister of Justice in the wake of the events of 10 August.
Condorcet reviewed the Revolutions progress in the Exposition des motifs
dapr`es lesquels lAssemblee nationale a proclame la convocation dune Conven-
tion nationale et prononce la suspension du pouvoir executif dans les mains du
roi, circulated as a special decree to all departments. This was followed by
a series of addresses and declarations between 4 and 19 September on the
There can be no more poignant expression of the failure of Condorcets conduct in the Legislative
Assembly than the spectacle of the philosophe lecturing the people on the principles of representation
on the very eve of the insurrection of 10 August 1792 (Baker, Condorcet, p. 314).
They are sounding the alarm . . . I was in Auteuil; I went to Paris. I got to the National Assembly
a few moments before the King . . . (x: 597601).
38 Condorcet and Modernity
necessity for war, public order and national unity in the wake of the sur-
render of Verdun on 1 September. Condorcet did not falter in his political
duties in this critical period,
but he was becoming more and more appre-
hensive at the direction events were taking, a direction signalled clearly
with the power-struggle between the Assembly and the Commune insur-
rectionnelle. Attempts to disband the latter were resisted, and inevitably
the Assembly was obliged to recognise the Communes superior political
strength by conceding on 20 September 1792 Robespierres demand for the
replacement of the Legislative Assembly by a National Convention, elected
by universal suffrage.
With the surrender of Verdun, the last fortress between Paris and the
allied emigre armies, the Commune was able to exploit the war-fever, and
declare a state of emergency. The ensuing butchery of more than a thou-
sand prisoners in the violence of 27 September coincided with elections
to the Convention, and it soon became clear to members of the Legislative
Assembly, haunted by fears that the guillotine would soon touch the necks
of the nations representatives, that time was running out for the Assembly
in its current form. During these terrible days, when the heads of aristocrats
like the Princesse de Lamballe were being paraded on spikes below Marie-
Antoinettes prison window, and the butchered body of La Rochefoucauld
(a former member of the Condorcet circle) was being displayed before
his wife and his mother (Mme dEnville), Condorcet remained dismay-
ingly silent before nally expressing formal regret for the violence in the
Chronique de Paris on 4 and 9 September in what some still regard as shame-
fully weasel words. His wish to draw a curtain over the whole episode has
received much criticism from modern historians.
The appeal for calm contained in the eloquent Adresse de lAssemblee
nationale aux Franc ais was approved unanimously on 19 September. After
much opposition fromRobespierre, who continued to associate Condorcet
with the Girondins, Condorcet was elected to the newConvention nationale
in ve districts, and chose to accept the seat for the department of the
Aisne. The new concept of the Left and the Right in political life became
Robinet, Condorcet, pp. 1826.
Badinter and Badinter, Condorcet, p. 487. See also McLean and Hewitt, Condorcet, p. 24. The fall
of Verdun on 3 September, and the resulting threat to Paris itself, might have inhibited Condorcet.
His silence prior to 9 September could also be explained by political considerations relating to the
elections to the new National Convention and by the risk of being seen as a conspirator in a time
of national crisis when any criticism of the killing of prisoners would run the risk of accusations
of counter-revolutionary plotting. Condorcets silence during the September massacres remains,
nevertheless, a rare example of an apparent willingness to sacrice principles to expediency. He
would later denounce the massacres as a stain on the Revolution in the Fragment de justication.
Prole of a political life 39
a physical reality in terms of seating arrangements in the new National
Assembly. It is not known where Condorcets seat was actually located
in the disposition of 189 deputies which saw the Girondins occupy the
right-hand side of the chamber, with the Montagnards on the left and the
moderates in between on the plaine. He was nominated secretary at its rst
meeting on 20 September, and vice-president the following day. A motion
from Collot-dHerbois and the slippery Si ey` es to abolish royalty, to which
Condorcet was ex ofcio a signatory, was passed.
On the previous day a
decree had been issued offering fraternal support to all peoples seeking to
throw off the yoke of tyranny, and in the course of the next twelve months
Condorcet would associate himself with the drive to internationalise the
Revolution in a series of addresses and pamphlets, many commissioned by
the Convention, some more attractively written than others.
decli ne and fall
Between 10 August and 20 September 1792, the weeks of the First Terror,
marked by the deportation of refractory priests, the arrest of aristocrats
and the September massacres, power was shared on an emergency basis
between the Legislative Assembly, its successor the National Convention,
a new Conseil executif provisoire, headed unofcially by Danton, and the
Commune insurrectionnelle controlled by Robespierre. The First Republic
was proclaimed on 21 September 1792, and the new dawn of Year I was
saluted by Condorcet in the Eloge de Danton, in which he also attempted
once more to distance himself from the Girondins and improve relations
with the Montagnards. He marked the proclamation of the Republic in
De la nature des pouvoirs politiques dans une nation libre, an essay in which
the Projet de constitution rst started to take shape. This is followed by
another manifesto, Sur les elections, which picks up the threads of a much
longer work that had been published in 1789, entitled Sur la forme des
elections. Condorcet still seemed to be poised at the edge of a brilliant
political future in the new Convention, although his popularity probably
still owed more to his status as a philosophe rather than as a politician.
As the Convention consolidated its powers, however, his political inuence
See Cahen, Condorcet, pp. 4367. Robinet, Condorcet, p. 221. Condorcet commented with some
bitterness on the attempts to block his election in the Fragment de justication.
These include the Reexions sur la Revolution de 1688 et sur celle du 10 ao ut 1792, De la Republique
franc aise aux hommes libres, the Avis aux Espagnols, the Adresse aux Bataves, Aux Germains, Lettre ` a
un Suisse, Appel ` a tous les peuples, Lettre de Junius ` a William Pitt.
A. Patrick, The Men of the First French Republic: Political Alignments in the National Convention of
1792 (London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1972), p. 178.
40 Condorcet and Modernity
and standing would decline, ill-health gradually undermining his energies.
For the time being, however, things looked promising. On 1112 October
he was elected to the important Comite de constitution, along with Si ey` es,
P etion, Vergniaud, Paine, Brissot, Gensonn e, Bar` ere and Danton, and work
started on the ambitious, but ill-fated, Projet de constitution. The so-called
Girondin constitution would be presented to the Convention on 15 and
16 February 1793, and was received with a notable lack of enthusiasm.
In the closing months of 1792 the most urgent issue before the Conven-
tion was the question of whether or not Louis XVI was jugeable. Deputies
hesitated, fearing international repercussions as well as internal dissension
as a consequence of any move against the King, who was by now incar-
cerated in the Temple.
At rst it was felt that the trial and execution
of Louis XVI would deprive the Revolution of its most valuable hostage,
and provide an already hostile Europe with the provocative spectacle of
another Charles I on the scaffold. On 7 November, however, a report was
received from the twenty-four-member Comite de legislation, set up after
10 August to examine the incriminating documentation found in the
Tuileries. Chaired by a Toulouse lawyer Jean Mailhe, deputy for the Haute-
Garonne and Public Prosecutor, the committee conrmed the Conventions
right to put the King on trial. There is no direct evidence of any role played
by Condorcet in the Mailhe committees deliberations, and on 7 November
Condorcet simply noted in the Chronique de Paris that the last act of the
drama of the French Revolution had started.
The debate on the Kings fate opened on 13 November, inaugurated
by a powerful maiden speech from Saint-Just, and the royal interrogation
before the bar of the Convention began on 1011 December, following
Lindets reading of the list of charges on 10 December. It was on that
day that Condorcet was nominated to a committee of six commissaires
with responsibility for the presentation of documentary evidence to be
used at the trial. Condorcet agreed only in part with the conclusions of
the Mailhe report. Louis XVI was certainly guilty, in his view, of crimes
See the interesting post-scriptum to a letter sent by Stanhope to Condorcet towards the end of
1792, warning him about Burkes contribution to English hostility towards the Revolution, and
about the danger of English military action against France, Robinet, Condorcet, p. 350 (Annex F
(v)). For fragments of the CondorcetStanhope correspondence between 1786 and 1789 see BIF
Condorcet MS 867, ff. 3465. Condorcets appreciation of Stanhope (and also Price) in the context
of liberty is recorded in BIF Condorcet MS 863, ff. 2834. In 1790/1 Condorcet criticised the praise
that had been accorded to Burke by the Mercure de France in a letter now only in fragmentary
MS form, commenting on Burkes attacks on the French constitution (BIF Condorcet MS 860, ff.
21517). On the contrasting attitudes of Burke and Condorcet towards revolution, see M. Ludassy,
La Tradition lib erale divis ee: Condorcet et Burke devant les r evolutions anglaise, am ericaine et
francaise, in Cr epel and Gilain (eds.), Condorcet mathematicien, pp. 3418.
Prole of a political life 41
against the state, and of betraying his oath. He agreed with Mailhe that
the King must be called to account, but he opposed adamantly the death
penalty, rejecting in the Chronique de Paris on 56 December Robespierres
demands to execute without further delay those already found guilty in
the court of public opinion. In the Opinion sur le jugement de Louis XVI,
presented on 19 January 1793, two days before the Kings execution, he
also recorded his disagreement with Mailhes recommendation that Louis
XVI should be judged by the Convention, preferring to see an elected
national jury have that onerous responsibility instead. It was one of the
few points, ironically, upon which Condorcet and Robespierre agreed. In
the event, the Convention decided on 3 December to put Louis XVI on
trial, and the King duly appeared before it on 11 December 1792.
dorcet was under no illusion about the outcome, and his misgivings are
recorded in the articles printed in the Chronique de Paris on 15, 28 and
29 December.
In the actual vote he supported Mailhes rst proposition, namely that
the King was guilty of plotting against the people, thereby constituting a
threat to the security of the state. He voted with the Montagnards against the
second proposition to make the judgement of the Convention subject to
ratication by the people.
On the sentence itself, he voted for the impo-
sition of the severest penalty, excluding death. Brissot and the Girondins
pressed for any sentence passed to be suspended, and made a number of
moves to save the Kings life. In calling into question the legitimacy of the
Conventions actions, however, they dug their own graves, politically and
literally. Louis XVI was declared guilty on 14 January 1793, and on 1617
January the death sentence was passed, the vote to reprieve being lost on
1920 January.
The King was guillotined on 21 January. Although he had accepted the
right of the Convention to try the King, Condorcet had warned in the
Opinion sur le jugement de Louis XVI that Europes monarchs would accuse
the Convention of lynch-law justice if it acted as judge and jury, and that
as a consequence the Revolution would be associated only with bloodshed,
regicide and mob rule (xii: 308). In the Opinion he had proposed the
abolitionof the deathpenalty as a general principle, along withother judicial
reforms, in a vain attempt to save the Kings life, and Frances international
honour. Surprisingly, the Opinion had been welcomed by the Convention,
and its publication and distribution authorised in spite of its authors refusal
to countenance regicide. In the vote on the Kings life, Condorcet was
See Robinet, Condorcet, pp. 24752.
Cahen, Condorcet, p. 463; AN, C243.
42 Condorcet and Modernity
among the seventeen deputies who abstained, abstention ending once and
for all his brief irtation with the Montagnards. His political future, already
in ruins along with the Girondin constitution he had presented to the
Convention in February 1793, received a further setback when he was not
appointed to the committee established subsequently to review the draft.
His voice as a journalist was then stilled by the decree of 9 March 1793
requiring deputies to cease all press activity. The next day he would witness
the invasion of the Convention chamber by an armed crowd, soon to
be followed by Robespierres demand for the establishment of a Tribunal
revolutionnaire with executive powers. Condorcet was now dangerously
isolated, and would be further exposed after the purge of the Girondins
on 2 June 1793 and the arrest of twenty-nine deputies, plus the Girondin
ministers Clavi` ere and Lebrun-Tondu.
The summer of 1793 saw the start of the second phase of the Terror,
which was to last until the spring of 1794, and the rise to power of the
Comite du salut public, established on 6 April, together with its auxiliary
arm, the Comite de s urete generale. Condorcet was nominated to neither
of these powerful bodies, although he did act for a while as an advisor
to the former,
in spite of his well-known distaste for the use of terror
as an instrument of revolutionary power. On 8 July, after the clandestine
circulation of Aux Citoyens franc ais, sur la nouvelle constitution, in which he
attacked bitterly the opponents of his discarded and discredited Projet de
constitution, he was denounced for conspiracy by the ineffable Chabot
in a poorly attended meeting of the Convention. This was followed by
the sealing of his apartment, and by the promulgation on 3 October of a
warrant for his arrest and the conscation of his possessions.
In the last fragment that he would write, he would compare his fate
to that of Socrates and Sidney, dying in the cause of freedom and freely
accepting death as a necessary sacrice to the gods of justice and truth (i:
609). The dark days of the winter of 17934 were illuminated only by the
courage and steadfastness of friends such as the Suards and Mme Vernet,
the landlady who gave him shelter, by the undying love of his wife, forced
for her own safety to divorce him, and not least by his own heroic conduct.
On the impact of the fall of the Girondins on Condorcet, see Badinter and Badinter, Condorcet,
pp. 57482; cf. M. Dorigny and M. Ozouf, Girondins, in F. Furet et al. (eds.), Dictionnaire critique,
pp. 37485.
With a membership initially of nine, the Comite de salut public was dominated by Danton until its
membership changed in July, and control passed to Robespierre.
See Sommerlad and McLean (eds. and trans.), The Political Theory of Condorcet, 1 (1991), pp. 21921.
Chabot would be later accused of fraud and guillotined within a week of Condorcets death.
Prole of a political life 43
After completing the Conseils ` a sa lle (i: 61023) and his Testament (i: 625),
he ed Paris as soon as the Suards could no longer protect him. Citizen
Caritat Condorcet would never see Sophie and Eliza again. He spent the
last days of his life as a refugee travelling under the name of Pierre Simon, in
poor health and constant danger. His tribulations did not, however, prevent
the completion by mid-March 1794 of the Esquisse dun tableau historique
des progr`es de lesprit humain, published in October 1795.
Badly wounded in the leg, Condorcet was arrested in Clamart-le-
Vignoble on 27 March 1794,
having been reported to the police, so
legend has it, by an innkeeper whose suspicions had been aroused, not
only by Condorcets dishevelled appearance, but also by his aristocratic
request for a twelve-egg omelette. He was searched, and then transferred
to the prison in Bourg-la-Reine, where he died on 28 March. The cause
of death was declared to be a seizure, and on the death certicate it was
noted that there was bleeding from the nostrils,
but the circumstances
of Condorcets death have been the subject of much speculation ever since.
According to Garat and others, he took poison to escape the indignities of
the guillotine, and there is some evidence that he had already made contin-
gency suicide plans along those lines.
The evidence for suicide remains,
however, inconclusive. No poison phial was found among his possessions,
and a modern interpretation of the medical report on the body, as well as the
position in which it was found, would suggest a heart attack, possibly the
result of weeks of hardship and stress, exacerbated by hard interrogation.
The true circumstances of those last moments will probably never now be
known, and we are left simply with the bleak fact of a paupers burial in a
communal grave in the local cemetery on 30 March 1794. His death was
not announced in the press until the end of December.
Mindful perhaps of its shabby treatment of one of the most gifted
and courageous of the Revolutions servants, the Convention approved
on 13 March 1795 the purchase of 3,000 copies of the Esquisse, and autho-
rised Sophie de Condorcet to reassume possession of her husbands cons-
cated property and papers. Sophie would live on until 1822. Together with
Barbier, Cabanis and Garat, she would protect the moral and intellectual
For the text of the proc`es-verbal of Condorcets arrest, the report on the discovery of his body, an
inventory of the items found in his pockets by his jailors, the wording of the death certicate and
other relevant documentation, see Robinet, Condorcet, pp. 35869 (Annex H (iv); Badinter and
Badinter, Condorcet, pp. 6278.
Proc` es-verbal de la lev ee du corps, Robinet, Condorcet, p. 361.
BIF Condorcet MS 475, f. 37 (correspondence of the OConnor family). See also Alengry, Condorcet,
p. 326; Badinter and Badinter, Condorcet, pp. 6312.
44 Condorcet and Modernity
legacy of one of the great political visionaries of the later years of the
French Enlightenment in the formof the monumental twenty-one-volume
collective edition of the uvres compl`etes, published in the tenth anniver-
sary year of Condorcets death in 1804. It would fall to her daughter and
her son-in-law, General Arthur OConnor, to ensure Condorcets survival
in the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-rst centuries with the great
18479 edition of his works that they prepared in collaboration with
Francois Arago.
chapter 2
Human nature and human rights
Condorcets views on the natural origins of law, justice and human rights
are scattered across no fewer than ninety-eight essays, proclamations and
treatises. In nearly all of them at some point Condorcet would remind his
reader that the only true purpose of the civil order was the protection of nat-
ural rights, and that the art of jurisprudence related solely to the fullment
of that purpose. The notion of rights per se was never seriously questioned,
only afrmed and rened. Rights were not given to man by a divine agency,
nor were they brought into existence and legitimised by reference to philo-
sophical principle or historical tradition, as Condorcet pointed out with
characteristic sharpness in Sur le sens du mot Revolutionnaire: When it
came to building freedom on the ruins of despotism, and equality on the
ruins of the old aristocracy, it was wise not to go looking for our rights in
Charlemagnes chapter-houses or in the laws of the ripuarian Franks; they
were founded on the eternal rules of reason and nature (xii: 618). Natural
human rights preceded and transcended all positive law codes. However,
although after the Renaissance modern states had started to recognise the
legitimacy of rights as a political concept, that legitimacy had been located,
not in nature, but rather in biblical and mythological traditions, or alter-
natively in Greek republican principle and practice.
Natural rights were literally in nature, and endemic in human nature.
In so far as their political implications crystallised with the operations
of reason, enlightenment itself became for Condorcet a deeply political
phenomenon, representing in effect the greatest revolution of all. In the
anonymously published Lettres dun citoyen des Etats-unis ` a un Franc ais
sur les affaires presentes
he specically linked rights to the process of
See Condorcets comments on Blois in the notes for the Kehl Voltaire (iv: 35465).
This work, along with other 17878 texts such as the Essai sur la constitution et les fonctions des assemblees
provinciales, were praised by Jefferson who sent copies back to America, see Badinter and Badinter,
Condorcet, p. 244 n. 1. The Lettres were not signed in order to avoid offence to friends and allies
who remained supporters of the parlements. On Jeffersons role in the propagation of Condorcets
46 Condorcet and Modernity
enlightenment, thereby identifying the enemies of enlightenment as the
enemies of those rights:
In every civilised nation with a moderately sized population there can be no enjoy-
ment of natural rights without enlightenment; the enemies of enlightenment are
thus the enemies of mens freedom to enjoy their rights. Now, just trace the history
of French philosophy and literature since the Renaissance, and see whether the
blame for the countless obstacles that have been placed in the path of enlight-
enment can be put on the government or on aristocratic bodies . . . Was it
the government which prevented the publication of a general dictionary of sci-
ences, a monumental work that has since become indispensable to the progress of
reason? . . . It was the aristocratic corps of lawyers that blocked it. (ix: 1056)
Only throughenlightenment couldmenbe savedfromtheir chains; enlight-
enment being both a right in itself, and a means to achieve rights.
Condorcet natural rights were incontrovertible, ineradicable donnees of the
human condition, derived from the nature of man and of things, eternal,
inalienable, inviolable and universal. All individuals shared in a common
genetic and physiological equality, an equality derived from nature whose
implications extended into the political world. That was the equality which
authenticated societys moral, political and legal structures, an order of nat-
ural equality in which the origins of natural rights were to be found. Rights
furnished the absolute benchmark of justice, and as such required the lawto
be universal and consistent. Condorcet took issue on this specic point with
the more relativistic approach adopted by Montesquieu.
Justice was not a
contingent concept, and rights were not subject to variation in accordance
with wealth, climate, geographical location, national character, race, rank
or sex: all men by their very nature possess equal rights (vi: 178).
with universality of the law, reecting the universality of human nature
and human need, could the principles and purposes of natural justice be
assured, and universally applied in the civil order.
ideas in America, see M. Albertone, Condorcet, Jefferson et lAm erique, pp. 18795; McLean and
Urken, Did Jefferson and Madison understand Condorcets theory of social choice?, 44558. Cf.
F. Sommerlad and I. S. McLean (eds. and trans.), The Political Theory of Condorcet (Oxford: Oxford
University Social Studies Faculty Centre Working Paper 1, 1989), p. x.
On this point, see also the Eloge de m. de Fouchy, 16 April 1788 (iii: 3234).
See the Observations de Condorcet sur la vingt-neuvi`eme Lettre de lEsprit des lois (i: 378); cf. Alengry,
Condorcet, pp. 74576; J. S. Schapiro, Condorcet and the Rise of Liberalism (New York: Harcourt Brace
Jovanovich, 1934; repr. 1963, 1978), p. 119.
In the Fragment sur lAtlantide (vi: 631) rights assumed political tangibility in response to mans
evolution as a rational being and the consequential imperatives of moral awareness.
Cf. Bakers comments onCondorcets critical reactions to Montesquieus methodology, and inparticu-
lar to Montesquieus approach to the invariability principle inlegislation. For Condorcet Montesquieu
Human nature and human rights 47
Man thus emerged from wild nature as a fully edged political creature
with natural rights built in as quasi-biological attributes, awaiting only the
development of their potential strength as in the case of other mental and
physical attributes.
Rights were literally natural; they were not acquired
or granted, but derived from mans nature as a sentient being. Condorcets
position did not change on this point, and he would return to the issue at
length in the Esquisse where he ascribed only to the ninth epoque the forging
of the essential connection between mans nature and mans rights.
rights drew their legitimacy and authenticity from human sentience which
permitted the emergence of a moral dimension to human life. Sentience
authenticated civil society, and the growth of sensation was the rst thing
that Condorcet would stress in his analysis of mans emergence from prim-
itivism. The point was made, for example, in the second of the Lettres dun
bourgeois de New Haven
` a un citoyen de Virginie where he noted that rights
were natural
because they are derived from the nature of man; that is to say, because man is a
sensitive [i.e. sense-driven] being, able to reason and have moral ideas from the
very rst moment of his existence. It follows from this, as an obvious and necessary
consequence, that he must enjoy these rights, and that he cannot be justly deprived
of them. (ix: 14)
Political rights emergedfromnatural rights as a consequence of relationships
as the civil order replaced the state of nature. With political rights came the
had failed to dene scientically the criteria for recognising a just law. The question of inuence and of
the general relationship between Montesquieus thought and Condorcets has yet to be fully explored.
According to Baker, there is evidence to suggest that Condorcet cut his teeth in questions of politics
and legislation on De lesprit des lois. Baker draws attention in this respect to the evidence of an early
Condorcet manuscript entitled Memoires sur differents sujets adresses ` a m. le vicomte de Condorcet, par
m. le marquis de C

(Condorcet, p. 221). For a brief, cogent analysis of Condorcets objections to

Montesquieus view of a virtuous republic, see C. Kintzler, Condorcet et la lettre des lois, in Cr epel
and Gilain (eds.), Condorcet mathematicien, pp. 27987. Cf. C. Kintzler, Condorcet critique de Mon-
tesquieu et de Rousseau, Bulletin de la Societe Montesquieu 6 (1994), 1031; R. Niklaus, Condorcet et
Montesquieu: conit id eologique entre deux th eoriciens rationalistes, Dix-huiti`eme Si`ecle 25 (1993),
In other words, man sprang from nature a political animal, fully endowed with rights that needed
only to be declared, as, in a biological sense, he was born with capacities that needed only to be
developed (Schapiro, Condorcet, p. 112).
After making errors for a long time, after having lost themselves in vague or incomplete theories,
publicists have nally managed to understand the real rights of man, and to reduce themto this single
truth: that man is a sense-based being, capable of making rational judgements and of having moral ideas
[Condorcets italics] (vi: 176).
New Heaven in the title printed in the rst collective edition of Condorcets works, edited by Mme
de Condorcet, A.-A. Barbier, P.-J.-G. Cabanis and D.-J. Garat, 21 vols. (Brunswick and Paris, 1804),
vol. xii, p. 3. Whether the pun is intended or not is unknown.
48 Condorcet and Modernity
obligations and responsibilities of citizenship.
In the Lettres dun bourgeois
de New Haven he also stressed the importance of correct voting procedures
as a means to protect rights.
Thus, for Condorcet, the political actuality of natural rights didnot come
into existence through civil society; on the contrary, civil society and the
system of laws it generated only gained meaning and purpose in as much as
they ensured the rediscovery and continuing afrmation of those primor-
dial natural rights. Rights thus assumed an increasing political resonance
in response to mans perfectionnement because the more enlightenment
advances, the more men will know their rights, and the more clearly they
will be able to discern the obvious consequences of those rights (ix: 165).
When law codes were realigned with rights, justice and moral authenticity
wouldenter into civil life. Prior to that realignment those features of the civil
order belonging to conditions pre-dating the recognition of rights were des-
ignated privil`eges, whose destruction was the proper business of enlightened
legislators or, failing that, of revolution. Like many of his contemporaries,
Condorcet saw nature and society as the embodiment respectively of the
world of human realities and the world of institutionalised artice. How-
ever, he did not see in that dichotomy a juxtaposition of values that was
irretrievably sinister or malevolent. The two could be made to complement
each other in ways that would produce a harmonious social environment.
The rst step towards complementarity was to ensure that a culture of
rights informed political decision-making, and that the law permitted the
full recognition of natural rights through a formal constitutional written
declaration of those rights. Without such a declaration, a legal and moral
vacuum would exist, and despotism would ourish.
Condorcet set out
the consequences of such a legal vacuum in the 1789 Idees sur le despotisme
In the May 1793 prospectus for the Journal de linstruction sociale, a journal that Condorcet edited with
Si ey` es and Duhamel, the genesis of political rights is related to the transformation of individuals into
an association of men: Individuals, as men and as members of political society, have relationships
with each other, from which their rights and duties spring. Such rapports also arose from mans
relationship to the fruits of his work, and were, moreover, in a constant state of evolution, driven
by economic as well as social factors: There exist other relationships between individuals and the
society to which they belong. Finally, mens needs and industry generate new relationships between
themselves and the things they can produce, perfect, consume or use (xii: 605). Cf. article 6 of the
Essai sur la constitution et les fonctions des assemblees provinciales (viii: 496).
In the 1789 Reexions sur les pouvoirs a declaration of rights was described as the cornerstone of the
new constitution: It is thus necessary for a nation to be free in order to allow it to deliberate, and for
its freedom to be assured so that its will can be carried out; now its freedom can be assured only by a
charter [Condorcets italics], and this public corner-stone of the constitution must be established and
maintained by all of the nations forces (ix: 281). In an earlier MS fragment Condorcet had written
of his intention to provide a picture of everything that exists in a free, well-regulated society . . . The
rst purpose of political association is to ensure, extend and facilitate the enjoyment of natural
rights . . . In order to enjoy these rights society must have recognised the obvious and immediate
Human nature and human rights 49
where he insisted that only a solemn declaration of rights would prevent
tyranny (ix: 165).
After 1789 Condorcet referred frequently to the notion of natural rights
in several essays,
in his biography of, and correspondence with, Turgot
and in many public addresses. He had also frequently invoked the rela-
tionship between the law and natural rights in legal controversies in
which he had been involved, such as the defence in collaboration with
Voltaire of the chevalier dEtallonde, the Lally affair and the affaire des
trois roues (see below pp. 1836), about which he had written with such
passionate commitment in the 1781 Reponse au premier plaidoyer de M.
dEpremesnil dans laffaire du comte de Lally (vii: 2558), and the 1786
Reexions dun citoyen non gradue, sur un proc`es tr`es connu (vii: 14166). In
the 1786 De linuence de la Revolution dAmerique sur lEurope, Condorcet
expressed his admiration for the American Revolution,
and he identifed
in the introduction four core natural rights, from which all positive laws
should emanate: the right to personal liberty, that liberty requiring protec-
tion from the aggression of others and constrained only by the degree to
which the well-being of others is infringed; the right to property; the right
to a system of laws, impartially administered and embodying the princi-
ples of equality and universality; and lastly the right to participation in
the framing and enactment of laws, a necessary consequence of the nat-
ural, primitive equality of man (viii: 56). The fourth natural right was
that of the franchise, to be enjoyed by all those capable of exercising a
rational judgement that would benet the public good.
As with public
opinion in general and its role in political decision-making, Condorcet
had in mind only enlightened proprietaires. Ideally, in a society liberated
from the yoke of irrationalism, every individual would be enfranchised. In
practice, Condorcet envisaged the exercise of the fourth natural right only
in strictly limited contexts.
Nevertheless, the prerogative of enfranchised
citizenship remained a natural right, the right given by nature to all men
consequences of them so that no group or individual could take it upon itself to undermine them.
This is the purpose of a declaration of rights (BIF Condorcet MS 859, f. 91).
Including Sur ladmission des femmes aux droits de cite (1790). Among those essays that have so far
received little attention from scholars are the Reexions sur ce qui a ete fait et sur ce qui reste ` a faire
(1789), Sur letendue des pouvoirs de lAssemblee nationale (1790), De la nature des pouvoirs politiques
dans une nation libre (1792) and La Republique aux hommes libres (1792).
His admiration was tempered by reservations about the American notion of democratic rights, see
Sommerlad and McLean (eds. and trans.), The Political Theory of Condorcet, p. 286.
Thus in the Essai sur la constitution et les fonctions des assemblees provinciales he disqualied children,
lunatics, monks, servants, criminals, foreigners, itinerants, and non-property owners: it can be
assumed that none of these have an enlightened will (viii: 130).
See Cahen, Condorcet, pp. 315.
50 Condorcet and Modernity
living in a state to contribute to the formulation of the rules to which every
inhabitant of that state must submit in order to maintain the rights of all
(viii: 127).
In the Projet de declaration des droits naturels, civils et politiques des hommes
(Proposal for a declaration of mans natural, civil and political rights) these
four core rights were rened further with the addition of the right of the
dispossessed to resist oppression (xii: 417), but this was really not a right
in the technical sense that Condorcet gave to the concept but rather a
formulation of the regrettable consequence of the states denial of natural
rights, and particularly of the fourth. The 1792 Adresse aux Bataves claried
the point in more urgent historical circumstances: If the inhabitants of
every well-populated, poor and ignorant nation were to be deprived of
their rights, they would soon turn into a population that was both vile and
seditious, and just as ready to rise up against the law as to break the power
of a tyrants hand (xii: 142).
The fourth right, as formulated in De linuence de la Revolution
dAmerique sur lEurope (On the inuence of the American Revolution on
Europe), took Condorcet into more complex, controversial and certainly
more subtly argued areas if only because it opened up that most dangerous
and volatile of Pandoras boxes, namely exclusions from the franchise aris-
ing from the preconditions relating to public rationality and virtue. In later
years, in the Esquisse, for example, Condorcet would place less emphasis on
the issue of exclusions in order to emphasise the franchise more positively
on egalitarian grounds as an unqualied natural right:
It was felt that this method of ensuring the rights of all men, who in every society
must submit to common rules, of ensuring the power to choose such methods,
to determine such rules, can only belong to the majority of the members of that
society, because as each individual, in exercising this choice, cannot follow his
own reasoning without making others submit to it, the will of the majority is the
only expression of truth that can be accepted by everyone without damaging the
principle of equality. (vi: 176)
The fourth natural right encompassed nothing less than the peoples demo-
cratic prerogative to alter laws and constitutions, the right to change the
political order, thereby embodying dynamic principles of upheaval and
mutation as men grow more enlightened (vi: 177). It reected a con-
sistent concern on Condorcets part to retain exibility in the provisions
of any measure to reform the constitution, the on-going right to change
constitutions being ultimately the only practical antidote to inevitable
See Baker, Condorcet, pp. 22544. On Condorcets calculus of consent theory and other aspects of
his thinking on the electoral process, see Chapter 8.
Human nature and human rights 51
human error that might otherwise subvert even the most enlightened the-
oretical advancement of liberty. The concern is reiterated in the Idees sur le
despotisme, ` a lusage de ceux qui prononcent ce mot sans lentendre (Thoughts
on despotism, for the use of those who say the word without understanding
what it means): Without such a precaution, whatever formthe constitution
takes, citizens will not be shielded from tyranny; the constitution might
be established legitimately, but it will still be a tyranny, just as an unjust
sentence is no less unjust for having been passed in accordance with the
legal formalities (ix: 166).
The fourth natural right was in effect the right from which the rst
three acquired their constitutional force. Participation in law-making and
constitution-changing, however, depended for its success on an enlightened
citizenry that understood its true needs and interests, and the true nature of
the liberty to which it aspired. Without enlightened participation, the law
would become the plaything of a corrupt judiciary, ruthless magistrates and
unbridled sectional interests.
Condorcet returned to this key provision in
his more extended formulation of rights in Section 19 of the Idees sur
le despotisme, a text that serves in effect as a prefatory statement to the
Declaration that Condorcet would compose later in the same year.
The American Revolution represented the expression of the individ-
uals right to freedom which the individual could claim directly from the
state in terms of specic measures that safeguarded personal freedom. In
Condorcets political philosophy, on the other hand, reason was derived
on a collective basis from the general will of the majority. Whereas the
American Revolution emphasised individuality in the question of rights,
Condorcet tended to dene freedom in terms of the individuals obligat-
ion to act in accordance with the rules devised democratically to protect
the common interest, although it did not follow from this principle that
the welfare of the individual would necessarily be compromised. This
was the guiding principle behind the elaboration of rights in the 1793 Projet
de declaration des droits naturels, civils et politiques des hommes.
for Condorcet thus took two forms, as he made clear in the 1781 Reexions
sur lesclavage des n`egres: political freedom, in which the individual is subject
only to the laws emanating from the general will (as in Rousseaus theory),
Democracy was a volatile and unpredictable commodity, to be handled with great caution. In the
Idees sur le despotisme Condorcet made clear that the despotism of the people was to be feared, and
he had much to say in that essay about the nature and consequences of arbitrary insurrection and
the art of managing the blind, inchoate forces of the mob (ix: 1614).
On Condorcets centrist tendencies on this point, see Dippel, Projeter le monde moderne, 162.
For an interesting comparative analysis of the text of Condorcets 1789 Declaration and the re-worked
version that Robespierre presented to the Convention on 24 April 1793, see J.-P. Faye, La Matrice des
droits: Condorcet et Robespierre, in Cr epel and Gilain (eds.), Condorcet mathematicien, pp. 31321.
52 Condorcet and Modernity
and personal freedom. It is the latter form of freedom that ensures the right
to dispose freely of ones person, of not being dependent on the whims of
others for food, opinion, feelings or taste. Loss of freedom in this private
sense is felt by all, and is the condition of true servitude (vii: 122).
Constitutional recognition of rights on that basis, and of their inviolabil-
ity, remained for Condorcet the precondition for achieving the collective
happiness that justied civil association.
For Condorcet, however, the
route forward did not lie in the arbitrary day-to-day balancing of the cogs
and pulleys of conicting interests, but in well-managed legislative reform
that anchored the law and the constitution to the terms of an agreed dec-
laration. Thus in the Reexions sur ce qui a ete fait, et sur ce qui reste ` a faire
(Reections on what has been done and on what remains to be done) the
rst step that he urged the National Assembly to take to avert anarchy
in 1789 was to ensure that rights were solemnly recognised and declared:
Recognition of these rights is the basis of all societies, the only bastion that
citizens have against the unjust laws which their representatives might be
tempted to pass, and the surest way to keep ideas of freedom safe in the
collective mind and prevent the people from ever forgetting the dignity of
human nature (ix: 447).
Condorcet emphasised repeatedly in the years leading up to the Revolu-
tion the crucial importance of a declaration of rights, formally drafted in
constitutional terms, in order to give political abstractions concrete, legisla-
tive reality.
Many of the elements that he envisaged and drafted for such a
declaration prior to the meeting of the Estates-General would be enshrined
in due course in both the 1789 and the 1793 Declarations, although the draft
On the notion of freedom as a sentiment, see E. Rothschild, Economic Sentiments. Adam Smith,
Condorcet and the Enlightenment (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001), pp. 2013.
Condorcet was not a convinced utilitarian, the doctrines of utilitarianism leading in his view only to
a state of perpetual warfare (viii: 5). Cf. C. A. Helv etius, De lesprit (Paris: Durand, 1758), pp. 322,
375. On Turgots opposition to utilitarian doctrines, so inuential as far as Condorcet was concerned,
see Baker, Condorcet, p. 443 n. 68.
Condorcet was not the rst of course. A proposal for a Declaration of Rights incorporating a social
contract had been proposed on 9 July 1789 by Jean-Joseph Mounier, the organiser of the Tennis
Court Oath of 20 June. Condorcet was drawing in fact on a long tradition of codication of rights
inherited from England in the form of the 1215 Magna Carta, the Petition of Rights addressed to
Charles I by Parliament in 1628 and institutionalised in 1679 as Habeas Corpus under Charles II,
and the Bill of Rights proclaimed as the basis to the English constitution after the defeat of James II
and the replacement of absolute monarchy under the Stuarts with constitutional monarchy under
WilliamIII of Orange. Lockes inuence on Condorcet in this area was considerable, see D. Williams,
Progress and the empirical tradition in Condorcet, Bulletin de la Societe Americaine de Philosophie de
Langue Franc aise 4 (1992), 737; D. Williams, Condorcet and the English Enlightenment, British
Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies 16 (1993), 1636. Models for Condorcets 1789 Declaration
have been suggested by McLean and Hewitt (Condorcet, p. 57). They include Jeffersons Virginia
Declaration of Religious freedom, passed by the Virginia legislature in 1786, and the draft declaration
issued in January 1789 by La Fayette and Gem. Of these Jeffersons seems to have been the most
inuential. See also n. 24 below.
Human nature and human rights 53
of the declaration of rights to go before the Assembly in July 1789, and pro-
mulgated in August as the Declaration des droits de lhomme et du citoyen, was
not Condorcets but La Fayettes.
The question of Condorcets inuence
over La Fayettes draft remains open, but after his break with La Fayette
he would refer to the text in disparaging terms. The question of the wider
impact of Condorcets Declaration is still to be fully explored. Jefferson,
whose thinking was behind the La Fayette Declaration, took Condorcets
text back to America, and his subsequent letters to Madison offer interest-
ing evidence of Condorcets inuence on the 1791 Bill of Rights.
Mazzei Condorcet also knew King Stanislas Poniatowski, and the Polish
King was certainly impressed by Condorcets thinking on social choice. It
would seem that he did give Condorcets view on rights and voting pro-
cedures some consideration, although little trace of Condorcets inuence
on the Polish constitution has been found. Condorcet lost favour with
Stanislas once his republican sympathies became clear.
In the 1789 Lettres dun gentilhomme ` a messieurs du tiers-etat (Letters from
a gentleman to the Third Estate) he identied a declaration of rights as the
second most urgent issue to be addressed by the Third Estate in its choice
of representatives (the rst being agreement on the modalities for the new
The most important objective is a declaration of mens rights, a declaration that
protects their enjoyment of those rights fromarbitrary legislation and, more impor-
tantly, fromexisting laws which contravene those rights, as well as fromfuture laws
and even from laws to which other assemblies might agree. These rights are those
which nature has given to all men, and which all must enjoy equally. They are
common to all orders of society, and to maintain them the Third Estate must
choose deputies who it thinks will attach most importance to the conservation of
those rights. (ix: 2223)
A declaration would provide an impenetrable shield against the depre-
dations of tyranny. Its constitutional implications would be far-reaching,
See also the Notes pour une declaration des droits (BIF Condorcet MS 859, ff. 4459). This draft
appears to be in Condorcets cramped hand, but Chouillet questions the authorship (Inventaire,
p. 20). Clearer manuscript evidence that Condorcet was contemplating an ambitious, lengthy work
on the subject of a declaration of rights is available, however (BIF Condorcet MS 859, ff. 60124).
These autograph notes are partly in Condorcets hand, and partly in Cardots (with Condorcets
annotations). The text is distinct from that printed in the Arago-OConnor edition (ix: 175212).
For what is probably the nalised text, see BN(R) l39 7672, 6914(80). Cf. Cahen, Condorcet, pp. xvii
xviii, 17780. On La Fayettes draft, and also on the connection between Condorcets Declaration
and that of the radical English doctor and revolutionary Richard Gem, see McLean and Hewitt,
Condorcet, pp. 556. See below p. 255 n. 8.
See Boyd et al. (eds.), The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. xv, p. 392; McLean and Hewitt, Condorcet,
pp. 589; Sommerlad and McLean (eds. and trans.), The Political Theory of Condorcet, 1 (1989), pp.
54 Condorcet and Modernity
imposing the responsibility on deputies to destroy all laws and customs
that sought to violate its articles (ix: 2347).
Natural rights were known, through rational deduction, to exist in a
Platonic sense, though their full extent and their implications for the civil
order were not. Moreover, the relationship between rights and duties was
complex and poorly understood,
so for progress to be made in these
areas a declaration of rights would be particularly useful and illuminating,
although in the Idees sur le despotisme Condorcet was not optimistic about
the prospects for its immediate acceptance by all nations, habit having
accustomed man so much to his chains (ix: 167). Condorcet noted the
encouraging precedent set by the adoption of a declaration, albeit incom-
plete, by the state of Virginia in May 1776, soon to be followed by six other
states, but noted also the minimal progress made since 1776. No declaration
of rights had yet addressed the question of rights in crucial areas affecting
individuals directly, and in Section 21 of the Idees Condorcet reviewed the
state of play on the question of declared rights in pessimistic terms: no
declaration of rights had so far even dened the limits of sovereign power.
In Section 22 of the Idees Condorcet gave serious thought to the challenge
of drafting a new and comprehensive declaration of rights, paying partic-
ular attention to the management of the practicalities involved. Clarity,
precision and pragmatism would be the prerequisites. It was perhaps the
most urgent political challenge faced by the Enlightenment, and that chal-
lenge could be met only by harnessing the energies of enlightened minds.
Condorcet envisaged the establishment of co-ordinated teams of enlight-
ened men, each team working to produce its own model (ix: 170). Teams
would be charged with compiling lists of unambiguous, clearly dened
rights which would be in due course consolidated and rened as a single,
agreed draft,
so that, while avoiding verbosity andminiscule detail, it wouldilluminate eachright
so clearly that any serious violation of that right would be obvious, open to simple
demonstration and understandable to all . . . Finally, after having compared various
drafts, and made a complete list of what constitutes those rights, this preliminary
enunciation should be drafted in such a way as to allow a large assembly to say
yes or no to what it believes should be incorporated in a declaration of rights, or
judges to be fantastical or exaggerated. (ix: 171)
Condorcet cited on this point the example of America, see De linuence de la Revolution de lAmerique
sur lEurope (viii: 1314).
Specic areas listed by Condorcet here, in which the individual urgently needed in his view the
benets of a declaration of rights, included capital punishment, taxation, trade, property and the
produce of property (property meaning not only land but skills and talents), conditions of military
conscription and service and juries (ix: 16970). See also the Vie de Voltaire (iv: 298301).
Human nature and human rights 55
The formulation of rights in a nalised form for translation into constitu-
tional principle would emerge from the interaction of enlightened minds
engaged in a co-ordinated process of consultation and evaluation.
The consultative aspect was not, however, to be exclusive to the drafters
but open to all citizens through the promulgation in print of the results of
the deliberations:
there would be a double advantage, namely that of submitting the results to all
citizens for approval and of beneting from the light that might shine out from
them, and that of being able to say that no right that any member of the state
might wish to claim had been neglected . . . The more comprehensive and the
more extensive a declaration is, the more transparent and precise it will be, and
the more the nation which recognises it, and is committed to it out of principle
and conviction, will be sure that it is shielded from tyranny; for any tyranny
which might openly attack one of those rights will encounter general opposition.
(ix: 172)
In Section 23 Condorcet stressed the advantages of a Declaration generated
through a broad mechanism of consultation and mutual agreement for
public peace and condence in times of constitutional uncertainty. The
procedures would, moreover, provide for the illumination of an informed
citizenry, no longer to be so easily duped, as in the past, on the question
of its rights and of the legitimacy of ancien regime privileges contrary to
those very rights (ix: 172).
In addition to the Idees sur le despotisme, two other texts are particu-
larly relevant to an understanding of Condorcets evolving position on the
constitutional denition of rights, and the problem of translating those
rights into legislative measures. The rst is his Declaration des droits of
1789, and the second is the Projet de declaration des droits naturels, civils
et politiques which formed part of the Projet de constitution presented to
the National Convention on 15 and 16 February 1793. Condorcets 1789
Declaration was supposedly published in London, purporting to be a trans-
lation of an English text (widely attributed to Mazzei, but in fact by Richard
Gem), issued to encourage the meeting of the Estates-General to start with
a declaration of rights.
In the Avertissement to the Declaration des droits,
its composition timed to coincide with the meeting of the Estates-General,
Jefferson gave the game away on the titlepage of one of his three copies: par le marquis de Condorcet,
traduite en Anglois par le Docteur Gem avec loriginal ` a c ot e, see McLean and Hewitt, Condorcet,
p. 57; Boyd et al. (eds.), The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. xv, pp. 38499. For the MS text of the
Declaration see BN(R) Lb39 7672. For the MS text of the misleadingly anonymous original text,
see BN(R) Lb19 6914. See also Cahen, Condorcet, pp. xviixviii. Jefferson returned to Virginia with
this text, and it might well have had some impact on the US Bill of Rights.
56 Condorcet and Modernity
Condorcet warned against raising expectations too high. Rights could not
be instantly implemented, and a declaration of rights was a beginning, not
an end: A comprehensive and precise declaration of rights is perhaps the
most useful work that can be offered to men in any country; but that work,
like astronomical tables, can only be perfected with the help of time, the
co-operation of many people, and a long process of correction resulting
from a scrupulous and thoughtful examination (ix: 17980).
would return to a strategy of gradualism in a number of other proposals for
reformist legislation, gradualist strategies being a characteristic feature of
his approach to the political management of change, and to the advance-
ment of policies that would carry change forward and have impact on the
everyday life of the individual citizen in the short term rather than the
Condorcets Declarationis dividedintove mainsections, eachwitha dif-
fering number of sub-sections or divisions, many being further sub-divided
into numbered paragraphs each containing a list of italicised proclamatory
articles constituting the Declaration itself. Most of the preamble is con-
cerned with voting rules and procedures, and the rights that are categorised
subsequently encompass the rights dened in the August 1789 Declaration
of the Assembly and also those set out in the Virginia Bill of Rights. At the
start the prerequisite of public consent is reafrmed as the litmus test of
political legitimacy and governmental authority. Rights were proclaimed
to be immune from legislative interference unless authorised by a process
of consent that was continuously invoked, thereby underpinning the right
to change constitutions to which Condorcet had given priority in the Idees
sur le despotisme. The legislative application of rights in the constitution,
and the protection of their integrity, was a matter for the governed not for
Condorcets Projet de declaration des droits was deemed a prerequisite to any pact that brought
people to unite in society. The declaration of rights had to precede the formulation of constitutional
mechanisms since the latter were to provide the instruments for guaranteeing the sustenance of
the former, V. G. Rosenblum, Condorcet as constitutional draftsman: dimensions of substantive
commitment and procedural implementation, Condorcet Studies 1 (1984), p. 191.
In the Esquisse Condorcet observed that historically the actual exercise of rights had always lagged
fatally behind their legal recognition: In reviewing the history of societies we have been able to
show that a long interval often exists between the rights which the law recognises in citizens and
the rights which they actually enjoy, between the equality established by political institutions and
that which exists between individuals. This hiatus had often caused the destruction of the frag-
ile shoots of liberty in ancient republics, exacerbating the constitutional tensions to which they
became vulnerable, and the weaknesses that eventually exposed them to the mercy of their enemies
(vi: 244).
Human nature and human rights 57
No power, except by the unanimous consent of all members of society, can legit-
imise an attack on these rights; such an attack would be even more lacking in
legitimacy unless every man, on reaching the age of reason, gave fresh consent
to that violation, that it affected only those who agreed to submit to it, and that
this consent could be withdrawn after a pre-determined period. It cannot be said
either that society can act more legitimately by just constraining those rights within
certain limits; it can only dene precisely what nature has already placed within
those limits. (ix: 181)
Rights could be threatened by laws designed deliberately to undermine
them, or by laws whose implementation posed, even unintentionally, the
threat of violation.
Condorcet dened the meaning of the individuals
vote to establish a representative assembly strictly within the framework of
a consensual political contract between voters and the elected that had the
protection of rights at its centre, and the assurance that those rights would
determine the formulation of laws:
Each man, by voting into existence an ofcial legislative body, is saying to it: I am
establishing you so that you can control the way in which I and my fellow citizens can
be assured of our rights; I submit myself to the general will that you will embody in the
laws; but I must place limitations on that will, and prevent you from using against my
rights the power that I have given you to defend them [Condorcets italics]. (ix: 183)
In the Declaration natural rights are reduced to ve: personal security, per-
sonal liberty, security of property, freedom to enjoy the benets of property and
natural equality, each of which is then reformulated as measures, with com-
mentary, in the ve corresponding sections that constitute the Declaration
itself. In the rst of the three divisions of Section 1, on rights relating to the
individuals security, Condorcet proposed eight measures to counter with
immediate effect the malign and unjust effects of contemporary criminal
codes and judicial procedures (ix: 18490). These included the establish-
ment of clear criteria to be used in the denition of punishable offences, the
removal of the prerogative of government to impose taxes that require arbi-
trary powers of enforcement, the clear and consistent formulation of the
criminal code and the systematic regularisation of penalties, the restriction
of criminal procedures to legally established courts, and the restriction of
the death penalty to proven cases of murder or intended murder in which
The distinction was, in Condorcets view, a crucial one: If a law condemns a man to death by an
imprecise, summary process, it directly undermines the security of all; but if the death sentence
is passed by a majority of two it could not be said that the law directly undermines my personal
security, but only that it exposes me to the risk of being unjustly condemned (ix: 182).
58 Condorcet and Modernity
the perpetrator posed a threat to society,
the abolition of torture as part
of trial procedures,
and the right of defendants to know the nature of
the charges against them, the evidence of their alleged crimes, the identity
of witnesses, the substance of their testimony and the right to a defence
procedure. The eighth measure was concerned with the extension of the
protection of rights in the light of changing denitions of crime when the
state was at war.
In the second and third divisions Condorcet turned to the means by
which governments could ensure the impartiality of the judiciary, the most
dangerous adversary of rights in general, and of the rst natural right to
security in particular: Judicial power is a dangerous weapon that is easy to
abuse against citizens, and which can, if not conned in pure, impartial
hands, be more fatal to their security than the private acts of violence
from which it should be defending them (ix: 187). Eight amendments to
contemporary practices relating to the appointment of judges, the election
of court ofcials and the abolition of special courts are set out, all aimed
at the elimination of arbitrariness and irregularity in political and legal
mechanisms relating to tenure of judicial ofce, the establishment of the
right of the accused in civilian and military courts to a partial veto over
trial procedures and reforms in the use of pardons. The sixth and seventh
measures provide for legislation to prevent the arbitrary use of military
force against the people, whether for reasons of public order or to ensure
obedience to the law, unless such action was sanctioned by a specic law,
Condorcets application of probability theory to decision-making by juries indicated that proof
of guilt could never be sufciently watertight to ensure that the accused was the guilty party.
He supplemented probability-based arguments about juries with humanitarian concerns about the
efciency of executions and the problem of the irrevocability of the sentence, once carried out, for
neither judges, and still less the body politic . . ., can be absolutely certain of the crime; the possibility
of the innocence of the person found guilty of it is never completely eliminated, and consequently
all irrevocable punishments are unjust, unless it can be proved that they are necessary (ix: 185). He
also rejected the justication of the death penalty as an effective deterrence. Interestingly, he did,
however, accept the need for the death penalty in the case of insurrectionists and traitors, whose
imprisonment might constitute an on-going danger to the security of the state.
Condorcets oppositionto torture was almost certainly redby his involvement inVoltaires campaign
to rehabilitate the chevalier de La Barre and his co-defendants (see Introduction, pp. 1517). In the
Declaration his concern was to separate barbaric judicial procedures from the individual acts of raw
vengeance that operated in the state of nature: Actually, in order to be legitimate, punishments can
only replace, while at the same time softening, what the vengeance of individuals would permit in the
state of nature by assuming the role of a man not deprived of his reason by anger; and punishments
must not go beyond what is necessary to prevent crime, and to protect society from the criminal
acts of the guilty (ix: 186).
Condorcet observed here the differing denitions of crime in a war situation affecting the con-
duct of civilians as well as soldiers. The special responsibilities for the administration of justice in
these circumstances by military commanders were heavy, but respect for individual rights remained
paramount (ix: 1867).
Human nature and human rights 59
and carried out within the framework of that law. The seventh measure
stipulated that such a law would authorise military measures only against
the people in circumstances involving an open violation of natural rights
of individuals as well as of society (ix: 188). In the eighth measure set
out in the third division Condorcet, ever concerned with the technical
detail needed to esh out the abstractions of principle, concentrates on
specic regulations governing the number of judges to be appointed to a
court, voting procedures, the establishment of tribunals to monitor court
procedures, appeal courts and the monitoring of government measures to
invoke force against the people.
A similar level of close scrutiny of administrative detail is apparent in
the second section of the Declaration relating to the right to freedom.
Proposals are listed again in three divisions, of which the rst, containing
fourteen measures designed to protect freedom from direct attacks, is the
longest. In addressing an issue that might easily have been treated as a purely
philosophical problem, Condorcet again reveals his grasp of the pragmatic,
street-level policies required to give legislative abstractions relevance to the
real world. Thus the rst measure engages immediately with the abolition
of restrictions on freedom arising from the rules of exclusion in the trades
and professions, which militated against the natural right of the individual
to benet from the exercise of his talents and skills: all restrictions in this
respect being contrary, not only to the freedom of those who are forbidden
to carry out a particular function, or do a certain job, but also to the freedom
of other citizens who would like to employ themto carry out that function,
or do that job (ix: 191). Measures with a similarly sharp cutting edge and
profoundly benecial social implications for ordinary people include the
abolition of all forms of conscription, whether military or civilian,
the removal of domiciliary restrictions. Other measures relate to the powers
of husbands over wives and children, the removal of arbitrary powers of
arrest, the policing of taxation, the obligatory taking of oaths, freedom of
the press,
religious tolerance and freedom of association. The problem
of making the people aware of their right to freedom without provoking
The commentary on this measure contains interesting, and subtle, qualications. Refusal to do
public service when such service might be urgently required might be contrary to humanity, but
would infringe justice, and men can only be forced to comply with justice. The only penalty possible,
therefore, was that of public shaming (ix: 1912).
Press freedom was a crucial matter for Condorcet, and he addressed it frequently. In the Lettres dun
citoyen des Etats-Unis ` a un Franc ais, for example, he described the degree of government opposition
to press freedom as the true thermometer by which one measures the intentions of public men or
political bodies (ix: 106). In the Declaration the press would be subject to penalties only in cases of
personal libel (ix: 193). Even that restriction would not survive in the 1793 Projet de declaration. In
general, Condorcet saw censorship as an offence, not only against the natural right of freedom, but
60 Condorcet and Modernity
insurrection is not raised in the commentaries on the measures listed in the
However, Condorcet does refer here to the tensions between
the right to freedom and the need to maintain public order, but not from
that standpoint. In the second section of the Declaration he is much more
concerned with the threat of repression from above rather than revolt from
below, for it is not enough to enjoy freedom, to not fear that freedom will
be troubled by the civil authority; freedom must be protected from the
violence and the attacks that prejudice can inspire (ix: 195).
The secondandthirddivisions of Section2 of the Declaration, containing
three and ve proposals respectively, relate to conditions of arrest, limitation
on detention and sentencing in which Condorcet clearly has the English
provision of habeas corpus in mind. The third division, on the form of
legislation needed for the preservation of freedom, is relatively concise,
but covers a wide and, at rst sight, disparate range of issues. The rst
two measures are concerned with the use of public space and facilities,
ordinary things like views, rivers, etc., and the third with the regulation of
public order in that context (ix: 263). The individuals right to freedomand
security imposed on the state the obligation to provide for the policing of
public order which constrained the rights of the few in specic situations
threatening those of the many, such as outbreaks of public violence. In
order to enjoy the right of freedom, it was not enough to remove the fear
of encroachment by the state; and rights of redress against government
infringement of individual freedom are therefore set out in the fourth
measure. It was above all incumbent on the state, under the terms of the
social pact, to take positive steps to shelter individuals from the effects of
the illegal, rights-depriving actions of others to which they become exposed
also as an offence against reason itself, the control of books being an arbitrary act of intellectual
aggression, see the notes to the Kehl Voltaire (iv: 28990). The 1779 Dissertation philosophique et
politique, ou Reexions sur cette question: Sil est utile aux hommes detre trompes? contains a full defence
of the right of access to truth in the cause of public enlightenment, and the urgent need to purge the
popular mind of error and prejudice (v: 35960). At the start of that essay he listed eight justications
for the protection of freedom of information (v: 3435). He also listed four areas in which it would
be impolitic to spread enlightenment: thus he advised caution with regard to destroying popular
belief in a vengeful God, at least until theological doctrine had been replaced by a reason-based
moral system; with regard to the right of resistance in nations where the police and armed forces
were not administered in the name of the people; with regard to the communication of information
useful to the enemies of enlightenment; with regard to the communication of truths whose benets
were not yet understood, and to which ignorant reactions might reinforce opposition to progress
(v: 3813). See also the 1776 Fragments sur la liberte de la presse (xi: 253314, especially Sections 3
and 4).
This problem is examined briey in the Dissertation philosophique et politique where he underlined
the positive role to be played by the press, education and legislation in the exercise of control over
public passions (v: 3735), although he acknowledged that the inuence of the press as an instrument
of persuasion in the matter of false opinions would count for little with an illiterate people.
Human nature and human rights 61
in the civil order: The social state, by bringing men together, by locating
them in dened areas which it is often difcult for them to leave, exposed
them to violence, and consequently the government must protect them
from this violence (ix: 195). The right to freedom did not end at the cell
door, moreover, even for the guilty, and it was characteristic of Condorcets
whole approach to rights in his Declaration that the fth, most detailed
and perhaps most forward-looking, measure listed in the third division
should be devoted to the improvement of prison conditions, the needs
of prisoners families, sanitation, welfare and other issues related to the
preservation of human dignity, even for those legally deprived of freedom
(but not permanently of the right to freedom).
The three divisions of Section 3 of the Declaration, together with the
three divisions of Section 4, on the right to own property, property taxes,
abolition of hunting rights over land belonging to others unless their per-
mission is given, legal procedures in connection with property transactions
and security of property, also reect a characteristic emphasis on adminis-
trative detail, and a readiness to engage withthe practicalities involved inthe
rationalisation of rights of ownership, the protection of property against
damage (caused by hunting privileges, for example), sale of land, public
access to private land, the circumstances under which land can be acquired
for the public good (building of roads, canals, drains, military defences,
etc.), the reformof arrangements for the compulsory purchase of land (even
for the publicly benecial purpose of acquiring land for the construction of
hospitals, prisons and schools), the raising of taxes for public services and
public works and the methods by which such taxation should be calculated
(ix: 196202). The right to own property also encompassed the right to
benet from the produce of property, and the laws necessary to protect
this benet form the substance of the three divisions of Section 4, con-
cerned with libert e des propri et es, and comprising a total of ten measures
(ix: 2026).
Condorcet was not sanguine about the prospects for human dignity in the post-Cartesian age even
in the supposedly optimistic Esquisse. The right to freedom, upon which human dignity was largely
predicated, was still chimerical in most, so-called free, countries (vi: 172). Cf. the Remarques sur les
Pensees de Pascal where he compared the contemporary conditions of life of European serfs to those
of colonial black slaves (iii: 6523).
In the Vie de m. Turgot, Condorcet had dened what he meant by property and the rights associated
with it in the following terms, making clear that while the right to property was regulated by law
codes, it was not derived from those codes but from natural law itself: Property is nothing more
than the right to freely dispose of what one possesses legitimately. In the state of nature, everything
one enjoyed, unless it was taken from someone else, constituted this property; in society property
becomes what one has received from ones family, what one has been able to acquire by ones labour,
what one has obtained by contract. The laws regulate the way in which this right can be exercised,
62 Condorcet and Modernity
Condorcets approach to the question of property coincided fully with
the views of the physiocrats, withsome echoes of Lockeanproperty theory.
Far from being an act of theft and deception, perpetuated and consolidated
by civil institutions and the law, and culminating ultimately in class warfare,
the right to own property was fully accepted by Condorcet as part of the
natural order of things, and as such a legitimate expression of freedom. The
right to own property worked, moreover, in the interests of the have-nots as
well as the haves.
By property he did not mean feudal land-holding, which
was related to hereditary privilege, and therefore contrary to nature. The
right to property involved the return of land to the peasantry, the return
of control over the marketing and distribution of goods to merchants and
manufacturers and the return to workers of their freedom to sell their
Property was freedom made visible, its origins to be found in the
animals killed by the hunter and the fruits of the soil that man cultivated
in the state of nature.
The fth and sixth measures extend proposals to
reform legislation into the area of free trade, the free movement of goods
and the abolition of taxes payable on those goods and disproportionate
levels of taxation on the produce of agricultural property contravening the
right to the protection of property as well as freedom (ix: 204).
The last section, again with three divisions, addresses the question of
equality, and the need to ensure that institutional privileges favouring
but it is not from the law that one derives the right to have property (v: 179). Property predated the
civil order (v: 180). References to the interface between natural rights and the authority of the law
occur frequently in Condorcets political writings. It received particularly careful attention in the
context of the right, not only to private ownership, but also to public ownership of civic institutions.
The right to own land, and the produce of land, was in Condorcets view derived from nature,
and the protection of that right was a key objective of civil association. In the civil order, public
ownership of institutions was authorised, on the other hand, by public consent, and the right to
reform them or destroy them when they become useless or dangerous is a necessary condition of that
consent. Condorcets view on the public ownership of institutions, and the buildings and amenities
that go with them (including royal palaces), offers an interesting pre-Marxist intimation of the logic
of nationalisation as an extension of the natural right to property: Thus the nation alone is the real
owner of the property belonging to those institutions, given to them only by the nation and on
behalf of the nation (v: 24). In the Eloge de Franklin Condorcet dened freedom itself as a form of
property, an equal and inalienable property belonging to the whole human race, corresponding to
natural human need (iii: 395).
On this point, see also the Vie de m. Turgot (v: 1789), the Reexions sur les bles (xi: 1624) and Sur
letat des protestants (v: 4956).
Condorcet explains why in the Dissertation philosophique et politique (v: 362) and in the Essai sur la
constitution et les fonctions des assemblees provinciales (viii: 12831).
See Schapiro, Condorcet, pp. 1745; Cahen, Condorcet, p. 45. Cf. Turgot, Reexions sur la formation et
la distribution des richesses (uvres de Turgot et documents le concernant, ed. G. Schelle, 5 vols. (Paris:
Alcan, 191323), vol. ii, p. 537).
P. Sagnac, La Legislation civile de la Revolution franc aise: la propriete et la famille (17891804) (Paris:
Hachette, 1899), p. 243. On the evolution of property legislation in France between 1785 and 1795,
Sagnacs work is still authoritative (see especially pp. 57243).
Human nature and human rights 63
particular individuals or groups are neutralised.
Condorcet had explored
some of the implications of equality in the Idees sur le despotisme, where he
had made clear that equality did not mean an unqualied abolition of all
forms of inequality, such an ideal being unrealisable in practical political
terms. Inequalities arising as a necessary consequence of the nature of man
and of things were ineradicable (ix: 166). Thus inequality of wealth was
not necessarily contrary to natural law, but a necessary consequence of the
natural right to acquire property and to enjoy its benets, a freedom that
embodied the auxiliary right through inheritance to the indenite posses-
sion of property. Such a right would be contrary to natural law only if it
drewa false legitimacy froman unjust positive law. Similarly, the inequality
arising from the exercise of power and authority inherent in the responsi-
bilities of public ofce on the one hand, and the obligations of duty and
obedience owed by subordinates on the other, would not infringe natu-
ral law because it was derived from the necessary modalities of the social
pact. Such authority would contravene natural law, on the other hand, if it
resided in privilege, or if it transgressed the boundaries of legally sanctioned
duties. Nor would the principle of equality be infringed by the restriction
of the franchise to property-owners, although it would be in the case of
an electoral system that favoured some property-owners more than oth-
ers, because such a distinction does not arise from the nature of things
(ix: 167). Thus not all inequalities should be seen as a violation of natural
rights. In the Lettres dun citoyen des Etats-Unis ` a un Franc ais sur les affaires
presentes the defence of the weak against the depredations of the strong, the
natural condition of the pre-civil state, remained nevertheless an obligation
on rulers and a right of the ruled: Equality is nothing less than one of the
natural rights of humanity. Men are born equal, and society is created in
order to prevent that form of inequality based on strength and force, the
only inequality which exists in nature, from creating with impunity violent
acts of injustice (ix: 101).
Equality meant universality of rights.
From property Condorcet moves on to formulate proposals to abolish
hereditary privileges relating to appointments to public ofce and the award
In the Essai sur la constitution et les fonctions des assemblees provinciales Condorcet observed that
unfortunately, most men are more attached to the prerogatives that distinguish them from others
than to the rights which they have in common, even when those rights are important and those
prerogatives frivolous (viii: 278).
In the Lettres dun citoyen des Etats-Unis ` a un Franc ais Condorcet adds: Every inequality, which in
the social order is established by law, and is not the necessary consequence of true merit, of the
right to property, of public opinion, of the importance of social duties, is a violation of that right
(ix: 1012).
See Dippel, Projeter le monde moderne, 1624.
64 Condorcet and Modernity
of honours, but muchof the rst divisionof the last sectionis also devotedto
matters relating to representation and the franchise, and the preconditions
for civil obedience to the laws that elected representatives might wish to
promulgate. Here Condorcet envisaged ve natural conditions for the
exercise of a reformed franchise, restricting the vote to property-owners, to
those free of convictions, to the sane and to those not subject to contractual
or other formal obligation to others. The right to vote for representatives is
closely followed in order of priority by the right of association. Condorcet
was concerned not only to protect this right, but also to prevent its abuse
(ix: 208). Thus the corps of priests, soldiers and lawyers should not enjoy
privileges of association that were any different from that of theatre-goers
(ix: 209). Equality before the law for all citizens, regardless of status or sex,
is raised to the level of a mandatory constitutional requirement.
The key component principles of a modern polity continuous evolu-
tion, popular consent, eternal vigilance (a review every ten years), trans-
parency, accountability and the legally endorsed provision for corrective
action that applies not only to a constitution but also to a declaration of
rights itself remain paramount:
No constitutive law, not even this declaration of rights, will be considered perpetual
or fundamental, but a xed term will be established, at the end of which one or
the other will be re-examined; and as it would be both absurd and dangerous to
charge the legislative with that function . . . a small commission will be set up every
ten years by the generality of citizens, charged with reviewing that declaration of rights
as well as the constitution [Condorcets italics]. (ix: 210)
This would require within a year the submission of a report to a general
convention . . . nominated by the generality of citizens (ix: 211), separate
from, and independent of, the legislative. The general convention would
have powers to add further articles to the draft of the Declaration, to extend,
correct and rene the text on the basis of a simple majority vote, any changes
to be ratied by a three-quarters majority. For Condorcet rights could be
assuredonly by independent deputies electedinaccordance withprocedures
that would ensure their enlightened impartiality.
The thirty-three articles of Condorcets second declaration of rights,
the 17923 Projet de Declaration des droits naturels, civils et politiques des
The free vote of elected representatives in accordance with procedures which would ensure both
impartiality and enlightenment; these are the true defenders of the peoples rights; only they are
worthy enough to support such a ne cause, Essai sur la constitution et les fonctions des assemblees
provinciales (viii: 558). Cf. Esquisse (vi: 176).
Human nature and human rights 65
hommes, draws on principles elaborated in a more discursive way in the
1789 Declaration, but its provisions were far more radical, and would pro-
vide the basis for the 1793 constitution.
The Projet de Declaration is a
more crisply formulated and better organized text, less encumbered with
the qualications, clarications, examples and exceptions that had pro-
liferated in the earlier text. Presented to the Convention as part of the
Projet de constitution, there is no intercalated commentary, and the tone is
more reglementaire, as might be expected, with obligations as well as rights
receiving closer attention. While the Declaration had been framed in the
aftermath of the Estates-General, and the urgent need to enunciate and
defend a concept of rights in the context of an ancien regime civil order,
the Projet de Declaration was drafted in the context of a reformed con-
tract, and to the requirements of a republican civil order. Equal civil rights
are now for all, and the three core rights, originally identied in the Idees
sur le despotisme, and expanded in a multiplicity of contexts and applica-
tions in the Declaration, are now consolidated and re-prioritized as four:
liberty, equality, security and property. With regard to the franchise, the
property qualication nowdisappears. Condorcet also adds two safeguards:
the social guarantee, meaning in effect the constitutional formalisation of
those rights, and the right to resist oppression.
Liberty now becomes the
right to do anything that does not contravene the rights of others, and is
in accordance with the law, which is the expression of the general will
(xii: 418). The auxiliary rights to freedom of expression and freedom of
the press appear as articles 4 and 5, and the right to freedom of worship
constitutes article 6.
Equality (articles 89) meant universality of rights and equality before
the law, whether it offers recompense or punishment, protection or curbs
(xii: 418). The lengthy legal provisions to ensure security of the person
and of property, which had extended through four sections of the 1789
Declaration, are distilled in the Projet de Declaration as two short articles
of about eighty words in total (1012). Article 13, on the constitutional
provisionfor equal educational opportunity, opens upa newarea. Provisions
relating to the criminal code of punishments, presumption of innocence,
The full text of the Projet de Declaration des droits naturels, civils et politiques des hommes, as pre-
sented to the National Assembly on 15/16 February 1793, has been reprinted by Coutel (Condorcet,
pp. 11518).
If somewhat esoteric, amorphous or even mystical, [the social guarantee] was nonetheless formu-
lated to relate national sovereignty to the general will (Rosenblum, Condorcet as constitutional
draftsman, 191).
66 Condorcet and Modernity
police procedures of arrest
and due process (1417) coincide closely with
the corresponding texts in the Declaration, although there is much less
The long statement in the Declaration on the applications of the
death penalty has been replaced with a simple requirement in article 17,
reecting Beccaria: Punishments must be proportionate to crimes, and
useful to society (xii: 420). The right to own property, the right to freedom
of work and the right to sell and market the produce of labour are dened
in articles 18 and 19. Importantly, article 20 seeks to ensure that individuals
cannot be treated, even by themselves, as marketable commodities, their
person being inalienable. The word consentement appears for the rst time
in articles 21 and 22 in connection with property tax, a tax to be used only
for a useful public purpose or to address the peoples needs (xii: 420),
its level to be decided on the basis of public consultation and consent.
The positive right to education is dened in article 24, and Condorcets
emphasis throughout on usefulness and need in the expenditure of taxation
income is reinforced in article 24, which examines the case for the funding
of public services to help those in need (xii: 421).
Condorcet had much more to say in articles 2530 about the social
guarantee, to which he had alluded without elaboration at the start of
the Projet de Declaration. Arguably this concept, as developed especially
in article 27, injects the most powerful political ingredient of all into the
chemistry of radical constitutional change. The social guarantee of rights
was predicated on, and was an expression of, a view of sovereignty that
informed all aspects of Condorcets thinking after 1789. It would involve the
relocation of sovereignty with the people, a revolutionary sovereignty that
should lie at the heart of a liberal constitution: The social guarantee of the
rights of man rests on national sovereignty. Sovereignty is one, indivisible,
indefeasable and inalienable. It is located essentially in the whole people,
and every citizen has the right to participate in the exercise of it (xii: 422).
The social guarantee could only become operative in constitutions in which
See paras. 68. In the Questions addressing strategy to be adopted by the provincial representatives
attending the meeting of the Estates-General that constitute the last part of the Reexions sur les
pouvoirs there is a lengthier attack on the lettres de cachet (orders for arrest issued under the Kings
private seal) as one of the worst examples of terror induced by the arbitrary use of power: Lettres
de cachet have arrested the progress of enlightenment. They have prevented men from knowing
their rights, from helping each other, from defending each other, and even from coming together to
discuss their misfortunes. For whole centuries lettres de cachet have sapped the courage and stied
the efforts of bodies whose duty was to oppose the collection of illegal taxes. They have attacked
these bodies in their inner sanctums, and in this way have been the cause of the enormous burden
crushing the poor (ix: 274).
Compare, for example, the third paragraph of the rst division of Section 1 of the 1789 Declaration
with the single, brief sentence that constitutes article 15 of the 1793 version.
Human nature and human rights 67
legislative power was sanctioned by popular consent, and the accountability
and responsibilities of public ofcials carefully dened. Popular sovereignty
thus combined with the social guarantee as a sine qua non of the effective
management of rights.
The last three articles of the Projet de Declaration, drafted in the accelerat-
ing owof events between 1789 and 1793, address the delicate circumstances
arising when these conditions were not met. A sovereign people, denied
its rights, was constitutionally empowered to resist oppression, recognised
in article 31 as the ultimate prerogative of all men united in society. In
his 1 April 1791 speech to the Cercle Social, printed under the title Des
Conventions nationales, Condorcet had already commented at length on the
conditions for legitimate resistance to arbitrary rule (x: 1978). In the Projet
de Declaration Condorcet is anxious not to legitimise anarchy. Resistance to
arbitrary rule must have only those laws violating natural law as its target if
it is to avoid the tumult of arbitrary violence. Resistance to oppression was
a right, but its exercise was permissible only within a framework of legisla-
tion which the new constitution must provide: in every free government,
the form that resistance takes to different acts of oppression must be regu-
lated by the constitution (xii: 422). In the last, and in constitutional terms
the most crucial, article Condorcet reiterates his insistence on the right to
review and, if necessary, alter constitutions, but here the formulation of
that right is less precise than in earlier statements, and the procedures for
review are surprisingly vague. Article 33 is in fact limited to a bare assertion
that the people always have the right to reform and change the constitution
in order to protect future generations, living in different times requiring
different provisions, from the tyranny of the past.
The language and substance of the seventeen articles of the Declaration
des droits de lhomme et du citoyen, proclaimed on 26 August 1789, reected
aspects of Condorcets ownDeclaration, designed prior to the meeting of the
Estates-General in May 1789 to guide the deliberations of a new National
The 1793 Projet de Declaration, drafted for the constitution of
24 June 1793, which introduced supplementary articles relating to happi-
ness, free speech, legal process, economic and social rights, and included
the rights to education and civic formation, equality of opportunity,
On this point, see Dippel, Projeter le monde moderne, 164. On the originality of Condorcets
thinking on the relationship between sovereignty and representation, see L. Jaume, Individu et
souverainet e chez Condorcet, in Cr epel and Gilain (eds.), Condorcet mathematicien, pp. 297304.
The constitutional status of the 1789 Declaration was not validated until its solemn reafrmation in
the preamble to the Constitution on 27 October 1946, reconrmed by the constitution of 4 October
1958 in which the rights of man were balanced by Gaullist principles of national autonomy and
authority of the Fifth Republic.
68 Condorcet and Modernity
employment and state support, bear even more clearly Condorcets stamp.
Condorcets Projet de constitution was not adopted ofcially, but the lan-
guage and much of the substance of his second declaration of rights did
nd their way into the text eventually approved by Robespierre, in spite
of the latters detestation of the author.
A year after Condorcets death
the Directoire reverted to the seventeen articles of the 1789 Declaration des
droits de lhomme et du citoyen. Condorcets achievement, if not his name, in
the area of rights and their place in modern constitutions would, however,
survive to provide the compass from which the next two centuries of ide-
ological engagement with the vexed question of human rights would take
their moral and political bearings.
See, for example, the wording of articles 2, 6, 7, 11, 18, 21 (note the reference here to state assistance
for the poor being a sacred debt), 22, 25 and 35.
Faye, La Matrice des droits, pp. 30512.
chapter 3
The civil order
the soci al pact
The historical canvas that Condorcet painted in the Esquisse dun tableau
historique des progr`es de lesprit humain (Sketch for a historical survey of
the progress of the human mind) not only measured the distance from
the pre-social state of nature to modernity, but also explored the links that
modernity still had with that remote dawn of human society. Continuity
is no less important a factor in Condorcets view of the passage from the
state of nature to the civil order than the complementary phenomena of
rupture and regeneration. Nine of the epoques into which he divided the
stages of the human journey in the Esquisse are a celebration of the slow
but sure emergence of man from the darkness of his early history, a process
shaped by the irresistible dynamics of perfectionnement.
Condorcet located the start of mans transition from the nomadic, indi-
vidualist isolation of wild, brutish nature to vestigial forms of civil society in
a period of undated time prior to the rst epoque of early communal life that
he described in great detail in the opening pages of the Esquisse. From small
groups of hunter-gatherer families, gradually rening their skills, develop-
ing language and a small number of moral ideas, communities evolved.
Progress was slow, with survival still dependent on chance and the seasons.
Natural communal life was born in the experience of pain and pleasure
interacting with the stimuli of the external world to produce an awareness
of communal contexts and needs that Condorcet considered to be still
Man is born with the faculty of receiving sensations . . . This faculty develops in
him through the effect on him of external phenomena . . . These sensations are
accompanied by pain and pleasure . . . Finally, from this faculty, joined to that of
forming and combining ideas, relations between him and his fellows arise, based
on interest and duty, to which nature itself has attached the most precious part of
our happiness and the saddest of our ills. (vi: 1112)
70 Condorcet and Modernity
The signicance of this opening statement of the Esquisse, withits lengthy
description of the phenomena of sensation as the ordering principle of indi-
vidual perception and communal organisation, is crucial. From sensation
all else will follow, and Condorcets use of the verb sentir (to feel) in his
writings on constitutional law, criminal law, tax law and the issues aris-
ing out of specic causes cel`ebres in which he was involved, often triggers
an assertion of the rightness of natural principles of justice and morality
over other considerations, or the superiority of feelings over opinion and
authority as the guarantors of legitimacy and authenticity in the civil order.
Sentir is used in a technically precise way that relates specically to this
opening description of sentience as a political phenomenon. The heroes of
progress and reform in Condorcets pantheon of great academicians
are all
men of reason and enlightenment, but also men (and women) of sensation
and sentiment too, and thereby in tune with a primitive, but authentic, ele-
ment in their nature and in nature itself. Civil society for Condorcet came
into existence through the natural needs of the sentient individual whose
possession of natural rights was an innate feature of his being, those rights
pre-existing his entry into civil society. Civil society was as natural to man
as it was to the bees.
In the concept of nature which informs all aspects of
Condorcets political thought the only difference between the savage with
endemic natural rights and the modern citizen is that the latter was once,
and is still theoretically, aware of his rights, although after centuries of
tyranny, repression and usurpation those rights have been largely ignored
and forgotten. Their re-discovery was the achievement of the Enlighten-
ment. Assent to a pact of association was thus motivated by, and originated
in, the need to embed natural rights in the subsequent conditions of the
civil order.
From sentience and sensibility, the civil state arises.
Condorcets state of nature was, it should be noted, not all that wild,
certainly not Hobbesian, and in the opening pages of the Esquisse he por-
trayed natural man living in small communities, or peuplades, as hunters
See Williams, Condorcet and the art of eulogy.
The analogy is taken from a MS note destined for the Esquisse, rst published by L. Cahen, Un
fragment in edit de Condorcet, Revue de metaphysique et de morale 22 (1914), 5845. BN(R), Nouv.
Acq. 4586, f. 367.
In the Vie de m. Turgot Condorcet related this crucial point to the law itself (v: 186, 254, 258). Cf. the
Essai sur la constitution et les fonctions des assemblees provinciales (viii: 496); Eloge de m. de lH opital
(iii: 536).
In his description of the rst peuplade, Condorcet observed, like Rousseau, that as far as possible
he was extrapolating the picture from information at his disposal about contemporary primitive
societies, although, unlike Rousseau, he did not permit hypothesis to masquerade as fact in later
stages of the argument.
The civil order 71
and shermen with sufciently developed skills to make weapons, utensils
and crude houses, and with a language to communicate their needs (vi: 14).
Man was naturally good, and the community had a moral life in which
man discovered common rules of behaviour, but without yet any formal
code of laws to govern behaviour other than general custom. Condorcets
natural man is evidently situated much further along the historical-social
trajectory traced by Rousseau in the Discours sur lorigine de linegalite parmi
les hommes and Du contrat social.
He is located at a point where he is already
participating in a natural, though as yet not formally structured, society,
with a natural propensity for government and law-making, and a natural
need for both. There is no painful hiatus between the self-sufcient indi-
vidualism of pre-communal savagery and the political collectivism of the
family-based group (vi: 25). Man in the state of nature and man in the civil
order represented a continuity rather than a hiatus.
In the Esquisse, composed at the height of Condorcets political matu-
rity, the seeds of the civil order are not rooted in the notion of a contract,
fraudulent or otherwise, and he does not refer to a state of nature precisely
in the Rousseauist sense of a pre-communal, pre-political condition which
terminates at a dened historical moment through a contract of associa-
In Sur le sens du mot Revolutionnaire (On the meaning of the word
Revolutionary) he does use the termsocial pact (xii: 620), and again in the
Projet de declaration des droits naturels, civils et politiques des hommes: The
purpose of every association of men in society being the maintenance of
their natural, civil and political rights, these rights are the basis of the social
pact (xii: 417). However, Condorcet never speculated in any great detail
on the processes by which this crude form of government came about,
Condorcets vision of the origins of civil association followed quite closely the traditional three-stages
theory of human socialisation (to which Adam Smith was to add a fourth stage), elaborated in an
anti-Hobbesian context by Pufendorf in De ofcio hominis et civis juxta legem naturalem (On the
duty of man and citizen according to natural law) (1673). See I. Hont, The language of sociability
and commerce: Samuel Pufendorf and the theoretical foundations of the four stage theory, in
A. Pagden (ed.), The Languages of Political Theory in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1987), pp. 25376. Condorcets history of societies in the Esquisse, centred on the
history of science and enlightenment, is anchored to historically veriable events in the post-Grecian
Schapiro has rightly drawn attention to the centrality of Rousseaus doctrine of popular sovereignty
to Condorcets thinking in this context (Condorcet, p. 114). Baker concentrates usefully on the links
between Du contrat social and the Essai sur lapplication de lanalyse ` a la probabilite des decisions rendues
` a la pluralite des voix (Condorcet, pp. 22931, 235, 243).
In many ways Condorcets allusions to nature in one of the manuscript notes for the Esquisse are
a more transparent representation of his thinking, see Cahen, Un fragment in edit de Condorcet
(1914), 5845.
72 Condorcet and Modernity
beyond linking it to the empirically veriable needs of man as a creature of
sentiment and sensation. Natural needs for self-defence and the assurance
of sustenance necessitated common decision-making and common rules.
Condorcet did not, in his later years at least, argue the legitimacy of civil
institutions and law codes from the consolidating and self-authenticating
effects of the historical process per se. What we see in his thought is the
gradual fading away of interest in the development of society as a historical
phenomenon in favour of a more scientic concentration on the natural
logicality of social organisation. The term social pact in the Esquisse sig-
nies little more than the general principle of individual consent to that
The terms of the social pact were very much in Condorcets mind in the
months leading up to the meeting of the Estates-General. In the Reexions
sur les pouvoirs et instructions ` a donner par les provinces ` a leurs deputes aux
Etats-Generaux (Reections on the powers and instructions to be given by
the provinces to their deputies at the meeting of the Estates-General), he
insisted on the biologically determined primary motivation for entry into
civil association, namely the avoidance of pain and the quest for pleasure.
As isolated individuals, human beings are too weak to defend themselves
against the discomforts and dangers of their environment, and the collec-
tivist terms and conditions for the pact emerge necessarily from the fact
of individual vulnerability in the encounter between the strong and the
weak, and in the encounter between the whole of humanity and nature
They make an agreement between themselves; each is committed to help society
with all his strength; with regard to each of its members society is committed to
use in defence of the agreement all the powers of association; and this contract is
obligatory for society as a whole, as well as for each individual as it is the result of
a unanimous act of will determined by the common interest. (ix: 270)
The social pact, when freely entered into, was simply an exchange of terms
between contracting members of a community in which equally shared
advantage is balanced by equally shared obligation. In particular, the pact
wouldneutralise the natural physical advantage that the strong have over the
weak: Onthe contrary, the force exertedover the weakgives noadvantage; it
takes all without giving anything; nothing is exchanged between oppressor
When Condorcet spoke of a pacte social, he meant only to emphasize that the principle of individual
consent is, and must be, the logical foundation of political and social arrangements, Baker, Condorcet,
pp. 2245.
The civil order 73
and oppressed; there is therefore no obligation on the part of the latter,
except what nature imposes on him, to submit himself.
In this way the
community became an integrated moral entity. Moral life developed with
the exchange of goods for labour, and with the increasing ability of the civil
order to provide the security which facilitated opportunities for leisure,
meditation and observation, as well as provision for a group of individu-
als not totally absorbed by the need to work. With consent to the pact,
a civil order linked to human well-being would emerge, the pact exact-
ing a necessary balance between individual and communal interests and
The right to withdraw from the pact if its terms were not met was a
condition of its existence, and for Condorcet this condition had on-going
implications for modern governments. The exercise of political power was
not a property owned by any individual or privileged order. No rules of asso-
ciation that advanced sectional interests could ever be legitimately enforced
as this would entrench privilege at the expense of the interests of all. Con-
dorcet explored the consequences in the Reexions sur les pouvoirs. The
existence of privilege sustained the proposition that the state was created
for the prince, and not the prince for the state: That the prince is its owner,
not its head [Condorcets italics]. That he alone, at the centre of a court,
preoccupied with the corruption of his virtues and his talents, is better
able to decide what the general interest is than the nation itself (ix: 271).
Condorcet then listed the conditions necessary for the terms of the pact
to be honoured, emphasising in each case the need for laws to be made
consensually, their purpose being the protection of the interests of all:
Society is therefore exclusively and pre-eminently its own ruler. In the
Plan de constitution (Plan for a Constitution) he would warn the Con-
vention that without those conditions in place the pact would be invali-
dated, and individuals would revert to the uncertainties of life outside the
civil order where rights existed in theory, but were in practice inoperative
(xii: 3668).
In the Esquisse Condorcet commented at length on the corruption of the terms of the social pact to
the advantage of the strong, and invoked the authority of Rousseau and also Locke whose defence
of the principle of equal partnership between rulers and ruled inferred that the division of men into
two races, one of which is destined to rule, the other to obey; one to lie, the other to be lied to
(vi: 178), could no longer be sustained. Cf. Eloge de m. Franklin (iii: 4001).
Condorcets friend, Jules-Michel Duhamel, also dened the pact precisely in the same terms in the
Journal dinstruction sociale (6 July 1793), see Dippel, Projeter le monde moderne, 173.
The purpose of the social pact is to facilitate the equal and complete enjoyment of the rights which
belong to man; it is based on the mutual guarantee of those rights, Sur le sens du mot Revolutionnaire
(xii: 620).
74 Condorcet and Modernity
The empire of the natural, sensation-based past extended to the
socialised, reason-based present, the three fundamental characteristics of
the natural past being sensation, need and custom. Condorcet maintained
that these still applied to modern civil institutions and law codes. Laws
drew their authority most particularly from need, which justied the del-
egated exercise of power in the interests of all (vi: 27). Need bound men
together, and created the conditions for political association, provided it
retained its link to nature and human nature: All of natures needs are in
the links between men . . . All of vanitys needs are in mens chains; for every
man that these apparently raise up, they oppress and degrade a thousand
others (x: 277). The purpose of the law was to give formal recognition to
the natural need of the community, and to balance this against the nat-
ural need of the individual. Need was an authentic expression of mans
sense-driven nature, hence the important emphasis that Condorcet placed
on sentiment and sensibility in public life and in the acquisition of civic
In linking the origins of morality and the civil order with sensa-
tion Condorcet managed to avoid the utilitarian doctrines of Helv etiuss
Legislator and Condillacs Political Engineer, preferring to follow Turgot in
the rejection of self-interest in the crude, narrow sense as the key driving
force of the civil order, although he recognised it as a force to be man-
aged in the implementation of the social pact. He did not in fact follow
the physiocrats in advocating the complete subordination of individual
interest to the common interest. Individual and communal needs were not
necessarily incompatible, being in nature (that is, in the nature of man)
Self-interest in the peuplade, in which the immutable laws
of nature prevailed, generated a social pact that was just and equitable.
The conditions favourable to the social pact in the peuplade phase of social
Baker has underlined Turgots inuence over Condorcet with regard to the latters understanding
of the relevance of sensationalist psychology to the moral and political sciences: Like many others
in the eighteenth century, Condorcet sought the rst principles of the moral and political sciences
in the facts of sensationalist psychology (Condorcet, p. 215). In his notes for the Kehl Voltaire,
Condorcet thought that metaphysical methodology was like that of any other science, except for its
objectives: One could say of each [science]: this was what the human mind can hope to achieve in
the current stage of enlightenment (iv: 285). Analysis of pain and pleasure could reveal the origin
of moral ideas (vi: 1834).
On this point about harmonisation, rather than confrontation, of personal and common interest, see
Dippel, Projeter le monde moderne, 1736. Dippel sees Condorcet as the most important exponent
of the theory of the harmony of interests in the closing decades of the eighteenth century. One of the
purposes of a reformed constitution, and of a reformed educational system, would be precisely to
persuade the citizen of the need to locate true self-interest in the common interest. Condorcets views
on the harmonisation of individual and communal interest in the form of a concept of collective
freedom have been seen by some commentators to be evidence of an authoritarian streak in his
The civil order 75
evolution, however, no longer pertained in the context of modern despo-
tisms, in which the imperatives of public need were largely discounted, and
the original terms of the social pact betrayed. Condorcet saw the historic
convocation of the Estates-General in May 1789 as an opportunity for a
public acknowledgement of that betrayal in the form of a critical diagnosis
of the failings of despotic constitutions in the modern age.
the di agnosi s of despoti sm
Condorcet set about his own diagnosis of despotism and the reasons for its
intrusion in the post-peuplade civil order in the 1789 Idees sur le despotisme:
Despotism exists whenever men have masters, that is to say whenever
they are subjected to the arbitrary will of other men . . ., and there are
two causes of this: the ease with which a small number of men can unite,
and their wealth which enables them to buy force (ix: 147). Despotic rule
could be direct or indirect, or a combination of both, direct despotism
occurring where representatives did not have the complete right of veto,
or the capacity to reform irrational or unjust legislation. Indirect despo-
tism arose as a consequence of unequal or ineffective representation, or
of executive power not founded on law. Both types of despotism usually
coincided in the same constitution, and here Condorcet cited the example
of England. The English suffered under direct despotism because the right
of veto of the King and the House of Lords leaves the nation with no legal
means to revoke a bad law, and because the peoples representatives have
only indirect means to make that reform, all of which offends reason, the
dignity of the nation and public order equally. Indirect despotism our-
ished also in England because the House of Commons, which should,
according to the law, represent the nation, does not represent it at all in
reality because it is just an aristocratic body whose decisions are dictated
by forty or fty people, either ministers, peers or members of parliament
(ix: 1489).
Indirect despotismcould also be exerted, Condorcet observed
signicantly, by a body of citizens whose arbitrary will dictates to the rest
of the nation; and often, surrounded by so many masters, the nation does
not know whom to obey (ix: 150). Condorcet dismissed as anarchy the
notion of freedom arising from the interplay of interests between rival corps
On the other hand, Condorcet did detect some signs of progress in English political structures,
such as the jury system, habeas corpus and the checks on the executive, see the Essai sur la consti-
tution et les fonctions des assemblees provinciales (viii: 499500). In Turkey Condorcet noted that
direct despotism was exerted by the Sultan and the body of lawyers who are the real legislators
(ix: 149).
76 Condorcet and Modernity
or power groups. The checks and balances of the Montesquieu model
resulted only in political inertia and absurdity: Is a slave with two masters,
who often disagree, any less of a slave? Would he be happier with just one
Of the two forms of despotism that could subvert the civil order, Con-
dorcet considered indirect despotism to be the most difcult to dislodge,
being less visible even when those imposing it, on the pretext of protecting
the people, were exposed to the public gaze. Direct despotismcould be pre-
vented by requiring new legislation and amendments to existing legislation
to be made subject to the peoples consent through elected representatives.
In contrast to the English example, Condorcet offered the more promis-
ing model of the American constitution, and Sections 823 of the Idees
are devoted to an exploration of possible ways forward. The armoury of
measures with which Condorcet proposed to defend the integrity of the
civil order against the despotic aggressions of corps self-interest included
radical reform of electoral procedures, independence from the executive
with respect to the convocation of assemblies, the levying of a just system
of taxation (Section 9), the abolition of inherited privilege with regard to
public ofces (Section 10), the breaking of the alliance between church and
aristocracy (Section 11), particularly offensive to Condorcet at the time of
the 1788 Assembly of Notables, the abolition of permanent tribunals of
unelected ofcials, the independence of judicial procedures (Section 12),
the reorganisation of the army (Section 13), the ending of arbitrary duties
and other restrictions on free trade, the reform of public borrowing pro-
cedures, the curbing of the power of bankers (Section 14) and measures to
defend public order in the ensuing temporary power-vacuum against the
dangers of anarchy and mob-rule (Section 15).
The rst corps to be confronted in the Idees is the aristocracy whose
privileges could be curtailed by the immediate abolition of titles and dis-
tax exemptions and rights to inherit or purchase public ofce:
No nation with a legally established genealogist can be a free nation (ix:
1534). The second problematic corps was the priesthood whose despo-
tism rested on ignorance, fear and credulity. This was the corps to which
Europe had deferred unquestioningly until the end of the sixteenth century,
Condorcet had doubts about the constitutional advantages of Montesquieus version of the sep-
aration of powers theory as applied to England, and was generally sceptical about Montesquieus
admiration for the 1688 settlement, see the Reexions sur la Revolution de 1688 et sur celle du 10 ao ut
1792 (xii: 2012).
On 19 June 1792 Condorcet voted in support of Le Chapeliers bill to suppress titles of nobility. A
MS draft of the proposal has on it signs of Condorcets annotations relating to articles 4 and 6, and
is dated in Condorcets hand, BIF Condorcet MS 859, f. 43.
The civil order 77
a time when the eyes of the laity began to open (ix: 154).
The despotism
of the priestly corps was made more lethal by its dangerous alliance with
the aristocracy. Condorcet identied two ways of neutralising the impact
of ecclesiastical despotism on the civil order: freedom of the press, and a
policy of toleration to encourage the proliferation of sects and doctrinal
bodies to undermine the hegemony of the catholic clergy.
The despotism of the third corps, the judiciary, was the most odious
of all (ix: 155), a charge that Condorcet had already elaborated at length
in his support of Voltaires campaign against the magistrates ofciating at
the trials of Calas and La Barre. Judges could turn the law itself against
the people, because this despotism weighs on every individual at every
moment, and extends to all activities and all interests. Judicial despotism
was cruel and violent, and to counter its excesses Condorcet proposed the
election of judges for dened periods of tenure, together with a constitu-
tional obligation on judges to act within the law, and the unrestricted right
of self-defence for the accused, when the despotismof courts will no longer
be feared (ix: 156).
The power of the judiciary was guaranteed ultimately by military force,
and with regard to the delicate, but crucial, role of the army within the civil
order, the Idees reected many contemporary dilemmas. As with the church,
Condorcet noted the advantages of fragmentation. With the division of the
army into regiments located in widely scattered garrisons, and the removal
of groups of regiments from the control of single, permanently appointed
commanders, military power was diluted. The control of the military would
always remain a delicately balanced issue for governments in any state
founded on principles of natural right, and Condorcets concerns went
well beyond matters of command structure and troop deployment. His
views in the Idees on the formation of the military mind, for example, in
the interests of the civil order are particularly interesting. An understanding
of the political implications of the ways in which soldiers were trained was
of paramount importance to legislators if the conditions of the social pact
were to be safeguarded. That training must include, in Condorcets view,
Condorcet excluded the Swiss republics from this hegemony. He painted a dark picture of the civil
order in sixteenth-century Europe in which the ruled were treated like cattle, and income from taxes
lined the pockets of tyrants who used the law for their own purposes, see the Eloge de Michel de
LH opital (iii: 464).
The argument recalls Voltaires comments on the reasons for toleration in England in Letter 6 of
the Lettres philosophiques, but unlike Voltaire Condorcet did not see England as a model in this
respect: 1. In England, the press is not free as far as religion is concerned. 2. Freedom of worship is
not assured. 3. In general England is ruled by parties, by associations of persons of repute, and these
political parties take care to keep fanaticism as a tool which each hopes to use in turn (ix: 1545).
78 Condorcet and Modernity
equipping soldiers not only with the motivation to follow orders on the
battleeld, but also the capacity to resist orders that transgressed natural
rights and natural law. On the other hand, while compliance with military
orders, like that of the citizen in the face of arbitrary government edicts,
should not be passive or automatic, soldiers must always be able to resist
the temptation to question the legitimate orders of commanders: Passive
obedience is dangerous to public liberty; arbitrary rejection [of authority]
would be even more so (ix: 157). Carefully drafted legislation to establish
the rules of engagement with regard to the maintenance of public order
and the enforcement of civilian compliance with the law would have to be
enacted to accompany any progressive innovations to training.
Despotism is approached from numerous angles in the Idees. In Section
14 Condorcet extended the range of its effects in ancien regime constitutions
to include scal abuse in the context of unjust taxation, and the inefcient
management of the increasing burden of public debt, vicious forms of
taxation (ix: 160), as calculated infringements of rights arising from the
increasing dependence of government on its creditors, whose wishes and
prejudices had to be carefully accommodated (ix: 159).
Financial despo-
tism was becoming in his view more dangerous and intolerable by the day,
and Condorcet offered two solutions. With the rst he proposed the pro-
scription of all forms of arbitrary taxation, together with the abolition of
free trade restrictions in order to minimise the nancial advantages accruing
to sectional interests. His second measure would reform borrowing pro-
cedures to ensure less rapacious, more stable sources of revenue attracting
acceptable levels of interest, transparently administered. Condorcet would
return to the issue of taxation and free trade as manifestations of despotic
aggressions against the civil order in many essays, treatises and addresses,
and the fact that in the Idees these matters are treated with relative brevity
should not mislead the reader with regard to the importance of their place
in Condorcets hierarchy of legislative priorities.
This was one point on which Condorcet commended the English example, remembering above all
that to imitate is not to copy (ix: 158).
Condorcet saw the triumph of Pitt over Fox and Stanhope as a good example of the inuence over
governments that could be wielded by bankers. In France he attributed the arrest and imprisonment
of the elder Mirabeau in 1760 on account of the publication of the Theorie de limp ot to their
pressure, and his birth, his fortune and his personal reputation could not protect him from their
dark hatred. He also blamed the bankruptcy of Terrays administration on bankers.
As, for example, in the Lettre dun laboureur de Picardie ` a m. N

and the Reexions sur les corvees

` a milord

, both of 1775; Sur labolition des corvees and the Reexions sur le commerce des bles, both of
1776. The most detailed of Condorcets proposals for reformof ancien regime taxation and economic
policy, including management of the national debt and the establishment of a national bank, is to be
found in the Essai sur la constitution et les fonctions des assemblees provinciales (viii: 22158). In 1790
The civil order 79
By far the longest section in the Idees is Section 15 which is devoted to
the despotism of mobs, to be particularly feared in countries with large
urban centres of population. The despotism of mobs was for Condorcet
a symptom of their manipulation by powerful sectional interests, which
weighs on the nation, luring the people into complicity in the enactment
of legislation against their true interests (ix: 161). This form of despo-
tism drew its force from irrationality and superstition, and worked only to
the advantage of the privileged. Condorcet passionately denounced such a
betrayal of the conditions of the social pact by means of which the peo-
ples strength was deployed against the people, exploited by opinion-makers
working for corps interests, often to bring about the downfall of enlightened
leaders, whom people have known how to render odious, from whose
political vision they might have beneted.
This blind, malleable force
had ensured in England the survival of unjust, outdated, but misguid-
edly popular legislation, deprived the Dutch of their liberty in 1777 with
the restoration of the stadtholder and strengthened tyranny in Denmark.
The raw energy of the despotism of mobs in Constantinople had con-
tributed as much to the destruction of Greek civilisation as the swords of
barbarians and the disputes of theologians: We know that the absurdity
of the projects of this type of despotism is matched only by the barbarity
of its methods (ix: 162).
In an urban setting the acute danger of such despotism was signalled
by the ease with which crowds could assemble in large numbers to give
vent to their anger and frustrations. Condorcet advocated two solutions.
He thought that the dangers could be averted, at least in part, by reform of
commercial life. Withwiser, more enlightenedeconomic policies, the streets
could be emptied of the unemployed, the regulatory grip of the professions
and guilds over workers employment conditions could be weakened and
the hostility of the poor towards the policing of the civil order, arising
as a consequence of their economic deprivation, diminished. The second
solution lay in the division of large cities into independently administered
districts, in which small assemblies of citizens could meet in an orderly and
purposeful fashion without distinction of rank or profession, the only just
Condorcet issued a closely argued series of essays on the practicalities involved in scal reform, see
the Memoire sur la xation de limp ot (xi: 40570), Sur la constitution du pouvoir charge dadministrer
le tresor national (xi: 54179), Sur limp ot personnel (xi: 47383), Sur les operations necessaires pour
retablir les nances (xi: 36585), Sur la proposition dacquitter la dette exigible des assignats (xi: 487515),
Des lois constitutionnelles sur ladministration des nances (x: 10717), Nouvelles Reexions sur le projet
de payer la dette exigible en papier force (xi: 51927), Des Causes de la disette du numeraire, de ses effets,
et des moyens dy remedier (xi: 53140). Cf. Vie de m. Turgot (v: 2623).
Condorcet no doubt had the fate of Turgot in mind here.
80 Condorcet and Modernity
way, and at the same time the surest, of preventing unauthorised gatherings
from disturbing the peace (ix: 163). An unenlightened, uneducated people
was defenceless against the depredations and persuasive powers of sectional
interests. The chains of ignorance would be lifted only with the advent of a
free press and a reformed education system. Until that day arrived, however,
the baneful coalition of corps interests would continue to persuade the
people that autocratic monarchy served their interests, and that the divine
right of kings did not contravene the social pact, particularly with regard
to the right to renegotiate the conditions of the civil order. This was the
most harmful political consequence of the despotism of mobs.
Like Madison, Condorcet differentiated carefully between despotism
and tyranny. Tyranny was the legalised repression of rights in the name
of the state (ix: 164), that could be exercised by any government. He
illustrated the point by citing the example of a well-ordered, politically
virtuous, republic,
that could still pass repressive legislation against heresy
and blasphemy, and in which industry and commerce could still be shackled
by arbitrary legislation. Tyranny did not need a despotic constitution in
which to ourish, although tyranny and despotism usually did coincide
in modern nation-states to produce a situation in which the necessary
compromise between natural freedom and political obligation had been
tilted heavily towards the latter in the constitutional equation.
the relocati on of soverei gnty
Condorcet explored the issue of political freedom in a modern despotic
context in De la nature des pouvoirs politiques dans une nation libre (On
the nature of political powers in a free nation), written in November 1792
when the debate on the future of Louis XVI was well under way and
would lead within weeks to the decision by the Convention to put the
King on trial, and impose the death penalty on anyone advocating the
restoration of the monarchy. In De la nature Condorcet noted that, even
as a concept, freedom had all but disappeared in a despotic civil order
in which individuals were inured to obedience, and experienced freedom
only as the right to submit themselves to the will of others. With the
constitution of 3 September 1791, followed on 13 September by Louis XVIs
oath of allegiance, Condorcet thought cautiously that a measure of political
freedommight have been achieved with the advent of elections to Assembly
In the notes for the Kehl Voltaire Condorcet held Geneva up as an exemplary model of democracy,
in which every law was the expression of the general will (iv: 3223).
The civil order 81
seats, but it was at most a semi-freedom: that is the point at which their
feeble feeling of independence stopped (x: 589). Semi-liberty produced only
instability, or storms, not only because it was incomplete, but because the
pressures on the civil order could be relieved only by the imposition of even
more restraints on the individual. In this interesting essay on freedom and
the implications of submission to authority, and the relationship between
majority will and minority rights, Condorcet identied only one authentic
constraint on freedom that was required by nature and reason:
that is the necessity and obligation to obey, in the actions that must ensue from
a common rule, not ones own reason but the collective reason of the majority;
I say its reason, not its will, for the power of majorities over minorities must
never be arbitrary; it does not extend to violation of a single individuals right;
it does not go so far as to compel submission when it obviously goes against
reason. (x: 58990)
Collectively and individually, the citizenmust recognise that ina just civil
order power is embodied in, and exercised through, the will of the majority.
Majorities can exercise tyrannical power too, however, and submission to
the will of the majority cannot be required if that will is arbitrary, or if
submission is based on obligation to obey per se. Submission can only be
justied by the need for, and collective acceptance of, common rule, and
the alignment of majority will with common rule could only be assured
if rights were equal, and the common interest fully recognised: The man
who submits in advance to the majority can reason thus: I know that my
actions must be made subject to a rule to which similar actions by my
co-citizens are equally subject (x: 591). The common rule, dictated by
collective rationality, will not always coincide with individual reasoning
processes, with their origin in self-interest, which conict inevitably with
those of others. Members of a civil order must therefore decide which
rules meet the requirement of collective rationality, a decision best taken
in Condorcets view on a basis of majority voting.
The sources of moral obligation and political necessity lay therefore in a
collective act of reasoning exercised by the majority of citizens through their
representatives in an elected assembly such as the Constituante (Constituent
Assembly). However, the only function of the rst legislative corps charged
with the establishment or, in the case of France, the renewal of the civil
order, was to dene what constituted common rule, and to declare it:
One step beyond that and tyranny begins (x: 594). The transformation
of that common rule into law would then occur only in the light of the
subsequent tacit or explicit acceptance of the majority of an Assemblee
82 Condorcet and Modernity
legislative (Legislative Assembly) that would replace the Constituante once
that body had completed its work, and function as a collective legislator:
This amounts to Solon or Lycurgus being replaced by an assembly (x: 595).
Minorities which felt that their rights were being ignored by the majority
had to choose between on the one hand submission based on enlightened
self-interest and faith in the virtues of collective rationality in order to
ensure the survival of the social pact, or abrogation of the pact on the
other. The test of collective rationality would be its empirically veriable
degree of compliance with the natural rights of all.
The transition from legislative proposal to legislative reality marked for
Condorcet the dangerous moment of delegation of power to other agencies
in the enactment of the syllogism of government.
The modalities of
delegation were of crucial importance in the defence of freedom against
despotism, because those modalities opened the doors to real power, a
force which acts on the actions of individuals independently of their will or
their reason. This was the force that imposed the general will of the state
over passions and self-interest, and compelled compliance of the dissident
individual. The model was Socrates, but you cannot expect fromevery man
that level of reason and moral rectitude (x: 597). Therein lay the challenge
of the syllogism. If civil war was not to ensue from the engagement of
the states will with that of its opponents, then the public interest required
cast-iron guarantees that the law was rmly grounded in public consent,
and that the civic obligation to submit to laws with which one disagreed
privately was deeply embedded in the public mind. Condorcet feared the
consequences of growing public awareness of the fragility of the civil order,
and of the laws designed to uphold it. Public disaffection arising from fear,
prejudice or conict of principle was contagious and politically lethal. Any
loss of condence in the civil order threatened the social pact, and the
wound had to be cauterised but preferably by persuasion rather than
You can see here how necessary it is to persuade the great majority of people of
the benevolence of the laws, that they should have condence in those who draft,
implement or execute them, and that every citizen should be deeply conscious of
Condorcet explained what he meant by the syllogism of government thus: Between the law and
the thing which must be done in accordance with it lies the job of what, in a given circumstance,
is the correct application of the law, that is to say the job of making a syllogism of which the law is
the major part, a more or less general fact the minor, and the application of the law the conclusion.
For example, every citizen will be required to contribute to the necessary cost of public services, in
proportion to his income: that is a law; the cost forms part of public services: that is a general fact;
each citizen must therefore contribute to this cost: that is the application of the law (x: 5956).
The civil order 83
the feeling that he must offer a provisional obligation to obey even those laws of
which he disapproves, as well as their implementation, which he might nd unjust.
(x: 602)
Restoration of condence in the essential benevolence of the law was for
Condorcet a key requirement of successful political management.
At the heart of the problemof public disaffection with the civil order was
the incendiary issue of equality, for Condorcet the most potent ingredient
in any threat to public order and national unity. The right to equality,
this precious right, fears of its erosion and attempts to disguise or excuse
the effects of its denial (the main policy of the aristocracy) lay behind
most civic unrest in Condorcets view. This had been well illustrated by
the fate of Greece and Rome when natural rights had been subordinated
to corps interests. The quality of civic life then became dependent on the
transitory wisdom of those who govern,
with the result that vigilance
over the integrity of the civil order was neglected. Inequality could never
be entirely eradicated in a free society, but Condorcet was condent that
its effects could be mitigated through public education, good legislation,
the abolition of hereditary privilege, the decoupling of public ofce from
the claims of rank and wealth, taxation and banking reform, free trade,
enlightened poor law policies and progressive public works programmes.
The exercise of government was seen by Condorcet essentially in terms of
practical problems to be solved, a calculation to be made, a job to be done:
a simple task similar to that of making a book, putting a machine together
or solving a problem (x: 604). The aim was always to make the alienating
distance between rulers and the ruled less offensive. That distance could be
narrowed above all by an effective electoral system, and a judicious system
of representation in which the people could have real choice.
In the reections that bring this important essay to a close Condorcet
explored further the destabilising effects of the growing distance between
rulers and ruled in contemporary France. In the First Republic the conduct
and decisions of republican legislators were already in danger of becoming
as opaque to the public gaze as those of the ancien regime. Citizens were
unconvinced that their consent to submit was still required, and that their
right to corrective constitutional change was still respected:
Aredeeming feature of ancient Greece was, however, the importance attached to the right of assembly
(vi: 412). In the Eloge de Michel de LH opital Condorcet thought that the management of the civil
order was much easier in ancient societies (iii: 534).
On this latter point Condorcet noted that problems of electoral procedure and representation had
proliferated in the aftermath of the Revolution. In the Idees he dened a good electoral system as
being quite simply the one that truly delivered the will of the majority, but did not elaborate.
84 Condorcet and Modernity
It is then that, having nothing more to fear, with no threat to his freedom or
enduring injustice, [the citizen] can open himself without fear to that sentiment
of scrupulous respect for the established laws, of submission to legal authority,
which is the necessary basis of that civil tranquillity without which all societies
tend towards continual revolution, are always unhappy and unstable, and oat
uncertainly between disorder and tyranny. (x: 608)
For Condorcet, one revolution was quite enough, and if a second were to
be avoided then the government had the crucial responsibility to ensure
the re-engagement of a free people with the laws to which it sought to
bind them. The problem of how to ensure that re-engagement, and give
it constitutional reality in a rapidly evolving political environment, runs
through the whole of these remarkable reections on the transformation
of France into a successful modern republic, ordered by the values of an
enlightened society.
The relocation of sovereignty was predicated, for Condorcet, on the
establishment of a system of political representation that would transmit
the peoples will through elected assemblies. In the post-peuplade stage of
socialisation sovereignty had been delegated, though not surrendered, to
kings as stewards rather than sources of sovereign authority in their own
Thus, in a constitution which is truly free, all power emanates only from the
people, and is related to the unanimous will to submit to the opinion of the
majority . . .; also the power of delegated authorities can be reduced to that of
the people themselves, exerted necessarily with the peoples condence, or rather
when the people no longer think that this power is being used merely to protect
those authorities. (x: 611)
However, the sovereign will of the people could not be exerted in a direct,
unmodulated way, if perpetual insurrection and instability were to be
avoided. It had to be managed in accordance with reason and the law,
to which it would not be forced to submit, but to which it would wish to
submit: In this way liberty and peace, respect for the laws, independence
and freedom of action, and the most ardent passion for the public interest
and for reason and enthusiasm can exist in the same country, and come
together in the same soul (x: 612).
Among Condorcets many concerns about the restoration of sovereignty
to the people, and the integrity of the social pact in France in the closing
The conditions needed for the successful evolution of the civil order into a modern state are listed
in Sur la necessite de faire ratier la constitution par les citoyens, et sur la formation des communautes de
commune (ix: 41330), La Republique franc aise, aux hommes libres (xii: 10919) and Sur linstitution
dun conseil electif (xii: 24366).
The civil order 85
years of the ancien regime, was the question of class divisions. In Que toutes
les classes de la societe nont quun meme interet (That all classes in society have
the same interest) (8 June 1792), he made a careful distinction between the
natural hierarchy of the social structure and the hierarchy that was the work
of social institutions, masters and slaves, an hereditary nobility and bour-
geoisie (xii: 645). The distributionof wealth and property necessarily engen-
dered a class of citizens who were not dependent on others for survival, and
a class of citizens that was. Condorcet did not viewthe relationship between
capital and labour per se as a threat to rights or equality, being itself based
on the natural right to property and the fruits of ownership: But the distri-
bution of work and wealth, and of population produces inevitably a system
in which some can live without having to work and others having only
work as a way to survive: farmers, manufacturers and businessmen, entre-
preneurs, workers and consumers, nanciers and capitalists (xii: 6456).
There was no opposition of interest. Class division in this context did
not mean class conict. Progress, including commercial progress, would
unite men in the civil order, not divide them, provided that social relation-
ships were in accordance with the sentiments of nature, and men were
aware that their happiness depended on the assurance of happiness for
The clash of interests between the rich and the poor, town and country,
arose as a symptomof unjust laws, corrupt institutions andanalienatedpeo-
ple deprived of its sovereign rights. The causes were solvable with enlight-
ened political management on the part of legislators. Good laws, legitimate
institutions and progressive social policies would eventually result in a
co-ordination of class interests that would protect and sustain employ-
ment, provide adequate rates of pay and maximise for all the economic
benets of capital investment in commerce and industry. Condorcet advo-
cated the cohesion rather than the destruction of the class structure, and his
policy proposals were directed not only towards the welfare of the poor, but
also towards the prosperity and security of the rich. The future happiness
of both economic groups was given equal consideration:
But if the comforts of life do not accompany hard work, the amount of work done
diminishes, and with that the dividends of the rich also diminish. But if the vicious
order of society condemns a large class of people to poverty, then either property is
threatened or the rich are obliged to sustain the poor, which is a lot more expensive
than preventing them from being poor in the rst place. (xii: 648)
Condorcet recognised that those who had nothing could not derive much
happiness from their proximity to those who had everything:
86 Condorcet and Modernity
It is true that without hope and the possibility of increasing ones wealth, without
the assurance of being able to use it freely, all activity would cease; for the man
with very modest means one would thus destroy an important resource, that of
being able to increase the reward for his labour signicantly by spending a small
sum of money to increase productivity; it is also true that one would reduce
the number of jobs available and consequently all means of subsistence and
welfare. (xii: 6489)
Aclass structure, reformedandrevitalisedalong suchlines, couldbe justied
as a cementing, harmonising force in civil life; a class structure based on
the historical prerogatives of an hereditary aristocracy, which conspired to
prevent men knowing their rights,
was an entirely different matter. In Sur
le sens du mot Revolutionnaire Condorcet noted ironically the old meaning
of the term aristocracy as government by wise men, who succeeded in
bringing prosperity to the peuplades, after which the role of the aristocracy
in the civil order had become less benecial, synonymous with tyranny
(xii: 6234).
the end of monarchy
Despite his growing sympathy with the case for a republic, Condorcet
tended to defend the merits of reformed monarchical government until
1791 and, prior to the royal ight to Varennes, he tended to minimise
contradictions between the sovereignty of the people and that of the King.
In the 1789 Reexions sur les pouvoirs, one of his longest historical analyses
of monarchical power, Condorcet set out the advantages of monarchy, and
expressed condence in its survival: France will stay a monarchy because
this form of government is perhaps the only one that is appropriate to its
In the notes for the Kehl Voltaire, Condorcet observed how in monarchies class distinctions ensured
an alliance of the wealthy with the powerful that imposed a veneer of constitutional normality on
the unrestrained oppression of the ruled: They will dress up oppression in the clothes of legality;
above all they will avoid allowing men to become aware of their rights . . . In a monarchy, where
there are many honours and distinctions, these will be used to attach rich men to the governments
cause, and the full weight of its authority and power will fall on the people; the fantasies of pride and
arrogance will be accommodated better than the true rights of citizens (iv: 3234). The unpublished
MS of a remarkable Dialogue entre un jeune homme et un vieillard contains an interesting analysis
of the weaknesses and dangers of this alliance, and its instruments of power in the church and the
judiciary (BIF Condorcet MS 862, ff. 45572).
For a denition of modern aristocracy, see the Reexions sur les corvees (xi: 64). By the autumn of
1791 the French aristocracy was associated in Condorcets mind with Frances military adversaries,
and he saw the war against France as a war fought on behalf of Europes privileged classes: The
cause of the French nation is that of the people against the nobility; this is what the whole of Europe
is pursuing, and this is why every noble and honest step taken is one step nearer to our society
(BIF, Condorcet MS 863, f. 4). This MS relates to the Declaration of Pillnitz, and was written in
SeptemberOctober 1791.
The civil order 87
wealth, to the size of its population, to the extent of its territory and to the
European political system. He even predicted that the French monarchy
wouldremainhereditary rather thanelective, toavoidthe on-going troubles
of elective countries (ix: 266). The advantages of hereditary monarchy were
extolled further in Sur linstitution dun conseil electif on 23 July 1790 (xii:
2457). In the Reexions sur les pouvoirs Condorcet could still see advantages
in the renewal of the ancient contract between monarch and people, and
he stressed the social cohesion that a modernised monarchy could offer to
a new civil order whose laws reected the common interest:
Laws will once again become an expression of the public interest; they will embody
the principle of princely power and that of the peoples obedience [Condorcets italics];
and all members of society will nd themselves united in a contract by which each
citizen will undertake with respect to the people, the people with respect to the prince,
and the prince with respect to the people as well as to each citizen [Condorcets italics]
to remain obedient to the rules established for the general good by the general
will. Such would be the incalculable advantages resulting from the union of all
political bodies and from a return of the monarchy to the rst laws by which it
was constituted, once those laws are free from the stains of the ignorance of the
ancient world and the vices of the modern. (ix: 266)
Reform of the French monarchy rather than its abolition was the path
that he hoped representatives at the Estates-General would take. In France
the person of the King was sacred, not in any sacerdotal sense but because
the King drew his authority from the terms of the social pact, by which his
sovereignty was a delegated sovereignty making him the repository of the
collective strength and will of the people (ix: 272). Through the King the
people expressed their general will; their general will created the law, and
the law created monarchs: Such is the authority of royalty, determined
by our ancestors for the benet of the princes who rule over us, and our
historical monuments bear witness tothe fact that, far frombeing meanwith
its power, the nation has still consented to treat the monarch as an integral
part of the legislative. Condorcet sawthe meeting of the Estates-General as
an opportunity to restore legitimacy and purpose to the French monarchy,
and in 1789 he preferred to attribute its failings to the excesses of ministers,
courtiers and parlementaires who, contrary to the Kings intentions and
contrary to the purpose of his institution as a royal person, would threaten
the life, liberty and property of citizens (ix: 273). As he stated at the start of
the Reexions sur les pouvoirs, he was not yet ready to lay responsibility for
Frances problems on the shoulders of Louis XVI: Attachment to the forms
of monarchy, respect for the royal personage and for the royal prerogative,
88 Condorcet and Modernity
and hatred of arbitrary power: these are the motives which dictate this work
(ix: 2667).
In a later pamphlet, Sur le choix des ministres (On the choice of min-
isters), written in April 1790, he examined two distinguishing features of
modern monarchies, and their implications for a free constitution and
for public accountability, namely royal inviolability and royal hereditary
rights to power (x: 4951). From the neutral, reassuring tone of his opening
remarks on the restraints theoretically in place in the form of separation
of executive powers, royal consent, ministerial veto and the independence
of the Treasury, it is difcult at rst to detect signs of any rejection in
principle of hereditary monarchy. In fact, however, Condorcets position
on monarchy in the main body of this text is not as sanguine as it had
been in the previous year. Monarchy had its origin not in philosophical
meditations on the nature of power, social orders and the interest of peo-
ples, but in old customs and the pressures of historical circumstance, and
we could then say: if all is not well, at least all is tolerable [Condorcets
italics] (x: 51). Sly echoes of Panglossian optimism introduce a cautionary
note. Monarchy must now be examined in the light of reason, not passion
and prejudice. Kings ruled only with the consent of a constituent power,
which was revocable. In Sur le choix des ministres, while Louis XVIs record
was treated with more caution and reservation, the problem was still not
that of Kings per se, but of one prince who is the enemy of freedom, and
the criminal intriguers that he might appoint as his ministers (x: 52). Any
criticism was directed towards the personal aws of a specic King. The
solution did not yet involve the abolition of the monarchy, but rather a
renement of constitutional control over monarchical power, and in the
remaining part of the essay Condorcet advances relatively modest proposals
for legislation whereby the Kings prerogative to choose ministers would
be retained, but his choice restricted to candidates proposed to him by the
nations representatives, the tenure of ministerial ofce being limited by
statute (x: 525).
In 1790 Condorcet was attempting to combine the principle of royal
assent to ministerial appointments with an electoral procedure that would
safeguard the common interest by the elimination of factional conict:
We retain in this form of appointment the real advantages of the monarchy, that is
to say, that unity in the executive can be more easily and more certainly maintained;
and, more importantly, avoid the factions emerging in many local situations which
would divide a council of independent leaders, and the inuence of their private
interests which, much more than those of the monarch, might be contrary to
the nations interests, and spread more virulently and more dangerously than the
passions of junior ministers. (x: 57)
The civil order 89
His proposals containat this stage nohint of a strategy todispense ultimately
with the King, or even to remove his executive powers to choose and
dismiss ministers: this is about ensuring his right, or rather giving him
a real right instead of a purely imaginary one, which he would enjoy if
his choice appeared to be free (x: 61). That right would be managed by a
representative legislature in ways that would no longer leave it powerless
in the matter of ministerial choice. As the people had to have the legal
means to change a displeasing constitution, which otherwise they could
only change by insurrection, so their representatives had to have the means
to dispense with displeasing ministers, if the political well-being of the civil
order was at risk.
Between 1790 and 1791 Condorcets position on the role of the monarch
in the civil order would change as tensions between monarchists and repub-
licans deepened, and events marking the prelude to the 1791 constitution
unfolded. On 19 July 1791 Condorcet presented a discours to the Cercle
Social, printed subsequently as De La Republique, ou un roi est-il necessaire
` a la conservation de la liberte? (On the Republic, or is a King necessary to
the preservation of liberty?). Written in the wake of Condorcets sense of
betrayal after the arrest of the royal family, and inuenced almost certainly
by the views of Tom Paine, with whom by 1791 Condorcet had forged a
close friendship, De La Republique was essentially a defence of the work of
the Constituante, but it also reected a new urgency on Condorcets part to
re-examine the case for monarchy in the new order. Reviewing the condi-
tions in which monarchies could function without infringing the rights of
the people, he now openly doubted that those conditions still existed in
France. The crucial question was now posed: did France need this corrupt-
ing and dangerous institution (xii: 228)?
The question was rhetorical, and its very formulation conrms Con-
dorcets conversion to republicanism, a conversion whose origins some
modern commentators are inclined to think pre-dates De La Republique.
Hereditary monarchy was no longer needed to shield the people from the
predatory aggressions of powerful individuals, or from arbitrary govern-
ment. Royal assent was no longer needed to give authority to government
In this respect Condorcet criticised the way in which the political process in England had been
degraded and debased by the party system, to such a degree that there is no serious difference of
opinion between politicians (x: 61).
See Introduction, p. 33 nn. 78 and 79. The carefully constructed Lettre dun jeune mecanicien, for
example, came out at the same time as De La Republique, but the issue of when this important anti-
monarchical satire, one of the most savage to come from Condorcets pen, was actually composed
is unresolved. Rather than being rushed out as a post-Varennes piece, it might have been written
earlier, see Baker, Condorcet, pp. 3045. Note, however, the letter Condorcet wrote to Louis XVI in
1791, see below p. 259, n. 19.
90 Condorcet and Modernity
policies, and was now seen as being both shameful and harmful, only that
of corruption (xii: 233). The sovereignty of Kings was no longer perceived
to have honourable origins in ancient republics, and the case made by the
friends of royalty was no longer sustainable. Condorcet reversed almost
word for word compromises made only a year earlier, his tone now reect-
ing a powerfully demotic irreverence. The voice of Paine can clearly be
We no longer live in times when this impious superstition which made a man into
some sort of God can still be counted among the ways of reinforcing the authority
of the law. Without any doubt, we no longer believe that in order to rule men it is
necessary to strike their imagination with a puerile display, and that the people will
be tempted to scorn the law if their supreme ruler did not have a Grand-Master
of the Wardrobe.
Any justication for the retention of the hereditary principle is nowdeemed
inappropriate for the contemporary French state (x: 234), and the clear
duty of the Constituante was to create a new constitution that excluded the
crown. The Varennes betrayal had released the people from its pact with
Louis XVI, and responsibility for the new modalities of the civil order now
revertedto them, andto their representatives inthe Constituante. The Kings
constitutional position was nullied, and the Dauphin must be educated
accordingly: at the present time, educating [the Dauphin] to be a king is
less important than teaching him how not to be one, and how to wish not
to be one (x: 237).
Condorcets disenchantment with Louis XVI was further reected in a
hostile account of royal corruption and proigacy in De linuence dun
monarque et dune cour sur les murs dun peuple libre (On the inuence
of a monarch and a court on the morals of a free people), and in the
Revision des travaux de la premi`ere legislature (Review of the work of the rst
legislature), both appearing in September 1792.
Few of the redeeming
features of monarchy that Condorcet had accepted earlier could survive
See also the unpublished fragment, dated 9 March 1792: The absurdity of this idea was understood,
and a contract between monarch and people was set up; the commitment of the Prince to the terms
of this contract became the condition of obedience to him (BIF Condorcet MS 862, f. 75). This
fragment offers incidentally more interesting evidence of Condorcets change of rhetorical tone.
See also the Chronique de Paris (234 September 1792). The declaration abolishing royalty and
announcing that France was to form a single republic prompted the rst fears of the National
Convention. These two great issues have been decided without any discussion. A deep feeling of
resentment against kings and the feeling that we needed to unite closely in our common defence
permitted no deliberations or delay. These feelings were felt by the nation as a whole . . . And as,
moreover, neither heredity, inviolability, the right to reject or suspend a law, the enormity of the
royal income, nor even the existence of a single head of state were needed in order for us to act
together as one, then obviously the issue between royalists and republicans boils down to this: in a
The civil order 91
the impact of historical events as the machine of Revolution gathered pace,
and its liberal, more constitutionally accommodating phase drewto a close:
The despotism of one man is illusory, apart from that of a conqueror at the head
of his army. In every other case what is called despotism is just the rule of an
anarchic aristocracy. The self-interest of the rich, of nobles and priests etc., can
keep it going; but is it not obvious that it is in the interest of absolute monarchs
to give their people liberty so that they will not reclaim it by force, to establish a
representative constitution so that such a constitution is not forced upon them,
and to replace that part of their authority that they cannot hope to retain for much
longer with recognition of the people as citizens? (x: 436)
Condorcets earlier hopes for a smooth transition to constitutional monar-
chy faded quickly as Louis XVIs collusion with the Revolutions internal
and external enemies became increasingly apparent,
and as the conditions
legitimising the social pact were undermined. By the end of 1792 Condorcet
accepted that consent of the people to the pact was suspended, pending
the construction of a new constitution, and the advent of a renewed civil
order to be re-legitimised in their name.
well-constituted state do we need any power to implement the law, other than the law itself? (BIF
Condorcet MS 864, ff. 3967).
Signicant moves against Louis XVI, in which Condorcet was involved, are marked by two reports
that appeared on 9 August 1792: the Rapport fait au nom dune commission extraordinaire ` a lAssemblee
nationale sur une petition de la commune de Paris tendant ` a la decheance du roi and the Instruction sur
lexercice du droit de souverainete.
chapter 4
Managing enlightenment
the epi stemologi cal revoluti on
In a seminal text delivered to the Academie Franc aise on 21 February 1782
upon his admission to the company of immortals, Condorcet set out his
faith in the mission of the Enlightenment.
He characterised his century
as the age in which the general system of the principles of our knowledge
has been developed, in which the method of discovering the truth has been
reduced to an art and, if you like, to formulae; in which reason has at last
recognised the path it must follow, and has grasped the thread which will
stop it from losing its way (i: 390). The vision that he unveiled in his
Discours de reception was one in which the human race would no longer
accept the inevitability of the triumph of darkness over light, and in which
the torch of genius and reason would be from now on inextinguishable.
A determined and tenacious condence in the cumulative dynamics of
progress is the familiar hallmark of Condorcets world-view: Truth has
triumphed; the human race is saved. Each century will add new knowledge
to that of the previous century, and this progress, which from now on
nothing can stop or hold up, will have no limit other than the lifespan of
the universe (i: 3901).
The rhetorical ourish of a public speech often heralds a crushing banal-
ity of content, then as now, but this was not to be the case on this occasion,
and any academician present anticipating superciality was to be pleasantly
surprised. That Condorcets condence in mans future well-being and
increasing prosperity would remain unshaken by events is clear from the
evidence of that extraordinary last work, the Esquisse dun tableau historique
On the legacy of the Enlightenment and the tenacity of Enlightenment values in Condorcets political
thought, see Coutel, Condorcet, pp. 1348, 945; M. Crampe-Casnabet, Condorcet lecteur des Lumi`eres
(Paris: PUF, 1985); Williams, Condorcet and the English Enlightenment. The reafrmation of
Enlightenment principles in the debate on constitutional change in 1789 was the main purpose
behind Condorcets foundation of the Societe de 1789, see the Lettre ` a m.

sur la Societe de 1789

(x: 6976). Cf. B. Groethuysen, Philosophie de la Revolution franc aise (Paris: Gonthier, 1956), p. 96.
Managing enlightenment 93
des progr`es de lesprit humain. However, even in the Esquisse Condorcet was
by no means sanguine. Outside Europe, prior to the American Revolu-
tion, the rest of the world was still in darkness (vi: 2378), and Condorcet
was not indifferent to the wounds that still bled, as his Academy speech
made clear: Do not accuse me of being insensitive to humanitys woes; I
know that its wounds still bleed, that everywhere it is still burdened with
the yoke of ignorance, that wherever a good man might look crimes and
suffering bring tears to his eyes and break his heart (i: 394). Philosophes
could still be revolted by the human spectacle (vi: 244); but in the strug-
gle between error and truth, superstition and reason, light and darkness,
the damage done to the cause of anti-philosophie was already sufcient to
ensure that the triumph of light was probable: It is true that ignorance
and error still breathe, but these monsters, the most formidable enemies
of mans happiness, bear the mark of mortality with which they have been
struck, and even their cries, which frighten you, only prove how sure and
terrible are the blows they have received (i: 395). As an obvious example
of the continuing threat posed by the enemies of humanity he reminded
readers of the Reexions sur le commerce des bles (Reections on the grain
trade) how vested economic interests still sought protection in the peoples
ignorance, shame and poverty, spreading the darkness of prejudice in the
fearful knowledge that enlightenment would lead to the victory of rights
over inequality and usurpation (xi: 15961, 1624).
The historical stages of that victory, in the course of which the chains
of intellectual and political oppression were to be nally broken, were set
out in graphic detail in the ninth epoque of the Esquisse. Here Condorcet
surveyed the implications of the advent of enlightened values that had taken
place between the Cartesian Revolution and that other Revolution which
had culminated in the death of the ancien regime and the establishment of
the First Republic. The progress of mans mind and that of mans liberty
were always for Condorcet closely interlinked processes, and one of the
main purposes of the Esquisse was to show
how one by one the things which seem to us today to be optimistic fantasies
gradually become possible, easy even; how, in spite of the success which prejudice
has had, withthe support of corrupt governments andpeoples, only truthis to enjoy
lasting victory; and how nature has bound together the progress of enlightenment
with that of liberty, virtue and respect for mans natural rights. (vi: 20)
Rousseaus dystopic prophecies were discarded by Condorcet without
compromise or concession, the progress of the sciences and the arts offer-
ing no reason to fear for mans happiness, virtue and freedom. Although
94 Condorcet and Modernity
he rarely mentioned Rousseau by name, Condorcet confronted Rousseaus
pessimism frequently as, for example, in his commentary on Voltaires
Le Mondain in the notes for the Kehl Voltaire (iv: 2337). That pessimism,
itself grounded in despair at the dark consequences, as Rousseau had pre-
ceived them, of the scientic enterprise, was challenged with empirical
evidence drawn from the benets that had accrued over the centuries as
a result of the forces which Rousseau deplored most. The achievements
of science, and in particular contemporary, post-Cartesian science, were
for Condorcet real and beyond dispute. Their demonstrably tangible fruits
were central to his notion of progress, and to his uncompromising accep-
tance of the perfectibility of mans nature, and of that better world to which
the benecence of scientic endeavour would give birth.
In his Academy
speech he afrmed this credo in the following terms:
Every scientic discovery benets humanity; no systemof truthful enquiry is sterile.
We have harvested the fruits of our ancestors labour; let us beware of thinking that
the labour of our contemporaries might be useless, and let us savour in advance
the happiness that one day they will give to our descendants just as a father takes
pleasure in watching the tree, whose branches will shade the next generation, grow
and ourish. It would be easy for me to conrm this truth. Of necessity a witness
to scientic progress, every year, every month, every day, if you like, are to my eyes
all notable for a new discovery or a useful invention. This sublime and consoling
pageant has become a regular part of my life and of my happiness. (i: 3912)
Much of what Condorcet had to say about scientic progress related to
the dramatic discoveries emanating from great mathematical minds. In his
notes for the Kehl Voltaire he catalogued the achievement of Bradley in the
eld of celestial mathematics, dAlembert who had advanced signicantly
the calculus of uid mechanics and solved the problem of equinoctial
precession bequeathed by Newton, Bouguer who had elaborated the laws
relating to the gradation of light waves, Euler, Rochon, Linnaeus, Franklin,
Rouelle, Aubenton, Bernoulli, Lagrange and others. Condorcets view of
science was inspired by the Baconian model: the focus of its activity and
It was on the issue of perfectibility that Condorcet admired particularly the work of Richard Price:
In his own country Dr Price is one of the leading and most zealous advocates of the notion that
the human race is indenitely perfectible, in a physical as well as moral sense (BIF Condorcet MS
863, ff. 2834). In another very interesting unpublished autograph fragment Price is described as an
old man respected for a life devoted entirely to the service of humanity . . . His treatise on civil
liberty rewarded him with the fear of tyrants and the insults of writers in their pay (BIF Condorcet
MS 860, ff. 215). See also J. Lough, Condorcet et Richard Price, Revue de litterature comparee 24
(1950), 8793; Baker, Condorcet, pp. 1647; D. O. Thomas (ed.), Price: Political Writings (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1991), p. xii. The question of Prices inuence on Condorcet deserves
further attention.
Managing enlightenment 95
application was man; its purpose was mans happiness and welfare; its
operative principle the empirical path of rational enquiry based on the close
observation of nature; its vision of the scientic endeavour universalist. In
another speech to the Academie Franc aise, on 26 February 1784, in response
to an address given by the comte de Choiseul-Goufer, he reected in
distinctly Baconian terms on the interconnections and interdependence
of the sciences (i: 439).
His debt to Bacon was fully acknowledged in
the Fragment sur lAtlantide, ou efforts combines de lesp`ece humaine pour le
progr`es des sciences (Fragment on Atlantis, or joint efforts of the human
race to make progress in the sciences) (vi: 5989). On 4 September 1784,
this time speaking to the Academie des Sciences, Condorcet would again
extol Bacons achievement in having taken the rst hesitant steps towards
a methodology of truth (vi: 186).
Together with Galileo and Descartes, Bacon formed part of that trio of
colossi bestriding the old and the modern worlds to which Condorcet paid
generous tribute in the eighth epoque of the Esquisse. Descartes deserved
homage, in spite of his mistakes, for having encouraged thinkers to throw
off the yoke of authority and tradition, but it was Bacon who had rst
unveiled the true method of studying nature and penetrating its secrets:
observation, experiment and calculation (vi: 168). The power of Baconian
science and its Newtonian legacy as the driving force behind the aston-
ishing progress made since the sixteenth century in physics, chemistry,
biology, astronomy, botany, medicine and other hard sciences were well
understood by Condorcet. It was an understanding that was shared by
many contemporaries, but Condorcets distinctive contribution to mid-
and late eighteenth-century interpretations of the English empirical legacy
was his insight into its political implications, not only for the theoretical
bases of the nascent social and political sciences, but also for the strategy
and pragmatics of day-to-day government. This was underlined in the 1782
Academy speech. Moral, social and political areas of enquiry could advance
only by being harnessed to the observation of facts, and to the mathematical
analysis of their implications: In fact, by meditating on the nature of the
moral sciences you cannot help seeing that, just like the physical sciences
depend on the observation of facts, the moral sciences must follow the
On the unity of knowledge, Condorcet was also of course reecting the ideology to which dAlembert
had given expression in the Discours preliminaire to the Encyclopedie, as the terms of the 26 February
1784 Discours to the Academy indicate: The sciences are held together by a chain which links each
one to all the others, and where they make contact they help each other on a mutual basis (i: 439).
In the Eloge de m. Bucquet Condorcet wrote that chemistry complemented natural history just as
the science of man complements and carries the torch for moral history (ii: 413).
96 Condorcet and Modernity
same approach, acquire an accurate and precise language, and achieve the
same degree of certainty (i: 392). In the moral and political extensions of
an empirically based methodology lay the only sure and authentic key to
The marriage of science, and particularly mathematics, to the analysis
and management of social and political phenomena led in Condorcets
thought to the consideration of a universal theory of knowledge and a
universal language, and he speculated at length on these matters in the
tenth epoque of the Esquisse (vi: 2702). Universal language, appropriately
formulated, was to be the main tool of the new methodology for ordering
society, for rationally analysing responses to its ever-increasing complexities,
and for ultimately guaranteeing the effective management of modernity:
But, as the facts proliferate, and as man learns to classify them, and reduce them
to more general facts, as the tools and techniques used to observe and measure
them accurately acquire at the same time even higher degrees of precision, as
our understanding of the multifarious relationships between a larger number of
objects grows, we manage to reduce them to wider-ranging relationships, contain
them within a simpler terminology, and present them in forms which allow us
to understand a greater number of them, it is not long before truths are devel-
oped and proved in ways that are not beyond the comprehension of the average
man. (vi: 2523)
The mission of science was being given an emphatically humane
tation in Condorcets hands, and this expressed itself as a central article
of faith in his 1782 Academy speech. Progress in the physical sciences gave
momentumto progress in the moral and social sciences, and minimised the
risk of defeat in the face of unceasing assault by the enemies of humanity.
The union of the physical and the moral sciences
would give to the latter
an extended, and above all useful, eld of enquiry that would have prac-
tical impact on peoples lives, on the political and social institutions that
The termis used here in the sense of a science linked to human need. Models that Condorcet extolled
in his Academy obituaries from this point of view included medical scientists in particular such as
Pierre-Joseph Macquer (iii: 12538) and of course the English surgeon William Hunter (ii: 6678).
See Williams, Condorcet and the art of eulogy, 375.
Condorcet commented on the issues facing the moral scientist in the Eloge de m. Bucquet: you can
reduce them to principles which are as simple and certain as those in the physical sciences; but these
principles are hidden, or at least obscured, by the clouds which ignorance and corrruption have
gathered around them. The truths, whose chain provides the basic system for these sciences, are
presented for judgement to the masses who think that they can understand them, and have a right
to an opinion on them; at the same time they are bound to all the petty issues which stir men up;
thus truth cannot make progress without a struggle against prejudice and passion, and experience has
shown that, instead of seeking out the truth, and honouring those who discover it, or try to spread
it, men reject the light, and persecute whoever persists in trying to show it to them (ii: 411).
Managing enlightenment 97
shaped those lives and even on human nature itself. Social mathematics
would forge a unique partnership between the elite world of scientically
enlightened minds and the world of ordinary men and women.
Condorcets project was about the transformation of the future as well
as the reformation of the present:
The project to make all men virtuous is a dream, but one day why should we not
see enlightenment and genius create for happier generations an education system
and a legal system which would make courageous virtue almost unnecessary? See
how, from one end of Europe to the other, enlightened men act together for the
good of humanity, and direct all their efforts towards that one purpose with a
courage and a solidarity not seen in any other age. (i: 395, 397)
If Bacon had provided the model for empirical enquiry and the rst ten-
tative insight into the relationship between the physical and the moral
sciences, Condorcets model was rmly anchored, not so much to English
science, although his admiration for Newton, for example, was unquali-
ed, and the Newtonian inuence on his thought is clearly discernible,
but to Bacons successors, Locke and Hume.
For Condorcet, the aston-
ishing achievements of the modern age could be directly attributed to the
decline of faith in systems. His abhorrence of irrelevant philosophising
constitutes a sustained leit-motif in his thinking, whether on the subject
of science, politics, economics, legislative codes, canals, the civil status of
women, the abolition of the slave trade or the rights of man. Locke had
cured Voltaire of the mania for systems (iv: 283); Franklin had demon-
strated the need to link the world of abstract knowledge to the realities of
life (iii: 417). Cartesianism, which in so many ways had kindled a brilliant
beacon on the route to enlightenment, now had to be replaced by a truer
philosophy if the centurys vision of progress was to acquire credibility in
the eyes of ordinary men and women, and have real impact on their lives.
It was to Locke that Condorcet turned in the quest for this truer philos-
ophy. Locke had shown the English the path in metaphysics which must
be followed if we are not to get lost (iv: 19). In the Esquisse Condorcet
elaborated on the qualities of Lockean procedures that appealed to him.
The precision of Lockes analysis of the origin of ideas in sensation, with its
associated concentration on the relationship between ideas and words (the
great instruments of knowledge), provided the key to the resolution of
This was the aspect of Franklins career that Condorcet admired particularly, see the Eloge de m.
Franklin (iii: 417).
See Williams, Condorcet and the English Enlightenment, 15962.
Baker notes that Condorcet used many of Humes ideas in the reception speech to the Academie
Franc aise (Condorcet, pp. 1805). See also Popkin, Condorcet and Hume and Turgot, 5362.
98 Condorcet and Modernity
the problems posed by the incoherence and indeterminacy of the phenom-
ena of human experience. Locke had dened the link between inchoate
perception and the operation of the mind on sensation, and in so doing
had provided the means to guard against the danger of getting lost that
constantly haunted Condorcet:
that perception is limited to just one part of each of these composite sensations.
We must see that by attaching one word to each idea, after having analysed that
idea and circumscribed it, we always manage to recall the same idea, that is to
say, one made up of the same simpler component ideas, always contained within
the same boundaries, and consequently we always manage to use it in a sequential
process of reasoning without ever running the risk of losing ourselves. (vi: 1823)
Lockes emphasis on epistemological modesty was shared by Condorcet
to the extent that he accepted that reason was a powerful tool of enlight-
enment, but useless when applied to the unanswerable questions of meta-
physics. In the Eloge de m. Duclos the folly of Cartesianismhad been dened
precisely as the craze of having to rationalise all phenomena, well or badly
(ii: 33). Above all, it was Lockes precept, set out in the 1690 Essay concerning
human understanding, that our business here is not to know all things, but
those which concern our conduct,
which enabled Condorcet to dene the
real business of philosophe science, and the necessarily delimited nature of
its mission, without undermining his own optimism and faith in the possi-
bility of progress.
Locke had been the rst to map the frontiers of human
knowledge with rigour and precision, and to determine the nature of the
truths that they encompassed. Locke had argued, moreover, that scientic
and philosophical enquiry should take on board the moral and political
sciences. This was a dazzlingly illuminating concept for Condorcet:
It is by applying them to morality, to politics, to political economy, that men have
been able to make advancements in these areas almost as certain as those made in
the natural sciences, to accept only proven truths, to distance those truths from
anything that might still be dubious or uncertain, to be able to accept that in the
John Locke, An Essay concerning Human Understanding, ed. A. C. Fraser, 2 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon
Press, 1894), vol. i, p. 31.
Condorcet did not allow Lockes views on the limits of human knowledge to impose limits on
human potential, and he made this clear in his notes for the Kehl Voltaire: It would even be a
little unphilosophical to regard the limits which Locke has placed on the human mind as being
invariable. It is the same for metaphysics as for other sciences, from which it differs only in terms of
its objectives, and not in terms of its certainty or its methods. You could say of every science: this is
what the human mind can hope to achieve in the current stage of enlightenment; if it digs deeper,
it risks getting lost, but it would be rash to put limits on what will be possible one day (iv: 2856).
Neither the power of the human mind nor the uncertainty of knowledge must be underestimated,
as was the case with Bayle and Pascal (iv: 293).
Managing enlightenment 99
end we still do not know everything, and that it will always be impossible for us
to know everything. (vi: 183)
Lockes method provided for Condorcet the universal instrument to be
applied to the discovery of truth across a whole range of human experi-
ence and enquiry. The inuence of Lockean epistemological procedures on
Condorcet is incontrovertible although, while it is known that Condorcet
could read English texts in the original, what he actually read of Lockes
works is still a matter for speculation and, at best, informed assumption.
What can be said is that his writings evoke Lockean precepts and formu-
lations in ways that suggest an easy familiarity with the Essay concerning
human understanding. In the light of that text, any appreciation of the
impact on Condorcet of Lockean views on language as an instrument of
analysis, on sensationalist theory and above all on probability, must take us
back to Condorcets notes for his 1782 Academy speech. It was in the Dis-
cours de reception that he paid public tribute to Lockes role in resetting the
methodological foundations of the moral and political sciences within new
parameters of sensationalist psychology. The epistemological themes of the
Discours de reception were to re-emerge in the Esquisse, where Condorcet
plotted the course of the Enlightenment, and spelled out the far-reaching
implications of the potential power of the philosophical calculus for mans
social and moral constitution:
Thus the analysis of our sentiments enables us to discover, in the development of
our faculty for experiencing pleasure and pain, the origin of our moral ideas, the
basis for the general truths which, arising fromthose ideas, determine the necessary,
immutable laws of justice and injustice, and in the end [provide] the motivations
to make our behaviour conform to them, motivations ingrained in the very nature
of our sensibility, in what could be called, in a way, our moral constitution.
References to Locke abound in Condorcets writings, but in addition to
the Discours de reception there is one further text that deserves attention
for the evidence it provides of Condorcets understanding of Locke, and
that is the obituary which he wrote for Condillac soon after the latters
death on 2/3 August 1780. Most of the philosophes owed their knowledge of
Lockean principles to Condillacs 1754 Traite des sensations, widely taught
in the colleges in the second half of the eighteenth century. Condorcets
Notice historique et critique sur Condillac appeared in the Journal de Paris on
In the Vie de m. Turgot Condorcet praised Turgots insight into the ways in which the progressive
evolution of the civil order brought with it a corresponding evolution of the moral order that enabled
men to see how their happiness was closely linked to the happiness of others (v: 2223).
100 Condorcet and Modernity
25 September 1780,
and it offered readers a tribute to Condillacs achieve-
ments that is at best luke-warm. However, one aspect of Condillacs work
recommended itself to Condorcet, namely Condillacs adherence to pro-
cedures that recalled Lockes plain, historical method, and the pioneering
analytical methodology that had been instrumental in crystallising the link
between ideas and their origins in sensation. Reviewing Condillacs life and
work, therefore, Condorcet was reminded of howmuch Locke had achieved
in fullling the promise of the original Baconian vision (Notice, p. 237).
To set Condorcets epistemological views within an English empirical, and
essentially Lockean, tradition is not to deny the existence of other powerful
formative inuences, and recent scholarship has rightly drawn attention to
the importance of Humes thought, for example.
Certainly Condorcets
application of probability reasoning suggests an interesting link with the
Treatise on human nature, and especially with the third chapter, Of knowl-
edge and probability. Berkeley, Collins, Bolingbroke and Adam Smith
also contributed to that unique blend of empiricism and intuitivism which
marks Condorcets notion of social mathematics.
It is the authority of
Lockes name, however, that predominates in Condorcets thinking on the
role and nature of enlightenment within a broad spectrum of political and
social contexts. It was through the application of Lockean insight that
Newtonian science had been brought down to earth,
that Cartesian
methodical doubt had been extended to the social arena of profane human-
ity, that the transcendental terms of the Pascalian wager had been rejected.
The challenge to secure mans salvation would nowbe met in a world whose
values and aspirations were irreversibly secular in nature. Condorcets appli-
cation of the revolutionary social mathematics to the new complexities of
that world reected a crucial, essentially Lockean, preoccupation: The
point of it is man (i: 543).
Condorcet returned to the management of the processes whereby
enlightenment would be humanised, democratised and disseminated in
a number of contexts, and enlightenment as a public policy would become
central to his radically framed blueprint for a national education system.
Reference is to the text of this work edited by K. M. Baker, Un eloge ofcieux de Condorcet: sa
notice historique et critique sur Condillac, Revue de synth`ese 3 (1967), 23651.
See n. 8.
In the Esquisse Condorcet listed these names along with those of Bayle, Fontenelle, Voltaire and
Montesquieu as model soldiers in the battle for truth whose cris de guerre were reason, tolerance and
humanity (vi: 1878).
See G.-G. Granger, La Mathematique sociale du marquis de Condorcet (Paris: PUF, 1956), p. 38.
Condorcet published his edition of Pascals Pensees in 1776. It was reprinted as the Eloge et pensees
de Pascal (Paris, 1778).
Managing enlightenment 101
The enlightened mind was for Condorcet a free mind in the political, as
well as intellectual, sense.
The liberation of the mind and the liberation
of the citizen were complementary processes. That essential link would be
made into the political cornerstone of his proposals for education published
in 1791 as the Cinq memoires sur linstruction publique: Aconstitution which
is really free, in which all social classes enjoy the same rights, cannot exist if
the ignorance of some citizens prevents themfromunderstanding its nature
and limitations (iii: 80). The political link would be further consolidated
in the following year in the Rapport sur linstruction publique.
In the Eloge de m. dAlembert Condorcet again stressed, in pragmatic
terms very similar to those he used in constitutional contexts, the impor-
tance of a strategy of gradualism. Enlightenment, like all other catalysts of
change arising from enlightened rational processes, had to be controlled
and directed with caution. Philosophes owed society the truth,
but handled in such a way that those people who are wounded by truth are not
forewarned to unite and rise up against it. Instead of making a frontal assault
on dangerous prejudices, it is often better to present truth indirectly by inference
so that the error of these views can be easily deduced; instead of striking out
openly at error, it is enough to gradually get people accustomed to using their
reason correctly so that, once they have got into this happy habit, they themselves
can have the pleasure and glory of breaking the chains oppressing their reason,
and tearing down the idols before which they have grown weary of bending the
knee. (iii: 801)
In the Eloge de m. Turgot he observed that minds had to be introduced
slowly to enlightened values like eyes adjusting to a bright light after a
long darkness (iii: 455). The triumph of truth would not be accomplished
overnight, as Turgot understood only too well: It is good to accustom
minds slowly to the truth, and to treat those minds like eyes which must
be adjusted gradually to the light.
The political process was always for
Condorcet a deeply educational enterprise for the citizen, and the ideal
of the legislator as public tutor as well as political leader crystallised with
particular clarity in his portrait of Franklin whose political career had been
that of a man with faith in the power of reason and in the reality of human
On the guidance of scientic research in the service of society and the enlightened public mind,
see the Eloge de m. Duhamel (ii: 6412). Condorcet thought that one of the more successful pub-
lic administrators in this respect, apart from Turgot, was Etienne Mignol de Montigni: a good
man . . . who left nobody behind he had made unhappy, Eloge de m. de Montigni (ii: 597).
See Coutel, Condorcet, pp. 58.
Condorcet reiterates the point in the notes for the Kehl Voltaire: When it is a question of ghting
against received ideas, the truth with which those ideas are confronted, if they are wrong, does not
dissipate error immediately (iv: 290).
102 Condorcet and Modernity
virtue, and who had wanted to be the tutor of his fellow-citizens before
they called on him to become their legislator (iii: 420).
Condorcet was always aware of the fragility of the Enlightenment enter-
prise. The rst steps taken towards the adoption of enlightened values by
the Greeks had been easily reversed in the Dark Ages, but in the sixth
epoque of the Esquisse, dealing with the negation of those values at the
time of the crusades, he observed that mens proclivity to hesitate on their
journey towards modernity did not justify the abandonment of the enter-
prise altogether. The future was not to be overshadowed by the sobering
lessons of history. Examples of the decline and failure of earlier civilisations
provided only a warning, not a counsel of despair. Their message was to
encourage men to neglect nothing in the cause of protecting and extending
enlightenment if they want to become or stay free, and to maintain their
freedom if they do not wish to lose the avantages given to them by enlight-
enment (vi: 123). The connection between enlightenment and liberty in
the civil order is stressed frequently, enlightenment being equated with a
victory over the servitude of the mind that was in turn analogous to the
triumph of a revolution in the civil order which freed the citizen from the
chains of political servitude. True and lasting political freedom could only
be achieved when all men were released from their prejudices. Thus, for
Condorcet, political progress could only take place meaningfully in con-
ditions established by a corresponding moral and intellectual revolution.
Referring in the Vie de Voltaire to premature, ill-fated attempts to reform
the civil order, Condorcet questioned the futility of blood shed unneces-
sarily in the cause of freedom at a time when the prevailing social, political
and cultural order would not permit the achievement of benets that were
real and permanent. For revolutions to succeed, timing was everything:
Why risk everything by purchasing with torrents of blood and inevitable upheavals
what time must surely bring about without any bloodshed? It is in order to be free,
and permanently free, that we must await the moment when men, liberated from
their prejudices and guided by reason, will nally be worthy of their freedom,
because they will know what the true rights of freedom are. (iv: 17980)
Enlightenment facilitated political and social renewal, and was indis-
pensable to the constitutional vitality of the civil order. In the Vie de m.
Turgot the revered Controller-General was reported as having regarded the
general acquisition of enlightenment in the operations of government, and
the protection and monitoring of the civil order as the only cure for its ills
and as its true justication; [the civil order] might be imperfect in our eyes,
but it always tends to perfect itself (v: 225). For this reason enlightenment,
Managing enlightenment 103
like rights, had to be extended to all. In the Essai sur la constitution et les fonc-
tions des assemblees provinciales Condorcet set out the consequences if the
democratisation of enlightenment did not take place. Intellectual privilege
and exclusivity were as harmful to the social pact as intolerance, inequality
and the privileges of birth,
for it must not be thought that the rich can continue to be enlightened for very
long if the poor remain condemned to eternal stupidity. It is when enlightenment
is widely shared, not conned, that it can increase; the more it is restricted to a
small number of people, the more it is to be feared that error and pseudo-science
will dim its brightness. (viii: 477)
Condorcets view of the scientic and philosophical Enlightenment as
a facilitating, liberating force illuminates the 1790 Eloge de m. Franklin,
the career of Benjamin Franklin exemplifying perfectly the ways in which
the quest of the scientist for truth could interlock fruitfully with that of the
politically engaged warrior in the front line of the battle against tyranny and
its ally, ignorance
(iii: 37980, 4212). In that war revolutionary politics
and revolutionary science are joined in a natural alliance against tyranny:
Who can still be unaware that nations do not have to choose between cultivating
the sciences or debasement under the yoke of prejudice? For, in the natural order of
things, political enlightenment either follows in the footsteps of the sciences, and
is supported by their progress or, as in the case of the ancients, its glowis uncertain,
ephemeral and obscured by storms. Let us beware of those envious detractors who
dare to accuse the ancients of complacency under despotism; they certainly felt
instinctively that nations deprived of enlightenment are easier to deceive or to
lead, and that the more enlightened a nation is, the more difcult it is to abolish
the vote . . . Even in a freer constitution, an ignorant people is always an enslaved
one. (iii: 423)
The more educated, and therefore enlightened, a nation was, the less likely
it was to be oppressed. With enlightenment thus recast in its role as a
civic necessity, a national system of education followed on naturally as an
essential extension of civic virtue and patriotic obligation.
soci al mathemati cs and the publi c good
In the Tableau general de la science qui a pour objet lapplication du cal-
cul aux sciences politiques et morales (General survey of science concerning
the application of the calculus of probabilities to the political and moral
The war imagery describing the process of enlightenment occurs frequently in Condorcets eloges,
see for example the Eloge de m. de Buffon (iii: 362).
104 Condorcet and Modernity
Condorcet offered a shrewd assessment of the conditions in
whichmathematical advancements, freedom, peace andenlightenment rst
started to coalesce in seventeenth-century Holland and England to make
the application of the calculus of probabilities feasible as an instrument
for the management of the moral and political sciences.
An understand-
ing of the applications of the calculus of probabilities as an instrument of
prediction that would facilitate the development of a science of political
management is the hallmark of Condorcets originality and genius. The
calculus of probabilities was the bridge joining the principles of empirical
science to those of social and political planning, and the promise it held
out of a rationally controlled future is described in the tenth epoque of the
Esquisse with remarkable clarity and eloquence:
If man can predict, with almost complete condence, phenomena whose laws he
understands, if even when those laws are unknown to him he can, in the light of
past experience, foresee with a great degree of probability events in the future, why
should the project to extrapolate fromthe lessons of history a fairly accurate picture
of the future of the human race be considered a dream? The only basis for belief
in the natural sciences is the notion that the general laws, known or unknown,
which regulate phenomena in the universe are necessary and constant; so for what
reason should this principle be less true for the development of mans intellectual
and moral faculties than it is for other natural processes? Finally, since opinions
formed on the basis of past experience with regard to objects of the same order are
the only rule of behaviour for the wisest of men, why should the philosopher be
forbidden from using the same basis to support his own conjectures, provided he
does not attribute to them a higher certainty than that arising from the number,
constancy and accuracy of his observations? (vi: 2367)
In the Tableau Condorcet replaced the earlier term, moral arithmetic,
with a new formulation to describe the social application of the calculus:
I thought that the name social mathematics [Condorcets italics] was better suited
to this science . . . This demonstration will illustrate the usefulness of this science
in its entirety; you will see that none of our private or public interests will be
Calcul is a difcult termto translate, and can also be rendered in English as calculus or calculation.
Condorcet does not use it to mean differential calculus or integral calculus. Sommerlad and
McLean observe that sometimes the context indicates the mathematical spirit (The Political Theory
of Condorcet, 1 (1989), p. xii).
In addition to the magisterial 1785 Essai sur lapplication de lanalyse ` a la probabilite des decisions
rendues ` a la pluralite des voix, Condorcet offers a succinct description of the operations of probability
theory in his notes for the Kehl Voltaire (iv: 2678). Cf. the 1787 Discours sur lastronomie et le
calcul des probabilites. He cites as pioneers of the new science of social mathematics Jean de Witt
(Descartess disciple) and William Petty (i: 53940). Their work on the calculus of probability
coincided chronologically with that of Fermat and Pascal.
Managing enlightenment 105
inappropriate to it, that it will be able to give us more precise and more certain
knowledge of all of them; you will see how this science could contribute to the
happiness and perfection of the human race, if it were to be more widely used and
cultivated. (i: 5401)
The change of direction in Condorcets mathematical enquiries can be
traced back to the end of the Turgot administration in 1776. Before 1776
his interests had focussed exclusively onthe applications of integral calculus.
His post-Turgot disillusionment with government marked the end of one
beautiful dream and the start of another with his dawning perception
of the calculus of probabilities as a mechanism for the management of
enlightened social planning. The rst manifestations of the new dream are
to be found in a lecture given to a Lycee in 1783, and also in letters that he
wrote to Garat in 17845.
However, the most systematic elaboration of the new orientation to his
mathematical thinking is to be found in the context of voting procedures
in the 1785 Essai sur lapplication de lanalyse ` a la probabilite des decisions
rendues ` a la pluralite des voix (Essay on the application of probability theory
to decision-making by majority vote) in which he gives close attention to
the problem of guaranteeing that deliberative bodies like juries, tribunals
and legislative assemblies would always deliver the right collective decision
in the determination of guilt or innocence or in the framing of just laws.
The view of probability and its applications to be found in the Tableau,
and later in the Esquisse, were in fact already in place in the 1785 Essai.
Condorcet believed that social policies and political decisions had been
based so far on evaluations which depended on a vague, almost instinctive
feeling, or on crude, uncertain insights (i: 541). The public servant who
used the calculus, on the other hand, had all the advantages of the gambler
whose wager was informed by reason and mathematical insight over the
gambler who wagered on the basis of instinct, superstition or habit. The
gambling analogy is extended in the second half of the Tableau where
the reader is taken through the mathematical steps involved in the applica-
tion of calculus predictions to the casting of dice (i: 5523), throws of the
dice providing a readily understandable illustration of probability theory
in action.
The most comprehensive account of Condorcets theory of social mathematics is still that of Granger,
La Mathematique sociale. See particularly pp. 45163.
McLean and Hewitt usefully reproduce relevant extracts from the Lycee lectures and the Garat
correspondence (p. 11). See also Correspondance inedite de Condorcet et Madame Suard, ed. Badinter,
pp. 2201; Sommerlad and McLean (eds. and trans.), The Political Theory of Condorcet, 1 (1989),
pp. 16.
106 Condorcet and Modernity
Condorcet linked the model of calculation involved to warnings about
the false conclusions which ensue from analyses fatally awed as a con-
sequence of the paucity of statistical evidence available to policy-makers
and the general inadequacy of public record-keeping. In the second half of
the Tableau he returned to the vexing problem of decient public record-
keeping, stressing that the success of the science of social mathematics would
be conditional uponimprovements inthat area. Equally decient were anal-
yses based on reason alone, into which the intrusion of error and prejudice
could not be prevented. With characteristic prescience, Condorcet stressed
the particular usefulness of the calculus to the management of the inevitable
damage to the social fabric caused by disruptive events, stormy times. In
times of uncertainty and chaos the pressing need to restore harmony and
stability could only be met effectively by the rational application of the
calculus: How reason is further strengthened by this rigour, this preci-
sion accompanying all the operations of the calculus! How much would
this not contribute to ensuring a smooth crossing of this rubbish-strewn
terrain, whose bowels are still in upheaval and which has been shaken by
earthquakes for so long (i: 5423).
Condorcet believed the calculus of probability to be the key to enlight-
ened public administration, and probability theory is central to the science
of social mathematics in the Tableau. Here the foundation-stones of mod-
ern statistical and actuarial sciences in commerce, insurance, demography,
voting procedures, economics, health, taxation and other areas of social
planning and provision are laid out with remarkable prescience. Believing
that moral truths were as objectively measurable as scientic truths, he
felt that human conict arose from ignorance and misperceptions which
would be corrected by the process of enlightenment. He was condent, per-
haps naively over-condent, that the more enlightened the nation became,
the more enlightened its collective decisions would be under the laws of
probability science.
The more philosophical aspects of Condorcets thinking on the poten-
tial of probabilism owed much to the Newtonian and Lockean debates of
the seventeenth century relating to the degree of certainty provided by the
natural sciences. English empiricism, and in particular Lockean epistemo-
logical modesty, established that in the physical sciences, as in all other
areas of knowledge, man is limited to what he knows, and what he knows
comes to him only through the data of sense experience. The nature and
extent of his knowledge was, however, measurable using the precise and
certain language of mathematics. The limitation of human knowledge did
See Sommerlad and McLean (eds. and trans.), The Political Theory of Condorcet, 1 (1989), p. 7.
Managing enlightenment 107
not mean that there was no sure rule upon which to found an opinion,
as Condorcet pointed out in his notes on Pascal.
Condorcet accepted
that in spite of the so far unfailing regularity of the rising of the sun each
day, it could not be predicted with absolute certainty that the sun would
rise tomorrow morning. Past performance was no guarantee of future per-
formance in any aspect of the human condition, and science was full of
uncertainties. Hume had set out the conditions under which we can accept
probabilities in A Treatise of Human Nature,
where he dened the pre-
suppositions upon which probabilismwas predicated, namely ignorance of
the essential causes of events; the equal phenomenological weight of events;
the determined order of events.
Because of the fact that the human mind
can never fully grasp the essential nature of things, the causes that might
bring about one event rather than another can never be demonstrated.
Rational belief must, therefore, take account of the equal phenomenologi-
cal weighting of each event and the regularity and constant congurations
as determined by experience and by a methodical analysis of the pattern of
similar events in the past. Causality might not be demonstrable, but it did
not follow necessarily that causality did not exist. The philosophical door
to mathematical probability theory had now been opened, and Humes
impact on Condorcet would be considerable.
Eighteenth-century probability theory in France, developed initially as
a response to the challenge posed by the doctrine of chance,
is derived
fromthe mathematical research undertaken in the seventeenth century and
the early years of the eighteenth.
In his correspondence with Fermat and
in the Traite du triangle arithmetique of 1665, Pascal laid out the founding
principles of the mathematical attack on chance,
and Descartes took the
challenge to radical uncertainty further in the Discours de la methode (1637).
The genesis of philosophical thinking on the question of knowledge and probability from Newton
to Hume has been examined in some detail by Baker, Condorcet, pp. 13055.
Isaac Todhunters account of the historical development of probability theory is still authoritative,
although almost a hundred and fty years have passed since it was rst published (A History of the
Mathematical Theory of Probability from the Time of Pascal to that of Laplace (London: Macmillan,
1865). A more recent account can be found in F. N. David, Games, Gods and Gambling. The Origins
and History of Probability and Statistical Ideas from the Earliest Times to the Newtonian Era (London:
Grifn, 1962).
Baker, Condorcet, p. 154.
The English term chance is problematic and does not convey all of the connotations of the French
term hasard, see T. M. Kavanagh, Chance and probability in the Enlightenment, French Forum 5
(1990), 69.
See Baker, Condorcet, pp. 15571.
On the mathematical basis to the famous passage on the wager in Pascals Pensees, see I. Hacking, The
Emergence of Probability (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), pp. 6372. Cf. Kavanagh,
Chance and probability, 911. For Condorcets views on what he considered to be Pascals misuse
of probabilism, see the notes for the Kehl Voltaire (iv: 51316).
108 Condorcet and Modernity
The potential power of the algebraic art was then described in more
visionary terms by Huygens in De ratiociniis in aleae ludo (1657). Thanks to
their achievements, as well as that of others who followed in their footsteps
like Montmort, Moivre, Bernoulli, Bayes, Lagrange and La Place, the theo-
retical basis for the calculus of probabilities was established, although until
the second half of the eighteenth century the new mathematics remained
conned largely to the original Pascalian context of gambling. That con-
textual limitation would end with Condorcets determination to apply the
mathematical work of his friend La Place to political and social questions.
These earlier scientists had established the rules for predicting outcomes
from causes of known frequency, and their work laid the basis for the
application to outcomes of forward-looking probability, i.e. the compu-
tation of the values of outcomes from the known frequency of causes.
To forward-looking probability theory Bernoulli added inverse probability
theory which seeks to calculate the probability of unknown causes given
observed outcomes. The application of this is ascribed outside France to
Bayes and known as Bayess Theorem, into which La Place, Price and
Condorcet also had some input.
Ironically, the only mathematician to
have any doubts (based on an elementary miscalculation) about the valid-
ity of the mathematics involved in the assessment of expected value was
Condorcets patron, dAlembert. The most inuential of this constellation
of distinguished mathematicians, as far as Condorcet is concerned, was
probably La Place, closely followed by Bernoulli and Bayes. La Places sem-
inal paper on the calculation of the probability of drawing at random a
black or a white ball from an urn containing black and white balls either
in a given proportion or in an unknown proportion moved Condorcet to
develop further his own views on probability and its applications which he
had already started to formulate in an unnished paper in 1772 in connec-
tionwithBernoullis work. La Places Recherches sur lintegrationdes equations
differentielles aux differences nies, et sur leur usage dans la theorie des hasards
was published in 1773, to be followed by the Memoire sur la probabilite des
causes par les evenements in 1774. Condorcet who, as assistant secretary in
the Academie des Sciences, had the responsibility of editing La Places papers
for the transactions of the Academy, was profoundly inuenced by both
papers, and he commented on the signicance of La Places research on the
probability of the occurrence of an event and its signicance for the calcu-
lus of probabilities in the preface to the sixth volume of the Memoires des
For a succinct explanation of Bernoullis theorem of inverse probability and the Bayes application,
see McLean and Hewitt, Condorcet, pp. 1214.
Managing enlightenment 109
savants etrangers in 1774.
For Condorcet the debate on probability, so far
conned to gambling and lotteries, could now be extended to other, more
useful areas. A third paper by La Place, the Memoire sur les probabilites, was
published in 1781, and Condorcet discussed its conclusions, particularly
with regard to the application of the calculus to predictions of population
growth, in his ofcial summary in the 1778 Memoires des savants etrangers.
The calculus of probabilities drives the concept of social science as it
was to evolve in Condorcets mind over the next twenty years, and it is
important not to lose sight of the crucial linkage between his mathemati-
cal researches on probability theory and his non-mathematical essays and
treatises on political, social, constitutional and economic issues. To under-
stand Condorcet fully, the mental universes of Condorcet the probabil-
ity theorist and Condorcet the author of treatises on taxation and other
aspects of public nance, jury reform, elections and voting procedures,
social insurance, annuities and other applications of actuarial science, canal-
building, contraception and demographic issues, and even on the nature of
progress itself, all need to be envisaged as a seamless intellectual continuity
whose strands stretch from the early essays on the calculus right through
to the tenth epoque of the Esquisse. The interpenetration of these appar-
ently separate mental universes crystallised dramatically in the 1785 Essai sur
lapplication de lanalyse ` a la probabilite des decisions rendues ` a la pluralite des
voix, Condorcets revolutionary demonstration in the context of a theory
of voting of the existence of a degree of certainty and precision in the moral
and political sciences comparable to that of the physical sciences.
In the introduction to the Tableau Condorcet offered a summative, dia-
grammatic representation of the new world of social mathematics,
into account the order of nature, including climate, the nature of the soil,
food supplies, as well as social institutions, political and social stability,
standards of living, employment patterns in calculating projections of life
expectancy, gender balance, birth and mortality rates, marriages and demo-
graphic projections by age, marital status and class.
The building blocks
of the human edice were accessible to analysis and forward-planning from
In addition to Bakers analysis, see also C. Gillespie, Probability and politics: Laplace, Condorcet
and Turgot, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 116 (1972), 14; R. Mauzi, Ecrivains et
moralistes du XVIIIe si` ecle devant les jeux de hasard, Revue des sciences humaines 26 (1958), 21956.
Condorcet lists here some specic applications central to efcient social planning: prediction of mor-
tality rates, assessment of electoral systems, lottery rules, insurance and annuity rates, life expectancy
(i: 5434). In the second half of the Tableau he has much to say also on the importance of the cal-
culus to theories of trade and commerce (i: 5645). On the application of moral arithmetic to life
expectancy calculations, see also the Eloge de m. de Buffon (iii: 3445).
On the factors affecting population growth, see also Condorcets commentary on Voltaires Dictio-
nnaire philosophique entry on Homme in the notes for the Kehl Voltaire (iv: 427).
110 Condorcet and Modernity
various angles, as well as to an assessment of their inuence on each other.
The non-measurable now became measurable, including factors affecting
human belief and motivation, of paramount importance to a government
engaged in the process of enlightening, as well as governing, a people:
The application of the calculus to these latter issues will have the advantage of
shining the light of reason on matters which have been abandoned to the seductive
inuence of the imagination, of self-interest or of the passions for too long . . . It
is [the calculus] which will enable us to recognise the real difference between the
instinctive judgements which imperiously control our everyday actions, and the
results of reason which determine our important actions, or which regulate our
speculative thinking. (i: 555, 556)
The management of enlightenment had practical implications for policy-
makers relating to historical documentation, the compilation and inter-
pretation of statistics, public records, registers, the use of arithmetical
machines, decision-making processes, electoral procedures and projec-
It concerned, above all, a radical reassessment of the nature of
evidence in the determination and evaluation of theories and alleged facts,
in the interests of competent public administration and wise legislation.
The Tableau avoids the distractions and obfuscations of abstract argu-
ment to a remarkable degree, even in the more technically complex passages
dealing with the theory of combinations, the differentiation between real
and hypothetical facts, the importance of a theory of mean values to valid
interpretations of general patterns of isolated real facts, and the opera-
tional aspects of social mathematics relating to the factors involved in the
ordering and classication of data to produce statistical tables of use to
In all this, Condorcets priority was the elaboration of a
transparent methodology that would facilitate the recognition of patterns
and trends, together with an accurate evaluation of the issues affecting the
interpretation of those patterns and the detection of error: The determi-
nation of this single fact, which represents a large number of other facts
Condorcet returned frequently to the role of mathematics in electoral contexts. Apart from his great
mathematical essay on the calculus, see also, for example, the Lettres dun bourgeois de New Haven
(ix: 256), and the Essai sur la constitution et les fonctions des assemblees provinciales (viii: 178).
Condorcet identied three particular features of the methodology of social mathematics on this
point: the determination of facts, the evaluation of facts and the consequences of facts. Facts are
divided into two categories: faits reels, with their origins in empirical observation (e.g. mortality
statistics), and faits hypothetiques, that depended on an assessment of possible combinations, to be
determined by the application of a general theory of combinations.
With regard to the rules of arithmetical progression applicable to mortality rates, for example,
Condorcet was familiar with the work of Moivre, Lambert and Duvillard whose work receives
generous acknowledgement in the Tableau (i: 547 n. 1).
Managing enlightenment 111
which could be substituted in the operations of reason and calculation, is a
kind of appreciation of facts which are observed facts, or regarded as hav-
ing an equivalent degree of possibility; this is what is called a mean value
(i: 548).
In the second half of the Tableau Condorcet explored the theory of
mean values, and the concept of value, central to the applications of social
mathematics. Every object that an individual felt a need for, that was useful
to him, that gave him pleasure or enabled him to avoid pain, had a value
assigned to it embodying a measure of desire for that object, and reecting
a system of values common to all men. The theory of mean values was
not a game for mathematicians, but had use as a device to establish a
rational market for goods andservices, to regulate the economy. Inadvanced
societies value symbols in the form of metal-based currencies would be
used in the application of the theory of mean values to food supplies,
consumption and productivity ratios, the evaluation of national wealth,
forward-planning with regard to the efcient management of shortages
and surpluses and the understanding of factors determining population
growth (i: 5634).
In all this, Condorcet was concerned to present the theory of mean values
as a practical, benecial tool for the optimisation of wealth and its distri-
bution, private and public investment of capital, organisation of labour,
deployment of national resources, international trade and the balance of
payments. The fact that the ve mathematical procedures constituting the
composite science of social mathematics (quantitive theory, combination
theory, deductive theory, probability theory and the theory of mean values)
were in no way arcane or opaque meant that they were immediately acces-
sible to non-mathematical policy-makers and social planners. Their great
merit was to be above all at the ready disposal of the enlightened mind:
Thus it is not a question here of an occult science, whose secret is restricted to
a few practitioners, but of an everyday, common science; it is about accelerating
the progress of a theory upon which depends the progress of those sciences most
important to public happiness, and of extending the light of general practicality
and usefulness to several areas of those same sciences. (i: 550)
In demonstrating the usefulness of social mathematics as an instrument
of enlightened public administration encompassing a theory of knowledge,
a theory of human behaviour, a theory of voting as well as establishing new
theoretical bases for economics and actuarial science, Condorcet sought to
expose at the same time the errors and false assumptions of earlier methods
adopted for the direction of public policy. In summarising the advantages
112 Condorcet and Modernity
of the new science in the closing pages of the Tableau, he injected a crucial
ingredient into his theory of government, namely his collectivist viewof the
primacy of the state as a collective moral entity: So far we have considered
nations only as collections of men preoccupied with their own interests
and work. We have yet to consider them as a body which the social pact
has in a way made into one moral individual (i: 567). Man in the civil
order is not a self-sufcient unit, but a politically and morally integrated
being with needs that can only be met through the exercise of the collective
will on matters relating for example to defence, security, public works,
roads, hospitals, schools and welfare. In the Tableau Condorcet had much
to say about the requirements of the public good and the implications for
government policies of the nature of the state as a moral being.
Central to the advancement of the public good arising from the moral
nature and purpose of political association was the management of the
public purse. Here Condorcet foresaw a particularly valuable application
of the calculus with regard to the judicious determination of the balance of
the tax burden, and policies relating to government borrowing, lotteries, the
national debt, public services, interest rates and contracts (i: 56772). The
application of the calculus to the public purse was perhaps for Condorcet
one of the most important contributions that social mathematics could
make to public happiness, with repercussions that went well beyond the
world of nance: One could examine, for example, from this standpoint
the effect of destroying the privileged orders, feudal rights, [the right to]
an equal share in things, the right to make a will; above all one could
examine howquickly the last two acts of legislation would encourage a fairer
distribution of property (i: 571). One of the key emphases of the Tableau
was Condorcets insistence that in the area of public nance the tangible
consequences of error and prejudice were as harmful to the well-being and
security of the individual and to the stability of the civil order as any of the
injustices of the criminal code and the excesses of the privileged classes. The
public purse, like the public conscience, was in urgent need of the services of
the enlightened mind if the public good was to be advanced effectively, and
the art of government to be perfected: Let us dare to hope that, driven by
reason and mathematics, we will no longer fear sudden insurrections, those
moments of hesitation between truth and error (i: 573). The application
of the ve constituent features of social mathematics, and in particular the
calculus of probabilities and the theory of combinations, would be seen in
the Esquisse as the only guarantee of precision in the art of government, and
as the only way in which to ensure that rights would become the lynchpin
of a reformed constitution (vi: 259).
Managing enlightenment 113
the republi c of mi nds
In the 17934 Fragment sur lAtlantide, ou efforts combines de lesp`ece humaine
pour le progr`es des sciences (Fragment on Atlantis, or the joint efforts of the
humanrace to make progress inthe sciences), usually printedas anappendix
to the Esquisse, Condorcet returned to the Baconian vision, conceived in
a century of darkness and superstitious ignorance, of a mobilisation of
enlightened minds, the idea of a society of men, exclusively devoted to
the quest for truth (vi: 597). The establishment of a Universal Repub-
lic of Sciences, the only republic whose practical realisation and useful-
ness are not childish illusions (vi: 603), that Condorcet proposed in the
Fragment reected his condence in the benets to be gained from an
alliance betweengovernment andscience inwhichthe free pursuit of knowl-
edge and the free pursuit of public happiness were envisaged as anintegrated
enterprise. The enterprise to achieve public happiness would embody a set
of Enlightenment values to which Condorcet adhered consistently in his
political thought. Together they constitute a key organising principle whose
component elements are equality, reason, freedom, secularisation, desacral-
isation, consent, accountability and unity.
Speaking onbehalf of the Academie des Sciences ina speechto the National
Assembly on 12 June 1790, Condorcet had celebrated the support given by
the wise representatives of an enlightened nation to the work of scientists
in the advancement of that enterprise (i: 508).
Three years later, despite his
increasingly desperate personal circumstances, he could still praise France
for having established a form of government in which enlightened sci-
ence and enlightened politics interacted positively in the pursuit of public
happiness and constitutional virtue:
I have located myself in a country where general enlightenment and knowledge of
mans rights eliminate the fear that someone might wish to base public happiness
on equality of ignorance and foolishness. Thus in this country nobody could
ever present the limitations of his own mind as being those of human reason
in general; here he could not have prejudices taught as the only truths worth
knowing. (vi: 604)
The obstacles that continued to frustrate the advent of Atlantis, and the
Republic of Minds that would underpin it, including those arising from
the human failings of the representatives of enlightenment themselves, are
given their due weight in this visionary, eleventh-hour essay, in which the
On science and government, see the comment on the sages r epublicains of B ale in the Eloge de m.
Bernoulli (ii: 5778).
114 Condorcet and Modernity
prospects for success remained for Condorcet undiminished by the daunt-
ing challenge that those obstacles presented. The interlocking phenomena
of perfectibility, rationality and collegiality that Condorcet perceived in
human nature were ineradicable guarantees of the ultimate triumph of
the human enteprise.
In the Fragment Condorcet set out a strategy for
the co-ordination of scientic research on an international scale, including
detailed proposals for selection procedures to engage the best scientists,
mechanisms for recruiting technical staff and resources, procedures for the
approval and prioritisation of projects and the establishment of objectives
for each specialism, together with a set of auxiliary proposals relating to
nance and logistics. This Projet dassociation was elaborated in the last
part of the essay, together with a reminder that the project was predicated
on the hypothesis of a nation that had been liberated politically as well as
that is to say, of a nation where not only the whole people have retained [their]
sovereignty, where citizens exert the full range of their political rights, where the
whole system of laws respects the natural rights of the individual, where he can be
forbidden nothing except for what harms the particular rights of another, or where
a right, common to all, and belonging to each person as a member of society, a right
which cannot be violated with respect to one individual without being violated
with respect to all, is regarded as a right of society itself. (vi: 6512)
This Projet dassociation relating to the constitution of the Republic of
Minds mirrored in many ways Condorcets project for a new political con-
stitution. The modalities would be provisional and revocable. All scientists
expressing an interest in the project would be formally registered as mem-
bers, who would elect, in strict accordance with formally agreed procedures,
a small Constituante to dene the terms of association. The electoral process,
managed by enlightenment and not the passions, would be designed to
ensure equality of participation, and procedures would reect many of
the safeguards relating to corps self-interest that Condorcet sought else-
where to embody in his proposals for political elections. Financial sup-
port would come, in the rst instance at least, from the subscriptions of
participating members and external voluntary donations. Accountability
was ensured by the provision of regular reports, the regular publication of
research reports receiving a particular priority. Major, long-term projects
would be presented to the government for state support at the governments
See Coutel, Condorcet, pp. 326.
Condorcet was particularly concerned to ensure that pure research, which offered fewbenets in the
short term, should be supported. Its practical signicance would, he thought, clarify in due course,
see the Eloge de m. de Fouchy (iii: 31415).
Managing enlightenment 115
discretion: Let us not give up hope that a time will come when this division
of responsibility can be made in a purely rational way, without the hand of
pride pressing down too heavily on one side of the scales (vi: 657).
state would provide an infrastructure of administrative support, secretar-
ial help, travel expenses
and equipment. A policy, as opposed to isolated
acts, of patronage and public encouragement would bring government and
scientists together in ways that would combine scientic progress with the
advancement of the public good. Here Condorcet was almost certainly
recalling the halcyon days of the Turgot administration when scientists like
the illustrious Euler had been appropriately recognised and rewarded: It
would be for the association alone to judge independently what must be
done in its view to accelerate the progress of science. It is for the govern-
ment to judge with equal independence what, among all the projects pre-
sented, appears to deserve either its collaboration or its generosity (vi: 657).
While the Republic of Minds would work under the aegis of benevolent
state patronage, its mission would remain different from that of the state.
The duties of a political republic related to the advancement of rights, those
of a scientic republic to the advancement of knowledge: It would be too
dangerous for any arbitrary authority to intervene in an empire where truth
must reign exclusively, and where outside opinions, even useful ones, might
cloud the purity of that worship of truth which a free act of will wished it
to pursue (vi: 656).
The Fragment offers ample testimony to the depth and subtlety of
Condorcets understanding of the problems emerging from the interface
between science and government,
whose patronage was indispensable,
but whose interference would be fatal. His proposals reect his convic-
tion that the solution lay in a mechanism for the effective collaborative
resolution of those problems, for which the Republic of Minds served as
a resonant metaphor. A managed mobilisation of scientic talent would
diminish the risk of a sterile dissipation of the fruits of research, and ensure
In the Vie de m. Turgot Condorcet raised the question of state patronage of the arts and the sciences,
stressing that this should be proportionate to their usefulness (v: 845). Condorcet was one of three
scientic advisors appointed by Turgot (the other two being dAlembert and Bossut). For further
comments on the relationship between science and the public good, see especially the Eloge de
Camper, paticularly interesting as Condorcet, while treating Camper as sympathetically as he could,
was aware that Camper was not an ally of Enlightenment (iii: 4301).
In the Vie de m. Turgot Condorcet noted Turgots support for Dombeis botanical research which
had necessitated an expensive voyage to Peru in 1776 (v: 49 n. 1).
Condorcet praised the engineer Jacques de Vaucanson as a model scientist who could successfully
negotiate the problems involved in working at this interface, see the Eloge de Vaucanson (ii: 6545).
Engineering was a science for which governments had particular need, see the Eloge de m. de Montigni
(ii: 585).
116 Condorcet and Modernity
the application of that research to the enhancement of the public good,
the eradication of unnecessary duplication of effort and resources and the
maximisation of benets. Condorcet offered many examples in the Frag-
ment of how this mobilisation would work in a wide range of contexts,
of which astronomy, climatology, natural history, public hygiene and pre-
vention of disease, meteorology and rural economy are just a few.
Fragment anticipates the future shape of state policy with regard to science
and scientists, though not the military direction it would take under the
Directorate and the Empire, as the war in Europe intensied, and Frances
need for modernised weaponry and a technologically enhanced defensive
strategy became ever more urgent.
That the mobilisation of enlightened
scientic minds in the service of the state, envisaged by Condorcet with
such humane idealism in the Fragment, should be rst realised in the new
France in the context of war provides a poignantly ironic postscript to his
proposals to harness the Enlightenment to the welfare and happiness of
Enjoyment of the benets of science was not always risk-free, see the comments on inoculation in
the Eloge de m. Bernoulli (ii: 563).
In addition to the obvious example of medical research (vi: 2524), for further justication of his
faith in the benets of Enlightenment science, Condorcet drew particular attention in the ninth
epoque of the Esquisse to the life-saving science of navigation, navigation technology being also a
good example of the historical continuity and cumulative benets of progress over the centuries:
The sailor, who is saved from being shipwrecked by an exact observation of the lines of latitude,
owes his life to a theory which, through a chain of truths, can be traced back to discoveries made
by Platos school, and buried for twenty centuries in a grave marked useless (vi: 235). In the Eloge
de m. de Praslin Condorcet commented further on the contributions of science in the naval context
with regard to improvements made in the technical education of naval ofcers (iii: 2089).
On the tightening of links and the increasing state direction of science in this period, see P. Bret,
From mobilisation to normalisation: scientic networks and practices for war (17921824), in
M. F. Cross and D. Williams (eds.), The French Experience from Republic to Monarchy, 17921824.
New Dawns in Politics, Knowledge and Culture (London: Palgrave, 2000), pp. 17295.
chapter 5
Reform and the moral order
authori ty and the church
For Condorcet the political organisation of society was without purpose
unless it was closely identied with the pursuit of human happiness, and
embedded in a well-understood moral order of a strictly secular nature.
Reference to the moral dimensions of human sociability provides one of
the continuities that run through all aspects of Condorcets thought on
the management of public affairs, and characteristically consideration of
morality in the modern polity is not conned to abstractions, but anchored
to practicalities. Like equality and freedom, happiness was a concept with
tangible, and therefore manageable, extensions in the real world of ordinary
peoples lives. Much of Condorcets achievement as a political thinker and
legislator derives from his understanding of the responsibilities of govern-
ments with regard to the moral implications and consequences of political
By bringing men closer together, society increases the inuence of each over the
happiness of others, andwhile, strictly speaking, [civil] duties canbe boileddownto
justice, and namely to respect for the natural rights of others, duties of a different
order must have arisen from that inuence directing our conduct in ways that
contribute to the happiness of others. (v: 194)
In the Vie de m. Turgot Condorcet expressed his admiration for a states-
man familiar with the delicate balance between the moral and the political
orders, and with the threat posed to that balance by a fanatical church
which, red by speculative dogma, makes mans salvation dependent on his faith,
treats the free use of reason as audacious impudence, and sets its priests up as tutors
of nations and judges of morality. [Turgot] was quite aware that if the governments
of Europe ceased to be enlightened, if they forgot just for one moment to monitor
the activities of the clergy, if all educated, enlightened men . . ., in a word, all those
whose opinions really govern the world, ceased to be united in a spirit of tolerance
and reason, then the same causes would soon produce the same effects. (v: 1213)
118 Condorcet and Modernity
Turgot had believed that sufcient progress had been made to ensure that
any restoration of the clerical grip on state affairs, so evident in the last
decades of Louis XIVs reign, was unlikely. Condorcet tended to be less
sanguine onthis point thanTurgot, andalways urgedvigilance over a church
whose historical vested interest in having access to control of policies that
had direct impact on the moral life of the nation was incompatible with
good order in society (v: 206). The objectives of the moral order were not
coterminous with those of religious doctrines.
The dening feature of humanity was its capacity for a moral life, a
capacity arising from the nature of man as a sentient being. The prob-
lem of translating moral capacity into social and political conditions that
ensured stability and harmony was addressed frequently by Condorcet in a
number of different contexts. Common to all those contexts was the cru-
cial importance attached to the establishment of rights through just and
equitable laws as the key to individual and collective happiness. In his com-
mentary on Turgots philosophical system in the Vie, moral perfectibility
was referred to in the traditional language of human spirituality, but was
divorced from its traditional religious connotations: Thus the spirituality
of the soul is not a thesis in need of proof, but the simple and natural result
of an accurate analysis of our ideas and faculties (v: 172). The sensualist
perception of the nature of moral government was made explicit at the end
of the long note to one of Pascals Pensees
appended to the Eloge de Blaise
This proves, in my view, that in order to give men a well-based, useful morality,
they must be inspired with an automatic horror, so to speak, of everything which
harms their fellow-men; their minds must be formed so that the pleasure of doing
good is the most important of all pleasures, and the feeling of having done their
duty sufcient compensation for what it has cost them to full that duty. (iii: 655)
It was on this point that Condorcet rejected the claims of the church to be
the source of moral authority in political affairs and public administration.
Rather than nurturing and guiding moral life, Condorcet thought that the
church had deected man from his true moral destiny, thereby subverting
the moral basis of the civil order itself. The view of the historical role of
the church that emerges from the pages of the Vie de m. Turgot had been
to transform the human race into a herd of ravening beasts, arming tyrants
Jamais on ne fait le mal si pleinement et si gaiment que quand on le fait par un faux principe de
conscience (Never is evil committed to such an extent and so cheerfully than when committed on
the basis of a false principle of conscience), Pensees, ed. M. L. Le Guern, uvres compl`etes de Pascal
(Paris: Gallimard, 2000), p. 817.
Reform and the moral order 119
with false justications for atrocities, sharpening in its own interests the
daggers of fanatical intolerance and the axes of executioners:
The blood of millions of men, massacred in the name of God, still steams around
us. Everywhere the ground beneath us covers the bones of the victims of barbaric
intolerance. Can any tender, sensitive soul fail to be revolted by these terrible sights?
Can any pure and noble soul not be angered when he contemplates these centuries
of degradation of the human spirit by shameful superstitions, by corrupt morality,
by the distortion or violation of all the principles of civil duty, and by a brazen
hypocrisy which has accepted the art of deceiving men and turning them into
animals as the only way to rule and lead them? For all of these outrages, elevated to
the level of sacred duties in the eyes of the ignorant, were presented to politicians as
crimes essential to the peace of nations or to the ambition of sovereigns. (v: 1112)
Christianity and oppression were inextricably linked in Condorcets
thought, institutionalised religion manipulating the prejudices and igno-
rance of the masses in the cause of its own venal interests.
Religion, the
art of deceiving men by robbing them of everything (vi: 35), was thus per-
ceived as a perpetual source of social tension and dislocation that distorted
the interface between the moral and the civil order.
In the rich tapestry of human affairs woven in the Esquisse the tri-
umphant, and triumphalist, deceptions of a predatory church feature
prominently. The notes for the Kehl Voltaire also provide, unsurprisingly,
a forum for the exposure of the baleful inuence of the church on French
political life, even in the age of the Enlightenment. Under the rubric
Puissance ecclesiastique, for example, Condorcets review of the history of
religious intolerance stresses the relative ease with which, prior to the inven-
tion of printing, the church had been able to crush heresy, and translate its
contempt for science into legislation. After the sixteenth century, however,
the old barbaric techniques of suppression and censorship failed as the tech-
nology of printing prevented dangerous ideas from being isolated and con-
tained. Under the rubric Religion he noted that while anarchy represented
a lethal threat to the civil order, in religion anarchy was to be welcomed
as a safeguard against the abuse of power. Mirroring Voltaires argument
in the Lettres philosophiques on the political and social advantages of state
On the various ways in which the peoples fears are exploited by error elevated to the level of dogma,
see Condorcets commentary on miracles, statues, oracles, death and the promise of Heaven to fallen
warriors, and the comparison with the stupefying effects of alcohol, see the 1790 essay, Dissertation
philosophique et politique, ou Reexions sur cette question: Sil est utile aux hommes detre trompes?
(v: 36970).
With regard to the harmful effects of superstition generally on political institutions, see the fourth
epoque of the Esquisse (vi: 72).
120 Condorcet and Modernity
toleration of a multiplicity of sects, Condorcet argued strongly against the
abolition of non-conformism:
anarchy in religion is . . . almost essential to public peace. It is difcult for two rival
sects to exist without causing problems, and almost impossible for two hundred
sects ever to cause any. The only way to ensure peace is through absolute tolerance,
the destruction of all ecclesiastical legal powers, and of all clerical inuence over
civil legislation.
(iv: 549)
Condorcet had few political objections to religious faith per se, and his
commentaries on religious matters tend to subordinate theological debate
to considerations of the social and political impact of sectarian dogma and
clerical arrogance. In fact, in the Eloge de Michel de lH opital he differen-
tiated carefully between religious faith and religious politics in assigning
reponsibility for fanaticism: I shall speak of the atrocities inspired by fanati-
cismwithout any fear that those who love religion will accuse me of thereby
committing a crime. If religion was established for mens happiness by a
God who is their common father, that is certainly not the same religion
which burns people at the stake, and orders massacres (iii: 467). If Pascal
personied those extremes of mystical obscurantism hostile to science,
reason, humanity and tolerance, his Pensees being simply a plea against the
human race (iv: 292), the balance was redressed by natural Christians like
Benjamin Franklin:
Humanity and honesty were at the root of his morality . . . He recognised a morality
based on the nature of man, free of all speculation, and predating all conventions.
He believed that our souls were rewarded for their virtue and punished for their
faults in another life. He believed in the existence of a benevolent and just God, to
whom, in the innermost sanctum of his conscience, he gave free and pure homage.
He did not despise the external formalities of religion, even believing them to be
useful for morality, but he rarely followed them. All religions seemed to him to be
equally valid, provided that their central principle was tolerance, and that they did
not deprive those who practised virtue of the rewards of virtue if they belonged to
another faith, or had no faith at all. (iii: 415, 416)
In the Vie de Voltaire Condorcet referred frequently to the social and
political consequences of the intrusion of the church into government, and
Condorcet would sustain his position on this point throughout the Revolution. In the preface to the
Eloge de Blaise Pascal he saw deism and atheism as useful brakes on the excesses of religious orthodoxy.
The morality of atheists attracted Condorcet because he considered atheistic moral codes to be based
on the principle of utility, and that atheists were motivated to be virtuous through enlightened self-
interest and a natural aversion to harming others (iii: 3734). Unlike deism, however, atheism was
in fact less dangerous to orthodoxy because many atheists saw political advantage in the retention of
religious belief as a useful (bonne politiquement) mechanism of government.
Reform and the moral order 121
of the constitutional formalisation of its role. The churchs arrogation of
temporal powers, accompanied by its need to reinforce those powers with a
policy of intolerance, had been dramatically exemplied in France with the
crushing of the Cathars. Error and ignorance continued to provide fertile
conditions in which religious fervour could still legitimise the spilling of
blood: Error and ignorance are the sole cause of the ills of the human race,
and superstitious errors are the most lethal because they corrupt all sources
of reason, and because their fatal enthusiasm instructs others to commit
crimes without feeling any remorse (iv: 177). The churchs unwillingness
to abandon its position on the criminalisation of heresy and blasphemy
placed the moral order, and in consequence the political stability of the
state, at risk, and recognition of the responsibilities of legislators to enact
policies that would minimise that risk was crucial, a point that Condorcet
reiterated in his notes for the Kehl Voltaire relating to Voltaires Traite sur
la tolerance:
Tolerance in large countries is essential to stability. In fact, the government, having
a police force at its disposal, has nothing to fear, as long as individuals seeking to
disturb the peace are unable to assemble enough people to forma resistance capable
of matching the strength of that police force, and as long as they cannot take that
police force over. Now, it is easy to see that religious views, concentrated, as a result
of intolerance, in small parts of the population, can alone give that dangerous
power to individuals. Tolerance, on the other hand, cannot cause any disturbance,
and removes all pretexts for it . . . In a country shared by a large number of sects
none can claim to be the dominant one, and as a result all are tranquil. (iv: 258)
As with many other aspects of his proposals for reform, Condorcets
engagement with the issue of religious fanaticism and intolerance was
shaped not only by abstract considerations, but was informed by events,
and in particular by his involvement in contemporary cases of injustice aris-
ing precisely from the surviving actuality of ecclesiastical power in modern
states. His association with Voltaires causes had alerted him to the urgency
of the issues at stake in the battle against the infamous that Voltaire was
waging in the 1760s and 1770s on behalf of the families of Calas, La Barre,
Sirven and others. In the case of dEtallonde, one of the surviving associates
of the ill-fated La Barre, he had acted as Voltaires trompette in 1774 in the
In an undated autograph MS fragment, Condorcet dened blasphemy in strictly political terms:
Generally speaking, blasphemy is a word, written or spoken, which is insulting to the Supreme
Being . . . As those surrounding the King include among the crimes of l`ese-majeste conspiracies and
insults of which they themselves are the target, it is from this angle that blasphemy was viewed in
the law passed by Louis XIV, the only one to be followed on this issue, and one which will be the
only subject of my remarks. A commentary on the persecution of the Huguenots then follows (BIF
Condorcet MS 857, ff. 1617).
122 Condorcet and Modernity
campaign for a royal pardon for the young man, and for the public exposure
of the judicial irregularities that inevitably accompanied the interference
of the church in the business of the state.
Condorcets anti-clericalism
was even more radical than Voltaires, more comparable in fact to that
of dHolbach than to that of the patriarch of Ferney. This had become
particularly apparent in the summer of 1774 with the publication of Con-
dorcets inammatory Lettres dun theologien ` a lauteur du Dictionnaire des
trois si`ecles (Letters from a theologian to the author of the Dictionary of
three centuries), in which he had denounced in bitterly outspoken terms
the hostile sentiments expressed by abbe Sabatier in Les Trois Si`ecles de
notre litterature (see above p. 17), itself a hard-hitting satirical onslaught
on the whole philosophe movement with its encouragement, in his view, of
blasphemy, atheism and anti-clericalism.
The Lettres dun theologien rep-
resented a forthright political defence of the Republic of Letters against the
claims of the church to political authority (v: 5378), and can be seen as
Condorcets rst serious challenge to its political and moral position.
the problem of the protestants
Condorcets concerns about the role of the church in the corruption of
the moral and political orders focussed primarily, although by no means
exclusively, on the plight of the French protestants.
Prior to the dissolution
of the rst Assembly of Notables on 25 May 1787, La Fayette had already
formally registered with the Bureau de Monsieur the urgent need for change
in the civil status of French protestants, and had proposed specically the
reformof the 1670 criminal code in this context. Lauriol reminds us of these
contextual circumstances in which Condorcets 1778 and later interventions
on behalf of the protestants should be seen.
Condorcet had worked closely
with Turgot to persuade Louis XV to liberalise the laws on heresy, and with
regard to the marriage laws affecting protestants he had collaborated with
See the Memoire ` a consulter in the Almanach anti-superstitieux et autres textes, ed. Chouillet et al.,
pp. 15763. For an account of this episode, see Williams, The VoltaireCondorcet relationship and
the defence of dEtallonde; C. V. Michael, Voltaire, Condorcet et la r ehabilitation du Chevalier
de La Barre, Condorcet Studies 2 (1987), 14154; A.-M. Chouillet, Le Combat de Condorcet contre
linf ame, in Hemming et al. (eds.), The Secular City, pp. 1708.
Published in 1772. Writing to Francois Marin on 16 August 1774 Voltaire praised Condorcets Lettre
as the work of a Hercules who amuses himself by bludgeoning a scorpion to death (D19082), but he
was alarmed that the work was being attributed to him. See also above p. 17, n. 25.
According to Condorcet, protestants constituted around 5 per cent of the population, rising to
10 per cent in Paris and other large commercial centres (v: 477).
C. Lauriol, Condorcet et les protestants, Condorcet Studies 2 (1987), 414.
Reform and the moral order 123
Malesherbes on the drafting of enlightened bills. After the fall of Turgot
Condorcets concern to salvage these initiatives continued, in spite of the
setback to the prospects for success that he felt Turgots fall from power
posed. He does not declare in any of his writings a personal interest in the
fate of the reformed religion in France. In seeking to explain his engagement
with the issue it is pertinent to recall, therefore, that even before the passing
of the Edict (or Pacication) of Nantes in 1598 the Condorcet family had
been among the rst aristocrats to adopt the protestant faith, and that after
the revocation of the Edict in 1685, another example of church power-
politics on a par with the handling of the Cathars, the family had been
obliged to abjure and reconvert to catholicism.
His family history might
explain the sharp edge to his tone in the notes for the Kehl Voltaire on the
cruel laws enacted against protestants by Louis XIVin the previous century,
and perpetuated in the eighteenth:
These laws, which violate both the basic rights of man and all human feelings, were
demanded by the clergy, and presented to their penitent by the jesuits as being the
only way to make up for the sins committed with his mistresses . . . His ministers,
the slaves of the nations priestly tyrants, never dared tell him of the uselessness and
cruel consequences of those laws. The nation itself helped to deceive him, and in
the midst of the cries of his innocent subjects dying on the wheel or at the stake,
it boasted of his justice and even of his mercy . . . Such is the unhappy fate of a
prince who puts his condence in priests, and who, deluded by priests, leaves his
nation to groan under the yoke of superstition. (iv: 470, 471)
The years following the revocation of the Edict of Nantes bore witness
to the social and economic damage caused by the implementation, under
the guise of protecting the moral order against the perceived dangers of
heresy, of policies leading only to insurrection and the diaspora of valuable
citizens, whose wealth and skills were then placed at the disposal of foreign
powers. Under Louis XV protestants had been treated more leniently, but
their civil and religious rights were still not assured in constitutional terms
(iv: 4745). Condorcets impassioned humanitarian objections to this fes-
tering subversion of the moral order were overladen with a cool, but equally
On the history of the Caritat-Condorcet family at the time of the Saint Bartholomew Massacre
and during the aftermath of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, see Chamoux, LAscendance
dauphinoise de Condorcet. Cf. J. T. Janssen, Genealogie de la maison de Caritat (Heerlen, 1975);
Lauriol, Condorcet et les protestants, 32.
Condorcet had reservations about the limitations of the Edict of Nantes: In truth, this Edict of
Nantes is more like an agreement between two parties than a law given to his subjects by a prince
(iv: 472). Regarding his views on the Reformation generally, see the Esquisse (vi: 14657), Reexions
sur lesclavage des n`egres, ed. D. Williams, p. 42 n. 1. Eloge de Tronchin (ii: 499500), Eloge de Michel de
LH opital (iii: 491, 5089), and Vie de Voltaire (iv: 80). Cf. G. Adams, Monarchistes ou r epublicains?,
Dix-huiti`eme Si`ecle 17 (1985), 8395; Lauriol, Condorcet et les protestants, 358.
124 Condorcet and Modernity
excoriating, assessment of the moral and economic price that France had
paid for its concession of legislative authority to a predatory church.
Sensing that the times might be more favourable to the reception of
proposals for reform, Condorcet issued anonymously in 1781 a collection of
four essays under the title, Recueil de pi`eces sur letat des protestants en France
(Collection of writings on the condition of the protestants in France).
had been written in 1778, not long after Voltaires death, namely the Recit de
ce qui sest passe le 15 decembre 1778 ` a lassemblee des chambres du Parlement de
Paris (Anaccount of what happenedon15 December 1778 at a meeting of the
houses of the Paris Parlement) and the Reexions dun citoyen catholique sur
les lois de France relatives aux protestants (Reections of a catholic citizen on
the laws of France relating to protestants).
The third, supposedly written
by a professor of law, contained proposals for newlegislation, Sur les moyens
de traiter les protestants franc ais comme des hommes sans nuire ` a la religion
catholique, Par M

, docteur en droit canon de la Faculte de Cahors en

Quercy (On the ways to treat French protestants as men without harming
the catholic religion), to which the fourth essay, the Lettre de M

, avocat
au parlement de Pau, ` a M

, professeur de droit canon ` a Cahors (Letter from


, a lawyer in the Pau Parlement, to Mr

, a professor of canonical
law in Cahors), purported to serve as a response. The publication of this
collection coincided with the decline of Neckers ministry under which, to
Condorcets disappointment, the protestant cause had not been advanced,
despite the fact that Necker was himself a protestant.
In the rst of these inter-related essays Condorcet cites an extract from
the address given to the Paris Parlement on 15 December 1778 by a M. de
Bretigni` eres on the civil status of the protestants and the need to repeal
anti-protestant decrees enacted in the time of Louis XIV and Louis XV.
This is followed by two paragraphs of commentary explaining the reasons
of prudence behind the decision to take no action (v: 399403), a decision
not to be interpreted as a rejection in principle of the Bretigni` eres appeal.
The second essay, the Reexions dun citoyen catholique sur les lois de France
relatives aux protestants, is a more substantial analysis of the reasons for
depriving protestants of their rights, and of the legal framework which
consolidated deprivation and intolerance, legislation that had survived the
The place of publication on the title page is London but, as Lauriol points out, this collection of
essays poses a number of bibliographical problems.
The Reexions went through two editions in 1778, of which the second was printed under Voltaires
name. The work was subsequently revised by Rabaut de Saint-Etienne, and republished in 1779
under a new title, Justice et necessite dassurer en France un etat legal aux protestants, ou La tolerance
aux pieds du tr one. See Lauriol, Condorcet et les protestants, 33 n. 7.
Reform and the moral order 125
passing of the Sun King into history. Protestants still suffered under a cruel
penal code, and the prosperity of the nation continued to suffer with them
as a result.
Tracing the origins of protestant persecution in France, Condorcet
employed a technique of ironic juxtaposition of trivial causes and momen-
tous effects, honed by Bayle in the Pensees sur la com`ete, by Fontenelle in
the Histoire des oracles and perfected by Voltaire. Under Louis XIV the
denial of civil rights to protestants had been legalised because the jesuit
Layn es proved at a colloquium in Poissy, held in the reign of Charles IX,
that they were foxes and wolves (v: 405). The royal decree of 14 May 1724
had reinforced the injustice of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes by
denying protestants freedom of association and assembly, the right to bear
arms and restricting their property rights. After the revocation, protestant
homes had been requisitioned by dragoons, wives and daughters offered
a choice between rape or conversion, and protestant ministers put to the
sword. In 1685 this legalised brutality had been motivated in part by fear of
insurrection fuelled by the military threat posed by England and Holland.
No such circumstances prevailed in 1724, and the extension of the terms of
the revocation in the 1724 decree to include limitations on travel, emigra-
tion, inheritance rights, the punishment of relatives and children of dying
protestants who refused to recant, the forcible conversion of children and
their education in catholic establishments,
the building of catholic schools
in protestant communities at protestant expense and the proscription of
marriages according to protestant ritual, were inexcusable.
Condorcets attack on Cardinal de Fleurys decree was uncompromising:
The 1724 edict seems to assume that no more protestants exist in France; it treats
a million useful, oppressed subjects as if they were nothing; the laws relating to
the protection of property and to the civil status of citizens do not apply to them.
They are defended only by their nature, honour and integrity; and this law might
well have lled France with half a million brigands if the unfortunates which the
country oppresses had not been virtuous citizens.
(v: 423)
Extensive notes are then devoted to specic cases illustrating the impact on
the individual lives of protestants by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes,
and by the perpetuation of its iniquities in successive post-revocation
Condorcet reminds the reader in a note here of the case of Sirvens daughter who drowned herself
in a well after escaping from the convent in which she had been conned, leading to the accusation
of murder being levelled against her father (v: 419 n. 1).
See also Condorcets comments on the 1724 decree in the notes for the Kehl Voltaire (iv: 4745), the
Eloge de Charras (ii: 73), the Eloge dHuyghens (iii: 70) and the Reponse au plaidoyer de m. dEspremesnil
(vii: 58).
126 Condorcet and Modernity
decrees, exemplied by the treatment of women and children refusing to
the exclusion of protestants from public ofce, as well as from
professions and trades for which certicats de catholicite were a prerequi-
site for entry (v: 42536). These obstacles could be surmounted, but only
if protestants were prepared to discard their conscience and integrity by
consenting to oaths of catholicity, witnessed by people with few scruples,
and a cheap and easily obtained certicate (v: 426). Thus was the moral
order subverted in the illusory cause of national religious unity as protes-
tants were obliged to sacrice their principles in order to survive, result-
ing in a situation in which the state rewarded liars, and punished honest
Religious persecution, represented in France by the plight of protestants,
exemplied for Condorcet the fragility of the moral order and the conse-
quences for political (and religious) life when that order was not sustained
by enlightened legislation.
France had nothing to fear from reform of its
draconian, outdated laws:
The morality of protestants is the same as that of catholics: it is Christian morality;
it prescribes obedience to the law, it forbids any interference with the government
under which they live, and orders people to accept persecution without protest.
Under a prince who persecutes protestants, and in a republic, protestant writers are
republicans; under a prince who tolerates them, and under a monarchist govern-
ment, protestant writers have a monarchist spirit. It is the same thing with catholic
writers: let us remember those preachers at the time of the [Catholic] League; let us
just think about the impact of their preachings, and say no more that protestants
are the enemies of kings. (v: 444)
Insurrection, instability and republicanismcould not be ruled out, however,
if reform did not take place, as the historic example of Holland under the
rule of Philip II demonstrated only too clearly.
A moral, peace-loving
minority could all too easily be transformed by retrogressive legislation into
For example, the ogging of eight protestant girls at Uz` es: Protestant women were forced to attend
acts of religious worship they regarded as being idolatrous. They were subjected to holy oggings
which they could only regard, in the light of their faith, as the ultimate renement in monkish
debauchery and cruelty. In Uz` es eight girls, between the ages of sixteen and twenty-three, had their
skirts raised to their waists, and were whipped by nuns doing the job of executioners in the most
edifyingly zealous way before the local judge and the major commanding the Vivonne regiment
(v: 420 n. 1). Forced marriages with catholics in Alsace form the subject of a further substantial note,
see v: 423 n. 2.
On the crimes committed during the Counter-Reformation, and in France particularly at the time
of the Saint Bartholemew Massacre, see the Lettre dun theologien ` a lauteur du Dictionnaire des trois
si`ecles (v: 315). In the notes for the Kehl Voltaire Condorcet intercalated an acerbic commentary on
the religious policies of Louis XIV (iv: 4001).
Philip IIs persecutions were the direct cause of the establishment of a republic in Holland (v: 443).
Reform and the moral order 127
a disruptive, politically dissident force in which the fanaticism of religious
intolerance would engender an equally brutal counter-fanaticism.
The danger to public order, and ultimately to the security of the state,
arising from the political radicalisation of the protestants provides the omi-
nous subtext to a raft of carefully formulated rhetorical questions high-
lighting the advantages of liberating French law from the historical legacy
of religious prejudice and persecution:
Would these same men who, groaning under the yoke of cruel legislation, and
surrounded by children whom the law refuses to recognise, excluded from public
ofce, and still loving a country which has rejected them, love it less if it were to
become their homeland? They pray for their king when the laws oppress them.
Would they stop loving him because he has become their benefactor? . . . Frances
enemies are the ones who should fear the revocation of these laws. The impossi-
bility of causing disturbances in France by stirring up protestant fanaticism; or of
reducing Frances population by enticing [protestants] away; Frances population
increased by a crowd of rich, industrious foreigners, if in fact the name of foreigners
can be given to them; the acquisition of all of those secrets our neighbours industry
still hides from us; all the ills arising from the revocation of the Edict of Nantes
cured in an instant; a million happy citizens with a renewed zeal for their country:
these will be the effects of happy change, and that is what superstition, dressed up
in the name of politics, would like us to fear. (v: 445, 446)
Condorcet analysed the case for reform systematically, but with charac-
teristic caution, in the remaining pages of this powerfully persuasive essay.
Arguments relating to the need for new legislation to protect religious
minorities are balanced by the need not to confront the church directly
on the issue of its right to condemn heresy. Tolerance of heretical sects
did not imply surrender to the theological position of the protestants, but
merely an end to their persecution. His eloquent plea for tolerance was
about equality of civil rights, not parity of dogmatic status:
We are not asking for protestants to have anestablishedreligionandstate-appointed
ministers; we ask that they be allowed to have children. We are not talking here
about two state religions, although freedom of worship has not caused any upsets
in those states which have adopted it; but we are saying that all men who live in
the same country, pay their taxes and obey the law, should enjoy the rights of men
and citizens. (v: 4478)
Like plantation slaves in another context, protestants were human beings,
and if they were to be denied salvation in the next world, this did not mean
that their happiness had to be denied in this one: Let us stop persecuting
[Condorcets italics].
128 Condorcet and Modernity
With the decriminalisation of heresy and blasphemy, protestant assem-
blies would be less secretive, and less threatening. Protestant ministers
would cease to have the politically inammatory status of martyrs if they
were no longer threatened with execution; changes to the laws relating to
freedom of movement and association, and also property rights, would
facilitate the integration of protestants into the mainstream of civil life. If
enforced death-bed conversions were to end, protestants would no longer
have cause to treat priests as their enemies, and inter-denominational rela-
tions would improve. While Condorcet conceded that allowing protestants
to hold public ofce might still be a step too far, given the reservations that
still held sway in the public mind, he made no concession to the case for
retaining professional restrictions: A man of good heart can consent with-
out any difculty to live under laws depriving himof any hope of becoming
a powerful man, but he cannot tolerate laws depriving him of the means
to obtain and deserve public esteem (v: 4512).
Adminstrative procedures relating to the registration of births, marriages
and deaths, all associated with offending catholic sacraments, posed partic-
ularly difcult issues of faith, and Condorcet sought to defuse potentially
bitter conict on issues of often fanatically held principle by treating births,
marriages and deaths as secular matters. Registration was simply an admin-
istrative procedure which could be carried out in accordance with civil
law. He thus proposed a formula for the ofcial separation of the civil and
religious aspects of marriage by means of a reinstatement of a 1685 law, pre-
dating the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, allowing protestants to marry
before a minister nominated by the local intendant at a designated time in
an ecclesiastically neutral location. The civil validation of protestant mar-
riage contracts would have further benecial repercussions on issues such
as inheritance rights: This form of contract would have all the civil impli-
cations of marriage without being a sacrament, just like marriages in all
other countries, whether between indels or idolators, are not sacraments
either (v: 453). Resistance to these proposed reforms was, in Condorcets
view, based on contradictory lines of argument, those defending the status
quo maintaining either that the case for change was insufciently important
to warrant the urgency with which the friends of humanity were pursuing
it, or that reform relating to protestant civil rights would be the thin end
of a wedge leading to a serious moral and political debilitation of the civil
Condorcets counter-argument focussed, not on the moral or human-
itarian aspects, but rather on the principle of mutual self-interest at the
heart of the pact of association itself, injecting cost-benet implications
into arguments that could all too readily degenerate into prejudice and
Reform and the moral order 129
irrationality: So it must be shown that we are getting to the point where
abrogation of the laws against the protestants can more surely procure
for us greater advantages, and where the retention of those laws could be
most dangerous to public prosperity (v: 454). To this was added a further
socio-economic argument for toleration. The public purse needed to be
replenished. Restoring happiness and good will to more than a million
industrious, productive citizens, and bringing back to France a hundred
thousand refugees, together with their wealth and skills, would offer a
more effective cure for the nations economic malaise than the games that
had been played with paper money.
Policies that militated against rec-
onciliation with the protestants, at a time when a fresh haemorrhage of
citizens to a free and tolerant America was a distinct possibility, would be
self-destructive. France must turn away from the sophisms that justied
intolerance, and take the path of reason and humanity if its future was to
be secured (v: 457).
More formalised recommendations for new legislation to manage the
problemof the protestants is to be found in Sur les moyens de traiter les protes-
tants franc ais comme des hommes sans nuire ` a la religion catholique containing
forty-two draft proposals for legislation, each followed by a substantial, and
often heavily annotated, commentary. The articles are preceded by a brief
preambule and introductory comments (articles 13), setting the proposals
in a context of civil rights, mutual self-interest in the preservation of public
order and the general danger to the freedom of all citizens arising from acts
of religious intolerance. The rst three articles address the delicate problem
of balancing the decriminalisation of heresy with protection of the status of
an ofcial church deprived of its historic prerogatives to persecute minor-
ity cultes publics.
Protestants would have rights of free association, and
would no longer be subject to police surveillance (articles 46). Article 7
is particularly interesting for the way it reects Condorcets insight into
the psychology of intolerance and fanaticism, and the importance that he
attached to making legislators aware of the need to take account of the pro-
cesses at work in the public mind that allowed ordinary people to shed the
blood of their fellow citizens without offending their own, or the public,
Condorcet uses the term agiotage here, meaning technically the inated value of paper money over
the value of silver and gold, and he had in mind the experiments of John Law and their dismal
impact on the French economy in 1720, see v: 455 n. 1.
An ofcially established state religion is dened by Condorcet as the sect whose clergy is paid from
the public purse, with authority only over its own adherents. A culte public, on the other hand, is
a lawfully authorised sect practised in temples designated for the purpose, and open to all. A public
cult would not be subject to discriminatory legislation.
130 Condorcet and Modernity
Condorcet was trying to ensure that rights for all citizens were guaranteed
(the primary condition for good legislation, here as elsewhere), and he
takes care in this respect not to sacrice the legitimate interests of the
catholic church to those of the protestant. While Condorcet, for tactical
reasons, proposed no openly hostile move against the dogmatic status of the
catholic church, or against catholic privileges in the context of education
or the preaching of public sermons, ironic undertones can be detected
hinting at the more overtly aggressive position on clerical privileges to be
taken up in later years. In the commentary on article 6 of Sur les moyens
Condorcet acknowledged the fears that the prospect of liberalising the laws
against protestants still aroused in most French people, but noted that
public hostility was gradually weakening. Intolerance would eventually
retreat if it was no longer useful, and if no corps advantage was to be
gained from it: This instinctive hatred of the catholic population for the
protestants is weakening, moreover, every day; and the destruction of the
laws of intolerance would soon destroy it altogether. From the moment it
became known that there was no prospect of advancement or prot from
an excess of zeal, there would be no more excess of zeal (v: 479).
Articles 819, comprising the main body of the proposals, address
the infringements of the moral order in anti-protestant legislation that
Condorcet had identied in the Reexions dun citoyen catholique, and set
out new regulatory mechanisms and procedures for the registration of civil
marriages, the publication of banns, the rules on consanguinity, the wit-
nessing of legal documents, the payment of dowries, the conditions for
annulment and the civil status of children. To cut through the confusions,
obfuscations and illogicalities, Condorcet appealed to his bed-rock prin-
ciple of natural rights. Of these one of the most crucial was the right to
own and inherit property, of which Condorcet saw the legal recognition as
a condition of the pact of association: A mans property thus becomes the
property of his children and his wife, and in societies just coming into exis-
tence this must be a condition of the act of association; this right has existed
in all nations for all free men (v: 495). The moral order would be debased
by any law that denied to any citizen recognition of his children, nullied
the validity of solemn commitments and vows and enforced conversion as
a condition of authorisation to marry:
We could have invoked humanity,
On the issue of children born outside marriage, Condorcet questioned whether the severity of the
law, as it affected the children of free unions, might be contrary to natural justice: if those laws,
motivated almost everywhere by vanity or the pretext of protecting morality, were not used more to
corrupt morality than to purify it, and if the excessive severity of the laws relating to morality did
not lead necessarily to hypocrisy and licentiousness (v: 497 n. 1).
Reform and the moral order 131
public honesty, sane politics, religion; but we wished only to speak of justice
(v: 499).
Articles 2130 move the treatise on from general principles to the minu-
tiae of administrative detail, and cover divorce procedures and settlements,
the legal and nancial entitlements of children born before or after divorce,
welfare and educational arrangements and inheritance rights, with particu-
lar attention being paid to the position of wives declaring pregnancies after
the death of their husbands.
Divorce was for Condorcet another secular
issue, a matter for civil law codes alone, and it needed to be separated from
ecclesiastical traditions that aligned it with other arbitrary interdictions
relating to celibacy, dietary laws and the use of a dead language to celebrate
mass. The criteria for reform were justice and usefulness, the key prerequi-
sites for all good legislation. On the specic question of protestant rights
in the area of divorce, Condorcet insisted that protestants, whose religion
did not condemn divorce on theological grounds, should be allowed to
exercise a right that would be theirs in a protestant country.
He then
broadened the divorce argument into an examination of gender relations
generally, and the more urgent issue of womens rights surfaced quickly.
Condorcets commentaries make clear that the purpose behind his propos-
als is to alleviate the harm done, not only to a particular religious minority,
but to the state itself: The purpose of these different articles is to remedy,
as far as this is possible, the harm which the laws against the protestants
have done to France (v: 514). For the moral order to be repaired specic
reforms must, moreover, be accompanied by retroactive, compensatory leg-
islation involving, for example, the immediate commutation of all death
sentences and committals to galley service, and the rescinding of orders
of exile. Condorcet even proposed that, in the interests of reconciliation,
steps be taken to rehabilitate the memory of protestant lives lost in the
brutal aftermath of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. Here, as in other
contexts, he was concerned not only with the technical overhaul of unjust
legislation, but also with the cleansing of the public conscience.
The reintegration of all who do not profess the catholic religion into
public life would also require the eradication of any residual adherence
The level of detail to which Condorcet commits himself in these proposals regarding the legitimacy
of children is well illustrated here in article 30: If the birth takes place, the child will only be regarded
as legitimate as long as the time elapsing between its birth and the mothers declaration of pregnancy
does not exceed 280 days, unless the husband recognises the child born after this period as being
his (v: 503). In the commentary to this article he returned to the 280-day limit (v: 5089).
Interestingly, Condorcet saw the protestant community in France as a guest community with an
identity that transcended frontiers, like that of Jews. He refers here, for example, to the rights of
protestants who would like to adopt France as their homeland (v: 505).
132 Condorcet and Modernity
to prejudicial employment restrictions. In Condorcets view, the interests
of the state, as well as those of natural justice, made it imperative for the
exclusivity of post-1685 legislation to be replaced by the inclusivity of a new
code designed to open rather than close doors with regard to professional
life, the universities and schools. Protestants should be able to hold civic
ofce, and their services made eligible for public recognition through the
honours system. The natural right of all citizens to prot from the exercise
of their talents and energies is invoked with particular reference to those
professions having a direct impact on public health, the economy and
education. In these key areas, in which the public interest was crucial,
Condorcets concern was for the right of all citizens to benet from the
services of the states reservoir of human talent and energy, irrespective of
religious considerations. Employment regulations would thus be conned
to, and justied by, public interest considerations and the test of utility
rather than that of religious afliation: Religious faith cannot therefore
inuence the laws governing different professions, and every law by which
the exercise of a profession was made dependent on the profession of a
particular faith, would be contrary to justice (v: 51617).
If the rst priority was to remove discriminatory regulations affect-
ing employment, professional access and advancement, the second was
to address the problem of discriminatory educational provision, and this
raised the controversial issue of independent protestant schools, to be fully
authorised, under Condorcets proposals, by the state, and made eligible
for support from the public purse. The case is argued in article 42 of
Sur les moyens, again from the standpoint of natural rights, in this case
the rights of fathers over the education of their children, a natural right
which predates society (v: 519). Fathers could be legitimately deprived of
that right for reasons of criminality or insanity, but if it is a legal duty to
leave the education of children to fathers, it is a political duty to provide
fathers . . . with the means to obtain for their children an education appro-
priate to the formation of honest, enlightened, courageous citizens. This
devoir de justice was denied to protestants by the fact of their legal obligation
to entrust their children to catholic teachers, less concerned with educat-
ing them than converting them. It was in Condorcets view a right that
could only be restored by authorising the establishment of public protestant
schools, although he accepted that such a proposal was not without draw-
backs. Protestant children could still be pressured indirectly to convert,
and the formal segregation of protestant and catholic children risked the
creationof a ghetto mentality that Condorcet understood only too well, and
which he considered vital to eradicate if harmony and stability were to be
Reform and the moral order 133
achieved: Because these children do not participate in the same activities
as catholic children, the result is that either the catholic children will envy
their lot, or that they will detest them as heretics . . . It will thus be impos-
sible to stop these children developing a kind of instinctive hatred which
is then turned on society (v: 520). The issue behind all the proposals in
articles 412 was the constitutional recognition of rights in the face of the
legalised intolerance that continued to disgure the moral order in France,
and to fragment, and thereby weaken, the nation.
The remaining pages of Sur les moyens, separated from the commentary
to article 42 by a textual marker, Fin du Professeur en droit, contain a
series of justicatory reections on the changes advocated. Here Condorcet
introduced other issues relating to procedures for legislative reform that
were to reappear in his writings eight years later in the context of the
convocation of the Estates-General, and the immediate post-1789 debate
on the ways to bring about constitutional change that would take for
the rst time full account of the public will. Beyond the practicalities of
progressive legislation loomed the most crucial aspect of the battle to restore
the integrity of the moral order to French laws and institutions. Condorcet,
in all aspects of his constitutional thinking, was always aware that reformist
measures were futile if not accompanied by a corresponding strategy to
secure the support of public opinion and public consent. Ascertaining the
public will in a country without representative government was difcult,
and in these circumstances legislators had recourse only to the partial,
often elusive, evidence of public opinion, the only interpreter of the will of
nations when the constitution has established neither a general convention
of the people, nor a general assembly of its representatives (v: 521). A sea-
change in public opinion was a necessary precondition for the introduction
of enlightened legislation, but public opinion needed to be well informed
by having the means to participate in open political dialogue, facilitated by
a free press. Until such conditions prevailed, the churchs power to inuence
public opinion remained a fact that could not be ignored, and Condorcet
was particularly anxious to present his proposals to end the persecution of
the protestants as being actually advantageous to orthodoxy, and not open
to the accusation that their true purpose was to sacrice the interests of the
French church to those of the state (v: 522).
In the light of this anxiety, Condorcet felt that it would be tactically
unwise to end the defence of his proposals for the toleration of protestant
heresy inSur les moyens without a formal denial of impiety, anda conciliatory
discussion of ways of converting protestants to the true faith. The errors of
the violent policies of conversion adopted since the Reformation were again
134 Condorcet and Modernity
pilloried, but conversion as a legitimate policy per se is not quite rejected,
retention of a proselytising role for the ofcial church being absorbed skil-
fully into the defence of protestant rights as a policy that would serve the
interests of good religion as well as good politics. Tolerance of heresy and
acceptance of reform are transformed into a litmus test of genuine piety
and presented, not as a defeat for the church, but rather as a milestone on
the road to Christian renewal and unity, thus offering the orthodox both a
challenge and a promise:
Every catholic who is convinced of the truth of his religion must therefore wish
for protestants to be tolerated, since persecution is just a way of attaching men as
indifferently to error as to truth; [every catholic] must demand at the same time
that clerical abuses be reformed, and that the behaviour and maxims of the clergy
no longer contradict perpetually the precepts and maxims of the Scriptures, for
these abuses, this contradiction, are the sole cause of opposition to the truth and
to the unity of all Christians in the same faith and in the church. (v: 5356)
The problem of persuading hearts and minds was further examined in
the Lettre de M

, dated 1780, which Condorcet presented as a response

to the putative author of Sur les moyens. The interlocutor in the Lettre,
supposedly a lawyer in the Pau Parlement posing questions to a professor
of law in the University of Cahors, approves the principles behind the
proposed reform of anti-protestant legislation, but recommends a policy of
caution with regard to their promulgation. Through the interlocutor device
Condorcet made the point that tolerance was still associated with the ques-
tion of atheism, and noted that few countries had so far fully succeeded
in treating tolerance as being primarily a secular issue. Even in America
tolerance was still theological rather than secular territory, the Americans
perpetuating slavishly the faults of the English constitution in this respect.
Englands reputation for tolerance was still deeply stained by discriminatory
legislation against catholics and non-conformists.
The general prospects
for public acceptance of policies of religious toleration were not bright.
Even in Sweden freedom of worship had been extended only to foreign-
ers, and harsh laws had been enacted to punish any foreigner attempting
to convert a Swede: This amounts to setting up the Inquisition in the
name of tolerance (v: 538). In the Enlightenment religious tolerance did
not have the support of every political thinker, as in the case of Rousseaus
strange words on the exclusion of atheists, and on the sovereigns right
to require all citizens to profess under oath their belief in God and in the
With regard to the English situation, Condorcet anticipated that governmental self-interest and
public opinion would soon accomplish what justice was not able to do (v: 538).
Reform and the moral order 135
immortality of the soul on the grounds that without such a public pro-
fession of faith the duties of citizenship could not be properly fullled. In
Condorcets view, Rousseau had not understood that atheists believed in
virtue as a political necessity, andas anindispensable secular ingredient inthe
maintenance of the moral order. Rousseau had failed to follow through the
dangerous logic of his argument.
Condorcet in fact rejected Rousseaus
doctrines on political morality as being incoherent and extremist, apart
from a few passages in Emile and a few chapters in Du Contrat Social
(v: 543). He saw in Rousseauist doctrines a cautionary example of intoler-
ance masquerading as philosophie.
In the Lettre de M

Condorcets thinking reects yet again the prag-

matic gradualismand strategic exibility which he brought to the science of
politics and to its tactical applications in general. Tolerance of protestants
should be advocated without actually mentioning the provocative word
protestant, and without drafting legislation exclusively conned to the
protestant problem, in order to avoid direct confrontation with the clergy.
He never envisaged a new Jerusalem that could be built in a day, and in
the Lettre he reiterated his warning against a precipitate implementation
of the proposals set out in Sur les moyens. Reform for Condorcet was less
about the defence of principle than the achievement of lasting and bene-
cial results, and for that the ground had to be prepared carefully. It was
never enough simply to enunciate the legal and moral virtues of newlegisla-
tion. The restoration of the moral order in the political arena required time
and judiciously calculated momentum, rather than adversarial confronta-
tion. Condorcet understood the paradox that the successful management
of reform necessarily involved policies of continuity: So let us seek to do
what little good we can all the time, without waiting until it is possible to
do everything we would like to do before starting to do anything (v: 548).
A stone bridge offered a grander and safer prospect of crossing a river than a
ferryboat, but if the river was owing too fast, or was too deep to permit the
foundations of the bridge to be laid, and if brave and skilled engineers were
not yet available to design and construct it, then it was wise to be satised
for the time being with the immediate, though less ambitious prospect of
the ferryboat. Following Condorcets striking analogy, the Reexions can
be said to contain the plan for a bridge, and the Lettre the plan for a boat
which can at least be of some use in the meantime.
Condorcet was particularly concerned with Rousseaus advocation of the death penalty for those
who reneged on the oath of belief in God: The death penalty will be a little hard, and this passage
from Mr Rousseau is more worthy of an inquisitor than a philosopher (v: 542 n. 1).
136 Condorcet and Modernity
Accordingly, in the Lettre Condorcet does not openly denounce the
French church as an implacable opponent of reform and progress, whose
policies promoted religious factionalism at the expense of the true interests
of the state. The view of the church that predominates in this text is of
an institution fearful of Romes long arm, of change, and above all of the
consequences of abandoning its centuries-long stance on the dangers of
heresy. The very use of the word protestant in any bill risked automatic
hostility to the reform, whatever its intrinsic merit. Condorcet understood
that even with a more enlightened clergy the resolution of the problem of
culturally conditioned resistance to progressive, but controversial, policies
lay partly in a persuasive, disarming presentation, and the emollient effects
of what would today be called spin:
Any law in which the word protestant appears will therefore be odious to the
clergy. Unless it is a law of intolerance; they will feel obliged to oppose it, and
however enlightened they might now be, however courageous they are in the face
of superstitions and prejudices, the time when they can speak the language of
reason and charity on questions of tolerance is still a long way off; but if you could
get the same desired outcome by means of laws in which the word protestant did
not even appear, in which the established religion did not seem to be the issue,
they would have neither the right nor the desire to complain. (v: 549)
Thus in framing new legislation to safeguard protestant rights and to
end the burden of their status as an alien community, Condorcet preferred
to revisit the proposals rst formulated in the Reexions, and recast them in
ways that would enable legislators to associate the cause of the protestants
with the universal cause of the rights of all citizens, with a view to allaying
catholic reservations, and thereby removing one of the main justicatory
causes of intolerance. The legitimacy of protestant citizenship was absorbed
into the legitimacy of a universal citizenship that drew its authority from
the pact of civil association. If protestants had once been guilty of armed
resistance, this was the consequence of their treatment by a fanatical church
exercising undue political inuence over a king. The French protestant
problem was therefore presented by Condorcet as part of a shared problem
of unconstitutional clerical abuse of power affecting the whole of Europe
in a number of contexts. In this way Condorcet deected attention from
the specic threat allegedly posed by the French protestants to the general
dangers of ecclesiastical ministerial rule affecting the lives of all French
In Condorcets hands, the defence of the protestants was in this way
transformed from a theological issue conned to France into a secularised,
Reform and the moral order 137
Europeanised cause advanced in the name of enlightenment, progress and
The triumph of that cause would be a triumph over the
darkness of the past, with the burden of responsibility laid on gures from
another age, rather than a triumph over the contemporary church:
So there is every hope of a happy revolution in the fate of French protestants;
everything indicates that tolerance will spread in Europe, and just as we saw that
bull, whereby kings and nations were reviled every year by Rome, disappear along
with the jesuits, we will also see the laws of intolerance disappear along with the
reign of the Le Telliers and the Guignards. (v: 573)
The results achieved by Condorcets closely argued campaign for the
reform of anti-protestant legislation, of which the opening shots had been
red in 1780, were disappointing in the short term. The Edict of Toleration
that was approved, with limitations, by Louis XVI in November 1787, was
largely engineered by Rabaut de Saint-Etienne,
a protestant minister who
was to become the leader of the French protestants during the Revolution.
The edict conceded to protestants freedom of conscience, but not the
degree of religious and civil equality envisaged in Condorcets proposals.
Saint-Etiennes programme of reform echoed some of Condorcets draft
but the 1787 edict contained no reference to the status of protestant
schools, access to the professions or even to the termination of existing
discriminatory legislation. As was the case with so many of Condorcets
proposals to reform the moral order, religious toleration was to be another
aspect of the modernity he advocated, but would never live to see.
After the Revolution, ironically, Condorcet was apprehensive about the
moves made in 1790 in the Constituante against the French clergy. He
approved of the nationalisation of church property and of the neutralisation
of the churchs political power, but he resisted other moves that in his view
involved injustice, and even an infringement of rights, as can be seen in the
1790 Reexions sur lusufruit des beneciers and in Sur le decret du 13 avril
1790. He participated in the debates of 29 May12 July 1790 leading up
Surprisingly, prior to the work of Lauriol, historians of French protestantism make little reference
to Condorcets contributions to this debate.
Jean-Paul Rabaut de Saint-Etienne (174393) was a member of the Estates-General, becoming subse-
quently a deputy in the National Assembly and later in the Convention. He was elected President of
the Constituante in March 1790, despite being a protestant minister. Despite his rhetorical skills, he
failed to convince fellow deputies to guarantee freedom of worship for protestants in the Declaration
des droits de lhomme et du citoyen. He was also a well-known journalist, and contributed to the
Chronique de Paris.
See J.-A. Dartigue, Rabaut de Saint-Etienne ` a lAssemblee Constituante de 1789 (Nantes: F. Sali` ere, 1930);
A. Dupont, Rabaut Saint-Etienne, 17431793 (Strasbourg: Editions Oberlin, 1946); R. Mirabaud, Un
president de la Constituante et de la Convention. Rabaud Saint-Etienne (Paris: Fischbacher, 1930).
138 Condorcet and Modernity
to the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, reluctantly accepting the 13 April
decree which in his view addressed the problem of the churchs abuse of
political power, but left the question of its civil status open.
The churchs
authority over education (a key issue in the protestant problem), and its
dogmatic authority were not addressed in the decree. In these, and other
omissions, the Constituante, in Condorcets view, was ignoring the lessons
to be drawn fromthe mistakes that had been made in the matter of Frances
historic persecution of the protestants, and of the damage that had been
done to the moral integrity of the civil order.
See Sur la constitution civile du clerge (x: 3). A year later, after the papal condemnation of the Civil
Constitution of the Clergy, Condorcet would defend strongly the decree requiring the clergy to
swear an oath of loyalty to the constitution (BIF Condorcet MS 854, f. 436).
chapter 6
New constructions of equality
the emanci pati on of slaves
During the decade before the Revolution, and especially after the publi-
cation in 1781 of the rst edition of Condorcets Reexions sur lesclavage
des n`egres, public debate in France with regard to the abolition of the slave
trade and the emancipation of plantation slaves in the French colonies
assumed unprecedented levels of intensity. The rise in the moral and polit-
ical temperature of the debate owed much to the victory of the American
insurgents in 1776 and to the triumph of notions of liberty, equality and
human rights that the outcome of the War of American Independence
came to represent in Europe. Condorcet was well attuned to revolutionary
events in America, thanks in particular to his friendship with Franklin and
although the earliest evidence of any interest on his part in the
slavery question really goes back to 1773.
After 1776 the French abolitionist
movement was much encouraged by the American example. A clause in
the Declaration of Independence abolishing the slave trade in principle had
been given more concrete form in 1780 with the interdictions on slavery
passed in the Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and New England assemblies.
Ever since the 17517 uprisings in Saint-Domingue, known today as the
Republic of Hati,
the plantation-owners had been only too aware of the
possibility of a major insurrection of their slave workforce. In consequence,
In 1788 Jefferson bought two copies of the Reexions. His translation of the text into English, which
he started in 1789, was to remain unnished.
Condorcet wrote to Jefferson on 2 December 1773 inquiring about the effects of slavery on the negro
character (cit. Badinter and Badinter, Condorcet, p. 175 n. 1).
See J. Jurt, Condorcet: lid ee de progr` es et lopposition ` a lesclavage, in Cr epel and Gilain (eds.),
Condorcet mathematicien, p. 389.
In the eighteenth century Saint-Domingue formed part of Hispaniola, and was ceded to France
by Spain under the terms of the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697. This territory was known in France
throughout the eighteenth century as Saint-Domingue, assuming its modern name of Hati in 1804
when it became an independent republic. Under the terms of the same treaty, Spain retained control
of the remaining two-thirds of the island, territory which would eventually gain its own independence
as the Dominican Republic.
140 Condorcet and Modernity
many were deeply suspicious of the abolitionist movement that was gaining
momentum in Paris. They feared the possible dangers to the system that
might emerge fromthe meeting of the Estates-General, and were suspicious
of the motives of the richer and more powerful planters who were insisting
loudly on their right to be represented at the meeting, and subsequently
in the Assembly. The latter were apprehensive about the logical outcome
for the colonies of a constitutional process which might involve a new
order founded on the dangerous principles of liberty and equality. In 1788,
in collaboration with traders and businessmen associated with the great
slaving ports of Nantes, Bordeaux, Marseille, La Rochelle and Le Havre,
a powerful lobby of planters was organised in Paris, known after 1789 as
the Club Massiac (named after the Marquis de Massiac who owned sugar
plantations in Saint-Marc, and whose Paris house was used as a location
for meetings).
Well before the plantation-owners and their representatives in Paris set
up their defences in the Club Massiac, Condorcet confronted the slave
trade problem for the rst time in the Remarques sur les Pensees de Pascal
printed in his edition of the Pensees in 1776 (iii: 63552). He reiterated his
views a year later in two articles in the Journal de Paris (n. 160 and n. 173,
7 June and 22 June 1777), and came back to the issue in his biography
of Turgot. In his reception speech to the Academy of 21 February 1782 he
welcomed the American and Portuguese decrees against slavery, afrming
optimistically that everything seems to indicate that black servitude, this
ugly remnant of the barbaric politics of the sixteenth century, will soon
stop dishonouring our country (i: 398). The longest of his essays on this
subject is the 1781 Reexions sur lesclavage des n`egres (Reections on black
slavery), partly translated into English by Jefferson.
This was then followed
by the Preambule (1788) to the rules for the Societe des Amis des Noirs, Au
corps electoral contre lesclavage des noirs (To the electoral body against black
slavery) an address circulated on 3 February 1789 to electors in all baili-
wicks preparing to choose their representatives for the Estates-General
his provocative tract on the rights of representation of the Saint-Domingue
plantation-owners in the Assembly, Sur ladmission des deputes des planteurs
de Saint-Domingue ` a lAssemblee Nationale (On the admission of deputies
representing the planters of Saint-Domingue to the National Assembly)
(1789). This essay marked a crucial confrontation in the National Assembly
See n. 1 and also McLean and Hewitt, Condorcet, p. 62; Boyd et al. (eds.), The Papers of Thomas
Jefferson, vol. xiv, pp. 4948.
In his capacity as an elector for the noble deputies of Mantes, Condorcet succeeded in inserting a
recommendation to abolish the slave trade and slavery. See Cahen, Condorcet, p. 112.
New constructions of equality 141
between the Societe des Amis des Noirs and self-appointed delegates repre-
senting the planters who were demanding rights of representation. It was
after this episode that the hostilities between the members of the Club
Massiac and the abolitionists intensied.
In addition, there are a num-
ber of other, less well-known abolitionist writings by Condorcet, many of
which relate to the activities of the Societe des Amis des Noirs, not all of
which have been published, together with a draft of a letter subsequently
printed in the Journal de Paris on 14 December 1789.
He also referred briey to the slavery issue in the notes for the Kehl
Voltaire (4: 6256), and he wrote numerous articles and letters for the Paris
press. His 1791 address on behalf of the Societe des Amis des Noirs, entitled
A LAssemblee nationale, ` a toutes les villes de commerce, ` a toutes les manufac-
tures, aux colonies, ` a tous les amis de la constitution de 1791 (To the National
Assembly, to all commercial cities, to all centres of industry, to the colonies,
to all friends of the 1791 constitution) should also be noted.
As a deputy
he would draft several bills to make the trafc illegal,
and after the Saint-
Domingue plantation-owners refused to accept the decree of 15 May 1791
giving equality of rights to mulattos born of free parents, Condorcet pur-
sued his campaign in a more specically economic context in an article
printed in the 10 July 1790 issue of the Journal de la Societe de 1789, in the 1
March, 11 March and 25 March 1792 issues of the Chronique de Paris, in the
Onthe circumstances of publication, see the introductionto my editionof the Reexions sur lesclavage
des n`egres et autres textes abolitionnistes (Paris: LHarmattan, 2003), pp. xxvxxvi.
See L. Cahen, La Soci et e des Amis des Noirs et Condorcet, La Revolution franc aise 50 (1906),
481511; K. M. Baker, Condorcets notes for a revised edition of his reception speech to the Academie
franc aise, SVEC 169 (1977), 768. See also the undated Fragment sur les esclaves et membres des
confessions opprimees (BIF Condorcet MS 859, ff. 1489). This fragment also addresses the problems
of serfs, Jews and Indians; Lettre ecrite par la Societe des Amis des Noirs aux electeurs des bailliages,
BIF Condorcet MS 857, ff. 27881 (copy by Cardot with corrections by Condorcet, dated by E.
OConnor 3 February 1789); Adresse de la Societe des Amis des Noirs ` a lAssemblee nationale, BIF
Condorcet MS 857, ff. 28890 (copy by Cardot, with corrections by Condorcet); Autre Lettre ` a
un marquis, BIF Condorcet MS 857, ff. 298306 (copy by Cardot plus the autograph of a partial
draft); Dialogue entre un ancien et un moderne sur lesclavage (BIF Condorcet MS. 857, ff. 33840,
Autograph). A MS copy of the rules of the Society, partly in an unknown hand (BIF Condorcet MS
857, ff. 2509) and partly in Cardots hand (BIF Condorcet MS 857, ff. 26074), has eight chapters
and a total of sixty-four articles. A copy in the hand of the rst secretary of the Society, Gramagnac,
signed by Condorcet, of the 1789 letter to the Journal de Paris has also survived, dated 25 November
1789 (BIF Condorcet MS 857, ff. 2935). Mme OConnors copy (signed by Brissot de Warville) of
an extract from the register of the Society, minuting the proceedings of a session held on 8 June
1790, offers remarkable evidence of the way in which the Society engaged with the specics of cases
involving individual slaves (BIF Condorcet MS 857, ff. 2758).
See D. B. Davis, The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Reason, 17201823 (Ithaca and London: Cornell
University Press, 1975), p. 328 n. 73. Inthis address Condorcet wrote of the emancipationof plantation
slaves as being a legislative act conrming an existing truth.
See Cahen, La Soci et e des Amis des Noirs et Condorcet.
142 Condorcet and Modernity
context of rights, and in the January and April 1792 issues of the Chronique
du mois. The latter contained his account of the proceedings of the Legisla-
tive Assembly which had culminated in the 24 March decree establishing
political equality for mulattos. The 11 March article in the Chronique de
Paris, responding to Pastorets motion presented to the Legislative Assem-
bly to abolish the slave trade, is perhaps Condorcets most important press
statement, and one where he again anticipated imminent success for the
abolitionist campaign.
His later contribution to the Chronique de Paris
of 26 November 1792 was concerned mainly with the auxiliary issue of
colonial independence, hotly debated in the Convention. Slavery and the
colonial issue also constituted a sub-section entitled Troubles des colonies
in the 1792 Revision des travaux de la premi`ere Legislative (x: 41825). His
last major statement on the issue is contained in the tenth epoque of the
Esquisse (vi: 23942).
In the early and middle years of the eighteenth century information, not
always accurate, about colonial chattel slavery and plantation conditions
could be gleaned from various sources, literary and non-literary.
dorcets Reexions sur lesclavage des n`egres (Reections on black slavery) of
1781, reprinted in 1788, stands out in a new phase of informed abolitionist
writings that were to proliferate in France in the 1780s
and is remarkable
for its prescience and boldness. According to Mercier and Julien its impact,
particularly after the publication of the second edition, was considerable.
The second edition caused a level of controversy that provoked a number of
refutations and defences of the status quo, among which the 1788 Memoire
sur lesclavage des n`egres, dans lequel on discute les motifs proposes pour leur
For a full analysis of Condorcets journalistic contributions to the abolitionist debate between 1790
and 1793, see Y. Benot, Condorcet journaliste et le combat anti-esclavagiste, in Cr epel and Gilain
(eds.), Condorcet mathematicien, pp. 37684. Benot notes correctly that the total number of press
articles written by Condorcet on the slavery issue was far less than those devoted to religious matters,
for example, and that from the standpoint of content, in contrast to those of Brissot, his articles tend,
surprisingly, to focus on broad issues of principle rather than on issues of immediate urgency, un
travail en quelque sorte p edagogique, eclairant lopinion publique moins sur les d ecisions urgentes
que sur la marche de lhistoire dans sa globalit e (p. 383).
E. D. Seebers account of ancien regime thinking on colonial slavery is still authoritative, see Anti-
Slavery Opinion in France during the Second Half of the Eighteenth Century (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins
Press, 1937), pp. 35161.
A link between the proliferation of anti-slavery sentiment in France in the 1780s and the growth of
hostility towards England in the light of developments in America, inuenced possibly by Franklin
after his arrival in Paris in 1778, has been noted by Jurt, Condorcet: lid ee de progr` es et lopposition
` a lesclavage, p. 388. See also R. Mercier, LAfrique noire dans la litterature franc aise. Les premi`eres
images (XVIIe-XVIIIe si`ecles) (Dakar: Publications de lUniversit e de Dakar, 1962), p. 155.
Mercier, LAfrique noire, p. 156. The founding of the Societe des Amis des Noirs can be ascribed to its
inuence. As far as the rst edition is concerned, reception was more muted (Badinter and Badinter,
Condorcet, pp. 1745).
New constructions of equality 143
affranchissement, ceux qui sy opposent, et les moyens praticables pour ameliorer
leur sort by Baron Malouet, a future leading light in the Club Massiac, was
typical. By 1789, largely as a result of Condorcets leadership on the issue,
abolitionism was no longer about ideas and ideals, but about economics,
political choice and legislative action.
Much of the avour of Condorcets
treatise is English rather than French, and the text of the Preface des editeurs
suggests that Condorcet was well aware of the parliamentary debates and
reformist moves taking place in London.
In the Preface reference is made
to an English politician who writes pamphlets (Reexions, p. 5),
but the
Post-Scriptum printed in the 1788 edition contains less elliptical references
to Wilberforces Society for the Abolition of Slavery and to the inuence of
the English campaign in the establishment of the Societe des Amis des Noirs
in Paris in the same year.
The rst edition, printed anonymously under
the punning pseudonym Joachim Schwartz, Pasteur at Saint-Evangile, in
was well ahead of its time in France as a set of detailed leg-
islative proposals. Its impassioned, highly personalised tone, unusual in a
For an informative commentary on the Reexions in the American context, and in particular with
regard to the divergences between Condorcet and Jefferson on the slavery question, see R. Popkin,
Condorcet: abolitionist, Condorcet Studies 1 (1984), 3547. Jefferson wrote to Condorcet in 1791 on
the subject of black intellectual ability, see W. Jordan, White over Black: American Attitudes toward
the Negro, 15501812 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1968), p. 452. Jefferson also
sent Condorcet an almanach by Benjamin Banneker to exemplify the link between black ability and
black degradation, see on this point McLean and Urken, Did Jefferson and Madison understand
Condorcets theory of social choice?, 447; Boyd et al. (eds.), The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. xxii,
p. 99.
Condorcet was kept well informed about the vote to abolish slavery taken in the English Parliament
by Lord Stanhope who wrote to Condorcet on 3 April 1791 inviting France to follow suit. In the
same letter Stanhope warned Condorcet of Burkes activities and the risks that France would be
incurring as a consequence of any interference in English affairs (BIF Condorcet MS 867, ff. 702).
This letter was subsequently printed in the Chronique de Paris on 8 April 1791.
References are to the Reexions sur lesclavage des n`egres, ed. Williams.
Interestingly, Jaucourt had also cited un Anglais moderne plein de lumi` eres et dhumanit e in Traite
de n` egres (Commerce dAfrique) (in J. Le Rond dAlembert, D. Diderot et al. (eds.), LEncyclopedie
ou Dictionnaire raisonne des sciences, des arts et des metiers, par une societe de gens de lettres, 33 vols.
(Paris: Briasson, David, Le Breton, Durand, 175180), vol. xvi, p. 32). After expressing his optimism
regarding the eventual end to slavery in America, Condorcet observed with equal optimism: We
would add that in England a society has been established for the abolition of the trade and black
slavery; this society, which counts among its subscribers members of both chambers, and even some
ministers, will succeed sooner or later in meeting its objective. It is impossible for bills, dictated
by humanity and justice, supported by reason and sane politics, not eventually to carry the vote
in both chambers. In truth, in the very rst debates on this subject, Europe watched with growing
indignation the peers of Great Britain debase themselves by becoming protectors of slave-traders
and apologists for their infamous brigandage, though the dignity of a lord and the hereditary wealth
which accompanies it, would seem to exclude any kind of link between two such different classes
(Reexions, p. 58).
It was not the only time that Condorcet used this pseudonym, see the Reexions du docteur Schwartz
(BIF Condorcet MS 857, ff. 31921), and also the 1789 Sentiments veritables du ministre Schwartz
sur quelques endroits dune brochure sur lesclavage des n`egres quon lui a faussement attribuee (BN(T)
144 Condorcet and Modernity
Condorcet essay, is immediately apparent in the dedicatory epistle, Aux
n`egres esclaves, where Condorcet/Schwartz addresses the slaves as brothers,
praising them for their courage, their steadfastness in suffering and their
moral fortitude. Contradicting the stereotypical projection of the negro,
reinforced not only by the traders and their anti-abolitionist supporters,
but also by literary stereotypes, the Condorcet/Schwartz persona recognises
in the negro an unqualied humanity, and an irrefutable entitlement to
human rights.
The demonisation of the traders and plantation-owners, sustained in
extreme terms throughout the treatise, starts immediately in the eptre
dedicatoire (Reexions, pp. 34). In the ctive Preface des editeurs, Con-
dorcet anticipates hostility to the Schwartz proposals by making pre-
emptive, pseudo-editorial reference to the views of a certain M. le Pasteur

. This provides the pretext for the Condorcet persona to assure

the reader that there is no hidden agenda. The author is neither a Parisian
bel esprit, with his eye on a seat in the Academy, nor an English pam-
phleteer looking for a seat in Parliament. Nor was money the motivation.
The author is simply a good man (Reexions, p. 5), writing with honesty
and integrity to expose a crime against humanity.
Adopting the voice of
Pasteur Schwartz, moreover, enables Condorcet to inject a slight note
of protestant evangelicanism into his attack on slavery, a central feature
of English abolitionism arising from Quakerism and later from Wilber-
forces inuence, but normally entirely absent from the secular, essentially
philosophe, polemics of French abolitionism in this period. In the con-
cluding chapter of the treatise Condorcet re-emphasised in slightly sar-
donic tones the usefulness of Schwartzs non-philosophe foreign voice as a
persuasive device particularly suited to a public by now disenchanted, in
Condorcets view, with the voice of enlightenment dissidence (Reexions,
pp. 546). The tongue-in-cheek style, the Christian/evangelical aura with
which Condorcet ironically surrounds Schwartz in his confrontation with
36400137). The rationale behind the choice of this transparent pseudonym, and the implications
of the distanciation that it produces, have been much discussed. As a rhetorical device, Pasteur
Schwartz serves among other things to internationalise the issues raised, and to some extent allow
them to transcend the narrow issues of partisan Parisian politics, see Jurt, Condorcet: lid ee de
progr` es, pp. 3889.
Jaucourt had also classed slavery as a crime in Traite des n` egres in terms very close to those that
Condorcet was to use: mais les hommes ont-ils le droit de senrichir par des voies cruelles et crim-
inelles? (Encyclopedie, vol. xvi, p. 532). The Schwartz assurances reect the nature of the accusations
mounted against the abolitionists by the colons and their allies. Condorcets (and Jaucourts) decla-
ration of human solidarity with negroes loses its apparent banality in a cultural context in which the
negro was widely seen as belonging to a degraded species of humanity. See R. L. Stein, The French
Slave Trade. An Old Regime Business (Wisconsin: Wisconsin University Press, 1979), p. 196.
New constructions of equality 145
the less convincingly Christian adversary, M. le Pasteur B

, echoes
Voltairean techniques of demolition. With Condorcet the velvet glove of
irony covers a barely concealed iron st of radical, angry commitment to
the cause of black human rights. Moreover, in describing Schwartz on the
titlepage as a Member of the Economic Society of B

, Condorcet estab-
lishes the putative authors qualications with regard to the commercial
arguments put forward in the text.
In the main body of the essay, Condorcet explores in remarkable detail
the relationship between planters, slave-traders and slaves, the horrors of
transportation, working conditions on the plantations and the crushing
human realities behind the legally sanctioned terms relating to the engage-
ment of slave labour, still largely determined by the 1685 Code Noir. He
speculates interestingly on alternative ways of assuring the production of
colonial goods, on the moral issues involved in the commodication of
human beings, on new administrative initiatives that could be taken in
order to bring plantation conditions under regulated control, as well as on
a number of practical, humanitarian and economic matters arising from
abolition, such as compensation for slaves as well as slave-owners. Con-
dorcets stance is uncompromising: enslavement is an act of theft by which
the slaves right to ownership of his own person has been removed. Standard
justications for this act of theft are reviewedandsummarily rejected. Ratio-
nalisations that sought to present black slaves as prisoners of war captured
in tribal battles, and destined as such for slaughter if not bought from
their victors, are discounted,
along with the view that slave-traders are
in fact benefactors saving negro lives (and souls) from murderous African
chieftains. Financial investment in slave welfare does not impart rights of
ownership. Nor does the need to safeguard colonial economies legitimise
Thus, to ask whether this interest legitimises slavery is to ask whether one should
be allowed to keep the wealth obtained through crime. The urgent need I have
of my neighbours horses to work my elds does not give me the right to steal
them; so why should I have the right to force the man himself to work them? This
so-called need changes nothing, and does not make slavery less of a criminal act
on the part of the master. (Reexions, p. 11)
Condorcet was concerned to demonstrate that the ownership of slaves
did not derive from a right, and that the act of keeping another human
On the complicity of tribal chieftains in the trade, see the notes for the Kehl Voltaire (iv: 469).
Condorcet counters the argument partly by accusing the traders of causing wars in order to promote
the market in slaves in their aftermath.
146 Condorcet and Modernity
being in servitude could not be legitimised by analogy with the right to
own property or animals.
By abolishing the slave trade, therefore, the
state would not be undermining property rights. With the criminalisation
of slavery, the state wouldnot owe compensationtoslave-traders andowners
any more than it owed compensation to thieves deprived by the courts of
their possession of stolen goods (Reexions, p. 22). With the criminality
of the act of enslavement established in the light of natural justice and
morality, Condorcet then concentrated on issues of public policy, and the
accountability of legislators to enact just laws. In the concluding paragraph
of the key fth chapter, De linjustice de lesclavage des n` egres par rapport
au l egislateur, Condorcet emphasised that national prosperity should never
be achieved at the expense of justice: The interests of the powerful and
the rich must fade before the rights of any one man (Reexions, p. 15). The
economic defence of slavery was for Condorcet bereft of commercial as
well as moral credibility. Abolition of slavery would not ruin the colonies
but would on the contrary make them more prosperous. Here Condorcet
reected the inuence of the physiocrats on his thinking with regard to
the calculation of losses and prots arising in the slave trade.
interests must give way to individual rights, otherwise there would be little
difference between an ordered society and a band of robbers (Reexions,
p. 13).
The fth chapter contains, however, that important, seemingly paradox-
ical, feature of Condorcets policies for the management of progress, namely
gradualism. Legislators were morally bound to repeal unjust laws, but in
the case of colonial slavery Condorcet does not argue for immediate eman-
cipation. Condorcet was not the only abolitionist of the period to insist on
the importance of a policy of gradualism. Lescallier and Gr egoire shared
his view,
and Brissot de Warville (echoing Wilberforce) also reected the
gradualist approach in his historic speech of 19 February 1788 in which he
Condorcet did concede exceptions (e.g. with regard to conscripted soldiers): One man cannot have
the right to sell another, unless he agreed to be sold, and this agreement became a clause in the
contract; slavery would then only be legitimate in very rare cases (iv: 624).
In De linuence de la Revolution dAmerique sur lEurope Condorcet commented further on the thin
margins of prot that France derived from territories that were difcult, dangerous and expensive
to administer and defend (viii: 24).
Economic apologies for slavery, elaborated by philosophers and jurists such as Hobbes, Pufendorf,
Grotius, Melon and others, were still widely accepted, and continued to reinforce the case against
abolition well after 1789. Condorcets stance against colonial slavery addressed the practical issue of
the economic efciency of the slave trade as emphatically as it did issues relating to morality and
D. Lescallier, Reexions sur le sort des noirs dans nos colonies ([Paris], 1789), pp. 1819, 523; H.-B.
Gr egoire, Memoire en faveur des gens de couleur ou sang-meles de Saint-Domingue et autres les franc aises
de lAmerique (Paris: Belin, 1789), pp. 4550.
New constructions of equality 147
referred specically to the importance of a phased abolition.
himself restated the case for gradualism in 1791 in the Adresse de la Societe
des Amis des Noirs ` a lAssemblee Nationale, ` a toutes les villes de commerce, ` a
toutes les manufactures, aux colonies, ` a tous les amis de la constitution de 1791.
Because of the calculated pragmatism of his emancipatory programme
on this point Condorcets reputation as an abolitionist has been severely
compromised in the eyes of some modern commentators. Jurt attributes
Condorcets condence in the liberating effect of market forces on colonial
prosperity after emancipation more to un souci de propri etaire que de jus-
tice sociale ` a l egard des opprim es, detecting a stance motivated not just
by humanitarian concerns but also by a concern to exploit the economic
advantages of a free market. Chalaye is also sceptical, as is Baczko. Antoine
sees only the expression of class interest in the proposals, and Benot has
drawn attention to Condorcets subsequent silence about the colonial prob-
lem in the 1793 Projet de constitution.
The judgement of posterity has been
perhaps too harsh on this point. Condorcets views reect the pragmatism
of the future deputy/legislator rather than any intention to compromise on
a matter of principle with a powerful alliance of vested interests, and they
encompass a vision of liberty and equality anchored rmly to the still frag-
ile principle of natural and inalienable human rights.
While Condorcet
insisted that the duty of legislators to repair injustice was absolute, he also
insisted that the timing of reforms in any area of legislation was crucial to
their successful implementation. The issue of public order, for example,
was paramount. Society, for Condorcet, had no purpose more important
than the maintenance of the rights of those who constitute it. If, however,
an individual citizen had been so brutalised as to be incapable of exercising
those rights, or if his right to freedom might be harmful to others, then
society could regard him as having lost those rights, or as having never
acquired them, as in the case of the need to deny temporarily certain rights
Cit. C. Biondi, La Soci et e des Amis des Noirs, SVEC 265 (1989), 1756.
Jurt, Condorcet: lid ee de progr` es, p. 394; M. Merle, LAnti-colonialisme europeen de Las Casas ` a
Karl Marx (Paris: Colin, 1969), p. 197; B. Baczko, Lumi`eres de lutopie (Paris: Payot, 1978), pp. 206
7; S. Chalaye, Du noir au n`egre: limage du noir au the atre de Marguerite de Navarre ` a Jean Genet
(15501960) (Paris: LHarmattan, 1998), p. 100; R. Antoine, Les Ecrivains franc ais et les Antilles (Paris:
Maisonneuve and Larose, 1978), p. 151; Benot, Condorcet journaliste, 384; Y. Benot Les Lumi` eres,
la R evolution et le probl` eme colonial, SVEC 265 (1989), 17535.
On this point Condorcet might have been inuenced by English abolitionist strategy, see A. R.
Strugnell, Colonialisme et esclavage: une etude compar ee de Diderot et de Wilberforce, SVEC 265
(1989), 1762. Condorcets insistence on gradualism is, however, already present in the rst edition
of the Reexions, published some ten years before the detailed proposals in Wilberforces bill came
before Parliament (18 April 1791). See R. Furneaux, William Wilberforce (London: Hamilton, 1974),
pp. 759.
148 Condorcet and Modernity
to children, criminals and the insane: Thus, for example, raising slaves to
the status of free men, the law must ensure that in this new capacity they
will not threaten the safety of [other] citizens (Reexions, p. 15).
If, because of their years of degradation, brutalising treatment and moral
corruption, black slaves had become incapable, like children and madmen,
of assuming the responsibilities of free men, then legislators must exercise
caution in granting them immediately the rights to which they were the-
oretically entitled. Condorcet was well aware that freedom came with a
price-tag, namely awareness and acceptance of social and political duties
and responsibilities, and could not be exercised without those responsibil-
ities being fully understood and accepted. In the case of the colonial slave
workforce, he accepted that a policy of gradualism in the implementation
of civil rights created a situation of temporary injustice, but he believed
that this could be mitigated by immediate legislation to suspend the trade.
This suspension would theoretically lead to the better treatment of slaves
pending their eventual emancipation, and would ensure that those slaves
born after the date of such legislation would at least have the prospect of
emancipation. Until the experience of freedom had returned to the slave
what slavery had deprived him of, namely the ability to meet the civic chal-
lenge of freedom, then the slave should be treated as a person temporarily
incapacitated by an accident or a disease (Reexions, pp. 1415). Common
humanity required legislators to reconcile the safety and well-being of the
slave with his rights. Just as the unskilled serf would be ruined, not liber-
ated, as a consequence of the overnight abolition of feudal serfdom simply
because he owned nothing, so the plantation slave, totally dependent on
his master for shelter and subsistence, would be engulfed by poverty and
hunger as a result of precipitate, unmanaged emancipation. Only the con-
sciences of well-meaning reformers would enjoy the illusory benets:
Thus, in such circumstances, not to allow a man the immediate exercise of his
rights does not mean that those rights are violated, or that the violators continue
to be protected; it just means applying to the destruction of abuses the prudence
necessary to ensure that any justice given to an unfortunate is more certain to make
him happy. (Reexions, p. 14)
Condorcet returned repeatedly to the paramount issue of public order.
One of the basic rights that he had identied for the individual citizen
arising from the pact of association was the right to security from violence
against his person and property.
Legislators owed it to society not to make
See D. Williams, Condorcet and natural rights, SVEC 296 (1992), 10321.
New constructions of equality 149
laws, even laws that might provoke breaches of public order if enacted,
unless they could guarantee the means to control those disturbances and
punish the perpetrators. Before raising slaves to the status of free men, the
law must therefore ensure that with the acquisition of that status the safety
of others would not be threatened. Thus in the eighth and ninth chapters
(Reexions, pp. 2333) Condorcet elaborated measures to enact legislation
in ways that were designed to prevent the anticipated breakdown of public
order caused by the fury of slave-owners and the reprisals against the
slaves themselves that could well be taken in the face of radical change,
a problem to which he had already referred in the fth chapter: for the
man accustomed to be surrounded by slaves will nd no consolation in
having only inferiors (Reexions, p. 15). Neither commercial objections
nor the need for a gradualist approach, however, are allowed to constitute a
sophistical defence of the staus quo, and Condorcet explicitly and repeatedly
stressed that abolition could not be postponed indenitely. The issue at
stake was timing and an acceptance of the need for a programme of phased
legislation whose practical implications had been thought through. There
was really no question for Condorcet of stepping back from the principle
of abolition.
The ninth chapter, Des moyens de d etruire lesclavage des n` egres par
degr es, the longest in the treatise, contains one of the earliest and most
interesting sets of concrete proposals for abolitionist legislation to come
out of the French Enlightenment, revealing Condorcets instinctive feel for
administrative detail upon which all great reformist legislation ultimately
depends if idealism is to be translated into reality. Measures to be adopted
in the rst phase of his proposed programme include the suspension of
the trade within Frances borders, together with an immediate embargo on
the importation of slaves; the immediate emancipation of all plantation-
born mulatto children; automatic emancipation at the age of thirty-ve for
plantation-born black children, with on-going responsibilities with regard
to subsistence and maintenance for a further period of six months assigned
to masters/employers (Reexions, pp. 2633). In Condorcets scheme slaves
would in effect be redesignated as workers on temporary contracts, with the
right to take legal action against employers to enforce the new contractual
arrangements. The new workers would be free hands whose numbers
The humanitarian priorities at the heart of Condorcets defence of gradualism in the context of
emancipation are set out in the tenth chapter: We have proposed the laws which seemed to us to be
the ones most certain to destroy slavery gradually, and ameliorate it while it lasts. You might think
that laws like these would be capable, not of legitimising slavery, but of making it less barbarous and
more compatible, if not with justice, at least with humanity (Reexions, p. 34).
150 Condorcet and Modernity
would ensure that wages remain so low that the cost of labour in the
new scheme of things would be very little more than that of the former
Much of Condorcets Reexions is devoted to an elaboration of the mech-
anisms for the day-to-day management of abolition, rather than to matters
of abstract principle, a point on which his treatise stands out from the abo-
litionist writings of many of his contemporaries. It reads in parts like a set of
regulations to be embodied in the draft bill that Condorcet no doubt had in
mind at the time of composition. Commentary, therefore, tends to be quite
narrowly focussed on difcult issues such as the continuing responsibilities
of planters towards their enfranchised workforce (Reexions, pp. 235, 38
43). Features of Condorcets proposed legislation include measures designed
to ensure that the children of slaves would gain their freedom at the time of
paternal emancipation, whether legitimate issue or not. Slaves older than
fteen when the proposed legislation was enacted would be freed at the
age of forty. Those aged less than fteen at the time of enactment of leg-
islation would be offered at the age of fty the choice of accommodation
in a public institution to be established for this purpose, or continuing
residence on the plantation with the intermediary status of servant. Both
options would be supplemented with a pension from the former owner, at
a level to be determined by government decree. Births and deaths would be
ofcially recorded, slaves with unrecorded births being freed immediately.
The disappearance of slaves in unexplained circumstances would result in
penalties consisting of the freeing of two young slaves of the same sex as
the missing slave. To ensure compliance, Condorcet envisaged the appoint-
ment of a public ofcial for each colony, with specied duties relating to
the protection of black and mulatto slave interests during the transitional
period (Reexions, pp. 378). He gives details of a tariff to determine the
average price of a black slave, the slave then having the right to offer his
master the tariff price for his freedom which would be granted once the
sum had been deposited with the inspector.
The main body of the treatise is replete with similar micro-managerial
detail, and a wider canvas is not in fact drawn until the penultimate chapter,
De la culture apr` es la destruction de lesclavage, where Condorcet specu-
lates briey, but interestingly, on the nature of post-abolitionist inter-racial
culture and social organisation (Reexions, pp. 3843). Condorcet was anx-
ious to ensure that legislation would not necessarily be to the commercial
Antoine notes that it is at this point that the voice of the physiocratic idealist gives way to that
of class interest, celle de la bourgeoisie r evolutionnaire, Les Ecrivains franc ais, p. 151. See also Jurt,
Condorcet: lid ee de progr` es, pp. 3912.
New constructions of equality 151
disadvantage of the planters because of the advent of free competition in
the market for colonial goods that would regulate costs, rationalise the divi-
sion of labour and raise levels of productivity that were unrealisable with
enslaved workers. The moral benets of emancipation would thus coincide
with economic advantage and the advent of a racially integrated commu-
nity (Reexions, p. 38). The planter would show by his example that the
most fertile territory was not the territory farmed by the most wretched,
and that mans true happiness is the happiness which cannot be bought
or made to depend on the happiness of his master. The soft and tender
sounds of a ute once played on the banks of the Niger will replace the
sound of whips and the screams of black slaves (Reexions, p. 51). The issue
of the planters continuing responsibilities for their enfranchised charges
was central to Condorcets proposed legislation, and reected a realistic
concern for the welfare of the colonial workforce during the potentially
difcult transition to full emancipation. Condorcet well understood also
the need to deal effectively with colon retaliation that could well make
plantation life even harsher in the interim. Enlightened legislation in Paris
would be meaningless without the means to enforce it in the colonies.
In this respect, Condorcet proposed a system of nancial penalties and
bi-monthly visitations to plantations by government-appointed doctors to
check for evidence of mistreatment, particularly of pregnant slaves whose
children would have cost implications for plantation-owners.
In the twelfth and last chapter, R eponse ` a quelques raisonnements des
partisans de lesclavage, with its powerful defence of the achievements of
the party of humanity in a climate that had now become uncomfortable for
the philosophes, Condorcet returned to a consideration of anti-abolitionist
arguments, and to a nal demonstration of the lack of moral and legal space
for the protestations of the slave-traders, and what he called in the Post-
Scriptum the apologists for their infamous brigandage, within a system of
laws based on universal consent and universal applicability, central to which
was the acceptance of the universal right to freedom(Reexions, p. 44). Every
mitigating counter-argument the comparable misery of Europes peas-
ants, conditions in the Bastille, the analogies with the corvee, the supposed
humanity and enlightened self-interest of the planters is made to retreat
before the indisputable fact of deprivation of the slaves inalienable right to
be a free human being. Gradualism meant in practice that Condorcets pro-
posals were designed to introduce reform by degrees, giving the planters
time to adjust to a new order requiring them to replace the exclusive use
of blacks with a combined and free racially mixed workforce, as well as to
give the slaves themselves time to adjust to the new conditions, and survive
152 Condorcet and Modernity
their emancipation. The carefully managed phasing-in of reform would
also give the government itself the time it needed to set up the new regula-
tory system, and to enact further appropriate legislation, as required. The
time-scale that Condorcet envisaged for the abolition of slavery (almost
abolished) in the French colonies by means of such measures was thirty-ve
to forty years (Reexions, p. 33). In the event, his calculation would prove
to be optimistic, though for different reasons.
In the Post-Scriptum to the second edition of the Reexions, Condorcet
noted the progress made in America towards abolition, and in particular
the changes to the regulations governing the importation of slaves agreed
at the 1787 Philadelphia Convention (Reexions, p. 57).
He also noted
the foundation in England of a Society for the Abolition of Slavery and
the establishment in Paris of a corresponding society whose sole purpose
is to seek the means to abolish the trade and to end the enslavement of
blacks (Reexions, p. 58). The allusion is to the Societe des Amis des Noirs,
founded in 1788 when, on his return from London, Brissot de Warville
presented to an informal meeting of friends, or of what his biographer calls
onze pionniers,
his Discours sur la necessite detablir ` a Paris une Societe
pour concourir, avec celle de Londres, ` a labolition de la traite et de lesclavage
des n`egres.
The founding meeting of the new pressure-group was followed
by the publication of forty-six pages of rules (eight chapters and sixty-
four articles), much of the text drafted by Condorcet and reecting his
obsession with the mathematics of voting procedures, together with a long
From the outset, as Brissots Discours (though not the rules)
makes clear, the new Society disclaimed any subversive intent. Its purpose
was to produce a draft bill for abolition, based on facts in which the interests
Condorcet never allowed Jeffersons or Washingtons ownership of slaves to compromise his admi-
ration for the American cause. In De linuence de la Revolution dAmerique sur lEurope, he noted
the on-going tolerance of slavery in America after the achievement of independence, but consoled
himself with the thought that all enlightened men were ashamed of its perpetuation, and that it
would not stain the American civil code for much longer (viii: 1112).
J.-L. Francois-Primo, La Jeunesse de J.-P. Brissot (Paris: Grasset, 1932), p. 219.
On important documentation relating to the Societe des Amis des Noirs, see vols. viix of La Revolution
franc aise et labolition de lesclavage: textes et documents, 13 vols. (Paris: Editions dhistoire sociale, 1968).
These four volumes reproduce thirty-two brochures published between 1788 and 1799.
The rules were to be reviewed annually by a special committee, composed partly of members of
the Society and partly of members of the Assembly. Procedures mirrored the pattern proposed for
constitutional amendments in the Assembly itself. The rst review was scheduled for March 1790.
The cost of membership was expensive (2 louis per year). General meetings took place on the rst
Tuesday of each month, and reciprocal membership rights extended to the British and American
societies. Detailed attention is paid in the rules to voting procedures, agendas, minutes, order of
speaking, duties of ofcers and conduct of members. There is no specic reference to the aims of
the Society. See BIF Condorcet MS 859, ff. 1489, 2509, 26074.
New constructions of equality 153
of all parties would be dispassionately weighed. The Club Massiac, alarmed
by the progress being made in England towards abolition, and represented
by powerful advocates such as Louis-Marthe Gouy, who did everything
they could to discredit the Society, including an (unsuccessful) attempt to
obtain the Kings disapproval of its activities. The economic and political
power of the traders and colons was considerable, and their opposition to
the activities of the new Society was implacable. Despite the hostility, by
February 1788 the Society had acquired a formal existence and, according
to the Tableau des membres, had attracted ninety-four subscribing members
by January 1789.
In Au corps electoral contre lesclavage des noirs, a short, impassioned
address written on behalf of the Society, Condorcet evoked graphically
the suffering of four hundred thousand men, delivered into slavery by violence
and treachery, condemned to a life of hopeless, unrelenting labour along with their
families, exposed to the harsh whims of their masters, deprived of all natural and
social rights, and reduced to the level of animals in the sense that, like animals,
their life and happiness are guaranteed only by the self-interest of others. (ix: 473)
The cause of abolition was now directly linked to the American prise de
conscience concerning the perpetuationof slavery inthe light of a Revolution
fought in the cause of rights and freedom. In Condorcets view, the defence
of rights was unsustainable unless it was conducted on behalf of all men,
whether in America or in France. How could France honourably defend
the rights of man against entrenched inequality if it condoned, even by its
silence, an abuse so contrary to reason and natural law as the servitude of
blacks (ix: 473)? Au corps electoral contre lesclavage des noirs was directed
at the forthcoming meeting of the Estates-General, and in it Condorcet
suggested that a proposal for the establishment of a special commission to
examine ways to end the slave trade be inserted in the cahiers de doleance
in preparation for the destruction of the slave trade,
Tableau des membres de la Societe des Amis des Noirs inLa Revolution franc aise et labolition de lesclavage,
vol. vi, p. 4; cf. Biondi, La Soci et e des Amis des Noirs, 1757; A. J. Cooper, LAttitude de la France
` a legard de lesclavage pendant la Revolution frangaise (Paris: Imprimerie de la Cour Royale, 1925),
p. 17. According to Mme OConnors copy, signed by Brissot de Warville, of an extract from the
minutes of the rst meeting of the Society, dated 19 February 1788, held in the rue Franchise, Clavi` ere
was elected President unanimously. In addition to Clavi` ere and Brissot, ve other names are listed
as being present, including Mirabeaus. Condorcet was presented for membership by La Fayette
on 8 April. He rose very rapidly to prominence and was nominated on 22 April to the Executive
Committee, and also to the Commission charged with drafting the rules. He became President on
13 January 1789, chairing nine general meetings between 27 January and 31 March 1789. He chaired
intermittently further meetings between 7 July and 4 December. Brissot is recorded as presiding over
the 15 March 1790 meeting, but Condorcet was still listed as President in a manuscript extract from
the register of the Societe des Amis des Noirs (BIF Condorcet MS 857, ff. 2758).
154 Condorcet and Modernity
for it would be too shameful for the human race to think that such abuses might be
necessary to the political life and prosperity of a great nation, that the well-being of
twenty-four million French people must necessarily be bought with the misery and
enslavement of four hundred thousand Africans, and that nature has only shown
men fountains of happiness poisoned by tears, and contaminated with the blood
of their fellow-men. (ix: 473)
An infringement of the rights of one part of humanity threatened those
of all. While denying that the Societe des Amis des Noirs was the enemy
of the plantation-owners, Condorcets principle that no man could be the
property of another remained intact. The Society had no wish to destroy
the planters wealth, but it did wish to legitimise its provenance.
In June 1789, coinciding closely with the publication of Gr egoires
Memoire en faveur des gens de couleur ou sang-meles de Saint-Domingue et
autres les franc aises de lAmerique,
Condorcet presented his third impor-
tant andhard-hitting statement onthe slave trade, Sur ladmissiondes deputes
des planteurs de Saint-Domingue dans lAssemblee nationale. This time he
addressed the thorny constitutional issue of the disproportionate represen-
tation of planter interests in the rst National Assembly, formed in the
aftermath of the failure to make progress at the meeting of the Estates-
General. Here, after juxtaposing in two contiguous columns a Profession de
foi du depute dune nation libre, listing six propositions relating to freedom,
justice, equality and rights, with a Profession de foi dun planteur on the
same propositions, Condorcet pressed for a reduction of the twenty-one
white planter-deputies, proposed by the planters delegates, to two repre-
sentatives mandated to speak only for the whites. He rejected outright the
view advanced by the planters that the colonies should be bound only by
legislation with which their representatives concurred: We will answer that
any man who violates one of the rights of humanity at that point loses the
right to invoke them in his own favour (ix: 483). He confronted accu-
sations of treason levelled against the Society, and rejected the view that
abolition of the trade would only be to the economic advantage of Frances
enemies. He dismissed theories about the supposed contentment of slaves
with their condition, as well as the property rights analogy that opponents
of abolition continued to make: In their mouths the sacred word rights is
an affront to nature, and a blasphemy against reason (ix: 485).
BN(R) L. K. 9/70.
On the obduracy of the whites with regard to the worsening situation in Saint-Domingue, Condorcet
listed the measures to be taken in Troubles des colonies in the Revision des travaux de la Premi`ere
Legislature. He urged the Assembly to dispatch troops to the colony, but only for the purpose of
bringing the rising to a peaceful end (x: 421). In fact, the French army did not reach Saint-Domingue
New constructions of equality 155
In the event, the Societe des Amis des Noirs published much, but achieved
relatively little, although it did send to Necker nominations for three
deputies to attend the Estates-General to defend the cause of colonial slaves,
the nominees being Condorcet, Brissot de Warville and Bourges.
theless, the Liste des ouvrages sur la traite et lesclavage, issued by the Society
in 1790, testies to a serious attempt to inuence public opinion: fty-nine
titles, including many translations of English pamphlets.
However, the
decrees of 511 August 1789, embodying the decisions taken on 4 August
relating to the abolition of feudal privilege, seigneurial rights, tithes and
the corvee, did not mention the slave trade, and there was no reference
to black rights in the Declaration des droits de lhomme et du citoyen.
15 December 1789 Condorcet published a long article in the Journal de
Paris condemning the trade in strong language. Colonial sensitivities were
inamed, and the article was denounced by Mosnera de lAunay on 28
December in the same journal. Caught between the crossre, the Consti-
tuante prevaricated, and the Club Massiac, acting supposedly on behalf of
the Saint-Domingue planters, emerged triumphant in the polemical skir-
mishes of May 1789. On 24 September the Constituent Assembly conceded
to the colonial assemblies all powers relating to the civil status of slaves,
free blacks and mulattos. Both Condorcet and Brissot de Warville were vio-
lently attacked for their subsequent attempts to reverse the 24 September
Condorcet was never to see a successful legislative outcome to his propos-
als, although he was encouraged by the decree of 24 March 1792, enacted on
to restore order until September 1792, by which time the Jacobins were in the ascendancy in the
Convention. The army was accompanied by three Jacobin commissioners to ensure that liberty,
equality and fraternity prevailed.
See Badinter and Badinter, Condorcet, p. 301. Popkin comments: This sad result was partly due
to the political ineptness of the Societys members in the government, and mostly due to genuine
French lack of interest in, or antagonism to, abolition, Condorcet: abolitionist, 42.
For further comment on this output, see Biondi, La Soci et e des Amis des Noirs, 17578. The
abolitionists case also found many interesting literary echoes, including Bernardin de Saint-Pierres
little-known philosophical drama Empsael et Zorade, ou les blancs esclaves des noirs ` a Maroc, written
in the 178992 period. The play represents an ironic reversal of the masterslave relationship and
reects Bernardins reactions to the situation in Mauritius, of which he had rst-hand knowledge.
A modern edition of this play has been edited recently by R. Little (Exeter: Exeter University Press,
InTroubles des colonies Condorcet observed: Does every slave whohas heardtalkof the Declaration
of Rights need books in order to understand that the voice of justice in the nation has spoken, and
that it remains only to destroy commercial interests? Doubtless it would be necessary to use every
resource of logic and eloquence to prove to a greedy slave-owner that slavery is a violation of natural
rights, which no authority and no precedent can legitimise. But do you really think that all this
palaver is necessary to persuade slaves of this same truth? And is it not the height of foolishness to
assume that, in order to see slavery as unjust oppression, the African colonial needs a philosopher
from Europe to make him see the point? (x: 420).
156 Condorcet and Modernity
4 April, according equality of natural rights to mulattos and free blacks.
For the rst time, he believed that reason and justice had triumphed, at least
in principle, over narroweconomic self-interest, and the day on which these
decrees had been passed could now be numbered among the most glorious
days of the Republic. However, the prospects for black equality and eman-
cipation quickly faded when, on 8 March 1790, the government decreed a
policy of non-interference in the slave trade, and placed the colonies under
the special protection of the nation, a testimony not only to the lobbying
power of the members of the Club Massiac, described with ill-concealed
sarcasm as men distinguished by their merits, honoured by the public,
and holding the highest ofces in the four most important countries of
Europe (vii: 1256),
but also to the surprising impotence of the Societe
des Amis des Noirs itself, which seemed unable to capitalise politically on
the subsequent disturbances in Saint-Domingue. These had accelerated
in October 1790 with the return of the young, Paris-educated mulatto,
Vincent Og e (a member of the Societe des Amis des Noirs) to the island to
start the wave of unrest that would come to a head in 1791 and result in
severe shortages of sugar and coffee in Paris.
Pressure on Condorcet and
the abolitionists mounted as blame for racial violence was laid at their door
by the Club Massiac. Following the events in Saint-Domingue of 22 August
1791, the Constituent Assembly witnessed a sharp confrontation between
An expeditionary force of 6,000 men was dispatched to the West Indies to enforce this decree.
Planter delegates had been sent to the 1789 meeting of the Estates-General, and six were allocated
seats (the rst time in European history when colonial representatives sat in a metropolitan legislative
assembly). Apolitically active groupof wealthy planters living inFrance, together withtheir merchant
allies, had been active in fact since 1788 in the Club Massiac. See A. Brette, Les gens de couleur libres
et leurs d eput es en 1789, La Revolution franc aise 29 (1895), 33445, 385407.
After the 4 March insurrection at Port-au-Prince, the Assembly conceded on 15 May equality with
whites to gens de couleur of free parents, but slavery was maintained. The massive revolt of slaves on
22 August 1791 that witnessed the emergence of Toussaint LOuverture inspired stormy debates in
the Assemblee constituante. One notes the subsequent feebleness of Brissots Discours sur un projet de
decret relatif ` a la revolte des noirs, presented to the Assemblee nationale on 30 October 1791. Biondi
reminds us (La Soci et e des Amis des Noirs, 1758) that one member of the Society, Bernard Sigismond
Frossard, even went so far as to dissociate the Society formally from the abolitionist cause in a speech
to the Convention on 12 December 1792, printed as the Observations sur labolition de la traite et de
lesclavage des n`egres ([Paris]: Imprimerie de Guefer, [1793]). Frossard was the author of La Cause
des n`egres et les habitants de la Guinee . . ., ou Histoire de la traite et de lesclavage des n`egres, preuves
de leur illegitimite, moyens de les abolir, 2 vols. (Lyon: Imprimerie de La Roche, 1789). The unrest in
Saint-Domingue was long-standing, of course. One of the most violent of the slave uprisings prior
to the Revolution, led by F. Macandal, had occurred between 1751 and 1757, and there had been
a particularly serious and well-reported revolt in 1769 when the Governor, the Prince de Rohan,
attempted to impose military rule. Condorcet commented on the reception in Paris of the news of
events in Saint-Domingue, and the resulting accusations levelled at the Societe des Amis des Noirs in
Troubles des colonies (x: 419).
New constructions of equality 157
Robespierre and Barnave
over the issue of abolition. In the event the
Assembly accepted the latters proposals, and on 24 September it decreed
that matters should be left in the hands of the colonial assemblies. In Trou-
bles des colonies Condorcet denounced this decree as an encouragement
to the whites to continue with black oppression, and bitterly criticised the
equivocations of fellow deputies (x: 421).
Attempts to restore order in Saint-Domingue failed, and many of the
planters despaired of Paris and turned to the British for help. In December
1793 the Assembly freed the slaves of Saint-Domingue who had fought
against the British, and in August of the same year L eger-F elicit e Son-
thonax was dispatched to the island to enforce legislation freeing all slaves
on the island. This historic decree was conrmed at the celebrated seances
of the Convention of 46 February 1794, a decree that owed proba-
bly more to panic and expediency caused by the military successes of
Toussaint LOuverture than to humanitarian concerns.
Nevertheless, the
1794 seances were a signal triumph for the abolitionists in a long and frustrat-
ing battle whose promising opening shots hadbeenredinCondorcets 1781
Reexions. Condorcets precarious position, necessitating his ight from
Paris at this crucial moment, prevented him from taking an active part in
the debate, although he returned to the issue eloquently in the Esquisse
where he predicted that the French constitution would one day extend its
principles of freedom, in spite of the resistance of tyrants and priests. At the
same time, as several commentators have noted, Condorcets liberalism in
the Esquisse was tempered by a measure of political paternalism reected,
to his discredit in modern eyes, in his assumption that progress with regard
to non-European cultures meant their absorption into European culture,
and their conversion to European values, an ideological neo-colonialism in
which these banks for brigands will become colonies for citizens, spread-
ing across Africa and Asia the principles and examples of European liberty,
enlightenment and reason (vi: 241).
Whatever the reservations, however,
Barnave had already succeeded on 8 March 1790 in persuading the Assembly to approve powers of
self-government for the colonies with a franchise based on property and the upholding of slavery.
This was soon followed on 28 May by an illegal proclamation of independence from France by
the Saint-Domingue planters. There was also a mulatto uprising in Martinique on 3 June. The
Og e-led mulatto rebellion was soon crushed by the planters, and Og e himself was executed in a
particularly barbaric way, but further disturbances, this time among the black slaves, were to recur
on 25 November.
On the resistance to emancipation, and the tactics used in the Assembly, see Troubles des colonies
(x: 41920). Cf. Davis, The Problem of Slavery, pp. 94, 112.
See, for example, Jurt (Condorcet: lid ee de progr` es, pp. 3934), who sees in the Esquisse un
n eocolonialisme fond e non plus sur l etatisme mais sur une id eologie lib erale tentant de se l egitimer
par lefcacit e economique de la mission civilisatrice. Cf. Merle, LAnti-colonialisme europeen, p. 197;
158 Condorcet and Modernity
Condorcets courageous record of opposition to powerful vested interests
in the name of justice, humanity and reason on the issue of black servitude
speaks for itself.
By the end of 1794 the Societe des Amis des Noirs was marginalised,
although it continued to exist under a slightly different name as the Societe
des Amis des Noirs et des Colonies, with different aims, under the leadership of
Charles-Bernard Waldstrom. The emancipatory measures of 1794 were to
prove fragile, moreover. The mantle of abolitionist leadership was assumed
by Gr egoire who would take the campaign on into the nineteenth cen-
tury, and whose reputation as an abolitionist would eventually overshadow
The slave trade was reinstated in Guadeloupe by Napoleon
in 1802, but Frances richest colony of Saint-Domingue, inspired by the
charismatic leadership of Toussaint LOuverture, gained its independence
as the Republic of Hati in 1804, two years after Toussaints death in the
fortress of Joux. However, it was not until 1848, more than fty years after
Condorcets death, that his vision of freedom for all black people on all
French colonial territory was nally realised, a liberation by degrees, as
he had recommended in his Reexions, but not quite in the way he had
the emanci pati on of women
The challenge of eighteenth-century philosophes to the rationale of sexual
inequality was by no means clear-cut and uncompromising.
The thirty-
eighthletter of the Lettres Persanes is not sufcient toexonerate Montesquieu
from charges of ambivalence.
Entries relevant to women in the
Encyclopedie are surprisingly conservative.
Voltaires article Femme in
Baczko, Lumi`eres de lutopie, p. 204. This reservation is reasonably deduced from the argumentation
of the Esquisse, but is challengeable as another unfairly anachronistic application of modern-day
perspectives and hindsight.
Gr egoire wrote prolically on the issue, his defence of racial equality being based, unlike Condorcets,
on theological rather than political grounds. His major works include De la litterature des n`egres (1806)
and De la noblesse de la peau (1826).
See particularly L. Abensour, La Femme et le feminisme avant la Revolution (Paris: Leroux, 1932), pp. 3
45; A. Humphreys, The Rights of Women in the Age of Reason: 1. John Dunton to Catherine
Macaulay, Modern Language Review 41 (1946), 257; D. Williams, The politics of feminism in the
French Enlightenment, in P. Hughes and D. Williams (eds.), The Varied Pattern. Studies in the
Eighteenth Century (Toronto: A. M. Hakkert, 1971), pp. 33351; D. Williams, Condorcet, feminism
and the egalitarian principle, Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture 5 (1976), 15163; B. Brookes,
The feminism of Condorcet and Sophie de Grouchy, SVEC 189 (1980), 297361; R. Niklaus,
Condorcets feminism: a reappraisal, Condorcet Studies 2 (1987), 11940.
The case is argued by R. F. OReilly, Montesquieu: anti-feminist, SVEC 102 (1973), 14356.
See, for example, the entries Femme and Mariage.
New constructions of equality 159
the Dictionnaire philosophique has an anthropological rather than a socio-
political emphasis, and contains few feminist overtones.
Rousseauist doc-
trines on female education did little to advance the case for sexual egalitar-
ianism and civil rights,
and much of the initial momentum for feminist
aspiration in the middle years of the century tended to come from the pens
of novelists, playwrights, journalists, pamphleteers and minor essayists.
Prior to Condorcet in the second half of the eighteenth century, key ini-
tiatives came from Diderot and dHolbach among the philosophes of inter-
national reputation. Diderots essay Sur les femmes (1772) and dHolbachs
Des Femmes (1773) can be seen in retrospect as two key documents which
explored the interplay between political structures, legal codes, social cus-
toms and the cultural and physiological factors that conditioned women
to their role. Unlike black slaves, whose inequality derived ultimately from
the prot and loss imperatives driving the world of international trade,
female inequality for Condorcet was related more closely to nature, and
in particular to the nature of women, and to the cultural circumstances in
which they led their lives.
In this regard his analysis coincided with that
of other Enlightenment thinkers who addressed the issue of sexual inequal-
ity. Diderot, for example, had identied specically some of the problems
imposed on women by the deceptions inherent in a monogamous culture,
with its peculiarly western notions of love and delity, by the harsh legal
constraints of marriage, the dangers and burdens of motherhood and the
cruel neglect of old age. DHolbachs essay, Des Femmes, published in the
third volume of Le Syst`eme social, ou Principes naturels de la morale et de
In the entry Homme, Voltaire saw positive moral advantages accruing to women as a result of their
physical and social inferiority, and his initially sympathetic approach to the position of women in
the section Memoire pour les femmes in the entry Adult` ere is more than balanced by his comments
on female indelity in the rst part of the entry. There are Platonic comments on the wasted
political potential of women in the section dealing with salic law in the Essai sur les murs and in
the Dictionnaire philosophique entry Loi salique. See also Voltaires defence of the rights of women
to an intellectual life in the dedicatory epistle to Alzire, dedicated to Mme Du Ch atelet in which
the case for intellectual parity is not quite stated. Voltaires correspondence is very reticent on the
whole issue. Nevertheless, Condorcet saw Voltaire as an ally in the matter of womens rights: one of
the men who has shown most justice towards them, and who has understood them best (ix: 18).
For a comprehensive account of Rousseaus views on women, see particularly P. Hoffmann, La Femme
dans la pensee des Lumi`eres (Paris: Editions Ophrys, 1977), pp. 359446.
See Williams, The politics of feminism in the French Enlightenment, pp. 33943. Feminism was
not used as a term in France until 1837, and in England not until 1848, see Niklaus, Condorcets
feminism: a reappraisal, 119.
La colonisation fait seule le statut des Noirs; tandis que le fait qui prive les femmes de lactivit e
au sein de la cit e parat lui, ne pas appartenir ` a lhistoire mais bien etre inscrit dans la nature. Ce
serait ` a la faveur dun contrat de vente et dun int er et economique national que les Noirs devraient
rester esclaves; cest parce quelles sont femmes que les femmes ne pourraient pr etendre ` a lautorit e
en aucune communaut e politique, savante, domestique, C. Fricheau, Les Femmes dans la cit e de
lAtlantide, in Cr epel and Gilain (eds.), Condorcet mathematicien, p. 359.
160 Condorcet and Modernity
la politique, avec un examen de linuence du gouvernement sur les murs,
advanced the case for female equality on a number of levels.
Foreshadowing Condorcet, dHolbach illuminated the deeply political
nature of female inferiority, at the heart of which lay the question of edu-
cation. Des Femmes presents an impressively penetrating analysis of the
pressures to which women were made vulnerable. As with Diderot, the
feminist polemic merges with broader issues. The social system, with its
legal, moral, political, religious and educational extensions, has poisoned
at source the citizens happiness. Marriage itself has contributed, through
its legal and nancial provisions, to the atmosphere of moral decadence.
Even with Diderot and dHolbach, however, the natural law factor, now
stripped of some of its mystique and honed down to its biological core
arguments, still intruded to the detriment of natural equality and natural
rights considerations, particularly with Diderot. However, while the full
implications of egalitarian notions continued to cause a measure of intel-
lectual discomfort, the logical political direction of the growing debate on
womens status and rights had been indicated.
The next crucial step was to be taken in the following decade by Con-
dorcet, arguably the most outspoken French feminist to defend the prin-
ciple of absolute equality between the sexes since Poulain de La Barre in
the previous century, and author of the rst serious essay on the political
rights of women prior to the Revolution. Condorcet had rst raised the
issue of this supposed inequality between the sexes in the context of edu-
cation in the Discours sur les sciences mathematiques, an address given to the
Lycee on 15 February 1786 (i: 4789), the year of his marriage to Sophie de
The main substance of his views on the civil status of women
is to be found, however, in the second eloquent and compellingly argued
letter of the Lettres dun bourgeois de New Haven ` a un citoyen de Virginie
sur linutilite de partager le pouvoir legislatif en plusieurs corps (Letters from
a freeman of New Haven to a citizen of Virginia on the futility of dividing
legislative power among several bodies), in the Essai sur la constitution et les
fonctions des assemblees provinciales, both of 1788, Sur ladmission des femmes
au droit de cite, written in June 1790 for the Journal de la Societe de 1789, the
notes for the Kehl Voltaire, Sur linstruction publique of 17912 and the 1795
Esquisse. As in the case of black servitude, in all of these essays Condorcet
showed that denunciation of an injustice was not enough. It had to be
supplemented by a rational demolition of the arguments propping up the
injustice, and above all by a programme of action calculated to remedy the
See Lagrave, LInuence de Sophie de Grouchy.
New constructions of equality 161
It was in the Lettres dun bourgeois de New Haven, one of his
most attractively written essays, that he rst formulated detailed proposals
for legislation relating to constitutional rights for women, and the essence
of these proposals reappeared in Sur ladmission des femmes two years later,
both texts anticipating the appearance in England of Mary Wollstonecrafts
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. With Strictures on Moral and Political
Subjects of January 1792.
The issue of equal civil rights for men and women extends over eight
substantial paragraphs in the Lettres dun bourgeois de New Haven, a text
that Condorcet almost certainly discussed with Paine.
In the opening
paragraphs of this part of the second letter (ix: 1420), the argument about
womens rights is framed by proposals of a more general nature relating
to the organisation of government, the parameters of executive power and
the modalities of decision-making. The second letter also incorporates a
comprehensive set of proposals relating to the reorganisation of constituen-
cies, representation in legislative assemblies, the mathematics of voting
procedures, taxation, security, foreign relations and war. The over-arching
principle informing all aspects of this important text is the prospective
establishment of a constitution based exclusively on those natural human
rights predating the pact of association and the civil order which gave them
formal political reality. From rights that were natural, in that they derived
from the nature of man as a morally conscious being, arose the civil right
to participate in decisions affecting the common interest, either directly or
indirectly through freely elected representatives: Do not men have rights
as sensitive beings, capable of reason and having moral ideas? Women must
therefore have exactly the same rights, and yet in no constitution that can
be called free have women ever enjoyed the rights of citizens (ix: 15). Citing
the American principle that taxation could only be legitimately imposed on
those voting for it, Condorcet argued that women, including unmarried or
widowed women, should theoretically have the right to refuse payment of
taxes. In the case of married women Condorcet accepted the existence of
a just and necessary inequality in the two-person society of marriage that
manifested itself on occasions when a married couple needed to speak with
one voice. The voice or vote of the married couple, however, need not
necessarily be that of the husband: It would appear much more natural to
Fricheau provides an interesting textual comparison of the sophisms identied by Condorcet in
contemporary justications of black servitude on the one hand, and the condition of women on the
other, Les Femmes dans la cit e de lAtlantide, pp. 3635.
E. and R. Badinter take the view that Paines inuence over the wording of the programme of reform
that Condorcet envisaged in the Lettres is quite clear (Badinter and Badinter, Condorcet, p. 234).
162 Condorcet and Modernity
share this prerogative, and on specic issues to give the major vote to either
husband or wife, depending on which is more likely to allow his will to
obey his reason (ix: 16).
After establishing the injustice of excluding women from full partici-
pation in the political process, Condorcet then examined the question of
the right of women to hold public ofce. The exclusion of women from
public ofce raised a double injustice, rst with regard to the electorate
whose choice was thereby restricted, and secondly with regard to women
themselves who were thereby deprived of an advantage enjoyed by others.
Condorcet sawno reason to exclude women frompublic ofce, and rejected
the traditional counterposition: But, you might say, would it not be ridicu-
lous for a woman to command the army or to preside over a court? Well,
do you think it necessary to forbid, by means of a specic law, everything
that might be an absurd choice or action? (ix: 1718). Women were not
perhaps suited to military duties, and pregnancy, birth and the nurturing
of children did make it difcult for them to carry out public duties without
some interruption, but the only real barrier to public ofce was their lack of
formal education, a deciency that was manageable. Condorcet dismissed
any case made for political exclusion based on assumptions of physical or
intellectual inferiority.
He was particularly concerned to discredit the lat-
ter prejudice, often expressed as an observation on the apparent absence
of women from the pantheon of great scientists and artists. He noted that
Voltaire thought that women possessed many talents, but that invention was
not one of them, and he observed drily in response that if public ofce was
open only to men capable of original thinking, then government depart-
ments and even academies would empty overnight. Many, if not most,
public duties did not require men of genius to carry them out, such men
being in any case better employed elsewhere.
Condorcets position shades at this point into angles of argument about
the female condition that link him to a level of feminist polemic to be
found in France only in the writings of radicals such as Olympe de Gouges,
Th eroigne de M ericourt and Etta Palme dAelders, whose voices were not
to be heard until a decade later. The apparent rarity of female creative
genius was not a fact of nature, or of divine ordination, but simply a con-
sequence of social and cultural pressures. The female mind was simply
awaiting liberation from opinion; What is more, the sort of constraints
whereby public views on morality grip the minds and souls of women
from childhood onwards, and especially at the point where genius starts
See also on this point the Fragment sur lAtlantide (vi: 632).
New constructions of equality 163
to develop, must harm progress in almost every eld (ix: 19). Moreover,
it would be untrue to say that no woman had ever broken free of these
socio-cultural and religious constraints, and Condorcet cited the examples
of Mme de S evign e and Mme de La Fayette, but surprisingly does not refer
here (though he does elsewhere) to one of the most distinguished female sci-
entists of the Enlightenment, Voltaires mistress and co-Newtonian, Mme
Du Ch atelet.
The unjustiable denial of the female franchise remained for Condorcet
one of the major charges to be levelled against ancient models of republican
government, its acceptance marking a crucial and real difference between a
republic and a constitution that is not free. At stake was nothing less than
the rights of half of the human race, rights forgotten by every legislator.
His commentary on womens civil status and rights in the New Haven
letters ends on a somewhat wry note in which he anticipated a lack of
sympathy for his views on the part of his female readers:
I am talking about their right to equality, and not about their inuence; people
might think that I have a secret desire to diminish this, and ever since Rousseau
earned their approbation by saying that they were made only to look after us, but
were t only to torment us, I must not expect them to support me. But it is good
to tell the truth, even if one exposes oneself to mockery. (ix: 20)
Many of the points made in the second New Haven letter resurface in a
seminal article, written in June for the 3 July 1790 issue of the Journal de la
Societe de 1789, entitled Sur ladmission des femmes au droit de cite (On giv-
ing women the right to citizenship), the society in question being in effect
Condorcets circle of aristocratic liberal friends. The Admission, foreshad-
owing in many ways John Stuart Mills On the Subjection of Women, written
some eight decades later, reects a convergence of French Enlightenment
feminist thinking with Condorcets main corpus of proposals formulated
for the constitutional management of the Revolution. As in the NewHaven
letters, Condorcet re-established the case for civic equality between men
and women rst of all at the level of human nature itself, as in the case of
human rights generally, thereby colliding squarely with the Panglossian all
is for the best objections of the conservative camp. He argued that what
men and women had in common as dening human characteristics was
more relevant to a discussion of their respective rights and roles than their
obvious differences, and in the opening paragraphs of the Admission he con-
fronted natural law theorists defending the status quo with the over-riding
In fact, Condorcet conceded the hegemony of male genius in the elds of science and philosophy.
164 Condorcet and Modernity
requirements of natural rights. He observed that by invoking natural law
slogans in this context legislators and philosophers had calmly violated the
natural rights of half the human race by denying them the franchise. Here
Condorcet underscored the recent historical irony that had allowed France
to have a Revolution in the name of equality for a few hundred men, but to
forget the plight of twelve million women (x: 121).
To justify what must
otherwise be called tyranny, legislators had to demonstrate that the natural
rights of women were of a fundamentally different order from those of
men. To do that, argued Condorcet, it would be necessary to prove that
the nature of the two sexes differed in ways that rendered women incapable
of exercising their duties and responsibilities as co-equal citizens.
Responding to his own rhetorically charged points, Condorcet insisted
that mens rights crystallised in a functional relationship to certain natural
qualities inherent in their constitutional make-up as human beings. Since
the humanity of women could be identied with precisely the same natu-
ral human characteristics, it must necessarily follow that the natural rights
accruing to one sex could be legitimately claimed by the other. Either no
member of the human race possessed natural rights, or they all did. He who
denied the rights of another human being because of religion, race or gen-
der, denied his own rights (x: 122). Having secured the moral high ground,
Condorcet then examined and dismantled the principal anti-egalitarian
assumptions, re-working arguments already deployed in the New Haven
letters, but with extended examples. He now gave much more attention to
natural law objections to female equality based on physiological consider-
ations. In the Fragment sur lAtlantide he would return to this issue, and
reiterate his objections to the false logic of a syllogism that linked physical
disadvantage to a corresponding intellectual inferority. While pregnancy
and child-care might make it more difcult for women to become a Euler
or a Voltaire, he noted, somewhat mischievously, that there was nothing
to prevent them becoming a Rousseau or a Pascal (vi: 632), and in the
Fragment he would comment at some length on the historical evidence
supporting a reappraisal of female intellectual energies and achievements
(vi: 6336).
Emulating Voltairean methods of attack, Condorcet demonstrated in a
style laced with irony and an abrasive faux-naf candour, already employed
In 1791 the amboyant revolutionary activist, and founder-member of the Club des Citoyennes
Republicaines Revolutionnaires, Marie Olympe de Gouges, published the most famous of her political
pamphlets, Les Droits de la femme, dedicated to Marie-Antoinette. The pamphlet was issued as an
appendix to the Declaration des droits de lhomme et du citoyen and the text closely echoes Condorcets
earlier comments on the omission of women from the 1789 Declaration.
New constructions of equality 165
effectively in the Reexions sur lesclavage des n`egres, the hollowness of the
premises upon which doctrines of femininity were based.
Points made in
the New Haven letters reappear with enhanced rhetorical ourishes: those
human beings susceptible to pregnancy and menstruation were as capable
of fullling their civic responsibilities as those who were susceptible to gout
every winter and to colds throughout the year. If men enjoyed an apparent
intellectual advantage, this was not a consequence of nature andthe forces of
physiological determinism, but of unequal educational opportunities. The
argument that no woman had ever made a signicant scientic discovery, or
ever shown signs of genius in the arts, had logical force and coherence only
if full civil rights, including the right to vote, were to be limited to geniuses,
since the average male had no more intellectual claim to a privileged civil
status than the average female, and in many cases far less (x: 123).
In support of womens claims to intellectual parity, Condorcet reinforced
earlier examples of female achievement by pointing in the Admission to the
gifts of Elizabeth I, Maria Theresa and the two Catherines, who had all
proved that the necessary qualities of leadership and political courage were
not lacking in the characters of those women who were able, through
the arbitrary privileges of their birth, to escape the normal realities and
restrictions that governed womens lives, and actually wield power. The
issue was education, not nature.
Was it believable that Mrs Macaulay
could not have performed better in the House of Commons than many of
the elected members? Could she not have defended the Revolution and the
cause of freedom more convincingly than Burke had denounced it? Would
she not have been able to debate such questions as liberty of conscience
more sensibly than Pitt? Would not the rights of French citizens have been
better protected at the 1614 meeting of the Estates-General by Montaignes
adopted daughter than by Courtin, who openly believed in witches and
the occult? Was Mme Du Ch atelet less talented than Rouill e? Would Mme
de Lambert have authorised laws against protestants, thieves, smugglers
and blacks as absurd and barbaric as those enacted by the Guardian of the
For an excellent, comprehensive analysis of theories of femininity in this period, see Hoffmann, La
Femme, pp. 289352. On the physiological arguments, see especially pp. 175240.
In the Fragment sur lAtlantide, this point is central to the discussion on female genius: Women can
thus participate in the most important discoveries, even in those sciences in which those discoveries
are the fruit of profound meditation; genius in other sciences, as in the arts, does not presuppose that
sort of mental strength which seems to have been denied to them. But who knows whether, when
a different education has allowed women to reach their natural potential, that intimate relationship
between a mother or a wet-nurse and a child, which does not exist in the case of men, will not
become for women a unique way of making discoveries more important and more necessary than
one thinks to the growth of the human mind, to the art of perfecting it and to facilitating its progress?
(vi: 6334).
166 Condorcet and Modernity
Seals: Looking down the list of those who have ruled over them, we can
see that men do not have much right to feel proud (x: 1234).
Highlighting the copious evidence to the contrary, Condorcet acknowl-
edged the astonishing tenacity of the stereotypical myth that women were
governed by sentiment and impulse rather than by reason and logic, and
were therefore unpredictable, unreliable and possibly dangerous if given
political power:
Women are superior to men in the tender, domestic virtues; like men they love
freedom, although they do not share in all of its advantages; and in republics they
have often been known to sacrice themselves for it; in every nation they have
even demonstrated the virtues of citizenship whenever chance or unrest has caused
them to be brushed aside by mens arrogance and tyranny. People say that women
were never led by what is called reason, in spite of their great wit, wisdom and
an analytical ability that rivals that of the most subtle dialectician. This view is
wrong; it is true that they are not led by mens reason, but they are led by their
own. (x: 1245)
If women appeared to reason in a way that was different from that of
men, then again this was a contingent consequence of their moral and
social training, and symptomatic of their whole cultural and political
It has been said that, while they were better than men, softer, more sensitive, less
prone to the vices relating to egotism and callousness, women did not really possess
an instinct for justice, that they obeyed their feelings rather than their conscience.
This observationis more accurate, but proves nothing. It is not nature that is behind
this difference, but education and social life. Neither has accustomed women to the
notion of what is just, but rather to the notion of what is honourable. Far removed
fromthe worldof business andfromall decisions that have tobe made inaccordance
with the strict rules of justice and positive law, the things which preoccupy them,
and on which they take action, are precisely those things governed by feelings and
a natural sense of honour. It is therefore unjust to persist in refusing women the
exercise of their natural rights for reasons whose validity depends only on the fact
that they do not enjoy those rights. (x: 125)
In 1792 Condorcet devoted much time to the consideration of ways in
which a new educational system could benet women, and he approached
the issue of extending educational opportunities to women in the light of
a simple working political principle: Inequality of education is one of the
main sources of tyranny (vii: 171). In Sur linstruction publique (On public
education) Condorcet made clear that, among other rights which must be
granted to women in a free constitution, the right to enlightenment was
among the most important, and was in fact the right that held the key to
New constructions of equality 167
political and social equality. It was difcult to see why one sex reserved
for itself certain subjects of knowledge, and why subjects that were useful
should not be taught to both sexes:
Public education, to deserve its name, must be extended to every citizen . . . More-
over, it cannot be established for men only without introducing blatant inequality,
not only between husbands and wives, but between brothers and sisters, and even
between sons and their mothers. Now, nothing could be more contrary to the
purity and well-being of domestic morality. Everywhere, and especially in families,
equality is the basis of happiness, peace and virtue. (vii: 21819)
To substantiate his argument that women could prot from a scientic
training, and could themselves make signicant contributions to knowl-
edge, Condorcet cited the cases of Professors Bassi and Agnesi who, despite
their sex, had occupied respectively the chairs of anatomy and mathemat-
ics at the University of Bologna with notable success (vii: 221). It was
the female state of conditioned and regulated ignorance that engendered
inequality andcorruptedthe relationshipbetweenthe sexes (vii: 223). Given
the lack of suitable educational facilities for women, and the inequitable
laws, with their origin in force and their perpetuation in sophistry, women
were compelled to live in a separately ordered socio-political reality. They
were confronted with different problems, and their intellectual capacity was
directed towards different ends. Condorcets educational proposals would
make provision for the admission of women to all professions for which
they showed talent (vii: 216).
Condorcet reduced the problem of male resistance to the granting of
civil rights to women in Sur ladmission to that of a prejudice masquerading
as the public interest. It was in his view just another argument of con-
venience without logical or moral merit, but possessing concrete political
force and substance. It was after all in the name of utilite that French indus-
try was groaning in chains, that the African negro was enslaved, that the
Bastille was full, that books were censored, that torture and secret trials were
accepted (x: 126). He did not hesitate to raise the political temperature of
the debate over womens status by grafting on to it the most agrant aspects
of contemporary injustice and cruelty. A transformation of the female con-
dition in France would not, he insisted, be against the true public interest.
Women would not be distracted from their domestic responsibilities in
order to carry out their duties as deputies. The enfranchised wife would
not abandon her husband and children, any more than the enfranchised
farmer would abandon his plough, or the enfranchised artisan his work-
shop (x: 128). On the contrary, the fabric of society would be strengthened
168 Condorcet and Modernity
as women found political and intellectual fullment, and lost their sense of
Inthe case of women, Condorcet was just as concernedwiththe private as
with the public world, and it was with respect to the private world of women
especially that his political stance on their behalf generated a coherent set
of legislative proposals for the improvement of womens lives generally. The
necessity to protect at all costs the institution of the family, the sanctity of
marriage and its associated property and inheritance laws and the primacy
of the maternal role: these were all major weapons in the armoury of the
conservatives, permitting the invocation of natural law to conrm de facto
female dependency. Thus, arguing that marriage should be a civil contract
only, Condorcet pressed vigorously the case for divorce. The indissolubility
of the marriage laws spawned grave social problems: adultery, prostitution,
bastardy andpromiscuity. He proposedthat divorce shouldbe grantedupon
the recommendation of an advisory council consisting of relatives of both
parties, who would decide questions of alimony and custody of children.
Contemporary legal structures, class divisions and economic inequities all
underpinned the unhappiness of the citizen. Vicious and hypocritical sexual
attitudes were encouraged by that legal structure which, while preventing
divorce, upheld the harsh authority of parents to make unsuitable marriages
of convenience on behalf of unwilling daughters: I will then observe that
family upsets have their roots almost entirely in class distinctions, inequality
of wealth, the laws depriving children of the right to determine their own
lives without parental consent, and nally the indissolubility of marriage
(vi: 523).
Condorcet was an outspoken advocate of the right of women to plan
their pregnancies prudently, illuminating the issue of birth control in a way
that took him well beyond the horizons of his age (vi: 2568).
would return to the issue of birth control in quasi-eugenic terms that relate
the implications of unlimitedpopulationgrowthtothe prospects for human
happiness and even survival in the tenth epoque of the Esquisse where he
anticipates a future in which the primary obligation of men and women
towards their offspring is not merely to give them life but happiness, and
not the puerile notion of lling the earth with useless, unhappy beings.
See A. Chamoux and C. Dauphin, La Contraception avant la R evolution francaise, Annales:
Economies, Societes, Civilisations 24 (1969), 66284. Cf. J. Huxley, A factor overlooked by the
philosophes: the population explosion, SVEC 25 (1963), 8613. Writing in 1778, Auget de Montyon
could report that the use of birth control techniques, other than self-induced abortion (punishable
by death), was widespread, even among peasant women, see A.-J.-B. Auget de Montyon, Recherches
et considerations sur la population de la France (Paris: Mourard, 1778), p. 102.
New constructions of equality 169
There could be a limit to resources and in consequence a need to limit
population growth if that premature process of destruction so contrary to
nature and to the social prosperity of a proportion of those already living is
not to be the result (vi: 258). Here the warnings soon to come fromThomas
Malthus in his classic statement of the problem in the Essay on Population
of 1798 are clearly anticipated.
Meanwhile, to solve more pressing and
immediate problems facing women in this context, Condorcet proposed
the establishment of special hospitals for unmarried pregnant girls to which
they could go without incurring the usual penalties for their condition, and
he was concerned equally with the plight of their illegitimate children (viii:
4656). Nowhere does he advocate abortion.
As with political freedom, women had the right to sexual freedom, and
Condorcet saw the manipulation of sexual attitudes and fears historically
as one of the root sources of power, and of its abuse. He took the view
that women had been penalised for their sexuality by church and state
alike yet, as he observed in his notes for the Kehl Voltaire, the confessors
of kings had done more damage to the civil order than any royal mistress.
Rigidly enforced sexual codes for women were the surface manifestation
of an inhumane and decadent alliance between the temporal and the spir-
itual, producing always repressive political systems (iv: 21218). No virtue
was easier, or appeared easier, to practise than chastity, but chastity was
compatible only with the absence of real virtue and the presence of every
vice. From the moment that chastity was considered to have moral sig-
nicance, every scoundrel was assured of obtaining public esteem at little
expense. In countries which boasted strict sexual codes, every crime and
debauchery were sure to be prevalent (iv: 218).
For Condorcet, the relationship between the sexes was a key element in
the owering of a progressive political and moral order, yet because of the
fears, prejudices and distortions that existed and were exploited within that
relationship, reasonhadnot beenallowedtoprevail. Behindthe abstractions
of philosophical argument, Condorcet was able to perceive individual men
andwomen, andtheir problems, inanhonest, humanandabove all practical
way. His feminist sympathies, his view on human nature generally, on
mercantilism and free trade, on the slave trade, on religious minorities
and on political institutions and processes are all interlinked aspects of a
wide-ranging meditation on human progress and a comprehensive vision
See M. Baridon, Malthus, Condorcet et le probl` eme de la pauvret e, SVEC 311 (1993), 27585;
A. B ejin, Condorcet pr ecurseur de leug enisme r epublicain, Histoire, economie, societe 7 (1988),
34754; A. B ejin, Condorcet pr ecurseur de leug enisme, in Cr epel and Gilain (eds.), Condorcet
mathematicien, pp. 16873.
170 Condorcet and Modernity
of modernity.
To destroy the laws that militated against womens natural
rights was part of a mosaic of argument that attacked simultaneously the
commercial doctrines that were strangling Frances trade and economic
prosperity, guild regulations that denied the working man the fruits of
his labour, censorship that suppressed free thought, sexual attitudes that
debased human values,
all serving in the end only vested interests. In
a century which had perfected the use of galanterie and sentimentality to
disguise the chains of an uncompromising subjugation, Condorcet was
able to see woman as a free personality, an etre sensible no less capable of
rational thought and action than man, and with moral, intellectual and
political dimensions to her role as a citizen under a free constitution and
as an authentic agent of enlightenment (vi: 6323).
Condorcet injected explicitly feminist elements into his dream of human
progress and perfectibility, and of mans potential to order society rationally
and justly. Sur ladmission des femmes au droit de cite made a considerable
impact on contemporaries. Political leaders remained silent, however, in the
face of a challenge that was too radical. Nevertheless, the fact that the 1791
constitutionestablishedmarriage as a civil contract, andthe fact that divorce
was recognised by the Convention on 20 February 1792 with a decree which
also allowed women to appear in civil suits, marked small moments of
triumph for Condorcet. Surprisingly, however, the Projet de constitution that
he presented to the Convention on 15/16 February 1793 is silent on the key
constitutional issue of female suffrage.
The new order of the Revolution
was to be resolutely masculine, and after the Revolution the 1804 Civil
His feminism . . . is part of a consistent philosophical stance and the logical outcome of his
rationalism, Niklaus, Condorcets feminism: a reappraisal, 121.
Condorcet dismissed, for example, the moral argument linking immoral literature to immoral
behaviour the satellites of Cromwell did not have to carry indecent books in their saddlebags to
inspire them to commit atrocities (iv: 89). He also argued the case against police harassment of
prostitutes (viii: 46970), and he denounced the barbarous laws against homosexuals (iv: 561). See
Schapiro, Condorcet, pp. 1925.
Niklaus explains this lapse as the price [Condorcet] had to pay for participation in political life, along
with other men of principle commonly unwilling to compromise. Condorcets integrity, however,
should not be called into question (Niklaus, Condorcets feminism: a reappraisal, 122). With regard
to the tactical and pragmatic issues involved, Faur e draws attention to the relevance of the calculus
of probabilities: En l etat, les femmes ne poss edaient pas en nombre les moyens culturels n ecessaires
` a lexercice de la souverainet e nationale. Leur situation dignorance les exposait aux manipulations
politiques les plus grossi` eres. L egalitarisme que pr onait Condorcet supposait une th eorie reposant
sur la loi des grands nombres. Le petit nombre des femmes emancip ees, capables dexprimer en
toute ind ependance un point de vue, ne pouvait entrer dans ce calcul. De ce fait, la gent f eminine
etait priv ee de jouer sur les causes qui rendaient conjecturellement impossible son admission dans la
cit e rationnelle. Lamoureux du calcul des probabilit es qu etait Condorcet sopposait ` a une logique
purement juridique de l egalit e, indiff erente aux nombres, C. Faur e, La Pens ee probabiliste de
Condorcet et le suffrage f eminin, in Cr epel and Gilain (eds.), Condorcet mathematicien, pp. 3534.
New constructions of equality 171
Code would formally deny women the political rights that Condorcet
had claimed on their behalf, with the result that his great vision of the
common rights of men and women as the building-blocks of a modern
constitution was destined to remain yet another vision whose time had not
yet come. No legislature in 1790 was open to argument about equal civil
rights for women, andevenCondorcet couldnot envisage womenexercising
the rights of equal civil status until equal educational opportunities had
prepared them for it. Almost a hundred and fty years would have to pass
before proposals to admit women fully to membership of the civil order,
and in particular to extend to women the right to elect representatives
to the National Assembly, would acquire the legislative reality for which
Condorcet tirelessly campaigned.
chapter 7
Justice and the law
ci vi l laws and ci vi l ri ghts
Condorcet wrote prolically on the natural origins of justice and the law.
Surprisingly, however, he did not in the end bring his thoughts together
in a single systematically argued work dedicated exclusively to the subject
of legislation and the art of jurisprudence, although from the evidence of
manuscript fragments it is clear that he did plan such a work.
Had he
written it, he would certainly have paid some attention to the natural set-
ting against which the evolution of civil and criminal law codes could be
envisaged, and the relationship of this natural setting to the authenticating
principles of law-making and law-enforcement in modern nation-states.
As we have seen, natural communal life originated, in Condorcets view,
in the interaction of pain and pleasure experienced through the senses by
the individual organism with the external world to produce an awareness
of communal contexts and needs.
From this sensation-based awareness of
communal need the natural order retained a measure of authority in the
process of transition from nature to the civil order. The immutable laws
of nature, too often unrecognised by reason and universal law, were still
relevant to the formulation of moral and judicial codes.
The dispensations
of natural law continued to underpin those codes, and conferred ultimate
legitimacy on human rights and needs. Only by retaining the crucial link
between nature, human nature, rights, needs and the institutions of the civil
order could the law continue to embody the immutable laws of natural
BIF Condorcet MS 857, ff. 10451, 47, 634. Cf. Baker, Condorcet, p. 445 n. 88. For Condorcets
detailed proposals to amend the criminal code, see the Essai sur quelques changements ` a faire dans les
lois criminelles de France printed by Cahen, Condorcet, Appendix 1, pp. 54959.
On mans transition from nomadic individualism to the rst stages of civil society see the Esquisse (vi:
1114), and above pp. 467, 6971. Condorcet also reected on the relationship between justice and
laws in primitive times in the commentary to the preambule of Sur les moyens de traiter les protestants
franc ais comme des hommes sans nuire ` a la religion catholique (v: 4627).
See also Condorcets commentary on the relationship between nature and social/moral structures in
the Exposition et motifs du plan de constitution (xii: 366).
Justice and the law 173
justice, ensure the creation of an effective and equitable criminal code and
deploy the nations economic and human resources to maximum advan-
Only then could the law also ensure that a societys political life, the
exercise of power, the duties of public ofce, the role of the police, the
business of the courts, were dened and conned within an overarching
framework of natural rights: Thus it is not enough for society to be gov-
erned by law; that law must be just. It is not enough for individuals to obey
the law; the law itself must conform to what is required to maintain the
rights of each individual (iv: 620).
While the authority of the law derived from natural needs and rights,
this authority had soon been obscured as the early peuplades evolved, and
the seeds of error had been sown. The lesson of history in the context of the
law was simple for Condorcet: as with the constitution, the law required
subjection to constant vigilance if the seeds of error were not to ourish in
the modern world as they had so clearly ourished in the old.
To this end,
the role of public opinion in the process of political vigilance in the modern
state was crucial. Public opinion was often associated with the General Will
in an unmediated form in Condorcets thought through which rights and
needs could be given legitimate, practical expression in the absence of a
rationally and equitably ordered franchise. This could be in the form of
protest, dissidence or even insurrection. Free expression of public opinion
was the precious channel for public participation in law-making, and above
all in law reform, though only when informed and shaped by enlightened
leadership and example.
This last qualicationwas important, because Condorcet was quite aware
of the Janus-like features of the face of the people, and the difference
between the positive role to be played by informed public opinion and
the hideous tyranny that could be unleashed by mob rule. The voice of
the people had to be an authentic expression of natural need and will.
This last point regarding the impact of enlightened legislation on government policies is discussed
further in the Reexions sur le commerce des bles in the context of taxation, agriculture, education,
road and canal systems, and other aspects of public good infrastructure (xi: 1934).
As has been seen, the purpose of the civil order for Condorcet was rst and foremost the protection
of natural rights. He referred frequently to the danger posed to those rights by a badly dened and
inequitably applied legal code, see for example the Lettres dun citoyen des Etats-Unis ` a un Franc ais
(ix: 1001).
In his treatment of the growth of error in human affairs, Condorcet did not share Rousseaus reserva-
tions with regard to historical processes. This is not to say, however, that Condorcets historical vision
was not a profoundly Manichean one.
See also the Revision des travaux de la premi`ere legislature for Condorcets views on the reorganisation
of the National Assembly in order to achieve this (x: 3734). He noted in the Essai sur la constitution
et les fonctions des assemblees provinciales that the peoples participation in law-making would never be
a reality if not open to all (viii: 5567).
174 Condorcet and Modernity
In De linuence de la Revolution dAmerique sur lEurope he expressed a
profound fear of the tenacious hold of two thousand years of prejudice,
superstition, error and fanaticismover group mentalities, and he well appre-
ciated the ease with which, even in the ninth epoque, modern states could be
deected from the straight and narrow path traced by the immutable, but
fragile, laws of natural justice and natural morality.
Even an enfranchised
people, led astray by wrong policies, could match the worst excesses of
despots (xi: 2436). Nevertheless, enlightened public opinion could enable
legislators to recognise error, rediscover the natural bases of civil authority
and appreciate once again the relevance of the rights of man to the construc-
tion of the law, not as a theoretical set of propositions, but as an inescapable,
all-pervasive human reality. Enlightened public opinion reminded society
that the only true purpose of the law, and of political and social organi-
sation generally, was the protection of natural rights, and that the art of
law-making was the implementation of that purpose (vi: 1756).
Like many of his contemporaries, Condorcet saw the civil order as a
complex intersection of natural human realities and constitutional artice.
However, unlike Rousseau, he did not interpret that intersection in terms of
a clash of forces which were necessarily mutually destructive. The demands
of nature and those of society could be reconciled, and the rst step towards
reconciliation was to ensure that the law permitted the recognition of nat-
ural rights on a universal basis through a formal constitutional declaration.
Without such a declaration the legal and moral vacuumarising would allow
despotism to ourish, and Condorcet described the consequences of this
vacuum in the Idees sur le despotisme (ix: 14573). It was only in the light of
a declaration of rights that the people could properly assess their interests
with regard to the law: Everyone has an equal right to be informed about
all their interests, to know all truths (vi: 178). Only with the principle of
universality of rights embedded in the implementation of the law, reecting
the universality of human nature and human need, could the survival in
modern government of any respect for natural law be assured.
referred frequently to the relationship between the criminal code, natural
Condorcet commented at length on the ideal relationship between the law and morality in the Vie
de m. Turgot (v: 1956).
Lawyers had a vested interest in preserving a lack of uniformity and consistency in law codes because
they gave rise to more legal, fee-generating disputes. The problemwas particularly acute, for example,
in the context of weights and measures. See the Observations sur le vingt-neuvi`eme livre de lEsprit
des lois for one of Condorcets more detailed explanations of the advantages of a uniform and
simple jurisprudence (i: 37781). Cf. Alengry, Condorcet, pp. 74576; Schapiro, Condorcet, p. 119. Cf.
Bakers comments on Condorcets critical reactions to Montesquieus methodology, and in particular
Montesquieus approachto the invariability principle inlegislation(Condorcet, p. 222). For Condorcet,
Montesquieu had failed to dene with sufcient rigour the criteria for recognising a just law.
Justice and the law 175
law and natural rights (which could be infringed but never abolished by
the criminal code) in legal controversies in which he became involved, and
about which he wrote passionately in such pamphlets as the 1781 Reponse au
premier plaidoyer de m. dEpremesnil dans laffaire du comte de Lally (Reply
to Mr dEpr emesnils plea in the Comte de Lally affair) (vii: 258) and the
1786 Reexions dun citoyen non gradue sur un proc`es tr`es connu (Reections
of an unqualied citizen on a well-known trial) (vii: 14166).
In the introduction to the 1786 essay on the impact of the American Rev-
olution upon Europe, Condorcet distilled four fundamental natural rights,
fromwhich all laws would emanate. The civil and criminal codes governing
trade and commercial life, the establishment of the civil order, the insti-
tutions of government, the framing of the constitution, all stemmed from
the implications and constraints of the rst three rights, namely freedom,
property and equality before the law. The four basic rights were set out in
order of priority. The fourth right, that of participation in the enactment of
legislation, took Condorcet into more complex, controversial and certainly
more subtly argued, areas if only because it opened up the issue of the fran-
chise, with its exclusions and preconditions, and its assumptions relating to
public reason and public virtue. The accordance of the fourth right in the
form of participation in law-making and constitution-changing depended
for its success on an enlightened citizenry that understood its true needs
and the true nature of the liberty to which it aspired. Without enlightened
participation from below, the law would become the plaything of a corrupt
judiciary, ruthless magistrates and unbridled vested interests.
participation from below was for Condorcet the means to ensure that the
rights and needs derived from the nature of things and the nature of man
could survive in the legislation governing the civil order. Democracy was a
fragile and volatile commodity, to be handled with great caution.
The realignment of civil laws with civil rights was essentially concerned
with the quest for collective happiness, the ultimate justication for the
constraints on individual freedom in the civil order.
For Condorcet, how-
ever, the route forward in the establishment of a just code of laws did not
He dened the problem succinctly in 1788 in the Lettres dun citoyen des Etats-Unis ` a un Franc ais sur
les affaires presentes: In every civilised nation . . . there is no liberty and no enjoyment of natural rights
without enlightenment (ix: 105). In the Idees sur le despotisme he made it clear that the untutored
despotism of the people was to be feared, and he had much to say in that essay about the nature of
insurrection, law-enforcement and the art of controlling the blind forces of mob-rule (ix: 1614).
See Baker, Condorcet, pp. 21519; cf. Helv etius, De lesprit, pp. 322, 375. On Turgots opposition to
utilitarian doctrines, so inuential as far as Condorcet was concerned, see Baker, Condorcet, p. 443
n. 68. Utility was not the only criterion for legislation. In the Reexions sur lesclavage des n`egres
Condorcet insisted that there were situations when the states interests must give way to those of the
individual (Reexions, pp. 1516); cf. Lettres dunbourgeois de NewHaven ` a uncitoyen de Virginie (ix: 3).
176 Condorcet and Modernity
lie in an informal reconciliation of conicting interests, but in a formal
recognition of rights. This was the principle at the heart of the sixth arti-
cle of the Essai sur la constitution et les fonctions des assemblees provinciales
(viii: 496). Without that formally declared recognition, civil and criminal
law codes existed in a moral vacuum with the result that national character
risked being debased and individual morality undermined, a double danger
to which Condorcet drew attention in the Vie de m. Turgot:
By bringing men together, society increases the inuence of each on the happiness
of each; and while, strictly speaking, [civic] duties can be reduced to justice, that is
to say to a duty not to infringe the natural rights of others, fromthat inuence duties
of another kind must have emerged urging us to contribute to the happiness of
others. The reward for these virtues is to be found in our hearts and in the goodwill
of our neighbours . . . But in general these same private virtues, which embody
what we call customs, have not been put into practice in any nation. (v: 194, 195)
The moral nature of the civil order had not so far been fully realised
precisely because lawcodes had come into existence simply as an expression
of the despotic will of the strong over the weak, of men over women, of
fathers over children, of masters over slaves, of the rich over the poor: It
is the case that everywhere the law has attered humanitys vices instead of
repressing them. . . As a true mirror for vanity, the lawhas divided men into
orders, into classes, and has contradicted nature which tends to unite them
(v: 195). The law was thus rooted in vice not virtue, as Turgot had clearly
understood. Man was a sentient being, with natural needs developing as a
function of that sentience, to which the lawshould be a direct response. The
legislative provisions of the civil order should derive froman understanding
on the part of legislators of that crucial interaction between individuals
and institutions which together create the public realm where the public
and the private co-exist. This was the public political space in which the
pursuit of happiness was undertaken as a collective enterprise arising from
an awareness, shared between government and the governed, of the rights
and of the responsibilities of all parties to the pact of association.
The link between the individual citizen and the law was thus dynamic
rather than static, affective as well as jurisdictional. In the 1790 Disserta-
tion philosophique et politique, ou Reexions sur cette question: sil est utile
On the other hand, the objective of the law was to make citizens behave, not necessarily as they
would wish to behave as individuals, but as the general will and the rule of reason required them to
behave: The law can have only one objective: to govern the way in which the citizens of a state must
act on those occasions when reason requires them to conduct themselves, not in accordance with
their own opinion and will, but in accordance with the common rule (ix: 3). When the individual
submits his will to a law of which he personally disapproves, he is not acting against reason but in
accordance with it. Public participation in the evolution of the lawenabled individuals to understand
the relationship between the individuals will and that of the collectivity (vi: 2623).
Justice and the law 177
aux hommes detre trompes? (A philosophical and political essay, or reec-
tions on this question: is it useful for men to be deceived?) Condorcet also
developed views on the moral implications of political life in his biogra-
phy of Turgot, with its reiterated references to the ways in which the law
extended to the inner life of the citizen. Condorcet never failed to stress
the moral, sense-related dimension of the law, and the implications of this
for national, as well as individual character: Thus it is only because insti-
tutions are bad that people are so often inclined to steal (v: 362). The
diagnosis of this fatal degeneration of the law as a consequence of its link
with the nature of man having been lost since the time of the ancients is
also to be found in many of Condorcets eloges of great academicians, and
it was a recurring feature of his observations on the twenty-ninth book of
Montesquieus De lesprit des lois
of 1780 where he reected on the place of
truth in judicial processes (i: 363), and questioned Montesquieus reluctance
to raise the moral issue of justice or injustice with regard to the laws that
he discussed. The issue was particularly acute in respect of Montesquieus
apparent acceptance of the use of torture in judicial proceedings: Never
any analysis, discussion or precise principle (i: 365, 367).
If France was
still in a semi-barbarous state, it was in part because judicial punishment
was perceived as an act of vengeance rather than justice,
and Condorcet
condemned Montesquieu for accepting unconditionally the perpetuation
of legal systems that appealed to the worst in human nature (i: 3725).
See Williams, Condorcet and the art of eulogy, pp. 36380.
Catherine II rejected advice to retain torture for the crime of l`ese-majeste, and removed torture from
the judicial process altogether: A sovereign dared to do more than a philosopher ever dared to say
(iv: 571).
Judicial punishments had a deterrent purpose, but Condorcet also emphasised rehabilitation as an
element to consider in the treatment of criminals. On the advantages of making convicts work
productively instead of languishing in prison, see iv: 392. On the obligations of courts, and the
purpose of the criminal code in this respect, see also the Vie de m. Turgot (v: 18692).
Like Beccaria, Condorcet thought that punishment must be proportionate to the offence, and linked
to the nature of the crime rather than to the personal circumstances of the criminal. In his notes
for the Kehl Voltaire, he denounced the punishments reserved for offences that in his view were
moral rather than civil crimes such as adultery, bigamy, suicide and sodomy (iv: 326, 363, 561,
5636). Crimes which societies have the right to punish must be actions harmful to society. Their
punishment must be proportionate to the harm that they might do in the sense that it must not
go beyond the harm already done (BIF Condorcet MS 857, ff. 1415). None of these religious or
sexual crimes had any effect on public order. He was particularly concerned with the punishment for
infanticide and the operation of the medieval pregnancy laws that went back to the government of
Cardinal Bertrand, Henri IIs Chancellor (v: 564), and had much to say about the establishment of
hospices for women to alleviate the problem. Among the sexual crimes that fell into the moral rather
than criminal category, the exception was rape (v: 577). On Beccaria and the advances made by the
application of science to the law, see the Lettres au roi de Prusse (i: 315). Condorcet knew Beccaria
personally, the latter being a member of Sophie de Grouchys salon. For further commentary on
judicial punishments, see also the Vie de m. Turgot (v: 190) and the Fragments sur la liberte de la presse
(xi: 2557).
178 Condorcet and Modernity
the case for j udi ci al reform
In no other area, other than that of the constitution itself, was the moral
challenge to modernity more acute, and seemingly intractable, than in
the area of criminal codes and judicial reform. In the 1776 Reexions sur
le commerce des bles Condorcet set out the minimal conditions for good
legislation, illuminating simultaneously by inference the deciencies of
ancien regime legal structures and practice.
Laws affecting the life and
deathof every citizenmust be framedinways that are clearly understandable
to the citizen; the citizen should not have to be wealthy in order to have
recourse to the law to protect his property; the rights of the poorest citizen
to the ownership of his possessions should no longer be legally vulnerable;
no citizen should be deprived of the right to legal redress to resist the
chicaneries of those who threaten his ruination simply because recourse
to the law is beyond his means. Criminal procedures should no longer
be held in camera; due process should not be biased against the accused;
torture should be abolished as a means to establish guilt or innocence.
Sentences should be in accordance with a precisely framed penal code and
no longer dependent on judicial whim; cruel punishments should cease to
be regarded as an effective deterrence (xi: 1912). Condorcet envisaged a
system in which rank offered no protection from due process, in which the
right to judge others was not the exclusive prerogative of a corps; in which
judges were accountable, and court procedures transparent so that criminal
courts are the peoples consolation and no longer its dread. Condorcets
commentary on the law in the Reexions sur le commerce des bles, while
targeting particular injustices relating to the grain trade, reected also his
characteristic concern, not so much with the technicalities of jurisprudence
per se in isolation fromother aspects of political and social policy, but rather
with the tangible realities of the impact of the law on daily life.
The prospects for the admission of the concept of rights into French
legislation looked particularly bleak in 1775 when Condorcet published one
of his most important statements on unnatural legislation, the Reexions
sur la jurisprudence criminelle (Reections on criminal law). The Reexions
interlocked closely with observations on natural and unnatural laws which
His view of the legal system of the ancien regime was quite simply that it represented the victory of
force over justice and rights in the interests of the few. Only through the actions and writings of
the philosophes had that victory been tempered by the assertion of the authority of natural, universal
moral laws, see Sur le sens du mot Revolutionnaire (xii: 61819).
In particular, this operational perspective also informed the formulation of amendments to the
criminal code to be found in the Essai sur quelques changements ` a faire dans les lois criminelles de
France (see Cahen, Condorcet, Appendix 1).
Justice and the law 179
he would expound at greater length thirteen years later in the Essai sur
la constitution et les fonctions des assemblees provinciales. The overt point at
issue in the Reexions is the salt-tax, the gabelle, but the covert issue was
the nature of crime itelf. This attack on a set of laws which met all the
conditions of unnatural legislation set out in the Essai is conducted in the
form of a trenchant, deeply ironic commentary on quotations from eight
articles forming part of the judicial code relating to punishments under the
salt-tax laws, followed by a second commentary on six articles on aspects
of judicial procedure, and a third commentary on the role of magistrates
charged with the responsibility of convictions.
Like the laws relating to
the grain trade, the salt laws held particular interest for Condorcet as they
brought together issues of scal policy with those of policing, public order
and public happiness. They also illuminated the importance of the two
principal criteria for natural legislation: need and usefulness.
Two vital questions are asked in Condorcets reections on the restric-
tions relating to trade: what makes a good law, and what is the test of
good legislation? He noted that few professors of jurisprudence had been
willing to risk their reputations by identifying a specic model of good
law-making, or even of a good law-maker. He proposed, tongue in cheek,
to rise to that challenge in the Reexions, and to illustrate both good law-
making and a good law-maker in the form of the great Colberts gabelle.
What Condorcet actually believed to be one of the most agrant examples
of unnatural, ancien regime legislation is then declared to be one of the
masterpieces of the immortal Colbert,
whose great virtues and rare genius
made France happy, as we all know (vii: 5). The purpose of good legis-
lation was clearly to prevent crime as well as punish criminals, and what
worse crime was there than that of the enormous crime of faux-saunage,
and what better way of preventing a crime of human l` ese-majest e than the
On the public duty of magistrates to serve the interests of the people, and the danger of sectarian
zeal adversely affecting judicial zeal, see also the Eloge de Michel de LH opital (iii: 4823).
Although Condorcet refers to the gabelle as being Colberts law, it was in fact a feudal law that
had been introduced by Philippe VI in 1341, with supplementary ordonnances in 1343. Colbert had
rened its provisions in May 1680 to increase crown revenues for example, by restricting the legal
provenance of salt destined for the Paris region, which had the effect of broadening the categories of
The others are the excise code, the tithe laws and the manufacturing regulations. These masterpieces
are familiar only to professionals; and among the writers who have praised this great minister are
some who have not read his works (vii: 5 n. 1).
The crime of faux-saunage involved not only the avoidance of tax through smuggling, but also
included the use of sel de devoir for the purpose of salting meat and other perishable food. The
gabelle was abolished by a decree of 21 December 1790, supplemented by decrees issued between
31 October and 5 November abolishing all internal customs barriers, making France for the rst time
an internally unied free trade area.
180 Condorcet and Modernity
salt-tax? Afootnote ensures that the irony is not missed with a sly denition
of faux-saunage as the illegal trade in the kind of salt to which the gabeliers
have not added dust, or any other rubbish (vii: 5 n. 2). That the salt-tax rep-
resented an example of retrogressive, self-defeating disproportion between
crime and punishment, of legislative inefciency, scal damage, cruelty and
inhumanity, and of a law uncoupled from natural principles of morality, is
the indignant sub-text of the Reexions. In the commentary on the seven-
teenth titre of article 3 of the provisions for punishment of faux-sauniers,
Condorcet cited verbatim the shocking penalties for salt-trafcking: nine
years of galley service and a 500 livres ne for a rst offence, hanging and
strangling for a second offence, the severity of the punishment depending
on whether the criminal was arrested armed or unarmed, transporting the
salt with a horse and cart, by means of a boat, or just peddling it on the
streets (vii: 67).
Adopting the innocent eye stance of Montesquieus Persians, or a
Voltairean Huron ingenu, Condorcet then observed that it was difcult
to understand how such laws could be enacted against human beings by
other human beings unless either the tax-farmers did not consider the
salt-trafckers to be human, or the farmers themselves were not human.
However, the reader should not jump to false conclusions. In fact, the
Condorcet persona assures us, Colbert had allowed his humanity to get
the better of his wisdom. The salt laws were not severe enough, and when
Colberts successor, Chamillard, discovered in 1704 that salt-trafcking was
on the increase, he found himself obliged to extend the death penalty for a
rst offence to any group of smugglers numbering ve or more. Condorcet
traces the trajectory of increasing severity of the penalties passed by suc-
cessive administrations, demonstrating simultaneously the corresponding
decrease in efcacy of such deterrents in preventing the proliferation of the
Condorcet used the salt-tax laws in the Reexions sur la jurisprudence criminelle to raise the whole
question of the relationship between crime levels and the severity of penal codes (in particular the use
of barbaric methods of capital punishment), and like Montesquieu he expressed scepticism. In the
Esquisse he noted the mildness of the penal systemoperated by the ancients. In Rome, for example, if
the death penalty had to be invoked, it could be carried out only after recourse to a formidable legal
machinery of judgement and conviction, in which the whole people played a role: [The Romans]
felt that in a free nation this mildness is the only way to stop political dissent from degenerating into
bloody massacres; they wanted to correct the savagery of their customs through the humanity of
their laws (vi: 96). The debt of modern jurisprudence to the Romans is acknowledged in the Esquisse
(vi: 967). The Greeks also, for all their concern with the prosperity of the polity sometimes at
the expense of the individual citizen had felt, like Enlightenment philosophes, the need to inspire
public horror at the spectacle of bloodshed, respect for human life and contempt for inhumanity in
judicial procedures. In Rhodes the death penalty had involved no public spectacle (vi: 4601). In his
Justice and the law 181
Wise legislators would abolish cruel laws which inspire pity for the
criminal, and coarsen the civil order without reducing crime levels. More-
over, responsibility for judicial measures taken against the faux-sauniers was
entirely in the hands of monopoly interests, that is to say, the tax-farmers
themselves, who would otherwise stand to lose most from any repeal of
the gabelle. A Panglossian rationalisation is disingenuously offered: This
arrangement might appear hard, but it makes people feel more keenly what
an abominable crime it is to sell salt cheaply to the people (vii: 7). Thus far
had France advanced from the feudal darkness. In similar vein, Condorcet
extended a Panglossian pseudo-justication of the legal provisions of the
gabelle for ning, imprisoning or strangling offenders in the cause of salt
to other articles of the code affecting the circumstances in which salt could
be sold in Brittany, the provisions for ogging and galley service in cases
of non-payment of nes, the need for nes to be paid before any appeal
against them could be heard, the penalties enacted against the families of
faux-sauniers and so on. In each commentary the most appalling features
of the gabelle are mercilessly exposed, the commentary on the seventh titre
of article 16, referring to the punishment of faux-sauniers under the age of
fourteen, being perhaps the most harrowing.
The Condorcet persona nally acknowledged that some people, under
the sway of thinkers like Montesquieu, Beccaria and Voltaire, might not
entirely share his admirationfor Colbert and the gabelle. They might say that
this legislation offended nature, reason and humanity; that its effect was to
kill off a lot of tax-evaders, but to perpetuate the offence, thus bringing the
tax-farmers into further public disrepute. They might see in the gabelle a law
that outed enlightened public opinion, and had been imposed without
public approval or consent. Enlightened minds might well think that those
who administer the gabelle were simply hired assassins, allowed to promote
their own interests in a way that clearly violated natural rights (vii: 212).
observations on the twenty-ninth book of Montesquieus De lesprit des lois Condorcet noted that
harsh laws should be mitigated, not in the spirit of moderation, but in the spirit of justice (i:
363). One crime that Condorcet picked out as being more effectively treated by the mildness of
custom rather than severe laws was duelling (iv: 397). Condorcet returned to the advantages of a less
severe criminal code in the Esquisse, where the issue is linked to the avoidance of political upheaval
(vi: 978).
Condorcets effective use of the language and style of Dr Pangloss is well illustrated in his precis of
article 6, relating to the punishment of minors for faux-saunage: Children will be imprisoned . . . in
a house of correction so that it will no longer cost the tax-farmers anything to feed them. From
this come two big advantages: the rst is that the tax-farmers have the right to keep in prison for as
long as they think t, on a diet of bread and water, the fathers of young faux-sauniers; the second
is that every child, used to the free and active life of the countryside, eventually dies in a house of
correction; all of which can only result in a major diminution of the race of faux-sauniers (vii: 13).
182 Condorcet and Modernity
To such arguments, three responses are offered in conclusion, of which
the rst two are mitigating statements of diabolical advocacy. The third,
however, was no mitigation at all, but signalled the entrance of the author
himself who proceeds to ll the moral vacuum created by the Condorcet
persona with deeply felt outrage. Many laws, like those relating to the
gabelle, Condorcet observes in his authorial voice, accord not with mans
nature and needs, but with one simple, expedient maxim: Let the weak
and the poor be sacriced to the peace of mind of the rich and powerful . . .
So let us leave our tax-farmers to enjoy the noble simplicity of Colberts
laws in peace (vii: 24). Thus has the whole human-natural setting for
true justice and good law-making in the ancien regime been subverted, and
replaced with the unnatural laws of privil`ege.The concept of what consti-
tuted a crime had been subverted,
and Condorcets mission as a social
scientist was designed to counter the effects of this historic subversion. The
sardonic closing statements of the Reexions sur la jurisprudence criminelle
gave the tax-farmers ominous notice that their time to enjoy the privileges
of Colberts law was running out. The covert broader inference was equally
unambiguous: the excesses of the gabelle, and of all ancien regime legislation
based on feudal privilege and narrow commercial self-interest, should only
serve to remind France of the claims that human nature and human rights
had over civil and criminal legislation.
the dupaty affai r
Among the pre-1789 writings that Condorcet devoted to establishing the
case for legal reform, and to a consideration of the practical measures that
Denition of crime. I dene crime in general as an external, physical act which causes serious,
obvious and immediate harm to one or several other individuals, committed deliberately and with
the intention of causing that harm. I say external and physical harm and not injury because in order
for an act harmful to another person to become a crime, the harm it does to him must infringe
his rights. I say that this harm is serious because minor harm cannot be the subject of criminal
procedures. A legal system which is too nit-picking would be a great evil; its laws would be less
respected, and in the hands of judges it would become a weapon with which they would be able to
strike down too many citizens; it would lead to tyranny. I say that this harmmust be clearly apparent,
otherwise the prejudices of every system would create a plethora of imaginary crimes. I say that the
act must be committed deliberately and with the intention doing harm. In other words, that the
guilty person should not only intend to do a particular physical act but should also intend the act to
be harmful, and for that the harm done must be the necessary and immediate consequence of the
act. In effect, as the law has been established only to maintain citizens rights, and as its sanctions
have as their objectives only 1. to deter crime by fear, and 2. to stop the person inclined towards
crime from giving in to his inclination, it follows that if one extended the law to acts committed
without any intention to harm, then those two objectives would be nullied, and the punishment
would be unjust (BIF Condorcet MS 857, ff. 1623).
Justice and the law 183
could be taken to remove the stain of inhumanity from the daily workings
of the French judicial system, two texts stand out. The rst is the Reexions
dun citoyen non gradue sur un proc`es tr`es connu which appeared on 11 June
1786. The well-known trial in question was the trial in Chaumont of
three individuals, identied in the text as Bradier, Simarre (or Simare) and
Lardoise, all accused of robbery with violence, and all sentenced on 11
August 1785 by the trial judge to galley service for life, in accordance with
the provisions of a 1670 ordonnance.
After a nal hearing of the case by
the Paris Parlement, they were condemned on 20 October to be broken
on the wheel. They escaped immediate execution only after the chance
intervention in dramatic circumstances of the President of the Bordeaux
Parlement, Charles Dupaty, who had been alerted to trial irregularities.
Dupaty duly published a report on these irregularities in March 1786 in his
Memoire justicatif pour trois hommes condamnes ` a la roue (A justicatory
statement on behalf of three men condemned to be broken on the wheel).
Condorcet knew and admired Dupaty, and he did not hesitate to associate
himself with the magistrates condemnation of these judicial events and the
campaign for reform that ensued. It was during this campaign that he met
Dupatys niece, Sophie de Grouchy.
The case of the three peasants was in his view yet another example of
the abuse of the court system by the parlements. In the Reexions dun
citoyen he resumes in solemn jurisdictional style Dupatys evidence regard-
ing the circumstances of the alleged crime, the lack of evidence against the
accused, details of judicial incompetence and the inadequacies of witness
Thanks largely to Condorcets public support for Dupaty,
the sentence was suspended by Malesherbes,
and the case was referred
to the Rouen Parlement for further review. The three accused men were
nally acquitted on 18 December 1787. Dupatys Memoire was nevertheless
condemned to be burned by the public executioner on 12 August 1786, a
development resulting in the appearance of another pamphlet relating to
For a full account of this affair, see Badinter and Badinter, Condorcet, pp. 21014.
On the impact of Dupatys Memoire, see M. Marion, La Garde des sceaux Lamoignon et la reforme
judiciaire de 1788 (Paris: Hachette, 1909), p. 35; P.-A. Perrod, Une contribution de Condorcet ` a la
r eforme de la l egislation p enale, Condorcet Studies 1 (1984), 17186.
On the issue of the credibility of witnesses, Condorcet reminds the reader in a note at this point
of Roman legal practice of differentiating between the accounts of witnesses made on the spot
immediately after the commission of the crime, and declarations meditees (vii: 146 n. 1). For the
amendments designed to resolve this problem, see Section ii of the Essai sur quelques changements ` a
faire dans les lois criminelles de France (Cahen, Condorcet, Appendix i, pp. 5525).
See Condorcets undated letter to Malesherbes, BIF Condorcet MS 854, f. 417. The case was given
further publicity in July 1786 by Grimm, see Tourneux (ed.), Correspondance litteraire, vol. xiv,
pp. 41718. See also Perrod, Une contribution de Condorcet, 17186.
184 Condorcet and Modernity
the affair by Condorcet, namely the Recit de ce qui sest passe au Parlement
de Paris le mercredi 20 ao ut 1786 (The story of what happened in the Paris
Parlement on Wednesday 20 August 1786) (i: 5047). The notorious affair
of the trois rou es was a particularly dramatic example for Condorcet of
the deeply awed nature of ancien regime judicial practice with regard to
the rights of the accused to a competent legal defence, and of the glaring
lack of accountability with regard to court procedures and decisions. In a
typical gesture, after their marriage Condorcet and Sophie engaged the son
of one of the accused peasants as a servant in their household.
In the Reexions dun citoyen Condorcet, in response to the Dupaty affair,
sought to expose in the formof ve Questions aspects of the case that contin-
ued to affect adversely the reputation of French courts. The ve Questions
relate to the impartiality and independence of witnesses, the conditions
under which testimony is admissible, the recording of procedures (includ-
ing statements taken from the accused under interrogation), the right of
the accused to be confronted in open court with the nature of the alleged
crime along with the evidence of guilt and the right of the accused to legal
In the fourth Question Condorcet also addressed the issue
of judicial accountability, and the crowns responsibility, sadly neglected, as
a nal court of appeal: And people have groaned at the sight of a nation of
Montesquieus, Voltaires, Turgots, Malesherbes, and dAlemberts obliged
to ask once more, not for a system of laws worthy of an enlightened people,
but just for basic human rights (vii: 153).
The dangerous inference of the
last Question was that in France, unlike England or Prussia, the King was
unaware of what was going on in his courts in his name, but Condorcet was
careful to place the blame for that on the system rather than on the King.
In France sentences were carried out so briskly that there was not even time
to obtain the signed consent of the King, or even to inform him of court
decisions: I do not know if many condemned men would actually prefer
The right to legal representation, and the elaboration of appropriate mechanisms to ensure that this
right bcame a reality in law, occupied much of the rst section of the Essai sur quelques changements
` a faire dans les lois criminelles de France (Cahen, Condorcet, Appendix 1, pp. 5512). See also the 1790
Reexions sur laccusation judiciaire where Condorcet tried to put his views on the protection of the
rights of the accused into practice against a background of increasing instability, and of growing
threats to the rule of law. In particular, Condorcet wanted to ensure that the National Assembly did
not arrogate to itself the right to judge criminals even in the extreme, politically urgent, circumstances
of counter-revolutionary insurgence, and a sense of national crisis inamed by the siren voice of
Robespierre and the hypocritical language of a false philosophy (x: 3).
In the Reexions sur les pouvoirs Condorcet was less positive about other aspects of crown participation
in court procedures, e.g. in the case of lettres de cachet (ix: 2735). With regard to the reform of
appeal procedures after the Revolution, he would make specic proposals in June 1790 to change
the role, workings and composition of appeal courts in Sur les tribunaux dappel (ix: 16773).
Justice and the law 185
a quick death to two weeks or a month of anxiety, but also of hope (vii:
Condorcet sawthe royal judicial prerogative as a useful constitutional
device to ensure that the accuseds right of appeal was a practical option,
and as a counter to the excesses to which permanent courts presided over
by permanent judges were prone.
Interestingly, prior to the Revolution,
the dispensation of justice was still for Condorcet an area in which the
monarch could exercise powers that would in effect provide a measure of
public accountability. If judges worked under the eye of a more vigilant
king, the people would have less to fear from judicial incompetence and
erratic judgements, harshness dressed up as a legal system.
there would be advantages for the monarch, who would necessarily become
better acquainted with the laws by which the people were policed in his
name: Those who would fear the additional pressures arising from these
details on a government already heavily burdened, would not be doing
justice to the Kings sense of humanity (vii: 156).
To the charge that humanitarian reform would lead to the guilty escap-
ing justice, Condorcet responded that this was already the case with the
rich and the powerful who had little difculty under the current system
in obtaining pardons or suspended sentences for the crimes with which
they were charged and found guilty. The effect of reform would be only
to provide the poor with the benets that the privileged already enjoyed,
and to deprive the parlements of the arbitrary power to hang or break on
the wheel without due process. Condorcet reected again on the lessons
to be drawn from the Dupaty affair, noting regretfully that this contempt
for the human race, for what it means to be a man, had not yet been
eliminated by a century of enlightened thinking. He noted further con-
temporary examples of comparably horric judicial failure, citing cases in
Lyon and Laon, and drawing particular attention to the on-going threat to
the children of Jean Calas, to the barbaric treatment of Lally
and to the
malignant repercussions of the La Barre case. The rhetorical temperature
As far as the death penalty was concerned, Condorcet remained an abolitionist, see the views
expressed, for example, in his notes for the Kehl Voltaire (iv: 3278, 406, 5023).
For proposed technical amendments to court procedures to help resolve this particular issue, see the
Essai sur quelques changements ` a faire dans les lois criminelles de France (Cahen, Condorcet, Appendix i).
On the responsibilities of the government with regard to state security and the preservation of public
order, see the Fragments sur la liberte de la presse (xi: 2557).
As an example of such judgements, Condorcet refers here to the court orders requiring the burning
of works by Rousseau and Raynal (vii: 154 n. 1).
The Turgot administration provided Condorcet with a model of legislative virtue from this point of
view, see the Vie de m. Turgot (v: 16, 689, 1812).
Voltaires was the only voice raised against the outrages of the trial of General Lally, see the Reponse
au premier plaidoyer de m. dEpremesnil dans laffaire du comte de Lally (vii: 2930).
186 Condorcet and Modernity
of Condorcets prose rises as he describes the horrors at Rouen where a man
suspected of murder had been tortured for six hours in the presence of his
wife and daughter, a sort of cruelty which has no precedent in the history
of the Caligulas, Neros and Domitians of this world (vii: 159), and the
insane savagery of the Caen Parlement which, with a judgement as awed
as that of the Chaumont court, had recently authorised the torture and
execution by burning of a young girl. The thrust of Condorcets attack on
rogue judges and compliant courts not only illuminated dramatically the
suffering of individuals, but also opened up the wider question of the harm
being done by the courts and their contempt for man to the stability of the
civil order: And these monsters, living out their turbulent lives under the
threat of the conspirators dagger, going from military sedition to provin-
cial insurrection, can still nd a feeble and horrible justication [for their
actions] in the madness of their arrogant pride, in the troubled nature of
their soul, and in the terrors of their imagination!
court procedures and the j ury theorem
The second, less impassioned, but arguably more important, text estab-
lishing the case for reform, is the sixth article of Part 2 of the 1788 Essai
sur la constitution et les fonctions des assemblees provinciales, subtitled Justice
et police, where the need to rebuild the legal system is even more urgently
pressed than in the Reexions dun citoyen. Without yet compromising the
defence of the monarchs judicial role, so central to his proposals in the
Reexions, Condorcet now emphasised the disdavantages of ancien regime
structures much more boldly, noting that France had a judicial systembuilt
during centuries of ignorance on the debris of its feudal past, in which the
courts were a threat to the property, freedom and security of its citizens,
venality and hereditary privilege governed the appointment of judges,
the exorbitant cost of legislation denied justice to the poor and the cruel
despotismof courts shed the blood of the innocent. When the lawoffended
so brutally the reason of all enlightened men,
then one cannot disguise the fact that these courts, these pretensions, these pro-
cedures, these laws, in a word the whole legislative system, are in need of great
reform, and that it is time for a new structure, built on reason, humanity and nat-
ural right to replace the remains of those gothic monuments built by our ancestors
on arrogant pride, superstition and contempt for mankind. (viii: 495)
In the Eloge de Michel de LH opital the appointment of judges was seen as the prerogative of an
aristocratic efdom (iii: 539).
Justice and the law 187
In Justice et police legal reform is seen as part of a broader constitutional
view of progress in which reform has important political implications, for
the new edice must be constructed not only on the rm foundations of
authentic legal principle but also on the will, participation and consent of
the people, acting through their elected representatives.
In this text Con-
dorcet gave much more emphasis than before to the role of representatives
in the provincial assemblies in the management of the machinery of the
law, and he was determined to place the case for reform of Frances legal
structure at the centre of an agenda for constitutional reforms at the meet-
ing of the Estates-General. Always aware of the need for tactical prudence
in the advancement of proposals for change, he was anxious not to alienate
the political guardians of jealously defended traditions and practices, and
he was careful to insist that no reforms should be enacted, even when clearly
in accordance with reason and natural law, without all cases for exemption
and special provision being given full consideration. As in the case of the
abolition of slavery, the pragmatics of gradualism were again uppermost in
Condorcets approach to the management of change: Reason must be rm
without being peremptory, systematic without being obstinate, inexible
and rigorously precise with regard to everything that endures, indulgent
and moderate with regard to everything that must continue only for as long
as it takes to bring in a new order (viii: 497).
However, tactical caution with regard to the implementation of reform
did not prevent Condorcet from making some proposals for change for
immediate enactment, the rst of which concerned judicial appointments.
He favoured a system whereby judges would be appointed by provincial
electors who, knowing candidates personally, would be better placed to
evaluate a local candidate in the light of basic requirements, namely his
integrity, his honesty and his education (viii: 498), thanremote ministers in
Paris acting onbehalf of a still more remote monarch. Judicial appointments
should not be in the hands of an exclusive corps, often with special interests
to protect, but rather made the responsibility of an electorate whereby the
public interest in seeing the best candidate selected would be assured, and
the danger of venality minimised: It is in the interest of electors, as it is
in the princes, only to make a good choice. If the prince must relinquish
that function, which he cannot in reality exercise by himself, it must be
necessarily given to men with the same interest and the same intentions as
he has (viii: 499).
On the involvement of the people in the enactment of legislation, see also the second of the Lettres
dun bourgeois de New Haven.
188 Condorcet and Modernity
Condorcet noted the practice in England and America of charging judges
with the task of explaining and interpreting the law, and juries with the task
of determining guilt or innocence. He thought that this clear separation
of functions, with juries nominated separately for civil and criminal courts
by provincial electors, as in the case of judges, would be a useful model
to follow. The underlying principle was always the authentication of due
process by the formal recognition of the location of the authority of the
law in the will of the people, expressed through their representatives in a
National Assembly. The removal from judges of the power to decide guilt
or innocence would ensure the emergence of respectable judges: A good
legislative systemmust make judges respected, but they must never become
feared; every judge with power soon becomes a tyrant (viii: 500). With the
adoption of elected juries, with jurists elected for xed periods of service,
rather than on a trial by trial basis, Condorcet felt that all the advantages
of the English and American systems could be acquired, and enhanced,
with the appointment of capable men who enjoyed public condence, and
whose decisions would benet from the accumulated experience of jurists
as different cases came before them. Their election by local assemblies
(provincial or district) would be a mark of esteem and honour, and a
guarantee of higher standards of appointment that wouldavoidthe arbitrary
and unpredictable workings of the English jury system.
In Justice et police Condorcet made detailed proposals relating to the
appointment of judges, the rules governing their powers, along with pro-
posals for administrative support, as well as a fail-safe system of measures
to ensure that judicial practice with regard to sentencing was in accordance
with reason and natural law, and that they were fully accountable. Quality
and accountability were paramount considerations in all these proposals:
For every court there must be a public part: two or three judges with deputies to
replace them when they are ill or when they die; sixty-four jurists, of which sixteen
could be challenged on grounds that need not be specied, and sixteen chosen at
random from among those not challenged would decide the outcome of the trial.
This number would sufce to establish all sizes of majorities needed for different
types of judgment, and is not so high, in relation to the area of each jurisdiction,
as to make it necessary to have recourse to the services of uneducated men. (viii:
If Condorcets aim was to ensure as far as possible the ability of judges
to pass just and humane sentences, he was equally concerned to maximise
the probability of juries returning just verdicts. Just as the efciency of
Justice and the law 189
the franchise would depend on the enlightenment of the people, so the
efciency of the courts would depend on the enlightenment of juries. In
criminal cases he recommended that at least twelve jurists out of sixteen
must vote for a guilty verdict in order for a sentence to be carried out, and he
saw no particular advantage in the English insistence on unanimity. With
regard to voting on juries, Condorcet believed that the key factor was the
absolute size of the majority, not the proportion of the size of the majority in
relation to the total number of jurors. The theorem thus required precise
arithmetical reference to a number rather than generalised reference to
a two-thirds majority or a three-quarters majority, and Condorcet was
always careful to apply that principle in the context of constitutional pro-
cedures as well as procedures in the criminal courts. In his jury theorem
Condorcet saw a way forward for the French system of justice that would
end current reliance on discredited practices.
In applying to the problem
of securing a just and scientically based verdict from juries the theory of
probabilism and its application to voting, Condorcet was reecting once
again his condence in the relevance of social mathematics to the moral
and social realms. The impact on modern jury theory of Condorcets jury
theorem has been considerable.
In the context of criminal procedures he would seek to apply the calcu-
lus to the evaluation of evidence and the denition of what constituted
proof of guilt or innocence in French courts, issues which had rst come
to his attention in the light of the verdict in the La Barre case. The La
Barre verdict, and others, including the conviction of the three peasants
rescued from the capriciousness of the courts by Dupaty, had convinced
Condorcet of the urgent need to reform a system still dependent on torture
and the medieval niceties of eighth-proofs, quarter-proofs, and half-
proofs. Evidence needed to be weighed in terms of a much more meaning-
ful mathematical language than that, if the guilt of the accused was to be
credibly ascertained. The more meaningful language that he had in mind
was of course the language of probability theory. A probable event was one
in which the number of combinations in which it occurred exceeded the
number of combinations in which it did not occur. The greater the number
of combinations in the rst part of the equation in relation to the number
in the second part, the greater the probability, and so on until the equation
In the Reexions sur les pouvoirs the right to be judged according to the law by legally appointed
judges is presented as one of the key guarantees of justice (ix: 2756).
See for example L. S. Penrose, Elementary statistics of majority voting, Journal of the Royal Statistical
Society 109 (1946), 537.
190 Condorcet and Modernity
eventually transformed probability into moral certainty. The point was
stressedat some lengthinthe notes to the Kehl Voltaire.
However, the ner
arithmetical detail behind Condorcets application of probability theory to
the process of assessment of guilt or innocence by a jury had already been
set out in the theory of voting contained in the seminal 1785 Essai sur
lapplication de lanalyse ` a la probabilite des decisions rendues ` a la pluralite des
voix. The laws of probability, combined with the increasing enlightenment
of the individuals involved, and an unshakeable condence in the existence
of objective moral truth, convinced Condorcet that decisions taken by
majority vote would lead to the right course of action being taken, whether
in National Assemblies or in juries. The degree of rightness would vary in
accordance with the degree of enlightenment and the size of the majority.
The formulae of probability relating to Condorcets jury theorem and
the mathematics involved in the assignment of values to the input of
individuals, the ratio of majorities to minorities in the number of votes
cast, and the calibration that can be applied to the probability that the
majority has drawn the correct conclusion from the evidence observed,
have received close critical attention from a number of social scien-
When applied to jury decision-taking correctly the formulae would
ensure theoretically that the probability of an innocent person being exe-
cuted was no higher than the probability of drowning when travelling
on a cross-channel ferry. However, as McLean and Hewitt have pointed
the stress laid on the key prerequisite for enlightened individu-
als to participate in the process of decision-making meant that it could
not function democratically. The dilemma posed by this lack of demo-
cratic virtue in the jury theorem was conrmed explicitly in a letter
that Condorcet wrote to Frederick the Great in 1785 in which he told
Frederick in rather obsequious terms that the happiness of the people,
who were still largely uneducated, depended more on the enlightenment
of their rulers than on the nature of the states constitutional arrangements
(i: 306).
Cit. McLean and Hewitt, Condorcet, pp. 323. In applying social mathematics to the legal and
philosophical areas McLean and Hewitt comment on its inappropriateness: Condorcet was subtle
mathematically, but not philosophically. He was a Platonic realist, believing in objective moral truths
(p. 32).
For a clear and succinct analysis of the mathematical detail of Condorcets jury theorem, particularly
with regard to the calculation of the thresholds of probability, see especially, McLean and Hewitt,
Condorcet, pp. 356. Cf. D. Black, The Theory of Committees and Elections (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1958), p. 164; B. Barry, The public interest, in A. Quinton (ed.), Political Philosophy
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967), p. 122.
McLean and Hewitt, Condorcet, p. 36.
Justice and the law 191
the regulati on of publi c li fe
In his relentless attack on the legacy of feudalism in the French judicial
system, arguably the most urgent of all the campaigns of the Enlightenment
philosophes, Condorcet pressed for the end of practices which undermined
public condence in the decisions of the court, weakened the authority of
the state, applied the full rigour of the penal code only to the poor and
ensured that the probability of a just verdict being reached was unacceptably
low: The only thing which gives a verdict authority, and the police force a
motive to support it, is the assumption that the soundness of the verdict is
probable. Now, by establishing one lawfor the richandone for the poor, you
expose the police on the contrary to the risk of supporting a verdict whose
unsoundness is probable (viii: 504). Condorcet questioned in particular
the legitimacy of remaining pillars of feudal justice, still protected by the
provincial assemblies, which were based on crown privileges such as rents,
seigneurial tithes on produce, seigneurial rights to the use of mills and
other facilities and equipment, perquisites of ofce, bridge and road tolls
and other forms of feudal taxation. Condorcet did not consider all these
examples to be necessarily harmful to the public good, and thought in fact
that the abolition of some anomalies might actually do more harm than
good. Most feudal legislation, however, clearly contravened natural lawand
natural rights, and merited a careful review.
To that end he proposed the
establishment in each province of an elected tribunal charged with detailed
re-evaluation of all feudal legislation (viii: 51012).
If the rst part of Justice et police is primarily concerned with the means
to restore justice to the French legal system, much of the second part
is concerned with the regulation of law and order. In addition to law
and order, the term police in this context also encompasses private and
communal issues relating to public safety and welfare:
It seems to us that by police we must take to mean that part of the legal system
which governs 1. the enjoyment of what we all hold in common, of what by its
very nature has no private owner; 2. the exercise of the right to property and to
liberty in those circumstances in which it does not affect the right to property or
liberty of others. (viii: 512)
By communal property, and the laws relating to this, Condorcet had in
mind here the peoples rights with regard to, for example, well-regulated
Condorcet does not present here a blanket condemnation of all aspects of feudal law, but among
the laws he thought could be immediately abolished without complication were, for example, the
requirement to obtain seigneurial permission to marry, the conditions attached to the purchase and
inheritance of property and the arcane laws affecting rights of ownership.
192 Condorcet and Modernity
amenities such as roads, canals, access to and maintenance of all forms of
public space. Police involved the precautions that must be taken to protect
communal well-being and security, and in this respect the laws relating to
police differed in scope and application from the laws relating to justice.
Both sought to protect the individuals natural rights, but the latter were
concerned with rights that derived from the natural order of things and
from the nature of man, while the former were more concerned with rights
arising from the nature and conditions of civil life in a social order derived
fromthe pact of association. Justice guaranteed the exercise of natural rights;
police related to the rules and conditions under which those rights were to be
enjoyed. Police would thus include, for example, measures to protect public
health arising from the poorly planned location of factories, to control the
diversion of streams and rivers affecting private property, to mitigate the
adverse effects of the demolition of buildings, and so on. The monitoring
of environmental threats to public well-being was thus as central to the
concept of police as issues of law and order and the prevention of crime:
If an activity, in itself innocent, might expose to some kind of harm, not
those engaged in it (for their lives and limbs are their own), but others who
are not doing anything dangerous, then freedomis not infringed when that
activity is banned (viii: 51314).
Public well-being, safety and the preservation of law and order were for
Condorcet aspects of the individuals right to live in a civil society gov-
erned by wise legislation. This required the state to provide as a rst step
an effective police force to prevent crime, to assist the victims of crime, to
identify the perpetrators and to bring them before the courts. Secondly, the
state was required to pass laws (prohibitions), drafted in response to need
and in the light of proven usefulness, which would ensure public safety
and public order: So you see that regulations regarding law and order are
necessary and, at the same time, that, as they tend to restrain natural liberty,
we must demonstrate and prove the need for them, if they are to be just
(viii: 514). The enforcement of law and order need not threaten individual
liberty, provided that the line of political accountability for that enforce-
ment was clear.
Regulations relating to law and order were the direct
responsibility of government, and their enforcement was the responsibility
of judges elected by local communities, and monitored by a police authority
also elected by the local community: A power divided in this way cannot,
under any form of constitution, injure either the rights of the nation, or
On the risk of the police becoming an instrument of oppression, see the Essai sur la constitution et
les fonctions des assemblees provinciales (vii: 51623); Sur letat des protestants (v: 474).
Justice and the law 193
the rights of any part of the legislative (viii: 516). The apparent tensions in
the social order between law and order provisions and the right to freedom
arose in Condorcets view mainly from ignorance of principles that might
otherwise reconcile them in ways analogous to the resolution of apparent
tensions and contradictions in the scientic world.
In practice, those tensions had not yet been fully resolved, and their
resolution would in Condorcets view require reforms in the management
of justice and police as fundamental as those he advocated for the reform of
the criminal code itself. Here, as in other areas of justice and the law, feudal
ordonnances still survived to the detriment of rights. Condorcet was also
worried by the dangers to liberty posed by the policing of the people intimes
of national emergency, when security regulations, passed provisionally to
meet a challenge to public order, tended to assume an illegal permanency.
Such regulations currently required the approval of provincial authorities
and of the Kings representative, but Condorcet felt that this was an insuf-
cient safeguard, and proposed that any policing laws passed in these unusual
circumstances should remain in force only for a maximum statutory period
of one month. In cases of urgent national emergency requiring extreme
security measures to be taken, Condorcet wished to see the promulga-
tion of any special policing regulations to be the direct responsibility of
the community assembly, and enforceable only for a period of a few days
(viii: 51819).
Most of Condorcets observations on the continuing subversion of jus-
tice and the rule of law in Justice et police are made in the context of urban
rather than rural life. However, in the closing part of Justice et police he
drew particular attention to the plight of rural France and the baneful
legacy of feudal legislation. The focus narrows to one specic aspect of
rural life which Condorcet uses as an illustration of the need for reform of
the law drawn from everyday life in the countryside, namely the hunting
laws and the rights and privileges retained by the land-owning aristocracy
over the lives, possessions and produce of their tenant-farmers. Reform of
the hunting laws was an example of the need on occasion, not for imme-
diate abolition of past legislation, but of the need to balance an ancient
right of the aristocracy with a new concept of rights in the name of justice
for all. Condorcet found in hunting a legitimate right that did not offend
natural law in itself, but where new legislation was needed to mitigate its
more damaging effects. The hunting laws deprived farmers of the right to
As with the constitution, Condorcet thought that no law should be permanent. In Sur la necessite
de faire ratier la constitution par les citoyens he suggested twenty years as being the maximum life
for laws governing the constitution before becoming subject to review (ix: 415).
194 Condorcet and Modernity
fence land, to crop grass, to work the elds at certain times of the year, not to
produce anything that might affect the taste of wild game which they were
compelled to preserve for hunting purposes. However, the case for reform
which Condorcet advances at this point is less concerned with justice and
individual rights and much more concerned with physiocratic considera-
tions relating to the modernisation of agriculture and the improvement of
the national economy.
As far as the individual was concerned, the case
for reform of the hunting laws was related to the need to protect the right
to property, and the right to enjoy freely the produce of property, one of
Condorcets four basic natural rights.
The narrow specicity of the issue sets this section of Justice et police
apart; to some extent it appears almost as a self-contained essay in its own
right. In fact, it enabled Condorcet to bring together themes that had
a broader relevance to the problems of regulating public order, and his
closing, summative commentary on the hunting laws, far from being a
distraction from the main lines of the preceding commentaries, brings into
sharp focus the social, economic and moral issues with which Justice et
police is concerned in general. His proposals would leave an ancient, but
in this case defendable, right intact, while resolving the problem of the
harm that right did to the rights of others, without any danger to public
order, and without having to fear the spread of a spirit of idleness, banditry
and savagery among the people (viii: 522). Justice et police offers in the
discussion of its concluding example of an ancient privilege in need of
attention from modern legislators a model of how to manage change with
minimal damage to individual freedom, and maximum advantage to the
public interest. It was an ideal which Condorcet would seek to apply in all
aspects of his thinking on the management of change.
The hunting laws amounted in Condorcets view to an arbitrary form of local taxation on which
he estimated the annual return to be in the region of 40 million livres, a cost to the farmers and to
the state that was increased further by the nancial burden of administering these laws, a huge loss,
particularly in the neighbourhood of the capital where land has a very high value, not to speak of
the cost of the guards who, as useless as those who guard farms, would together form a ne army,
and cost more than the highest paid soldiers (viii: 520).
chapter 8
Representative government
reform of the assembli es
Condorcets ambition to construct what he described in the Esquisse as the
edice of a society of free and equal men (vi: 72) was probably kindled
in the years following Turgots death in 1781, at a time when he was start-
ing to reect seriously on Turgots achievements, and on the lessons of his
own experience of public service during Turgots ministry. The Vie de m.
Turgot provided Condorcet with an early opportunity to set out in gen-
eral terms some of the operational principles of representative government
he admired in Turgots record of achievement as provincial intendant for
Limoges, and subsequently as Controller-General of Finance. In the brief
interval between the publication of the rst volume of his biography of
Turgot and the convocation of the Estates-General in 1789 he would work
intensively on the further renement of those principles. By 1788 he had
completed a comprehensive reassessment of ancien regime governmental
structures in a treatise, most of which was written at a time when royal
assent to a meeting of the Estates-General still seemed only a remote pos-
sibility. The treatise in question is the monumental Essai sur la constitution
et les fonctions des assemblees provinciales (Essay on the constitution and
functions of provincial assemblies), and it would be overtaken by events
almost as soon as it reached the printer. A presentation copy was sent
to Frederick II, together with an accompanying letter, dated 2 May 1785,
in which Condorcet famously declared his hatred for despotism. Despots
have harmed the cause of humanity, and their power must be opposed in
the name of human rights. At the same time, in this interesting letter he
expressed a more accommodating view of enlightened despotism, reecting
not only a need to be diplomatic when addressing the King of Prussia,
but also the distance he still had to travel in the mid-1780s on his journey
towards democracy and republicanism (i: 3058).
See also Correspondance inedite, ed. Henry, p. 145; Baker, Condorcet, p. 218.
196 Condorcet and Modernity
In the hastily composed Post-Scriptum Condorcet noted with some trep-
idation the implications for his freshly minted Essai of the news of the
impending, in his view dangerously premature, convocation of the Estates-
The Essai had been conceived with a view to examining the steps
which needed to be taken in order to modify the constitution of provincial
assemblies in ways that would harmonise their activities with those of a new
National Assembly in which quality and equality of representation would
be the constitutional centrepiece.
The fundamental reforms required to
bring about this harmonisation of provincial and national assemblies neces-
sitated a period of cautious and judicious public reection which would
now be alarmingly curtailed:
It would have been desirable, no doubt, for the nation to have had time to inform
itself of its rights and true interests . . . A National Assembly, prepared for by a pro-
cess of public education, would just have inspired the hope of certain restoration,
and not a crisis whose outcome is uncertain. Today, we have barely a few months
to disperse the cloud of error built up by several centuries of ignorance, habit, and
prejudice, and destroy the sophisms on which private passions and interests have
based their mistakes. (viii: 656)
The Post-Scriptum is in fact a tactical preface in which Condorcet sought to
reconcile the Essai with the urgent challenge presented by the forthcoming
meeting of the Estates-General.
In the summation of the fundamental precepts with which Condorcet
believed the Third Estate must arm itself in readiness for the meeting, the
most crucial were those relating to the political implications of the rights
to freedom, to equality and to property, so overlooked by all those nations
which dare to boast of being free.
Legislation, old and new, must be
measured rationally and objectively against the yardstick of those implica-
tions, of which the rst was the degree to which the exercise of political
La Fayette had audaciously initiated a proposal to convene the Estates-General on 21 May 1787, see
M.-J. La Fayette, Memoires, correspondance, 6 vols. (Paris: Fournier, 18378), vol. ii, p. 177. On the
complexities of Condorcets position regarding the meeting, see Badinter and Badinter, Condorcet,
pp. 2512. The fact that much of the pressure for the convocation also came from the Paris Parlement
strengthened Condorcets scepticism about the prospects for success. He was always aware that
freedom had other enemies apart from absolute monarchists.
In general, enlightened men are honest, but you could not say that honest men are generally enlight-
ened. Choose men who combine honesty with enlightenment, but do not judge enlightenment by
honesty, and remember that it is easier to deceive people about honesty than it is to deceive themabout
enlightenment. Seek in your deputies rst honesty, then common sense, followed by enlightenment,
courage and nally zeal (ix: 255).
On the responsibilities of deputies with regard to rights, see the Lettres dun gentilhomme ` a messieurs
du tiers-etat (ix: 2467). Condorcet offered detailed advice on policies to be followed by the provincial
representatives at the Estates-General in the Reexions sur les pouvoirs (ix: 25781).
Representative government 197
authority served the interests only of those submitting their individual will
to it:
Man did not enter into society in order to be crushed between opposing powers,
becoming their victim in times of unity as well as dissent, but to enjoy peacefully
all his rights under one authority created specically to uphold them, and which,
with no power to infringe them, does not have to be counterbalanced by another
power . . . A declaration of the rights of man and of the citizen, drafted by
enlightened men, is the true brake on all powers, and the only one which does not
put public order or individual security at risk. (viii: 6589)
With a concluding rhetorical ourish of maxims from which to derive
a prole of the ideal representative to advance the public interest at the
Estates-General, the Essai sur la constitution et les fonctions des assemblees
provinciales was relaunched, in retrospect, as it were, through its mislead-
ingly titled Post-Scriptum.
The nine articles and two appendices that constitute the rst part of
this treatise relate directly to the processes and principles of representation,
and encapsulate Condorcets most substantial statement on the theory of
representative government, its mechanisms and its purpose. It was here also
that Condorcet set out in non-mathematical terms his theory of voting,
together with his criterion for judging voting systems, known today as the
Independence of Irrelevant Alternatives. Condorcet was not of course the
only political thinker to reect on the problem of ancien regime approaches
to representation, especially in the light of the unsatisfactory response from
Lom enie de Brienne
to the negative outcome of the 1787 Assembly of
Notables, called to ratify Calonnes proposals for reform.
The main lines
Brienne had proposed a modied version of Calonnes proposals that prioritised the representation
of Third Estate deputies. This was not ratied by the Third Estate deputies, and the Assembly of
Notables dispersed on 25 May 1787 as a result of the deadlock. The widely held view that Condorcet
supported the Brienne proposals enthusiastically is erroneous, despite the evidence for his support for
these proposals in the Sentiments dun republicain sur les assemblees provinciales et les Etats-Generaux
(ix: 125), see J.-P. Joubert, Condorcet et les trois ordres, in Cr epel and Gilain (eds.), Condorcet
mathematicien, pp. 3089, 310.
Jean-Joseph Mounier was Condorcets most prominent rival in the race to devise a new constitution,
and his roles as secretary of the July 1788 Assemblee de Vizille (source of the formal request to the King
to call the Estates-General), as founding member of the Committee of Twelve and, fromJanuary 1789,
as an elected deputy to the Estates-General itself, certainly gave him a higher public prole. Mounier
was the moving force behind the reconstitution of the Communes as a National Assembly on 17 June
1789, whose task it was to work on the constitution. The Tennis Court Oath was also stage-managed
by Mounier, but his monarchist sympathies were to prevent him from following the course of the
Revolution to its logical conclusion. With the news of Neckers exile, he started to denounce the
forces that threatened absolute royal power, and he attempted in his own draft of the bill that went
before the National Assembly in September 1789 to ensure that Louis XVIs royal powers to convene
and dissolve the Assembly were safeguarded. Mouniers bill was defeated in favour of Condorcets
198 Condorcet and Modernity
of argument in the Essai relating to the creation of provincial, city and
communal assemblies, with representatives elected by property-owners and
dispensing with the separation of orders, were drawn from a line of con-
stitutional thinking already partly envisaged in dArgensons Considerations
sur le gouvernement ancien et present de la France (composed in 1737 and
published imperfectly in 1764), developed in the 1750s by the physiocrats,
by the marquis de Mirabeau, and further rened in the Memoire sur les
municipalites by Turgot (in collaboration with Dupont de Nemours) in
1773. Condorcets seminal treatise is more rigorously argued than most
others of the period, and many of its themes and proposals would resurface
in the remarkable series of addresses and essays on constitutional reform,
and its management, that owed from Condorcets pen in the two years
following the initial appearance of the Essai.
In addition to the consideration of ways to ensure the selection of rep-
resentatives, much of the rst part of the Essai is also concerned with a
detailed elaboration of the process of enlightened decision-making to be
adopted by those representatives, and with the practicalities upon which
the truth of decisions depended.
The theory of voting elaborated here,
with its emphasis on the merits of majority decision-making by an enlight-
ened electorate, reects yet again the degree to which probabilistic theory
constitutes the over-arching principle behind Condorcets whole approach
to political change. Elections, procedural rules, order of deliberation, quora
and majorities, conditions of eligibility, tenure of public ofce, modalities
of public accountability, legislative constraint and responsibility, standard-
isation of the day-to-day operation of government in the provincial assem-
blies, and above all the intricacies of their relationship with the crown, are all
examined with great clarity and precision of detail, suggesting that this was
a text designed to keep the aws of Frances constitution sharply in focus.
Of the nine divisions of Part 1, the rst, third, fourth, fth and seventh,
dealing respectively with the conditions of the franchise, eligibility of those
standing for election as representatives, the composition of assemblies, the
proposals, and he resigned. By May 1790 Mounier had been forced into exile in Switzerland, and was
not to return to France until 1801. Napoleon appointed himPrefect in 1802. He thus left the eld clear
for Condorcet to full his role as reformer of the constitution at an early stage of the deliberations.
The appeal to the enlightened reader is explicit: This expression an enlightened man is understood too
often to mean a man who shares our own views, but it has a less arbitrary meaning. An enlightened
man is one who, irrespective of any of his views with which we might disagree, is acknowledged, even
by his opponents, to have a profound and extensive understanding of particular areas of knowledge,
and for having studied the principles and methods relating to them (viii: 124).
In the Introduction Condorcet stresses repeatedly the importance of clarity: I have done everything
I can to make the reading of this work easy . . . I have carefully avoided anything that assumes prior
knowledge; I have tried to be clear (viii: 1201).
Representative government 199
election process and the creation of a representative National Assembly, are
central to any interpretation of Condorcets programme for constitutional
regeneration, to his theory of representation and above all to his under-
standing of the political applications of the key principles of freedom and
equality, enshrined in the concept of droit de cite (right to citizenship).
the franchi se and the balance of representati on
While Condorcet recognised as a natural right the participation of citizens
in the formulation of the rules by which they submit their individual will
to the will of all, a participation exercised through powers of decision-
making delegated to elected representatives, the exercise of droit de cite
was subject in practice to specied conditions and exclusions, the primary
condition of eligibility being that of property-ownership, property-owners
being the only true citizens (viii: 128). Never at any point in the Essai did
Condorcet envisage the possibility of a universal franchise on any other
In most countries, with the notable exceptions of America and
a few small republics hidden away in the Swiss mountains, droit de cite
was constrained as a right by autocrats invested with the power of veto,
and in no country, even the most enlightened, was every citizen eligible
unconditionally to exercise this right. Minors, monks, prisoners, the insane,
foreigners, vagabonds and those whom one can legitimately suspect of
having a corrupted will (viii: 130) were rationally justiable exclusions, as
was the individual who did not own property, provided that property meant
more than just the ownership of land. Even with an appropriately exible
denition of property-ownership, Condorcet accepted that a privileged
class of citizens would be created, but it would be a recongured class,
not composed exclusively of rich landowners, which would actually reduce
inequality in some measure:
all men owning a property sufcient for their needs are in the privileged class,
and most of those fall into the wealthy category. At the same time, this privi-
leged class also includes the well-educated, and you would nd very few with no
education at all. This distinction itself creates equality between men of modest for-
tune and the great landowners and those whose wealth is in cash or investments;
thus real equality is more certain than would be the case if no distinction existed
at all. (viii: 135)
See also Sur la forme des elections where happiness as well as rights is seen to be the benecial
consequence of a reformed electoral system (ix: 287).
The disadvantages of a system based on universal franchise had already been identied in 1781 in the
Reexions sur lesclavage des n`egres (Reexions, pp. 2325). See also the Lettres dun bourgeois de New
Haven (ix: 11).
200 Condorcet and Modernity
After the Revolution, Condorcet would begin to have doubts about the
way in which the property qualication would be applied, particularly
after Si ey` es made his controversial distinction in 1789 between active and
passive citizenship.
In the case of church property, Condorcet questioned the implications
of access to the franchise by the clergy. Property destined for public use
belonged only to the citizenry in general, and in principle clergy living
in church property were enjoying a benet that fell within the orbit of
remuneration in place of a pension or fee which did not necessarily con-
fer the status of property-owner, only the enjoyment of publicly owned
premises (viii: 13940). There was, however, no question yet of the disen-
franchisement of the clergy, and Condorcet saw in 1788 no inconvenience
in allowing clergy, or other representatives of public bodies with territorial
possessions, to exercise the vote, provided that they all enjoyed that right
only as the current stewards of a public property whose ownership belonged
to the public alone. Their interest did not entirely coincide with that of
property-owners, but Condorcet thought that the dangers of conict were
minimal, as long as those enjoying such benets did not regard them as
personal property, or as property protected by privilege.
An electoral system which denied the franchise to citizens who did not
belong to the property-owning class did not necessarily cause injustice since
Condorcet envisaged the basis of the systemto be a reectionof that broadly
recognised communality of civic interest inherent in the pact of association,
whereby the interests of the property-owning and non-property-owning
classes were made to interlock. Acceptance of communality of interest
between the two classes was dependent, however, on the existence of a sys-
tem of representatives that would ensure the election of deputies of high
political and moral calibre. This was a crucial caveat, and Condorcet com-
mented at great length on the qualities needed by deputies in the light of
their primary role as protectors of the public interest. A property-based suf-
frage that depended on a differentiation between either men and women,
or between different types of property, was an absurdity sustained only by
the inertia of tradition, and equalled in absurdity only by differentiation
In the Essai, as elsewhere, Condorcet rejected surviving feudal practice that prevented women from
exercising their rights to direct and indirect suffrage, and also fromholding public ofce, anexclusion
contrary to justice, though authorised by more or less general practice. The reasons why it is thought
necessary to keep them out of public ofce, reasons moreover which could be easily destroyed,
cannot justify depriving them of a right that would be easy for them to exercise, and which men
enjoy, not because they are men, but because of their merits as reasonable, sensitive human beings,
qualities which they share with women (viii: 141). Under current legislation for representation in the
provincial assemblies, female owners of seigneuries could enjoy the benets of the franchise indirectly
through representatives, whereas female owners of propriete territoriale had no such right.
Representative government 201
based on privilege. While the same inertia ensured that some citizens were
disadvantaged with regard to the franchise, it ensured that others, such
as monks, with their right, not only to vote, but also to be deputies,
were unjustiably privileged. In accepting property-ownership as the key
qualication for suffrage in the Essai, and in other statements prior to the
Revolution, such as those contained in the New Haven letters, Condorcet
was following in the steps of Turgot and the physiocrats: In advanced coun-
tries, territory makes the state. Thus property is what must make citizens
(ix: 12).
Fromthe clarication of conditions of eligibility to exercise the franchise
in the choice of representatives to an elected assembly, Condorcet turned
in articles 3 and 4 to the issue of eligibility to stand for election to assem-
blies, and also to public ofce, the qualications needed in representatives
(literacy, for example), the problem of ensuring an appropriate balance of
representation of interests between the orders, and the timing of elections.
Most of article 3 is in fact devoted to an examination of the role in assem-
blies of orders, and the vexing auxiliary issues arising from the allocation
of seats in accordance with the privileges of inherited rank. Condorcet saw
in this arrangement only a device to introduce into assemblies representa-
tives whose interests lay principally in the protection of their position, and
whose presence was thus diametrically opposed to the interests of electors.
A pattern of representation based on orders institutionalised inequality in
the civil order, and as such was a clear affront to healthy politics. Reforms
under consideration to allocate a xed number of seats to each order sim-
ply to prevent over-representation of the two upper orders would not be
needed, in Condorcets view, once a reformed franchise was in place: What
does it matter if men from the upper classes have all the seats, if they have
them only because citizens from all classes think that they deserve to have
On this point Condorcet differentiated monks fromecclesiastiques, the latter being isolated individu-
als, and the former always a corps. Monks were disqualied on educational grounds: The expertise
required in really useful assembly members is incompatible with the position and education of
monks. So far we have had more good books on philosophy from the cloisters than good books on
politics (viii: 142).
In Section 4 of Sur la forme des elections, Condorcet commented on the timing of the interval between
choosing electors and the actual election of representatives. Correct timing of these separate processes
would prevent corruption and intrigue (ix: 2901). In Section 5 he also stressed the importance of
ensuring that holders of public ofce were not themselves eligible for election (ix: 2912). Condorcet
was later to attack the decrees relating to taxation that restricted eligibility to vote in an address to
the National Assembly given on 5 June 1790, Sur les conditions deligibilite (x: 8791). He would
object in particular to the way in which the proposed conditions would exclude enlightened persons
who were not rich. In the Lettre sur le marc dargent, published in the Patriote franc ais on 14 August
1791 he dened the minimum amount of taxation to qualify an individual as citoyen actif as being
the equivalent of a direct tax on three days work (BIF Condorcet MS 861, ff. 3913). Cf. Cahen,
Condorcet, pp. 2679.
202 Condorcet and Modernity
their condence ? (viii: 154). The talent and honesty of representatives mat-
tered more than birth and a nominally egalitarian redistribution of seats to
the orders: We want a man able to understand and defend our interests,
and nobody is stupid enough to be unaware of how much weight is given
to opinions and proceedings by the birth, wealth and personal integrity
of representatives. Condorcets 1788 proposals on the place of the aristoc-
racy in a reformed system of representation was by no means hostile, his
defence being based on the viewthat seats in an assembly not lled through
elections, whether occupied by aristocrats, clergy or Third Estate, always
threatened the peoples interests.
Only by opening all assembly seats to
the electoral process, and thereby to the discipline of public accountability,
could that threat be lifted. On this point Condorcet was very conscious of
the English electoral vice (viii: 157 n. 1),
but concluded that the decien-
cies of the English system derived from the way in which elections were
organised, rather than from the fact that all Parliamentary seats were lled
by elected members.
After examining at some length the history of the representation of the
three orders in the provincial assemblies on the basis of a xed allocation
of seats, Condorcet returned to his defence of aristocratic representation
sanctioned by public approval through elections rather than royal preroga-
The advantages of rank and wealth would not be entirely neutralised,
Condorcet dened what he meant by peuple in a note in the Reexions sur ce qui a ete fait, et sur ce qui
reste ` a faire: The correct meaning of the word people means the totality of citizens having no public
duties and no ofcial titles. In a broader sense, it means the same totality, less a more numerous,
separate class of people. Thus the word people means those who are not nobles in a country with a
privileged nobility; it means ordinary citizens in a country where equality reigns; it means people
who are not senators in a country with a hereditary senate, and it also means everywhere that class
of citizens deprived of the advantages of education, and of the possibility of becoming enlightened
(ix: 446 n. 1).
If there resulted, from the need to enfranchise the people, a real [system of] dependency, as in
England, where the seats of the nations representatives are allocated directly by men who can have
no understanding of either the functions or the duties of those representatives, where the importance
of those seats obliges people to buy themwithbase, demeaning behaviour, andat extravagant expense,
then we would no doubt be right to feel wounded by this servitude, out of patriotism more than
vanity (viii: 156). In Sur la forme des elections Condorcet commented that English voters had no other
wish but to please and obey in a system driven by sophistry and self-interest, reected particularly
in the sale of votes (ix: 32930). See also Sur le choix des ministres (x: 623) on the problems in
the House of Commons and the factional degradation of English political life. Condorcet did not
see the merits of an adversarial, two-party system in the light of the true purpose of constitutional
government which was, in his view, to ensure agreement rather than conict between opposing
groups. The retention of the East India Bill seemed to be a good example of the way in which such
a system protected abuse with regard to the nomination of ministers. Cf. Sur letendue des pouvoirs
de lAssemblee nationale (x: 33).
In the Fragment de lAtlantide Condorcet again stressed the link between high quality of represen-
tation, a good electoral system and an educated citizenry (vi: 6012). The deciencies in deputies,
to which electors should be alerted, are listed in the Lettres dun gentilhomme ` a messieurs du tiers-etat
(ix: 2559).
Representative government 203
but this did not necessarily lead to venal self-interest. In 1788 Condorcet
saw in fact no reason to exclude the nobility from assemblies, for to do so
would simply deprive the state of the personal and professional contribu-
tions of a well-educated section of the population (viii: 163).
Until the day
of universal education and enlightenment dawned, it was in the national
interest for aristocratic representatives to be absorbed into a unicameral,
wholly elected assembly regulated by sane legislation.
Condorcets posi-
tion on representation in 1788 was therefore that an assembly, in which
the number of seats for each order was recalculated, and in which seats
continued to be allocated by order, might redress the mathematical balance
of aristocratic representation, but would not necessarily advance the inter-
ests of the Third Estate. The resulting numerical supremacy of the Third
Estate would, on the contrary, actually work against Third Estate interests,
the Third Estate being composed necessarily of men of lower standing.
Limiting the number of aristocratic representatives, but concentrating their
presence in an exclusively dened block of seats, would only reinforce a
sense of class solidarity, and ensure the connement of aristocratic talent
and energy to the advancement of class interests. This would necessarily
distort the balance of real power exercised in the conduct of assembly busi-
ness. By abandoning the traditional pattern of representation by orders,
natural and acquired inequalities of talent would be minimised. Moreover,
aristocratic representatives, chosen for their personal qualities rather than
imposed on the asssembly by virtue of their rank, would not be disdavan-
taged in a more stabilised forum in which their number was restricted only
by the outcome of elections to all assembly seats (viii: 1645). An elected
Condorcet was less sympathetic to the cause of aristocratic representation after the terms for the
convocation of the Estates-General had been announced.
On the merits of unicameral systems of government, see also the 1789 Examen sur cette question: Est-il
utile de diviser une assemblee nationale en plusieurs chambres? Condorcet had little faith in defences of
bicameral systems based on the theory that the second chamber offered protection from error and
corruption in the rst chamber (ix: 34550), although he did see some merit in the second chambers
right to veto, depending on how the chamber was composed. If the second chamber in England, for
example, was composed of members such as Locke, Hume, Smith and Price, then its role could be
justiedas a check onthe theoretically limitless power of a single chamber. However, while Condorcet
acknowledged this danger in the unicameral system, he thought that it could be minimised by the
acceptance of a new constitution guaranteeing a Declaration of Rights monitored by the provincial
assemblies. The unicameral system ensured that all deputies received the same information, and
understood the full context of deliberations. Above all, it prevented vested interests consolidating as
inuential pressure-groups. Condorcet commented further on the workings of the bicameral system
in England in the Reexions sur la Revolution de 1688 et sur celle du 10 ao ut 1792 (xii: 20910). His
hostility to bicameral government ran directly counter to the views of monarchists such as Mounier,
Malouet, Lally-Tollendal and Clermont-Tonnerre.
In Section 9 of Sur la forme des elections Condorcet emphasised the role of higher enlightenment in
the process of election (ix: 298). The construction of a system that would permit electors to assess
judiciously the merits of candidates is also discussed in Section 12. On the inequality of talent, see
also the Eloge de Bernoulli (ii: 5778).
204 Condorcet and Modernity
assembly would mean that the quality of representatives, including aristo-
cratic representatives, would rise as a result of increased competition for
On the question of exclusion from assemblies of public ofce-holders
or members of certain professions, Condorcet was again concerned to
ensure that quality of representation would not be adversely affected, and
that assembly duties would not take representatives away from duties that
requiredtheir physical presence elsewhere, or whichwere incompatible with
representation of the people. He had in mind the case of parish priests, sol-
diers and magistrates, because assemblies, whose purpose is to be useful
to the common cause, must not start off by providing different classes of
the nation with an example of that contempt for their everyday duties and
activities which is one of those faults which, while not being unique to the
French, the French take further than other people (viii: 171). The need
to reconcile the demands of private interests, public duties and assembly
responsibilities in establishing the rules for inclusion and exclusion from
assemblies was important, but Condorcet did not wish to see the principle
of exclusion extended too far, as in the case of America where all ministers
of religion were excluded from Congress, or of the Republic of B ale where
the rules of exclusion affected the University: I think that we must never
consider this procedure. The only spirit which must inspire any represen-
tative assembly is the public spirit, and we must work on the assumption
that no profession is incapable of inspiring a spirit entirely opposed to that
(viii: 173). Condorcets proposals on representation ran directly counter to
those advanced in the same year by Si ey` es in Quest-ce que le tiers etat? It
was in the interest of the people, though not of the privileged ranks, to
resist proposals simply to transfer the advantages of a system of reserved
(i.e. non-elected) places to the Third Estate on the illusory assumption
that aristocratic representatives were sui generis corrupt and incapable of
transcending their class interests.
Condorcet also cast doubt on the principle of differing nancial criteria
for assembly membership. The only possible justication for such criteria,
the effect of which was to restrict certain seats to the wealthy, would be
the wish to limit the choice of candidates to those whose privileged educa-
tional background would in theory ensure an enlightened and nancially
disinterested approach to their responsibilities. In practice, Condorcet felt
that this would be more securely achieved by establishing a single, modest
threshold of nancial eligibility both to exercise the franchise as well as
actually to become a representative, this minimal threshold to be based
simply on ownership of a property sufcient for their needs. Moreover,
Representative government 205
while great wealth could assure the privileged of an education, it could not
guarantee that they would receive a good education. Still less convincing
was the viewthat great wealth made a representative less vulnerable to venal
temptation: A poor but honest man cannot be corrupted, but a rich rascal
is not sheltered from seduction (viii: 175).
On the composition and modalities of provincial assemblies Condorcet
offered detailed but simple proposals.
In his scheme each provincial
assembly would have two orders of membership in the form of deputies
and ofcers. Whatever the actual number of deputies agreed to, it should
be divisible by three, so that over and above natural attrition caused by res-
ignation, retirement or death, a third of the membership would be replaced
each year.
Condorcet was anxious to ensure that assembly rules would pre-
vent excessive length of membership for deputies and unreasonably long
tenure of ofce in the case of ofce-holders, perpetuity, as elsewhere in
political life, being potentially harmful to the public interest.
The math-
ematics determining tenure of representation and ofce-holding, together
with a denition of the functions of specied ofcials, were separately
calculated for the three different levels of assembly in question, namely
district, provincial and community. The general principles underpinning
these provisions were explicitly articulated: the establishment of maximum
constitutional equality between deputies; the restriction of the allegiance
of representatives to the requirements of law and reason, not class inter-
est; the eradication of private interest; the primacy of the public interest
in all affairs of state. The practicality of Condorcets proposals depended
upon the integrity of the whole process being protected by legislation, the
political virtues of direct and indirect levels of suffrage and representa-
tion being further reinforced by the application of the calculus to voting
It was in the context of elections to primary assemblies at district level
that Condorcet stressed the crucial link between quality of representation
and the peoples awareness of their political responsibilities: Thus the
See also the comments on composition in Sur la forme des elections (ix: 2948, 31018). Condorcet
returned to the need for simplicity in procedures in Section 18.
Of the representatives due for re-electionor replacement, those who gained the votes of three-quarters
of the assembly would be assured of a three-year term.
In the Lettres dun bourgeois de New Haven Condorcet settled on two years as the ideal length of
tenure (ix: 22).
Condorcet elaborated his theory of elections in 1789 in Sur la forme des elections, and again in 1792 in
the Fragment sur les elections. Cf. the 1785 Essai sur lapplication de lanalyse ` a la probabilite des decisions
rendues ` a la pluralite des voix. On the sensitive issue of the responsibility of deputies in the National
Assembly for the promotion of the interests of their departements, see the Lettres dun gentilhomme
` a messieurs du tiers-etat (ix: 24659).
206 Condorcet and Modernity
maintenance of a free and just representation depends on the people them-
selves, on those with a stake in it, and the law must take precautions against
the negligence of landowners, and against the ways in which they can
become victims of corruption (viii: 185).
Freedom as a working political
principle was achievable only through reform of the primary assemblies,
where the performance of representatives could be monitored most effec-
tively by voters, and the liberating experience of communal participation
in the exercise of government could be realised to some degree: In short,
it is the primary assemblies which truly represent a body of citizens large
enough to make all sectional or local interests fade before the general inter-
ests of humanity (viii: 186). The primary assemblies were allocated an
unprecedented role by Condorcet, reecting a view of political power as
a force that owed de bas en haut rather than in the reverse direction. On
this point he parted company explicitly in 1788 with Montesquieu on the
destabilising dangers of this relocation of power to monarchical systems,
and was prepared to set aside Montesquieus checks and balances approach
to the role of sectional and class interests in the civil order. Montesquieu,
in Condorcets view, was too concerned with nding reasons for the status
quo, rather than reasons for what should be. The interests of the nation
did not in fact coincide with the voice of self-interest of a few classes who
unfortunately have the right to make themselves heard. The governance
of a just society by enlightened, high-quality representatives would require
an engagement of the public will in the mechanisms of governance. This
could only be realised through a radical restructuring of assembly com-
position and electoral procedures, necessitating in turn the neutralisation
of the traditional interplay of interests between the three orders, and also
between the orders and the monarch.
a theory of voti ng
Condorcet concentrated in article 5 on the problem of eliminating error in
the expression and interpretation of the peoples will with regard to the elec-
tion of representatives, and on the implications of probability theory and in
particular social choice theory for the renement of decision-making. This
is arguably for social scientists the most interesting and important part of
the Essai.
Condorcets preference was for a system that required deputies
Condorcet stressed frequently the need for government to work with the grain of the peoples
wishes and motivations, the duty of government being essentially to facilitate the aspirations of an
enlightened people.
Black comments on the failure of mathematicians to understand the Essai (p. 162), but see also
McLean and Hewitt on the reactions to the mathematics of Condorcets voting theory by Lhuillier,
Representative government 207
to register their votes formally and condentially with the use of billets
rather than by open acclamation in order to ensure that views could be
expressed in cold silence without votes being inuenced by the pressure of
other deputies. This would produce a more accurately established result.
Condorcet pays particular attention to specic applications of majority vot-
ing to the framing of motions, the complexities of quorumconventions and
the order of assembly business.
That Condorcets thinking on the power
of majorities, and the pre-eminence of the common interest as determined
by those majorities, here and elsewhere in his socio-mathematical writings,
reects an element of anti-individualism, has been rightly pointed out by
some modern commentators.
As in the case of the jury theorem, the mathematical explanation of
inverse probability that underpins Condorcets theory of voting in the wider
constitutional context is not to be found in this treatise but rather in the
1785 Essai sur lapplication de lanalyse ` a la probabilite des decisions rendues ` a la
pluralite des voix.
It is mainly to the Essai, a ground-breaking investigation
into the relationship between voting procedures and collective outcomes,
that Condorcet owes his modern standing as the founder of social choice.
His theory of voting and political decision-making constitutes one of the
Morales and Daunou (Condorcet, pp. 4954). The mathematics were not claried until the 1980s (by
Michaud and Young). Condorcet returned to the issue of majorities, and the problem of whether
majorities are always necessarily right, in the ninth epoque of the Esquisse (vi: 1757). The issue
resurfaced in Des conventions nationales, a speech given to the Societe des Amis de la Verite on 1 April
1791 in which he reviewed the position of minorities in the National Convention (x: 1967). On the
issue of the constitutional protection of minorities, see Dippel, Projeter le monde moderne, 116.
See also Sur la forme des elections where Condorcet reasserted the main purpose of elections, namely
to ensure that the will of the majority is manifested, and that votes are cast only in accordance with
reason and conscience (ix: 330). On the testing of the public will by means of voting in assemblies,
see also the commentary to article 42 of Sur les moyens de traiter les protestants franc ais comme des
hommes, sans nuire ` a la religion catholique (v: 5212). Condorcet discusses the implications for the
rights of minorities, e.g. the rights of women and children, arising frommajority-vote decisions in the
Dissertation philosophique et politique, ou Reexions sur cette question: Sil est utile aux hommes detre
trompes? (v: 34950). In these proposals relating to electoral procedures, conditions of eligibility
and quorum issues, Condorcet paid homage to Turgots Recherches historiques et politiques sur les
Etats-Unis de lAmerique septentrionale.
Cf. Examen sur cette question: Est-il utile de diviser une assemblee nationale en plusieurs chambres?
(ix: 3378).
See, for example, G.-T. Guilbaud, Les th eories de lint er et g en eral et le probl` eme logique de
lagr egation, Economie appliquee 5 (1952), 50184; Dippel, Projeter le monde moderne, 166;
Rothschild, on the other hand, takes another view: The best decision procedures or the ones
that are in some sense natural are for Condorcet those that correspond to the decision-making of
a single individual. The individual weighs up different grounds for choice, he discovers newgrounds,
he changes his mind, he tries to be as scrupulous as he can (Economic Sentiments, p. 205).
By probability of decisions, Condorcet meant the probability that a decision is correct. The phrase
belongs squarely to Condorcets era of probabilistic reasoning (McLean and Hewit, Condorcet, p. 35).
References are to the facsimile reproduction of the Essai (New York, Chelsea Publishing Co., 1972).
McLean and Urken, Did Jefferson or Madison understand Condorcets theory of social choice?,
208 Condorcet and Modernity
most sustained elements to be found in the whole corpus of his writings,
and as late as 1793 he noted in Sur les elections that he had still not completed
his work on the theory and on the problems of public policy which arose
from it (xii: 639). The mathematical nature of his theory reected a con-
viction that the moral and political sciences were as open to mathematical
reasoning as were the physical sciences. In this remarkable and substantial
treatise, dedicated to Turgot, he sought to resolve the problem of control
over a series of numeric variables. In the context of a legislative assem-
bly these variables relate to the number of members of the assembly and
the majority needed for decisions to be taken on the one hand, and what
Kavanagh has called the psychological probability that rational individu-
als will arrive at a just decision with adjustments in one set of variables
compensating for deciencies in the other.
The general principles behind
the application of the calculus of probabilities to the social and political
sciences would be readdressed in 1793 in the Tableau general de la science qui
a pour objet lapplication du calcul aux sciences politiques et morales. As in the
jury theorem, the key consideration is not the size of the electorate, or the
proportion of electorate size to majority size, but rather the absolute size of
the majority. In authenticating the general will, which is the primary object
of Condorcets voting theory, modern commentators have drawn attention
to the differences between Condorcet and his more illustrious predecessor
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and the theory of the general will that was set out
in Du contrat social (Book 4, ch. 2) almost three decades earlier.
Condorcet was reticent about his debt to Rousseau, it is almost certain that
Rousseau loomed large in his thinking.
McLean and Hewitt rightly stress
the crucial importance of understanding that the probability that a voters
opinion is correct postulated by Condorcet relates to judgements rather
than interests: Aggregating individual judgements to a social judgement is
another matter entirely, and both Rousseau and Condorcet are clear that
that is their subject.
Condorcet claries his understanding of the role
of voting procedures in ascertaining the general will in Sur les assemblees
Kavanagh, Chance and probability, 16. Kavanagh claries some of the social and political implica-
tions of the calculus of probabilities in a more modern context with regard particularly to the work
of Emile Borel and Adolphe Quetelet.
McLean and Hewitt, Condorcet, pp. 378; Kavanagh, Chance and probability, 16.
With regard to Rousseaus inuence in this context, see also B. Grofman and S. Feld, La volont e
g en erale de Rousseau: une perspective condorc etienne, in Cr epel and Gilain (eds.), Condorcet
mathematicien, pp. 1016.
McLean and Hewitt, Condorcet, p. 38. See also Black, The Theory of Committees, p. 163; K. J.
Arrow, Social Choice and Individual Values (New York and London: Wiley, Chapman and Hall, 1951;
repr. 1963), pp. 936; P. Jones, Intense preferences, strong beliefs and democratic decision-making,
Political Studies 36 (1988), 729.
Representative government 209
provinciales (viii: 601) where it becomes clear that he means that the out-
come of voting should be the revelation of an opinion which corresponds
as closely as possible to the opinions of individuals who must themselves
of course be educated and hence enlightened. This is not the Rousseauist
position, although the general framework of Rousseaus discussion of the
general will in Du contrat social is clearly relevant to Condorcets subsequent
elucidation of the theory.
The extension of the jury theorem, set out at length in the Discours
preliminaire to the Essai, to the broader question of collective decision-
making rules involving more than two alternatives presented Condorcet
with a more complex problem. His solution involved a method of ranking
the options, and would result in a methodology that combined a theory
of social choice with probability mathematics whose revolutionary impli-
cations have only recently been teased out by social scientists.
A rank
order count system had already been mapped out by Jean-Charles Borda
in his Memoire sur les elections au scrutin of 1784,
and in the Discours
preliminaire of the Essai sur lapplication de lanalyse Condorcet discusses
Bordas system of evaluating the votes given to candidates in accordance
with their ranking positions. Giving Borda due credit for his system,
Condorcet thought that it had the merits of clarity and avoided the conven-
tional plurality methods drawback of presenting as the plurality decision
an opinion which was in fact contrary to it (Essai, pp. clxivclxxix).
However, Bordas systemwas not entirely satisfactory, and could result in
preference being given to a candidate whose probability of merit is below
that of another. In article 5 of the Essai sur la constitution et les fonctions
des assemblees provinciales Condorcet restates the problem and its associated
paradoxes in these terms:
What does it actually mean to be elected? Is it not to be judged preferable to ones
competitors? Why make that judgement dependent on the view of the majority?
It is because we think that a proposition declared valid by fteen people has a
higher degree of probability than a contrary judgement declared valid by only ten.
Thus, in an election the person who really represents the will of the majority must
be the one whose superiority over his competitors is the most probable, and is
consequently the one who gains a majority vote higher than any of the others.
Now, it is possible, with only three candidates, that one of them will have more
On this point see Arrow, Social Choice, pp. 816; Rothschild, Economic Sentiments, pp. 1834.
Urkens work has been particularly illuminating, see The CondorcetJefferson connection. With
regard to the mathematical aspects, McLean and Urken draw attention to Condorcets debt to Jacob
Bernoullis Ars conjectandi (Did Jefferson and Madison understand Condorcets theory of social
choice?, 445).
An English translation of this text can be found in McLean and Hewitt, Condorcet, pp. 11419.
210 Condorcet and Modernity
votes than either of the other two, but that one of the latter, even the one with the
fewest votes, is considered in reality to be superior to the other two. This seems
paradoxical, but you will have the feeling that it could be true if you reect on
the fact that a person voting for one of the candidates is certainly making known
that he believes that candidate to be superior to either of the others, but he is not
making known his view on their respective merits, that at this point his judgement
is incomplete, and that in order to know the true will on the matter, it is necessary
to complete that judgement. (viii: 1934)
The dilemma crystallises in the case of three candidates A, B and C
ranked by ve electorates of differing size, giving an order in which each
voters preferences between each pair of candidates can be inferred result-
ing in a win for C as the candidate scoring the largest total number of
votes and a clear loser in third place of candidate A.
Modern analyses
of Condorcets application of the formulae of mathematical probability to
the three-candidate electoral model have shown, however, how the values
assigned to the component elements in the formulae of probability could
lead to an irrational outcome.
Condorcet recognised the dilemma in the
Essai sur lapplication de lanalyse where he considers the example of an
election in which three candidates present themselves (pp. lvilxx). For
the solution he had to move away from probabilism. Rationality could be
restored with the elimination of the candidate with the greatest plurality
of votes cast against him. Thus candidate A would be seen as an irrelevant
alternative to be dispensed with in any comparative calculations relating
to the voting outcome for candidates B and C. Condorcet claried further
the criterion of Independence of Irrelevant Alternatives in 1788 in two
appended notes to the Essai sur la constitution et les fonctions des assemblees
provinciales, subtitled respectively Sur la mani` ere de connatre le vu de la
pluralit e dans les elections (viii: 55978) and Sur la forme des d elib erations
prises ` a la pluralit e des voix (viii: 578608).
With the calculus of probabilities nowenriched by requirements of sim-
ple reason, the way was now open for Condorcet to address the problem
of cycles in voting patterns. In the Discours preliminaire of the Essai sur
lapplication de lanalyse he had recognised that cycles in the pattern of
voter preferences were dangerous to democracy, undermined the general
The statistical basis to the three-candidate model, and an analysis of outcomes, is set out by McLean
and Hewitt, Condorcet, pp. 3940.
See Black, The Theory of Committees, pp. 16971; H. P. Young, Condorcets theory of voting,
American Political Science Review 82 (1988), 1238.
It should be noted that Condorcet prefers the term plurality to the term majority (rarely used).
On this point, see Sommerlad and McLean, The Political Theory of Condorcet, 1 (1989), p. xiii.
Representative government 211
will and threatened the integrity of the decision-making process. The prob-
lem was acute in cases where more than three candidates were presented
to an electorate rendering the principle of Independence of Irrelevant
Alternatives inapplicable. Young has expounded convincingly the formu-
lae that Condorcet evolved to break the problem of cycles by showing how
Condorcets ranking rule evolved into a maximum likelihood rule agree-
ing the maximum number of pair-wise votes, summed over all pairs of
In the rst mathematical appendix to the Essai sur la con-
stitution et les fonctions des assemblees provinciales Condorcets elucidation
of the principle of Independence of Irrelevant Alternatives is restated in
more coherent terms than previously, this time in the context of the three
candidate contest between Pierre, Paul and Jacques and six electorates
of varying numbers. After reviewing critically the awed outcomes of plu-
rality voting and voting by successive elimination, as well as the score
value system advocated by Borda, he then proceeds to demonstrate the
advantages of the Independence of Irrelevant Alternatives condition over
systems based on traditional plurality voting procedures, and more recently
on Bordas ranking system: The conventional method is deceptive because
you make an abstract generalisation of what should be counted; the new
method is deceptive because you give consideration to judgements which
should not be counted (viii: 570). Voting outcome judgements between
Paul and Jacques are irrelevant to the evaluation of the outcome between
Paul and Pierre, and here Condorcet rejected Bordas view of the relevance
of the full ranking order to comparisons between any two of the three
candidates. Interestingly, Condorcets argument now omits reference to
probability; it pertains entirely to social choice. The differing Borda and
Condorcet approaches to voting procedures still fuel erce debate among
social scientists today.
The Essai sur la constitution et les fonctions des assemblees provinciales
(see especially article 5) contains the essence of Condorcets voting the-
ory expressed in non-technical terms. Its scientic rationale is embedded
in the Essai sur lapplication de lanalyse and also in the two mathemati-
cal appendices attached to the Essai sur la constitution et les fonctions des
assemblees provinciales referred to above, and modern interpretations of this
aspect of Condorcets thinking on representative government have sought
Young, Condorcets theory of voting, 1236. A ranking rule is not to be confused with a choice rule,
the former producing the best rank-order of candidates and the latter a winner, see McLean and
Hewitt on the implications of this differenciation (Condorcet, p. 42).
On the modern debate see Arrow, Social Choice; M. Dummett, Voting Procedures (Oxford: Clarendon
Press, 1984); and R. Sugden, The Political Economy of Public Choice (Oxford: Martin Robertson, 1981).
212 Condorcet and Modernity
to integrate these coterminous texts more coherently. Later renements to
the rationale behind Condorcets voting theory, and his thoughts on the
practicalities involved, including his remarkable anticipation of the advent
of arithmetical machines to facilitate the computation of votes in the
Tableau general de la science, are to be found in Sur la forme des elections
(1789), Sur les elections (1793) and the preamble to the Plan de constitution
from estates- general to nati onal assembly
Articles 7 and 8 of the Essai sur la constitution et les fonctions des assemblees
provinciales raise the crucial question of a modern National Assembly with
all its implications for ancien regime governmental practices.
In both sec-
tions the key points of the previous six are consolidated as fundamental
principles of political management which Condorcet was to revisit fre-
quently in later years. The preconditions of legitimacy for such an Assem-
bly are articulated in article 7 in uncompromising terms,
the opening list
of desiderata exposing starkly the inadequacies of the forthcoming, and for
Condorcet unwelcome, meeting of the Estates-General:
Even if there existed a National Assembly which could be regarded as being truly
constitutional, in other words [a National Assembly] which had received that
public or tacit approval of the nation which alone allows it to deserve that title, if
that constitution seemed to be faulty, if it was necessary to change it, reform it, or
at least confront issues, which might cause a section of the citizenry to lose faith in
it, with the authority of a new vote of condence, an assembly of representatives,
convened for the purpose of deciding on that change, would have the legitimate
power to do so, provided that its members had been elected with the specic
intention of charging them with that function, and provided that no civil rights
had been infringed by any inequality in the way in which their representatives had
been elected, or in the form of representation. (viii: 222)
The issue of consent for a National Assembly was critical, and Condorcet
made the political reality of that consent dependent on two linked condi-
tions: rst, that a National Assembly should meet with relative frequency
On the American example, see the Eloge de Franklin (iii: 399400). Condorcet returned to the
essential role of a National Assembly in a healthy constitution on 7 August 1791 in the Discours sur les
conventions nationales, a speech given to the Amis de la Constitution (x: 191206). Here he discussed
also how the peoples right to demand the convocation of National Assemblies ensured vigilance
against political abuse.
Condorcet returned to the question of the authority of a National Assembly in the Examen sur cette
question: Est-il utile de diviser une assemblee nationale en plusieurs chambres? where he examined more
closely the bases for popular condence in the decisions of such an assembly (ix: 33544).
Representative government 213
so that each citizen qualied to exercise the franchise had the opportunity
to make a judgement on the Assemblys record, and secondly that public
approval or disapproval of that record should be freely expressed.
Condorcets proposals for the replacement of the Estates-General with
a new National Assembly were informed by two over-arching principles:
the formal assurance of legitimacy for any new constitutional modica-
tions, and the unqualied right of the people to revise the whole frame-
work, as well as the individual terms, of the constitution.
Condorcet was
deeply suspicious of any constitutional arrangement which, by virtue of
its establishment, asserted claims to permanency. Constitutions must have
the capacity for self-renewal and evolution in response to the dynamics
of progress and enlightenment, and Condorcet was convinced that if the
new Assembly did not have that capacity then future generations would be
condemned to suffer indenitely the accumulating consequences of aws
unintentionally, but fatally, embedded in the constitution by its founders,
a principle as contrary to the natural rights of men as it is dangerous in its
consequences, since it means giving representatives absolute authority over
those they represent, and at the same time making a sectional interest the
judge of its own case (viii: 224). It was therefore essential for citizenship in
the modern age to be a concept that integrated the spirit of constitutional
respect with the spirit of constitutional change: Todays legislators are just
men who think only to give their fellow men, their equals, laws that are as
transitory as they are (ix: 375).
For the legitimacy of a National Assembly to be realised, Condorcet
referred the reader back to the discussion in article 1 relating to the free
choice of representatives, nominated by a property-owning electorate under
a formally regulated system in which exclusions relating to age, sanity, civil
status, etc., were precisely dened and rationally justiable,
and in which
the balance of representation between the orders was corrected in the inter-
ests of quality and equality. The purpose of a National Assembly would
be to know the will of the nation. Reviewing the history of the Estates-
General, Condorcet noted that since the reign of Philippe-le-Bel no formal
constitution had ever been exposed to the will of the people, and that
The question of the frequency of meetings of assemblies, and the need to consult the people on
when to convene, would arise again in 1791 in Condorcets other great essay on social choice, the
Lettres dun bourgeois de New Haven. Here Condorcet commented positively on the role of referenda
in the democratic process (ix: 30). Cf. Reexions sur les pouvoirs (ix: 2801).
On the problemof forming newconstitutions see the Lettres dun gentilhomme ` a messieurs du tiers-etat
(ix: 2235).
On the question of exclusions (see also above, pp. 1612, 199, 204), Condorcet now added to the list
those whom one could legitimately suspect of having a corrupted will (viii: 130).
214 Condorcet and Modernity
therefore legitimacy grounded in consent had never been a feature of the
Estates-General. The way forward was to devise such a constitution built
on a revised system of representation involving, as in the case of provincial
assemblies, a radical redenition of the qualications to exercise the fran-
chise, a carefully calculated process of direct nomination of candidates to a
unicameral assembly, in which all seats would be lled by election, with no
division of representation between orders. Articles 7 and 8 contained the
seeds of a revolutionary reconguration of political life in which principles
of universality, equality and consent would replace feudal privilege, tradi-
tion and the personal authority of the monarch as the driving force in the
machinery of representation, and in that of government itself:
While it does not take effect immediately, this [system of] representation is
nonetheless real and legitimate; the will which declares representatives to be elected
emanates from the universality of the citizenry in a systematic way. Mandated by
citizens, and charged by them to choose their representatives, these electors carry
out their functions, have the right to have a vote, and to form a will. (viii: 2278)
Representation in the form of three formally separate orders had its
historical origins, inCondorcets view, inthe impositionof the will of victors
over the conquered, consolidated subsequently by the churchs arrogation
to itself of secular prerogatives and politico-judicial authority in times of
ignorance and superstition. Separate orders had generated a belief in the
separation of rights, a belief that for Condorcet explained in part the lack
of unity and purpose in the defence of the common cause characteristic
of ancien regime provincial assemblies. Modernity required uniformity and
universality of rights and especially the liberation of assemblies from the
contradictions inherent in the pursuit of self-interest on the part of the
orders. The business of a reformed National Assembly would no longer
be dictated by the ebb and ow of inter-order conicts and cabals, but
would relate exclusively to the advancement of the public interest, the
enactment of laws based on reason, and the pursuit of public happiness and
enlightenment. High on Condorcets list of priorities for the new model
of representation, with its pyramidic structure of direct elections to district
assemblies by property-owning citizens (votants), indirect elections by
districts to provincial assemblies (by electeurs) and a crowning process of
indirect election to a National Assembly by the provincial assemblies, was
the promotion of national unity and national purpose:
But today, when it is a matter, not of reaching agreement with powerful chiefs,
not of disarming a dangerous resistance, but of knowing the will of the nation, of
consulting it on its needs, we must admit to the body representing it only those
Representative government 215
men who can be motivated by no other interest, and in whom[the nation] believes
it can conde its own [interest], in short, of representatives of the citizens chosen
by the citizens. (viii: 2334)
With this model of representation in mind, Condorcet turned his atten-
tion again to the question of size. A National Assembly that was too small
would be weak in moments of crisis, because, on those occasions when
courage is needed, eachmust fear compromising himself personally. Onthe
other hand, an assembly that was too large could become detached from
the general will, and cease to be effectively representative (viii: 235). In
proposing an assembly made up of four deputies elected by each provincial
assembly, requiring a quorum of two-thirds (representing ve-sixths of the
provinces) for the purpose of assembly deliberations and decision-making,
Condorcet felt that the chances of having a body capable of conducting
the affairs of the nation in an orderly, calm and mature fashion, and of
reaching decisions quickly with minimal dissension, expressing the true
will, the considered will of the majority (viii: 236), would be optimised.
Ideally, the assembly would be composed of honest, enlightened repre-
sentatives deserving of public condence, and whose functions would be
legitimised by the collective will of educated citizens. Condorcets model
for a National Assembly was thus characterised by a clear line of account-
ability through direct and indirect suffrage, with representatives elected
on the basis of the empirical evidence of their record.
Membership of a
National Assembly would not be left to chance; the most enlightened men
from each province would be charged with electing representatives to it
(viii: 237), and chance would also be removed from the process whereby
members of provincial assemblies were elected by district and community
assemblies. At the same time, freedom of choice must be unconditional,
and this implied that voters and electors must be trusted to choose wisely:
In response we would say that clear and serious reasons are needed to limit that
freedom, and not leave it intact, a principle for which I shall be reproached for
repeating, but on which I can be allowed to insist since it has made little impact so
far, not only on the majority of representatives, but even on political writers who
are always . . . less hostile to freedom. (viii: 238)
Condorcet urged acceptance of his proposals for the election of four
deputies fromeach province even if his other proposals for the restructuring
of provincial assemblies were to prove unacceptable. He added a further
The issue of ministerial accountability in the National Assembly was treated in the Reexions sur les
pouvoirs (ix: 27881).
216 Condorcet and Modernity
renement that the four deputies should be chosen by a prescribed number
of electors chosen by each arrondissement. No order would be permitted to
mandate its representatives inthe choice of the four deputies; electors would
not be seated separately by order, would record their votes by private billet,
and the electoral procedures as set out in article 5 would be followed. As far
as the provincial assemblies were concerned, the iniquities of the prevailing
system of representation by order would persist, and the public interest,
not to mention rights, would continue to be frustrated by prejudice and
privilege, but the provincial state of affairs could at least be alleviated, and
the quality of representatives raised in provincial assemblies: the advantage
of being able to count on a choice [of good candidates] will be retained
(viii: 240).
Condorcet felt that many of his proposals for a reformed representation
in the provincial assemblies were in fact equally relevant to a new National
Assembly. His plan to replace the rarely convoked Estates-General with a
permanently sitting National Assembly was designed with the same hard-
nosed pragmatism. He saw little point to prolonged speculative argument
over the historical legitimacy of current structures with a view to their
retention in a modied form: These are old ruins from which we can all
imagine at will the outlines of a palace or a temple, but in which it is
very hard to rediscover the traces of ancient foundations which have been
destroyed so often, and reconstruct the building they really supported
(viii: 253). The quest for a return to a lost, irretrievable and illusory golden
age of representational virtue would lead only to controversy and confusion,
andexpose public opiniontothe manipulationof sophists. The way forward
lay in a new construction for the future, not in the refurbishment of old
Thus a new form, more representative in a real sense and more legitimate per se,
is one in which public peace will be more certain . . ., one which is closest to the
true interests of government as well as to those of the nation, interests which in
the heart of true patriots cannot be set aside by class interests.
Condorcet never underestimated the difculty of breaking with past
practices in the matter of political representation, and was always conscious
of the fact that the legacy of the past could never be completely discarded.
His faith in the eventual triumph of modernity, appropriately managed,
never wavered, and the progressive evolution of representative government
was central to that triumph. The model for a revitalised national forumwas
already available in the form of the American Congress, and Condorcets
Representative government 217
frequent allusions to the American constitution in the Essai conrmthat his
vision of electoral reform went well beyond a mere ne-tuning of Frances
provincial assemblies. His unfailing condence in the potential political
integrity of the people, and the potential virtue of enlightened public opin-
ion, is perhaps a little surprising in view of the extremes of political vice in
both areas that he witnessed in the post-Girondin phase of the Revolution.
But his optimism in 1792 and the early months of 1793 was anchored as
rmly to his faith in the redeeming power of education and enlightenment
as a means to make men into citizens (iii: 383), to his belief in their essential
goodness and to his condence in the onward march of progress itself as it
was in 1788.
Articles 8 and 9 address specic aspects of political management such as
the prerogatives of representatives (not to be confused with the traditional
privileges of the two higher orders), assembly responsibilities, including
taxation, public works, the administration of state property such as hos-
pitals, schools, factories and also churches, and the arrangements for the
inspection and maintenance of public facilities. In article 10 Condorcet
re-emphasised the need for national uniformity in the structure and proce-
dures at all levels of provincial assembly business, and this article contains
closely detailed commentary on the physical and logistical implications of
ensuring such uniformity relating, for example, to the need for territorial
dimensions of all communities to be such that citizens were within a days
travelling distance from the site of communal assemblies, half a day for
district assemblies, a whole day for the provincial body (viii: 273). Physical
access of the people to assemblies was essential to the maintenance of lines
of communication between representatives, voters and electors,
and here
Gr ace ` a elles, Condorcet avait apport e dans les derni` eres ann ees de sa vie une dimension escha-
tologique ` a sa th eorie sociale. Cette dimension, qui deviendra si importante au XIX si` ecle, rassemble
largement ses id ees sociales des ann ees pr ec edentes (Dippel, Projeter le monde moderne, 167).
Cf. A. Cento, Condorcet e lidea di progresso (Florence: Parenti, 1956), pp. 93105.
Condorcet distinguished carefully between votants and electeurs, the former being those with the
right to vote at the lowest tier of the electoral process, and the latter being those for whom they vote
who then, as electors, vote other representatives into public ofces, if they are not themselves already
ofce-holders, see Sommerlad and McLean, The Political Theory of Condorcet, 1 (1989), p. xii. On
Condorcets interpretation of the practical way in which the people could exercise their sovereign
power, see Jaume, Individu et souverainet e. Jaume observes: Pour concilier la repr esentation avec
lexercice immediat de la souverainet e, il faut pallier labsence de canaux l egaux par o` u doivent monter
les vux de lopinion publique, et par lesquels seffectuerait une information en retour suivie de
la sanction populaire . . . Au lieu de lid ee unanimiste dun Peuple-un qui oppose sa volont e aux
repr esentants, Condorcet d ecrit un m ecanisme qui fait appel ` a lopinion de chaque citoyen en restant
toujours soumis ` a la r` egle majoritaire (p. 300). See also L. Jaume, Le Discours jacobin et la democratie
(Paris: Fayard, 1989).
218 Condorcet and Modernity
Condorcet already had in view the administrative reorganisation of French
territory into a new departmental conguration to help facilitate this key
The transformation of the process of representation had physical as well
as constitutional implications: Those who would regard uniformity of
constitution in the assemblies, in legislation, in taxation, in measurements,
etc., simply as a kind of metaphysical ideal which seduces the academic
mind, but which in practice is not worth all the obstacles which have to be
overcome in order to realise it, are not offering us very profound thoughts
(viii: 274).
Access to assemblies, compactness of constituencies, dened
responsibilities and functions were all viewed as ways of enabling the citizen
to acquire an experience of equality and political engagement characterised
by inclusiveness rather than exclusiveness. Uniformity of administrative
practices and structures on a national scale would liberate all orders of cit-
izens from self-interest and narrowly based allegiances, and reinforce the
commitment of voters, electors and representatives to the advancement of
the public good. Assembly members and ofcials, even the wealthiest,
should be remunerated appropriately. Effective representation, in which
the individual deputys commitment to truth, justice and the public inter-
est prevailed, required measures that would protect that deputy from the
pressures that might otherwise compromise the strength of his commit-
ment to the public interest.
It was for this reason, for example, that
Condorcet inserted a proposal to abolish the religious ceremonies that tra-
ditionally accompanied assembly business. Religious symbolism, pageantry
and above all sermons read out to assemblies were potent weapons of per-
suasive and prejudicial inuence which strengthened the grip of a privileged
and unaccountable order on assembly business. Condorcet was convinced
that the public display of religious ceremonial and symbolism in a political
Condorcets views on this point reected the inuence of the 1775 Plan de municipalites by Turgot
and Dupont de Nemours (published in 1787). See C. Wolikow, Condorcet et le projet de Grandes
Communes (178693), in Chouillet and Cr epel (eds.), Condorcet, pp. 2423.
Detailed proposals for the rationalisation of French territory for electoral purposes were set out in
the Lettres dun gentilhomme ` a messieurs du tiers etat (ix: 24953) where Condorcet sought to prevent
the growth of enclaves, or pockets of inuence.
If his wealth means that he could do without it, let him make good use of it, and let him regard
the means given to him to do a little more good as a reward. Refusing to accept it could be based
on pride and imposture as much as real generosity. He would be establishing a prestigious way of
distinguishing the rich, which is always a bad thing. He would be creating a slight prejudice in his
favour, which would be another bad thing. Service without remuneration is not always a sign of
unselshness (viii: 2756).
Condorcet further examines the question of what those who agree to submit to the decisions of their
representatives require from them in return in the Examen sur cette question: Est-il utile de diviser une
assemblee nationale en plusieurs chambres? (ix: 3356).
Representative government 219
arena undermined secular authority in the civil order, and that the need to
obtain the blessing of the church on the conduct of affairs of state debased
the political authority of assemblies. Such fears might not be taken seri-
ously by some, but those who know their history will recall [its lessons]
easily (viii: 277). Article 10 concludes with a rueful acknowledgement of
the enormity of the challenge any move to reform Frances creaking mech-
anisms of representation that lay ahead. Not least among the obstacles to
be surmounted was that of human nature itself, a problem that Condorcet
never underestimated. He was always aware that most people were usually
more preoccupied by the privileges that divided them than by the rights
that united them, even when the rights are important, and the privileges
The Essai sur la constitution et les fonctions des assemblees provinciales
was overtaken quickly by events when Necker agreed on 26 August 1788
to recommend to Louis XVI that the Estates-General should meet (the
meeting was scheduled initially for January 1789, but postponed until
Neckers concession more or less coincided with the completion
of Condorcets Essai. In the Resultat du conseil of 27 December 1788 that
followed the second Assembly of Notables, hastily convened to nalise the
terms under which the Estates-General should conduct business, the Royal
Council agreed to double the representationof the Third Estate, and to free-
dom of the press. However, while the key demand made by Condorcet and
Si ey` es that the representation of the Third Estate should equal that of the
combined representation of the two other orders was accepted, the critical
issue of how votes were to be counted remained unresolved. Arrangements
for elections were promulgated by the Royal Council on 24 January 1789,
but the decreed provisions fell short of Condorcets proposals on a number
of points.
All French male citizens were invited to elect representatives,
but female citizens were excluded; the bailiwick and senechaussee would
form the basic electoral constituency, the number of representatives being
related to territorial size and population. The Third Estate would elect 500
deputies, the nobility and clergy 250 each. Representatives could not be
mandated, but the orders would continue to sit separately in the electoral
assemblies in each bailiwick. With regard to the clergy, all benet-holders
Controversy about the meeting was soon provoked by the newly reinstated Paris Parlement which
decreed on 28 September 1788 that the Estates-General should meet strictly in accordance with its
1614 modalities.
Condorcet wrote to Mme Suard on 31 December 1788: The new arrangements fall well short of
what we are entitled to have, Correspondance inedite de Condorcet et Mme Suard, ed. Badinter,
Letter 183.
220 Condorcet and Modernity
and rural clergy had the right to attend bailiwick assemblies, other clergy (in
chapters, other religious communities and towns) being represented indi-
rectly. All ef-holders in the Second Estate would be summoned to attend
(female ef-holders sending a proxy), andattendance at the bailiwick assem-
blies would be open to all with purchased or inherited nobility over the
age of twenty-ve, French-born or naturalised, and domiciled within the
bailiwick. Nobles and clerics possessing efs outside their place of residence
could attend more than one assembly through proxies. Asystemof indirect,
multi-stage elections was offered to the Third Estate with males over the
age of twenty-ve, French or naturalised, involved at all stages, provided
that they were domiciled locally, and that their names were recorded on the
tax registers. The Third Estate could choose its representatives from any
of the three orders, the clergy and nobility being conned to members of
their own orders.
Provision was made for the cahiers des doleances to be
drawn up at the general assembly of the bailiwick. A designated number of
representatives would be elected to the Estates-General by secret ballot.
As the emergence of the Third Estate as an autonomous political force
gained momentum in the autumn of 1788 and spring of 1789, months
The mathematics were as follows: in rural communities two representatives per village with up to
200 households, three for villages with 200-300; in towns assemblies of guilds and corporations could
elect one representative per 100 members, wealthier guilds and professions being allowed double.
Other citizens could elect two representatives per 100 inhabitants through municipal assemblies. All
would then form a single municipal assembly to elect four representatives to the general assembly
of the bailiwick. Provision was made for a higher number in the case of larger towns and cities.
Condorcet commented at length in 1789 on the principles behind the consolidation of village
communities for electoral purposes, and the problem of nding suitable representatives from such
communities, in Sur la formation des communautes de campagne (ix: 4339). In this essay Condorcet
also set out his own calculations for constituency numbers at province, district, city, town and village
levels. His rationale related not only to electoral efciency; he also referred to the importance of
reorganising rural communities for other, highly practical reasons, e.g. nancial advantages, ability
to deal with natural disasters, reduction of counterproductive inter-village rivalries, containment of
the power of great landowners, better judicial arrangements, and above all the transformation of
isolated people into citizens.
The ballot was open and by acclamation at all other levels of the electoral process. Special provision
was made for elections in Paris in accordance with regulations issued on 28 March, 13 April and
2 May 1789. With regard to the Third Estate in Paris, no guild representation was permitted. Sixty
districts were established to draw up cahiers, and elect representatives to a municipal assembly of
about 400 members. The municipal assembly then elected twenty representatives to the Estates-
General. In addition to the age, residence and nationality requirements, Parisians were required
to pay a capitation tax of 6 livres (see Jones, Intense preferences, strong beliefs and democratic
decision-making). For Condorcets views on the importance of Paris as a constituency, see the
Adresse ` a lAssemblee nationale, pour que Paris forme partie dun grand departement (ix: 395401). Paris
remained the centre of enlightenment, the sentinel guarding the rights of all, common ground for
all the provinces, the model of respect for legal authority, the boulevard of freedom. Condorcet was
to become increasingly concerned by the threat to national unity caused by tensions between Paris
and the provinces, however, see Sur le prejuge qui suppose une contrariete dinteret entre la capitale et
les departements (x: 13363).
Representative government 221
marked by the rst stirrings of insurrection and by the widespread pro-
liferation of inammatory treatises and pamphlets from Si ey` es, Target,
Desmoulins and others, Condorcet followed up the publication of the Essai
sur la constitution et les fonctions des assemblees provinciales with a rapidly
penned series of supplementary essays on aspects of representation reform.
Most of these essays appeared in the late autumn and winter of 17889,
some written in response to the decree of the Royal Council and in antic-
ipation of the meeting of the Estates-General, the majority in response to
the actual proceedings of the Estates-General, to the birth of the National
Assembly on 17 June 1789, and to the events of 14 July.
Eleven major essays
relating directly to constitutional and representational matters were issued
by Condorcet in that year: the Sentiments dun republicain sur les assemblees
provinciales et les Etats-Generaux,
Sur la forme des elections, the Examen
sur cette question: Est-il utile de diviser une assemblee nationale en plusieurs
chambres?, the Reexions sur ce qui a ete fait et ce qui reste ` a faire, the two
Lettres ` a m. le comte Mathieu de Montmorency, the three Lettres dun gentil-
homme ` a messieurs du tiers etat, the Reexions sur les pouvoirs et instructions
` a donner par les provinces ` a leurs deputes aux Etats-Generaux, the Adresse ` a
lAssemblee nationale pour que Paris forme partie dun grand departement, Sur
la formation des communes, Sur la necessite de faire ratier la Constitution par
les citoyens and Sur la formation des communautes de campagne.
Inthe Sentiments dun republicain (The Feelings of a Republican), written
from the standpoint of an outside spectator of the French political scene
just after the arrangements for the meeting of the Estates-General had been
promulgated in December 1788, Condorcet noted the progress that had
been made in the provincial assemblies with the adoption of many of the
reforms proposed originally by Turgot, and reformulated in his own Essai.
The meeting of the Estates-General was ill-timed, in his view, because
it would effectively negate the post-Turgot prospect of a new, authentic
National Assembly, and simply revive and relegitimise the old structures.
He was thus deeply apprehensive about the outcome of the Estates-General,
and in the Sentiments he sounded a warning note so that this meeting of
the Estates-General, so ardently desired, should be useful to the people and
not bad for them (ix: 130). The enthusiasm of the privileged orders for
the convocation of the Estates-General by bailiwick and not by province,
In addition, Condorcet found time to write on the declaration of rights and nancial issues, and to
complete his annotations to Rouchers translation of Adam Smiths Wealth of Nations as well as to
work on the Voltaire biography and complete works projects, together with a number of eloges.
This essay was presented as the Suite des Lettres dun citoyen des Etats-Unis ` a un Franc ais, sur les affaires
222 Condorcet and Modernity
and in accordance with the rules for the allocation of seats to the separate
orders, was a symptom of aristocratic resistance. Of particular concern was
the danger to any proposal relating to a declaration of rights posed by the
Second Estate.
In short, the meeting of the Estates-General was simply
a device, supported by the newly reinstated parlements,
to safeguard the
First and Second Estates from the rightful claims to just representation
of the Third Estate, and it had been timed to take place before the new
provincial structures could be consolidated, before the people had time to
become fully aware of their rights, and the government to prepare properly
its proposals for reform.
Condorcet anticipated a negative outcome: a turbulent, unenlightened
assembly in which they will seek to persuade us that the provincial assem-
blies are unconstitutional (ix: 134). The precipitate convocation of the
Estates-General was for Condorcet nothing less than a betrayal of the public
interest, and the pressure that continued to emanate from the parlemen-
taires to convene the meeting only fuelled his anxieties further. The Estates-
General was not a truly national body, its structures were legitimised only
by the personal authority of the King, its meetings were irregular and it
was bereft of even the tacit approval of the people. Since the occasion of its
last meeting society had moved on: during which time men have emerged
from the most primitive darkness into the dawn of a day which at last is
about to enlighten them. The 1614 modalities were no longer acceptable
to enlightened minds, and it was now essential for the general will, such as
it is, to determine the nature of a new National Assembly. At this point, he
reiterated the conditions for reformed representation that he had already
detailed in the Essai, relating specically to equality of representation in a
unicameral system, territorial reorganisation of constituencies and revised
voting procedures.
On this point Condorcet noted the need for each order to have the right of veto in anticipation of
this danger: Perhaps the clergy will demand intolerant laws, but it will only be able to get them
with the consent of the other two [orders] (BIF Condorcet MS 858, f. 25).
Condorcets hostility to the inuence of the parlements continued to be constant and intense. In
the Vie de Voltaire he noted their negative role in Voltaires moves to free the serfs of the Jura, the
rehabilitation of La Barre and the reform of the education system (iv: 1501).
The most detailed elaboration of proposals relating to these issues was soon to be formulated
in the second of the Lettres dun gentilhomme ` a messieurs du tiers-etat, where Condorcet also explored
the sensitive question of the investment of authority in such an assembly prior to the formation
and public acceptance of a new constitution (ix: 2813). The powers of assemblies were dened and
categorised in the Reexions sur les pouvoirs under the sub-heading Pouvoirs. While the notion of
balance of power in constitutions in Montesquieus terms was a fantatical and even dangerous idea,
Condorcet was condent in his calculations relating to equality of representation, see for example,
Sur la formation des communautes de campagne (ix: 4336).
Representative government 223
Condorcet anticipated little conict with the crown at this stage in his
thinking on representation. The threat of despotism came not from mon-
archs but from an ambitious aristocracy, against whom monarch and peo-
ple were joined: The interest of sovereign and people are necessarily the
same: to escape the yoke with which the aristocracy threatens them both
(ix: 138).
At a time of transition, during which national unity and pur-
pose threatened to disintegrate, Condorcet worried about growing threats
to the monarchy, still for him at this time the repository of national unity
and purpose, which were already detectable in the volatile situation prevail-
ing in the provinces, with their increasingly insistent demands for regional
The new edice of representation which Condorcet had
constructed in the Essai had been predicated on the consolidation of a
France forged as one nation under a reformed constitutional monarchy,
and he saw any claims for exclusion from crown authority on the part of
provincial assemblies with regard to legislation, taxation or electoral pro-
cedures as attacks on national unity. Provincial exclusions were a shameful
proposition, and a betrayal of the public interest by those claiming to be
its defenders.
Electoral reformandthe devising of a systemthat wouldaccurately reect
the general will form the substance of the twenty-four sections of Sur la
forme des elections (On the formof elections).
In the light of the decision to
retain the format of separate orders for the meeting of the Estates-General,
the issue of unicameral government in a National Assembly became cru-
cial, and Condorcet devoted a lengthy defence of the unicameral system,
together with an analysis of the dangers of bicameral and tricameral sys-
tems, inthe 1789 Examen sur cette question: Est-il utile de diviser une assemblee
nationale en plusieurs chambres? (An examination of this question: is it use-
ful to divide a National Assembly into several chambers?). The proposal
from monarchists such as Mounier, Lally-Tollendal and others to establish
a second chamber in the formof a senate or National Council was dissected
in the second Lettre ` a m. le comte Mathieu de Montmorency, dated on the
titlepage 6 September 1789 (ix: 377). Condorcet had always rejected the
principle of bicameralism, as is clear from the New Haven letters where
he had tried to inuence Jefferson and others on this point in the drafting
On the need for agreement rather than conict with the King, see also Sur le choix des ministres
(x: 601).
Condorcet had in mind here the turbulence in Rennes and Nantes.
The aristocracy would not rest, according to Condorcet, until everything that favoured progress had
been abolished, including all memory of mans rights, after which the silence of the grave would
224 Condorcet and Modernity
of the newAmerican constitution (see above p. 24). In his viewthe power of
the executive and the legislative could be controlled more efciently by an
appropriately regulated franchise and scientically calculated voting rules
for a qualied majority, rather than by the creation of a second chamber.
His views prevailed on 10 September 1789 when the Constituent Assembly
rejected a bicameral legislature.
Condorcets 17889 essays on representation revisit in increasingly tense
constitutional circumstances many of the issues addressed presciently in
the Essai sur la constitution et les fonctions des assemblees provinciales. The
Essai can be ranked among the most penetrating and historically relevant
analyses of a failing machinery of government, and of ways to repair that
machine, to emerge in the years immediately prior to the demise of the
ancien regime.
chapter 9
The economic order
Condorcet did not write extensively or systematically on economics,
although he is the author of a number of pioneering works devoted to
specic economic issues relating to taxation reform, public nance, debt,
insurance, annuities, tariffs and free trade. In these texts he had much to
say about nancial reforms and the creation of a revitalised infrastructure
to underpin a stable and productive economic order. The Reexions sur
le commerce des bles (Reections on the grain trade), published in 1776, is
the most substantial. Written in defence of Turgots policies, the Reexions
represents Condorcets most sustained analysis of the benets of free trade
but, as with so many of his economic writings, the elucidation of economic
principle is narrowly focussed, intersects with social and moral issues and
is conned to a single, though centrally important, aspect of contemporary
public policy, in this case the management of periodic bread shortages and
the desperate plight of the poor arising from harvest failure. The historical
specicity of the Reexions, and indeed of the majority of Condorcets eco-
nomic writings, has ensured that his achievements as an economist have
been largely obscured until the late 1980s.
With the exception of the Reexions, the Lettre dun laboureur de Picardie
` a m. N

, auteur prohibitif, ` a Paris (1775), Monopole et monopoleur (1775),

the Reexions sur les corvees (1775), Sur labolition des corvees (1776) and
a number of essays and pamphlets dedicated to technical aspects of scal
and monetary reform, issued mainly after 1789,
Condorcets wider-ranging
Condorcets reputation as an economist was badly dented in 1954 by J. A. Schumpeter, History of
Economic Analysis (London: Allen and Unwin, 1954), p. 135. His reputation has been retrieved since
then by Cr epel and Gilains 1989 collection of essays that included seminal studies of technical aspects
of Condorcets economic thinking by Deloche, Dippel, Billoret, Troyanski, Darnis and others. The
rediscovery of Condorcet as a serious economic thinker has been further advanced by Sommerlad
and McLean (in the context of insurance and related actuarial theory), Faccarello and above all by
Rothschild (see especially Economic Sentiments, pp. 157217).
Among the more interesting of these much-neglected writings, some quite substantial, are Sur les
operations necessaires pour retablir les nances (xi: 36385), Plan dun emprunt public avec des hypoth`eses
226 Condorcet and Modernity
economic pronouncements tend to be buried as chapters or sub-sections
in works on other subjects such as the Vie de m. Turgot, the Essai sur la
constitution et les fonctions des assemblees provinciales, the notes for Rouchers
translation of AdamSmiths Wealth of Nations and the Fragment of the tenth
epoque of the Esquisse. Many, perhaps the majority, of Condorcets economic
texts, reecting his views on historically remote issues like the salt-tax or
contemporary currency technicalities, now have little interest for modern
readers. As Rothschild has indicated, there is little on the theory of value,
the theory of rent or the theory of capital: The only part of his work that
has been of interest to subsequent economists is his description of social
choice and voting, a theory that has been seen as concerned with political
rather than economic decisions.
The exception remains, of course, the great seminal 1785 treatise, the
Essai sur lapplication de lanalyse ` a la probabilite des decisions rendues ` a la
pluralite des voix. Here Condorcet expounded not only a coherent theory of
social choice and political decision-making, but also elaborated an original
analysis of the economic environment in which social choice takes place.
In the Essai social choice and economic policy are shown to be inseparable,
economic policy being perhaps the most crucially important area in which
social choice operates. The close attention paid to the political dimen-
sions of the economic environment to which economic policy responds,
so prominent a feature of the Reexions sur le commerce des bles, will not
surprise readers of the Essai.
The Reexions sur le commerce des bles is a
work that takes the reader to the heart of one of the most crucial economic
debates of the Enlightenment, and in recent years interest has been rekin-
dled in Condorcets views on the regulation of the grain trade. With its
speciales (xi: 35161), Sur les caisses daccumulation (ix: 389403), Memoires sur la xation de limp ot (xi:
40770), Sur limp ot personnel (xi: 47381), Sur la proposition dacquitter la dette exigible en assignats (xi:
487515), Nouvelles reexions sur le projet de payer la dette exigible en papier force (xi: 51927), Des causes
de la disette dunumeraire, de ses effets, et des moyens dy remedier (xi: 53140), Sur la constitutiondupouvoir
charge dadministrer le tresor national (xi: 54379), Memoires sur les monnaies (xi: 583673), Instruction
pour le paiement des annuites et leur remboursement (xii: 3542), Memoire sur les effets qui doivent resulter
de lemission de la nouvelle monnaie de cuivre (xii: 4350). A footnote in the Vie de m. Turgot seems
to be one of the very rare occasions where Condorcet uses mathematical formulae in his economic
writings, although the determination of prices was compared to the three body problem in celestial
mechanics, see Rothschild, Economic Sentiments, p. 176 n. 72; M. Chapront-Touz e, Condorcet et
le probl` eme des trois corps, in Cr epel and Gilain (eds.), Condorcet mathematicien, pp. 2935. This
surprising absence of algebraic equations was deliberate, according to Rothschild.
Rothschild, Economic Sentiments, p. 159.
For a full analysis of the connections between social choice and economics, see Rothschild, Economic
Sentiments, pp. 1805. Rothschild observes that the rst illustration in the Essai of the problem of
nding a Condorcet winner in the discussion of the choice of candidates in an election concerns
three candidates representing differing economic policy options.
The economic order 227
luminous elaboration of a theory of public policy suitable for Frances tran-
sition from economic chaos to a condition of general wealth, ourishing
trade and public happiness and enlightenment, the Reexions transcends
the immediate historical circumstances of its composition with a striking
analysis of the interaction between the worlds of political decision-making,
economic theory, the administration of the public purse, crisis manage-
ment and the impact of all this on the precarious lives of the working poor.
It is also one of the few texts in the Condorcet canon of economic writ-
ings where the link between truth, virtue and happiness, one of the basic
unifying principles of Condorcets politics, illuminates the bleak world of
commercial imperative and market regulation with a brilliance that still
casts its light over our own twenty-rst-century economic landscape.
the grai n war
The Reexions was published anonymously in 1776, the year of Turgots dis-
missal from ofce. The issues raised in the treatise are located in the explo-
sive economic disputes that had dragged on for many decades between the
physiocratic and mercantilist schools of thought on the subject of the scal
regulations governing the grain trade and its associated products. In fact,
few issues of government policy were more intensely discussed in France
in the second half of the eighteenth century. Consumption patterns and
the precarious ways in which bread reached Parisian consumers in the face
of recurring provisioning crises have been carefully analysed by Kaplan,
and more recently by Miller and Abad.
The grain trade had been dereg-
ulated in 1749 when Jean-Baptiste Machault dArnouville was Controller-
General, and the principle of a free grain trade had been reafrmed in
1764. A partially free commerce in grain prevailed in France until 176970
when controversy about free trade policy arose again. In 1770 Louis XVs
S. Kaplan, Bread, Politics and Political Economy in the Reign of Louis XV, 2 vols. (The Hague: Martinus
Nijhoff, 1976); S. Kaplan, Provisioning Paris: Merchants and Millers in the Grain and Flour Trade during
the Eighteenth Century (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1984); S. Kaplan, The Bakers of Paris and the
Bread Question, 17701775 (Durham, NJ: Duke University Press, 1996); J. Miller, Mastering the Market:
The State and the Grain Trade in Northern France, 17001860 (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1998); A. Cl ement, Nourrir le peuple. Entre etat et marche, XVIeXIXe si`ecle. Contribution
` a lhistoire intellectuelle de lapprovisionnement alimentaire (Paris: LHarmattan, 1999); R. Abad, Le
Grand Marche. LApprovisionnement alimentaire de Paris sous lancien regime (Paris: Fayard, 2002).
In his magisterial reconstitution of the geography of production and distribution of food networks
supplying seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Paris, Abad does not conne his study to bread alone
but covers food provisioning in general. See also the invaluable data supplied by P. T. Hoffman,
Growth in a Traditional Society. The French Countryside, 14501812 (Princeton: Princeton University
Press, 1996); J.-M. Chevet, National and regional corn markets in France from the sixteenth to the
nineteenth century, Journal of European Economic History 25 (1996), 681713.
228 Condorcet and Modernity
Controller-General, Joseph-Marie Terray, and also the King himself, were
accused of encouraging monopoly interests, of causing the price of bread
to rise to unacceptably high levels and of hoarding grain unnecessarily,
provoking rumours among consumers of a famine pact or plot.
for the reinstatement of prohibitory laws to remedy the situation became
irresistible, and Terray reauthorised a strict regulatory regime. According to
Abad, governments inthe secondhalf of the century tendedtobe adversaries
of free trade on the issue of the liberalisation of grain, but simultaneously
tried to embrace market economy philosophies.
Opposition to regulation was led by Turgot whose preference was for
a free market as the most efcient way to protect the people on a long-
term basis from the horrors of famine, in spite of the short-term prob-
lems arising during the transition to commercial freedom. In 1773 Turgot
attacked the Swiss nancier Jacques Necker, who in that year had nailed his
anti-physiocratic colours to the mast in the Eloge de Colbert where he had
praised Louis XIVs Controller-General Jean-Baptiste Colbert for his inter-
ventionist policies.
Necker took his revenge on Turgot in La Legislation
et le commerce des grains, published just before the outbreak of the bread
riots marking the opening shots of the Grain War of the spring of 1775.
Turgot belonged to the physiocratic movement, established in the 1750s by
the demographer and controversial economic theorist Francois Quesnay.
Condorcet was no enthusiast of economic sects, as his correspondence with
Turgot indicates, and Dippel has demonstrated persuasively that he never
subscribed fully to physiocratic theory.
Nevertheless, he came to Turgots
defence in the quarrel with Necker, and his counter-attack opened in 1775
with the Lettre dun laboureur de Picardie ` a m. Necker, auteur prohibitif ` a
Paris (Letter from a Picardy ploughman to Mr Necker, a prohibitory writer
in Paris) (xi: 134).
Reecting the physiocratic position, Turgot rejected the conventional
wisdom that the grain trade should be regulated in order to maintain fair
price levels, and that government statutes to regulate the operation of the
Badinter and Badinter, Condorcet, p. 127 n. 1.
Abad, Le Grand Marche, p. 55.
The encounters between Turgot and Necker in 1773 have been described in detail by Badinter and
Badinter, Condorcet, pp. 12931.
Quesnays rst major statement on economic matters was the entry Fermiers (Economie politique)
for the Encyclopedie (vol. vi) in 1756. This was followed in 1757 with his second, more celebrated anti-
mercantilist entry, Grain (vol. vii). Quesnays best-known statements of physiocratic principles are
to be found in the 1758 Tableau economique and in a collection of essays, Physiocratie, ou constitution
naturelle du gouvernement le plus avantageux au genre humain ([Paris], 1768), issued under the aegis
of Dupont de Nemours, in which the term physiocracy was used in print for the rst time. See also
T. P. Neil, Quesnay and physiocracy, Journal of the History of Ideas 9 (1948), 15373.
Dippel, Projeter le monde moderne, p. 156.
The economic order 229
trade offered the only practical prospect of averting famine conditions
among the poor. Turgot believed that regulatory or prohibitory legislation
produced the very result it was intended to prevent, a view that Condorcet
also echoed in the Vie de m. Turgot (v: 41). Restrictions on the free internal
and external movement of grain interfered with long-term cycles of market
demand, generating short-termcrises of supply. This inturnendangeredthe
prosperity of the whole agricultural sector, and agriculture was in Turgots
viewthe key sector in national economic life. Reappraisal of policy priorities
with regard to agriculture was a prerequisite for the replenishment of the
states coffers, for successful scal reform and ultimately for the happiness
and well-being of the people. In his Lettres au Contr oleur-General sur le
commerce des grains of 1770, itself a mini-treatise on the theory of free trade,
Turgot had tried therefore to convince Terray of the need to abandon his
decision to reintroduce regulation, but without success.
The clash of economic ideologies over the burning question of the grain
trade came to a head after the death of Louis XV in 1774, and the appoint-
ment by Louis XVI of Turgot to Terrays position as Controller-General.
The Guerre des farines, or Grain War, nally broke out after the promulga-
tion on 13 September 1774 of Turgots decree revoking Terrays prohibitory
legislation, and reauthorising the free movement of grain within Frances
borders. With this decree, which applied to the whole of France with the
exception of Paris, all restrictions on grain sales were withdrawn, and the
traditional practice of stockpiling grain as a means to assure supplies when
times were hardwas scheduledto come to anend. At rst the decree was wel-
comed, but it soonlost public support as the price of bread rose inthe winter
of 17745 as a consequence of the failure of the 1774 harvest. Moreover,
administrators became increasingly unwilling to implement fully Turgots
September decree as events unfolded. Bread riots started on 27 April 1775
in Beaumont-sur-Oise, some twenty miles from Paris, and unrest spread
rapidly to many parts of the provinces. The rioting reached Versailles on
2 May, and looting of bakers shops was soon a daily occurrence in Paris
itself. Public unrest increased, exacerbated by panic-buying, the activities of
speculators, the well-publicised hostility of the anti-physiocrats and waver-
ing governmental strategy.
Condorcet was obliged to witness the public excoriation of the free trade
policies of the heroic Turgot, whom he venerated, as well as the military
action against the mobs which Turgot was obliged to deploy to restore order
to the streets. By 10 May the Grain War was over, but the affair served to
On Turgots Euclidean conviction, see Baker, Condorcet, p. 58.
230 Condorcet and Modernity
rally Turgots enemies, and his remaining days in ofce were numbered.
In Ribemont Condorcet witnessed some of the provincial unrest, and kept
Turgot well informed of the confrontations between soldiers and rioters.
It was against this dramatic backcloth of events, culminating in Louis XVIs
decision to dismiss Turgot from ofce and appoint Clugny as Controller-
General, that he started to draft his defence of Turgots free trade policies in
the form of the Reexions sur le commerce des bles. In this text the prohibi-
tionist lobby, led by the detested Genevan banker Necker, the defender of
ignorant prejudice, and Clugnys eventual successor, would be the primary
Interestingly, Condorcets concerns about government interven-
tion in food supplies are conned only to bread. Nowhere does he raise
the question of economic principle with regard to prohibitory regulations
regarding meat, sh, fruit or other food. In this respect, the Reexions fol-
lows the familiar patternof emphasis onbread commonto most eighteenth-
century writers on the political economy of food. Bread was the staple food
of the poor, and regular supplies were essential to their survival in a way
that the supply of luxuries to Parisian elites was not. It is not that surprising,
therefore, to nd that the bread issue looms so large in the periods political
and economic discourse.
the defence of free trade
In his 1766 Reexions sur la formation et la distribution des richesses, Turgot
had aligned himself with the general principles of political economy asso-
ciated with Quesnay and the physiocrats. His views on free trade were set
out in the preamble to his Lettres au Contr oleur-General sur le commerce des
grains, written during his tour of the Limousin in the famine year of 1770,
but not published until 1788. In the Lettres Turgot had dened the free
market conditions necessary for general commercial equilibrium and the
dilemmas of public policy facing governments, particularly with respect to
the management of market conditions in times of famine.
Turgot was
a theorist of equilibrium, and his central economic tenets were also the
foundation-stone of Condorcets position in the Reexions: commodities,
wages, revenue and population growth would achieve and maintain a bal-
anced relationship of values provided that commercial practices and the
Correspondance inedite de Condorcet et de Turgot, ed. Henry, p. 212.
Neckers rst term of ofce lasted from 1776 to 1781. He reassumed the post of Controller-General
in 17889, after the fall of Lom enie de Brionnes government, and again briey in 178990.
For a full comparative analysis of the theory of general equilibrium with particular reference to
Turgot, Condorcet and Adam Smith, see Rothschild, Economic Sentiments, pp. 7686.
The economic order 231
operations of the market were free, although this did not imply any reluc-
tance to intervene in other areas of political management affecting the
economic welfare of the nation. Freedom of the grain trade would result
in the creation of maximum competitive conditions between buyers and
between sellers alike, together with an equalisation of prices and an ensu-
ing equilibrium between the interests of the rich and those of the poor
(xi: 1045).
Prices would reach their true levels through a process of what
Turgot called t atonnement,
that is to say of tentative negotiationbetween
buyers and sellers, and not through a process of centralised determination
initiated by monopolists and government ofcials. In the case of the grain
trade freedom needed to be established over a long period for benecial
economic effects to be achieved. Unfortunately for Turgot, his policy was
not to be given the time needed for it to come to fruition.
Defending himself against accusations of heartlessness and cold indif-
ference towards the plight of the people, Turgot accepted that government
withdrawal from the operations of the grain trade might well worsen con-
ditions for the poor temporarily in the course of advancement towards
economic equilibrium, but that the effects on bread prices could be mit-
igated by a programme of auxiliary measures relating to the distribution
and storage of grain, employment, food imports, taxation and land tenure
laws. In particular, Turgot was concerned to implement policies that would
underpin employment and pay levels, and he preferred to follow that path
to minimise hardship rather than the path of provision through public char-
ities, and other forms of demeaning authorised mendicity such as soup
Other compensatory measures proposed related to approvision-
nement, that is to say the granting of government loans to grain merchants
to support the high transportation costs of importing grain into crisis areas
from other parts of France, the reduction of taxation on the poor, and
restrictions on the rights of landowners. Such policies were implemented
in the Limousin where Turgot was Intendant from 1761 until 1774, one of
the poorest regions of France under the ancien regime, and in the Vie de m.
On the achievement of this equilibriumbetween the rich and the poor Condorcet wrote a particularly
interesting pamphlet in 1790 entitled Sur le prejuge qui suppose une contrariete dinterets entre Paris et
les provinces (x: 13363). The equilibrium between rich and poor, buyer and seller, still preoccupied
him in the Fragment of the tenth epoque of the Esquisse (vi: 5289).
uvres de Turgot et documents le concernant, ed. Schelle, vol. iii, pp. 3248. Rothschild notes that
this term had mathematical connotations in the eighteenth century, Economic Sentiments, see ch. 6.
For a full discussionof the relationship inTurgots (and Condorcets) thought betweena commitment
to free trade in grain and government intervention in other markets, see Rothschild, Economic
Sentiments, pp. 7286.
uvres de Turgot et documents le concernant, ed. Schelle, vol. iii, pp. 2603. See also Rothschilds
account of Turgots policies against famine, Economic Sentiments, pp. 7881.
232 Condorcet and Modernity
Turgot Condorcet noted Turgots achievement in reducing mortality rates
in the Limousin area after the famines following the disastrous harvests of
1769 and 1770 (v: 40).
In opposing the liberal position on the freedom of the grain trade,
Neckers La Legislation et le commerce des grains embodied a pragmatic
interpretation of the conditions of the poor in a civil order designed fun-
damentally in the interests of the property-owning rich. Oppressed by the
laws, able to sell their labour only for minimal wages, deprived of educa-
tion and therefore enlightenment, the docile poor tolerated the inequalities
of the civil order only because the government ensured their survival by
maintaining the supply of bread at a level they could afford. Necker warned
that this delicate social equation would break down, however, if the poor
perceived that bread supplies were threatened by rising prices. Rising prices
were thus for Necker the most dangerous consequence of the free trade in
grain, and would ultimately undermine the civil order. It was in the inter-
ests of all, therefore, for government to intervene with the introduction of
prohibitory laws to protect the poor from high prices, and thereby rein-
force public order and public happiness. Necker rejected Turgots solution
of compensatory intervention in other areas of the economic order, and
insisted that maintenance of public condence in the supply of bread at
affordable prices by prohibitory mechanisms was the only way to preserve
the civil order and meet the governments over-riding obligation to protect
the interests of property-owners.
Condorcet viewed Neckers anti-liberal
position as being nothing less than a naked defence of the privileges of
the rich in the hypocritical guise of concern for the poor, and as a viola-
tion of natural rights: Prohibitory laws are demanded in the name of the
people, but citizens rights also have always been violated on the pretext of
defending the people (xi: 187).
The Reexions sur le commerce des bles is divided into two parts sub-
titled respectively De la liberte and Des prohibitions, Part 1 containing nine
chapters and Part 2 seven. Condorcet added subsequently an Avertissement
in which he sought to clarify his position on two points that had proved
controversial, and had revived the long-standing charge of indifference to
poverty that had dogged liberal economists since the 1760s. The rst related
On Turgots success here, see M. C. Kiener and J.-C. Peyronnet, Quand Turgot regnait en Limousin
(Paris: Fayard, 1979), p. 267. For contemporary criticism of Turgots policies prior to the quarrel
with Necker, see Kaplan, Bread, Politics and Political Economy, vol. ii, p. 505.
In his admirable summation of Neckers position, Baker notes that this was by no means an unso-
phisticated argument. Indeed, it was a patently undogmatic appeal for a more pragmatic approach
to matters of social legislation than Turgots rational conviction would allow, Condorcet, p. 63.
The economic order 233
to the relationship between reduced levels of consumption among the poor
and the high price of bread in times of shortage. In the Reexions he had
stated that small reductions in consumption caused by rising prices had a
positive impact on the market by encouraging bakers to manage their stock
more efciently, and by allowing competition to re-establish itself more
effectively in the medium to long term. Like Turgot and Adam Smith,
whose Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations was also
rst published in 1776, Condorcet believed that a free trade in grain actually
diminished the threat of famine, but insisted in the Avertissement that this
did not mean that he was indifferent to the realities which even a small
reduction in consumption meant in terms of the daily life of the poor. Like
Smith and Turgot, Condorcet would be seen as the epitome of a callous,
unfeeling Enlightenment mentality which was impervious to the human
tragedy that accompanied the operation of liberal economic principles.
He anticipates, and contradicts, the charge in the Reexions with frequent,
explicit allusion to his sensitivity to the stark realities of life on the bread-
line. The misery of the poor was a very great evil, and he protested that
he was only too aware of the tragic and degrading consequences of mal-
nutrition on child mortality rates and population growth, for which the
remedy will be free trade in subsistence food (xi: 102). He recognised the
human tragedy of the peoples poverty, and wished only to dispel the notion
that the free trade in grain encouraged unscrupulous merchants to enrich
themselves at the peoples expense. A free trade in grain would impose on
the contrary economic discipline on farmers, grain merchants and bakers,
and while the adverse nutritional impact on the poor of a failed harvest
could never be completely eradicated, the competitive pressures of a free
trade in subsistence food would at least prevent a critical situation from
becoming worse.
The second point on which Condorcet defended the case for a free mar-
ket concerned the relationship between wage levels and unemployment.
He insisted that wage levels had little to do with humanitarian considera-
tions, but were determined only by commercial forces. Areasonable balance
between the interests of employers and employees was therefore essential.
Workers lived in nancially fragile circumstances, their livelihoods always
at risk fromillness, high birth rates and the need to support elderly relatives.
In his analysis of the ways in which famine conditions arise Smith identied four causes: sudden
declines in wage levels, interruptions to distribution, collapse of national income in countries depen-
dent on the importation of food and arbitrary interventionist policies. It was the latter cause that
was of most concern to him, see Rothschild, Economic Sentiments, pp. 734. See also Rothschilds
summative comments on the differences between Smith and Condorcet (pp. 22152).
234 Condorcet and Modernity
Elsewhere, notably in the Essai sur la constitution et les fonctions des assemblees
provinciales (viii: 45367) and the Esquisse (vi: 2468), he addressed in closer
detail the problem of the inadequate assets of poor families, and detailed,
and forward-looking, proposals are expounded in these texts relating to
social insurance, public health schemes, the retraining of workers to enable
them to adjust to changing production techniques, the need to alleviate
the adverse environmental effects of polluting factories, and other ways
in which governments could protect the income and health of the work-
ing poor. His proposals still have a remarkable resonance for the modern
The vulnerability of the poor to disaster was, however, not the
consequence of laissez-faire economics but, on the contrary, the result of
an economic policy predicated on prohibitory trade laws and special tax
regimes. Deregulation would liberate the workplace, encourage the expan-
sion of industry and above all help to raise wages to the point at which
family subsistence and security were placed on a much surer footing:
Take away these shackles and you will see culture reach perfection and diversify, the
soul of the people become more vital and dynamic, the creation of new branches
of industry, and the people increase the range of resources at their disposal, become
less dependent on the rich, able to demand higher wages from them, not just to
survive from one day to the next, but to insure themselves against accident. (xi:
Condorcets proposedmeasures toprevent famine andimprove the standard
of living generally for the working poor, such as employment provision
(for women as well), job creation through public works, grain stock-piling
policies involving government subsidies tomerchants andthe establishment
of long-distance transportationnetworks, support for grainimports, reform
of vexatious taxationandrestrictions onthe rights of landowners, all closely
echo Turgots thinking.
The equilibriumbetween those who have everything and those who have
nothing is achievable only within an economic order in which the balance
of self-interest, reected in the need of the poor for the money of the rich
and that of the rich for the labour of the poor, is assured. Again, Condorcet
See E. Rothschild, Social security and laissez-faire in eighteenth-century political economy, Pop-
ulation and Development Review 21 (1995), 71144; Baridon, Malthus, Condorcet et le probl` eme de
la pauvret e; Greenbaum, Health care and hospital building; D. G. Troyanski, Condorcet et lid ee
dassurance vieillesse: risque, dette sociale et g en erations, in Cr epel and Gilain (eds.), Condorcet
mathematicien, pp. 17480. With regard to the objectives and the cost-benet implications of Con-
dorcets theory of public expenditure in the context of social choice, see also Sur la constitution du
pouvoir charge dadministrer le tresor national (xi: 5434); R. Deloche, Turgot, Condorcet et la ques-
tion de laffectation des ressources, in Cr epel and Gilain (eds.), Condorcet mathematicien, pp. 12149;
G. Faccarello and P. Steiner, La Pensee economique pendant la Revolution franc aise (Grenoble: Presses
Universitaires de Grenoble, 1990).
The economic order 235
was confronting long-standing criticisms of the supposed inhumanity of
the physiocrats which Necker had reignited in his attack on Turgot. These
two defensive clarications in the Avertissement serve in effect as the twin
pillars of Condorcets economic profession of faith, and the principles of
government policy which derive from them underpin the movement of
ideas in the rest of the treatise. On the question of markets, the Reexions
fully reects Condorcets view of the connections between social choice
and social outcome as expressed in the Essai sur lapplication de lanalyse ` a la
probabilite des decisions rendues ` a la pluralite des voix around which so much
of his economic thinking revolves. Economic choices are characterised in
his thought as procedures which are as relevant to the art of government
as they are to political and social choice. Markets and elections presented
similar problems for policy-makers, whose purpose in both areas should be
to inuence procedures rather than outcomes.
the operati on of the grai n trade
The comparative analysis of liberal andregulatory policies inthe Reexions is
preceded by a close examination of the key operational features of the grain
trade. The rst six chapters of Part 1 are devoted to detailed descriptions of
production processes, production costs, supply and distribution practices,
price determination and wages and prots. Condorcet starts with the costs
involved to the farmer of working the land, of purchasing and sustaining
the livestock needed to provide power and fertiliser, the acquisition and
maintenance of buildings and barns for livestock and also the storage of
grain, the employees needed to look after the livestock, the purchase of
farming equipment, the hiring of labour to harvest and thresh the corn,
and so on. He explains how, in order to offset the costs involved the farmer
needed to generate sufcient income to repay annual loans, to pay the
landowner, the tithe-owner (often the church), the tax authorities and
also to provide himself with an income high enough to make a living.
He describes the turbulent, unstable nature of an ancien regime economic
order in which the farmer is always unsure of being able to meet the costs of
production, and therefore reluctant to risk the additional nancial outlay
necessary to increase productivity.
However, the problem of productivity was, in Condorcets view, only in
part nancial, and he reected thoughtfully on other non-nancial factors
that affected economic performance: Thus, in order for productivity to
increase we need 1. capital destined for agriculture to generate a higher
Rothschild, Economic Sentiments, p. 186.
236 Condorcet and Modernity
than normal rate of interest; 2. low-risk capital loans; 3. the status of being
a farmer not to be subject to humiliation or oppression [my italics] (xi: 115).
The consequences of centuries of indifference to the social and nancial
position of the farmer-producer, and of neglect in the crucial matter of the
farmers relationship with the landowner, have an increasingly adverse effect
on the consumer as the links in the food-production chain break down as a
result of misguided economic policies. Productivity declines as the income
from land diminishes under the suffocating burden of special tariffs and
other prohibitory taxation laws affecting both landowner and farmer. What
is a problem of nancial survival for them, however, is a matter of life and
death for the poor (xi: 118).
To prevent a shortage turning into a famine Condorcet, like Turgot
and Smith, thought that prices could best be stabilised at affordable levels,
and bread supplies rationalised, by the replacement of a system which had
encouraged an unwieldy and uneconomic proliferation of local small-scale
grain merchants with a nationally unied network of fewer, but larger-scale,
outlets, each serving more extended communities of consumers (xi: 120).
The dependence of bread supplies on the operations of chance would then
be reduced, with consumers no longer at the mercy of irregular and unpre-
dictable events, and storage strategies no longer determined by localised
crises of the moment. The exposure of the production-supply cycle to
the capricious patterns of nature should always be minimised, and to this
end Condorcet was concerned to ensure that the grain trade would no
longer be organised on the basis of short-term contingency policy-making,
but should be managed in a proactive way in accordance with long-term,
scientically informed strategies to ensure consistency and regularity of
supply. He therefore proposed measures which improved working relation-
ships between farmers and merchants, and above all which facilitated the
free movement of grain within and across Frances borders. The success of a
free trade policy also depended crucially on auxiliary measures to improve
roads and communications generally so that merchants knewpromptly and
precisely which areas were in surplus and which were in decit, and could
then ensure the rapid and economic transportation of grain to properly
prepared and administered locations. In times of abundant harvests traders
would be encouraged to plan ahead with their acquisition and storage of
grain so that emergency supplies were ready well ahead of any crisis.
Interestingly on the question of roads and transportation problems, Abad notes that as far as the
provisioning of Paris with general foodstuffs was concerned, markets and shops were often supplied
punctually despite all the obstacles. The Paris issue is complicated by the fact that food supplies were
The economic order 237
The storage problem was in Condorcets view one of the major inhibit-
ing factors in the general climate of discouragement of long-term invest-
ment in the agricultural sector, the technical difculties involved in the
long-termstorage of grain not only undermining famine-prevention strate-
gies but also deterring investors from long-term commitments of capital
(xi: 21). Condorcet criticised French science for failing to address itself to
this urgent problem, and accepted that reform of the political economy of
food involved much more than a change in nancial policy alone.
economic revolution of the trade would require also the services of scientists
and engineers to modernise storage technology and improve road and canal
systems so that supplies of grain could be rationally organised and rapidly
transported. Only then would capital cease to be invested on an ad hoc
basis in times of shortage when opportunists were interested only in mak-
ing quick prots. He envisaged a systemin which grain merchants would be
permanently engaged in maintaining emergency storage facilities, which
would become the source of supply in the lean years (xi: 123), without risk
of stock deterioration. An enlightened government would therefore aim to
encourage the collaboration of science, commerce and agriculture as a key
feature of its strategy to banish the spectre of famine, and end the cruel
dependency of the poor on nature and the hasard of a good harvest.
The economic realities of the grain trade as these related to annual pat-
terns of capital investment, prot margins, borrowing levels and above
all the movement of prices in conditions of uctuating supply and spo-
radic harvest failure, together with the relationship of all of these factors
to wages, are explored in considerable detail in the Reexions. On the price
of grain Condorcet reopened another problem for which the physiocrats,
and Turgot in particular, had been bitterly attacked, namely the perceived
inclination of merchants in a laissez-faire system to ensure that demand
from increasingly desperate consumers always exceeded supply in order to
keep the price of bread high. Condorcet took the view that a consistently
not entirely dependent on the road system. Abads research shows that 15 per cent of food entered
Paris in the 1780s by water, 38 per cent by land and 47 per cent by a combination of both (Le Grand
Marche, pp. 81617). On the growing importance of road systems for grain, see Kaplan, Provisioning
Paris, pp. 1045.
Condorcet had much to say in the Eloges of great scientists that he composed in his capacity as
Perpetual Secretary of the Academy of Sciences on the responsibilities of scientists with regard to the
interests of the state. See particularly the attack on the false policies of mercantilism and the use of
science in pursuit of mercantilist goals contained in the Eloge de m. Trudaine (ii: 20638). Trudaine
had been Director of the Bureau pour les Affaires du Commerce under Turgot. Cf. the Eloge de m.
Montigny (ii: 58098). On the activities of the ofce of the Ministry of Finance, see H. T. Parker,
An Administrative Bureau during the Old Regime. The Bureau of Commerce and its Relations to French
Industry, from May 1781 to November 1783 (Delaware: University of Delaware Press, 1993), pp. 1316.
238 Condorcet and Modernity
sustained level of trading activity would iron out pricing irregularities, price
movements in a permanently operating free market being linked only to
necessary minimal adjustments to costs of transportation and storage from
one area to another (xi: 128). The competitive dynamics of a free market
would discipline prot expectations even during famine conditions, com-
petition between merchants, ensuring that farmers keen to sell achieve
higher prices, that same competition ensuring lower prices in the dearest
season. Those two price levels will vary only in relation to the merchants
prot . . . A higher number of grain merchants will reduce the degree of
variation even more (xi: 129, 130).
The selling price of grain would be determined annually by cultivation
costs, interest charged on loans, taxation, tithes for the landowner and a
modest return for the farmer. With regard to all of these factors affecting
bread prices, with the exception of prots and tithes, Condorcet argues
that it would be in the interest of landowners, farmers, merchants, bakers
and consumers to keep prices stable. In the case of tithes and prots it
would be in the consumers interest to tolerate a level of return that would
motivate merchants and farmers sufciently to engage in the grain trade
on a continuous basis, to motivate the landowner to continue to allow his
land to be farmed, and to persuade the farmer not to use capital elsewhere
with non-productive outcomes. If prots were too low, productivity would
decline, the long-term nancial basis of the agricultural sector would be
undermined and the poor would continue to go hungry whenever a harvest
With regard to wages, Condorcet urged governments to concentrate on
ways to ensure full employment throughout the year at a level of pay that
would enable a worker to provide adequately for himself and his family,
and if possible to save enough money to protect himself and his fam-
ily against inationary surges, and against loss of income through illness,
redundancy and old age (xi: 132). Wage levels must meet these basic require-
ments, otherwise motivation to work would disappear. However, if workers
demanded wages that exceeded basic needs, they risked pricing themselves
out of employment. Wages, subsistence levels and prices of basic consumer
necessities would always be closely linked, but in a grain trade operating
under the yoke of prohibitory laws the equilibrium always altered in times
of crisis to the disadvantage of the poor who would not survive at all,
if a few rich people did not set up workshops for humanitarian reasons
(xi: 133). Just as distribution problems would be resolved with the establish-
ment of a modernised national storage and transportation infrastructure, so
worker-poverty would be alleviated by a consistent, national wages policy
The economic order 239
determined, not by le prix moyen, but by le prix habituel.
Workers interests
were not served by prices articially depressed by interventionist legislation,
in Condorcets view ultimately a recipe for higher unemployment.
Far more important to the true well-being of workers was price stability:
The wage-earner must fear both high prices, which wages cannot meet,
and low prices, when there is no work; price stability gives him security
and wealth; it matters little to him whether that average price is high
or low, provided that there is as little price-variation as possible (xi: 143).
Condorcet understood very clearly the dangers to the economy of price and
prot deation that the regulation of prices imposed. He also understood
the human cost of regulation, and the moral imperatives of the economic
order to which he alludes in the opening sentence of the Reexions resonate
powerfully in the analysis of the interaction between wages, prots and
prices that ll the chapters of Part 1:
Let all members of society have guaranteed levels of subsistence food in all seasons
and in all years, wherever they live; above all let the man who has only what he
earns be able to buy whatever food he needs; this is in the whole nations interest,
and this must be the purpose of all legislation on subsistence food. (xi: 111)
If policies to liberate the grain trade fromthe stranglehold of prohibitory
laws held out the promise, in the long term at least, of general economic
progress, such policies would also in Condorcets view have a particularly
positive impact on the agricultural sector itself in other ways. To the eco-
nomic advantages for farmers and landowners of a free commercial envi-
ronment, he added what he called political advantages. By this he meant
not only the ways in which a free grain trade would create the right nancial
conditions for the on-going investment of capital in agriculture, but also
the right psychological conditions necessary for that investment to take
place. Prot was not the sole motivator in persuading farmers not to opt
for the higher rewards and easier way of life that investment in city-based
commerce could offer them: We can see that it is not love of money which
attracts him to his condition, nor a taste for idleness and pleasure (xi: 145).
Condorcet always stressed the need to relocate the economic world within
the larger world of natural human values and psychology. As far as the
agricultural sector was concerned, he saw farmers as men who preferred
to be dependent on nature rather than on others, to be ruined by storms
rather than by injustice, who were not mere calculating machines whose
Condorcet explains how le prix moyen is calculated in chapter 6: The average price is calculated by
taking the total sum of prices in different times and in different countries, and dividing that sum by
the number of prices observed (xi: 135). This differs considerably from the normal price.
240 Condorcet and Modernity
choices were determined only by prot. The prospect of independence and
self-sufciency attracted men to agriculture, and persuaded them to work
the land. That prospect was lost when the grain trade was not free. Under
prohibitory regimes the farmer found himself at the mercy of bureaucrats
who, pleading the cause of the poor, demonised himin the eyes of the latter
even as they oppressed and abused him with their petty regulations:
Bear inmindthat the farmer, whois usedtobeing dupedby all kinds of businessmen
living in cities full of trickery and oppression, will submit to everything prohibitory
laws, which he does not understand, impose on him in the form of inspections,
prohibitions, convictions and harassment in order to obtain bread, and he will not
risk his savings to build up a surplus which he is obliged to purchase at the expense
of his peace of mind. (xi: 146)
If this state of affairs continued, agriculture would be abandoned to poor
ploughmen who would curse their lot and produce only enough to sur-
In the last chapter of Part 1 Condorcet returned to Neckers central accu-
sation that the advocates of a free grain trade were guilty of showing a cold
indifference to, and culpable ignorance of, the economic and social realities
that governed the lives of poor people.
The themes of his defence of free
trade now broaden into a consideration of the social issues at stake in the
debate on the political economy of food, and he presents in this chapter a
remarkably comprehensive analysis of the nexus of factors relevant to that
debate such as health, fertility, birth rate and life expectancy: Similarly, the
more easily the people can obtain subsistence food, the lower the infant
mortality rate, the fewer the cases of childhood intestinal problems, and
the fewer the cases of puberty causing either death or long-term disabilities
(xi: 154). Connecting liberal economics to issues of conscience and humani-
tarianism, he infers a direct, eye-witness knowledge of the conditions of the
suffering poor, observing that anyone who has actually visited a poor house-
hold knows how appalling those conditions are. They would also know
how those conditions improve with a more economically and scientically
informed management of the production-supply/price-wage equilibrium.
Rejecting the utilitarian philosophies of Helv etius (and Necker), he insisted
that self-interest was not the sole motivation for human actions; moral sen-
timent also counted for something. To witness the misery of others was
Further comment on the psychological conditions for economic freedom are to be found in the
Fragment of the tenth epoque of the Esquisse (vi: 51518). Cf. Rothschild, Economic Sentiments,
pp. 1923.
Condorcet wrote at some length on the causes of poverty in the Essai sur la constitution et les fonctions
des assemblees provinciales (viii: 4539).
The economic order 241
as painful as an attack of gout.
Condorcets understanding of the place
of sentiment in human nature and motivation is central to his economic
philosophy in general, and to his theory of economic interdependence in
The ideological clash with Necker also raised the much-debated ques-
tion of population decline and its causes. For Condorcet, a free commerce
in grain ensured population growth by ultimately improving standards of
nutrition, and on this point he challenged Neckers thesis that nations
which depended exclusively on agriculture for the creation of national
wealth would inhibit population growth.
In support of his counter-
argument Condorcet compared living standards and rates of population
increase pertaining to agriculturally based economies with equivalent data
for economies whose policy priority lay with the development of a man-
ufacturing sector and the production of luxury goods. Concentration on
the manufacture of luxury goods reduced the amount of labour, land and
capital available for the production of subsistence food. In such economies,
often exhibiting the appearance of prosperity and economic vitality, stan-
dards of nutrition actually fell among the poor who went hungry in spite of
a buoyant trade in manufactured goods. Bread supplies in manufacturing-
based economies were dangerously over-dependent on the importation of
grain fromother countries; such countries were unable to support adequate
levels of subsistence among the poor fromtheir neglected domestic agricul-
tural resources, depleted the grain stocks of other countries and denied their
own populations not only a consistent and affordable supply of the basic
necessities, but also other ways in which they could derive fromthe physical
labour of working the elds important benets essential to their well-being
(xi: 157).
The manufacture of goods for a luxury market at the expense of invest-
ment in, and encouragement of, agriculture was for Condorcet a key factor
Dissertation philosophique et politique, ou Reexions sur cette question: Sil est utile aux hommes detre
trompes (v: 371). On Condorcets rejection of Helv etius and the utilitarian school, see especially ed.
Henry, Correspondance inedite de Condorcet et de Turgot, pp. 141, 148.
On the notion of economic life as a system of sentiments, see Rothschild, Economic Sentiments,
pp. 23646.
Condorcet uses Neckers phrase, population imparfaite (xi: 155). With regard to the social impli-
cations of population growth, he distinguishes carefully between bonheur and bien-etre, the former
referring to a subjective disposition and the latter to the consequence of objective, politically deter-
mined conditions which protect the individual from poverty and oppression. The generation of
bien-etre in the civil order is the responsibility of governments, and is a necessary precondition for
bonheur, but it is up to nature to do the rest. Governments, by concerning themselves with physical,
moral and educational improvement can in truth correct nature, but in this case it is no longer a
legal duty, but a duty of benevolence (xi: 155 n. 1).
242 Condorcet and Modernity
in population decline. In poor, oppressed countries the production of lux-
ury goods took food away from the mouths of the poor. It set the stage only
for destructive economic policies that encouraged one individual to devour
the resources needed to sustain a hundred poor families, with corn elds
that could feed the hungry being transformed into ornamental parks for
the delectation of the idle rich. In contrast, liberal policies in support of
agriculture, reinforced by the establishment of a free commercial environ-
ment, shielded the people from penury and starvation, and the nation as
a whole from the moral corruption that accompanied the pursuit of con-
spicuous consumption, by transferring the balance of national economic
activity from the manufacture of luxuries for the few to the provision of
food for the many. With the deregulation of agriculture, capital would ow
back from the city to the countryside, farming would once more become
nancially and politically attractive, and the economically and socially
dangerous drift of workers from useful jobs in thinly populated rural areas
to frivolous employment in over-crowded cities would be stemmed: With
the condition of being a farmer becoming more tolerable, those born into
it will no longer seek to abandon it in order to swell the ranks of the slaves
who surround the rich and powerful in the cities. The population will thus
become more evenly distributed, and the countryside more populated
(xi: 160).
In defence of a free trade in grain, Condorcet thus envisaged the regen-
eration of a once noble sector of the economy in which landowners would
no longer feel that their future lay in the abandonment of their property for
a life at court, or that the empty attery of courtiers was preferable to the
honest rewards of agriculture. Again the economic aspects of his defence
were enhanced by insights into the political bonus that would accrue from
free trade policies:
Public opinion will place the intelligent ploughman on the same level as the better-
fed paper merchant, and the rich man will no longer expect piles of gold to insulate
himfromthe people. Then you will see less of the debauchery which grows as more
and more people are tightly packed together, thrives with idleness and wealth, and
shuns hard work in the countryside. (xi: 1601)
In the end, Condorcets free trade position transcended economics.
Certainly he saw liberal economics as being rst and foremost the way
forward to a more efcient management of bread supplies, to an urgently
needed revitalisation of the economy, to the rehabilitation of agriculture,
to the re-emergence of rural France as a powerful force in the life of the
nation, to the improvement of public bonheur and bien-etre and to the
The economic order 243
encouragement of population growth. However, he also saw free trade
and the consequential negation of the prejudicesof prohibitory regulation
as the economic catalyst for a social revolution in manners in which the
debauchery of city life would fade away, the greed of the rich (this dropsical
thirst) be curbed, the unbearable weight of privilege lifted, and the quality
of public life, especially in the world of nance, improved: Thus freedom
of the grain trade, by assuring the people of a ready supply of affordable
subsistence food in a more equitable way, will increase their numbers, make
them stronger, and less debased and corrupt [my italics] (xi: 161).
Economics interlock constantly in the Reexions with moral and polit-
ical life, where questions of regulation and taxation relate as much to the
psychological and spiritual (in a non-religious sense) health of the nation
as to its commercial life in ways strongly reminiscent of Smiths linkage of
economics to sentiment.
Taxes and police (government regulations) are
about public virtue and happiness as well as the public purse, and as such
they formed an integral part not only of the operations of public nance but
also of Condorcets programme of reform to relieve oppression. The aboli-
tion of prohibitory regulation would deliver the people above all from the
terror of vexations, from the feeling of being oppressed, a thousand times
more painful than poverty (xi: 191). Sentiment for Condorcet informed
economic life, and shaped economic relationships between individuals and
within society generally.
the prej udi ces of prohi bi tory regulati on
In Part 1 Condorcet had advocated free trade as the policy whereby the sup-
ply, distribution and pricing of grain and related produce could be managed
most efciently and equitably in the interests of landowners, farmers, work-
ers, consumers and especially the poor. In Part 2 he examines the principles
behind prohibitory legislation, and the arguments that adversaries of free
trade offered in defence of their position. His purpose was to illustrate
the ways in which centuries of complex commercial legislation had stied
the nations economic life, and had convinced the people that the normal
economic condition of civil man was to be burdened with the chains of
regulation (xi: 164). In effect, Part 2 of the Reexions is a sustained com-
mentary on the text of Neckers Sur la legislation et le commerce des grains.
In this section of the treatise the attack on the regulation of the grain trade
For a commentary on Smiths Theory of Moral Sentiments in this respect, see Rothschild, Economic
Sentiments, pp. 89.
244 Condorcet and Modernity
moves in a different direction, with the opening shots taking the form of a
denunciation of prohibitory laws as an infringement of the inviolable right
to property and to prot from the produce of that property, property in the
sense of lawful ownership of land or goods being carefully differentiated
from the ownership of feudal rights to levy charges. Only the former was
legitimate (xi: 2445). Arbitrary tariffs, restrictions on markets, subsidies
and price controls are interpreted as blatant violations of that right, and
clear evidence of an unjust and retrogressive management of the public
purse: A government ofcial must respect property to the point of making
it a superstition; if he allows himself to violate that right, his administra-
tion is nothing more than daylight robbery, and the pretext of the public
interest in which he drapes himself sheer hypocrisy (xi: 1678). Selective
tax regimes penalised not only property-owners, moreover, but also the
very workforce whose sweat watered the soil, and whose blood was often
shed in defence of the realm: The landowner, who is attached to the soil
which feeds him, wants the laws he must obey to be moderate and just;
his happiness is linked inextricably to everything that contributes to pub-
lic happiness (xi: 170). While city nanciers and rentiers were allowed to
pursue prots in ways that did not advance the public interest, prohibitory
laws did nothing to dissuade proprietaires from swelling the ranks of the
unproductive rentier class.
For Condorcet the economic, social and political case for a free grain
trade was unanswerable, but he was obliged to confront the infuriating
parodox of Neckers popularity, and of a climate of widespread public resis-
tance to any move to suspend prohibitory legislation. The inchoate views
of an ignorant and deeply superstitious public, which still believed in magic
and witchcraft, had in Condorcets eyes no role to play in the formulation
of public policy. The legitimisation of public opinion as a political force
to be taken seriously had to await the advent of an educated and enlight-
ened people. By pandering to unenlightened public opinion, prohibitory
legislators were merely collaborating in anarchy, colluding with the mobs
which invaded markets in times of famine, broke into bakeries, stole grain
from barns and disrupted distribution, while at the same time deluding
the people further with the siren-call of protective policies.
Faced with
the unrest they unwittingly provoked, they compounded their errors of
economic policy by their willingness to suspend the rule of law on the dan-
gerous assumption that once the stormhad passed the lawwould resume its
Necker is not the only target here. Condorcet also has in mind Simon-Nicolas-Henri Linguet,
founder-editor of the Annales politiques, civiles et litteraires du dix-huiti`eme si`ecle (xi: 174 n. 1).
The economic order 245
authority. Unlike the false, beguiling nostrumof regulation, whichappealed
so strongly to the mob-rule mentality, free trade policies were the expres-
sion of the law, not its denial. A free grain trade, rationally administered in
secure conditions, could be managed without inciting public unrest, and
could guarantee the supply of bread in a way that no regulated trade could
ever do: It would be cruel to make the misery of the people worse on the
pretext of respecting their opinion (xi: 176). In times of high grain prices
and the threat of public disorder, the virtuous legislator will rise above the
clamour, and follow his conscience and his reason by proposing laws which
are in the true interests of the people. Condorcet mocks Neckers view that
the years of prosperity which France enjoyed under Turgots ministry had
been precisely the moment to introduce prohibitory legislation to curb free
trade by analogy with the ability of a healthy body to withstand the pain of
surgery better than a sick one (xi: 177 n. 1). He rejected Neckers claim that
the economic achievement of the Turgot government was the undeserved
legacy of the scal policies of the preceding administration.
For Condorcet prohibitory legislation was not just a threat to the grain
trade, and to the broader principle of civic freedom itself, but also violated
that vital second formof freedom, namely personal freedom, in the formof
the vexations, oppression and visits which a regulatory regime necessarily
imposed: Other freedoms are caught up in the same proscription; this love
of freedomis, according to their leader [Necker], nothing more thana child-
ish fancy (xi: 178).
The temperature of his rhetoric rises as he counter-
attacks on the general grounds of freedom in an impassioned last-ditch
defence of the besieged advocates of free trade whose feelings were outraged
by the spectacle of widespread poverty and hardship. Responsibility for that
spectacle is laid at the door of the Necker faction, the attack on the enemies
of free trade acquiring wider moral and political dimensions with a long
list of remonstrations relating to oppressive criminal codes, the denial of
press freedom, indifference to the public interest and the protection
of economic privilege. Prohibitory legislators were deaf to the true voice
of the people; and blind to their tears of pain. Moreover, they mistook the
hysterical panic of a frightened crowd contemplating starvation for the true
voice of the people, whereas the true voice of the people was to be heard
elsewhere (xi: 181).
A good example of the way in which government intervention in the labour market, for example,
violated personal freedom was the corvee (the feudal law requiring peasants to undertake unpaid
work for the local seigneur), see the Reexions sur les corvees ` a mylord

(xi: 6186) and Sur labolition

des corvees (xi: 8997).
246 Condorcet and Modernity
Condorcet recognised that the peoples prejudice against free trade was,
like all prejudices, resistant to reason because it was embedded in the wild,
untutored thought-processes of the mass mind, fearful of the perceived
consequences of an unregulated trade, its misguided fears further inamed
by Necker, Linguet and the other enemies of the public interest in order
to bring down an enlightened administration (xi: 197). The prejudice of
underpinned the widely held assumption that it fell to governments
to control the price of grain at whatever cost to farmers, merchants and
bakers. Protectionism meant in reality, however, that the solemn obligation
of governments to defend the rights of all would be contravened. It was
fear, encouraged by the propaganda of the unscrupulous, which led to the
scenes of public disorder that helped to bring down Turgot: All of these
disturbances are perpetrated by crowds stirred up by a vague fear of famine,
and by a vague hatred of those whom they accuse of being responsible for
it; these crowds are led by rogues who take good care to fan those fears and
prot from them (xi: 205).
Prohibitory legislation reinforced hatred and suspicion of free trade,
and its advocates exploited popular misunderstandings so that the causes
of famine, for which Jews and witches used to be the scapegoats, were
now attributed to landowners, farmers, merchants and an enlightened
Controller-General (xi: 2026). These misunderstandings must be cleared
up, and the inuence of the enemies of free trade over the mind of the
mob diminished. Ultimately the benets of free trade could only be under-
stood by free minds, and opponents of free trade are subtly associated
by Condorcet with the enslaved minds of an anti-science, anti-progress
sect, the struggle for a free trade in grain merging with the struggle for
Enlightenment itself:
The people are stupid because we have been pleased to brutalise them over a
long period of time; they are unjust only because they have been the plaything
of oppressors . . . So it is above all a matter of bringing round public opinion;
and why do we despair of being able to do this? Why can the case made for the
grain trade not be like that made for the movement of the earth, the circulation
of the blood, emetics, universal gravitation, inoculation, etc., etc., on which views
have changed, although there has been no lack of serious, eloquent apologists for
dissenting prejudices . . . The people crying out for bread are people living in big
towns, and it is proposed to sacrice to them the right to property, that basic,
founding principle of society, and the true interest of the nation. (xi: 2079)
Condorcet also wrote movingly about fear as the governing factor in poor peoples lives in Monopole
et monopoleur (xi: 45). See also on this point Rothschild, Economic Sentiments, pp. 1314.
The reference here is to Turgots decree of 14 September 1775 abolishing the regulations regarding
the sale of grain, and to the ways in which rural mobs had been tricked into rioting against a decree,
which had been actually promulgated in their interests, by the lies and deceptions spread by the
adversaries of free trade (xi: 2089 n. 1).
The economic order 247
The fear of a free grain trade felt by the poor was an automatic fear,
provoked by suspicion of grain storage policies and other precautionary
measures which progressive governments had to take. This primal fear
was accompanied by another order of fear, equally irrational and equally
damaging to the public interest, namely the considered fear of anti-liberal
theorists and their representatives in government. This fear was less demon-
strative; it disguised itself as political prudence, expressed itself in the form
of regulatory policies, but it too also originated in prejudices. In address-
ing this subtler order of prejudice, Condorcet noted, and rejected, Neckers
chimerical assumptions that a free trade in grain would encourage monop-
olies to exert a stranglehold on the nations food supplies. He argued
that, on the contrary, a free trade would actually prevent monopolies
through increased competition, and above all through the free move-
ment of grain within France and between France and other countries
(xi: 21623).
In this long commentary on the negative effects of these and other exam-
ples of harmful prohibitory laws, Condorcet drew particular attention to
the negative economic impact of the regulations requiring farmers to sell
grain only at ofcially designated markets, often at distant locations involv-
ing great cost and inconvenience. This aspect of market regulations had an
inationary impact on prices, mainly as a consequence of transportation
costs, delayed supplies to the cities, created monopolies, increased oppor-
tunities for proteering by restricting outlets and added to public anxiety.
Abolition of this lawalone would have immediate benecial effects on both
urban and rural economies:
By increasing the number of markets, by making them free, by allowing people
to buy and sell wherever they wish, with country-people stocking up in the local
area at times when they actually need grain, and city-dwellers buying partly from
markets and partly from town granaries, open at all hours, everybody would nd
it easier to get hold of their basic food. (xi: 234)
In arguing for the reform of specic prohibitory laws like these, Condorcet
was always conscious that he was faced with the challenge of persuading
governments to adopt a way of ordering policy choices which could only
produce tangible benets in the long term, but offered no quick, politically
more convenient, solutions. The reorganisation of the market, the reduc-
tion of scarcities, the improvement of pay, the stabilisation of prices, and the
On Neckers (and also Linguets) views on the need for regulation regarding the importation and
exportation of grain, Condorcet notes their debt to the anti-physiocratic arguments advanced by
Ferdinand Galiani, author of the 1770 Dialogues sur les bles (xi: 224 n. 1). The internationalisation of
the grain trade was central to the operation of a free trading environment, and Condorcets discussion
of the issue provides an opportunity for sharp satire of Neckers counterviews.
248 Condorcet and Modernity
creation of a general economic equilibrium were not achievable overnight,
as Turgot had discovered to his cost.
In Condorcets view, Turgots dismissal had marked a bitter moment of
defeat for enlightened minds on the issue of a free commerce in grain, and
although he drew a small measure of consolation from the thought that
the partisans of liberty had at least exposed the aws in the prohibitory
case to the scrutiny of rational minds (xi: 240), his anger and disappoint-
ment at the premature termination of the beautiful dream of progressive
government under Turgots leadership surface intermittently in the closing
pages of the Reexions. Regulation of the grain trade fed not the hunger for
bread but the hunger for power, and resulted in the proliferation of a self-
regarding ofcialdom intent on keeping the poor in a state of paternalistic
dependency. Market dues (droits de hallage) continued to be levied; the
dead hand of taxation still crippled the incomes of poor working people;
feudal rights still governed the harvesting and threshing of corn, the milling
of our and the baking of bread. The people were still required to use only
the mills and ovens of the local seigneur,
and to pay him accordingly.
Again the economic issue is overlaid with moral concerns: All of these
shameful remnants of the old enslavement of the people do them less harm
in terms of taxation than they do in terms of the feelings of humiliation
and disgust with their condition which go with this form of servitude
(xi: 245).
Part 2 of Condorcets remarkable treatise on the grain trade concludes
with a passionate defence of his motive and purpose in writing it. The
Reexions, he informs us, was intended only to present truths which are of
interest to all citizens . . ., and which are thought to be useful (xi: 2501).
His concluding words hint at a revolution to come in a nal peroration in
which he denounces the scintillating corruption of Versailles, and lacer-
ates a government whose main preoccupations under Neckers leadership
seemed to be conned to niceties of court etiquette, and whose ofcials
Condorcet saw this particular feudal law (droit de banalite) as being especially harmful to the grain
trade in general, and to the interests of the poor in particular: The law relating to the compulsory
use of the local landowners mill is the only one to harm the grain trade directly. It is easy to see that
this mill law can increase neither the consumption of grain nor the quality of the our each mill
can grind in twenty-four hours. This sort of mill is no more productive than other mills because the
mill-owner can rob the unfortunates subject to his tyranny with impunity. These acts of theft, almost
always impossible to record, and usually covered up by compliant magistrates who belong to the
same landowner as the mill, mainly affect those people who just bring to the mill small quantities
at a time, and are least able to make themselves understood. This robbery is carried out with a
violence and audacity that makes it even more intolerable, and among the countless oppressions to
which the poor man is condemned, this is the one which breaks him and disgusts him most of all
(xi: 2456).
The economic order 249
believed that all was well as long as courtiers continued to enjoy fat pen-
sions and the services of good cooks. The treatise ends with a question
that takes the reader well beyond the political economy of food and into
more dangerous territory: was the spectacle of the oppressed poor and the
wretched impoverishment of the entire nation not an unspeakable agony
from which France yearned for deliverance (xi: 251)?
chapter 1 0
Managing the Revolution
1789: preli mi nari es
Prior to the convocation of the Estates-General the principle of constitu-
tional redress through revolutionary action was inferred in effect in Con-
dorcets political thinking in the form of a rm advocacy of the right of
the governed to change constitutions, and to withdraw their consent to
be ruled, should the terms of the contract of association be breached. His
defence of this right co-existed with a deep fear of rapid upheaval, anarchy
and mob violence that would never leave him, and in the months following
the fall of the Bastille he would have much to say on the management of the
raw forces of insurrection and their containment, once unleashed, within a
monarchical system seamlessly transformed and endowed, unlike absolute
with the capacity to deect demands for radical constitutional
change. In the ebb and ow of revolutionary violence Condorcet never
ceased to insist that progress was achievable only through reason, not force
of arms, and that true victory over despotism came about when reason had
marshalled its forces more effectively than those of the mob. Power, for
Condorcet, would never emanate legitimately from the streets, or for that
matter from the guillotine.
The 1786 De linuence de la Revolution dAmerique sur lEurope (On the
inuence of the American Revolution on Europe), dedicated to La Fayette,
benefactor of two worlds, is the rst essay in which Condorcet reected
at length on the seismic shift in the political landscape that had taken
place after the victory of the American colonists over the British crown ten
years before. The angle of approach to the possibility of a similar uprising
against tyranny in France is so oblique, however, as to be barely perceptible.
The preamble addresses in general terms the question of collective happi-
ness, and the ways in which this could be achieved through enlightened
In the Vie de Voltaire Condorcet analysed in some detail the aws in absolutist government that
encouraged insurrection (iv: 1313).
Managing the Revolution 251
legislation on mens rights, those rights so sacred but so long-forgotten
(viii: 11), rather than revolutionary action,
and of the economic benets
of their recognition. In his essay on the American Revolution Condorcet
evoked the spectacle of the birth of a nation representing the best aspects of
the Enlightenment, a model for enlightened governments and a warning to
tyrants. Nowhere in this essay, however, is there any indication of revolu-
tionary clouds gathering over France. America offered Europe a sanctuary
from tyranny, and the success of its Revolution certainly made oppression
in Europe a little more difcult to defend:
So Europe . . . nds in America a useful brake on ministers who might be tempted
to govern badly. Oppression must become more tentative when [Europe] knows
that there is a sanctuary for whoever it might choose to victimise, that the victim
can escape oppression and also punish the oppressors by forcing them to appear
with him before the bar of public opinion. (viii: 15)
The American model of a free people living in equality and harmony
might well help to cure Europe of its ignorance of the benets of a system
based on equality of rights under the law. The nature of the cure was then
explored in legislative and constitutional terms that fell well short of the
contemplation of a revolution in France.
The American Revolutions inu-
ence on Europe was thus essentially about the triumph of enlightenment
and progress. Its potentially destabilising impact on Europe as a revolution
per se is not measured. The concluding chapter (the longest) is certainly
devoted to an exploration of the signicance of American developments
for France, but exclusively in the context of trade and economic life. Con-
dorcet was to return to the American Revolution in the Eloge de Franklin
in 1790 (iii: 41213), and again in 1794 in the Esquisse, where the birth of
the American Republic is viewed in more inammatory terms as the liber-
ation of a people from its chains (vi: 1989). In the Esquisse the spread of
American revolutionary fervour to Europe was seen in retrospect to have
been the logical consequence of historical processes (vi: 200).
Two years later Condorcet wrote a second, very different, essay on the
American Revolution. This was the Lettres dun citoyen des Etats-Unis ` a un
For further commentary by Condorcet on the inuence of the American Revolution on France and
Europe, see the Revision des travaux de la premi`ere legislature (x: 4389). On the general context of
the debate on American constitutional issues in pre-Revolution France, see H. Dippel, Condorcet
et la discussion des constitutions am ericaines en France avant 1789, in Chouillet and Cr epel (eds.),
Condorcet, pp. 2016.
Among the supplementary texts appended to this essay is the translated text of a letter written to
Congress by George Washington presenting the new constitution for approval, followed by the seven
articles of the new constitution itself, with commentary (viii: 6792).
252 Condorcet and Modernity
Franc ais sur les affaires presentes (Letter from a citizen of the United States
to a Frenchman, on current affairs) published anonymously in July 1788,
almost coinciding with Briennes announcement on 8 August of the Kings
decision, inthe face of national bankruptcy, to convoke the Estates-General.
The Lettres dun citoyen identies more specically Franco-American par-
allels in the context of constitutional reform and resistance to tyranny, and
the tone is much more urgent and apprehensive. Written from the putative
standpoint of an American citizen, the Lettres opens up the prospect of
revolution in an enslaved France in the cause of freedom:
I shall take care not to join with one of your poets in saying: Freedom is nothing
if the whole world is free [Condorcets italics]. On the contrary, I believe that the
more free nations there are, the more assured everyones freedom is. I go so far
as to think that as long as one enslaved nation exists in the world, the fate of the
human race will not be decided, nor will its chains be for ever broken.
(ix: 97)
The enemy of freedom is parliamentary aristocracy, and the American
interlocutor points to the grievances relating to taxation, so central to Amer-
ican discontents, which weighs heavily on the poor in order to spare the
rich. Aristocratic rule is denounced as corps-despotism, a basic cause of
instability contravening the natural rights that condition the pact of asso-
ciation. Condorcet resumes many of the points about the reform of the
criminal code, the scal system, freedom of ideas, the demolition of sec-
tional interests and the right of participation in legislation set out in more
detail in the Essai sur la constitution et les fonctions des assemblees provin-
ciales, but again his arguments do not yet move explicitly in the direction
of republicanism, although two years previously, in the Vie de m. Turgot,
he had declared republican constitutions to be the best of all (v: 205).
The grievances he lists against the ancien regime are numerous and funda-
mental, but the nouveau regime that he now predicts for France continues
to be legitimised by the authority of a King, albeit modied. Condorcet
continued for some time to feel optimistic about the future of the French
monarchy, and in the Lettres dun citoyen he makes his American inter-
locutor question the need for a more radical solution at a time when the
provincial assemblies were beginning to implement a rational and enlight-
ened programme of reform: Is it when a legitimate way of demanding
reform has been obtained that we must resort to violence, sedition, etc?
(ix: 105). In the second of the Lettres dun citoyen Condorcet reviewed the
In Sur le sens du mot Revolutionnaire, an essay on the dynamics of revolution, rst printed in the
Journal de linstruction sociale in June 1793, Condorcet observed that the term r evolutionnaire could
only be applied to insurrections whose purpose was freedom (xii: 615).
Managing the Revolution 253
nature of the Kings powers, and of his relationship with the judiciary in
the light of Briennes promulgation of the 8 May decrees,
but the principle
of sovereign authority per se was not at this point challenged: In France,
all justice emanates from the King (ix: 108).
order and di sorder
Condorcets position on Louis XVI, and the whole question of the monar-
chys future, evolved dramatically in the months following the meeting
of the Estates-General. As the events of 1789 unfolded, he concentrated
increasingly on the nature and purpose of the newly minted National
Assembly that had emerged from the proceedings of the Estates-General
on 17 June, and on the nature of the Kings relationship with the new body.
On 9 July the National Assembly assumed the title of Assemblee nationale
constituante, about whose mandate and powers Condorcet had much to say
in Sur letendue des pouvoirs (On the extent of power).
There had been a
rapid descent into constitutional crisis marked by the Tennis Court Oath of
20 June, the request to the King to withdraw troops from the Paris area, the
dismissal of Necker, the storming of the Bastille, the Peasant Revolution
of 20 July4 August and the Municipal Revolution of JulySeptember,
culminating in the 4 August decrees. The Reexions sur ce qui a ete fait, et
sur ce qui reste ` a faire (Reections on what has been done, and on what
remains to be done), rst read to the Societe dAmis de la Paix, was composed
hurriedly between the 4 August decrees, heralding the dening moment
of collision between the Constituent Assembly and Louis XVI, and the
Declaration des droits de lhomme et du citoyen (Declaration of the rights of
man, and of the citizen) of 26 August. Condorcet observed the accelerating
pace of political change with a critical eye, as is evident from his comments
on the dangers of hasty legislation in the Reponse ` a lAdresse aux provinces
(Reply to the address to the provinces) (ix: 505).
In the Reexions sur ce qui a ete fait he listed six requirements of the new
national body: the restoration of rights to all citizens, the establishment
of a constitution in which those rights would be embedded in legislation,
the reform of the scal system, the reduction of the national debt with-
out recourse to increased taxation on the poor, reform of the civil and
The so-called May Edicts which related to the reorganisation of the higher courts and the changes
to judicial procedures (including the abolition of torture).
It was under the designation of Assemblee nationale constituante that the Assembly moved its seat to
Paris on 9 October 1789, a move that Condorcet praised in the 1790 Adresse aux provinces as a wise
and necessary measure (ix: 506).
254 Condorcet and Modernity
criminal law codes and the removal of all abuses and privileges nanced
fromthe public purse (ix: 4445). Fromthe start of its existence the Assem-
bly had been faced with entrenched vested interests as a consequence of the
interdependence of the legislative, executive and judiciary. The obstacles
to political equality erected by the privileged orders had resulted in the
Tennis Court Oath of 20 June, and the invasion of the Assembly chamber
by a frustrated crowd. Ever since then, the Assembly had been trying to
function against a background of rising public disorder: The people have
come to the rescue of the National Assembly, and the cause of freedom has
triumphed; but the executive, like the judiciary, has been left powerless . . .
In the end, the Legislative Assembly found itself exposed to the inuence
of popular movements, and their inuence over [the Assembly] could not
be stopped.
Condorcets immediate priority in the light of events lay not with the
deteriorating position of Louis XVI
but rather with the containment of
the threat to public order posed by these popular movements. Condorcets
fear of mob-rule had surfaced in 1776 in the Reexions sur le commerce des
bles with a loud warning about the dangers of listening to the voice of
une multitude insens ee with reference to the street violence in Paris in
AprilMay 1775 at the time of the Grain War (xi: 210). In the Reexions
sur les pouvoirs, written prior to the May meeting of the Estates-General,
he had expressed his fear of anarchy in the light of the power-struggles and
political manuvrings marking the preparations for the meeting, and he
had contemplated with horror the possible consequences of the despair of
twenty-four million people caused by a disintegration of the constitution
(ix: 265). In the Reexions sur ce qui a ete fait we can see a dramatic reawak-
ening of Condorcets pre-1 May 1789 fears as the stability of the polity grew
increasingly fragile.
The text is deeply marked by fear of the consequences of violent political
upheaval. In the face of the threatened dispersal of the National Assem-
bly, Condorcet systematically set out urgent items of unnished business,
including a list of crucially important measures to be taken to manage
growing civil unrest. First among these was the solemn recognition of the
26 August Declaration of Rights in the face of opposition from hotheads:
Recognition of these rights is the basis to all societies, the only bulwark
citizens have against any unjust laws their representatives might be tempted
to pass, and the surest way to keep ideas of freedom alive in the minds of
On 11 September the National Assembly rejected the Kings right to wield an absolute veto, but
conceded a suspensive veto. On 15 September Louis refused to endorse the decrees of 5 and 11 August
embodying the decisions, taken on 4 August, relating to the abolition of feudal privileges, as well as
the decree of 26 August relating to the Declaration of Rights.
Managing the Revolution 255
the people, and stop them from ever forgetting about the dignity of human
nature (ix: 447). The Declaration, although incomplete,
would ensure
that citizens had the legal right to reform the constitution, and that the
National Assembly would be authorised to adopt that new constitution
without consulting the provincial legislatures. The question of the new
constitution dominated Condorcets thinking in the autumn and winter of
178990. He saw in a new constitution the solution, not only to the long-
term problem of ensuring that just and rational legislation was passed, and
a good systemof public administration assured, but to the short-termprob-
lem of stemming the tide of public discontent, and of removing the danger
of mob-rule.
Accordingly, the seventh section of the Reexions consists of
an analysis of the causes of public disorder, and a discussion of possible
solutions. Condorcet distinguished carefully between the sovereign rights
of the people, expressed through their representatives within an agreed con-
stitutional framework on the one hand, and the initiatives, purporting to be
rights, taken arbitrarily by misguided individuals (ix: 457). This primary
cause of anarchy could only be remedied by a constitution embodying
an unambiguous expression of rights to which the people had immediate
access, but could enjoy only if order and national unity were maintained
(ix: 458).
With regard to the anarchic effects of public hatred and contempt for the
upper classes generally, Condorcet observed that the abolition of privileges
could have calmed public resentment, but this had not happened because
of indiscretions on the part of assembly representatives,
the wickedness
of the peoples enemies and the incitements of the gutter press. He was
particularly concerned with the negative effects of popular unrest caused
by class hatred expressed in the departmental assemblies, and proposed
the appointment to departmental assemblies of three commissaires for each
department, of which at least two would be from the Third Estate, charged
specically with the diffusion and management of the peoples anger (ix:
4601). Regarding public anger, press freedom also became a sensitive issue
in the light of the need to neutralise the hatred fomented by books written
Condorcet perceived two aws in the Declaration des droits de lhomme et du citoyen: rst, that it
referred to rights that citizens could not enjoy immediately, even after the appropriate decrees had
been passed, such as proportional taxation and freedom of trade and industry (a criticism that seems
to contradict his emphasis on gradualism in other areas of legislation); secondly, that the Declaration
embodied articles that were too vaguely formulated, particularly with regard to such terms as ordre
public, utilite and interet commun (ix: 448). Both problems could be resolved quickly in his view by
means of a judicious rewording of the relevant articles.
In Sur le choix des ministres of April 1790 Condorcet dened the choices that the government now
had to make regarding its stewardship of public affairs (x: 656).
Condorcet criticised specically the decrees relating to hunting and to the bearing of arms (ix: 459).
256 Condorcet and Modernity
by a few maniacs and mischief-makers. Condorcets solution lay not in
censorship but in a co-ordinated programme of counter-propaganda on the
part of all who were committed to the public good to prove to the people
that they cannot demand more than has been granted to them without
running the risk of either losing everything, or contravening justice.
The welfare and happiness of the people were for Condorcet the key
priorities of the Revolution. However, the people, left to their own devices,
were dangerously ckle and volatile, and needed guidance and skilled moral
and political leadership if their understandable resentment of oppression
was not to be turned against them, and the cause of freedom lost. Unrest
could be further alleviated if the National Assembly ended its persecu-
tion of the clergy. Annexation of church property, and the abolition of
feudal ecclesiastical privilege sufced to meet the demands of justice and
equality. Further petty anti-clericalism was, in Condorcets view, counter-
With Frances increasing international isolation, manuvres
that generated wild rumours about counter-revolutionary conspiracy, the
presence of arms dumps, the movement of armies and the threat of inva-
sion all added to public alarm and panic.
Again the remedy lay, not with
damaging the freedom of the press, but with the control and organised
dissemination of factual information, although Condorcet conceded that
certain developments might justify restrictions on the right of assembly
and demonstration. Another manuvre which he identied as a threat
to public order and security was the use of bribes by agents-provocateurs to
encourage disruption (a danger that in his view merited a special decree).
The fth cause of public disorder and anarchy he identied was the most
dangerous of all, namely the food crisis, brought to the forefront of public
attention with the bread riots of JanuaryMarch 1789 and further rioting in
Paris on 21 October 1789, which had prompted the introduction of martial
law. Condorcet laid the blame for this, not on bad harvests, but on bad
legislation passed in September 1788 with a view to controlling the distri-
bution and marketing of produce in order to prevent hoarding. Condorcet
thought that the only result of this clumsy legislation had been further
destabilisation: However, we would be wrong to reproach the people with
anything apart from illegal violence (ix: 464).
Condorcet subscribed to the decision taken on 2 November to conscate church property, and this
coincided with the views that he had adopted on the issue in the Essai sur la constitution et les fonctions
des assemblees provinciales (viii: 145). However, agreement in principle with the decree did not mean
that he was uncritical of the way in which the decree had been applied, as is clear from his comments
in the Reponse ` a lAdresse aux Bataves (ix: 507).
On the actions of the National Assembly in the face of internal conspiracies against the Revolution,
see in particular the 1792 Revision des travaux de la premi`ere legislature (i: 3913).
Managing the Revolution 257
While the people could not be blamed for their panic over food sup-
plies, their ready disposition to disrupt public order had handed a pow-
erful weapon to the enemies of the Revolution. The decrees subsequently
passed by the National Assembly regarding freedom of internal movement
of goods and produce had been frustrated by fear, prejudice and inertia,
and Condorcet addressed some of the practical ways to ensure their imple-
mentation, including the provision of safe roads and secure conditions of
transportation, the discouragement of unproven accusations of hoarding
against suppliers and merchants and compliance with regulations for dis-
tribution. He had had in fact little faith in the nancial policies adopted
by the Constituent Assembly with regard to the national debt and scal
reform. The last danger to the Revolution arose in his view from the lack of
discipline in the military, weakened and demoralised by emigre desertions,
and unsure of its loyalty to the new order. With regard to the problem of
military loyalty and discipline, Condorcet speculated on the advantages of
an oath of allegiance to the new National Assembly, and he urged the dis-
solution of the Assemblys military committee as soon as it had completed
the necessary reforms, simply because its existence perpetuated a sense of
impermanence and discontinuity that undermined condence and com-
Many of the concerns expressed in the Reexions on the threat to the
integrity of the Revolution, and to the cause of national unity arising from
outbreaks of public disorder and violence, resurfaced in other essays. In
Sur le prejuge qui suppose une contrariete dinteret entre la capitale et les
departements (On the prejudice which assumes a contradiction of interest
between the capital and the departments), for example, public disorder
was again condemned as an infringement of the rights of others and for
its corroding effects on communal solidarity and governmental authority,
as well as for the way in which it played into the hands of Frances enemies
in times of national emergency and vulnerability.
In this brief address,
On the responsibilities of army commanders, and their accountability to the National Assembly,
Condorcet drafted legislation regulating the conduct of ofcers with a view to ensuring that soldiers
and civilians could have condence in generals, see BIF Condorcet MS 863, ff. 21415.
With regard to the dangers to the Revolution from abroad, Condorcet observed in the 1792 Revision
des travaux de la premi`ere legislature that Europes rulers counted in vain on the stupidity of their
subjects who constituted in reality a far greater threat to their thrones than Frances 1791 constitution
(x: 43940). On the processes of revolution and counter-revolution, see also Sur le sens du mot
Revolutionnaire. By 1793, Condorcet was prepared to tolerate all measures taken against counter-
revolutionaries if taken genuinely on behalf of the people. Citing the Great Fire of London, he
defended the view that one right could be sacriced in the name of a higher right in the interests of
state security, for example, when the rights of counter-revolutionaries could be removed legitimately:
The purpose of the social pact is the equal and full enjoyment of the rights which belong to man;
258 Condorcet and Modernity
written in the aftermath of the counter-revolutionary uprisings in Nmes,
Montauban, Vannes, Toulouse and other provincial cities in the spring and
early summer of 1790, Condorcet appealed directly for a return to order,
compliance with government decrees and the restoration of international
respect for the Revolution. Public order continued to deteriorate, however,
and the situation on the streets worsened after the dismissal of Girondin
ministers on 13 June, and the subsequent invasion of the Kings palace a
week later. In spite of his support for the popular actions taken against the
King (he dismissed the crowds invasion of the palace as the breaking of a
few doors and windows, and he applauded the sans-culottes for placing the
bonnet phrygien on the Kings head), his fear of anarchy was still strong, and
it sharpened again with the news of the September massacres, the impend-
ing fall of Verdun and the possible invasion of Paris.
On 21 September
1792 (the day after the Battle of Valmy) the new National Convention
voted unanimously in its opening session to abolish the monarchy, and the
Republic was proclaimed on the following day, royal powers having already
been suspended on 10 August. Responding to this tide of events, Con-
dorcet produced numerous essays, articles for Le Republicain and addresses
to, and on behalf of, the dying Legislative Assembly on matters relating to
monarchy, public order, national unity, the conduct of the war
and the
exercise of popular sovereignty.
it is founded on a mutual guarantee of those rights. But that guarantee is suspended in the case of
individuals who wish to dissolve [the pact]. So, when it is evident that rights exist in a society, it is
right to take steps to make themknown; and when we knowthemwe are no longer restrained by any
limitations on how we defend them (xii: 620). Condorcet drafted legislation consisting of no less
than nineteen articles relating to the preservation of public order under revolutionary conditions,
see BIF Condorcet MS 863, ff. 2302.
More than a thousand prisoners were murdered in Paris prisons at this time under the aegis of
the Comite de surveillance of the Paris Commune, coinciding with the second phase of elections
to the National Convention. During the power-vacuum that existed between the overthrow of the
monarchy on 10 August and the last session of the Legislative Assembly on 20 September power was
shared between the Legislative Assembly, a Provisional Executive Council (established on 10 August
with six ministers headed unofcially by Danton) and the Commune insurrectionnelle (established on
9 August to plan the Kings downfall). The Legislative Assembly authorised twelve commissioners,
representing all three bodies, to tour the provinces, with powers of arrest to deal with disorder and
disloyalty to the Revolution arising from the suspension of royal powers on 10 August.
On the question of whether the war would advance the cause of reason, see the Revision des travaux de
la premi`ere legislature (x: 438). Condorcet repudiated war throughout his life, but by the autumn of
1791 he judged it to be unavoidable: So, detesting war, I voted to declare it, Fragment de justication
(i: 591). See J. Bouissounouse, Condorcet, un paciste se jette dans la guerre, Guerre et paix 2 (1966),
Among his more dramatic appeals for calm and for a renewal of faith in elected representatives
after the suspension of royal powers was the Exposition des motifs dapr`es lesquels lAssemblee nationale
a proclame la convocation dune Convention nationale, et prononce la suspension du pouvoir executif
dans les mains du roi in which Condorcet offered a detailed account of the circumstances justifying
the action taken against the King by the Legislative Assembly (x: 54764). See also the Adresse et
Managing the Revolution 259
the tri al of loui s xvi and the problem of regi ci de
As has been seen, Condorcet had hoped that a constitutional compromise
over the position of the royal family might have been possible. Before the
Revolution his attitude towards monarchy as an organising principle for
civil association had been critical, but his republicanism had been muted.
Monarchs could still be treated as allies in the struggle for enlightened
government, as the attering letter accompanying the presentation copy
of the Essai sur la constitution et les fonctions des assemblees provinciales that
he sent to the King of Prussia indicates. In the 1779 Eloge de m. le comte
dArcy the fate of the Stuarts had been seen as a lesson in the unhappiness
and dangers that go with sovereign power, but English regicide had been
roundly condemned. England had witnessed in the space of sixty years two
crowned heads fall beneath the executioners axe, acts of murder dressed up
as forms of justice (ii: 373).
The execution of Charles I was described in
the Vie de Voltaire as latrocit e du fanatisme (iv: 372). On the other hand,
Condorcet was already acutely aware that the days of absolute monarchy
in France were numbered, and he would later argue the case for reform in
the Vie de m. Turgot (v: 1078). The provisions of the 1791 constitution,
which the King accepted on 13 September 1791, and to which he reafrmed
his consent with the oath of allegiance to the National Assembly the next
day, seemed to Condorcet, despite some serious reservations, to offer a
chance of transforming France into a constitutional monarchy without
compromising the ideals of the Revolution.
In the autumn of 1791 Condorcet thought that the assimilation of the
monarchy into the Revolution was still possible, especially after Louis XVIs
oath of allegiance, and he urged the King to further his cause by resisting
the pressure of factional interests.
His hopes for an eleventh-hour recon-
ciliation with Louis XVI are reected in the Opinion sur les mesures generales,
propres ` a sauver la patrie des dangers imminents dont elle est menacee (Opinion
declaration de lAssemblee nationale sur le maintien de la tranquillite publique of 10 August (x: 541), Sur
la necessite de lunion entre les citoyens (xii: 215), the Adresse de lAssemblee nationale aux quatre-vingt-
trois departements et ` a larmee of 19 August (x: 565), the Adresse de lAssemblee nationale aux Franc ais
sur la guerre (x: 573) and the Adresse de lAssemblee nationale aux Franc ais (x: 579).
Condorcets views on the Stuarts were on the other hand not entirely uncritical, see the note on
Charles II in the notes for the Kehl Voltaire (iv: 373).
All your interests, Sire, come down to one: the defence of French territory . . . Sire, if you want to
win the condence of citizens again, it is up to you to give the example . . . Suspicion sometimes
expresses itself violently, and this cry of pain froma people which believes itself to have been betrayed
has been presented to you as the work of a faction. No, Sire, the only factions are those of men
who, in times of danger to the public, dare to advance their own ambitious interests, and concern
themselves only with the importance of their own parties (BIF Condorcet MS 863, ff. 2367).
260 Condorcet and Modernity
on the general measures for saving the country from the imminent dan-
gers which threaten it), drafted on behalf of the National Assembly. In the
six draft decrees on ministerial responsibilities, supplemented by a direct
appeal to Louis XVI to take action against Frances enemies in the form of
a Projet de message au roi (Draft message to the King), Condorcet portrays
the King as the victim of the dangerous misjudgements of his ministers.
The King was in need of guidance, not punishment (i: 506, 507). The
Projet de message au roi ends, nevertheless, with a clear warning: Sire, we
have reminded you of the serious obligations with which the constitution
charges you, and at a time when perdious enemies would like to take up
arms against freedom in your name, you will doubtless spare us the pain of
discovering that you have not been true to those obligations (x: 519).
The year 1790 had started well for the royalists with the rapturous recep-
tion of Louis XVI by the National Assembly on 4 February, marred only by
the executionof the Marquis de Favras, a counter-revolutionary conspirator,
two weeks later. The Kings persistent refusal to sanction decrees, however,
soon caused a political deadlock which was accompanied by serious public
disturbances. Louis XVI was obliged to sanction the Declaration of Rights
and abolish feudalism in the wake of the demonstrations at Versailles of
56 October 1789, after which the royal family moved to the Tuileries.
The deteriorating war situation, and continuing royal intrigue with foreign
increasing the dangers of counter-revolution, gradually sharp-
ened Condorcets disenchantment with Louis XVI. In Sur linstitution dun
conseil electif (On the establishment of an electoral council) of July 1791
he considered the balance of advantage between a republic and a hered-
itary monarchy, now referred to as this supposed remedy for anarchy
(xii: 265) and, expressing his dismay in Paine-like terms at royal intransi-
gence, he associated French acquiescence to monarchical rule with political
Surrounded by mistrust and infamy, the throne can only debase the powers that
would appear to emanate from it, and weaken them by appealing to a nation
which has no faith in them. This love for kings, with which the French have been
so long reproached, and which shameless sycophants still dared to call a virtue
in the memoir that they made poor Louis XVI write out, this old error of our
forebears has vanished like a dream, whose memory fades when we wake up. The
nation has cast aside the toys of its long childhood.
For Condorcets comments on the international conspiracy against the Revolution, see the Discours
sur lofce de lempereur, presented to the National Assembly on 25 June 1792 (x: 2845).
For a similarly outspoken attack on the monarchists, see Ce que les citoyens ont droit dattendre de
leurs representants (xii: 54568).
Managing the Revolution 261
This outspoken denunciation of monarchy was supplemented by a bitingly
satirical essay, in the style of Voltaire, printed in Le Republicain in July 1791
under the title of the Lettre dun jeune mecanicien aux auteurs du Republicain
(Letter from a young engineer to the editors of The republican). Here
Condorcet imagines the replacement of the King and court with automata.
For this acidic mockery of a King-automaton Condorcet would never be
forgiven by his royalist associates.
By now Condorcet was convinced of the existence of a conspiracy
between the royal family and counter-revolutionaries inside and outside
France. After the proclamationof the First Republic, he reviewedinSeptem-
ber 1792 developments leading up to the 10 August suspension of royal
powers in the Exposition des motifs dapr`es lesquels lAssemblee nationale a
proclame la convocation dune Convention nationale, et prononce la suspen-
sion du pouvoir executif dans les mains du roi (An account of the reasons why
the National Assembly announced the convocation of a National Con-
vention, and the suspension of the Kings executive powers), where he
noted that the King preferred to forge alliances with Prussia and Austria
rather than respect the terms of his oath (x: 551).
Disaster might have
been averted if Louis had publicly denounced the unconstitutional actions
taken in his name, but the peoples patience was exhausted (x: 558). The
menacing presence of the Swiss guard protecting the King added to the
peoples fear and anger, but nothing in Condorcets view could now stie
its desire for vengeance.
The suspension of royal powers was defended in
the Exposition as a constitutionally legitimate decision taken by an assembly
prepared to defend freedom and equality to the death, and the text is one
of several addresses signalling Condorcets acceptance of the failure of the
1791 constitution.
Inthe Adresse aux Franc ais of 19 August 1792, circulatedto all departments andto the army, Condorcet
noted that the King had reneged onhis oath by trying to subvert a minority of deputies, by assembling
foreign troops, and by secret payments to plotters and pro-royalist agitators (x: 568). Earlier in 1792,
in the Discours sur lofce de lempereur, he had observed that other monarchs no longer treated Louis
XVI, whose rule was no longer authorised by divine right, as their friend. Europes monarchs were
convinced that Louis had not been a free agent when he recognised the rights of man (x: 2834).
On the hostilities between the Swiss guards and the people, and the ensuing danger to the Republic
caused by the courts perdy in breach of the 1791 constitution, see also the 1792 Lettre ` a m

magistrat de la ville de

en Suisse (xii: 16977). The Lettre also contains an appeal to the Swiss
to recognise the legitimacy of the action taken against the King. Condorcet was also concerned by
the activities of the Kings regiment stationed in Coblenz, poised to invade Paris and restore the
monarchy. Cf. Discours sur lofce de lempereur (x: 287).
Suspension of royal powers was for Condorcet the only way to ush out the treason of a conspiring
court seeking to conceal its true aims beneath a cloak of constitutional legitimacy. With regard to
the general threat from emigre forces, Condorcet suggested that the King could be required to sign
a formal statement dissociating himself from emigre conspiracies (x: 568).
262 Condorcet and Modernity
Condorcets disillusionment with Louis XVI had started to crystallise
more than a year earlier with the attempted escape of the royal family from
the Tuileries, and their subsequent arrest on 20 June 1791. Most of the
deputies in the National Assembly preferred to accept the line that the
King had been abducted. Condorcet did not share that view and, as has
been seen, the event converted him nally to republicanism. The people
must now resist siren calls from the Tuileries conspirators to support the
royalist cause, and the King must be held to account:
So, out of superstitious respect for the constitution, must we leave the King and his
perdious counsellors in peace to destroy French liberty, along with that constitu-
tion? Must we just quietly accept the sophisms of a party that has nally dropped
its mask, and confuse the summoning of the sovereign, possessing the indefeasable
right to institute reforms, with a criminal violation of the constitution? Certainly
not, and as irrefutable evidence of the treachery of the King and his accomplices is
mounting up, who can still reproach those who, already convinced of that treach-
ery, but unable to get their hands on any proof, were able to anticipate its impact,
and had the fairness and impartiality to leave the task of judgement to others?
As his rhetorical turn of phrase suggests, his views were now strongly inu-
enced by Paine, to whomhe had become particularly attached in the spring
of 1791.
Suspension of royal powers on 10 August 1792, accompanied by decrees
authorising the establishment of a National Convention and the framing of
a new constitution, marked a watershed for Condorcet both as a legislator
and as a political theorist, as can be seen in the proliferation of essays and
addresses that owed from his pen in the remaining months of 1792. In
the Reexions sur la Revolution de 1688 et sur celle du 10 ao ut 1792 (Reec-
tions on the 1688 Revolution and on that of 10 August 1792), composed
within a month of the events of 10 August, he assumed the role of defender
of the Revolution, whose cause was no longer a private matter for France
but concerned the whole of Europe, whose solidarity with the Revolution
Condorcet would from now on seek to ensure (xii: 2089).
In Aux
Germains Condorcet contemplated the dismantling of all ancien regime
See A. O. Aldridge, Condorcet et Paine: leurs rapports intellectuels, Revue de litterature comparee
32 (1958), 4765. Cf. Badinter and Badinter, Condorcet, p. 338.
Condorcet observed in the Discours sur lofce de lempereur that the actions of Europes rulers had
served only to make their subjects more conscious of the achievements of the Revolution. Moreover,
they were exposing their soldiers to the noble courage of a patriotic force an additional source
of subversive example and inspiration (x: 28790). On 19 November 1792 a decree of secours et
fraternite was passed, offering to help oppressed peoples to recover their freedom. For an informative
comparative analysis of the views of Condorcet and Paine on the glorious Revolution of 1688, see
Aldridge, Condorcet, Paine and historical method.
Managing the Revolution 263
autocracies: The edice is still standing, but the foundations have been
steadily undermined; shake it a little, and the debris will be scattered all
over the ground (xii: 152). The fall of kings is traced in quasi-apocalyptic
tones that evoked betrayal, vice and mediocrity. Their survival lay only in
the acceptance of new constitutions, either semi-free like those of Eng-
and Sweden, or on the lines of the 1791 French model. Condorcets
numerous, in the event counterproductive, addresses to other European
nations, in which he sought to convince them of the peaceful intentions
of Frances revolutionary government, were not well received in foreign
In the face of an increasingly dangerous war situation and widespread
resentment at Louis XVIs retention of the veto over Assembly decrees,
the summer of 1792 Condorcet was prepared for the nal reckoning with
Louis XVI. The King, having broken one oath, could never be trusted to
keep another. His replacement by the ve-year-old dauphin under a regency,
proposed by Danton and Brissot, was not in Condorcets view practical.
For him there could no longer be any possibility of a constitutional com-
promise between the monarchy and the Revolution. The human race was
no longer the inalienable patrimony of a fewdozen families who wished to
rule only over slaves and corpses, as he put it graphically in La Republique
franc aise aux hommes libres (xii: 11314). The vote to abolish the monarchy
was passed unanimously at the rst meeting of the National Convention on
With regard to England, Condorcet claried the iron logic of the Revolution in February 1792
in the Lettre de Junius ` a William Pitt. Here he defended, again in Paine-like terms, the right of a
subject people to punish a conspirator who called himself king (xii: 324). The blood that had been
shed in France in defence of that right was regrettable, nevertheless: The French Revolution has
certainly been much bloodier than one would have wished in the cause of the happiness and prompt
emancipation of humanity. The French have sometimes stained their victories with atrocities and
acts of brigandage; in other words, ferocious and bloodthirsty men have lived among them, greedy,
ambitious men, Tartuffes of patriotism. While accepting that the Revolution had not always been
the model of virtue, Condorcet saw the violence as the work of foreign agents rather than as an
outcome of the revolutionary process itself. English counter-revolutionary propaganda was simply a
means to distract the English from the inspiring spectacle of a neighbouring people reclaiming their
rights. Condorcets denunciation of the English enemies of the Revolution in the Lettre de Junius
included a staunch defence of Tom Paine and Joseph Priestley, as well as strictures against Edmund
Burke (xii: 328). On Condorcets illusions about possible English support for the Revolution, see
Badinter and Badinter, Condorcet, p. 521.
See Cahen, Condorcet, pp. 4425.
Condorcet was far from being a fanatical opponent of the royal veto in principle before the Rev-
olution. He was mindful perhaps of the merits of the presidential veto retained in the American
constitution. However, he always opposed the way in which the royal veto was applied. On the
dangers arising for France as a consequence of the Kings retention of the veto, particularly with
regard to the decree on emigres and recalcitrant priests refusing to take the oath of loyalty, see the
Revision des travaux de la premi`ere legislature (x: 40918). The threat from emigres and the problem
of their protectors feature prominently in Condorcets analysis of the war situation in the Revision.
264 Condorcet and Modernity
21 September 1792, to be followed closely on 25 September by the procla-
mation of the indivisibility of the Republic.
Condorcets personal declaration of war on the monarchy had already
been made in his 4 September address, Aux Franc ais sur la guerre (x: 5757),
although this address was not to save him from continuing accusations
from Robespierre of monarchist deviance. The problem of translating the
ideals of the Enlightenment into practical legislative action had preoc-
cupied Condorcet with particular urgency ever since the meeting of the
Estates-General, and it continued to inform his political thinking in the
debate surrounding the 1791 constitution. The need to create a constitution
inspired by those ideals became even more urgent after the proclamation
of the First Republic and his election to the Convention. The task facing
the creators of the new institutions of the Republic was set out in some
detail by Condorcet in November 1792 in De la nature des pouvoirs politiques
dans une nation libre (On the nature of political power in a free nation) (x:
The Opinion sur le jugement de Louis XVI (Opinion on the trial of Louis
XVI) was composed in November 1792, two months after the proclamation
of the First Republic, and against a background of lively debate on the
Kings trial which started to gather pace after the authority of the National
Convention to pass sentence had been conrmed on 7 November. The
Opinion reects Condorcets thoughts on howactually to put into effect the
fundamental right of the ruled to depose a ruler perceived to have broken
the terms of the pact of association. Interestingly, Condorcet also uses
the occasion to draw attention t