Jean-Jacques Cart (1748-1813)

(The article below is reproduced at with the kind permission of its author, Stephen Cowley. It first appeared on his blog ‘Hegelian News & Reviews’)

Introduction (Stephen Cowley)

Here we reproduce in summary material excluded by Hegel from his edition of Jean-Jacques Cart’s Confidential Letters (1793, German 1798). The excluded material is Cart's letters eight and nine in their entirety and a lengthy section of letter four. We note other smaller omissions in our other posts.

The following collection of these omissions reveals a pattern of removing material about other European countries. In combination with the focus on Swiss history in Hegel's notes, the effect is to create a more practical focus on Swiss political reform in place of Cart’s more expansive treatment of European politics. As the French original was suppressed in Switzerland, the omission of incendiary material may have averted problems with German censorship. Events in the intervening years between Cart’s and Hegel’s editions, including French expansionism and the founding of the Helvetic Republic in 1798 may also explain some of the change of emphasis. In this regard, Hegel's reference in his introduction to the "sudden downfall" of the Swiss government may help to date the edition within the year 1798. Perhaps the references to Daniel and the Book of Revelation, albeit somewhat ironic, in letter eight introduced a change in viewpoint foreign to Hegel or his audience's religious sensibilities. As a result of the omitted letters, there are changes to the first and third paragraphs of Hegel’s version of the tenth [Hegel’s eighth] letter.

The long omitted section from letter four includes reference to the introduction to William Robertson’s History of Charles V and Mably’s Observations on the History of France. In the omitted eighth and ninth letters there are interesting references to Bolingbroke, Laurence Stern, Voltaire, Edmund Burke and the German natural law theorist Pufendorf, along with appeals to political practice in other European countries. There are unfavorable references to French classical scholar Claude Saumaise (1588-1653) and Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), the Dutch theorist of natural law. The exclusions make the remaining references to Montesquieu and Swiss sources stand out more in Hegel's German edition.

Hegel went on to write his own comparative account of European constitutions in the manuscript of The German Constitution. His final views are found in Part Four of the posthumous Lectures on the Philosophy of History.

Page references below are to the French edition of Cart's Lettres (1793). My own comments are in square brackets.

Material omitted by Hegel in his translation from Cart’s Letters

Material omitted from Letter Four

[This section illustrates the principle that the authority of European kings and rulers is limited. – SC]

Only in fairly modern times have some European kings tried to act, not as delegates of the people, but as masters. History is read more than studied. Tales of war and peace are told. Cart says;

“Only rarely is it inquired whether there is any law that puts a brake on those who govern and their bloody games; if there is none that preserves the rights of the peoples, their political freedom and prosperity.” (71)

In general, there is little education in the most interesting part of history, that is to say, the public law of different nations. Let us draw a short sketch of this subject:

Russia only appeared on the European scene from the beginning of this century [i.e. 1700]. Despotism is sometimes called a form of government, but it is more properly a form of anarchy. This typifies the eastern empires. Peter the Great had no proper government in his Estates. In practice, the people were master. In thinking of Louis XVI [of France], we forget Peter III.

Cart says: “The sovereignty of Denmark formerly lay in the Assembly of Estates composed of three orders and presided over by an elected king. His authority was limited by the conditions it pleased the nation to impose on him.” The nobility tried to change this at the end of the last century, but: “As the empire of a few families is always more burdensome than that of a king, the people preferred the despotism of one to an aristocratic despotism.” (72) The nation thus abdicated its sovereignty in favour of Frederick III in 1660, but this was in accord with the will of the people.

Under the constitution of Sweden, sovereignty remained with the people, represented by an Assembly of Estates composed of four orders: the clergy, the nobility, the burghers and the peasantry. They elected their kings until Gustav-Vasa and took up this right again after the death of Charles XII. The Estates had the right to assembly every three years and nullify legislation since their last sitting. They alone could declare war and they shared executive power with the king. This applied under Gustav-Adolphus. They imposed the death penalty against the king’s wishes. Gustav III accused the senate of receiving money from England and France and changed the constitution in his favour in 1772, but sovereignty remains with the Estates. Gustav was assassinated in 1792 after making war with Russia against the constitution.

The English people have a republican monarchy. There are defects in representation, the privileges of the clergy and the freedom of the press. Cart says:

“But let us take a middle way between the outspoken Burke who wishes to correct nothing and the out and out revolutionary who wishes to pull down everything.” (75)

Edmund Burke (1729-97)

The House of Austria does not aspire to the power of the Bernese burghers over Vaud. If we look at Transylvania, Hungary, Bohemia and the Belgian provinces, we see constitutional laws that limit the authority of the greatest potentate of Europe. Estates share sovereignty and there is a balance between public order and individual freedom. Charles V recognized limitations of his power in the Low Countries. His successor Philip II did not, and as a result lost seven provinces there in 1579 under the treaty of Utrecht. Under Joseph II, the French chased the Austrians from Belgium.

On Germany, Cart comments:

“The constitution of the German body politic has less the good of the peoples for its aim than the authority of the Princes who compose it.” (77)

Yet, with few exceptions, the Princes do not judge causes between themselves and their subjects, for there is an imperial court.

The kings of France have rarely exercised absolute power and when they tried they met resistance. “Charlemagne recognized that sovereignty lay in the hands of the people gathered on the Field of Mars, two times each year.” (78) He was subject to the published decrees of that Assembly. He had to ask the Assembly for the life of his father, the Duke of Bavaria, which he obtained. Cart cites Mably’s Observations on the History of France for this and the introduction to Robertson’s History of Charles V for the nature of feudalism in general. [William Robertson's History of Charles V and History of Scotland were available to Hegel in the Steiger library at Tschugg (see Hegel in der Schweiz. Ed Waszek. 365). - SC]

William Robertson (1721-93)

The French constitution has varied since that time, but there has been a tendency for nature to assert its rights. In 1328, the estates General chose Philip of Valois as king over Edward. Even the more tyrannical monarchs knew limits to their power. Louis XI was compelled to call the Estates General and recognize their authority. The Swiss provided troops to the French monarchs to strengthen their power. Since Philip de Valois, only Louis XIV did not call the Estates General, but even he recognized constitutional laws. He says as much in a work published in 1667, rejecting flattery that would insinuate the opposite. There were also Pays d’états, with local parliaments (Estates).

Matters were no different in Portugal, where the nation in 1139 prescribed conditions under which Alphonse was called to the throne. This continued for three centuries. The Portuguese Estates General limited the claims of Philip II when he invaded in 1580. Despotism has become entrenched since 1669 when the Estates were last called. Industry, commerce and strength have disappeared from the country since and it is now virtually a dependent province of England.

When Spain conquered America and became one of the first powers, teaching the arts of war to Europe, it was a free country and the authority of the kings was limited and subordinate to its Estates General, or Cortés. This was so in both Castile and Aragon and remained the case after their unification on the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella. The Cortés comprised the High Nobility, the Lower Nobility, the Commons and the Clergy. They could make laws, raise taxes, declare war and peace, coin money, review legal cases, oversee administration and reform abuses. They also appointed a magistrate who limited royal authority. At inaugurations, he spoke these words: “We, who are as much as you, make you our king, on condition that you keep our laws and maintain our privileges; if not, no.” (86) Robertson describes the forced abdication of Henry IV in favour of Dom Alphonse (History, I, 312). The cases of Charles I and James II [of Great Britain] were similar. A local lawyer, Mr Mathieu, has criticized Cart’s account of the Spanish Third Estate in a letter, stating that it was the Nobility who exercised rights. He is paid by the page to abuse Cart, so Cart alleges. He should have consulted “the excellent introduction to the History of Charles V by Robertson” (88) rather than his own imagination. Robertson wrote:

“On the death of John I, a regency council was named to govern the country during the minority of his son; this council was made up of an equal number of nobles and deputies chosen by the towns, and the latter had the same rank, were vested with the same powers as the Prelates and the greatest of the first rank.” (88-89)

[The following is a précis of the two letters omitted in their entirety from Hegel's edition. - SC]

Cart’s Letter Eight – [The Émigrés and their Propaganda]

Lyon, 13 December 1792

Let us change topics from the Baron of Vaud and his military authority.

Nearly every government in Europe has sought to lighten the weight of its rule in recent times. The King of Denmark abolished the vestiges of serfdom in his kingdom and reduced feudal rights. The King of Sweden has re-established the freedom of the press and given justice to those oppressed by his brother. England has lifted the barriers placed in the way of Ireland and Scotland. It has ended tax on beer. It intends to give citizenship to Roman Catholics. The King of Sardinia offered a buy out of feudal rights and reduced the tax on salt. The Emperor has declared to the Low Countries that he will maintain their constitution.

“Is it not wounding that the moment when all the potentates of Europe seem to be united to soften the fate of their subjects should be the one that the Council of Berne chose to make its yoke heavier.” (203)

In June 1790, Berne decided to impose taxes by its own decision. [Cart refers to a work by Colonel Weiss who argues that the French revolution has reminded Europe’s sovereigns of their duties. Not in Switzerland, Cart comments.]

The English government took alarm when a British club entered into communication with the [French] National Assembly. On the eve of war, the court proposed suspension of Habeas Corpus, but only for foreigners. None of us has communicated with the National Assembly, nor are we at war with France. Yet Habeas Corpus was suspended here with regard not to foreigners but to ourselves.

The Empress of Russia last year renewed an ancient law on the treatment of informers, requiring that they sign their denunciations and await the trial of those they accuse in confinement. Yet informers operate here and are rewarded, although we have a similar law (Law 2, folio 387). There are two causes of the taxes of 1790 and the arbitrary judgements of 1791: one, the [French] émigrés and secondly, destiny, in which as a good Calvinist I must believe.

As to the émigrés, proverbs come to our aid: Tell me who you visit, I will tell you who you are; and: Bad company corrupts good manners. They should have been listened to with common sense, more with mistrust than with confidence. Have they not told us that the revolution was the work of a few factions and that 11 twelfths of the people wanted the ancien régime restored? Why then did they not stay when the king had executive authority and they held power in the provinces with access to arsenals. They walk around armed with sabre and firearms, with the extravagance of Tristram Shandy [in the novel by Laurence Stern]. The manifesto of the Duke of Brunswick was distributed by the thousand in Berne. Cart’s sister read it when Cart was at Ferney in France and feared for his life, such were the threats it contained. In France it was greeted with laughter: the eaters of children were not feared in Ferney.

Surely, the Bernese overrate the émigré nobility. There is talent and virtue amongst them, but it was they who abandoned their king. The authority of French kings always was limited both by the nobility and the people. Sometimes they were overawed by [government] ministers. The French constitution guaranteed royal authority against a factious nobility (factious until Richelieu’s day), intrigues in the Church and parliaments that disputed for power. The nobility by no means always supported the French monarch, but followed its own desires. The Emperor and his generals, the King of Prussia and Brunswick are dupes of the émigrés. The émigrés all wish to lead, none to follow. They have performed no glorious actions worthy of [Girondin and French General] Dumouriez’s valet de chambre.

They spread a vertiginous spirit that creates stupor or false measures. One of them attends the English parliament. Mr Sheridan [a prominent Whig MP] proposes exempting women from the suspension of Habeas Corpus. Burke [also an MP] replied that the women who followed Dumouriez were as dangerous as those aimed at by the Bill. In commercial wars, business finances the government, in this one, the British government has had to support industry. The English navy is imposing, but that of France growing in courage. Yet the émigrés have been persuasive, especially in Berne.

We should be circumspect in judgment and not rely on a counter-revolution in France. To rely on the émigrés is to see through volcanic glass. Their precursor was Mesmer and his somnambulism. At times, it seems that Providence has set out to confound our wisdom, to remind us of our littleness.

The publisher of Mercure has won the confidence of some in Berne. His vengeful proposals are not worthy of the regard they receive there. Not are the views of some in Geneva who write on politics. General Montesquieu [a moderate émigré, not the famous author] was told Geneva should be thrown in the lake. If it were, it need not be fished out again.

[A Prophecy]

Cart invokes Calvin’s view of predestination, the prophecies of Daniel and the book of Apocalypse. Thrown into idleness for 17 months, Cart has read Harmonie des prophéties avec quelques événements du temps passé [Harmony of Prophecies with some recent events] by C de Loys (Lausanne, 1774) and Essai sur l’Apocalypse [Essay on the Book of Revelations] attributed to Crinsoz de Bionens (1729).  We are not prophets in Vaud, but we can explain prophecy. Bionens expects the marriage of the Lamb of God, the first resurrection or insurrection, in 1790, on the basis of a prophecy [in Daniel 12.12]. It is to be a time of troubles, of horned beasts. If we believe Cagliostro and Mesmer, we might also give these virtuous men a hearing. A revolution was predicted 61 years before it occurred. Either we are predestined to participate in a revolution, or we are not. In either case, let us employ wisdom and prudence. Cart will enlarge on this in what follows.

Cart’s Letter Nine – [On War, Belligerence and Forms of Government]

Lyon, 20 January 1793

War is the worst of humanity’s scourges. Natural disasters are rare and small in extent by comparison. Every part of the world, each century, each family even, has been bloodied by the ambition of kings and the blindness of peoples. Think of a town under siege, undermined and bombarded by canon. Here the soldier storms over walls to attack civilians he does not know, meeting death himself. There 100,000 men, divided into two armies, try to destroy each other. The countryside is denuded and famine threatens.

Governments take away the happiness offered by providence. Tyrants would have us break the commandment not to take another’s life. Oppression shows itself in two ways: it deprives us of our rights and it prevents us from recovering them.  Cart says: “Ah! How good it is to have a country! How happy to see peace, the virtues, industry and freedom, without which no country is, reign in its heart”"! Then when enemies attack, everyone flies to its defence. Animals defend themselves and their family, but do they combine for the privileges of a few? Animals have more sense than men in this regard.

How many wars have been instigated by the people compared to those instigated by kings, or aristocrats. There have been five of the first kind in eight centuries: the Swiss and the Dutch, both against Austria; the Corsicans against Genoa and the Bourbons; the Americans against the British parliament; and the French against their internal and external oppressors. Crime and virtue characterize the latter, but all have involved factions.

As against this, the wars of kings are innumerable. The most pious prince Robert, father of William the bastard [William the Conqueror] by a harlot, travelled to the Holy Land and wished to destroy the inhabitants of Falize. George III [of Britain] is his descendant. Cart cites [the English Jacobite writer] Bolingbroke’s description. [Several of Bolingbroke's works, including Letters on the Spirit of Patriotism, were available to Hegel in the library in Tschugg. - SC]

What did it matter to the British people whether William or Harold succeeded Edward, or whether the House of York or that of Lancaster prevailed, or who was king of France? Did they win glory by burning a maid [of Orleans]? Were the English crown’s holdings in France of great importance to it? The French chased them from these possessions, but they drink no less Bordeaux wine for it. Since calling the Elector of Hanover to the British throne, they have been involved in all the wars of Hanover in particular and the House of Brunswick in general. They have been burdened by their [government] ministers with a [national] debt of £200 million, mortgaged on the fog of the Thames or the loyalty of the English. 800 years of war has led to this. I bring in evidence Edmund Burke and the unfortunate inhabitants of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland.

The Crusades were once popular. They are estimated to have cost a million men their lives. The Popes hoped to use the armies they raised to divide the kingdoms of kings. The kings wished to unburden themselves of discontented vassals. Lords, seduced by monks, hoped to acquire greater lands than those they left. New levies on church properties and taxes on the people were raised.

There were many wars were to decide the crown of Sweden. Germany was constantly a theatre of war, but not for the happiness or safety of its people. Wars have lasted for 30 years. What did the question of rule by particular princes or the House of Austria, whether Prussia or Austria ruled Silesia, or Joseph II’s interests in Turkey matter to the people? Did the Russian people care about who ruled Crimea? For 80 years there were wars in Italy over who was to rule. There were wars over which house was to rule France. Henri IV imposed the death penalty for hunting in royal forests and went to war over a princess – and he was the best of French monarchs. The war of Spanish succession drew in the English and French and divided the Spaniards. Many Spaniards died for conquests in the Indies and the glory of Charles V. He used the Flemish to put the Spaniards under his yoke and the Spaniards against the Flemish. Louis XIV exhausted his nation and left France in debt. We will not continue this story to a more recent unfortunate king. Cart gives further similar examples. The best kings are the careless ones. 80 million have perished in these 800 years.

“I will consult on these matters neither a soldier, a theologian nor a lawyer; I will seek the principles of public law and those of war neither in Saumaise, in Pufendorf nor in Grotius. These salaried abettors of despotism have always considered kings, without ever considering the people, and in taking the abuse for the rule, they have ended by rendering legitimate all government crimes. Their system is as true as that of Dr Pangloss [in Voltaire’s Candide]; the world goes best when the world destroys itself nearby those who rule it.” (242-43)

Reason tells us that if men leave forests to live in society, they elect rulers to secure the safety of their persons and goods. Hence a war that tends to preserve this safety is just, all others unjust.

The English have put their kings on trial and denied them the right to raise taxes without their consent (birth-right). Yet they have left them the right to make peace and declare war. It seems they care more for their purses than their lives. This authority is based on the need for prompt measures, but this measure results in destruction. Republics (no aristocracies) are slow to deliberate. They pay with their purses and lives; kings do not. Elizabeth had Mary killed for her beauty, though a war could have resulted.

Mary Stuart (1542-87)

A famous writer has said that some governments do not raise taxes for wars, but make wars to raise taxes. It is an old story, as the history of his country shows. Wars are made for profit and advantage [la balance]. When a people loses its freedom, the name of its ruler is indifferent to it. Donkey drivers may fight among themselves over donkeys, but let the donkeys take no part. It is said that power comes from God. One might think it came rather from the devil. Cart concludes:

“The power that comes from God is that which does not go against natural law. [This was a doctrine of the French Physiocrats. – SC] It is that which lies with the mass of the people, for it must and can only wish its own greatest good: to it alone belongs the eminent right to declare war and make peace.” (248)

Cart will next apply this to the public law of Vaud.