"The tendency of a democratical community,' says Prévost-Paradol, , in his book La France Nouvelle, 'is to grant, sooner or later, the right of suffrage to every citizen of which it is composed; but this inevitable extension of the right of suffrage may be brought about wisely and slowly, and follow the progress of lights, or, on the contrary, it may be sudden and urged forward in its course by the shock of revolutions. The second case has been ours. Suppose an ideal republic, such as Plato's, after a long series of instruction and compulsory military service had made of every citizen a man conscious of his right and, what is far more difficult, conscious of his duties, it is quite certain that universal suffrage would have been the crowning of the democratic edifice. But it is well known that since the most remote period pure reason has never been the law that governs nations. We have begun by what ought logically to have been the end—by universal suffrage. Compulsory military service has only been established much later; and at this present time the last remains of the monarchical party are still struggling at the Senate to prevent primary instruction being compulsory for our children.

It is unnecessary to say that this observation is simply an historical criticism, and that if we note it here, it is in order better to fix in the minds of certain foreigners a fact of which they still sometimes do not appear to be cognisant. This most stubborn fact is the following one : be the origin of universal suffrage as it may—in our opinion, the history of the second empire proves obviously that it was proclaimed prematurely-universal suffrage is to-day as indestructible as it formerly was inevitable, and this indestructibility is easily explained.

Prévost-Paradol, whom we are pleased to cite here, for he has several times had the honour of explaining our modern politics

See M. Gambetta's speeches, November 11, 1875, and May 16, 1881 ; Scrutin d'Arrondissement et Scrutin de Liste, a pamphlet (Paris, Librairie Nouvelle, 1881); Rétablissement du Scrutin de Liste, a pamphlet by the author (Paris, Charpentier, Mai 1880).

in English papers—Prévost-Paradol has said that a community may know the greatest extremes of anarchy and of servitude, throw down thrones and raise them up again to throw them down once more, may effect abrupt revolutions in costume and language, may affect by turns republican authority and the servile indolence of the lower empire ; but that you would see a stream flow back towards its source sooner than a democratic community return to aristocracy. Indeed, if all men are not sensible to the dear charm of liberty, and if liberty is not an absolute requirement for a great number of beings, it is not so with equality. Its delights are comprehensible to the feeblest mind, and once enjoyed are impossible to be renounced.

Now, for a democratical community such as the Revolution has constituted in France, political equality consists solely and entirely in the exercise of the right of voting. It is because Louis Napoleon announced the complete re-establishment of universal suffrage, which had been mutilated by l'Assemblée Législative in May 1850, that he was able, on the 2nd of December, 1851, to proclaim the criminal dictatorship which at last cost us Alsace and Lorraine, and to proclaim it without provoking a general insurrection. An impartial historian will say likewise that the fear of seeing the Assemblée Nationale lay hands upon the right of vote was not foreign to the movement of the Commune.

The philosophical formula of universal suffrage is the same as the formula of our democracy. It is comprised in the following article of the famous Declaration of the Rights of Man: 'Each citizen has an equal right to contribute to the formation of the law and to the nomination of those who exercise it. Is it possible to imagine a political principle more just and more noble ?

But it does not suffice to inscribe on the frontispiece of the laws of a great nation the noblest and most just principle. The true and proper method of applying it must also be determined, for it is always upon the method of application of a principle that its practical utility depends, and to have good matter to start from is by no means all. Every one knows that with the same grape a delicious wine, a detestable wine, or an ordinary wine may be made, according to the process employed.

We are called upon to speak here of the methods of applying universal suffrage. Many people imagine, and not only in foreign countries but in France itself, and even within the precincts of the Chambre des Députés, that the question of scrutin de liste and scrutin d'arrondissement is a pure question of form, that the principle of universal suffrage is not really at stake, and that the contest was just about as important as a match between two horses, one of which bore M. Grévy's colours, the other those of M. Gambetta. Nothing can be more inexact than this appreciation. In reality, the laws which determine the manner of giving and collecting suffrage are as essential for the future of a community as the laws themselves which recognise and establish voting; and this is what I shall now endeavour to prove.


There exist, as is well known, two principal ways of consulting public opinion by means of universal suffrage: scrutin de liste and scrutin d'arrondissement. Let us commence by briefly giving their construction and their history.

1. Scrutin de Liste.-France having been divided into departments by the Assemblée Nationale of 1789, as many times as a department contains a given number of thousands of inhabitants (say, for instance, 70,000) so many deputies does it return. Thus in a department containing 420,000 inhabitants each voter writes on his voting-paper the names of six candidates, that is, the quotient of 420,000 by 70,000. The great majority of the republicans have always considered the scrutin de liste the most logical mode of universal suffrage. After the revolutions of the 24th of February, 1848, and of the 4th of September, 1870, the second and the third republics proclaimed the scrutin de liste as the truest expression of universal suffrage.

2. Scrutin d'Arrondissement or Scrutin Uninominal.--Each department being divided into administrative districts (arrondissements), each district names one deputy, and in consequence each elector can only write down one name on his voting-paper. When the population of a district is above one hundred thousand it returns another deputy per hundred thousand inhabitants or per fraction of a hundred thousand. For this purpose the districts are divided by law into circonscriptions. The scrutin uninominal was established by Louis Napoleon after his coup d'état of the 2nd of December. Abolished under the National Defence Government, it was re-established by the Assembly of Versailles, on the 24th of November, 1875. Its supporters are not precisely the sincere friends of democracy and liberty, that is evident.

Which of these two methods of voting preserves the morality of universal suffrage with the most jealous care, which draws from it the most politic, the most intelligent, and the freest national representation ? for we are endeavouring to obtain these two desiderata.

First of all, one particular point must be brought into full light: the voting of laws by no means constitutes the whole of the mission which, according to the spirit of our constitution of the 24th of February, is incumbent on the assembly which issues from general suffrage ; and indeed our institution does not differ therein from the institutions of other parliamentary countries. The assembly which

we call Chambre des Députés, and which in England is called the House of Commons, is not only the legislative power par excellence ; it is also, by its very essence and through the will and desire of those who elect, the grand directing and political power of the country, and it is that very thing which, with us as in England, in Belgium, in Italy, in all free countries, constitutes the most important difference between the two great bodies by which the Parliament is formed.

It is true that our Senate, since the Constitution, has the same legislative initiative, the same prerogatives and the same functions, except in matters connected with the budget. But as the Senate does not proceed directly from the very heart of the nation, as it is chosen by a very limited elective body, as in consequence it must be considered but as a feeble image of the people, it has no more right than the House of Lords to the administrative power, except in one instance : when called upon to use that dangerous prerogative, the right of dissolution. In every other case the conduct of the politics of the country is intrusted to the Chamber of Deputies, as in England to the House of Commons. This political assembly, the Chamber of Deputies, is charged to point out to the executive power the way in which the people desire to walk, and from it emanate the cabinets chosen by the head of the State to execute the will of the electoral body. On this side the Channel as on the other, a ministry may do without a majority in the Upper House, but if it has not a majority in the Lower, either the House must be dissolved or the ministry retire. So also, from it alone should emanate that spirit which constitutes the policy of a government, and which at last becomes the very history of the country. It ought to be the highest personification of the nation and, in some sort, its mirror. Its members are not simple law-givers: in a really free country, they are, they ought above all to be, the immediate agents of that country.

The theory which I have endeavoured to sketch is in a general way true for all those Peoples which have obtained a parliamentary government: the Lower House directs the policy of the nation. And now, it is as evident as a mathematical theorem, that it is impossible for this House seriously to conduct its policy unless the elections from which its members are returned be marked by a distinct political character.

Well, I am obliged to confess that in France we run the greatest risk of our elections not being strictly political; and for a very simple reason: we have no organised parties. In England there are the Whigs, the Tories, and the Radicals. In America the Democrats and Republicans. In Switzerland they have Radicals and Liberals. The very principle of our government is still contested by those who remain faithful to our three monarchical governments; and this reason alone makes it impossible for our Republic to organise its Whigs and its Tories. What takes place in England, America, and Switzerland on the eve of the elections ? The choice of candidates is by no means abandoned to the hazards of local competitions in the different districts. After long preliminary study, each party draws up its list of candidates, and the voters are duly advised how to dispose their voting-paper if they wish to insure the victory of the Liberals or Conservatives in England, of the Republicans or the Democrats in the United States. In France with the scrutin d'arrondissement we have only once been able to conduct the elections on this purely political principle. On the 14th of October, 1877, there were in the whole country two series of candidates, distinctly opposed one to the other: on one side, all the enemies of the Republic, Orleanists, Bonapartists, and Legitimists; on the other, all the partisans of the Republic without distinction of opinion, the members of the Left Centre with those of the Extreme Left, the friends of M. Dufaure with the friends of M. Gambetta, the friends of Thiers with the friends of Louis Blanc, the 363. But this was an exceptional circumstance, it was a question of life or death, of the Republic or Monarchy, and this celebrated division was rather constituent than legislative; it had a plebiscitary character. As things run, universal suffrage with uninominal voting does not produce a really political election; as a rule, neither those who are returned by this manner of voting, nor those who return them, are animated by purely political reasons.

And the cause of this is simple. If, previously to presenting himself before the vast electoral body of a department, viz. to the scrutin de liste, a candidate must have acquired a very solid reputation, must go through a course of serious preliminary studies, and that with fruit, it is not so in the very limited theatre of our districts (arrondissements 2). The attorney of the chef-lieu-not the best and most serious one, for he is generally taken up in his clients; doctors and country veterinary surgeons; a former sous-préfet, who, instead of endeavouring to govern well, only tried to please and, by favours, to make friends; two or three country squires; a second-rate journalist, and an industriel of the third order; two or three barristers (conseillers généraux), intoxicated with the pale glory of their maiden brief: these as a rule are the candidates of the scrutin d'arrondissement, the immense majority of which candidates is very worthy and very upright, but only the smallest minority of which has received that special education which Herbert Spencer, in the admirable preface to his Sociology, has so very victoriously advocated against those who acknowledge two or three years of apprenticeship to be necessary to become a shoemaker, but imagine that a man is a politician by intuition.

If the candidates of scrutin d'arrondissement are too often men

2 With the exception of some circonscriptions of our large towns, which are protected by the most fully-developed political spirit which, I sincerely believe, exists in Europe.

« VorigeDoorgaan »