On Sovereignty (VIII)

Painting, Reconstruction of the Acropolis and Areopagus in Athens, by Leo von Klenze, 1846.

***La versión original en español del artículo se puede encontrar en este enlace. La traducción al inglés la ha realizado uno de los miembros del Círculo Camino Real de Tejas con la supervisión de los traductores del Gremio San Jerónimo***

We publish the transcript of the eighth part of the series on sovereignty, which continues with some reflections on the origin of power, which does not reside in a supposed popular will, but in God, who created man in a state of society.


After these observations, one might ask: if the sovereignty of the people is not the origin of power, where does it come from? Power has no origin; it coexists with society, it is born with it, it shapes it, animates it and sustains it. Wherever two people meet, there is power: the one who is weaker because of his physical attributes, or the one who is less intelligent, obeys, and the other gives orders: that is power. Thus power, considered in itself, is not a primordial right recognized a priori, but rather a fact that dominates and directs the world. The much celebrated Cuvier expressed this truth in the following words: «Power is born of force and is maintained by habit.» The history of the human race proves it to us in all its entries.

In fact, all that we are told about educated peoples confirms the idea that power owes its origin either to physical superiority or to intellectual superiority, and never to the expressed will of the people. Let us turn to the most ancient governments, not monarchical but popular, beginning with the highly esteemed republics of Greece. And what do we find in these nations at the beginning of historical times? The first thing we see are some independent states, governed by kings similar to a colonial governor, such as Inachus, Phoroneus, Cecrope, and Cadmus. How did they acquire the power they wielded? Just as the leader of a bandit gang acquires it by making himself the leader, either by being the strongest, or by surpassing them in ability, daring, wealth, or other qualities. All these monarchies later became more or less democratic republics; and how was this change made? Was the will of the people consulted? What we find in all of them is that a few powerful citizens, dissatisfied with the rule of their kings, seized an opportunity to take control. As rulers, they formed an aristocratic government, which then tended towards democracy, until, after a thousand vicissitudes, this continent became the prey of a fortunate conqueror.

Let us consider more particularly the Republic of Athens, the most cultured and philosophical of all. Absolute monarchy was established there by Cecrope; it was modified by Theseus; at the death of Codrous it was transformed by the management of the rich into an archonate for life; it was then transformed into an annual archonate of nine principal citizens; it then degenerated, under the impulse of factions, into an unbridled democracy; and although it was somewhat improved by Dracon and Solon, the latter, before his death, saw the supreme power usurped by the ambitious Pisistratus, whose tyranny was inherited by his sons. What role did the sovereign people play in these political metamorphoses? None, other than to be the plaything, the victim, and the blind instrument of a few insurgents. From whom did the various leaders of this State receive their power? From no one. From the moment they rose above the others, they took power and began to rule.

The tyranny of the Pisistratides was overthrown and the popular government restored; but who overthrew it and established the republican form? Was it the will of the people, the public and solemn vote of the governed? Far less than that: this overthrow was due to the conspiracy of the vile assassins Harmodius and Aristogiton, two knife-wielding «heroes» whom the revolutionaries wished to deify. But the most peculiar thing is that this deed was not inspired by the love of freedom, but by jealousy born of the most criminal love. And it was not Hipias (this was the prince or tyrant) whom the two never sufficiently praised liberators of Athens killed, but his brother Hipparchus, whose death, far from ending the tyranny, made it more difficult and more terrible, because Hipias, who, according to Thucydides, had hitherto ruled with gentleness, prudence and virtue, became more suspicious in the face of the conspiracy, the death of his brother and the danger he himself had run. It is true that he fell from the throne, but not because of this senseless murder, but because of the rivalry of the powerful family of the Alemeonids, supported by the arms of the Lacedæmonians. The Athenians thus regained a semblance of freedom, which the demagogues continued to press upon them until Lysander imposed on them the thirty tyrants, from whom they soon freed themselves, not by popular vote or by their own efforts, but by the resentment and audacity of Thrasybulus and some other exiles, so that, toys and victims of the factions that contested his command, they later fell under the yoke of the kings of Macedonia and were then buried in the ocean of the vast empire of Rome. After Hipias, who gave the chieftains who ruled that State the power to command their fellow citizens? Intrigue, trickery, and violence; so that the poor people had no choice but to submit to the form of government and the supreme authority that was established.

Now we come to the Roman Republic. It is well known that the first inhabitants of Rome were bandits, led by a captain named Romulus, to whom no one gave the power to lead them. The monarchy created by him was destroyed by another loving revenge, nobler and certainly more legitimate than that of Harmodius and Aristogiton; but in the end a revenge, and not the people, who had to resign themselves to go through what was arranged by the proud patricians who wanted control. The republic became a monarchy, and this change was not made by the free will of the people, but by a usurpation sustained by arms and crowned by victory. Thus, for seven centuries, the sovereignty of the unfortunate Romans was reduced to obeying, suffering, and selling themselves to whoever paid them the most. Since their condition was so sad, was there, perhaps, among the many who sought and obtained the supreme command, a single one who did not think it necessary to exercise the will of the individuals who were to be governed? Certainly not.

The republics of Venice, Genoa, and others less known, which emerged from the great Roman Empire alongside the new monarchies, owed their origin only to the daring of a few noble families who, escaping from the general devastation of Italy, wished to establish in miniature a simulacrum of the ancient Senate to which they had belonged. Switzerland became independent and governed itself by its own laws, escaping from the domination of the House of Austria, due to a multitude of circumstances that made it impossible for the latter to subjugate its rebellious vassals. From whom did these Heads of State receive the power to govern? The founders, who were the first to exercise it, received it from themselves; for, as chiefs of the peoples they led, they established the form of government that pleased them best, and they governed their subjects for the time and in the manner that pleased them, without taking care to consult the people on the matter. The people, submissive and obedient, conformed to the laws given to them, and, accustomed to respect them, never stooped to inquire whether the power that dictated them was legitimate or not.

This is the history of the known nations, and this is the beginning of their government. In this way power is formed, which, as has been shown, is not born of the will of men, but emanates invisibly from human nature as a kind of permanent perspiration. It is the soul of society and the necessary condition for its existence. In this sense, it can be said to proceed from divine right. Yes, from divine right, because society is a state for which God created man: there can be no society without a single and fixed government, nor government without the existence of a legitimate power (whether king, emperor, or president). Therefore, it is necessary to recognize that this power is of divine nature, like the society from which it emanates and to which it gives life and direction.



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