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Chapter 60


What these four obstacles are, what they were even under the Republic of February, even under the Constitution of 1848; the evil they produced, the good they prevented, what sort of past they perpetuated, what excellent social order they postponed, the publicist saw, the philosopher knew, the nation did not know.

These four institutions, immense, ancient, solid, supported one upon another, composite at their base and summit, growing like a hedge of tall old trees, their roots under our feet, their branches over our heads, smothered and crushed on all sides the scattered germs of the new France. Where life and movement, association, local liberty, communal initiative should have been, there was administrative despotism; where there should have been the intelligent vigilance, armed at need, of the patriot and the citizen, there was the passive obedience of the soldier; where the quick Christian faith should have gushed forth, there was the Catholic priest; where there should have been justice, there was the judge. And the future was there, under the feet of suffering generations, which could not rise and were waiting.

Was this known among the people? Was it suspected? Was it divined?


Far from it. In the eyes of the greater part, and of the middle classes in particular, these four obstacles were four buttresses. Army, magistracy, administration, clergy, these were the four virtues of order, the four social powers, the four sacred pillars of the old French structure.

Attack that, if you dare!

I have no hesitation is saying, that in the state of blindness in which are plunged the best minds, with the measured march of normal progress, with our assemblies, of which I shall not be suspected to be the detractor, but which, when they are both honest and timid, as is often the case, are disposed to be led only by their average men, that is, by mediocrity; with the committees of initiative, their delays and ballottings, if the 2nd of December had not brought its overwhelming demonstration, if Providence had not taken a hand, France would have remained condemned for an indefinite term to its irremovable magistracy, to administrative centralization, to the standing army, and to the office-holding clergy.

Surely, the power of the tribune and of the press combined, these two great forces of civilization,--it is not I who seek to deny or belittle them; but see how many efforts of all kinds it would have required, in every direction, and under every form, by the tribune and by the newspaper, by the book and by the spoken word, to succeed even in shaking the universal prejudice in favor of these four fatal institutions! How many to succeed in overthrowing them! to exhibit the evidence to the eyes of all, to overcome selfish, passionate or unintelligent resistance, thoroughly to enlighten public opinion, the consciences of the people, and the ruling powers, to cause this fourfold reform to force its way first into ideas, then into the laws. Reckon up the speeches, the writings, the newspaper articles, the projects of laws, the counter-projects, the amendments, the amendments to amendments, the reports, the counter-reports, the facts, the incidents, the polemics, the discussions, the assertions, the denials, the storms, the steps forward, the steps backward, the days, the weeks, the months, the years, the quarter-century, the half-century!

Victor Hugo