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Hubert Carrier's fourth volume on the Mazarinades: Le Labyrinthe de l'État

The subtitle of Hubert Carrier's magisterial Le Labyrinthe de l'État (Paris: Champion, 2004), is Essai sur le débat politique en France au temps de la Fronde (1648-1652). At least since Voltaire's Siècle de Louis XIV, the essay is thought of, in history, as an argument or thesis supported by some facts, but by no means deeply authoritative.

This reviewer finds it difficult to imagine a more authoritative work than Carrier's! From his own bibliography we learn that he wrote on the word Fronde as early as 1968, and that Le Labyrinthe de l'État (the title of a Mazarinade) is the capstone for three earlier volumes: La Presse de la Fronde, la Conquête de l'opinion of 1989 (Geneva: Droz); its second volume, subtitled Les hommes du livre, published by Droz in 1991; and Les Muses guerrières, les Mazarinades et la vie littéraire au milieu du XVIIe siècle (Paris: Klinksieck, 1996). In Le Labyrinthe, Carrier presents the general political thought contained in the Mazarinades, having treated in the previously published volumes the questions of authorship, sponsorship, context, "literariness," and reception.

The organization of the 605 pages of text begins with the attitudes of the French toward their young king, his mother, and his uncle. This choice for a beginning reveals a profound understanding of monarchy as a political form: it is above all a complex affective, protective, and protecting relation ― indeed, one of often intense emotion, usually love for l'enfant roi. Carrier finds no strong general current of thought for any other form of government. The general and collective shock and outrage on the news of Charles I's execution powerfully confirms the bedrock of monarchy that was France. True, a change in dynasty was envisaged by some Frondeurs, and Condé's true ambitions prompted ambiguities and uncertainties, but no general movement in favor of a republic. Just what the monarchy should be as an institution was, however, quite another matter, as we shall soon learn.
In the part entitled "La Puissance politique du peuple," stress is properly placed on evidence from an ascending theory of power (W. Ulmann) grounded on the people. In almost every turn in the Fronde, attempts were made in the Mazarinades to mobilize in the name and on the behalf of the people, the most intense attempt to mobilize the peuple coming during the Fronde of the princes. This was accompanied by the refrain from antique sources about the fickleness or inconstancy of the people, again coming strongly in the years when the peuple seemed on the verge of larger collective, revolutionary (the word is Carrier's) action in the Ormée, and in Paris under the princes.

Chapter IV presents the "constitutional" dimensions of the Fronde. The sacralization of the past, to recover the political and fiscal conditions prevailing during the reign of Louis XII (others, Henry IV) was sometimes accompanied by written criticism of divine-right absolutism. The emphasis on the desire to have the king govern without ministers lies, of course, as a foundation for castigating Mazarin. The dangers of despotism in absolutism are explored, but apparently without a full-blown discourse about tyranny (except for Mazarin), enslavement and servitude (p. 78), though these terms did appear on occasion. References to Concini, Gaveston, and Mazarin form an ensemble. There are occasional writings that favor (or almost favor) "mixed" monarchy, though Bodin's thought on sovereignty often curbs those who otherwise might more strongly argue for participation by the grands in the council as a brake upon the turn from legitimate monarchy to despotism. Republics are perceived as disorderly (p. 93), though there were "poussées républicaines" (p. 113), notably in the Ormée.

It is impossible to do justice on all points to the richness and to the clear but complex presentation of thought in the Mazarinades, but it is interesting to note that with a few exceptions the whole issue of raising militias or paid troops seems not to have been a major current of thought (see the exception, p. 110). Thus the alliance remained firm between thinking about the nobility and reviewing military matters ― not as Machiavelli did, say, nor as some English civil-warriors did.

Carrier is particularly sensitive to how words such as peuple are used as analytical concepts. His reflections on the role of the bourgeois in the Fronde (later in the book, pp. 540-544) come close to classical notions of how a power is potential but how, in the Fronde, it only produced prolonged disorder (p. 551). Thus the whole study is grounded on the careful exploration of key social as well as political terms, with pertinent quotations to support whatever point is being made. From as early as page 130, I could perceive not only a "structure" of thought with important primordial (almost!) and specific resonances, say in a François Hotman, a Bodin, et al., but also reaches beyond the Fronde to Fénelon, Boullainvillier, Vauban, and Montesquieu. Mousnier's ― and even Crane Brinton's ― studies of revolt and revolution have probably been dismissed too quickly. And the perceptions of contemporary revolts, by contemporaries (p. 111) also brings R.B. Merriman to mind.

The large section devoted to thought about institutions begins with the complexity of beliefs about regencies. A salient point is writers' awareness of blood, which places Condé much farther from power than a royal uncle, Gaston. The imprisonment of the princes unleashed harsh criticisms of women as regents and, more unfamiliar to me, the sincere movement by some to remove Anne in favor of Gaston in 1651. Carrier remarks that the Parlement had complete latitude and could have brought about this replacement. On the one hand, this was certainly true; the power was there. But what were the precedents for such an action? There may well be some, and I have simply forgotten them. Mousnier, Institutions..., II, p. 102, sums up the precedental "mold" of regencies but does not answer the question of the Parlement's powers to unmake a regency in favor of an uncle who, by the way, by precedent held the rank of "lieutenant general of the realm." Thus when Gaston assumed that title, he was not far from his right. That there was a large agreement among Mazarinade-writers that such a transfer of regencies was not only desirable but possible, is not only testimony to the animosity and frustration about Anne's actions (especially her keeping Mazarin), it also suggests on this point that those who took up this view probably did not reflect majority French opinion.
The section on the ministry contains few surprises. The belief that the "people" had the power to force a minister to resign certainly became more articulated and firm as a result of Mazarin's actions; Le Coigneux made Bodinian arguments against having a minister (p. 264), because that represents a distribution of power. So often it is the personality and his "belles paroles" that is mentioned to account for the formidable collective effort to drive Mazarin from office. But Carrier permits the reader to learn about the mix to deeper anti-clerical and jurisdictional issues that intensified the effort. Good old Mathieu de Morgues is still blasting away; Louis Machon provided a legal and historical frame for others to continue the attack.

Oppositions to the clergy playing a role in the governance of the realm continued for much longer than I expected. This of course was aimed at the Cardinal. Opposition to the regular clergy (p. 289) surprises and merits much more research and reflection than could be given here. Perceived as rich and self-interested, the monks certainly had a bad press!

It would be Machon and Joly who would argue for an engaged political role for the Parlement, grounded in part on its role in creating regencies. Carrier and Moote are perhaps closer together than Carrier thinks (p. 310) regarding the powers of the Parlement. Moote concludes that the council's victory would have been greater still had it not been for the Parlement. A. Hamscher (1976) confirms Moote in general. Perhaps, given the general framework, Carrier sees the weak Parlement in long-range terms, somewhat like J.R. Major (1980), that is, as a defeat of more a devolved power ­ that is, a consultative monarchy, rather than a monarchy with almost all executive powers in the king and the council.

Support for the Parlement in 1648 was, of course, very strong, but its own internal divisions and, perhaps, Molé's leadership as a "king's man," rather than as a servant of the public, would lead to a loss of legitimacy and attacks on it for self-interest (venality). But the Mazarinades do not seem to articulate a military plan sufficiently strong to create a leadership in the Parlement and the militia companies. There are occasional texts (p. 319), and we know that there were volunteers from the Parlement court to lead the army (Viole); but lack of trust and links to grands made the creation of a "new model" army out of the question. Ties of interest were perhaps less important than ties of affection. Sully had argued that venality would weaken those client ties, but it did not make the judges less susceptible to rendering service to a Condé, to a Lorraine, or to someone in the council! We find Louis Le Laboureur shifting his views here (p. 339) but remaining implacably opposed to the ministry.

The overwhelming support for an Estates-General does not surprise, nor does the Parlement's effective opposition to calling one that would actually meet. I like what the royal librarian, Pierre Dupuy, wrote in 1651: "À quel effet une convocation d'États, puisque celles dont nous avons mémoire n'ont rien produit de mémorable pour l'Etat" (p. 353). But.... and, of course, by early 1651 Condé had quite a bit of popular support in Paris. One wonders if Condé should not have facilitated an estates, rather than go off to Guyenne as he did. He probably had more supporters than his father had had in 1614; but he was not one to favor debate!

At this point let us step back and attempt to characterize more generally what Carrier is finding. Normative political thought? The phrase surprises. There may not be such a thing. Still, without the passionate rhetoric it seems that the Mazarinades are a distillation of what the Fronde encouraged to be expressed. This is not to say that there was agreement or consensus among the writers. Quite the contrary.

Those arguing for a type of popular origins for sovereignty could never accept what their divine-right confrères were arguing. This would seem to be a major divide, especially as articulated in views which found the state in institutionally-devolved powers, versus those who stressed the location of the state in the royal person and his councillors. There is a whiff, in the sources, that the latter was more recent (careful with the word "modern") and that the devolved-powers model was older, more threatened, but must at all costs be recovered to temper the dangers of despotism that the newer, divine-right order bore within itself. Carrier lets the various voices be heard. He is fair to the voices who wish to turn back the clock. He is also fair to the "jusqu'au boutistes," the Frondeurs who refused to compromise, as well as the other-worlders like Davant who approved of the regicide in England. Were the jusqu'au boutistes mere seekers of power? They lacked a common program. And there was no Pym in the Parlement to turn a "controlling" and "reviewing" institution into one that sought to legislate a new order. True, they were generally patriotic and anti-Spanish, and not a few sought a kind of Christian-Gallican reform that differed from that of the dévots.

It is never prudent to try to separate the "rhetoric" from the "thought" of a particular author or group of authors, and Carrier has avoided this danger, especially in volumes I and II; but as we reach the final parts of this book, it seems necessary to ask whether it was all the rhetorics that impeded a cohesive reform movement, or was it the differences or ascending and descending theories of power? No one knows better than Carrier the challenges and devices used to address the public, and the resentments and rages they produced.

Before leaving the general issues of foreign policy, it should be noted that anti-Spanishness is a perfect example of an element in the French identity. There may be evolution here. It's one thing to be a dévot, another to be a dévot and ultramontanist, and still another to be a dévot and philo-Hapsburg. I must go back to J. Sawyer and read H. Duccini to ascertain whether there was an articulated pro-Spanish, devout view. All the plotters against Richelieu became tainted with the resort to Spain for help against the tyrant, but even among them, some sought Spanish help only with great reluctance. Carrier draws on Arnauld d'Andilly's lengthy critique of Mazarin's conduct of foreign policy, but conduct of and differences over are quite different things ― not unlike Fortin de la Hoguette, who accepted Richelieu's foreign policy, but not all the costs of carrying it out. I should like to bring Arnauld's views and P. Sonnino's views together, in dialogue over Mazarin's foreign policy, once Sonnino's book is complete.

Again, Carrier sets the whole question of foreign policy in a broader context, which leads him to evoke Fénelon, Boullainvilliers, and Vauban. This is quite suggestive, though (I think of L. Rothkrug's Opposition to Louis XIV) there would seem to have been more reason-of-state writers of Mazarinades than anti-reason-of-state writers. Richelieu did not seek to increase France at her neighbors' expense nearly so much as Louis XIII did. Mazarin does not seem as consistent on this point as Dethan and Portemer characterized him. In reaching for end-points, Carrier suggests that Saint-Simon was more "anachronistic" than Montesquieu (p. 378). Carrier links the powers of the aristocracy to a foreign policy of expansion, thereby making Saint-Simon more dated than Montesquieu. The latter became impassioned enough to write The Persian Letters after Bordeaux's Parlement attacked the Duke de la Force for engaging in retail commerce. He was furious with Dubois for facilitating the undermining of the very aristocratic polysynodie. Carrier has his eyes on 1789, and the petit duc's concerns over tabourets.

In the very interesting section on fiscal and economic thought, Carrier notes that it was not so much opposition to taxation, as such, as the ways of assessing and collecting taxes, that inspired the Mazarinades. All the issues are explored: grain shortages, price-fixing, the moral economy, the state "budget," the protest movement of the rentiers and Retz's attempt to take advantage of it, and last but not least, the "fables" (p. 471) about Mazarin's sending money to Italy. Again, Carrier sees the analyses of the Mazarinade writers as themes that will be taken up during the harsh years at the end of the century.

The last part of the book is about "structures et mentalités sociales." The solid and authoritative historiography of the 1960s and 1970s frames the remarks here. There is no bow to the anthropology-history that became fashionable afterward. The careful definitions of gentilhomme (p. 499), the desire for an estates by many nobles, and their still poor education are summed up after a recognition that the agréables conférences are a veritable mine of precise information about village life in the Ile-de-France.

The Parisian bourgeois are often addressed in the Mazarinades, and it is this abstract but very significant level of social description and action that Carrier is after in this section. Jean-Louis Bourgeon's work is addressed (p. 544) and his conclusions confirmed about how the bourgeois did indeed come down into the streets and join the peuple on the barricades. Fear for property, fear of disorder (see Jean Vallier) came as a secondary response after doing everything that could be done to support the Parlement in its efforts to recover its kidnaped members. Opposition to Mazarin was part of an outlook which included the belief in the legitimacy of the power to force the sacking of unpopular (sic!) ministers. Later, not unlike the Parlement, the bourgeois backed and filled, thus becoming responsible for prolonging the Fronde (p. 551); powers not used are not powers at all.
Economic hardship in the countryside worsened in 1652, yet there seemed to be no social revolution. Hostility to innovation continued (p. 581); no social utopian revolt really occurred, except in the Ormée (p. 484). Carrier describes the Fronde as it wound down: it is "retrograde" (p. 602), yet the Mazarinades contain sharp analyses in the form of an economic interpretation (p. 587), while rebels did not realize all that clearly how their fate was in Condé's hands.

I could not agree more with Carrier when he emphasizes the military weaknesses of the Frondeurs in 1648 and later (p. 604). The Frondeurs simply could not think of defeating the royal army, nor could the quarrels over the command of the militia be resolved. The mentalité did not include a strong enough sense of self-defense ― a proto-republican model so dear to Machiavelli could be discerned here and there, but it never became strong enough to forge a political party. Carrier notes also that there was no Robespierre or Lenin. He might have added Cromwell! There are times, in the Fronde, when various groups seem to cry out for a program to support and a leader to back. And Gaston d'Orléans' irresolution truly surprises, as do Retz's résolutions in too many directions ahead and behind "events."

Early in this profoundly original synthesis, Carrie notes (p. 20) that none of the writers of the Mazarinades sought to offer their compatriots a general theory of politics; there was no equivalent to Hobbes's Leviathan in France. It has often been noted that, in France, there is really no work of stature on politics between Bodin's and Montesquieu's. Too categorical, certainly, and very reductionist. The Mazarinades were written to engage a current political disorder, and with the focus on this perceived disorder, they would be briefly evoked prior to the revolution that swept away the Ancien Régime.

The Labyrinthe de l'Etat is the title of a Mazarinade that appeared in 1652. Carrier often refers to it, but perhaps not as often as he does to the writings of Claude Joly. There is more "theory" (see note 148, p. 514) and insightfulness ― theory and thought appear together in Joly, making him more revealing of the whole crisis. Thus Carrier refers to him very often. This relatively simple structure of thought and theory lies at the heart of this profound and important work.