Reviewed in 1996
Isabelle Storez's Le Chancellier Henri-François D'Aguesseau (1668-1751), Monarchiste et libéral might seem at first glance to be quite personal, and perhaps a bit dated, since it does not generally include recent Anglo-American publications on the 18th century, but this would be beside the point. Storez's first big theme is the public, quasi religious image of the chancellor, and of eminent hommes de robe in general. It may be tempting to think of the lofty phrases about virtue, pity, service and fidelity as "just rhetoric," but Storez turns these over and over about D'Aguesseau, until this reader began to understand her aim, which is to convince readers that her subject was a remarkable and highly thoughtful judge! The image of the judge as guarantor of the social, and indeed the political and religious orders as well, changed little from the days of its formation during the generation of Chancellor Hôpital. It may seem difficult to accept that these major social-professional identities changed little over the course of the 150-year period between Hôpital and D'Aguesseau, but Storez's work confirms that view. Christian Jouhaud asserts that the political pre-eminence and eloquence of the barreau declined during the Regency of Louis XIII, and just beyond. The Loisels, the de Thous, the Loyseaus and the Antoine Arnaulds, to say nothing of Pasquier, do not seem to have successors, and the public role they played also seems less than in the decades just at and after the Wars of Religion. Omer Talon and Broussel immediately come to mind, of course, along with Cardin Le Bret. Later Jean Domat and D'Aguesseau assume very large political and legal roles, but perhaps the Etat de Droit seems to be becoming so "administrative" that their influence seems less than that of their predecessors in the 16th century.
Storez scrutinizes D'Aguesseau's education and writing in order to establish exactly what he thought the chancellor's duties were. At some points, reliance on Saint-Simon seems too heavy, but what is a historian to do when there is only one source on several of the more biographical elements in D'Aguesseau's career. An advocate of equilibrium between the powers in the Monarchy, if not quite "mixed" monarchy, D'Aguesseau saw his role as a jurist philosopher with great powers charged with keeping balances, a fact that, to many of his critics, made him appear too favorable to the Parlement. Storez also deftly elucidates the role that Descartes's philosophy played in consolidating the still very Christian and Stoic synthesis of though tabout law, duty, power and the person. D'Aguesseau was very close to Domat and, like him, deeply conservative in regard to church-state relations. More philosophical than historicist, more corporatist than personalist (affection for the king as person does not seem to play a political role) and more privatized than public on religious matters, in his writing D'Aguesseau was a pivotal figure for the future of the Monarchy. He also reflects how Gallicanism remained fundamentally more influential in church-state relations, than the specific doctrines of Arnauld or Pascal.