A Virtue for Courageous Minds: Moderation in French Political Thought, 1748-1830

A Virtue for Courageous Minds: Moderation in French Political Thought, 1748-1830

A Virtue for Courageous Minds: Moderation in French Political Thought, 1748-1830

A Virtue for Courageous Minds: Moderation in French Political Thought, 1748-1830


Political moderation is the touchstone of democracy, which could not function without compromise and bargaining, yet it is one of the most understudied concepts in political theory. How can we explain this striking paradox? Why do we often underestimate the virtue of moderation? Seeking to answer these questions, A Virtue for Courageous Minds examines moderation in modern French political thought and sheds light on the French Revolution and its legacy.

Aurelian Craiutu begins with classical thinkers who extolled the virtues of a moderate approach to politics, such as Aristotle and Cicero. He then shows how Montesquieu inaugurated the modern rebirth of this tradition by laying the intellectual foundations for moderate government. Craiutu looks at important figures such as Jacques Necker, Madame de Staël, and Benjamin Constant, not only in the context of revolutionary France but throughout Europe. He traces how moderation evolves from an individual moral virtue into a set of institutional arrangements calculated to protect individual liberty, and he explores the deep affinity between political moderation and constitutional complexity. Craiutu demonstrates how moderation navigates between political extremes, and he challenges the common notion that moderation is an essentially conservative virtue, stressing instead its eclectic nature.

Drawing on a broad range of writings in political theory, the history of political thought, philosophy, and law, A Virtue for Courageous Minds reveals how the virtue of political moderation can address the profound complexities of the world today.


Les extrêmes sont dans la tête des hommes, mais point dans la nature
des choses.

—Mme de Staël

C’est moins la force des bras que la modération des cœurs, qui rend
les hommes indépendants et libres.


Moderation in France?

There is no agreement about what is the supreme political virtue. Some think that the crown must be reserved to justice, while others believe that it should be given to fairness or moral integrity. In my opinion, the quintessential political virtue is moderation, and I have written this book to justify this claim. Moderation, I argue, resembles a lost archipelago that must be rediscovered by historians and political theorists. This volume does not pretend to offer a comprehensive theory of moderation, nor does it provide a single definition of this virtue. Instead, it analyzes different faces of political moderation and examines a wide range of political, historical, sociological, and philosophical writings related to the French Revolution. By concentrating on this major historical episode that reshaped the entire European political landscape, I shall explore various uses of political moderation and the ways in which moderates responded to challenges posed by their opponents.

It seemed appropriate to focus on this subject and period—1748 to 1830—for several reasons. The first author studied in this book, Montesquieu, published De l’Esprit des lois in 1748, while the last author examined, Benjamin Constant, passed away soon after the Revolution of 1830. During this period, French society witnessed a profound political, social, and institutional transformation that created the conditions for the emergence of a distinctive form of political moderation meant to “end” the revolution. It was a period when, to quote John Adams, “the greatest lawgivers of antiquity would have wished to live.” I have studied a chapter of this fascinating history in a previous book on the political thought of the French Doctrinaires (2003) and explored the emergence of moderation in modern political thought in a volume published in Romanian in 2006 that contained chapters on Machiavelli, Gracián, Montesquieu, The Federalist . . .

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