Linguet, "Attack on the Nobility" from Annales politiques (1789)

Simon–Henri Linguet was one of the most active and irascible old regime figures. Among his many careers, he was a lawyer (who was disbarred in 1775) and a journalist (who was forced to give up his newspaper and flee to England in 1776). Throughout his life, he remained both a resolute monarchist and an intemperate critic of the excesses of royal ministers, Parlementary magistrates, lawyers—anyone he considered to be exercising too much power. In this passage, from early 1789, he attacks the old regime nobility on behalf of the French "nation," by which he meant those who truly wanted to help their fellow countrymen, not merely to serve themselves (of which he accused the nobles).


A kind of dialogue was printed . . . it is a text that needs to be studied. "The King could manage without you, said the Marshal of France. The Gentleman replies: What do you mean by that? WHAT WOULD THE KING BE WITHOUT THE NOBILITY?" People admired this passage . . . [but] it is considered as a real insult to the rest of the Nation.

What! Some Gentlemen from Dauphiné dared to ask what the King of France would do at the end of the eighteenth century without the Nobility? What would He be? He would be what He is: a Sovereign; the venerated Chief of a brave, industrious, polite, and faithful people. The Nobility probably constitutes a distinguished part [of that people], but if this part was eliminated, would everyone else be wiped out? . . .

The Nobility were hardly bearable in the times when they constituted with the Clergy the Political Body. If you wanted to be a renowned citizen, you had to be a Baron or a Priest. Then these Barons personally took care of the soldiers based on their domains. They could then call themselves the true supports of the throne and it was worthy to allow them so many privileges. At that time, this active class was legitimated by the real services given to the State.

Source: Simon-Nicolas-Henri Linguet, Annales politiques, civiles et littéraires du dix-huitième siècle, 19 vols. (London and Paris, 1777–92), 19:98–99.