OUTLINING A CONSTITUTIONAL MONARCHY

Discours dans lequel on examine les deux questions suivantes: 1. Un monarque a-t-il le droit de changer de son chef une constitution évidemment vicieuse? 2. Est-il prudent à lui, est-il de son intèrêt de l’entreprendre?; suivi de réflexions pratiques. [N. p., n. pp.,] 1788.

[pp.,] 1788.

8vo, pp. 151, [1, blank]; engraved head-piece; a little marginal dusting on the title-page, the odd light spot, but a crisp, clean, large copy, uncut in the original marbled wrappers, paper label to spine; spine worn and partly perished but holding well, lower wrapper creased.

£750

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First edition, an attractively unsophisticated copy, of an important and rare Enlightenment work on constitutional monarchy, which elicited Kant’s ‘singular enthusiasm’ (S. M. Shell, Kant and the limits of autonomy, Harvard, 2009, p. 164).

Kant was introduced to Windisch-Graetz’ writings by Jacobi, who, in a missive of November 1789, praised this particular work among others, promised to send Kant copies, and conveyed Windisch-Graetz’ admiration for the German philosopher.

In the Discours, Windisch Graetz reveals himself as a ‘forceful advocate of constitutional monarchy with strong parliamentary limits on the executive at a time when such an outcome in France still seemed possible’ (ibid., p. 167). He affirms the revocability of the social contract which underlies the power of monarchs, and urges monarchs to accept that, in view of the need for a legal underpinning of their power, a constitution should be promulgated, to protect the sovereign people from the abuse of the supreme power as well as from the licence of what he terms the ‘intermediate’ authorities. He shows the constitution to be the ‘fundamental law’ which cannot be arbitrarily changed by a monarch without grave damage to the nation and to the King’s own interest. He warns that despotism is not an exclusive trait of monarchies, and that republics have just the same need for a constitution as kingdoms.

Windisch-Graetz’s interests spanned from political philosophy to metaphysics, to mathematics and its applications (most notably, a refutation of some errors in d’Alembert’s probability theories, and an attempt to solve the ‘Petersbourg problem’). While living in Paris in the position of special servant to Marie Antoinette he met Condorcet, who proved a strong influence. The drive towards identifying a ‘fundamental law’ regulating political life expressed in the Discours is also reflected in works in other areas, for example an essay on the ‘possibility of a general method for the discovery of truth in all sciences’.

Windisch-Graetz’s questions about the foundations of legality remained as a reference point in Kant’s 1790s work. He ‘never found a way to formulate “universal law” as called for by “the wise and astute” Count Windisch-Graetz’s, a law, in other words, that would hold not merely “generally” but “universally”. Without such a formula, which would make exceptions to the law inconceivable in principle, “the so-called ius certum will always remain”, as Kant admitted in a rueful note, merely a “pious wish”’ (ibid., p. 341).

Quérard, France litt., X, p. 523; not in Martin & Walter. Warda (X, 123) cites a later work by Windisch-Graetz in Kanth’s library. There is another issue, also very rare, of 114 pages, without place or date of publication. OCLC finds 6 copies in the US (Buffalo, California LA, Iowa, Newberry, Stanford, Yale), while Cornell and Brigham Young have the other issue. In the UK, only the BL has a copy.

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