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The Idea of Europe

Catriona Seth
Rotraud von Kulessa

30. The Empire of Reason

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1The political thought of Stanislaus Leszczynski (1677–1766),i King of Poland and later Duke of Lorraine, combines pragmatism and idealism. In order to live in peace with its neighbours, a state must be able to make itself feared, but its empire will only be made durable through the wisdom of its laws and the virtue of its sovereign. In his Conversation Between a European and an Islander from the Kingdom of Dumocala, Stanislaus stages a dialogue between a voyager, shipwrecked off an uncharted southern island, and a venerable old man, ‘a kind of Brahmin’, whom he encounters on his third day there.

2‘You are mistaken’, resumed the Brahmin. ‘True, our island may be isolated, yet it is vast. Only the main part belongs to us, and naturally our neighbours must envy our power, especially since not one of them can rival it. While hardly formidable on their own, they could, were they to unite, become so; but our political system shields us from their affronts. Our honest dealings have won us their trust, and they have had such abundant proof of our even-handedness that they believe us to be at least as capable of safeguarding their peace as they are.

3Amongst themselves they are less at ease, owing to their mutual suspicion, such that they are almost constantly attacking one another; and since they are so evenly matched in strength, outright victory is never achieved, making their wars relentless and thus all the more cruel.

4It is only through the ascendancy we have over them, conferred on us by the esteem in which they hold our wisdom, that we can put an end to their plight. They recognise our Sovereign as the arbiter of their disputes; and, while powerful enough, it should be said, to impose peace upon them, he derives greater glory from bestowing this peace than he would by exploiting their weariness so as to extend, to their detriment, the boundaries of his own empire.

5Herein lies a kind of Universal Monarchy, one whose foundations are all the stronger as the very nations whom it subjugates are the more willing to submit to it than the peoples governed by these nations are to obey their laws.

6Whence it follows that in order to preserve this monarchy such as they desire it, our troops are always ready to march wherever the need arises. But contrary to the customs of your own lands, these troops, whose sole purpose in waging war is to end it, do not raise against us those nations, who, while deriving benefit from our supremacy, are prepared, should we try abuse it, to join forces so as to put it asunder, yet who rather seek to maintain this supremacy, since truly our only interest is to render it beneficial to them.

7So compare now your polity with our own’, the Brahmin went on, ‘and see which is the worthier, the surer, indeed the more advantageous: either one which cannot but arouse suspicion, as it only ever succeeds through its efforts to conceal itself, or one which, displaying itself in the open, serves to other nations as an example of harmony and good will, rather than an emblem of mistrust and fear’.

8Stanislaus Leszczynski, Conversation Between a European and an Islander from the Kingdom of Dumocala (1752).

Read the free text in the original language (1752 edition):​ark:/12148/​bpt6k84469n

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