Against power: As a republican, Sophie de Grouchy argued that sympathy, not domination, must be the glue that holds society together (Sandrine Bergèsis, Aeon)

The Letters on Sympathy, Grouchy’s only known, and signed, authored work, were published in 1798 as an appendix to her translations of the final edition of Smith’s book The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1792) and of his essay A Dissertation on the Origins of Languages (1792). These remained the standard translations of Smith’s key works for two centuries. Consequently, Grouchy’s Letters on Sympathy remained in wide circulation too, and were able to influence the growth of political ideas. […]

But for fuller evidence of her more radical views, we need to turn to the newspaper she founded together with Condorcet, Paine and others: Le Républicain. Published in 1791, the journal included anonymous articles by Grouchy and her translations of some of Paine’s work. She became known as a ‘fierce’ republican, and, not surprisingly, as an anti-monarchist she was mocked and caricatured in royalist journals.

In one of these articles, Grouchy attacked monarchy as an economic extravagance, and at the same time showed that it served no purpose beyond a ceremonial one by proposing that the king and his entourage be replaced by automata. Given the cost of the real ‘moving sculptures’ and the difficulty of producing and maintaining them in good working order, the claim that automata would represent a significant cost-saving was a direct attack on royal extravagance. But more than an economic cost, it was the psychological cost of monarchy that Grouchy was most worried about. In the second article (which she may have redrafted from an earlier one by her friend Dumont), Grouchy took on a theme she developed in her Letters on Sympathy: the moral and psychological cost of domination, the kind of domination characteristic of monarchy.

Being dominated is the chief and most pervasive political harm for republicans, because, Grouchy argues, it removes our liberty. In this, republicans differ somewhat from liberals, who see liberty threatened by interference. To be dominated is not necessarily the same thing as being interfered with. Being dominated means being subject to an arbitrary power that has the potential to interfere at any point in time. Grouchy argues that a king who is unconstrained by the law always dominates. Even a benign king who does not wish to interfere with his subjects’ personal lives dominates. Louis XVI insisted that he cared above all about the happiness of his subjects, yet his power over them was unregulated by law, and therefore arbitrary and dominating in this sense. And, given that a king’s attitude may change over the course of his reign, and that he will, one day, be replaced by his heir, his benevolence cannot be relied on to prevent future harms from interference. So, the king’s character does not make a difference to whether we should accept rule by monarchs: they still dominate, no matter how well meaning.