Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire

On the Meaning of the Word.

The word “faction” comes from the Latin “facere”; it is employed to signify the state of a soldier at his post, on duty (en faction), squadrons or troops of combatants in the circus; green, blue, red, and white factions.

The acceptation in which the term is generally used is that of a seditious party in the state. The term “party” in itself implies nothing that is odious, that of faction is always odious.

A great man, and even a man possessing only mediocrity of talent, may easily have a party at court, in the army, in the city, or in literature. A man may have a party in consequence of his merit, in consequence of the zeal and number of his friends, without being the head of a party. Marshal Catinat, although little regarded at court, had a large party in the army without making any effort to obtain it.

A head of a party is always a head of a faction; such were Cardinal Retz, Henry, duke of Guise, and various others. A seditious party, while it is yet weak and has no influence in the government, is only a faction.

Cæsar’s faction speedily became a dominant party, which swallowed up the republic. When the emperor Charles VI. disputed the throne of Spain with Philip V. he had a party in that kingdom, and at length he had no more than a faction in it. Yet we may always be allowed to talk of the “party” of Charles VI.

It is different with respect to private persons. Descartes for a long time had a party in France; it would be incorrect to say he had a faction. Thus we perceive that words in many cases synonymous cease to be so in others.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01