Patrick Edward Dove:
Theory of Human Progression (1850)
Abridged by Julia A. Kellogg
The elements of human progression
A DISTINCTION must necessarily be drawn between the science of politics itself, and its application to Man.
The science is purely abstract and theoretic. It professes only to determine the trueness or falsity of certain propositions which are apprehended by the reason.
But when we admit the fact that man is a moral being, the theoretic, dogma becomes, transformed into a practical rule of action, which lays an imperative obligation on man to act in a particular manner, and to refrain from acting in another manner. The theoretic truth determines the relations of moral beings, and consequently determines what ought to be their conditions with regard to each other; the practical rule determines what man may, or may not, do justly, and consequently what the political construction of civil society ought to be.
The science of politics then treats of equity, and of the relations of men in equity. All questions of politics may be discussed under the heads of liberty and property, bearing in mind always that political science treats exclusively of the relations of men.
An exposition of the laws of liberty should determine the moral rules that preside over the actions of men in the matter of mutual interference, while an exposition of the laws of property should determine the moral rules that preside over men in their possession of the earth.
But politics, taking into consideration only the relations of men, cannot take cognisance of any duty which would still be a duty if only one man were in existence. The duties of religion that relate to the Creator are beyond and above the sphere of politics; and so also are the duties of benevolence, which belong to another category than equity.
It is only as men may act towards each other equitably or unequitably that we consider their relations. An act of benevolence is not, strictly speaking, either equitable or unequitable. The recipient has no equitable claim to the bounty; and what the donor gives, he gives not to satisfy the law of equity, but a higher law, which applies to him as an individual, but which it is impossible to apply (by law and force) to a society. The relations of men in society must first be constructed on the principle of equity, and then each individual may exercise his benevolence as occasion may require. Were there no equity there could be no benevolence, because no man could know what was his own, or what he had a right to give.
Liberty signifies the condition in which a man uses his powers without the interference of another man. It differs from freedom in the circumstance of amount. Freedom appears to signify the absolute condition in which interference by human will is altogether removed. Liberty appears capable of indefinite variation: from the smallest amount that the most oppressed slave has to the utmost and most perfect amount, which then becomes freedom.
Liberty, in its most extensive signification, involves the whole powers or conditions of men which can be affected by the agency of other men; but liberty has also a more restricted signification, which confines it to liberty of thought, speech, publication, and action. In the former sense, life is involved in liberty; in the latter sense, life assumes a separate standing, and becomes a category by itself. And again, the moral feelings may be interfered with by slander or defamation; and this gives rise to another category of politics, namely, reputation.
Life, liberty, property, and reputation, are then viewed as the possessions of men; and the laws which is should regulate men in their mutual action on each other, with regard to life, liberty, property, and reputation, have to be determined by political science.
The genuine essence of all liberty is non-interference, and to secure universal non-interference is the first and most essential end of all political association.
But interference may be from the government and law, quite as much as from the individual, and interference by law is incomparably more prejudicial to a community than any amount of casual interference that would be likely to take place in a civilised country.
Liberty presents itself under the form of liberty of thought, liberty of speech, liberty of publication and liberty of action, and political liberty evolves chronologically in the order of thought, speech, publication and action. To secure this liberty by law and to make it exactly equal for all individuals in the eye of the law is the great end of political civilisation.
Time was in Briton when men attempted to control each other in their thoughts, and unless a man renounced his creed he was tortured by the ruthless arm of power and carried to the stake. Feeling is not under man’s control, and therefore they have allowed each other to escape from profession upon that subject, at the same time taking advantage of the nerves for the infliction of as much pain as man could reasonably devise.
Speech is still, and properly enough, made a matter of superintendence. A man may injure another by his speech, and consequently speech does come within the limits of politics. Immense changes, however, have taken place in the laws that relate to the expression of thought, more especially on political subjects. Freedom of speech, and of public speech, and in any number of speakers or auditors, is one of the first essentials of true liberty.
Freedom of discussion is the great turning point of liberty, the first great field of battle between the nation and the rulers. If the nation gain the day, its progress is onward towards freedom; but if the rulers gain the day, the nation must submit to tyranny, and must groan under the licentious hand of a self-constituted government. So soon as freedom of speech is prevented, no other resource than revolution can possibly remain, and the men who might not speak with tongues must have recourse to weapons of more powerful argument. Where there is freedom of discussion, there is always hope for the nation. The government may enforce its privileges for a time; but so certainly as freedom of discussion is preserved, so certainly must those privileges be curtailed, one after another, and freedom of action must eventually complete the evolution.
Writing and publication are as essential as speech. The censorship is an abomination altogether incompatible with freedom.
England has almost achieved her emancipation in the matter of thought, speech, and writing; but very considerable changes still remain to be effected before liberty of action can be said to be achieved. There are actions which are naturally crimes, and which never can be anything else than crimes—robbery and murder, for instance. Such actions are criminal anterior to all legislation and independently of any human enactment whatever. They are unjust from their nature, and we can predicate, a priori, that they are unjust, as well as prove, a posteriori, by their effects that they are eminently prejudicial.
Such actions, and such actions alone, is the government of a country competent to prohibit, and to class as crimes. But let us observe what takes place in actual legislation. No action can be less criminal than the purchase of the productions of one country, and the transport of those productions to another country, for the legitimate profit of the trader and the convenience of the inhabitants. The government, however, passes a law that such transport shall not be allowed, and that the man who still persists in it shall be called a criminal, and treated as such. The government thus creates a new crime, and establishes an artificial standard of morality, one of the most pernicious things for a community than can possibly exist, as it leads men to conclude that acts are wrong only because they are forbidden, and also enlists in favor of the offender those feelings which ought ever to be retained in favor of the law.
The restriction would be a crime if it were only a restriction, and prevented the international exchange of produce. But what are its effects? It calls into existence a set of men who devote themselves by profession to infringe the law. The act of transport is perfectly innocent and highly beneficial; but so soon as it is prohibited by law, the man who engages in it is obliged to use the arts of deception and concealment, and from one step of small depravity to another, sinks lower and lower, until at lasts he employs violence, and does not hesitate to murder. The act of transport in which the smuggler is engaged is one of the most legitimate modes of exercising the human powers. Every kind of advantage attends it. First, it is profitable to the foreign seller. Second, it is profitable to the merchant. Third, it is profitable to the carrier, Fourth, it is profitable to the home consumer; for if the goods were not more highly esteemed by him than the money, he would not purchase them at the price. And fifth, it is injurious to no one. The first three profits are money profits; the fourth, a profit of convenience and gratification. But the moral effects are no less beneficial. First, the man who is engaged in lawful trading is well employed, and likely to be a peaceful and good citizen. Second, the fact of purchasing from a foreigner gives the trader an interest in that foreigner, and eminently tends to break down those national antipathies, which have descended from the darker ages. The buyer and the seller are a step further from war every bargain they conclude in honest dealing; and the iniquitous doctrine, that a “Frenchman is the natural enemy of an Englishman,” must every day find its practical refutation in the substantial benefits of trade. First, then, the prohibitory law sacrifices all those benefits, and the law of restriction diminishes them to the full extent of its restriction. But what takes place? The contraband trader is created by the prospect of gain arising from the increase of price. The increase of price, instead of being a benefit to the legal trader, is his curse. It is neither more nor less than a premium held out to the smuggler to evade the custom and to undersell the legal trader, thereby tending constantly to reduce his profit, as well as to diminish his sale. But this is not all. It is a premium to the reckless to break the law; and the man who lives in the habitual breach of the law soon becomes a ruined character and a ruined man.
There are, perhaps, few courses of life that end so certainly in ruin as the smuggler’s and the poacher’s; and yet, barring the law, the acts in which they are engaged are perfectly innocent and perfectly legitimate. The man, who takes to smuggling or to poaching as the means of gaining his bread, is almost as certainly beyond recovery as the drunkard or the thief. It has been our lot to see some of these characters, and to observe the influence of their pursuits, and we can say no otherwise than that we have been shocked to see men of energy and great natural endowment destroyed by the temptations which the law had so superfluously placed in their way. When once the habit of breaking the law is established, the distinction is overlooked that would not otherwise have been forgotten, namely, that there is a right and a wrong independently of the law; and the man who commenced by shooting a hare in his cabbage-plot finishes by shooting a keeper, and expiating the offence on the gallows.
We do not mean that a man has a right, to shoot, everywhere and anywhere, but we mean that the act of shooting the game, the legal crime, is not a crime, and never can be such; and that the consequences are in a great measure the fruits of the law, and must be charged against it.
Let us take another case. The Creator, in his bounty has distributed rivers over our country; and the rivers of Scotland, at a certain season, teem (or did teem till the sea nets were established) with abundance of food in the shape of salmon, which are thus brought, as it were, to the very door of the inhabitants.
The uncultivated moors of the same district with wild birds, to an extent perhaps unequalled in the world. It might be supposed reasonable that these gifts of Providence should be of same service to the stated inhabitants who labor; and as corn land is not so plentiful in the north, as in the south, Providence appears to have thrown the salmon and the grouse into the scale to furnish the necessary food for man. But what has the law done? To shoot a grouse is not merely a trespass on the occupier of the land, but a crime, a criminal act, a thing that must be punished, a deed for which the half-starved highlander can be haled to prison, and shut up as an offender against the laws of his country, when that country had reduced him to the verge of starvation. And to spear a salmon, a fish from the sea that no man may ever have seen, and cannot possibly recognise, is also attended with pains and penalties for killing the fish that Heaven had sent for food.
Let us consider that Providence has made some animals susceptible of domestication. A man takes the trouble of rearing a lamb or a bullock; and by every principle of equity they are his—at least he has the claim of preference, which no other man has a right to invade. Were any man to take this sheep or ox for his own use, we see at once the impropriety of the action. First, it is an interference with another man without a justifying reason; and second, were such interference allowed generally, the domestication of animals would cease, and food would become so much the less abundant.
In this case there is a breach of equity involved, and the taking is a crime. But, on the other hand, Providence has made other animals incapable of domestication, and distributed them over the country, apparently for the very purpose of affording food, and this is in the very districts that are not so highly favored with the cereal productions of the soil. Such, in Scotland, are the salmon and the grouse; and these, at one period, were so abundant as to afford a staple article of food, and even now are sufficiently numerous to feed a large portion of the population from August to December. And what has the law done with regard to these bountiful gifts of Providence? The law has made it a crime for the poor man to touch them. The poor man now can never legally have either a salmon, or a grouse; and in the very parishes where those animals are sufficiently numerous to feed the whole resident pauper population, the poor may take their choice between starvation and expatriation.
Now, in the case of the animals that are not capable of domestication, there is an important distinction to be observed. To shoot any of these animals is not a breach of equity—that is, the wild one is no man’s property, while the domesticated one must practically be regarded as such; and therefore, as the wild animals could not be regarded as property—for property must be recognisable—the law has made it a crime for the poor man to take them for his use. And the privileged classes, not content with all the land, and nearly all the offices of the state, have usurped the fowls of the air, and the fish of the sea, that never owned a master save the Lord of heaven and earth.
It may be considered that the question is of no great importance; neither perhaps is it, compared with the weightier question of the land; but we have taken it as an illustration of the principle of legislation as regards action. As regards action England is not a free country, and the sooner the nation is convinced of the fact, the better for the community. And by free country, we mean a country in which every man has a legal right to do everything that is not naturally a crime. Where a man can do what is a crime, freedom is no more. But the law may be the criminal as well as the nation; and injustice from the law is quite as unjust, and ten times more detrimental, than injustice from the individual.
With regard to the crime, the real criminality of the action, measured either by reason or by Scripture, and with regard to the detriment, measured by the consequences, let us ask the following question, and let any man answer it on his conscience:—Here are animals provided by nature in abundance—they cannot follow even the laws of property established in all analogous cases, inasmuch as they are not recognisable, and cannot be claimed as ever having been in possession. These animals are distributed widely, and spread throughout the country in a manner to afford a convenient supply to the various districts. The fish arrive from the sea in their highest condition, and afford good and wholesome food. The birds are of the poultry kind, distinguished for the quality and quantity of their flesh, and for their powers of reproduction,—characters that have always drawn a line of demarcation between them and the birds of prey, and pointed them out for food. These animals are distributed by nature throughout the habitable districts where cultivation must be limited, and where animal food must be required, both from the scarcity of corn and from the nature of the climate. Such, at least, is the judgement of Providence, as manifested in the works of creation, and in the harmony which is everywhere perceptible between the productions of a region and their suitability to man. These districts (from the monopoly of the land) are now inhabited by a race reduced to the lowest state of poverty, and in many cases to a degradation that would class them with the savages. Let us ask, which is the crime? That these people should take the animals which nature has provided, or that the privileged classes of the country should pass a law to prevent their touching a single one of them, under the pain of fine and imprisonment? And be it remarked, these animals are not property, even by the wording of the enactment, which does not punish for interference with property, but for interference with animals, which the privileged classes wish to monopolize for other purposes. Hundreds of tons of fish, and thousands of boxes of birds, are annually taken away for sale from these districts, and yet not one of the poor of the inhabitants may touch a feather, nor finger a scale, without being guilty of a crime; and from one year’s end to the other, the mass of the population have not the legal right to take one single meal from a bird without danger of imprisonment, nor from a fish without danger of a fine. Is it a crime, or is it not, that the privileged classes should pass such a law? And is it a crime, or is it not, that the nation should allow such laws, and such privileged classes, to continue?
Again, the manufacturers of certain articles, who are certainly not guilty of crime, or even of the shadow of offence are not allowed to carry on the necessary operations except under the lock and key of the state officials; and the regulations are of so stringent a character, that if they were not partially relaxed by the excisemen, the business could scarcely be carried on without incurring penalties from the law.
The soap manufacturer is certainly engaged in the Production of an article that benefits the community; and even the distiller (for whom as much cannot be said) is entitled to carry on his business on the same footing as every other man. The legislators make a pretext of revenue; and revenue of course is necessary, although not to the extent to which revenue is raised in Britain. But when the necessity of revenue is granted, is it at all necessary that the man who is engaged in the lawful manufacture of an article required by the community, should be obliged to give notice to a state official that he is about to perform this, that, and the other process of his manufacture, and be esteemed a criminal worthy of punishment if that notice is forgotten or neglected?
All these restrictions are the remnants of the more exclusive privileges claimed and enforced by the privileged classes of other times, and the remnants of that political superstition which, next to religions superstition, every man ought to lend his aid to destroy.
The pretext that revenue is necessary, is one that would scarcely be entitled to attention, were it not accompanied by the injustice and detriment that follow in its train. Revenue, so far as necessary for the actual requirements of a state, need form a very trifling portion of a nation’s expenditure. The whole cost of the administration of justice, and of every other valuable service that the state really requires, is a mere trifle in comparison to the actual revenue, and to the still greater cost occasioned by the enactments of the legislature. But as revenue may be derived from two sources, the privileged classes have taken care that it shall be derived from that source in which they are not so immediately interested.
We have spoken of the liberty of human actions; and one of the forms of that action is labor. The material objects of the creation possess a value of exchange; that is, people are willing to pay for them.
But labor also possesses a value, of exchange, and people are willing to pay for it as well as for the material objects that constitute the globe and its inhabitants. Let it be observed that labor is essentially private property. It has a value, and the land has no more than a value.
Let it also be observed that the land is not essentially private property, and that naturally one man has as much right to the land as another.
Labor on the one hand, and land on the other, are susceptible of taxation.
The privileged classes, in the earlier stages of society, had all the land and all the labor. The lord was the lord not only of the land, but of the labor of those who were engaged in the useful arts of industry.
In the course of time the serfs obtained a small portion of their rights, and towns were formed where the citizens could carry on their labor with a certain degree of advantage to themselves, and with a certain degree of emancipation from the licentious will of the lord. Taxation could consequently be on the land of the lord, or on the labor of the townsman, for all the townsman’s capital was originally the produce of his labor.
Let it be observed, that when the land is taxed, no man is taxed; for the land produces, according to the law of the Creator, more than the value of the labor expended on it, and on this account men are willing t» pay a rent for land. But when the privileged classes had monopolised the land, they called it theirs in the same sense in which labor is supposed to belong to the laborer; and, although the absurdity of the proposition is sufficiently apparent, the laborer was glad enough to escape with, even a small portion of his liberty, and to rejoice that he could call his life and his family his own.
But then the lords of the land were the rulers and the makers of the laws, and the imposers of taxation, and it was not reasonable to suppose that they should tax the land. The king required money, and various persons about kings in all ages require money, and of course the only choice in the matter of taxation is between labor and the land.
To tax labor, then, becomes a matter of the most palpable necessity, and those who have been divested of almost every single particle of earth or sea that could be of any benefit to them, must also be made to bear the burdens of the state, and to pay for the support of a government that was of little use to the community, and that only existed by the right of the strongest, or the consent of superstition.
The principle of taxing labor is only a remnant of the serfdom of the darker ages, and it has been continued in this country by the ingenious device of what are termed indirect taxes, by which labor is taxed, although the laborer is only made acquainted with the fact by the distress that periodically oppresses him.
The man who is poisoned without his knowledge does not die the less certainly for his ignorance, and the people who are taxed do not suffer the less because the taxes happen to be imposed in such a manner that the unthinking and the ignorant do not perceive those taxes in the price they pay for almost every article of consumption. All the real harm is done to a country as effectually by indirect taxation, as if every penny were paid out of the day’s wages to the tax-gatherer of the state. But the rulers know full well that if the tax-gatherer were to present himself at the pay-table of the laborer, at the counter of the shopman, at the office of the merchant, and at the ship of the seafaring carrier, the doom of labor taxation would be sealed, and the country would not tolerate so glaring an injustice. And the indirect system of taxation is employed, not that it prevents the community from suffering, but that it prevents the community from dwelling on the cause of their suffering, and thereby retards a revolution against the privileged classes.
Such are the circumstances that have led to the establishment of customs and excise; and the total and complete abolition of those two branches of interference is one of the necessary changes that must take place before this country can be free and before this country can enjoy that commercial liberty, without which a periodical crisis must necessarily be the lot of the laborer, the merchants and the manufacturer. It is true that the total abolition of the customs appears chimerical at present; yet, if we consider the history of the changes that have already taken place, and seize their abstract form (the only form that contains real instruction), we have sufficient ground to hope, not only for the abolition of every species of tax upon labor, but for the recovery of each man’s natural property. So certainly as this country continues to progress, so certainly must every restraint be removed from every action that is not a crime; and the customs’ laws can no more be perpetuated, if the present liberty of discussion continues, than restraints upon discussion could be perpetuated after men had learnt to think for themselves, and to form their convictions according to the evidence before them.
The Protestant creed introduced a very important change in the credence of the country in the matter of religion.
The Romanists always professed to slaughter men to the glory of God. The Protestants, on the contrary, abandoned the high ground of sacrifice to the Deity, and substituted the more rational idea of sacrifice to the King. The unfortunate Covenanter, who was shot or decapitated, was not an offering to the Deity, but an offering to the King; and the difference was of immense importance to the country, although of no particular consequence to the Covenanter. So soon as legislation for men’s thoughts was conceived to be for man, and not for God, men began to inquire whether, after all, the King had really the right to legislate to such an extent. And as knowledge increased, they began to relax their principles a little, and to think that the deprivation of civil privileges would be punishment sufficient for the offence of thinking differently from the sect in power.
The modification still goes on, and measure after measure is abolished, until at last the professors of different creeds almost begin to think that they can inhabit the same country without persecuting each other on account of their religion.
The last remnant of this religious superstition that once played so prominent a part in Britain, is now to be found in the taxation of nonconformists; and the church-rates and the official distinction between the various sects are the last representatives of that system of legislation that lit the fires of Smithfield, and sent Claverhouse and his dragoons to murder the hillside peasant and to torture the differently thinking Presbyterian.
But what is the principle that has so modified the laws of Britain? Whence comes it that men should have so singularly changed their opinions in the course of a century or two?
It is perfectly evident that justice does not vary from age to age. Justice is the same from the beginning of world to the time that man shall change his constitution.
An act of justice can no more alter its character than the diameter of the circle can alter its relation to the circumference. What was just yesterday is just today, was just a thousand years ago, and will be just a thousand years to come.
How then does it happen that so strange a modification should have come over the credence of our race, and how does it happen that men should legislate so differently.
The credence has changed with the acquisition, of knowledge and the legislation has changed with the credence.
Men have discovered that legislators have no right to legislate for credences, and thus the last remnants of such legislation are obliged to appear under another name, and to assume a false guise, that they may be allowed to continue a few years longer.
For the man animal, food is the first necessity; but for the man mental, credence according to evidence is the first correct law of his intellectual nature. Food is one of the conditions of existence; and, until it can be procured in tolerable quantity, and with some degree of certainty, a community cares little about the mind, and allows the question of free thought to remain in abeyance.
When a community begins to emerge from barbarism, and legislation assumes a definite form, everything is legislated for. Food, thought, speech, action, property, in all their various forms, are all made subject of enactment; and men thus endeavor to improve the world that God made, by passing laws to amend the order of nature. The first necessity for the community is to have some small opportunity of procuring food, and when the necessary conditions are obtained (which involve some degree of liberty), men turn their attention to other subjects, according to the character of their theological belief. The religious impulses of our nature require satisfaction, perhaps, before any other portion of the mental constitution; and as men must have some kind of theological credence, right or wrong, they believe anything rather than remain in doubt. And as, where there is no evidence, there can be no truth and no error, but mere arbitrary superstition, the state has generally established some form of credence by law, and committed the care of the superstition to the priests. But there does happen to be a true religion as well as an indefinite number of superstitions; and, after the revival of learning, when the truth began to break on men’s minds, that religion was not a matter of mere arbitrary church authority, but a real matter of truth and falsehood, in which life and death were involved, the Christianity of the Bible came into collision with the established superstitions of the Papal priesthood, and a struggle was commenced which began by the maximum of persecution, and ended, in this country at least, in the maximum of liberty of thought.
It must not be supposed, however, that a country is in the same circumstances before a law has been called into existence, and after its abolition. Before the law is enacted men are naturally free, but when the law has been abolished men are legally free. A country arrived at complete freedom after the various transformations of superstition and injustice, is a very different thing from a country where legislation has only commenced. The actual laws that exist in both cases might perhaps be the same; but in the one case they are the stepping-stones to an indefinite series of legislative acts, and in the other case they are the permanent records of a nation’s final judgement. England, before men legislated for thoughts, and England after men have legislated for thoughts and abolished such legislation, is in very different circumstances; inasmuch as it may now be reckoned a matter of ascertained truth, that legislation for matters of belief is pre-eminently prejudicial, as well as unjust. And the probability of new legislation on the subject can scarcely be contemplated.
Where rulers govern by power, and not by the enlightened choice of the nation, they are a party opposed to the nation. On the one hand is the nation and the national interest; on the other hand is the government and the interest of the individuals connected with it. The more powers the rulers have, the less liberty the people have; and the more land and privilege the rulers have, the less wealth have the population. Now wealth and power are exactly what men are desirous of possessing; and as rulers are men, it is not to be wondered at that they dip their fingers into every man’s dish, equitably or unequitably, and monopolise the best things that happen to be going. The land, of course, either in kind or in some other form, falls to the lot of the rulers and their coadjutors—the nobles and the priests. The cultivation of the land (the labor), instead of also falling to the lot of the privileged classes, becomes the portion of the people.
But excessive privileges are much easier maintained against a weak people than against a strong one; and as the people can only be strong by knowledge, virtue, and combination—knowledge, virtue, and combination are in little favor with despotic governments.
Political knowledge (that is, a knowledge of their rights and interests) is carefully excluded from the mass of the population; and as political knowledge grows out of discussion about social welfare, as well as out of the thoughtful toil of the author, both discussion and authorship, are subjected to partial or total prohibition. The most frantic blasphemies will find a readier license for publication than a sober treatise on the public welfare; and a philosophical denial of all right and wrong whatever will be more tolerable than an inquiry into the foundations of the rulers’ privileges. The most infamously immoral production is less likely to be scrutinised than a dissertation on political economy; and an association for murdering, torturing, and expatriating the population, would be more readily authorised than an association for forwarding the rights of the people.
Anything in the shape of superstition (that is, uninquring credence) is esteemed proper enough; but the moment men begin to inquire and to seek reasons, that moment the government is alarmed, and that moment must means be put in operation to stop the course of knowledge.
The government must either give up its privileges, or keep the people in slavery with regard to expression of opinion; and the stringent laws of the continental powers, relative to every kind of political meeting, are no more than measures of precaution, analogous those practised by the pirate who scuttles his prize (with its crew) as a measure conducing to his safety.
The objects of a despotic government must necessarily be distinguished from its means. The objects are wealth and power; the means, tyranny and superstition. Tyranny is power without right, and superstition is credence without evidence. The governor of a country, in the earlier stage of legislation, is the strongest man in the country; and, by conversion, the strongest man in the country is the governor. Now, one strongest man, who has the opportunity of taking a thousand weaker men in detail, is stronger than the whole thousand if he can prevent them from combining. This is the concise explanation of the theory of a despotic government. A noble, a chief, even a bishop, may become a sovereign, and remain so as long as he has power or dexterity to prevent the people from combining. As soon as they combine he is no longer the strongest, and his wealth as well as his power is in a fair way to depart. It therefore becomes a matter of serious consideration for him to discover and put in practice those means that tend to secure his power, and prevent his enemies (his subjects) from combining.
In the first place, he must have more wealth; and, as he cannot have it by his own honest industry he must have it by the industry of others, or by the monopoly of those natural objects which other men must possess as the conditions of their existence.
Land is the great source of wealth; forests and fisheries are also tolerable; mines and minerals are capable of yielding a revenue; and, in addition to these, comes the taxation of labor.
These sources of wealth, therefore, must be turned to account, and the governor of course does not neglect them. Wealth is power for the ruler, as knowledge is power for the people; and the more wealth the ruler has, the more power has he for taking advantage of his subjects. Wealth, therefore, is both a means and an end,—a means of getting more wealth and of getting more power. Wealth gives birth to a standing army, and a standing army gives birth to more power, as it enables the ruler to apply his principles more extensively and with greater security.
But if a people were to combine against any standing army that is likely to exist, the ruler would no longer be a ruler, and the army would no longer be an army. It therefore becomes a matter of serious thought for the ruler, to obviate the tendencies towards combination.
There are two or three kinds of combination.
The combination of national antipathy, which may exist where there is abundance of ignorance. Also religious combination, which by no means advances freedom as a matter of necessity. The Crusadesexhibited this kind of combination; also the union of the Presbyterians of Scotland, and the puritans of England. They had hold of the truth, and, though they had scarcely yet learnt to view it in its true light, they progressed immensely towards freedom. They did confound civil and religious liberty; but notwithstanding, it is to them, under God, that we owe the preservation of the cause of liberty in this country.
Those who attend merely to the revolution and its horrors, are like those who go to see a criminal executed without asking the reason of his execution, or inquiring into the reasonableness of the laws which demand his execution. The French Revolution was produced by the laws of nature. Who made those laws?
A third kind of combination is for the purpose of overthrowing an evil that presses on the feelings, thoughts and interests of men. This combination is a mere reaction against pressure.
But there is another kind of combination, and a far more important one for the welfare of the world: the combination of knowledge and reason. Knowledge is credence based on sufficient evidence, and reason is the power of perceiving consequences, and inferring antecedents. Without reason man would only be a higher kind of ape; as it is, he is a spirit and an immortal.
Man has an intellect as well as a bodily frame, and this intellect has its laws and its requirements. Observation is its food, reason is its process of digestion, and truth is its circulating fluid, without which it degenerates and dies. Truth makes the mind strong, ignorance makes it weak, and error infects it with disease. Knowledge is not only power, it is strength—strength of the mind, health, and life. To obliterate this strength, therefore, is the object of the despotic ruler. If the people are strong, the despot must be weak; but the legitimate ruler is so much the stronger as the people are stronger. When the rulers and the nation are in opposite scales, the less weight the people have, the more easily are they outweighed; but when both are in the same scales, the heavier they both are the better for both, and the worse for those who are opposed to them. In a free country, where law was absolutely supreme and really equitable, every man would feel the ruler to be a portion of himself, and would lend his arm or his aid to further the ends of justice.
In a despotism, superstition takes the place of knowledge, and the fear of suffering helps to procure an unwilling obedience.
The ruler is the wolf, the people are the flock, and the lawyers and priests are the foxes who prepare the flock for slaughter.
When the priesthood lose their influence, an army must be resorted to, and physical tyranny and centralization must do the work of superstition. At all hazards, the people must be kept down, or the game of despotism is lost.
Mere superstition, however, is insufficient to enslave a people that has commercial intercourse with other nations. So long as the country can be surrounded with a barrier, and free communication prevented, superstition may do its work tolerably well, and a nation may remain in much the same state for an indefinite period.When, for a thousand years, the sun rises every day upon similar conditions, it is by no means wonderful that change should not take place. In the political as well as the physical world, the conditions must be changed before we can look for a change in the phenomena. Change the conditions, and some change or other will be exhibited in the consequent results. For those who have the land and the privilege, every change is dangerous; and the invariable tendency of the privileged classes to oppose change is only a prudent exercise of foresight.
One of the most important changes in the condition of a people is free intercourse with strangers. Interchange of thought and opinion takes place, information is given and received, new arts are learnt and communicated, and something analogous to a chemical. effervescence takes place between the two people, who are thus mutually excited to a state of social ferment. But not only are nations stimulated by intercourse with others; it appears to be a law of animal development, that the mixture of races produces a higher and a better type than either of the originals, and the finest races are those in whose elements the original types have almost disappeared. Races of men may, at the same time, be so mingled as to produce a lower type, and this law also extends to the lower animals; but while two races, already low, may he injudiciously crossed, to the detriment of the progeny, there seems little reason for doubt that the intermixture of national blood, where the races are of a higher character, is conducive to the physical perfection of mankind. The races of western Europe, that now take the pre-eminence in the world, are complex, and the result of many amalgamations. The south of Britain, especially, which produces men probably inferior to none on the whole surface of the globe, is peopled by a race resulting from many tribes who successively invaded the shores, and left a greater or less impress on the character of the inhabitants. The Spaniard and the Frenchman are also the results of mixed blood; and, though the kingdom of Spain has sunk into insignificance from the effects of superstition and tyranny, the Spaniard is a high type of the human species, and only wants truth and freedom to enable him to play a distinguished part in the destinies of the world. When England and France were as superstitious and as enslaved as Spain, Spain was perhaps the most powerful kingdom in Europe. But since Spain did not progress in freedom, she has naturally sunk into every kind of licentiousness; and the Spanish race, with all its immorality and recklessness of bloodshed, is a living evidence of what kings and priests can do with a nation, when the nation does not destroy their influence in time. Had Spain established freedom of thought, instead of torturing and expatriating her industrious inhabitants, she might now have been a second England, with wealth and power beyond any other continental country. Freedom of thought is now evolving in Spain; and if a moderate tyranny could be established, to consolidate the disjointed elements of the country, Spain might still progress. But freedom of thought is now necessary; and if any attempt be made to curtail it, the progress of revolution may go on for years and years, until worn out by anarchy, and the credences of the rising generation running counter to the old superstitions, some old adventurer may seize the reins of government, and exhibit Spain under an entirely new aspect. That the present rulers will continue is almost an impossibility.
Knowledge is credence based on sufficient evidence, and reason is the power of perceiving consequences, and of inferring antecedents. The combination of knowledge and reason is the great moving power destined to emancipate the world. It is the only ground of hope for the unprivileged classes, but, at the same time, it is a sure ground of hope; and the more rapidly knowledge increases, the more rapidly will its all-powerful influence be made apparent to the world. Correct credence is absolutely essential to the human race, before that race can know and work out its own wellbeing.
The elements of this correct credence are, 1st, The Bible. 2nd, A correct view of the phenomena of material nature. 3rd, A correct philosophy of the mental operations.
1st, The Bible. So far from the Bible being in opposition to the reason of mankind, it is the great emancipator of the reason.
Independently of all considerations of a hereafter, the Bible has an eminent effect in regulating the conditions of men of this world.
The Bible strikes at the root of persecution, by removing the false credence on which it is based; it sanctions no persecution, but teaches men that they are made of one flesh, and that they are personally responsible to their Creator.
2nd, A correct view of natural phenomena. In this two things are implied: 1st, A knowledge of natural phenomena (science); and, 2nd, The attribution of those phenomena to their true cause. If God be the creator of the universe, God is also the physical governor of the universe; and as such we must regard the occurrences of nature as the results of the laws established by Him. And when once men shall really awake to the conviction, that the social evils of the community (poverty and want, with the accompaniments of crime, ignorance and disease) arise from an infringement of certain invariable laws, no more uncertain in their nature than those which regulate the fall of a stone or the motion of a planet, we may reasonably expect that men will bend their eye on the phenomenon, endeavor to ascertain the conditions and forces that result in good or evil, and thus to discover a natural science of society that may open a new era in the history of civilization. Induction is no less applicable to the phenomena of men than it is to the phenomena of matter.
So long as man takes the fact in nature, and seeks to assign a cause, he follows the true path; and that path is abstractly correct, however absurd may be the fancied explanation.
An endless variety of phenomena are constantly occurring around us, and these, by a law of our mental constitution, are referred to causes. These causes have ever played a most prominent part in the history of mankind, and the fancy has ever thrown around them that mysterious mantle of the imagination by which they were clothed with personality. From necessary forms of rational thought, they become transfigured into conscious existences, that willed and acted for themselves and produced the multifarious phenomena of nature. The world was filled with half material spirits, demons and demigods, fates, furies, destinies, and all vague mythologies of mysterious influences.
But it was reserved for the corruption of Christianity to throw the darkest shade. It is said that “the shadow is nowhere so dark as immediately under the lamp.” Piety died away and theology took her place. The wisdom that is from above is not a creed, but a principle of life imbued with truth; and when the Church forgot the life, the truth vanished from the symbol and left the dead remains of unspiritual knowledge. The shadows were dark before, but now was the night of degradation. Demons and devils stared from out the ordinary phenomena of nature; and the multitude of sorcerers who were immolated in the Middle Ages, were as much the victims of nature misinterpreted, as the martyr Christians were the victims of a false theology.
But day broke at last, and nature was emancipated from the mystic folds of superstition. The great turning-point of modern times was, when the doctrine of constant repetition of similar phenomena in similar conditions was substituted for the dread of unseen, and too often malevolent, agency.
Man learned at last to bend his eye on the phenomenon, accurately to observe the conditions, and accurately to measure the change. Physical truth was the result of this operation, so simple, now we know it, yet of such vast importance to the welfare of the world. Superstition here received its blow of death; and, just in proportion as the inductive philosophy (in physical science) was received and cultivated, so was man emancipated from the terrors of unseen agency, and the phenomena of nature were fixed on a stable basis that invited man constantly to further inquiry.
But what has become of the causes?
The causes were now no longer beings, but the laws by which the one God carries on the government of the material world.
But has this view of nature a direct bearing on the political condition of mankind? No doubt of it whatever. Those who have advocated the utilitarian theory are true benefactors to their country; and, though we may take occasion to advert to the cases in which that theory has been carried altogether out of its legitimate province, we of course accept it to its utmost extent in those matters that come within its range. But what is the utilitarian theory, and what is its connection with inductive philosophy?
Let us suppose men legislating on a theological principle (no matter what), and carrying out their laws by force. Let us suppose an inductive philosopher beginning at the effects of these laws, carefully collecting the statistics of the things he can observe, and arranging them into an exhibition of facts. Let us suppose that these facts show the results of the legislation to have been eminently detrimental to the great body of the population. Suppose he publishes these details. Of course those who legislate on a theological principle care nothing about consequences; for if the principle be correct, the legislation is a duty at all hazards. Now, what is to be done? Of course, if the populace are not quite so certain about the principle as the legislators are, they might begin to suspect a mistake in the rulers’ method of proceeding, and perhaps they might weigh the statistics against the theology, and give the preference to the former. This is very likely. Now, what course have the rulers? Either to abandon their legislation, or to expel the philosopher, and prevent all further inquiries of the kind. But suppose the inductive mode of judging of legislative acts should happen to procure free course, it is quite impossible that facts, mere facts, should not tell on the country in the long run, and that reasonings upon those facts should not spring up in every man’s mind, and cause him to throw all his weight into every change in which he could see his own, and the interest of his fellows involved.
But suppose a new light were to break upon the nation. Suppose men should happen to reflect that facts come from the operations of the laws of God, and suppose the thought should strike them that God is a benevolent and a just God—that he made a good world, gave it good laws, and that social evils sprang from man’s injustice to his fellow, and from the wrong way in which things have been divided. Suppose the idea should go abroad that God is no respecter or persons, but that perhaps the welfare of a peasant is of as much value in the eyes of Him, who doeth all things well, as the welfare of a king. Now, suppose to these reflections were joined another or two, that God made man’s reason, and made man to hate pain and flee from it; and also that man’s nature obliges him to live in society, and that societies may make mistakes, as the child does who puts his finger into the flame, and that the pain is to teach him to beware in future. Were such notions to go abroad, it is perfectly evident that the inductive philosophy, when it found out evils and suffering attending legislative acts, would come backed with the authority of Him who made the laws of nature, and it would lead to the belief that the welfare of the great masses of the population was never sacrificed to procure the wealth of the few, without God’s displeasure being always made manifest in the suffering that ensued. Not that this suffering was a miraculous interference, but the result of the ordinary laws which God has made’ for the government of the world.
Suppose, however, one more principle should be admitted, namely, that “that which is just is beneficial, and for the good of the greatest number.” Suppose men should reflect that induction requires time and knowledge before it can be brought to perfection, and that God endowed man with an á priori principle of justice, to enable him to steer clear of injuring his fellow, even where the inductive evidence should not be at hand. Suppose the results of this justice and of this induction should happen to turn out always and invariably coincident, and although pursuing different paths to reach the same end, yet the end arrived at never was different.
Were all this admitted, it is plain that the inductive method of examining the condition of the country would have a most direct and most powerful influence on the legislation of the country. Where suffering was considered not the mere accident of chance, nor the work of a malevolent spirit, but the voice of a just and benevolent God telling men to amend the order of society, and to return to those elementary principles of justice that He had implanted in their mind—surely we can see that the progress of this nation must be very different from the progress of that nation from which inductive philosophy was banished, and where men legislated for themselves and pretended to be legislating for God.
3rd, A correct philosophy of the mental operations.
Whenever we approach what is termed metaphysical philosophy, we feel that we approach a quagmire, over which a dense mist seems to hold its perpetual habitation. If we attempt to advance, two ultimate and hitherto impassable objects present themselves to view. On the one hand is the bottomless pit of scepticism, and on the other is the commanding but inaccessible height of absolute truth.
Between scepticism on the one hand, and the dogmatism of unsupported faith on the other, philosophy has slowly swayed backwards and forwards, leaving man as little farther advanced in ontology as he was five hundred, or a thousand, or two thousand years since.
To suppose, however, that philosophy is the useless jargon that some writers appear desirous of representing, because it has failed to solve the great problem, namely: “How can objective existence be rationally substantiated” is surely to look at history with only one eye.
Grant that scepticism in philosophy is the ultimate result of all investigation; let us only be consistent, and make that scepticism universal, and the bugbear of scepticism disappears forever. Let us write a plus or a minus, a sign positive or a sign negative, before all our knowledge, and what difference can it possibly make?—knowledge remains the same in all its relative proportions; and all that man has really ascertained to be true, remains as permanently stable, and as really capable of application, as if ten thousand syllogisms had proven that knowledge was truth, and that the axiomatic credence of mankind was really veracious. Scepticism, whatever be its danger, is only dangerous when partially applied. When one man shall have demonstrated to another man his own existence (and the most sceptical of sceptics admits the existence of the me), it will then be time to substantiate objective existence, by a process of proof that can have no difficulties, when once the proof of the one me is furnished to the other. If we will be sceptics, let us be consistent; and let us write our sign negative, not merely before objective knowledge, but before the existence of that me, whose existence is absolutely as incapable of every approach to rational proof as is the existence of an external world.
When, however, we take the existence of the me for granted, and then insist that other objective existence should produce a proof of which it is incapable, our scepticism is not only dangerous but fatal. Rational proof there is none, either in the one case or the other; for the me is as really objective to all our consciousness, as is matter or universal mind. We are conscious of mental phenomena alone; and the me is as far removed from immediate appreciation, as is any other substantive existence that our race admits with persevering universality. Let us only make scepticism (philosophic scepticism), absolutely universal, and the foundations of real knowledge are laid anew, scepticism being buried in a grave of its own digging.
For ourselves, we believe that scepticism may be fairly met, and fairly vanquished by the most strict rules of logic. Its stronghold is in the ambiguity of terms, and in the use of terms which it has no logical right to use. Scepticism says, “You have no proof for the objective truth of your subjective convictions.” We deny the fact, and allege that an argument based on the calculation of probabilities would establish, beyond the smallest possibility of doubt, the objective veracity of the subjective laws of reason. The mathematical sciences are, every one of them—namely, arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and statics, purely objective; every one of their primary propositions is an axiomatic truth taken for granted, self-evident, incapable of question, purely abstract, and that does not pronounce on the real existence of any concrete reality whatever. Now how comes it, that when these subjective sciences are applied to matter, an entity with which they have nothing to do, they are invariably as correct as when merely contemplated by the reason? How, if the subjective convictions and subjective processes of the reason are not correct, can an astronomer predict the return of a comet?—and the comet does return, to other men’s perceptions, years after his dead. Scepticism is the greatest imposition that ever fooled a man’s reason, yet it must he fairly met.
Never, perhaps, was the absence of a definition productive of so much fruitless toil, as when men set to work on philosophy. What does a man propose to expound when he teaches philosophy? For a long period philosophy was ontology; that is, the knowledge of being, entirely and exclusively objective in its character, entirely and exclusively subjective in its means of operation. That is, men endeavored to substantiate both the reality and the form of the universe in their own minds, without the connecting link, evidence, that renders one form of thought knowledge. There was no evidence, therefore there was no knowledge. With such a system the abstract sciences alone are possible, as in them the evidence is subjective, and supplied by the rational constitution of the mind.
The Baconian philosophy broke up ontology by supplying the connecting link that must unite the object and the subject. That link was evidence, and that evidence was only possible by means of observation. Philosophy now separated into two parts—metaphysics and science, which latter was the new philosophy that arose from the new method of founding knowledge on evidence.
The new philosophy has advanced with wonderful strides, enlightening man’s intellect, and dispersing innumerable benefits, which reproduce themselves in an infinity of forms, and hold out hopes of great and permanent advantage to our race. The old philosophy remains much where it was as regards its nature, but in a very different position as to the extent of the ground it occupies.
At one period the method of making science without evidence was universal. It was applied to physics as well as to metaphysics, and its domain was supposed to extend over everything that could become the subject of human knowledge. It has now been driven from every part of that region that has been occupied by positive science.
Can nothing be learned from this fact? We think that something can, and it is this—That philosophy, after retrograding from every region of thought to which man may apply his attention, shall at last resolve itself into the science of human thought, and pronounce nothing whatever on any subject that is not merely and exclusively human thought. If we consider knowledge, we shall find that it implies three things, the object (that is, the universe); the subject (that is, the human mind); and the connecting link between them, that is, evidence. Now, if we consider that philosophy has abandoned one portion after as positive see that, if another of the object, just in proportion as positive science has occupied that portion, we can see that the process continues, the whole of the object must ultimately be abandoned, and the subject alone become the object of contemplation. And if so, then will philosophy teach only psychology, taking that term extensively to signify mental science.
The multitude, in all ages, and in all places, have admitted the existence of the mind, the existence of the external world, and the existence of Deity. These appear to be the common and general groundwork of human credence and human action. The multitude believed, and acted on their belief, taking the three great facts we have mentioned as the most common and ordinary truths, without which the whole economy of thought must be overturned, and laid in inextricable confusion.
The philosophers, however, endeavored to give a rational explanation of the theory of human credence. Their object was not to accept these great facts, and thence to proceed to specific knowledge, but to lay anew the rational evidence on which these facts themselves were to be admitted.
But before man can reason, three substantives must be taken for granted, and two propositions must also be given, involving those three substantives as the terms or he cannot by any possibility arrive at a proposition established by rational, that is, by logical proof. Let men therefore pursue their inquiry as far back as the most subtle intellect can possibly reach, there must necessarily be found at the bottom of all real or of all hypothetical reasoning, three substantives and two propositions, which, if accepted, may lead to real knowledge, and, if rejected, must land us without further difficulty in scepticism, absolutely universal.
Such being the case, we may unhesitatingly assert, that at the bottom of all knowledge whatever there must be found some substantive existences absolutely incapable of rational substantiation, and some propositions absolutely incapable of rational demonstration. Without these it is impossible for man to reason.
The specific difference, then, between real knowledge and philosophy appears to be this:—Real knowledge, or positive science, accepts the ordinary belief of the multitude; and, pursuing it forwards, endeavors to determine its limitations, becoming at every step less and less general. Philosophy, on the contrary, commencing at the ordinary belief of the multitude, pursues its course backwards, endeavoring at every step to become more and more general. The ultimate termination of this course must ever necessarily be, either to accept some propositions as primary and unproven or to maintain a consistent scepticism, which absolutely obliterates the possibility of rational knowledge.
The geometrician, for instance, accepts space, without the smallest inquiry into its nature. His object is to limit, define, and exhibit the relations of spaces. The sister substantive of space, namely time, is also accepted by the man of science, whose only object is to measure it accurately—that is, definitely to determine the limitations of its portions. The physical sciences, again, accept matter; and without the smallest speculation as to what matter really is, they each, in their several branches, endeavor to determine definitely its various forms, and accurately to specify its manifestations. Philosophy, on the contrary, endeavors to go backwards from the ordinary credence, and to furnish some explanation as to what matter is or is not, for some have attempted to obliterate it altogether.
The two substantives, space and matter, are sufficient for our purpose. Positive science accepting space, and pursuing the inquiry forwards—investigating first the forms of spaces, and then the necessary relations that exist between those forms furnishes us with geometry. While by accepting matter, and inquiring only into the forms of its manifestation, and the relations that are observed to exist between those forms, we are, by the exercise of the human reason, at last presented with the sciences of astronomy, mechanics, chemistry, physiology, etc.
What has philosophy to place in the opposite scale? After a thousand years of speculation as to whether matter be a substance or a shadow, an existence real or ideal, not one single hair’s breadth of progress towards its determination has ever been made. Every discussion as to the nature of matter or of space may be raised today as well as two thousand years ago.
We conceive, then, that the moment at which philosophy wandered and went astray was, when it attempted to discuss the objective truth or falsehood of the primary credences or convictions of mankind. These primary convictions, in their general form, are at the bottom of all human knowledge; but whether human knowledge have or have not an external, real and objective counterpart, which would remain if man and man’s intellect were annihilated, neither philosophy nor any other natural method can possibly determine. Whether the mental propositions which constitute knowledge coincide with actual and external realities is a matter, not of knowledge, which can be rationally substantiated, but of primary, unproven, and unprovable credence.
Philosophy can no longer attempt to pronounce á priori upon what is or what is not, but must confine itself exclusively to thought and to that alone. The true province of philosophy is not to inquire into the truth or falsehood of the primary convictions of the intellect, but to observe and record what those primary convictions are, to enumerate them, to determine the forms of their manifestations, and to pursue with regard to human thought the same kind of inquiry that the mathematical sciences pursue with regard to numbers, quantities, and spaces, and more nearly still, the same kind of inquiry that the physical sciences pursue with regard to matter and its manifestations.
Be the mind as complex as it may, it could of itself originate not one single iota of knowledge, unless the substantive groundwork of that knowledge were furnished to it from without. Observation, psychological or sensational, can alone furnish us with a fact, and a fact in one form or other must lie at the bottom of every chain of reasoning, not purely hypothetical. The primary matter of knowledge, whether relating to the me or the not me, must be derived exclusively from observation and never can by any possibility be more than guessed at by the mere metaphysician. The form of knowledge and not the matter is the true object of philosophy.
We conclude, then, our argument with regard to the combination of knowledge and reason. We mean not that men must combine knowledge and reason, but that the great masses of the unprivileged classes must combine together on the same knowledge and on the same principles, that they have rationally deduced from that knowledge. It has been said, that “for men to be free, it is sufficient that they will it;” never was there a greater mistake, or one so utterly at variance with the great facts of history. Perhaps no sentiment is stronger than the love of liberty. For this men have panted, prayed, fought, struggled, rebelled, and endured every kind of hardship, and every kind of cruelty. And yet they are not free. To be free, it is first necessary that men should know wherein true freedom consists; namely, in the absolute supremacy of equal and impartial law, made without respect of persons or classes, and administered with uprightness and regularity. Nor is this all. True freedom is the very highest point of political civilization; and to suppose that mere will can ever lead to that point, is to suppose that men may overleap the conditions of their nature, and reach the goal without the struggles of the race. True freedom, however simple in its theory, is the highest, and probably the most complex, form of combined society. It is the whole body of society acting on the principles of knowledge, and carrying truth into practical operation. Will can never achieve this. It is the result and ultimate end of a great progress, which makes its way with knowledge, sometimes advancing with peaceful steps, sometimes overturning the barriers that stand in the way amid the din of revolution. It is the condition of society where will is excluded, and law is made on an objective reason, which convinces man’s judgement that it is equitable. It is the condition first to be defined in its abstract form by the man of thought, and then to be striven for by the mass of the population. A condition that supposes great advancement and infinite benefit to mankind, but a condition that must be purchased, and purchased only on those terms which are prescribed by the laws of man’s constitution.
There are three conditions of society involving a cause on the one hand, and an effect on the other.
The causes are Knowledge, Superstition, Infidelity. The effects Freedom, Despotism, Anarchy.
Such are the conditions of our nature. Man may make his election of the cause, but God has determined the character of the consequent.
No fact stands out more prominently from the condition of the various nations, or from their history, than that those conditions, and the great actions of men in the figure of society, depend upon their credences; that is, on the convictions of their intellect; that is, on the propositions they hold to be true. What makes one nation press ardently forward in the pursuit of liberty, while another sits dead and stupid under the iron rule of the despot? Thought, mere thought, impalpable and invisible thought, a something which can neither be seen, felt, nor handled; but which fixes man’s destiny, raising him if correct to the dignity and energy of freeman, dooming him if erroneous to vice, degradation, and slavery. The history of the world has to be re-written on a new principle, and this unseen element has to be exhibited as the cause of the condition of the nations. Climate, circumstance, and race, may all go for something or for much; but, far more influential than either, is credence. Sooner or later men must learn the great fact, that the social and political condition of a nation is absolutely dependent on that nation’s credence. Correct credence is knowledge, and knowledge alone is capable of regenerating the political condition of mankind. Change thee credence of a nation, and you change the whole current of its future progress.
We now turn to the use of combination. There are certain evils which belong to the race of mankind, and which afflict humanity more or less in every quarter of the globe. In the existence of these evils is to be found the reason of combination; and the object of combination is to remove as much as possible, such of them as affect the political condition of men, or the condition of men in society.
The first great master evil is that which causes man to prefer the gratification of passion to the enlightened and rational exercise of his natural faculties. Whatever view may be taken of the theological question of natural depravity, we hold it a historical fact of the very first magnitude, and of the most indubitable veracity, that the human race, as such, has always, and in every known region of the earth, done the things which it ought not to have done, and left undone the things which it ought to have done.” With regard to man’s nature, we shall enter into no disputation; but, with regard to men’s actions, we view them through the common medium of history, and we hesitate not to see the practice of injustice more or less prevalent in every country of the earth, and, at the same time, to accept that explanation of the fact which is furnished in much plain terms by the words of divine revelation. History informs us that the actions of men are wicked; and surely there can he no absurdity in giving credence to Scripture, when it informs us that their hearts are so likewise. With the depravity of the heart, politics has no concern; but, so soon as that depravity comes to manifest itself in action, and to appear in the form of fraud or violence, the necessity of a system of politics is immediately substantiated. Men are wicked, and therefore inclined to do wrong; but they are also rational, and may combine systematically to prevent the wrong from being done.
1st, The progress of mankind is a progress from ignorance, error, and superstition, toward knowledge.
2nd, Governments being established in the earlier stages of society—that is, during the reign of ignorance, error, and superstition—have always, and in every known case, been more or less despotic; that is, have systematically assumed powers to which they were not justly entitled.
3rd, The progress of political society is a progress in which these unjust powers have been gradually curtailed and abolished, in proportion as the nation has progressed from ignorance and superstition, and advanced towards knowledge.
The use, then, of the combination of knowledge and reason, is (not to combine against individual injustice, this being the province of the government, but) to reduce the powers of the government and the laws of the country within those bounds of justice beyond which they cannot be other than despotic.
It is the combination of the nation, or of the enlightened portion of the nation, against the laws of the nation, and against the unjust powers of the rulers.
Liberty is advanced not by the warfare of one nation against another nation, but by the warfare (physical or moral) of the unprivileged classes against the unjust laws, and against the unjust privileges that prevail within the nation itself; and this warfare can only be carried on efficiently by the mass of the population combining to extort those measures that have been theoretically shown to be right, or those measures that on good grounds are presumed to be beneficial.
When we look back on the history of England or of any other country that has made considerable progress, we see that all the great changes that have taken place in the political condition of the population have been preceded by changes in the theoretic credence of the population, and that the amended order of society has resulted directly from a new and more correct order of thought. And we may also see that these beneficial changes have seldom, if ever, originated with the rulers themselves, but have been extorted from them sometimes by force, and sometimes by the moral influence that the man in the right has over the man in the wrong.
Without alluding to the explosion of the “divine right of kings,” etc. (which enabled rulers to practice flagrant iniquities without being brought to judicial trial), we may refer to two modern instances of the combination of knowledge and reason, by which the whole of Britain obtained changes of vast extent, by a moral power which overcame the will of the rulers and of the privileged orders, who were linked to support the abuses. We refer to the emancipation of the negroes, and to the repeal of the corn-laws.
The laws of Great Britain declared that it was lawful for one man to possess another man as his property; and this principle was carried into practical operation by the seizure and reduction to slavery of vast numbers of Africans.
In this negro slavery we have a vast system of fraud and violence, established and continued by authority of the British government; that is, we have the power which has been conferred on the government for the purpose of preventing violence and fraud, turned altogether away from its legitimate exercise, and made the instrument of supporting a system of glaring injustice and flagrant iniquity. We have that greatest of all political evils, injustice, established and maintained by law. And what was it that abolished negro slavery? It was the moral influence of knowledge, reason, and religion. The trade had been sanctioned by long use; the interests of the wealthy and powerful were linked to maintain it; the laws of the empire had declared it legitimate, and the government was opposed to its abolition. More than this, not one single man who had the means and the opportunity to make himself heard on behalf of the negro, had one farthing of pecuniary interest in procuring the negro’s emancipation.
What, then, were the motives and the means that led to so great a political change as the emancipation of a race from slavery?
First, Certain individuals learnt to think aright on the subject, and to give utterance to their thoughts. The battle was then commenced. On the one hand was reason, involving the principles of natural equity, and on the other was the despotism of the law, the power of the government, and the pecuniary wealthy and influential.
Sooner or later correct thought makes its way, and the more rapidly and surely, the more a nation has abandoned superstition.
The theoretic argument or credence adopted by the advocates of liberty was, “That man is made free by God, and can never be made rightfully a slave by man.” The argument in its most essential character was one of mere justice, not of economical benefit or prejudice, profit or loss. A moral agitation was commenced, the few were transformed into the many, and the progress of opinion (of credence) was such, that every possible argument that could be adduced on the opposite side was brought forth from the lying chambers of selfishness. Everything in the shape of an argument, everything that could be made to pass for one, though halt, lame, or blind, was pressed into the service of casuistry, for the purpose of perpetuating injustice.
The theoretic credence, however, gained ground, and was powerfully aided by a more accurate knowledge of the enormities that Britons practised on Africans under shelter of British law. Authentic information was obtained and disseminated, and at last a great combination of knowledge and reason was brought to bear against the iniquity. Political justice, however, is a plant of slow growth; and years of debate, of contest between truth and falsehood, were necessary, before even the trading in human blood, the buying and selling of man, who was made in the image of the Creator, ceased to receive the sanction of the most enlightened and freest state in the world. And here we can not fail to remark one circumstance that has almost invariably accompanied every political change which had for its object the destruction of an injustice. We mean the outcry about the evils that would follow. No sooner has anyone, more enlightened or more impartial than his neighbors, insisted on an act of justice (which, after all, let it never be forgotten, is only the refraining from injustice), than all the evils in the category are immediately prognosticated, as if the doing of God’s will were to let loose hell to ravage the earth.
When the emancipation of the African was spoken of and when the nation of Britain appeared to be taking into serious consideration the rightfulness of slavery, what tremendous evils were to follow. Trade was to be ruined, commerce was almost to cease, and manufacturers were to be bankrupts. Worse than all, private property was to be invaded (property in human flesh), the rights of planters sacrificed to the speculative notions of fanatics, and the British government was to commit an act that would forever deprive it of the confidence of British subjects. These evils at home were, of course, to be accompanied by others abroad much more tremendous. The West India islands were, of course, to be ruined past all possible hope of recovery; the blacks were to insurge and to destroy the white population; a moral hurricane, ten times more dreadful than the winds of heaven, was to sweep across the Caribbean Sea; blood was to flow like water; the emancipated slave was to celebrate the first moment of his liberty with rape, rapine, and murder; evils unheard of and inconceivable were to astonish the earth; the very heavens were to fall. And why? Because British subjects were no longer to be permitted by British law to hold their fellow men in slavery on British ground.
The law was a positive enactment armed with power, and the moment the law ceased to exist the negro was emancipated, not by the law, but by nature. The law may make a slave, but it is beyond the power of the law to make a freeman. The only question that ever be legitimately taken into consideration, with regard to slavery, is immediate and total abolition, and so of all similar cases where injustice is established or systematically perpetuated by law.
The people of Great Britain were taxed by force for the purpose of paying the planters for their slaves.: Theoretically, the Commons imposed the taxation on themselves; but nine-tenths of the population have nothing to do with the election of members of parliament, and so far as they were concerned, the taxation was ab extra—forced on them by a government which they had no voice in electing. We maintain that this act was one of downright injustice and oppression, whatever may be said of its magnanimity.
The planters knew perfectly well that they never had a moral right to the slaves, and consequently they they could have no moral claim to compensation. Now, the slave-laws were not enacted by this generation, and it is admitted that those who enacted them had no possible right to do so. The payment of the twenty millions, therefore, resolved itself into this, “The law of Britain will not cease to lend its aid and its arm to perpetuate slavery, unless the people of Britain pay an immense sum to the planters.” The only course that was really legitimate was for the government of Britain to declare that it had no possible right to make or keep men slaves, and at once to expunge the statutes, letting the planters take their chance, at the same time protecting the negroes, as British subjects, born on British ground. It was a just, and as the world goes, a glorious thing for Britain to abolish slavery as it did; but most certainly the laboring man who pays five per cent on his tea, sugar, and tobacco, to pay the planters, is as surely oppressed and defrauded as was the negro, although not to the same extent. No man in the world, and no association in the world, could ever have an equitable right to tax a laborer for the purpose of remunerating a man-robber; and although the measure is now passed and done with, we very much question whether some analogous cases will not be cleared up by the mass of the nation ere many years pass over the heads of Englishmen. When the question of landed property comes to a definite discussion, there may be little thought of compensation.
The other instance of a great and successful combination, in which knowledge and reason triumphed over the law, the government, and the privileged classes of the country, was recently exhibited in the repeal of the corn-laws.
The case of the corn-laws appears to have been this.
The farmer, in taking a farm, has three great subjects to consider, 1st, The quantity of produce, 2nd, The probable price of produce. 3rd, Amount of rent.
The first question which the would-be farmer has to answer, is, “Can he make a profit by taking land from the landowner, and selling corn to the consumer?” A given farm is estimated to produce a certain average quantity of grain. This quantity is the first item to be considered, as it is the basis of all future calculation. A certain portion of this quantity is requisite for consumption, and the remainder is marketable. The marketable portion, being the real merchandise which the farmer buys and retails again must always be assumed at a certain value in the terms of the price paid for it. Whatever price the farmer pays for his marketable corn, he must expect, on the first principle of commerce, to receive a larger price (in the same terms) from the consumer. This larger price is the whole ultimate object of the farmer; and provided it is sufficient he is satisfied.
This then appears to have been the essence of the corn-laws. At the price at which corn would be sold in the English market, provided that market were open to all the world, the farmer could only pay a certain rent for land; but, provided all foreign competition was excluded up to a given point, the farmer could afford to pay a much higher rent for land, and yet derive the same real profit. The farmer was deluded into the idea of obtaining a high price for corn, and naturally gave, or stipulated to give, a high price for land. The evil was unseen in its real malignity, until the abundant harvests of 1835 and 1836. The farmers were then reduced to sell at a natural price, while they had to pay a taxation rent, and of course they felt the weight of that system of legislation which attempted to amend the order of Providence, and on which, with all its nice adjustments, the landed legislators had descanted so wisely.
The low price of corn at that period let the manufacturers into a secret; they obtained great sums of money, and with the money obtained what was of more value to the country—they obtained knowledge. They were taught that their commercial prosperity depended, in a great measure, on the low price of corn in Britain; and a very cursory consideration may explain how this happens. Let us suppose that there are five millions of the laboring population who have a gross income of from 10s. or 19.s. to 30s. or 40s. per week. The laborer, out of his income, has to provide the three great requisites—food, shelter, and raiment; and, even at the best and most prosperous of times, his earnings are not much more than sufficient to procure these in decent abundance. Let us suppose that wheat is at 40s. per quarter, and that a laborer’s family consumes 4s. worth of bread per week. He then has the remainder of his week’s income to dispose of in the purchase of his other requisites. But let wheat rise to 80s. per quarter, and he must then expend 8s. per week for the same quantity of bread that he previously purchased for 4s. We have here a difference of 4s. per week; and the question is, What does the laborer do with those 4s. when bread is cheap? The answer is very simple—he spends it with the manufacturer. The laborer is at ease in his circumstances because he has this little revenue of 4s. a week to come and go on. It is true, he must lay it out carefully; but then how different to have it to think about, instead of having it screwed out him by a crying pressure for food! When he has it, he feels himself a free man, he has a new social and domestic existence, he is a buyer from choice, not from necessity; and the family deliberations as to how it shall be spent, give a new interest to the hours he spends at home. All goes on merrily, and Old England is worth all the countries under the sun.
Let us take even a moderate estimate of this 4s. a week, and we shall see how vast a sum it amounts to in the course of a year. Suppose that five millions have it to spend, and that those five millions spend £10 with the manufacturers. Fifty millions sterling arises from the difference in the price of corn! Had the corn-laws operated according to the intentions of land-proprietors, and kept wheat at 80s. in the year 1836, there can be no doubt whatever that they would have deprived the laboring population of fifty millions worth of goods, and the manufacturers of fifty millions worth of sales, as directly as if those fifty millions had been wrested by violence from the laborer; but this is one of the facts which the indirect system of taxation is employed to conceal.
The repeal of the corn-laws was effected by a great combination of knowledge and reason. Certain individuals found that their lawful interests were seriously injured by the interference of the enactments, and they resolved to make an effort for the abolition of those enactments. Of themselves they were utterly powerless, and all their individual exertions would have been ineffectual to achieve their end. They had, however, knowledge and reason on their side; that is, they were in possession of certain facts, which led by necessary inference to the conclusion, that the corn-laws were eminently prejudicial in their operation, and that therefore the corn-laws should no longer be allowed to exist. Conscious that they had truth on their side, they came fearlessly before the nation, and staked their cause on the power of truth to convince the mass of the population. They lectured, and published, and spoke, and argued, all for one specific end; namely, to communicate knowledge to the nation, and thereby to make the nation change its credence on the subject of the corn-laws. The truth gradually prevailed; that is, was generally disseminated; that is, the same knowledge was received by a larger number of individuals, who naturally drew the same necessary inference. A great combination was formed, such as must ever remain one of the historic glories of Britain and of Britons. It was essentially a combination of knowledge and reason; and well-grounded argument was the only weapon with which it maintained the contest. Far more was involved than a mere change in the economical laws of the kingdom; it was a contest between the two great classes of British society—the unprivileged laborers and the privileged landowners. The privileged classes, almost to a man, were against the change; and they also, on their side, endeavored to establish a combination—a combination of class interest, in which the only available argument was the pecuniary interest of the order. The exertions made by the anti-corn-law party to convince the judgment of the nation were prodigious and never had any political agitation so much the appearance of instructing, and so little the appearance of exciting the passions. Instead of the vague harangues of noisy and designing demagogues, there was the sober communication of information which would have been interesting and instructive, even had it been altogether unconnected with the great practical consequence. The nation was convinced at last; and not withstanding all the influence of the aristocracy, and all the unwillingness of the Government, the laws were repealed, and, as there is every reason to suppose, abolished forever.
Both the slave-laws and the corn-laws were positive enactments to restrain and diminish the natural liberty of men who had infringed no law of equity, and who had in no respect injured their fellow-men by force, fraud, or licentiousness. The abolition of those laws therefore, was only to allow things to remain as they were established by nature; and when the world discovers that God has constituted nature aright, men will have arrived at the first and greatest principle of social science.
The legislators of the country were, in their private capacity, extensively interested in the maintenance of their repeal, the unjust laws; and thus, in opposing their repeal, were using their official influence for their own personal advantage to the eminent detriment of their fellow subjects.
The abolition of the slave- and corn-laws was only attained after a long and arduous struggle; the legislature of Great Britain, so far from taking the initiative in their repeal, offered every possible opposition to the wishes of the nation; and it was only when the pressure from without became so imperative that further resistance might have been dangerous, that the deliberative assembly of the freest state of the world declared that it was not a crime for a man with a dark skin to enjoy natural freedom, or for a trader to import corn without being subject to a tax so enormous, that it usually operated as a prohibition.
The slave- and corn-laws were at last repealed, by a process which we doubt not will ultimately achieve the repeal of every law which restricts or prohibits actions not naturally criminal—the wiser and better part of the nation combined against the legislature. On the one hand were knowledge, reason, and religion; on the other, prescriptive privilege, and the will of the legislator. The abolition of slavery was a question of justice; the abolition of the corn-laws, a question of benefit. The main argument advanced against slavery was that it was unjust; the main argument advanced against the corn-laws was that they were prejudicial to the country.
The argument of justice proceeds upon the principle that certain actions may not be done, whatever be their consequences. The argument of benefit assumes that the action itself is indifferent; that is, that it has not in itself any such moral character as will enable us to pronounce at once, whether it ought or ought not to be done.
History teaches us, that it is not sufficient for men to know that an action or an enactment is unjust to induce them to abandon the action, or to abolish the enactment; for this they seldom do until the evidence of the evil fruits of the injustice are so superabundant, that no mere sophism can be longer held as an excuse. ‘I’he argument of justice, instead of being the most practically influential, as it is the most morally valid, is seldom of avail until backed by a knowledge of the economical evils that never in any one case fail to accompany injustice; and though the voice of God, and the voice of universal reason may ever be heard proclaiming, “Do not unto others as ye would not that others should do unto you,” it is not until some summation of evil consequences has convinced men of their error, that they abandon their course of lawless selfishness, and allow the constitution of society to remain on the natural footing established by the Creator. And in this we may see the reason why the political progress of mankind has been so slow, and why an extensive knowledge of facts must accompany an admission of principles, before societies awake to the necessity og remodelling their constitution, and returning from the systems established in barbarous ages, to the more simple and equitable system which the eve of reason may read in the constitution of harmonious nature. It is ever immutably and irrevocably wrong, that any man, or any body of men whatever, should constrain another man, not a criminal, to labor for the advantage of any save himself and his kindred; yet half a century of agitation was necessary before England withdrew her oppressing arm from the negro; and then the negro was only emancipated by wresting his price from the population of Britain.
Such were two modern instances of the combination of knowledge and reason,—spirit-stirring exhibitions of the energies of a noble people warring for the abolition of injustice, and for the emancipation of legitimate industry.
Notwithstanding the length of our argument concerning the combination of knowledge and reason, we shall not consider it too lengthened, if it in anywise contributes to elucidate those means that must be put in operation for advancing the political progress of mankind. It is the greatest possible absurdity to suppose that all the changes that take place in the political condition of societies are only portions of a routine which, when fulfilled, is to commence again, and again to present the same phases, and the same or analogues phenomena. No; the political progress of mankind is a passage to one definite end, to an ultimatum, to a condition that requires no further change, to a stable system of law that does not demand perpetual deliberation, but only perpetual administration; and the great question for the political world is, “What is that end? What is that system? What is that ultimatum?” What, in fact, is the political condition of society that controverts no principle of reason, and sins against no precept of religion? for this, we may rest assured, is the ultimate end towards witch all civilized societies must progress; no man for a moment can hesitate to pronounce, or to prophesy with unlimited assurance, that the negroes in the slave states of America will ultimately obtain their freedom, and that the serfs of Russia will ultimately be emancipated.
The real history of political progress commences only at that period where the maximum of disparity between the various orders or classes begins to be systematically diminished. From this point (which is chronologically different in the various countries) there is a natural course of progress, different in the outward circumstances of its manifestation, but essentially the same in its abstract characters, in every country that achieves civilization. The essence of this progress is the gradual emancipation of the rights of the serf or unprivileged laborer, and the corresponding diminution of the privileges of the lord. Now it may he observed, that the great revolutions which take place in the earlier portions of this progress are physical force revolutions, changes brought about by the sword, because there are no other means sufficiently powerful to effect them. Nor is it difficult to see why. Were the privileged classes to admit reason as the umpire, there would be no necessity for force revolutions; but as the changes come to be necessary, they must be achieved by such means as will effect them, however undesirable it may be that such means should be necessary. Where, however, liberty has made a real progress, knowledge must have made a real progress; and where knowledge has progressed, reason becomes as powerful an agent as force and one which ought ever to be chosen if the alternative be in our choice.
The history of civilized communities shows us, that the progression of mankind in a political aspect is, from a diversity of privileges towards an equality of rights.
That one man can have a privilege only by depriving another man, or many other men, of a portion of their rights, consequently, a reign of justice will consist in the destruction of every privilege, and in the restitution of every right.
That under the supreme direction of divine providence, man is the agent employed in working out his own political wellbeing.
That man cannot work out his political wellbeing unless he knows wherein that wellbeing consists. Knowledge, therefore, is necessary to enable man to work out his political wellbeing.
That men must know correctly before they can act correctly.
That the political wellbeing of mankind involves two things—correct knowledge and correct action. Correct action is knowledge carried into practical operation.
That the political regeneration of mankind is ‘depending on the acquisition and promulgation of political knowledge.
That in the laws which should regulate man’s political action, there is a truth and a falsehood, as much as there is a truth and a falsehood in matters of geometric or astronomic science.
That the political condition of men can never be what it ought to be, until men have acquired the requisite knowledge; that is, until they have perfected political science, and reduced it to the same form and ordination as any of the other sciences.
That, with the perfection of political science, there will necessarily follow an amended order of political action, and consequently an amended condition of Society.
That political knowledge is divided into two distinct branches; First, a sensational branch, which furnishes us with the facts of man’s condition, and the actual results of human action; Second, a rational branch which furnishes us with the principles that ought to regulate human action.
The first is political economy; the second is politics, or the science of equity.
That improvements in the political conditions of a country are made exactly in proportion as the truths of political economy and political science are reduced to practice.
That in every country there are privileged classes who have more power or more property than they are justly entitled to, and unprivileged classes who have less power or less property than they are justly entitled to. That the difference between these two classes has been undergoing a gradual but sure process of diminution. This fact we learn from history.
That the further progress of the diminution in the difference between the privileged and unprivileged classes, may be surely anticipated as the continuation of a process that has already been going on for centuries.
That the absolute equality of men in all political rights is the ultimate end of political progression.
That so long as there is not absolute equality of political rights, there is the constant element of further change and consequently good reason for anticipating further change.
That while a single individual may or may not determine his actions according to his knowledge, the constitution of humanity in the mass necessarily determines, that wherever knowledge is obtained, systematically ordinated, and generally diffused, an amended order of action will invariably result.
But as the old condition necessarily involves the interests of some parties (placemen, slave-owners, land-owners, for instance), the transition from the old condition, which was erroneous, to the new and amended condition, is always the cause of a social struggle between the partisans of the old condition and the partisans of the new.
If the change be sought in a country that has attained to liberty of discussion, a free press, a tolerably extensive representation, etc. (that is, where deliberative judgement and not mere will rules) the sword (always an evil, though sometimes necessary) may be superseded by the moral force of truth. Knowledge disseminated will convince the masses, and when the masses are convinced they will combine, and when they combine, the change, sooner or later, will follow as a necessary consequence. But wherever the unjust interests of the ruling classes are required to give way before the progress of knowledge, and those ruling classes peremptorily refuse to allow the condition of society to be amended, the sword is the instrument which knowledge and reason may be compelled to use; for it is not possible, it is not within the limits of man’s choice, that the progress of society can be permanently arrested when the intellect of the masses has advanced in knowledge beyond those propositions, of which the present condition is only the realisation.We posit, finally, that the acquisition, scientific ordination, and general diffusion of knowledge, will necessarily obliterate error and superstition, and continually amend the condition of man upon the globe, until his ultimate condition shall be the best the circumstances of the earth permit of. When the rule of reason and equal justice to all has superseded the rule of superstition and prescription, and when the doctrine of equality has been applied to society and we have no privileges, no hereditary distinctions, and no diversity of conditions, except those of office or those produced by the more or less successful result of industry, skill or enterprise, we shall have a system that contains within itself the construction of a jural society, and also the obliteration of all just cause of war. On this ground we take up the natural probability of a millennium whose natural probability we maintain to be within the calculation of the human reason.
For instance, the kings of England gave lands (which belonged to the crown, that is, to the nation) to private individuals. The question then is, had the incumbent monarch a right to alienate those lands in perpetuity from the nation?
Such at all events would seem to be the sense usually affixed to the two terms. But, in that case, the word freedom would advantageously supplant liberty in several passages of the New Testament.
A bad government is of no use to the community immediately, but mediately and prospectively the most stringent despotism in the world is of the highest importance and of the greatest value. Man must apparently progress through centralisation; and a bad government, provided it centralises, is the foundation of after changes most beneficial to mankind. The good part of the Russian government is its centralisation. In the general history of man, it seems requisite that central monarchy should destroy the privileges of multiple aristocracy; and Russia is gradually effecting this great change. The sympathy manifested towards the Poles is questionable, inasmuch as the great majority of Poles were ruled by individual aristocrats instead of by laws.
The pirate is rationally correct; that is, his act does conduce to its immediate safety, for dead men tell no tales, and sunk ships cannot appear in evidence. And despotic governors are also rationally correct; that is, an ignorant and superstitious population has less power and less desire for liberty than a population that thinks for itself, and has free opportunity of oppression. The remote consequences, however, are sometimes overlooked. When the truth is discovered, the pirate is hanged, and the ruler guillotined.
Absurd as the Crusades were in themselves, they were of the highest value to Europe; in fact it seems that whatever the temporary evils attendant on any human condition, that condition was a phase of progress, calculated to leave society in a better state than it found it. This principle is applicable also to the first French Revolution. It was a fearful scene when viewed individually. But if we look to the condition of France before the revolution, and again after the revolution, we cannot deny that its effects were of the greatest value to the country.
We have only to look at Spain to see how effectually superstition eradicates even an aspiration after freedom. Let it be remembered that a few centuries since Spain was second to no country in Europe in the extent of her political power. What is she now, and what has superstition made her? The masses care no more for a constitution than the Berber or Oriental; with them this thing of parchment is no reality, but a mere abstraction, which they neither understand nor estimate. The people do not want their laws to be changed, but to have them fairly administered. Their only idea of government is despotism”—Ford’s Spain, P. 862.
Then, too, men fought because it was their trade. Patriotism, that most pure and most holy of all man’s natural sentiments was disbanded save with the peasant cultivators of the soil, who still could fight for their homes like the tiger for his hair. A country where there is no patriotism is not safe for a day. Patriotism is a country’s true strength; for where there is no patriotism there is no bond of union.