American Founding as the Best Regime By Harry V. Jaffa

Harry Victor Jaffa

In the great journal of things happening under the sun, we, the American people, find our account running, under date of the nineteenth century of the Christian era. We find ourselves in the peaceful possession, of the fairest portion of the earth, as regards extent of territory, fertility of soil, and salubrity of climate. We find ourselves under the government of a system of political institutions, conducing more essentially to the ends of civil and religious liberty, than any of which the history of former times tell us.

— Abraham Lincoln January 27, 1838

The Preamble of the Constitution crowns its enumeration of the ends of the Constitution by declaring its purpose to “secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” No words of the Constitution reveal the intention of the Constitution more profoundly than these. The Preamble is the statement of the Constitution’s purposes, and this culminating purpose embraces and transcends those that have gone before. Alone among the ends of the Constitution, to secure liberty is called a securing of “blessings.” What is a blessing is what is good in the eyes of God. It is a good whose possession—by the common understanding of mankind—belongs properly only to those who deserve it. We remember that the final paragraph of the Declaration of Independence appeals to “the Supreme Judge of the World for the rectitude of our intentions.” It is by “the authority of the good people of these colonies” that independence is declared. It is because of this assurance of their rectitude that this good people, and their representatives, placed “a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence.” We commonly call blessed those who enjoy in great measure wealth and health and freedom. And so it is that men pray for these things. Yet the sufferings of the innocent and the flourishing of the wicked—especially the great tyrants—teach us that to be blessed is not the same thing as to be in the enjoyment of worldly goods, of what Aristotle calls external goods. It is an element of the natural theology of mankind—that is partly implicit and partly explicit in the Declaration of Independence—that the compensations, both of evil and of good, are not altogether those visible in the natural order. Hence Aristotle says that what men should pray for is that these external goods be good for them. When men are poor, they seem to wish only for wealth. When they are ill, for health. When they are enslaved, they long only for freedom. This is altogether understandable.

Nevertheless, reflection teaches us that the possession of health, wealth, and freedom are not the ultimate measure of human well-being. We know that there have been human beings who, being in the full possession of health, wealth, and freedom, have yet committed suicide. Health, wealth, and freedom must be combined with something else before they become ingredients of the human good, before they become blessings, properly so called. Aristotle says that no man, even with all the other goods for which men pray, would wish to live without friends. And—although they are usually surrounded by flatterers—tyrants do not have friends, certainly not the kind of friends who make life worth living. The Virginia Bill of Rights of June 12, 1776, affirmed a fundamental principle of the Revolution and of the Founding—providing by anticipation a gloss upon the words of the Preamble—when it declared that:

…no free government, or the blessings of liberty,can be preserved to any people, but by a firmadherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue, and by a frequent recurrence tofundamental principles.

The idea of liberty—or the liberty which is a blessing—being an emancipation of the passions from moral restraint had no place in the constitutional doctrine of the novus ordo seclorum. The liberty which is a blessing must be good for the one who possesses it. It must therefore be a good in the sight of God, who is the source of blessings. Such a good must point to felicity, whether in this world or the next, as its consummation. By calling the advantages of liberty “blessings,” the Constitution, which in certain respects makes perhaps the most radical break in all human history with all that has gone before it, nonetheless, in its understanding of the connection between happiness and virtue, aligns itself decisively with traditional moral philosophy and moral theology.

***

The Constitution of the United States meant to do what, in fact, it has done. By grounding the regime in the doctrine of human equality, proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence, it has, as Lincoln said, cleared paths for all, given hope to all, and, by consequence, enterprise and industry to all. To a degree hitherto unimagined as possible, it has lifted the burden of unjust inequality—”the oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely”—from the backs of the common people. As the Virginia Bill of Rights shows, the Framers never conceived the blessings of liberty in nonmoral terms. They never imagined it to encompass the exhibitionism of lesbians, sodomites, abortionists, drug addicts, and pornographers. The people are the source of the authority of the Constitution—of all lawful authority. In Jefferson’s words, the people “are inherently independent of all but moral law” (letter to Spenser Roane, September 6, 1819) Let us not, however, forget, that “but.” Absent the moral law, a people becomes a mob. And mobs give rise not to free government, but to despotism. That is the theme of Lincoln’s Lyceum speech in 1838.

***

In the beginning of the Lyceum speech, Lincoln speaks of our political institutions “conducing more essentially to the ends of civil and religious liberty, than any of which the history of former times tells us.” Speaking thus has become so idiomatic that it is difficult to recapture the novelty it once possessed. The first amendment, in a single sentence—divided, however, by a semicolon—joins together its civil and religious guarantees. Although it is customary to speak of “civil” before “religious,” the first amendment actually reverses this order. This is not accidental. Without the establishment of religious Liberty—without the removal from the political process of sectarian religious questions—a regime combining majority rule with minority rights is not a feasible enterprise. The problem of democratic constitutionalism was expressed succinctly by Jefferson in his inaugural address.

All too will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.

It is clear from the foregoing that “rightfulness” and “reasonableness,” being restraints upon the will of the majority, are not themselves mere expressions of will. Here Jefferson is not only saying what the Constitution is, but why it is what it is. In truth, the “what” of the Constitution is inseparable from its “why,” and the attempt to understand the former without the latter is—all but the simplest cases—vain. Yet this is precisely what Chief Justice of the Supreme Court William Rehnquist attempts when he writes, for example, that constitutional “safeguards for individual liberty” are grounded neither in “intrinsic worth” nor in “someone’s idea of natural justice,” but simply in the fact that “they have been incorporated in a constitution by the people.” The Framers’ ideas of natural justice were the very ground and origin of their intent. To appeal to the conception of “original intent” in interpreting the Constitution—as do Justices Rehnquist and Antonin Scalia and Judge Robert Bork—while denying the ideas of natural justice which formed the “why” of the Constitution, is to go to the uttermost limit of self-contradiction.

James Madison, in his essay on “Sovereignty,” written near the end of his life, restated the theoretical arguments that had guided both him and Jefferson in their long political careers. The occasion, of course, was his bitter struggle against Nullification—the South Carolina doctrine whose principal author and exponent was John C. Calhoun. And the necessary condition for Calhoun’s entire teaching was the rejection (like Justice Rehnquist) of the idea of natural equality—and natural justice—that had animated the Founding. Legitimate political authority, according to Madison, always arises from an agreement (“compact is the basis of all free government”) made between men who are by nature—or originally—equal, none having more authority over another than the other has over him. It is the primordial fact “that all men are created equal” which is the ground both of majority rule and of minority rights. Hence it is that Lincoln would call this proposition “an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times,” and why he would, at Gettysburg, rededicate the nation to it.

Sovereignty, then, has its ground in the natural right to rule oneself that every human being possesses. Sovereignty in the political sense—what we ordinarily call sovereignty—arises when men transfer their right to rule themselves to a civil society, which can do for them what they cannot do for themselves. Civil society, according to Madison, is constituted by the unanimous consent of its constituent members. But civil society is ruled by the majority. The majority is the surrogate for that unanimity which brought the polity into being, but which cannot be the continuing basis for the decisions required by governments if they are to answer the purposes for which they are instituted. That the will of the majority should prevail is a “sacred principle” because the authority of the majority is derived from those natural rights with which all men have been equally “endowed by their Creator.” A civil society is perfectly formed, to the extent that each and all of the contracting parties recognize in each other that equality of rights—and of right—which makes the will of the majority “sacred.” For the majority, being the substitute or surrogate for the whole, must represent the minority as well as itself. The majority must understand that it is acting on behalf of the people as a whole, and hence the minority no less than the majority. And the minority must look upon the majority as governing in the interests of all, however much it may disagree with the particular measures adopted by the majority. We all recognize this when we speak, for example, of the representative from our congressional district as “our” representative whether we voted for him or against him. And we all recognize that the President of the United States is equally the President of every citizen of the United States. Majority and minority are then essentially divided only by the questions of what means ought to be adopted, for the sake of the ends which are common to all. Hence the Declaration of Independence proclaims “that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it….” The Declaration is speaking here of the people as a whole, but this whole is constituted by its contracting individuals. The right to “alter or abolish” belongs to any majority faced with a will external to itself—as in the case of the King and Parliament of Great Britain. But it also belongs to any minority faced with a majority that ceases, as Jefferson says, to be “reasonable,” and which passes laws which violate the “equal rights” of their fellow citizens. Madison, in his essay on “Sovereignty,” defines the limits of the authority of the majority by reference to whatever might be done rightfully and by unanimity. The qualification of unanimity refers back to the original constitutive principle of the polity. Unanimous consent is, however, the necessary but not the sufficient condition of government that is nondespotic. The community of Jonestown apparently committed suicide by unanimous consent. Unanimity did not make that action reasonable, or even nondespotic—surely not for the hundreds of children who were put to death by their consenting but deluded parents. Rightfulness implies moral understanding, that “rectitude” upon which the “good people” of the colonies relied in submitting their consciences to “the Supreme Judge of the world.” It implies, to repeat, that “moral law” mentioned by Jefferson, without which the authority of the people itself fails. For the rights set forth in the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, the rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” are not unconditional justifications for idiosyncratic behavior. They are rights under the “laws of nature and of nature’s God.” They are not rights authorizing actions which, by those laws, are wrongs. Slavery was, from the outset, no mere paradox in a land of freedom. It was a contradiction of every right to which the American people had themselves appealed when asserting their own right to nondespotic government.

***

The constitutionalism of our Founding is inseparable from its moral realism and its natural theology. Tocqueville praised the effect of disestablishment in America and called religion the first of our political institutions precisely because of it. By removing theological differences from the political arena, men could worship God freely according to the dictates of their consciences. But however differently they might conceive of the divine attributes, or however different the forms of worship which in their eyes were pleasing to God, there was a common understanding of morality underlying—or transcending—religious differences. This common understanding was strengthened by all the churches, just by the fact that it was not called into question by their theological differences. By strengthening this moral consensus, disestablishment promoted confidence and even friendship among the citizens. By doing so, it promoted a regime in which the rule of the majority might be consistent with the rights of the minority. But the practical achievement of such a regime was a hard one nonetheless. Without the doctrine of disestablishment and religious freedom it would have been impossible.

The obstacle to Union that arose over slavery could never have been surmounted had not the bonds of Union been sowed in the idea of religious freedom, for the idea of religious freedom encompasses and promotes moral law independently of any particular dogmas of revealed religion. Equally important, it lays the foundation for the idea of limited government in its full extent, and not only with reference to the question of religion. Why this is so, we shall presently say. First, in attempting to define the nature of its limits, let us take note of the crucial tests in the early years of the Constitution—tests it could never have survived had not the doctrine of religious liberty placed the religious question outside its boundaries.

***

In the election of 1800, the control of the government of the United States passed substantially from the hands of the Federalists to that of the Republicans. To the best of my knowledge, this was the first time in human history that any such change in the offices of government had ever occurred on the basis of a free popular election. No such election happened in England until well into the nineteenth century. It was not until long after the American Revolution that the King—who could not be constitutionally replaced by any electoral process—ceased to be the executive head of government. Ministers were responsible to the Crown, not to the Parliament. The King secured his majorities in Parliament, not by calling elections, but by manipulating the patronage. That is what Alexander Hamilton had in mind when he said that without corruption the British Constitution was unworkable. And, of course, not until after 1832 could there be said to be anything like a popular election even for the House of Commons.

During the 1790s in France, in the course of the French Revolution, something like ministerial responsibility to the elected Assembly did occur, anticipating the future course of parliamentary democracy. Unfortunately, the special ceremony for outgoing ministers made it impossible for them to form a loyal opposition or to contest future elections. The election of 1800 in the United States was the the first time that the losers gave up their offices peacefully and the winners did not proscribe their defeated opponents by death, imprisonment, loss of property, exile, or even the loss of civil or political rights.

Exactly what contested elections were to mean under the new Constitution was an unresolved question until 1800. The presidency of George Washington happily postponed many such questions, while the new government gained stability and strength under the shelter of Washington’s towering prestige. The election of 1796, while hotly contested, returned the party in power to office. The fact that the Constitution of 1787 called for each elector to cast two ballots for President—with the vice-presidency going to the runner-up—showed that the Framers did not anticipate the kind of partisan contests that actually developed. When Jefferson and Burr received the same electoral vote in 1800, the Constitution had to be amended so that electors henceforth distinguished their votes for President and Vice President. The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 revealed profound uncertainties as to what a regime of liberty meant in the face of fierce party contests for control of the government.

It cannot be emphasized too strongly, however, that America was forging the principles of modern democracy for all humanity, and doing so with no precedents to guide her. The party contests of the 1790s were the bitterest in American history—more so, even, than those that preceded the Civil War. In part, this was because the very idea of settling such deeply felt differences by free elections was an idea struggling to be born. And we must never forget that that idea required a rebirth—a new birth of freedom—before it was in any sense finally accepted, for the achievement of the election of 1800 did not survive 1860. That year, the party that lost the decision of the vote withdrew from the government rather than accept that decision.

It was Lincoln’s genius to explain more lucidly and compellingly than ever before the inner connection between the great proposition of human equality and the necessity and propriety of free elections. It was Lincoln’s fate to explain—in the presence of a gigantic rebellion against the decision of the polls—why the decision of the ballots might not be reversed by bullets. And it was Lincoln’s fate to explain why, in the end, the war to defend the sanctity of the ballot box and the war to end slavery had to become one and the same.

But Jefferson was Lincoln’s teacher. And Jefferson, who in the electoral contest of 1800 had not been lax in the invidiousness of his description of his political opponents, nonetheless declared, in his inaugural address, that:

…every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.

Jefferson did not mean by this that the electoral process was indifferent to differences of principle.

If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.

To tolerate error is not to be indifferent to error. Jefferson did not suppose that free government could survive in the absence of sufficient and authoritative opinion in its favor. To worship God according to the dictates of one’s own conscience, and not to suffer any civil disability for doing so, is not a matter of tolerance. It is a matter of right. Nor does Jefferson think that there is a right either to dissolve the Union or to change its republican form. Those who would do so merit toleration, but only because of the “safety” with which such toleration may be extended. Yet the day came when it was no longer safe to repeat Jefferson’s own condemnation of slavery in many states of the Union. The day came when those states, rather than tolerate anti-slavery speech or contemplate its political consequences, attempted to dissolve the Union. Then it was that Jefferson’s confidence in the power of the truth to prevail was put to a supreme test.

***

As we have noted, in the single sentence that is the first amendment, the religious guarantees come first. The guarantees after the semicolon—speech, press, assembly, petition—are all active elements in the political process and are intended to provide for its integrity. Freedom of religion is understood to be necessary for the integrity of the political process in the negative sense that such questions as what religion should be established would be an intolerable burden upon that process. Civil and religious liberty are distinct, yet it is good that we regard them as inseparable. Their “bonding” (to use a currently fashionable phrase) is, in a peculiar sense, the achievement of the United States of America.

Consider the status of religious liberty in England—deemed by all the Founding Fathers as the freest government to precede our own, and the model for many of its features. Let us recall Lord Macaulay’s celebrated passage on the Toleration Act of 1689, a constitutional pillar of the Glorious Revolution:

The sound principle undoubtedly is, that mere theological error ought not to be punished by the civil magistrate. This principle the Toleration Act not only does not recognize, but positively disclaims…. Persecution continues to be the general rule. Toleration is the exception…. That the provisions…are cumbrous, puerile, inconsistent with each other, inconsistent with the true theory of religious liberty, must be acknowledged. All that can be said in their defense is this: that they removed a vast mass of evil without shocking a vast mass of prejudice….

It was wonderful that such a vast mass of evil was removed by this great law. It was wise of the Parliament not to attempt to assert “the true theory of religious liberty” in the face of such “a vast mass of prejudice.” We are reminded that a nation can proceed upon the ground of a “true theory” in the face of such prejudice only by imposing upon the nation a will external to the nation itself. This alternative was known to our Founding Fathers as “enlightened despotism,” but they rejected it on the ground that the enlightened consent of the governed was the only durable foundation for free or good government. But the necessity for enlightenment in the consent of the governed was never far from their thoughts. Free government was never possible apart from it. The foundations of American government, wrote Washington in 1783,

were not laid in the gloomy ages of ignorance and superstition, but at an epoch when the rights of mankind were better understood and more clearly defined than at any other period.

And wrote Jefferson in 1816:

If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a. state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.

The American Revolution and the American Constitution became possible only because the rights of man as man—the rights of an enlightened humanity under the moral order of the laws of nature and of nature’s God—defined the ground of civic friendship, subordinating the ancient distinctions, not only of religion but of ethnicity and race. Among the most remarkable but least-remarked features of the Declaration of Independence is the passage in which, after assigning a measure of responsibility to “our British brethren” for the tyrannical acts of their government, the Americans “hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace friends.” The ancient distinctions of Greek and barbarian, of Jew and Gentile, of Christian and infidel, here disappear as the ground of human friendship and therewith of civic association.

It is true that the distinction is made, within the Declaration, between civilization on the one hand, and barbarism and savagery on the other. The distinction between the first and the latter two is the distinction between those who do and those who do not respect the rights of others, under the laws of nature. Of course, the necessary ground for such respect is enlightenment: One cannot act on principles of which one is ignorant. As I have often written, the United States is the first nation in the world to declare its independence, not because of any particular qualities or merits of its own, but because of rights which it shared with all men everywhere. In so doing, it declared the ground of “government of the people, by the people, for the people” in a sense absolutely unprecedented. In so doing, it laid an equally unprecedented claim to the character of the best regime of Western civilization.

This latter claim cannot be understood in the light of the doctrine of the best regime as it is found, for example, in Plato and Aristotle. For them, the best regime was that of “the examined life” as defined by Socratic skepticism. Moral virtue, although necessary for human happiness, did not represent in itself the highest of all possible ends: that was to be found in purely contemplative activity. Biblical religion, however, found not the examined life, but the life of obedient love of the living God, to be the highest of all possible ends of human existence. Like classical philosophy, biblical religion finds that man’s highest end transcends morality. For man’s highest end, his relationship with God, is a transmoral end. Biblical religion presupposes a living God whose existence is primarily and essentially a matter of faith. Whatever demonstrations unassisted reason might make of God’s existence and attributes may complement or supplement the teachings of faith. But they can never supplant faith as the ground of belief.

Philosophy, the way of life grounded upon the powers of unassisted human reason, can never refute the existence of the biblical God or the possibility that the best way of life is not that of the examined life. The skepticism that is the core of philosophy, the honest skepticism that must always be distinguished from dogmatic skepticism, always leaves philosophy open to the challenge of revelation. It always leaves philosophers open to the undeniable fact that the claims of autonomous human reason cannot be fully vindicated by that reason. It always leaves philosophers open to the possibility that the fully consistent life—the life that the philosopher himself longs for above all others—is possible only on the basis of revelation.

What we call Western civilization is to be found primarily and essentially in the confluence of the autonomous rationalism of classical philosophy and the faith of biblical religion. As Leo Strauss has said, the vitality—and the glory—of Western civilization is to be found above all in the “mutual influence” of these two irrefutable, irreducible principles of human life. The dynamic of Western civilization is the dynamic of their interaction. The triumph of Western civilization is to be found in the evidence, supplied by both philosophy and revelation, that the human soul, no less by the questions it asks than by the answers it believes it has discovered, participates in a reality that transcends all time and change. The tragedy of Western civilization has been the unfettered attempt, by political means, to vindicate claims whose very nature excludes the possibility that they can be vindicated by political means. To attempt to overcome the skepticism that is the ground of philosophy is like trying to jump over one’s own shadow. To attempt to remove the necessity of the free and unconstrained faith that is the ground of the Bible and of biblical religion is like denying the existence of the shadow by jumping only in the dark—or with one’s eyes shut!

The unprecedented character of the American Founding is that it provided for the coexistence of the claims of reason and of revelation in all their forms, without requiring or permitting any political decisions concerning them. It refused to make unassisted human reason the arbiter of the claims of revelation, and it refused to make revelation the judge of the claims of reason. It is the first regime in Western civilization to do this, and for that reason it is, in its principles or speech (leaving aside the question of its practice or deeds), the best regime.

But the virtue of the American Founding rests not only upon its defusing of the tension between reason and revelation, but upon their fundamental agreement on a moral code which can guide human life both privately and publicly. This moral code is the work both of “Nature’s God”—reason—and the “Creator”—revelation. Religious freedom properly understood is a principle which emancipates political life not only from sectarian religious conflict, but from the far profounder conflict between reason and revelation. Indeed, it makes reason and revelation—for the first time—open friends and allies on the political level. For they are, to repeat, agreed upon the nature and role of morality in the good society.

But radical modernity is the enemy equally of autonomous human reason and of biblical revelation. The core of radical modernity is radical skepticism, a dogmatic skepticism that denies that we do have, or can have, any genuine knowledge of the external world. This dogmatic skepticism denies that either philosophy or revelation in the traditional understanding are possible. It denies that either Socrates or the prophets could ever have distinguished, as Thomas Hobbes put it, whether God had spoken to them in dreams or they had dreamed that God had spoken to them. Hobbes was the precursor of modern scientific positivism, which regards all knowledge as essentially hypothetical and experimental. Its core conviction is that we know only what we make. In constructing a world from hypotheses, we ourselves are the source of all creativity: there is neither need nor room for God. In constructing a world from hypotheses, we have a priori perfect knowledge of that world: there is neither need nor room for philosophy.

Since there is no a priori knowledge in nature or of nature (no “self-evident” truths) to guide the human will, the human will must itself be the a priori source of all knowledge. Unfettered will is the ground, then, of all morality. That is why National Socialism—which understood itself as “The Triumph of the Will”—is the prototypical modern regime. Long before Hitler, though, it was Marx who wrote: “The philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world. The point, however, is to change it.” Marx meant by this that traditional philosophy—an attempt to interpret or understand the world—was illusory. He believed that genuine knowledge of the world was possible only by changes in the world that originated in one’s will. Hence the highest form of intellectual activity—of philosophy—was to be found not in speculation or theory, but in practice or revolution. The supreme revolutionary is the supreme philosopher. The outcome of the most radical revolution is therefore the highest form of wisdom. Hence “the inner truth and greatness” of Hitler’s revolution and of Stalin’s is one and the same. As such it is beyond skepticism. To doubt becomes treason and is punishable as such, for the aim or purpose of radical modernity—of modern philosophy in its final form—is the elimination of skepticism from human life, the transcendence of the opposition between reason and revelation by the abolition of both.

Dogmatic skepticism leads, then, to a scientism, of which totalitarian regimes are the natural and culminating manifestations. But the scientism of dogmatic skepticism is today endemic to the universities of the free world. This dogmatic skepticism is typically expressed as “value relativism,” and is found in the writings of the Chief Justice of the United States as well as those of nearly all the so-called philosophers and social scientists of our universities. “Value relativism” is commonly but mistakenly associated with toleration of different opinions. In fact, it denies the rational or divine foundation of any virtue, including that of tolerance. But if there is no human or divine reason to prefer one opinion to another, neither is there any such reason to prefer one regime to another. If knowledge is power, the most powerful opinion is the best opinion. And there is no reason why the most powerful opinion—from which any skepticism concerning its own truth has been eliminated—should give place to any less powerful opinion. Relativism thus undermines the confidence that free government once had in its own truth, the kind of confidence with which the United States in 1776 proclaimed its right to an equal station among the powers of the earth. Relativism thus leads ultimately but inevitably toward the worst forms of tyranny.

It is sometimes said that the American Founding, as an expression of modern (notably Lockean) political philosophy, lowers the ends of human life in order to make them more easily attainable. For Americans, comfortable self-preservation, implemented by free-market economics and the scientific enhancement of man’s productive powers, replaces eternal salvation or contemplation as the end of man. Whatever may be true of the thought of John Locke, this is not the way in which the American Founding understood itself. The American Founding limited the ends of government. It did not limit the ends of man. The ends of the regime, considered as ends of government, were lowered. But the ends both of reason and revelation served by the regime, in and through the limitations on government, were understood to enhance, not to diminish, the intrinsic possibility of human excellence. As long as the idea of human excellence itself survived, as understood by the great tradition of Western civilization—the civilization of the Bible and of classical philosophy—the dignity of the American Founding remained that of man’s highest ends. It is the outright denial—within the very citadels of learning, the universities—of the dignity of reason and of revelation that threatens the eclipse of the American Founding, and therewith of Western civilization itself.

***

We have noted Macaulay’s reference to “the true theory of religious liberty.” This theory has its classic affirmation in the Virginia Statute of Religious Liberty of 1786, whose author was Thomas Jefferson. It is often said, and correctly, that Jefferson wrote with Locke’s Letters on Toleration before him. But Jefferson, in writing that “our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions any more than our opinions in physics or geometry,” was more absolute and categorical than Locke. Jefferson allowed no exceptions for Jews, Catholics, or atheists. (This, incidentally, did not mean that he was an atheist any more than it meant that he was a Jew or a Catholic!) If “the true theory of religious liberty” was not recognized by the laws of England in the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries, neither was it recognized in the public laws of any other government before the American Founding. Indeed, it could not be so recognized as long as the ground of political authority was understood to originate in divine law. In the American Founding, the social contract theory of the Declaration of Independence and the doctrine of religious liberty in the Virginia Statute—both authored by Jefferson—are two sides of one coin. The rights with which all men are by nature equally endowed qualify any man to enter into an agreement with any other man (who is willing to agree with him) to form a civil society.

Political obligations are obligations flowing from such an agreement, and obeying the law is simply keeping one’s promise. The authority of government is collective promise-keeping of all the parties to the social contract. Such a contract, by its nature, excludes religious stipulations, since any such stipulations or reservations would be inconsistent with the equality which is the foundation or condition of the contract. Moreover, the sovereignty of the individual who is the party to the social contract means that the government arising from this contract is limited government. This follows from the intrinsic nature of contract itself. A contract can only be made between equals, and can obligate no further than the intentions of the contracting parties.

Here we reflect upon the radical novelty, two hundred years ago, of the idea of limited government based upon the social contract of men created equal. The ancient city understood itself altogether as a creation of divine law. We are familiar, from the Old Testament, with the ancient Mosaic polity. We read it for the story of God’s covenant with Israel and the origins of the Messianic promise which Christians believe was fulfilled in Jesus. However unique the Bible is in these respects, in others it is typical. The conception of political obligation—as set forth in the Declaration of Independence—simply did not exist for ancient man.

Plato’s Laws begins with the Athenian Stranger asking the Cretan and the Spartan, “A god, is it, or some human being, who is credited with laying down your laws?” The Cretan answers for both himself and the Spartan, “A god, Stranger, a god.” Ancient man obeyed the laws because they were of divine, not human origin. If a city was defeated in war, that meant its gods were defeated by stronger gods, and men might, without any sense of disloyalty, transfer their allegiance to the gods of their masters. Here the Jews were different in that by holding that their God alone was God, they would not admit that their God could be defeated—nor that they could have any just reason to be faithless to him.

The conception of religion, as we understand it, was as unknown to Socrates as it was unknown to Moses or to Jesus, for we distinguish religious from nonreligious spheres of life, just as we distinguish church from state, state from society, and society from government. In denying the charge of impiety, it seems never to have occurred to Socrates to deny that impiety was a crime. In defending his philosophical mission, he did so by discovering its origin in a command of the oracle of Delphi—a god recognized by the city of Athens. He insisted that it would be impious for him to disobey that command. The worship of the golden calf was a revolt against the authority of Moses—and of God. There was no ground for distinguishing the infidelity of the rebelling Israelites from their lawlessness, since there was no other source of law than God. In this, however, we see the principle of every ancient city, and not of Israel alone.

The laws of Moses regulated all aspects of human life, mental as well as physical, private as well as public. If we think of orthodox Judaism today, we think of freely chosen personal obligations. But in ancient Israel, these laws were inescapable. We have recently had something of a glimpse of the ancient city in the Islamic republicanism of the Ayatollah Khomeini and in the exhortations of Meir Kahane. How typical of the ancient city were the laws of Moses, however, we may glean from Aristotle’s dictum: “Whatever the laws do not permit, they forbid.” It took one of the greatest revolutions in human consciousness to change that to “Whatever the laws do not forbid, they permit.”

In the New Testament, we see ancient Israel not as an independent polity, but as a conquered province of the Roman empire. When Jesus said to render to Caesar the things that were Caesar’s and to God what was God’s, he was making an eminently prudent statement. Contrary to a common opinion, he was not distinguishing between church and state, private and public, or religion and government. Jews had to pay tribute because the Roman legions were there to enforce payment—and to crucify anyone who resisted the authority of Rome. But the Romans were interested only in collecting tribute, and were content to let the peoples they had conquered live under their own laws and gods—these being indistinguishable. Had Jesus lived at the time of Moses or Joshua or David or Solomon, he would never have distinguished, as he did, between God and Caesar. Hence Jesus never meant to characterize all political authority as that of Caesar. When he spoke of “Caesar” he was not speaking symbolically; he meant the conqueror of his people, whose regime rested upon force alone. Government deriving its just powers from the consent of the governed is no more properly characterized as “Caesar” than is the government of ancient Israel under the laws of Moses. Nevertheless, it was the transformation of the Rome of the Caesars into the Holy Roman Empire that ended the ancient world and created the distinction—and opposition—of church and state.

The ancient world—the world of the ancient city—may be said to have come to an end when, in the third century of the Christian era, the Roman emperors extended Roman citizenship to the provinces. This, we observe, represented less of an elevation of the provinces than it did a leveling of Rome. Rome had become an imperial military despotism. The emperor’s horse—or perhaps merely the latter half of his horse—could become a Senator. The self-governing institutions of republican Rome were dead. Rome was the administrative center of a regime that had no political center, because “the government of men had been replaced by the administration of things.” The heart of the process whereby politics is replaced by administration is presented to us unforgettably in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra.

Rome’s conquest of the ancient world ended the civic life of the independent poleis. The gods of the conquered cities continued a shadowy existence for some time. When, however, everyone might become a Roman citizen, there was in principle but one authority for law. The gods who had been the many authors of the many laws of the many cities flickered out and died. There was only one city, which was no longer an ancient city, but the empire of the world. But by the logic of the ancient city—which to this point dominated the consciousness of civilized mankind—a single source of law implied a single God. It took little more than a century after the extension of Roman citizenship to the provinces before Constantine’s conversion to Christianity began the process of transforming Rome (and the world understood as Rome) from polytheism to monotheism. Whether there was a providential necessity in this—as Aquinas and Dante and Shakespeare seem to have thought—there was certainly an inherent compulsion of reason in saying: one city, one law, one world, one God. That this God should be the God of Israel partakes of the same logic, for the God of Israel was not only understood to be the only God, but one who transcended the universe of which He was held to be Creator. Such a God could not be defeated by the legions of Rome or of any other power, whether in the world or out of the world.

The establishment of Christianity in the Roman empire obeyed the logic of the ancient city, in that membership in the political association carried the implied requirement of acknowledgment of, and obedience to, the God of that empire. The concept of heresy was virtually unknown to the ancient city. What Socrates was accused of is better understood as resembling what we might call being “un-American,” that is, of disloyalty. Ancient cities lived on narrow margins of survival, and defeat in war could mean extinction or slavery. All the civic gods tended to be jealous gods for that reason. Belief as such was not central to fidelity. Obedience was central. But the Christian empire made belief central to fidelity, and heresy assumed an unprecedented gravity as an offense against the good order not merely of civil society, but of the world. While belief was elevated to an unprecedented level, obedience sank correspondingly. The decline and fall of the ancient empire replaced centralized Roman administration with the most decentralized, and most lawless, of regimes: feudalism. The Christian God of the Holy Roman Empire was not the author of the laws of France, Germany, England, Spain, or any other part of the Holy Roman Empire, in the sense in which He had been the author of the laws of Moses. He was the sanction for obedience to all the rulers—or laws—that were to be obeyed. But these laws were regarded as laws for a variety of reasons, ancient custom or tradition being foremost. And the divine law—the characteristic form of all law in the ancient world—was no longer the law of the earthly but of the heavenly city.

The extension of Roman citizenship to the provinces, followed by the establishment of Christianity, created a problem that went unsolved in the Christian West for a millennium and a half. That problem was how to discover a source of law for particular political communities within the larger framework of the cosmopolis of the city of God. A single political structure for all of Christendom, much less all of mankind, proved to be impossible. As Thomas Aquinas taught, human law must embody the prudence of the ruler. But who ought to be the ruler? And how are the governed to recognize their obligation to obey him? Aristotle addressed himself to the question of who should rule, and did so in terms of the moral and intellectual excellences that might comprise regimes. His answers were designed to gain acquiescence by philosophers and gentlemen. But he expected the generality of mankind to accept the judgments of the wise because they would be attributed to the gods. Thomas followed Aristotle, but Aristotle offered no solution to the problem of Christian empire. Dante, in one of the most remarkable works ever composed, developed an argument for universal empire based upon Aristotle’s Metaphysics, while ignoring his Politics. This fact itself illuminates wonderfully the dilemma of the Christian West—and the causes of the wars of the Reformation—before the American Revolution.

In Protestant countries, the Reformation removed the anointing (and the excommunicating) of secular rulers from the jurisdiction of Rome. The doctrine of the divine right of kings was invented to enable kings to be anointed by bishops they had themselves appointed, rather than by appointees of the Pope. The interests of national kings and their peoples were certainly closer than those of popes or emperors. But however much the interest of kings and their peoples might seem close at a time of national peril—as at the time of the Spanish Armada—at other times they might be in the harshest conflict, with ensuing revolutions and civil wars. The national Church of England, established by Henry VIII’s break with Rome, had as its most fundamental doctrine that of passive obedience to the king, under all circumstances and at any cost. But such a doctrine could not survive the contingency of the King himself becoming Catholic. In the Glorious Revolution of 1689, the Church of England itself was converted from the divine right of kings to popular sovereignty, exercised in and through the Parliament.

Long before the writings of Hobbes and Locke, Christianity sowed the seed of what we have come to call individualism by establishing a direct personal relationship between God and every human being. Nothing dramatizes this better than the opening scene in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, in which Christian is fleeing from his family, crying out “What shall I do to be saved?” Salvation—citizenship in the City of God—is individual. Individuals are held to be saved by Christ’s merit, but not by that of father or mother or brother. I do not mean to say that Christianity in any way devalued the family, only that family, clan, tribe, nation, the community of blood descendants, ceased to have the integral moral, political, and religious unity they possessed in the ancient city. A citizen of ancient Israel, living under the laws that God had given to Moses, believed himself to be already living in the city of God. In the ancient city—and the Old Testament here is typical—the individual sees himself primarily as a link in the chain of ancestors and descendants. Individuality—including personal immortality—plays virtually no role as a paramount concern. In the Christian Roman Empire, the Church was the visible representative of the City of God, but the City itself was not of this world. As personal immortality in the City of God came to be the paramount concern of Western man, political life was displaced from the central place in human life it had occupied in the ancient city.

The social contract theory embodied in the American Declaration of Independence solved a problem that had plagued Western civilization for more than a millennium and a half. Political authority was to be rooted in each particular political society as the result of the voluntary action of naturally free and equal individuals, whose natural freedom and equality was seen to be as much a dispensation of God as membership in the City of God. These free and equal individuals are enfranchised in the rights that they bring with them into civil society by the fact that they are a priori under the universal “laws of nature and of nature’s God.” There is then no tension between one’s membership in that larger community, which in principle embraces all mankind, and one’s particular obligations to one’s own community, here and now. The Declaration of Independence recognizes, as did the medieval church, the divine government of the universe. But this government, while providing a pattern for human government, does not cause any divided allegiance in one’s political obligation here on earth. The role played by the power of the Church to excommunicate rulers, and to dissolve the allegiance of their subjects, becomes in the Declaration the right of revolution.

But the power of the church—that is to say, of all the churches, or of whatever means a man may choose to direct his own way to his highest end—remains free of civil authority. This bonding of civil and religious liberty is the core of the idea of limited government, and hence of freedom in our world, for we are compelled both to rely upon and to enjoy a degree of personal autonomy that was inconceivable in the ancient city. But the principles by which this autonomy is to be guided—what Jefferson called the moral law—remain the same. And the ground of that autonomy is still the revelation and the reason that are our inheritance from the ancient cities of Athens and Jerusalem. The new order of the ages is radically novel in its solution of the political problem within the framework of a cosmopolitan, monotheistic universe. It is radically traditional in its conception of the ends, whether of reason or of revelation, to be served by that order.

Today we are faced with an unprecedented threat to the survival of biblical religion, of autonomous human reason, and to the form and substance of political freedom. It is important to understand why the threat to one of these is also the threat to all. It is above all important to understand why this threat is, above all, an internal one, mining and sapping our ancient faith, both in God and in ourselves. The decline of the West is the paramount reality facing us today. Perhaps our most immediate danger comes from the historical pessimism of those who counsel us that this is inevitable and that nothing can be done by taking thought. But this danger is itself a danger only if we believe it. It is precisely by taking thought that this superstition can be dispelled and, with it, the unreasoning fears that it breeds. As we enter this third century of the Constitution, let us renew our ancient faith, the faith of Abraham Lincoln,

that right make might, and in that faith let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.

Advertisements

Gnostic Liberalism by Robert P. George

Robert P. George

The idea that human beings are non-bodily persons inhabiting non-personal bodies never quite goes away. Although the mainstreams of Christianity and Judaism long ago rejected it, what is sometimes described as “body-self dualism” is back with a vengeance, and its followers are legion. Whether in the courts, on campus, or at boardroom tables, it underwrites and shapes the expressive individualism and social liberalism that are ascendant.

Christianity’s rejection of body-self dualism answered the challenge to orthodoxy posed by what was known as “Gnosticism.” Gnosticism comprised a variety of ideologies, some ascetical, others quite the opposite. What they held in common was an understanding of the human being—an anthropology—that sharply divides the material or bodily, on the one hand, and the spiritual or mental or affective, on the other. For Gnostics, it was the immaterial, the mental, the affective that ultimately matters. Applied to the human person, this means that the material or bodily is inferior—if not a prison to escape, certainly a mere instrument to be manipulated to serve the goals of the “person,” understood as the spirit or mind or psyche. The self is a spiritual or mental substance; the body, its merely material vehicle. You and I, as persons, are identified entirely with the spirit or mind or psyche, and not at all (or in only the most highly attenuated sense) with the body that we occupy (or are somehow “associated with”) and use.

Against such dualism, the anti-Gnostic position asserts a view of the human person as a dynamic unity: a personal body, a bodily self. This rival vision is found throughout the Hebrew Scriptures and Christian teaching. This is not to suggest that Christian teaching rules out the view that the individual is numerically identical with his or her immaterial soul. Contemporary Christian thinkers are divided on whether the separated soul is numerically distinct from the human person, or is just the person in radically mutilated form. They agree, however, on the essential point, namely, that the body is no mere extrinsic instrument of the human person (or “self”), but is an integral part of the personal reality of the human being. Christ is resurrected bodily.

Aristotle, who broke with his teacher Plato on the point, defends one form of this “hylomorphism,” as it has come to be called. Without denying the existence of the soul, it affirms that the human person is a material being (though not only material). We do not occupy or inhabit our bodies. The living body, far from being our vehicle or external instrument, is part of our personal reality. So while it cannot exist apart from the soul, it is not inferior. It shares in our personal dignity; it is the whole of which our soul is the substantial form. The idea of the soul as the substantial form of the body is orthodox Christianity’s alternative to the heretical conception of the soul as a “ghost in a machine.” One can separate living body from soul in analysis but not in fact; we are body-soul composites.

So we are animals—rational animals, to be sure, but not pure minds or intellects. Our personal identity across time consists in the endurance of the animal organisms we are. From this follows a crucial proposition: The human person comes to be when the human organism does, and survives—as a person—at least until the organism ceases to be.

Yet we are not brute animals. We are animals with a rational nature—organized from the start for conceptual thought, and for practical deliberation, judgment, and choice. These intellectual powers are not reducible to the purely material. Creatures possessing them are able, with maturity and under favoring circumstances, to grasp intelligible (not just sensible) features of options for action, and to respond to those reasons with choices not determined by antecedent events. It is not that we act arbitrarily or randomly, but that we choose based on judgments of value that incline us toward different options without compelling us. There is no contradiction, on the hylomorphic view, between our animality and our rationality.

If we take the Gnostic view, then human beings—living members of the human species—are not necessarily persons, and some human beings are non-persons. Those in the embryonic, fetal, and early infant stages are not yet persons. Those who have lost the immediate exercise of certain mental powers—victims of advanced dementias, the long-term comatose and minimally conscious—are no longer persons. And those with severe congenital cognitive disabilities aren’t now, never were, and never will be persons.

The moral implications are clear. It is personal life that we have reason to hold inviolate and protect against harm; by contrast, we can legitimately use other creatures for our purposes. So someone who buys into a Gnostic anthropology that separates person and body in the way I have described will find it easier to speak of those with undeveloped, defective, or diminished mental capacities as non-persons. They will find it easier to justify abortion; infanticide; euthanasia for the cognitively impaired; and the production, use, and destruction of human embryos for biomedical research.

By the same token, such an anthropology underwrites social liberalism’s rejection of traditional marital and sexual ethics and its vision of marriage as a male-female union. That vision makes no sense if the body is a mere instrument of the person, to be used to satisfy subjective goals or produce desirable feelings in the person-as-conscious-subject. If we are not our bodies, marriage cannot essentially involve the one-flesh union of man and woman, as Jewish, Christian, and classical ethics hold. For if the body is not part of the personal reality of the human being, there can be nothing morally or humanly important about “merely biological” union, apart from its contingent psychological effects.

Presupposing body-self dualism makes it harder to appreciate that marriage is a natural (pre-political and even pre-religious) human good with its own objective structure. If sexuality is just a means to our subjective ends, isn’t it whatever we want it to be? How could it be oriented to procreation, or require permanent exclusivity, by its nature?

We can make sense of this one-flesh union conception of marriage only if we understand the body as truly personal. Then we can see the biological union of a man and woman as a distinct union of persons—achieved, like the biological union of parts within a person, through coordination toward a single bodily end of the whole. For the couple, that end is reproduction. Its orientation to family life thus has human and moral, not “merely biological,” significance. Spouses, in their bodily unity, renew the all-encompassing union that is their marriage. This vision, in turn, helps us to make sense of the natural desire to rear one’s own children and the normative importance of committing to do so whenever possible, even at great personal cost. (A mother desires to be sent home with the baby she actually delivered, and not with one assigned to her randomly from the pool of babies born during her stay in the maternity center.) This instinct reinforces a sound sexual ethic, which specifies the requirements of faithful conjugal and parental love, an ethic that seems pointless and cruel to contemporary social liberals.

For them, after all, what matters is what goes on in the mind or consciousness, not the body (or the rest of the body). True personal unity, to the extent that it is possible at all, is unity at the affective level, not the biological one. “Marriage” tends to be seen, then, as a socially constructed institution that exists to facilitate desirable romantic bonds and to protect and advance the various feelings and interests of people who enter into such bonds. It is not a conjugal partnership at all, but rather a form of sexual-romantic companionship or domestic partnership. Procreation and children are only contingently related to it. There is no sense, even an indirect one, in which marriage is a procreative partnership or a partnership whose structure and norms are shaped by an inherent orientation of our sexual natures to procreation and the rearing of children. The conjugal conception of marriage as a union of the sort that is naturally fulfilled by the spouses having and bringing up children together strikes the ear of the neo-Gnostic as unintelligible and even bizarre.

Indeed, as contemporary social liberalism presents the matter, sex itself is not an inherent aspect of marriage or part of its meaning; the idea of marital consummation by sexual intercourse also seems bizarre. Just as, for social liberals, two (or more) people can have perfectly legitimate and valuable sex without being married to each other, so two (or more) people can have a perfectly valid and complete marriage without sex. It’s all a matter of the partners’ subjective preferences. Consensual sexual play is valuable just insofar as it enables the partners to express desired feelings—such as affection or, for that matter, domination or submission. But if they happen not to experience desire for it, sex is pointless even within marriage. It’s merely incidental and therefore optional, much as owning a car, or having joint or separate bank accounts is. Different strokes for different folks. The essence of marriage is companionship, not sex, to say nothing of procreation.

And all of this explains, of course, why contemporary liberal ethics endorses same-sex marriage. It even suggests that marriage can exist among three or more individuals in polyamorous sexual (or non-sexual) groups. Because marriage swings free of biology and is distinguished by its emotional intensity and quality—the true “person” being the conscious and feeling self—same-sex and polyamorous “marriages” are possible and valuable in the same basic ways as the conjugal union of man and woman. For partners in these other groupings, too, can feel affection for each other and even believe that the quality of their romantic partnership will be enhanced by mutually agreeable sex play (or not, as the case may be). If that’s what marriage is all about, then denying them marital status means denying “marriage equality.”

And then there are transsexualism and transgenderism. If we are body-mind (or body-soul) composites and not minds (or souls) inhabiting material bodies, then respect for the person demands respect for the body, which rules out mutilation and other direct attacks on human health. This means that, except in extraordinarily rare cases of congenital deformity to the extreme of indeterminacy, our maleness or femaleness is discernible from our bodies. Sex is constituted by our basic biological organization with respect to reproductive functioning; it is an inherent part of what and who we are. Changing sexes is a metaphysical impossibility because it is a biological impossibility. Or very nearly one. It may become technologically possible to change the sex of a human individual at a very early stage of embryonic development—either by changing the genome, or in the case of an embryonic male by inducing, say, androgen insensitivity early enough that all sexual development proceeds as it would in a woman. Of course, it would be immoral to do it, since it would involve a radical bodily intervention without consent and with grave risks.

So sex changes are biologically impossible whenever it becomes true that to change the person’s sexual capacities down to the root would require reversing so many already-differentiated organs and other sexual traits that one wouldn’t end up with the same organism. (I suspect that that point is reached at least quite early in utero.) As Paul McHugh has argued, desiring to change sexes is a pathology—a wish to cease being oneself and to be someone else. It is not to will one’s good, but to will one’s non-existence as who one is.

By contrast, on the contemporary liberal view, no dimension of our personal identity is truly determined biologically. If you feel as though you are a woman trapped in a man’s body, then you are just that: a (“transgender”) woman. And you may legitimately describe yourself as a woman, despite the fact that you are biologically male, and take steps—even to the point of amputations and hormone treatments—to achieve a feminine outward appearance, especially where you think doing so will enable you more fully to “feel” like a woman.

Even this way of putting it might concede more than is warranted. What is a pre-operative “male-to-female” transgender individual saying when he says he’s “really a woman” and desires surgery to confirm that fact? He’s not saying his sex is female; that’s obviously false. Nor is he saying that his gender is “woman” or “feminine,” even if we grant that gender is partly or wholly a matter of self-presentation and social presence. It is clearly false to say that this biological male is already perceived as a woman. He wants to be perceived this way. Yet the pre-operative claim that he is “really a woman” is the premise of his plea for surgery. So it has to be prior. What, then, does it refer to? The answer cannot be his inner sense. For that would still have to be an inner sense of something—but there seems to be no “something” for it to be the sense of.

Yet for the neo-Gnostic, the body serves at the pleasure of the conscious self, to which it is subject, and so mutilations and other procedures pose no inherent moral problem. Nor is it contrary to medical ethics to perform them—indeed, it might be unethical for a qualified surgeon to refuse to perform them. At the same time, the neo-Gnostic insists that surgical and even purely cosmetic changes aren’t necessary for a male to be a woman (or a female a man). The body and its appearance do not matter, except instrumentally. Since your body is not the real you, your (biological) sex and even your appearance need not line up with your “gender identity.” You have a right, we are now told, to present yourself however you feel yourself to be.

And since feelings, including feelings about what or who you are, fall on a spectrum, and are even fluid, you are not limited to only two possibilities on the question of gender identity (you may be “gender non-conforming”), nor are you permanently locked into any particular gender. There is the full Facebook 56, or 58, or whatever the number is, and you can find your gender changing over time, or abruptly. It may even be possible to change genders by acts of the will. You might change genders temporarily, for example, for political reasons or for the sake of solidarity with others. Of course, most of these observations about gender identity can extend to the concept of “sexual orientation,” and the practice of self-identifying in terms of sexual desire—a concept and practice well served by a view of the human being as a non-bodily person inhabiting a non-personal body.

The anti-dualist position historically embraced by Jews and by Christians (Eastern as well as Western, Protestant as well as Catholic) has been forcefully rearticulated by Pope Francis:

The acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home, whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation. Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology. Also, valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different. In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment. It is not a healthy attitude which would seek “to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it.”

The pope, who recently outraged partisans of social liberalism by denouncing the practice of teaching children that gender is chosen rather than given as a matter of biological sex, is not engaging in idle or purely speculative philosophizing. He is responding to the specific challenge to Christian orthodoxy represented by the modern revival of a philosophical anthropology against which the Church struggled in its formative early battles with Gnosticism. He knows that this anthropology is now itself a kind of orthodoxy—the orthodoxy of the particular form of liberal secularism that, following Robert Bellah, I have referred to as “expressive individualism,” one that has secured dominance among Western cultural elites. It provides the metaphysical foundation of the social practices and ideological challenges against which Orthodox Jews and faithful Christians (as well as many Muslims and others) find themselves contending today: abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, sexual liberation, the redefinition of marriage, and gender ideology.

Are we right to resist? Might the dualistic understanding of the human person have been right all along? Perhaps the person is not the body, but only inhabits it and uses it as an instrument. Perhaps the real person is the conscious and feeling self, the psyche, and the body is simply material, the machine in which the ghost resides. To think so, however, is to ignore the fact that our entire experience of ourselves is the experience of being unified actors. Nothing gives us reason to suppose that experience to be illusory. Even if body-self dualism could be made coherent—which I doubt—we would have no more reason to believe it than we have to suppose that we are now dreaming, or stuck in the Matrix.

But there is more. Consider the most common of human experiences: sensing (e.g., hearing or seeing). Sensing is, obviously, a bodily action performed by a living being. The agent performing an act of sensing is a bodily creature, an animal. But it’s clear that in human beings, as rational animals, it is one and the same agent who both senses and understands or seeks to understand (by mental activity) what it is that he or she is sensing. The agent performing the act of understanding, therefore, is a bodily entity, not a non-bodily substance using the body as some sort of quasi-prosthetic device. Were it otherwise, we would never be able to explain the communication or connection between the thing doing the sensing and the separate thing doing the understanding.

To see the point more clearly, perhaps, let me invite you to consider what you are doing right now. You are perceiving—seeing—words on a page or screen. And you are not only perceiving, considered as an act of receiving impressions (a kind of data) through the medium of vision, you are understanding what it is you are perceiving: First, you are understanding that what you are seeing are words (and not, say, numbers, or blotches, or something else), and second, you are understanding what the words themselves mean (as individual words and strung together as sentences). Now what, exactly, is the entity—namely, you—that is simultaneously doing the perceiving and understanding? And, more to the point, is it one entity or two? Perception or perceiving is indeed a bodily act, but is it not the same actor (namely you, as a unified being) that is seeing the words and understanding that they are words and what they mean? It would make no sense to suppose that the body is doing the perceiving and the mind, considered as an ontologically separate and distinct substance, is doing the understanding. For one thing, it would generate an infinite regress of explanations in trying to account for the relationship between the separate substances. We wouldn’t be able to make sense of the idea that you are doing the understanding, but an instrument you are using, not you yourself as a unified agent, is doing the perceiving.

Or consider a simple case of predication and thought. You approach your desk and judge that what lies on it—that thing there—is a journal (let’s say, as it happens, an issue of First Things). That’s a single judgment, and both parts of it (subject and predicate) must have a single agent: a being that does both the seeing and the thinking, that both sees the particular, concrete thing and understands it by applying an abstract concept (journal). How could it be otherwise? How could any being hold both parts together in a single judgment—the sensory image and the abstract concept—if he weren’t exercising both sensory and intellectual abilities?

Furthermore, the agent sensing the particular—that thing there—must be an animal, a body with perceptual organs. And the predication that goes with perception is a personal act; the agent applying a universal concept (journal) must be a person. (A non-rational creature, such as a dog, might perceive, but lacking rationality of the sort that makes possible the formation of universal concepts, it would not understand what it is perceiving to be a particular instance of a universal.) It follows that the subject performing the act of judging—that thing there is a journal—is one being, personal and animal. We are not two separate entities. Nor can “person” plausibly be just a stage in the life of a human animal. If it were, after all, a categorical difference in moral status (person vs. not) would be based on a mere difference in degree (rather than a difference in the kind of thing the being is), which is absurd. We are, at every moment of our existence as human beings, bodily selves and personal bodies.

In the domain of moral thought and practice, there are few projects more urgent than recovering the commonsense view that human persons are indeed dynamic unities, creatures whose bodies are parts of our very selves—not extrinsic instruments. Contemporary social liberalism rests on an error, the tragic mistake behind so many efforts to justify—and even immunize from moral criticism—acts and practices that are, in truth, contrary to our profound, inherent, and equal dignity.

First Things, December 2016

Freedom or Virtue? by Brent Bozell Jr.

Leo Brent Bozell Jr.

. . . the “libertarian” takes as [his] first principle in political affairs the freedom of the individual person and emphasizes the restriction of the power of the state and the maintenance of the free-market economy as guarantees of that freedom.

. . . the “traditionalist” puts [his] primary emphasis upon the authority of transcendent truth and the necessity of a political and social order in accord with the constitution of being.

The Twisted Tree of Liberty by Frank S. Meyer,  National Review , January 16, 1962

Frank Meyer has labored earnestly in recent years to promote and justify modern American conservatism as a “fusion” of the libertarian and traditionalist points of view. His “Twisted Tree,” though it read out of the movement that curious breed of anti-anti-Communist recently spawned by nihilistic libertarianism was essentially a restatement of the thesis that a symbiosis of the two schools, if the contribution of each is properly understood, is not only possible but necessary. Meyer has been by no means alone in trying to keep order in conservatism’s divided house. While he was perhaps the first to identify the contenders generically, and to name the terms for peaceful coexistence, he has been ably seconded by others, notably Stanton Evans, who has made Professor Morton Auerbach’s allegations of right-wing schizophrenia (“Do-It-Yourself Conservatism?” NR. Jan. 30) his special concern. Still others, less persuaded than Meyer and Evans of the theoretical cogency of fusionist apologetics, have helped, too — by bearing their misgivings in silence for the sake of conservative unity.

Now I venture no prediction about the political fate of the Meyer-Evans effort — either as to its ability to hold the conservative movement together, or, more to the point, as to whether it will succeed in midwifing the movement to power. After all, the Liberal collapse is creating a power vacuum into which almost anything might move. I do question, however, whether the libertarian-traditionalist amalgam, as the fusionists defame it is worth bringing to power. For I doubt whether a movement dominated by libertarianism can be responsive to the root causes of Western disintegration. And we should not make any mistake about this. A movement that can accommodate libertarianism’s axiom is dominated by it: if freedom is the “first principle” in politics, virtue is, at best, the second one; and the programmatic aspects of the movement that affirms that hierarchy will be determined accordingly.

Primacy of Freedom

Let us, then, look at the argument by which the fusionists arrive at the primacy of freedom and see whether it is persuasive. If we find the argument wanting, it will then be time to ask whether the theoretical difficulties are worth fretting about.

“The conservative believes,” Evans writes, “that ours is a God-centered, and therefore an ordered Universe [and] that man’s purpose is to shape his life to the patterns of order proceeding from the Divine center of life.” Meyer calls this purpose “the transcendent goal of human existence.” We may accept these two statements as a fair rendering of the “traditionalist emphasis.” Evans adds (and of course Meyer agrees) that man is “hampered” in fulfilling his purpose by “a fallible intellect and vagrant will” — a condition some traditionalists would call original sin.

And now the transition to the “libertarian emphasis.” Since he holds these root beliefs, Evans goes on, the “conservative’s first concern is that man restrain his appetites by the imperatives of right choice — choice which can take place only in circumstances favoring volition.” This is one of the two reasons, he explains (the other we will consider in due course), why “limitation of government power becomes the highest political objective of conservatism.” (The emphasis is Evans’.) Meyer puts the transition this way: the “fused position . . . maintains that the duty of men is to seek virtue; but it insists that men cannot in actuality do so unless they are free from the constraints of the physical coercion of an unlimited state.”

The argument is fast, and we will do well to slow it down a bit. Note that there are three propositions implicit in what we have just read: A. Man cannot restrain his “appetites” meaningfully — i.e., pursue virtue — without choosing to do so. B. His ability to choose meaningfully and thus to restrain his appetites depends, to a significant degree, on external “circumstances.” C. The more these circumstances favor choice, the better he can restrain his appetites and so achieve virtue; and conversely, as these circumstances become unfavorable, the opportunities for virtue diminish accordingly — and theoretically they can shrink, as Evans’ word “only” and Meyer’s flat “cannot” suggest, all the way to the zero point.

For the moment we may accept proposition A as true: the sense in which choice may not be necessary to virtue is not germane at this point. Proposition B, however — that the choice necessary to virtue can be affected by external circumstances — deserves our closest attention. It is key: if it is true, then proposition C, with its corollary that limitation of government power should be considered the highest political good, is probably true also; while if it is not true, this particular argument for libertarianism falls to the ground.

Let us go back to Evans’ contention that “man’s purpose is to shape his life to the [divine] patterns of order” (or Meyer’s variant, “the duty of men is to seek virtue”) in order to make sure we understand their meaning. And let us ask them, why is this man’s purpose and his duty?

I think there are two possible answers to such a question. One is that God desires — for its own sake — a human order that conforms to the transcendent order, and therefore that He measures virtue by the extent to which human action existentially reflects divine norms. But this answer is certainly not the one Meyer and Evans would give. Under such a view of things, man’s concern is simply to establish temporal conditions conducive to God-approved human action, and while leaving matters to individual choice may be useful in some instance, there is no a priori need for freedom at all. The other possibility is that God wants man to “prove himself” — or, in Christian terms, to earn salvation. This we may assume, until they tell us otherwise, is exactly Meyer’s and Evans’ meaning. (While there is a formidable taboo against using religious terminology in political discussions, we will do well to disregard it for the moment if we want to grasp the problem, at root a theological one, that fusionists, and I think conservatives in general, are ultimately concerned with.)

Freedom and Salvation

Now if earning salvation is what we are talking about, we will have to face up to the problem of whether it is possible for one man to damage another man’s chances for it — e.g., by restricting the exercise of his freedom.

Christian teaching is generally to the contrary. How so? It postulates a free will. In doing so, it presupposes a psychological situation in which the intellect entertains conflicting “appetites,” or “goods,” as alternative courses of action — and turns them over to the will for selection. These alternatives are seldom, if ever, presented for judgment solely on their merits: The choice is invariably “loaded” in the sense that every good carries along with it a certain amount of baggage — the sanctions imposed by habit, education, laws and what-not — that, in net effect, weights the scales toward one alternative or the other. The mystery of freedom which we feel, or take on faith, but cannot demonstrate is that in spite of these sanctions an element of spontaneity remains. And when this spontaneity (Christian teaching goes on) figures in the selection of the “greater” good over the “lesser” one, as determined by each man’s conscience, merit accrues and a step has been taken toward salvation.

But this is simply another way of saying that morally significant choice is a psychic event. The good will is the will that adverts to the “better” object as defined by conscience; and it does not cease to be good when it is unable, because of external circumstances, to convert that psychic commitment into action. The good will of the man who wants to go to church on Sunday — and would if he could — is not defeated by the “circumstance” that the churches in his country have been shut down. Neither is his virtue diminished, nor his claim to salvation impaired. Moreover — a second dispensation — while the choice spectrum will vary widely from individual to individual both in quality and quantity (variances that can indeed be caused by external circumstances), such disparities are not significant in this context: the fact that the choices open to a Papuan are few and unappetizing to our own palates does not cheat him of reward — or penalty — for such choices as he is called upon to make.

What we are saying, then, is that the freedom that is necessary to virtue is presumably a freedom no man will ever be without. Morally significant freedom is merely an aspect of the human condition: it is indispensable, but it is also inalienable. The Soviet citizen is every bit as “free” to earn salvation as his American counterpart; he will “prove himself,” or fail to, in an area that is beyond the reach of the KGB. And while there is nothing arresting about this presumption — surely it is among the most ordinary of theological commonplaces — it must have tremendous implications for political theory. For if moral freedom is beyond the reach of politics, surely politics has better things to do than making the preservation of moral freedom its chief preoccupation.

But perhaps we are moving too fast. Let us try to anticipate the fusionists’ reply. They will not, I think, deny that salvation is what they have in mind. But they probably will protest that salvation was not all they have in mind. And the protest will very likely develop along these lines:

Granted that man’s first purpose is to get to Heaven, and granted, too, that God’s justice guarantees every man a fair opportunity to get there: still — God does not want to see a race of stunted men hobbling across the line. After all, man has some value qua man. He is brimming with potentialities for living, working, creating — for understanding; God made him that way; surely it is God’s will that those potentialities be fulfilled. However — the voice of the Renaissance goes on — in order to explore, to understand, to realize these potentialities man must be free — free to walk the depths of hell or scale the pinnacles of sublimity on his own two feet. For society to try to assist man in this adventure, either with its hobbles or with its crutches, is to deny him the opportunity to be a whole man; a man. And by that token he is denied access to true virtue. As Meyer explains; “the simulacrum of virtuous acts brought about by the coercion of superior power, is not virtue, the meaning of which resides in the free choice of good over evil.”

Very well. Let us agree for the moment that virtue is not necessarily to be equated with the merit that qualifies for salvation — that there is, in other words, a second order of virtue, which we may call humanistic virtue since it constitutes the fulfillment of man’s human nature. Let us, however, make sure we understand the rules of the game of this second realm, as they are understood by Meyer and others who would have us accept libertarianism’s “first principle.” The question of divorce will do as well as any other for this purpose. Meyer, one gathers from his writings, takes a sacramental view of marriage, and so considers the preservation of it to be a virtuous act. He is therefore qualified to help us solve the following problem:

X, an American, has tired of his wife: under the laws of his state, he has ample grounds for divorce; remarriage prospects are bright; his friends and professional associates would be sympathetic with the decision. Yet, after duly considering such factors, he decides against a divorce on the grounds it is — “wrong.”

Y, a Spaniard, has tired of his wife; Y is unable to get a divorce in his own country and to travel to France would impose a formidable economic burden; remarriage prospects in Spain, in any event, are nil; anyway, his religion forbids it — as does his whole tradition; what is more, he would face a heavy measure of social ostracism; in short, Y dismisses the idea without giving it a second thought. Query: by deciding to preserve his marriage, who — X or Y — has acted more virtuously? Meyer’s answer (and who would disagree?): X of course. His decision was the tougher by far; Y’s choice was almost reflexive, was not therefore really “free” at all.

Props of a Rational Society

And it follows — does it not? — that if we are seriously interested in maximizing opportunities for virtue, something will have to be done about Spain. Her laws, traditions, customs interfere with freedom. They are “crutches” — kick them away. And in the United States, conditions are not entirely satisfactory either. We will want to make our own divorce laws even laxer. We will also want to launch a public education campaign (privately endowed of course) aimed at breaking down residual social prejudices; and perhaps, to help overcome the mechanical difficulties, a special fund could be set aside for periodic newspaper notices advising dissatisfied spouses of the most convenient cut-rate agency or mail order house. We will do our best, in other words, to reduce the “constraints” of “superior power,” confident that if Mr. X can stick by his guns under these conditions, he will really be virtuous. It is not that we favor divorce, mind you; it is just that we want virtuous men.

Is the reductio ad absurdum unfair? On the contrary: I submit that the inner logic of the dictum that virtue-not-freely-chosen is not virtue at all leads inescapably to the burlesque of reason we have suggested. If freedom is the “first principle” of the search for virtue, if as Meyer writes at another point, it is “the precondition of a good society,” then, by definition, there is no superior principle that can be invoked, at any stage, against the effort to maximize freedom — there is no point at which men are entitled to stophauling down the “props” which every rational society in history has erected to promote a virtuous citizenry. (True, the libertarian view permits measures for preserving the public order — the argument that no man should have the liberty to deny another man liberty; our point is that it permits none for the purpose of encouraging and aiding virtue.)

The libertarian may object that it is only state props that he wants to dismantle — that those created by tradition, custom, religion, in other words, are permissible under certain conditions. But on his own showing he has no business making such a distinction. There are, of course, vital differences between “state” and “social” sanctions, but they have no bearing on the argument in question here — namely, that maximum freedom of choice is essential to individual virtue. For as we have seen earlier, restriction of free choice consists in sanctions of various kinds that accompany alternative courses of action as they are presented to the will. But the relative strength of these sanctions, obviously, is not necessarily a function of their source. Social disapproval can be as persuasive a deterrent against scribbling on walls as the threat of a legal fine; habit and education will often “load” the choice against stealing far more effectively than the larceny laws. In short, libertarianism’s first command — maximize freedom — applies with equal vigor to all of societies’ activities; and the meaning of the command, in effect, is this: virtue must be made difficult as possible. While only a few men, if any, can be expected to meet the challenge successfully, the proliferation of unvirtuous acts in the objective order is one of the prices that must be paid for the fulfillment of heroic man . . .

Now there is nothing to prevent the fusionists from arguing that this command is conducive, as Meyer puts it to “a political and social order in accord with the constitution of being.” But Meyer is not speaking of the constitution of being envisioned by the Christian metaphysic. If there is any metaphysical basis for such a view of life, it is the existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre — the doctrine that man is all potentiality, i.e., all freedom. In the existentialist view, man has no inherent nature — no essence — and therefore no end other than to work out a nature from his potentialities, each man for himself, In the beginning, this is an optimistic view of life, full of the spirit of individual adventure and creativity, and it ends in despair because the burden of autonomy — since it is not ordained by the true constitution of being — is too heavy.

The Christian metaphysic, by contrast, attributes to man a pre-formed nature, one that is ultimately defined transcendentally in terms of his origin and destiny. Man’s nature, moreover, is totally integrated with that of the rest of being, so that a common effort is envisioned on the part of all creation to conform to what Evans calls the divine “patterns of order.” Man’s nature is such, however, that he, uniquely among created beings, has the capacity to deviate from the patterns of order — to, as it were, repudiate his nature: i.e., he is free. So viewed, freedom is hardly a blessing: add the ravages of original sin and it is the path to disaster. It follows that if individual man is to have any hope of conforming with his nature, he needs all of the help he can get. That is why the role of grace is so vital to the Christian view of things, not only supernatural grace, but the natural grace that springs forth from man’s constructs: his institutions, his customs, his laws — the ones that have been inspired by his better angel and that remain in time to give nourishment to all of the human race. And that, in turn, is why the Christian view, which begins in despair, ends in optimism.

“Go . . . and teach all nations.” These are the marching orders of Christianity, and, from a theological viewpoint, its central operational command. God’s purpose, if we may put it so, is twofold: to give the widest possible access to supernatural grace — that is, to magnify the Christian Church; and to establish temporal conditions conducive to human virtue — that is, to build a Christian civilization. The latter purpose is the genesis and justification for the notion that Western civilization, being the historical fruit of the Incarnation — and so, in a manner of speaking, “God’s civilization” — must be preserved at all costs, and itself magnified. There is not a drop of chauvinism in the idea, for it has to do entirely — as the classicists taught — with the relationship between the good commonwealth and the virtuous man. When a commonwealth builds according to the divine patterns of order, then it is in a position to help man conform to his nature, which is the meaning of virtue. The institutions the commonwealth promotes are the important thing — its family arrangements, its schools, its churches, the kind of government it has; for all of these combine to generate what Willmoore Kendall calls its public orthodoxy. Now to the extent a public orthodoxy tends to reflect the divine patterns of order, it also tends to encourage a virtuous citizenry. Of course such external inducements to virtue can never be entirely, or even very, successful: to suppose that through man’s artifacts the human race, or any member of it, can be perfected in history is to partake of the modern gnosticism upon which both Liberalism and Communism are grounded. But such inducements can ease the way to virtue. That is the reason for the marching orders.

Degree of Merit

Which invites reconsideration of an earlier question: Is freedom an a priorirequirement for virtue? We can agree that the freer the choice — i.e., the more difficult it is — the greater the merit. But if, by definition, the virtuous act is one that conforms with man’s nature, with the divine patterns of order — is the kind of heroic freedom envisioned by libertarian doctrine essential to such an act? Every day on his way to work A slips a dime to the blind lady at the street corner; it is pure habit with him. B supports his family as a matter of course; the thought of abandoning it to seek his own pleasure never crosses his mind. C buys a “worthwhile” novel at his book store, though — let us postulate such a weakness — if a well-advertised volume of pornography had not been banned by the state, he would have picked it up instead. Now these acts are, in tum — a) reflexive, b) instinctive, c) coerced by state power. Yet each of them, in itself, is a virtuous act if man’s virtue consists in conducting himself in conformity with his nature, with the divine patterns of order.

We may go further. Since man will always have sufficient moral freedom, i.e., sufficient occasions for “proving himself” — and even for doing so heroically; and since these occasions are basically traceable to his corruption, the ideal to which man should aspire is to minimize such occasions — to develop the kind of character that will generate virtuous acts as a matter of course. For as the mystics tell us, true sanctity is achieved only when man loses his freedom — when he is freed of the temptation to displease God.

We may now turn to the second reason, on the fusionists’ showing, why limitation of government power should be our “highest political objective.” And we may agree that it is a “second” argument inasmuch as it proceeds from fundamentally different premises from those that posit political freedom as an absolute requirement for personal virtue. By the same token, however, it does not warrant the absolutist conclusions libertarians claim for it.

Mr. Evans puts the argument thus: “ . . . the reign of appetite is most destructive, and the incentives and opportunities for its exercise most plentiful, when fallible man is endowed with unlimited power over his fellow beings. If a man is corrupted in mind and impulse, he is hardly to be trusted with the unbridled potencies of the state.” Evans adds that the American Constitution reflects this view inasmuch as it is “premised upon a deep distrust of human nature and [is] designed to curb its excesses.”

Now if we may read “the reign of appetite” to mean the ascendancy of non-virtue in the objective order (as opposed to the “reign” of personal sinfulness), then the argument that unlimited state power is conducive to that ascendancy is, other things being equal, unexceptionable. For now the argument is focused on the effects unlimited power is likely to have on those who exercise it, and derivatively on the damage they are likely to do the commonwealth they govern. And we are looking at nothing more than a restatement of Lord Acton’s adage that “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” But note that Acton did not try to convert this essentially prudential judgment about the dangers of government power into an absolute rule for restricting government power. He did not, that is to say — and neither should we — commit the elementary logical fallacy of turning the proposition, “the state that governs most will govern worst,” into the proposition, “the state that governs least will govern best.”

If the judgment is a prudential one, the question in every case will be: Will this grant of this power, in this instance, for this object, produce a net good for the individual members of the commonwealth? Such a question will take into account the objections libertarians regularly, and usually wisely, interpose to accretions of state power: government will do the job badly; one aggrandizement will lead to another; a concession today will make it harder to stand firm tomorrow; and so on. And a thousand times more often than not — given the kind of claims government makes these days — the prudent decision will be against the grant of power and in favor of leaving the individual and private groups on their own. But not always. The good commonwealth, taking the measure of its governors, and the prospects for their corruption, may charge them with, say, building roads, or maintaining a postal system or passing anti-obscenity laws, or giving tax-exemption to its churches.

This is not to say (for I would hope not to be understood as endorsing theocracy) that the good commonwealth will charge the state with discovering and defining the elements of virtue. Rather, it will look upon the state merely as one potential instrument among many others for articulating and thus defending the community consensus about such things; and while prudence will dictate severe limitations even on this role, prudence does not go so far, I am saying, as to forbid acknowledgment of God’s existence in the state’s schools.

Once we have decided to view the dangers of state power as but one element among others — a very important one, to be sure — in a prudential judgment about the requirements of the good commonwealth, we have made considerable headway in our thinking about how to build such a commonwealth. We have, that is to say, liberated the discussion from the ideological strait jacket in which libertarian dogma confines it — the dogma about the “natural functions” of the state. These are, as Meyer never tires of telling us, [1] the preservation of domestic peace and order, [2] the administration of justice, and [3] defense against foreign enemies.” Any activities beyond these three, according to the argument, are by definition — and so without further discussion — evil.

I do not think Meyer or the other fusionists will ever be able to explain to the uninitiated the mystery of the trinitarian state — except, possibly, in terms of the argument for heroic freedom we have already considered. They will certainly not be able to explain on the strength of an organic view of man and society why, e.g., it is “natural” for the state to lock up a thief, and “unnatural” for the state to launch a program against juvenile delinquency. Nor — assuming that what actually happens in the real world has some bearing on what is “natural” — can they realistically hypothesize future conditions under which the trinitarian concept will be adopted; nor point to any past moment in history when men have actually organized a society in this way; nor cite any serious thinker in back of the nineteenth century who has suggested men try to do so. In short, the dogma of ritualistic libertarianism is hardly less far from reality than that of ritualistic Liberalism, and it presents the same kind of barriers to acquiring wisdom about the good commonwealth.

Distribution of Power

This is perhaps the place to nail the notion, so often advanced by the fusionists, that the American Constitution is an expression of the libertarian-traditionalist compromise — i.e., that in the name of accommodating human nature, the Constitution underwrites the archly limited state. On the face of it, it is the purest fancy to suggest that American constitutional theory has anything in common with the libertarian teaching about the threefold function of the genus state. The individual American States, let us remember, marched into the Constitutional Convention with full sovereign powers — the three Meyer mentions plus several dozen others he does not; and the problem to which the convention delegates so brilliantly addressed themselves was how to organize and distribute those powers so as to promote their most beneficial exercise. The framers’ governing principle was, of course, the one often attributed to Madison: that concentration of power leads to its abuse. And the remedy they invoked was also Madison’s: the way to block the pernicious ambitions of “factions,” Madison argued, is to distribute power as widely as possible within clearly defined boundaries. (While it is true that subsequent judicial construction of the Constitution, making the Bill of Rights applicable to the States, seems to place some powers altogether out of bounds — even these proscriptions are not absolute, as a glance at the Constitution’s amending clause will quickly verify.)

Under the American system of government, in other words, the genus state — with its municipal, state, and national offices, and its popular residuary — potentially has plenary powers. Felicitously, under the original concept, these powers were distributed in a fashion that closely approximates the principle of subsidiarity — the idea that the quest for the common good begins with the individual man and will ascend to increasingly collectivized levels only under necessity, and always with a prudential concern for the dangers of going higher. In short, much freedom was envisioned by the founders of such a system because freedom is highly useful in achieving the good commonwealth. But there is not a hint of the ideology of freedom in what they produced — not a word suggesting that freedom is the goal of the commonwealth.

It is a mistake to make demi-gods out of the framers, or to read as a piece of scripture what they wrote. But, as perhaps the only group of men in modern history to have set their minds to the task of constructing a commonwealth on the basis of prudence, and therefore free from ideology, they deserve considerable reverence, and are a fit object for imitation.

A word is in order about “economic freedom,” and how it figures in the fusionist effort to strike a compromise between libertarians and traditionalists. I think we shall find here a palpable instance of our general thesis, namely that the “compromise” in question invariably consists in borrowing from the libertarians their principles and programs, and from the traditionalists the divine imprimatur. We shall also discover, unless I am badly mistaken, the historical explanation for modern Western man’s, as opposed, say, to Renaissance man’s, enshrinement of freedom as First Principle.

The Sharon Statement

The “Sharon Statement,” the charter document of the Young Americans for Freedom, is perhaps the best-known attempt by the fusionists to link libertarian economic premises with transcendent truth, undoubtedly because it makes the point so starkly. The Statement begins by asserting that the “individual’s use of his God-given free will” is “foremost among the transcendent values.” The freedom so exercised, moreover, “is indivisible . . . political freedom cannot long exist without economic freedom.” Or, as the point is put later on: “the market economy is the single economic system compatible with the requirements of personal freedom” — which means, since personal freedom is the end-all and be-all, that the market economy itself, in the words of the Statement’s preamble, is an “eternal truth.”

Now of course, we are looking at a political manifesto, and so might expect imprecisions. However, the Statement cannot be seriously faulted on that score: the general sense of the argument — actually there are two arguments — is entirely faithful to fusionist teaching.

The first is an argument from definition; we may restate it, along with certain difficulties it seems to present, as follows: 1) Use of God-given free will is the foremost transcendent value. The fallacy: How, as we asked earlier, can an inevitability be a “value,” let alone a transcendent value, let alone the foremost transcendent value? And the objection here is to substance, not to syntax. The idea that freedom in abstractu is the human activity chiefly honored in heaven is the first and indispensable step of every attempt to herd God into Manchester. 2) Every act of freedom has supreme value, the choice of a Rambler over a Ford no less than the choice of good over evil: freedom is indivisible. (If 2 is an unfair inference from 1, the rest of the fusionist argument is unintelligible.) The further fallacy? The notion that all freedoms are equal. Freedom does have value, but its value is adducible only in terms of the objectives it serves. And to suppose we are unable to distinguish and discriminate between such objectives on the basis of their value is to repudiate the very idea of value. 3) In matters where economic considerations are relevant, the market economy is the only system that respects the supremacy of freedom. The fallacy? The assumption that economic freedoms are the only freedoms at stake in market decisions. 4) The rules of the market have divine sanction. The fallacy? There is none; if 1, 2 and 3 are valid, 4 follows indisputably. All mixed questions – i.e., those involving social, political or moral problems, in addition to economic ones — may be answered by libertarian economics; nay must be, as the fusionists insist, on the authority of the Lord.

The second argument is that “political freedom cannot long exist without economic freedom.” The rhetorical expedient here, a favorite with libertarians for as long as I can remember, is to convert the modern apotheosis of political freedom into a mandate for economic freedom via an argument from circumstance: since experience has shown that the two freedoms are intertwined, if Mrs. Roosevelt wishes people to enjoy the first, she must agree to let them have the second also.

Political vs Economic Freedom

Now there is no denying the argument’s usefulness in conservative-Liberal polemics; but is it, in the Euclidian terms in which it is typically advanced, true? Let us define political freedom as the freedom to participate in the making of public policy, and economic freedom as the freedom to invest wealth, labor and ideas in economic enterprises. Economic freedom in England is severely restricted, but I do not know of any political freedoms that have lapsed during the course of English socialization, nor of any that are in greater danger of lapsing today than they were in 1945. The same is true of the United States. Indeed, given the current lay of public sentiment, I fail to see how one can gainsay the general sense of Professor Auerbach’s contention that the only way to increase economic freedom in our country is to restrict the political freedom of the people who advocate and vote for the economic restrictions. In a word, men can exercise their political freedom against their economic freedom, and they have done so in most Western countries for many years with great injury to economic freedom but practically none at all to political freedom. And looking at the problem the other way around, it is a safe prediction that an elimination of economic controls in, say, Spain could be brought about without the slightest diminution of the Franco regime’s political controls. (Similarly with the alleged connection between economic freedom and “other” — i.e., non-political or “personal” — freedoms. The actual relation depends on the circumstances a) whether the men to whom economic power has been transferred are disposed to curtail freedom generally, and b) whether the objectives of the freedoms in question are interrelated; and while in many cases these circumstances will set in motion a cumulative erosion of freedom, in other cases, demonstrably, they will not.)

If the link between economic and other freedoms is thus tenuous, and if freedom, in any event, is difficult to translate into a “transcendent value,” the real reason libertarians assign absolute value to economic freedom probably lies elsewhere. And I suspect that the explanation is as simple — and as ominous for the future of conservatism — as a group hangover from the century when the argument about the interdependency of freedoms was exactly reversed: when, that is to say, instead of demanding economic freedom for the sake of political and other freedoms, libertarians demanded the other freedoms for the sake of economic freedom. And the latter argument, given its premises, did make sense. For if it is true, as the nineteenth century came increasingly to believe, that the chief good to which society can aspire is maximum satisfaction of man’s material wants, there is no denying the claims of the classical economists; maximum freedom for everyman to invest his wealth, labor and ideas in economic enterprises does provide maximum satisfactions; and the only question left open is whether this is what life is really about. Let me not be misunderstood. The claims of the free market are strong: satisfaction of material wants is a good; the qualities of initiative and self-reliance, an awareness of personal responsibility — the sheer pleasure of freedom; these are also goods. But they are not the only goods, nor even the greatest. And the commonwealth that treats them as though they were — and so uses the market economy as the yardstick for measuring its virtuousness in “mixed” matters as well as strictly economic ones — is not going to get very far toward virtue.

Which is to suggest our answer to the question posed earlier: Is the libertarian “emphasis” in the conservative movement worth fretting about? Before submitting a general answer, however, it will be well to summarize the position we have been content to call “traditionalist”:

1. The goal of man is virtue — the fulfillment of the potentialities of his God-oriented nature. Man’s purpose therefore is to seek virtue. God rewards or punishes depending on how individual man, each judged in the context of his peculiar circumstances, conducts the quest.

2. The chief purpose of politics is to aid the quest for virtue. Man’s corruption necessitates many such aids. The peculiar function of politics is to create a commonwealth whose institutions — one of which is the state — will reflect as nearly as possible the ideal values of truth, beauty and goodness, and so help instill them as real values in the consciousness of its citizens.

3. Political (and economic) freedoms are, in this sense, “institutions” which the prudent commonwealth will adopt in such measure as they are conducive to the virtue of its citizens.

4. Free will inheres in human nature as a condition of each man’s personal quest for virtue. Without it, the quest could not take place — movement toward the goal would be impossible. Without it, no less important, the quest would be unnecessary — the goal would be at hand. Short of the goal, no man will lack opportunity for exercising free will. As the goal approaches, the occasions for exercising it will diminish, as it merges into the will of God.

5. The urge to freedom for its own sake is, in the last analysis, a rebellion against nature; it is the urge to be free from God.

Modern history, broadly considered, is the history of this urge, the odyssey of what Richard Weaver has called “the flight from center.” This is not the place to labor the details of the development — the revolt of Renaissance Man, the effort to justify the revolt through the skepticism of Rationalist Man, the final ejection of God from the world by Enlightenment Man, the inevitable drawing of conclusions by Materialist and Positivist Man, the eventual despair of Existentialist Man — the diabolical reaction of Communist Man. It is enough to see that libertarianism, however innocent and generous its motives, is a part of this process, and a stage of its development.

What is the Promise?

To put the matter in its simplest terms, the nineteenth century with its antecedents produced the twentieth century, and was incapable of producing any other kind of century. Therefore the question that needs asking, as I see it, is whether the modern conservative movement — as long as it is saddled with the notion that freedom comes first and virtue second — has anything substantially different to offer from its nineteenth-century precursor? If it does not, can it hope to bring about a different result the second time around? Should it come to power, can it promise anything but a Custer’s Last Stand against the final engulfment?

These misgivings may be put otherwise. I have written elsewhere that the root reason Liberalism cannot do battle against Communism is that it is neurotically committed, by its philosophical premises, to the victory of its enemy. Since both Liberalism and Communism, as Eric Voegelin has pointed out, are expressions of the gnostic heresy that the salvation of man and of society can be accomplished on this earth, there is no effective answer Liberals can give, other than their emotional scruples, to the Communist discovery that the earthly paradise is to be realized, not by changing society, but by changing man.

While the libertarian disability comes from a different source, it is, I fear, no loss crippling. For what the freedom-first people fail to understand is that the Communist proposal to “change man” is an answer to a problem theyhave created. The Communist answer is to give man a nature, and thus a purpose outside of himself — exactly the thing that six hundred years of Western “progress” have progressively denied him. Communist “nature,” which sees man as destined for absorption by society as the penultimate step in the grand march to an Earthly Eden is, of course, a monstrous perversion of truth. But there it is: some purpose, some hope — where, with the rejection of the Christian Ideal of “absolution” in God, there was no purpose and no hope. The worldwide rush to Communism in all of its forms — and “rush” it is when you think of the manifest baseness of the thing — can only be explained in terms of man’s longing for a “center,” and his willingness to reach for the only one presently in sight.

The differences within the conservative dialogue, as Meyer has said, are matters of “emphasis.” But emphasis can be the difference between up and down. The story of how the Free society has come to take priority over the good society is the story of the decline of the West.

National Review, September 11, 1962

Roman Question by Lord Acton

John Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton

It is felt on all hands that the real importance of the movement provoked by the late war in Italy, and checked neither by the preliminaries of Villafranca nor the peace of Zurich, lies in the insurrection of the Romagna. This is the crowning achievement of Piedmontese policy; in comparison with it even the acquisition of Lombardy assumes secondary proportions. It is the great difficulty which awaits the future congress, the turning-point of the struggle for Italian independence, and the test of its success. The interest of every party is concentrated for the time on Bologna. There it is that the revolutionary movement exhibits its real character, and that its adherents most openly acknowledge their real designs. At no period has the temporal power of the Pope so universally attracted the attention of men; never has it been so completely the keystone of European politics. Often before now it has been called in question, often attacked, sometimes overthrown; but no hostile enterprise, whatever may have been its success for a while, has ever borne so earnest and menacing a character as that which is now directed for the second time against the throne of Pius IX. On no other occasion have the apprehensions of the Catholic world been so strongly excited, or its sentiments more energetically declared. All men have become dimly conscious that this is no mere effort of religious antipathy, or of a transitory political ambition. The attack is against principles rather than facts; it is the product of a combination such as has not yet been seen; it is not a new fact only, but almost a new phase of history.

The whole Catholic Episcopate have uttered their powerful and solemn protest, and the Bishops of France and Sardinia have been amongst the foremost. In many countries the laity have publicly condemned the rising in the Legations, and have proclaimed their attachment to the temporal government, and their adhesion to the act of the clergy. This is what was to be expected. It is incredible that the Bishops should not be unanimous, or that they should not be generally followed by the faithful, and supported by those who are of mark amongst them. But the gravity of the present crisis is to be found in the fact that, in the mass of those who bear the name of Catholics, the feeling which is so general is not universal, that in the question of the temporal power they are not unanimous. No Protestant power assisted in the insurrection, no Protestant doctrine had any thing to do with it. It has been the act of a Catholic people, abetted by Catholic powers. Catholicism is not enough to prevent men from joining in the work. Their sentiments in regard to it are not determined by their religious professions. The line which separates religious parties does not coincide with the division of opinions respecting it. Only a portion of the Catholic world has spoken, or has sympathised with the speakers. If we may apply a very arbitrary term, it is the Ultramontane portion of the Catholic body from which this protest comes. The existence of this distinction between Catholic and Ultramontane, almost as important for the cause of truth as that between Christianity and Catholicism, and the fact that the terms are not recognised as synonymous, is that which gives such momentous importance to the dangers now besetting the Church.

In the experimental sciences, where the insufficiency of our knowledge produces a corresponding incompleteness in our perception of the harmony between science and religion, we are compelled to proceed on the admission that, though there can be no discrepancy between God’s words and His works, the harmony is not always fully apparent. But this separation cannot be admitted in life, or in those kinds of thought which directly affect practice. All those ideas which influence our actions must necessarily be brought into harmony with religion, which is the supreme guide of our actions. Our astronomical or our geological knowledge may not be able in all cases to furnish a confirmation of the facts of revelation; it is impossible, for instance, that both the Ptolemaic and Copernican theory should be equally consistent with Scripture. But that which is merely a deficiency in our knowledge, would be an error in our practice, where our proceedings must bear testimony to our religion. To demand this testimony from science, and to be indifferent to it in matters of practice, would alike be proofs of the weakness of our faith. These faults are common amongst us at the present day. There are men who are resolved to discover evidences of faith even where they do not exist; and who therefore shape their knowledge, as they should their actions, by their notions of religion.[1] Such persons would be unwilling to admit that there can be a link wanting in the empirical proof of the original unity of languages. They would rudely deny that human vestiges can have been discovered in the drift thousands of years earlier than the received chronology of Scripture. Others, again, transfer to the practical order what is inevitable in scientific inquiry. They do not care to reconcile or to compare the teaching of their reflection with that of their religion: whilst one party assumes an agreement to exist where none can be proved, the other neglects it where it is imperative. Still, our lives are influenced by our notions not of natural but of moral science. In order that our lives may be in harmony with religion, our ideas must be in harmony with it also.[2] It is in the recognition of this last truth that what is called Ultramontanism, as opposed to a system of indifference as to the agreement between our several rules and motives of conduct, substantially consists. It signifies the conscious harmony of all our opinions with our belief; the habit of viewing profane things through the medium of religion, and of judging them by the standard which it supplies.

If Catholics often neglect to carry their religion into temporal concerns, and are jealous of allowing it to encroach on ground which is beyond its own immediate sphere, by a happy inconsistency Protestants often admit in secular matters conclusions which they could not derive from their religious system. They will accept the consequences of Catholicism, whilst they refuse to acknowledge the source from which they spring. They are practically Ultramontanes in all but religion; for they sincerely maintain principles which in reality are corollaries of Catholic doctrine. Naturally such men, though not submitting to the Church, are attracted towards her; and it is to this school of Protestants that we owe much of what has been written to her advantage, and much of the moral support which she now receives in the political world. For if it cannot be said that all Catholics are partisans of the Pope as a temporal ruler, it is by no means true that all who are not Catholics are against him. Many who would rejoice at the disappearance of his spiritual authority, feel bound to support him as a legitimate sovereign; and among the most earnest defenders of the Protestant faith there are many stanch friends of the temporal rights of the Holy See. That cause has been abandoned and assailed only by such Protestants as have false political ideas, and by Catholics who understand neither religion nor policy.

Among the professions of attachment to the temporal power which have come from Catholics, those which treat it as a matter solely affecting religion appear to us of a very questionable character. This line of thought is not only false, but also eminently injudicious and unsafe. It narrows the ground on which the cause can be defended, and necessarily increases the number and zeal of its opponents. If we say that the temporal power of the Pope is to be maintained simply for the interests of religion, that the Catholic Church alone would suffer by its abolition, and that it differs not so much in its importance as in its nature from the authority of other princes, we challenge all who are not conciliated by this argument to do their worst against it. If the Church alone is interested in the preservation of the Roman state, those who are not of the Church must be interested in its destruction. It would be an act of the greatest injustice, to deny to the subjects of the Pope, on account of a religious interest which they do not consider paramount, a right which is acknowledged to belong to the rest of mankind. It is invidious to assert that the subjects of the Pope must be necessarily less free than those of other princes. Can any spiritual necessity be an excuse for so gross a political wrong? On the contrary, the cause of the temporal power is the cause of other religions and of all other states, and it is in the interest of them all to preserve it. It has two sources of strength, each attracting its own supporters, and provoking its own adversaries; it has the same rights as all other temporal authority, and it has, moreover, the Church for its protection. If its defence rested purely upon Catholic grounds, it would have no defenders out of the Church, whilst there are many traitors within. If we tell our adversaries that the temporal power is necessary to the spiritual, and is inseparably bound up with the Catholic doctrine, they will ask us how it is that all who are in communion with the head of the Church are not partisans of his temporal dominion. If it depends on religious considerations only, how is it that so many Catholics are not persuaded by them? Are there no sincere believers in Catholic doctrines among the liberals of the Continent? Unfortunately we have a divided camp, because religious arguments alone will not avail in a question which equally belongs to the political department.

The union of the temporal and of the spiritual authority in the same hand is a bond of union between the enemies of each. That combination of political and religious animosity — of the hatred which is inspired by a legitimate sovereign with the hatred which is felt for the head of the Catholic Church — is the special character of the present movement. As the motives of attack are twofold, so also are the grounds of the defence. The movement cannot be successfully met where its real character is not understood. A religious interest is at stake, but also a political principle. It is the peculiar nature of the crisis, that many Catholics are revolutionary, whilst the revolution itself is directed against Catholicism. The opposition offered to the Church on religious grounds has given place to a more vigorous opposition on political grounds. The religious element in a movement originally political is a very significant circumstance, and it is a new one.

The first French Revolution deprived the Pope of his dominions; and yet its cause was properly only political. Pius VII. was brought to Rome, not by a Catholic crusade, but by an alliance of the English, the Russians, and the Turks. The crimes and sufferings of that period were aggravated by the want of religion, not occasioned by hatred of it. The Revolution was at first a political theory, and the instrument of men without belief. Now the unbelief is the motive, and points out the ends to be aimed at. Instead of a political doctrine, it has become a religion of fanatics. The men of 1789 pulled down the Church because they considered her an adjunct of the State; the revolution of 1859 attacks the State chiefly that it may destroy the Church. At the end of the last century she did not seem a very serious enemy. She fell apparently with so little effort and so little resistance, that she was soon forgotten in the conflict with more threatening adversaries. Her persecutors bestowed no further thought upon her, and never dreamed she could revive. Protestants, who took no part in the work of pillage and destruction, looked all at once with unwonted compassion upon an enemy they had fought so long, and who now seemed completely prostrate; and this was the beginning of that fairness, especially in the historical treatment of the Church, which was displayed by Protestants, whose hatred had departed with their fear.

After repeated triumphs in the political order, the revolutionary party began to perceive that the Church, which they deemed irrecoverably implicated in the ruin of the civil institutions which they had succeeded in destroying, was rising again more powerful than ever, and was furnishing states with a new power of resistance. They understood that their successes were insecure so long as she remained, and they saw that she would prove their most formidable and their most implacable foe. Twice since the first great catastrophe the political revolution has made its way through Europe: once it was entirely political; the second time it was at once political and social; but each time it struck at the throne and not at the altar, and each time the Church was the principal gainer. The independence of Catholic Belgium is the monument of the revolution of 1830; the Austrian Concordat of the revolution of 1848. So far was the latter from being essentially directed against religion, that one republican government suppressed another solely because it had usurped the throne of the Pope. It is in consequence of this great inconsistency that the revolution has become awake to the consciousness of its real character and purpose; and it is in connection with the French occupation of Rome that its inherent enmity to religion has been revealed. It has been the singular fate of the restorer and maintainer of the temporal authority of the Pope to conjure up against it a far greater danger than that which he dispelled. He has been unable to escape from the consequences of the revolution by which he holds his power.

Since the revolution has prevailed in the majority of states (and it reigns, under different disguises, at Paris as well as Turin), it has used its victims as instruments for the destruction of that power which alone could give them strength to resist it, and could be their ground of hope for their political redemption. The great triumph of the revolution has hitherto been to dissociate Church and State. The destruction of the temporal power (the sequestration of the Roman States) is the necessary conclusion of a work of which the confiscation of the property and the rights of the Church in each Catholic country was the necessary preliminary. She is the only anti-revolutionary power left standing; and consequently the revolution on the throne, and the revolution in the streets, unite their forces to deal her a blow in the only quarter in which she is accessible to their assaults. The strongest confirmation of our view, that the revolution aims directly at the ruin of the Church, and that its first step is to put the governments over which it has obtained power into a hostile attitude towards the court of Rome, is furnished by the only Catholic power that has succeeded in resisting the influence and overcoming the elements of the revolution. In Austria the revolution was crushed, and served only to increase the strength and energy of the government; and in Austria the Church was called on to complete the victory, and to aid in the work of restoration. Accordingly Austria was the first object of the attack which was aimed at the Roman States, because she was the first outwork of the Papal power. It was an undefined sense of this which, in the shape of denunciations of the Concordat, contributed so materially to the isolation of Austria during the late war. The states which assisted the revolutionary movement against the Church combined against the state which was combating the revolution by the aid of the Church. The Italian war was one act in the execution of a design of which the end is the extermination of the Catholic Church. Henceforward she will continue the chief object of the revolutionary efforts; and their success or their defeat depends on the solution of the Roman question.

It is a question affecting the foundation of all government — not concerning the good or bad government of Rome. The work of M. About, together with the clamour in the English press and in parliament, have so far succeeded in putting out of sight the real point at issue, and the real merits of the question, that many Catholics have been betrayed into the imprudence of defending the Roman government on the ground that it is far better than its adversaries affirm. We cannot but look with extreme suspicion on such an argument as this. It admits the foundation of our enemies’ case, and accepts the discussion on grounds on which it can never legitimately rest. It overlooks the real question, and supposes an obvious absurdity — that the quarrel is with the accidental defects of the Roman government, not with its essentially ecclesiastical character. Does any serious person believe that, judged either on principles of centralisation or of self-government, whether we apply the criterion of the Code-Napoleon or that of the Times, — the shifting symbol of the political faith of Englishmen, — the temporal administration of the priesthood can be made to appear a good one? Can any Catholic, who knows the tests which Frenchmen and Englishmen commonly apply, desire that Rome should be well governed in their eyes? Would anybody be satisfied if it were governed after the manner of Piedmont, which is the Englishman’s ideal abroad; or upon the Bonapartist plan, which seems to be the ideal of Frenchmen? Who is so insane as to believe that, if the most plausible grounds of complaint were removed, — if the roads were safer, the clergy less numerous, the people more wealthy, — a dozen voices among the thousands which raise their clamour now would be reduced to silence, or that any attempt to vindicate the reformed system at Rome would receive a more favourable hearing than meets its present defenders? The ecclesiastical government cannot accept its trial on this ground; it cannot recognise the jurisdiction of a tribunal which judges by a code that the Church herself must condemn. It is impossible to deny all the conclusions if we admit the premises, or to discuss the application of a criterion which we repudiate. There is a very old feud between the Church and the world, and it has not been settled by the admission of the secular code. We may not and cannot capitulate with the prevailing prejudices and habits of thought which chiefly distinguish this from past ages. The ecclesiastical government cannot be made palatable to the present generation. We cannot reconcile our contemporaries to the facts of the Catholic world, if we cannot reconcile them to its ideas. Every argument is vain which does not recognise that it is the divine institution, not the human defect, which men assail in Rome. If its government was the best in the world, calumny, by being less plausible, would be only more malignant and ingenious. Frenchmen see no salvation except in their own system of centralisation; and England has never been able to offer to other countries any thing but the phantoms of her own legislative institutions. Both are incompatible with the nature of a priestly government; either would be destruction to it. It is on this that its enemies found their calculations. They desire that its incompatibility with their notions of government should be manifested; and that the proof itself should be its ruin and their own justification.[3] We have not forgotten the time when Pius IX. was popular in England; and we know how his popularity was obtained, and how it was lost. He exhibited from the first the character and designs of a reforming and constitutional prince; but whilst his civil administration was making him popular, the Queen’s Colleges in Ireland called forth an act of ecclesiastical authority which was fatal to his political prestige. People believed that they had been deceived; they declared that his liberality was a pretence, that the old spirit was unchanged and unchangeable. From that time the alliance of political liberalism with the pontifical authority has been abandoned on both sides. Neither expects any thing henceforth from the other. Pius IX. called to the head of his government a man who was the very type and model of an enlightened liberal after the modern fashion, — an economist, bred at Paris and Geneva; a man of ability, but without belief, and who had first come under the notice of the Pope as the agent of the French government for the expulsion of the Jesuits. The liberal system had its day; and the result of the trial was conclusive: the Pope had done all he could, and was not responsible for the calamities which made the failure more signal. The trial was his own personal act, opposed to the habits of centuries, and to the advice of the majority of the Cardinals. He cannot undertake the responsibility of a renewal of an experiment which so conspicuously failed; and still less can we desire that he should renew, in the shape of a vigorous despotism, an attempt in which liberalism betrayed him, or that he should try, under the influence of France, what was unsuccessful under the influence of England.

We have no wish to assert that the Roman government offers a model of what government ought to be; still less do we mean to represent it as one which Englishmen ought to admire. It is impossible that, under existing circumstances, it should be exempt from great difficulties and great defects, or that there should not be difficulties and defects peculiar to it. They are of a kind which, we will undertake to say, is more keenly felt by the administrators than by the subjects. But the source of this imperfection lies in the very quarter from which the remedy is now proffered. It is not necessary to introduce into Rome a system in harmony with the ideas of the age; for it was done long ago, and the consequences stare us in the face. The difficulty is not in the Roman system, but in its opposition to the French reforms which have been grafted on it. The misfortune consists in its compulsory infidelity to its own traditions, not to the absence of modern elements. The more faithfully the ecclesiastical government pursues its own principles and its own ends, consistently with its laws and traditions, the more widely will it be at variance with the system by which it was altered first of all, and by which it is now condemned. We do not, therefore, wonder at the difficulty, we should wonder at its absence; and we believe it due to the attempts which have been made to assimilate the Roman government with that of other states.[4]

There is a wide divergence, an irreconcilable disagreement, between the political notions of the modern world and that which is essentially the system of the Catholic Church. It manifests itself particularly in their contradictory views of liberty, and of the functions of the civil power. The Catholic notion, defining liberty not as the power of doing what we like, but the right of being able to do what we ought, denies that general interests can supersede individual rights. It condemns, therefore, the theory of the ancient as well as of the modern state. It is founded on the divine origin and nature of authority. According to the prevailing doctrine, which derives power from the people, and deposits it ultimately in their hands, the state is omnipotent over the individual, whose only remnant of freedom is then the participation in the exercise of supreme power; while the general will is binding on him.[5] Christian liberty is lost where this system prevails: whether in the form of the utmost diffusion of power, as in America, or of the utmost concentration of power, as in France; whether, that is to say, it is exercised by the majority, or by the delegate of the majority, — it is always a delusive freedom, founded on a servitude more or less disguised. In one form and under one pretext or another, the state has been absolute on the Continent of Europe for the last 300 years. In the sixteenth century absolutism was founded on religious zeal, and was expressed in the formula cujus regio, illius religio.In the seventeenth century it assumed the garb of legitimacy and divine right, and the king was believed when he said, “L’état c’est moi.” In the eighteenth century arbitrary government found a new and stronger basis in the theory of the public good, of the greatest happiness of the greatest number, and justified every act of tyranny by the maxim, the king is the first servant of the state. All these principles of despotism are incompatible with the Catholic ideas, and with the system by which the Pope, on pain of being in contradiction with himself, and with the spirit and practice of the Church, is compelled to govern. They are condemned by the traditions, and by the moral obligations, of the Court of Rome, whose system is one of charity and of liberty, and which knows no public consideration which is superior to the salvation of souls. It cannot be described more truly than in the words of Cardinal Sadolet: “Quod ut in exercitu, sic etiam in publicis rebus quotidie fit: ut summa re salva, quicquid prreterea detrimenti in amissis civibus aut militibus factum sit, id pro nihilo pame ducatur; at nobis ministris et sacerdotibus summi Dei, nihil tale impositum est ; qui non curare commeatus et copias, neque cultus vitre, aut quemadmodum ea commode traducatur ; sed viritim singulos homines servare et custodire jubemur.”[6] If we apply this standard impartially to the temporal administration of Rome since the first French occupation, we shall assuredly not find there a perfect or consistent development of the Catholic notion of government. Rome has not escaped the infection of popular ideas, though it preserved longer than other continental states the old habits of administration, and resisted longer the general tendency towards the absolutism of the state. At the time when other ecclesiastical states were proverbially the best-governed portions of Europe, the Roman States were not reckoned an exception; but with the revolution came centralisation, and the concentration into feeble hands of a useless power — the system, in short, of those states where the public ends neutralised and absorbed the liberty of the subject. In France, centralisation is a natural consequence of the whole notion of the rights of the state, which makes an absolute claim, for its own paramount purposes, on the cooperation of every individual. In Rome, no such right can be acknowledged: the increased power of government cannot be applied to the purposes for which it was originally intended; it must be made to serve the ends which in the eyes of the rulers are supreme, the welfare of individuals. The power which is not used in the exercise of rights which the State does not claim, must either be wasted, or applied to ends which in other countries are not considered within the scope of government. Absolute government must be either despotic or paternal. It is despotic if, as in most continental states, it is used for public or external ends; it is paternal if, as in Rome, it confines itself to private concerns. Hence the interference of government is felt in Rome as unpleasantly as elsewhere; for the unpopular side of centralisation is exhibited, and at the same time the public objects of centralisation, which, in the shape of glory or of monumental splendour, or of a symmetrical uniformity of administration, reconcile the people of other countries to a system which presses upon all the good sentiments of men, and wins them by their passions or their follies, are wholly abandoned. The Romans have lost their self-government in consequence of the French invasion, and have not obtained those material compensations which the French would have given them. The people are not fit for the old system; the government is unfit to administer the new, which the people demand, and which is pressed upon it by the whole weight of the public opinion of Europe. By a series of concessions which have not conciliated those who exacted them, the independent growth of a purely Catholic form of government has been impeded. This compulsory approximation to the practice of other countries is one great cause of dissatisfaction and of defect in the Roman States.

The combination of heterogeneous elements in the administration disinclines the people towards it: they have lost the old habits, and have become accustomed to ideas which are not fully admitted. Whilst the old Roman government is no longer so intelligible or so sacred to them, the temporal advantages which other countries enjoy are a temptation to imitate them. The Romans cannot be permanently contented with a vague mixture of old notions with new: they have neither the moral benefit of one system, nor the material advantages of the other; consequently the discontent in the Roman States, so far as it is independent of the revolutionary and Sardinian propagandism, is provoked both by the reforms and by the unreformed portions of the administration. For consistency’s sake some change is needed, either backwards or forwards; whether a change for the better, — real improvements such as have been often meditated in Rome, — would have given strength to the government, is another question. In order to expect that real improvements would satisfy the malcontents, we must admit the discontent to be founded on just motives and on true views. Discontent may be a sign of disease; it is no proof that the disease is in the quarter, or the remedy in the changes, indicated by the discontented party.

Add to this the inherent antagonism between the political system of an unbelieving age and that of the Catholic Church, — each of them burning what the other adores, — and the Roman question ceases to be so great a puzzle. Reforms are undoubtedly required: many have been introduced, more are promised. But we doubt whether they can seriously strengthen the government, and we are sure they cannot silence its adversaries. But if it is impossible that they should succeed in imposing their reforms upon the temporal dominion, it is equally certain that they cannot succeed in destroying it.

It is founded on the most sacred of human institutions, on the rights both of property and of sovereignty. It arose, as the necessary foundation of the liberty and independence of the Church, in ages when property was the indispensable condition of liberty, and sovereignty the only security for independence. For the Church requires that her head should be independent among other princes, that her ministers may be free among the subjects of princes. The sovereignty of the Holy See virtually began at the same time as the freedom of the Church ; and the same prince who gave the Milan decree, transferred the seat of empire to a new Rome, jubente Deo, as Constantine himself declares,[7] in order that the head of the Catholic Church might never henceforth be impeded in the free exercise of his supreme authority by the presence of any other sovereign authority in Rome. The course of events since then has rendered the temporal sovereignty of the Holy See more and more necessary, and has gradually extended its dominion. It is not absolutely essential to the nature and ends of the Church; it has its source in causes which are external to her, in the temporal condition of the world, not the spiritual aims of the Church; and as the world becomes impregnated with her ideas, the necessity of the temporal power would probably disappear. It is her protection against the State, and a monument of her imperfect victory over the ideas of the outer world. It is not so much an. advantage as a necessity, not so much desirable as inevitable. It is required, in order to save her from the political designs and combinations of a system in whose name she is now required to surrender it. It appears to us that the temporal dominion over the Roman people may pass away when the spiritual dominion is acknowledged by all nations. We do not see that the manner in which the temporal power is assailed is a sign of attachment to the spiritual power, or that it gives us any reason to believe that the time is approaching when an institution which the public will of Europe cannot permanently suspend is about to depart, as it arose, for the greater security of religion.

The temporal power is not only a sign of the Church-militant, and a proof that her triumph over the world is not complete, but it is at the same time a result of the influence which in former ages she exercised in a far greater degree than now. As an acknowledgment of the veneration in which she is held, it must be as dear to those who reverence her as it is hateful to those who do not. Whilst that influence subsists, it must produce and preserve corresponding external signs of its action. Those who hope and believe that the influence is gone, naturally desire the abolition of so conspicuous a proof of its power. Those who feel and know that it exists, and wish to see it increased, cannot surrender that which is its most striking outward manifestation without acknowledging at the same time the hopeless decline of the spirit of which it is the expression. The attachment of Catholics to the Holy See is not so feeble that they cannot preserve this remnant of more faithful times. We shall defend it both for the sake of the piety and of the policy which have so long preserved it. In consenting to the abolition of a natural product of the spirit of religion, all Catholics must feel that their religion is precluded from calling forth similar results of the devotion she inspires, — that her influence for the future is confined, her freedom sacrificed. It is their duty to prove that the spirit which was universal of old, is still powerful enough to maintain against the unbelief of this age the most venerable institution of the ages of faith.

The Pope’s temporal power is inconsistent, we are told, with modern opinion, and with the spirit of the times. The Church may not be stationary in her forms while the world advances; she must take her part in the general progress, and must be modified according to the varying requirements of successive ages. But the temporal power is not more inconsistent with the ideas to which it is to be sacrificed than the spiritual power; and it is not inconsistent with the system of ideas which the Church follows, and by which her spiritual authority is maintained. There have been periods in history when the Church has required to modify her temporal condition in order to be in harmony with the altered aspect of the world, and the spirit of a different age. It is natural and necessary that this should be, because religion, which is eternal and universal truth, inevitably combines with every partial truth. In our day all men have become aware that the same old contrast of the institutions of the Church with the notions of the age subsists once more. The same demand is addressed to her as of yore, — that she should adapt herself to altered circumstances and increased enlightenment by putting away whatever is antiquated in her system, that is, whatever least tallies with the prevailing opinions of the moment; and another emperor assumes the office and claims the merit of Constantine, Charlemagne, and Henry III. But there is this great difference, that the system to which those princes endeavoured to adapt the situation of the Holy See was each time founded and formed on the Catholic ideas. They altered ancient forms in conformity with the development of the system of the Church herself; they brought her into harmony with herself, not with an extraneous system, and made her more able than she had been to pursue her own ends in her own way. The wisest and holiest of her clergy inspired and supported the undertaking, whose purpose it was to promote the influence and augment the authority of the see of Rome agreeably with the universal demand of the Christian world. But the system of ideas by which the Church is now judged, and which men attempt to impose on her, is not the growth of Catholic ages, or the product of Catholic doctrines; it is not adopted where they are held in their utmost integrity; but is promulgated in countries either heretical or infidel, and is supremely antagonistic, not to the present practice of the Church only, but to her whole history. It is a reform which not only acknowledges present defects, but implies a permanent and continuous error in her whole course; and condemns, therefore, the essence, not an accident. Every step taken in obedience to it removes her further from her own traditions and her proper ends.

For this reason we repudiate, not the interference of foreign powers merely, but their advice. The Holy See requires protection not only from the hatred of those who would destroy it, but from the errors of ostensible friends, whose improvements would be equally dangerous. Reforms such as are commonly recommended would be irreparable. It would be better that the Holy Father should be at the mercy of the English fleet, or that he should govern the Church from Gaeta, than that he should be compelled to govern his dominions on the principles of the French administration.

We are told that the Church would be stronger in her own sphere if she were freed from the reproach of being connected with a defective temporal government, which, if it cannot be reformed, had better be abolished. Yet few of those who speak so ill of the temporal government of Rome are really solicitous for the strength of the spiritual rule. It is hard to believe that both its friends and its enemies should have miscalculated to so great an extent; that a change which the Bishops of the Church have universally condemned, which no Catholic of note has any where admitted as a possibility, and which at the same time her bitterest enemies so eagerly labour to enforce, should in reality promise a great benefit to her. Is it more likely that she would gain or lose if, on this important point, the league of her most violent enemies should succeed in overcoming the resistance of all her most faithful friends? The argument founded on the scandal of the bad government seems to us egregiously foolish, if it is not always hypocritical. Would those who cannot trace in the sovereign of the Roman States the features of Christ’s vicar upon earth, have recognised on Calvary between two thieves the person of the Son of God? The visible signs can satisfy only those who are capable of perceiving the invisible signs as well.

The height of malignant absurdity is the plan which those who are ready to sacrifice the temporal power propose for the maintenance of the Pope. If he has not his own revenues, he must live upon the contributions either of governments or of the faithful. None, of course, can be expected from those states that are not Catholic; and there can be no security for their continuance in Catholic states. In France, where no institution is safe, no promise sacred, even for a single generation, there would be little hope of the discharge of so onerous and unpopular an engagement. Such a payment would depend on the durability of the government by which it was undertaken, on the continuance of a respect for religion in the ruling quarters; and it would be exposed to all the risks of revolution, changes of administration, financial necessities, and war. It would not be as safe as the interest of a loan. Yet many powers, Austria and Spain among the number, have failed to pay debts on the punctual discharge of which their financial credit depended. Such a plan would render the Head of the Church dependent for his maintenance on powers almost all of which have despoiled the Church at home. Long before the French Revolution there was a tendency, common to all Catholic countries, to curtail the revenues which the Pope drew from them. It will hardly be said that a religious spirit is so much more deeply rooted now that the recurrence of such a danger is out of the question. There is no European state in which a tribute such as is proposed would be worth five years’ purchase.

Nearly the same arguments apply against an exclusive reliance on the other alternative, the direct contributions of the faithful, or Peter’s Pence. They would be liable to nearly all the contingencies which render uncertain and valueless a similar tax imposed upon the states. They would be interrupted not only by changes of religious belief, but by fluctuations of religious sentiment, by war, by pressure of taxation, by the law of the land. A purely voluntary system, which was not maintained even in the middle ages, would be still less practicable now.

The points on which we have briefly touched are some of the most ingenious and insidious of those which are advanced by the enemies of religion, and those by which Catholics are most likely to be impressed. They are not the true motives of our antagonists. For men who are moved by hatred and envy we have no arguments in reply. There are adversaries whom we must combat, whom we cannot reconcile. Their measures are not founded on a mistake; they know what they want, and how to seek it. They are right in regarding the Catholic Church as the irreconcilable enemy of their opinions and their designs, in treating the temporal power of the Pope as the foremost bulwark of the Church. But we too know what it is that we wish to preserve, and we know how to preserve it; and in the conflict with our antagonists we shall be as consistent and as uncompromising as they.

The position of the Catholics of England is clear. They are bound by their religious allegiance to the Pope, and by political consistency to the maintenance of his legitimate sovereignty. In this respect they have a great advantage over the inhabitants of Catholic Europe in general. “Where revolutionary theories prevail, and where governments are founded on the sovereignty of the people, they are compelled by political consistency and the force of principle to promote elsewhere the principle on which they themselves are founded. It is hard for a French Catholic to speak with detestation of a revolution by which a nation asserts its rights over its rulers;[8] it is hard for him to envelop in a common censure, as one great political crime, the Italian war and the insurrections of Central Italy. Englishmen are more fortunate in the analogy of their own constitution, and in the examples of the history of their country of the two principles on which alone both sovereignty and property repose — right and might. The former is the principle of our constitution, and was the guide of our policy from the time of the Stuarts to that when, after twenty years of war, we restored the Bourbons in France, not as the best, but as the rightful sovereigns. We have seen since then a most signal token of the fall of the old parties, by the decline of the old opinions, in a new theory adopted by degenerate Whigs and degenerate Tories, and carried into action at the time of the European congresses, of which the prophet was Mr. Canning. According to this policy, the rights of sovereignty are transferred from the prince to the people, and no government is secure except by its power. Against this view, which unquestionably prevails now in the public opinion and the policy of England, and will probably prevail until a great national danger has aroused in us a horror for doctrines by which our independence and our freedom are imperilled, we have no other weapon but force, no argument but intimidation. We can only obtain influence over those who admit it by a display of our unanimity in respect of the Temporal power. This is now our only security; and it is a very feeble one, for it is doubtful whether in numbers and influence we equal the party in whose eyes the Pope is as Antichrist, and the war against him is a holy war. But it remains for us to appeal to the public law which is at the foundation of our whole political system, and to do our utmost to revive those principles which England has already suffered for forgetting, and which are the strongest security of her own greatness, as well as of the temporal power of the Pope.


[1] “The Catholic Church, and with her all great and sound theology and philosophy, ever true to her character from the time of the fathers to the present age, has always maintained the agreement which God has established between reason and revelation, faith and science. Accordingly, she has at all times defended the claims of human reason together with the claims of faith; and the time is at hand, nay, it has already come, when it must be the vocation of the Church to provide for the safety not only of faith, but also of reason and philosophy, against a hopeless scepticism and a spiritless materialism on the one hand, and a false mysticism on the other.” Professor Heinrich of Mentz, preface to the German translation of Deehamps, Le libre Examen de la Verite de la Fui, p. xiii.

[2] One of the most remarkable men of our time says of his own conversion: “J’ai toujours été croyant dans le fond de l’âme; mais ma foi était stérile, parce qu’elle ne gouvernait pas mes pensées. . . . Cependant, si, aux jours de mon plus grand oubli de Dieu, on m’eut dit: Tu vas abjurer le Catholicisme, ou souffrir d’horribles tourments, je crois que j’aurais subi les tourments plutôt que d’abjurer.” Donoso Cortes, Œuvres, ii. 119.

[3] Le droit canon, inflexible comme le dogme, immobile au milieu du mouvement des siècles, est essentiellement distinct du droit légal, variable comme les besoins et les intérêts de la société ; il a pu s’adapter aux premiers temps de la civilisation chrétienne, lorsque Charlemagne transportait dans ses capitulaires les régies et les préceptes de la théocratie; mais le droit canon ne saurait suffire a la protection et au développement de la société moderne.” Napoleon III et I’Italie, p. 26.

[4] That the discord of which we speak is the key to the modern history of the Roman state, is abundantly shown in a work which will shortly appear in French, under very high auspices, and which will serve as a useful corrective to Farini. A simple illustration is the fact, that after vaccination had been made compulsory in Rome by the French, the law was abolished, we believe by Leo XII., as an excess of authority.

[5] Nearly the earliest and clearest exponent of this doctrine is Spinoza, who says, “Nulla ratione posse concipi quod unieuique eivi ex civitatis instituto liceat ex suo ingenio vivere,”—”It is utterly inconceivable that each subject should be allowed by the constitution of the state to live according to his own choice.”

[6] “The common military and also political practice of taking next to no account of the loss of individual soldiers or citizens, provided the army or state is saved, is by no means binding on us ministers and priests of the most high God; our care is not for supplies of money or men, nor for the ornaments and conveniences of life, but our office to save and watch over each man individually.” De Christiana Ecclesia, 1539 ; Mai, Spicilegium, iii. 103.

[7] Codex Theodosianus, xiii. 5, 7.

[8] “Pour ma part, j’ai toujours professe la doctrine que la majorité des états de l’Europe moderne, — la Suède, l’Angleterre, le Portugal, la Hollande, la Belgique, la Grèce, — ont consacrée par leur exemple telle de la souveraineté nationale, de la nécessite du consentement des peuples au gouvernement qui les régit.” Montalembert, Pie IX et la France, p. 25.

Rambler, January 1860

Xmas and Christmas: A Lost Chapter from Herodotus by C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis

And beyond this there lies in the ocean, turned towards the west and north, the island of Niatirb which Hecataeus indeed declares to be the same size and shape as Sicily, but it is larger, though in calling it triangular a man would not miss the mark. It is densely inhabited by men who wear clothes not very different from the other barbarians who occupy the north western parts of Europe though they do not agree with them in language. These islanders, surpassing all the men of whom we know in patience and endurance, use the following customs.

In the middle of winter when fogs and rains most abound they have a great festival which they call Exmas and for fifty days they prepare for it in the fashion I shall describe. First of all, every citizen is obliged to send to each of his friends and relations a square piece of hard paper stamped with a picture, which in their speech is called an Exmas-card. But the pictures represent birds sitting on branches, or trees with a dark green prickly leaf, or else men in such garments as the Niatirbians believe that their ancestors wore two hundred years ago riding in coaches such as their ancestors used, or houses with snow on their roofs. And the Niatirbians are unwilling to say what these pictures have to do with the festival; guarding (as I suppose) some sacred mystery. And because all men must send these cards the marketplace is filled with the crowd of those buying them, so that there is great labour and weariness.

But having bought as many as they suppose to be sufficient, they return to their houses and find there the like cards which others have sent to them. And when they find cards from any to whom they also have sent cards, they throw them away and give thanks to the gods that this labour at least is over for another year. But when they find cards from any to whom they have not sent, then they beat their breasts and wail and utter curses against the sender; and, having sufficiently lamented their misfortune, they put on their boots again and go out into the fog and rain and buy a card for him also. And let this account suffice about Exmas-cards.

They also send gifts to one another, suffering the same things about the gifts as about the cards, or even worse. For every citizen has to guess the value of the gift which every friend will send to him so that he may send one of equal value, whether he can afford it or not. And they buy as gifts for one another such things as no man ever bought for himself. For the sellers, understanding the custom, put forth all kinds of trumpery, and whatever, being useless and ridiculous, they have been unable to sell throughout the year they now sell as an Exmas gift. And though the Niatirbians profess themselves to lack sufficient necessary things, such as metal, leather, wood and paper, yet an incredible quantity of these things is wasted every year, being made into the gifts.

But during these fifty days the oldest, poorest, and most miserable of the citizens put on false beards and red robes and walk about the market-place; being disguised (in my opinion) as Cronos. And the sellers of gifts no less than the purchaser’s become pale and weary, because of the crowds and the fog, so that any man who came into a Niatirbian city at this season would think some great public calamity had fallen on Niatirb. This fifty days of preparation is called in their barbarian speech the Exmas Rush.

But when the day of the festival comes, then most of the citizens, being exhausted with the Rush, lie in bed till noon. But in the evening they eat five times as much supper as on other days and, crowning themselves with crowns of paper, they become intoxicated. And on the day after Exmas they are very grave, being internally disordered by the supper and the drinking and reckoning how much they have spent on gifts and on the wine. For wine is so dear among the Niatirbians that a man must swallow the worth of a talent before he is well intoxicated.

Such, then, are their customs about the Exmas. But the few among the Niatirbians have also a festival, separate and to themselves, called Crissmas, which is on the same day as Exmas. And those who keep Crissmas, doing the opposite to the majority of the Niatirbians, rise early on that day with shining faces and go before sunrise to certain temples where they partake of a sacred feast. And in most of the temples they set out images of a fair woman with a new-born Child on her knees and certain animals and shepherds adoring the Child. (The reason of these images is given in a certain sacred story which I know but do not repeat.)

But I myself conversed with a priest in one of these temples and asked him why they kept Crissmas on the same day as Exmas; for it appeared to me inconvenient. But the priest replied, “It is not lawful, O stranger, for us to change the date of Chrissmas, but would that Zeus would put it into the minds of the Niatirbians to keep Exmas at some other time or not to keep it at all. For Exmas and the Rush distract the minds even of the few from sacred things. And we indeed are glad that men should make merry at Crissmas; but in Exmas there is no merriment left.” And when I asked him why they endured the Rush, he replied, “It is, O Stranger, a racket”; using (as I suppose) the words of some oracle and speaking unintelligibly to me (for a racket is an instrument which the barbarians use in a game called tennis).

But what Hecataeus says, that Exmas and Crissmas are the same, is not credible. For first, the pictures which are stamped on the Exmas-cards have nothing to do with the sacred story which the priests tell about Crissmas. And secondly, the most part of the Niatirbians, not believing the religion of the few, nevertheless send the gifts and cards and participate in the Rush and drink, wearing paper caps. But it is not likely that men, even being barbarians, should suffer so many and great things in honour of a god they do not believe in. And now, enough about Niatirb.

Conservative s in Pursuit of Truth by Frank S. Meyer

Frank S. Meyer

A correspondent in the May 16 issue of National Review, commenting upon Russell Kirk’s article on John Stuart Mill and my rejoinder thereto, raises an issue of the most serious moment. My difference of opinion with Mr. Kirk on the place of the concept of liberty in political thought, he sees as representing a “fundamental-and irreconcilable ideological division among those who call themselves conservatives.”

That this issue is fundamental I agree, but I do not think it is irreconcilable. There is no question but that in the ranks of those who are dedicated to the conservation and revitalization of the great tradition of the West, there exist diverse emphases upon different aspects of that tradition. More particularly, there is a very sharp division between those who emphasize continuity and authority and those who emphasize reason and the autonomy of the person as the basis of their opposition to the prevailing relativism and ·value nihilism, collectivism, and statism. But these emphases are not irreconcilable, even if they are sometimes so one-sided as to lose sight of their mutual interdependence.

The one emphasis, traditionalist and authoritative, stressing the values expressed and maintained in the tradition of Western and Christian civilization, tends to regard economic and political forms as comparatively unimportant, and to underestimate a great insight of that tradition, that those values cannot be compelled, that they can only be freely chosen by each individual person. Or, to the degree that it does recognize the importance of freedom, it tends to assume that freedom will automatically prevail and that the economic and political forms necessary to safeguard it will spontaneously arise if only the moral ends of human existence and the traditional prescriptions in which they are incorporated are maintained. Deeply aware that truth and good are the ends of man’s existence, it too easily loses sight of the essential condition of man’s pursuit of those ends: he cannot choose the good and the true unless he is free to choose, and that must mean as free to reject as to accept.

The Other Extreme

The other emphasis, individualist and libertarian, puts at the center of its consideration the prime condition of the search for truth: freedom. Concerned by the fearful threat to the pursuit of value that concentrated power constitutes, particularly under the circumstances of modern technology, it stresses the political and economic prerequisites of freedom. It insists upon the limitation of the state to its essential functions of defense, the preservation of order, and the administration of justice and upon the untrammeled operation of a capitalist market economy as the incommutable foundations of that freedom in an industrial society. Concentrating upon the safeguards of freedom and the power of reason to arrive at any understanding of freedom, it sometimes tends to forget that reason is well-grounded only when it operates within tradition, that is, in the light of the accumulated wisdom of the generations; and, in its concern with the preservation of the freedom of the individual person, it can lose sight of the philosophical values which are at the same time the ends which freedom serves and the very foundation of that respect for the innate dignity of the individual person upon which the defense of freedom rests.

Although these two emphases in conservative thought can and do pull away from each other, and although there is serious danger of their so doing when the proponents of either forsake their common heritage of belief in immutable value as man’s proper end and his freedom under God as the condition of the achievement of his end, it is precisely because they mutually possess that very heritage that their division is not “irreconcilable.” Extremists on one side may look with equanimity upon the recrudescence of an authoritarian status society if only it promulgates the doctrines in which they believe. Extremists on the other side may care not what becomes of ultimate values if only their political and economic individualism prevails. But both extremes are self-defeating: truth withers when freedom dies, however righteous the authority that kills it; and free individualism uninformed by moral value rots at its core and soon surrenders to tyranny.

A Confusion of Levels

Such extremes are not the necessary outcome of the principled pursuit of the truth. Discussion or dialectic between different emphases based upon the same fundamental understanding is the mode by which finite men have achieved much of the wisdom contained in tradition. Through it they can attain today a common position to which “the wise and the honest may repair” – if only the protagonists, in pressing that aspect of the truth which they regard as decisive, do not totally exclude from their consideration other and complementary aspects of the same truth.

The essence of the problem is, in my opinion, the confusion of the metaphysical with the moral-political levels. Thus, the aforementioned correspondent accuses me of being “in love with the ‘freedom to choose, ‘ not with the truth that that freedom may lead to.” But the point is that the “truth” is a metaphysical end and “the freedom to choose” is, so far as human beings are concerned, the moral-political condition of achieving that end.

There is no more logic in the conclusion that a love of freedom implies a disbelief in, a lack of enthusiasm for, ultimate values than there is in the Liberal canard that a belief in ultimate values makes impossible a belief in freedom. The reverse is the case: the belief in ultimate values and the belief in freedom are dependent one upon the other, integral aspects of the same understanding. The love of liberty and the love of truth are not the hostile standards of irreconcilable parties; rather they form together the twin sign of any viable conservatism.

National Review (June 6, 1956), 16

Western Civilization: The Problem of Political Freedom by Frank S. Meyer

Frank S. Meyer

Western civilization arose in southern and western Europe on the ruins of the Roman empire, the final political form of Classical civilization. It is and has always been unique among the great civilizations of the past five thousand years, whose existence is the substance of recorded history. It is unique not simply in the sense that each civilization – the Egyptian or Chinese or Classical – is manifestly different from all the others, but in a much more profound sense. In its most important characteristics it stands apart not merely from each of them but from all of them; it is differentiated from them by almost as sharp a leap as differentiated the other civilizations from the precivilization cultures of the Neolithic age. This is, I know, a disconcerting, even a shocking, statement by the standards of the cultural relativism that prevail in twentieth-century historical thought. I can only ask my readers to bear with me while I attempt to sustain it with a brief discussion of the civilizational history of mankind and the place of the West in the sweep of that history.

The significance of any civilizational order derives from the way in which it organizes the life and outlook of the individual persons who compose it in their relations to the universe in which they live-that is, in the way it relates the person to moral values, spiritual forces, the material environment, the other persons who make up the society. The various civilizations have done this in discernible styles. It is that style which defines their specific character.

For the first twenty-five hundred years of recorded history men lived in civilizations of similar styles, a style for which the Egyptian may stand as the type. These cosmological[1] civilizations conceived of existence so tightly unified and compactly fashioned that there was no room for distinction and contrast between the individual person and the social order, between the cosmos and human order, between heaven and earth, between what is and what ought to be. God and king, the rhythms of nature and the occupations of men, social custom and the moral imperative, were felt not as paired opposites but as integral unities. The life of men in these civilizations, in good times and bad, in happiness and unhappiness, proceeded in harmony and accord with nature, which knows no separation between what is and what ought to be, no tension between order and freedom, no striving of the person for individuation or the complement of that striving, the inner personal clash between the aspirations of the naked self and the moral responsibilities impressed by the very constitution of being.

Exceptions, modifications, to this basic mode of human life there undoubtedly were. Man in his essence has always been, as Aristotle long ago saw, part animal, part spiritual. The clash at the center of his nature was never totally stilled. We have indeed documents from Mesopotamia and Egypt which show the stirrings of the impulses that shaped later ages. Nevertheless these are but stirrings; they do not express the age or affect the essential character of the cosmological civilization. They are but premonitions of what is to come.

When it came, it came with historic suddenness. It came in different ways and for different reasons among two peoples of two new civilizations-the Greeks of Classical civilization and the Jews of the Syriac civilization. The way of its coming was as different as the character of these two peoples was different, but the new understanding was in essence the same. It shattered the age-old identity of the historic and the cosmic. It burst asunder the unity of what ought to be and what is. It faced individual men for the first time with the necessity of deep-going moral choice. In a word, it destroyed the unity of what is done by human beings and what they should do to reach the heights their nature opens to them. And, in doing so, this understanding created, for the first time, the conditions for individuation, for the emergence of the person as the center of human existence, by separating the immanent from the transcendent, the immemorial mode of living from its previous identity with the very constitution of being. The arrangements of society were dissociated from the sanction of ultimate cosmic necessity; they were desanctified and left open to the judgment of human beings. But that transcendent sanction remained the basis of the judgment of human life. The transcendent was not destroyed; it was reaffirmed in terms more profound and awesome than ever. The earthly immanent and the transcendent heavenly remained, but how now were they to be related each to each?

The nexus, the connecting link between the transcendent and the immanent, between the eternal and the historical, could be no other than the human person. Living in both worlds, subjected by the demands of his nature to transcendent value and at the same time maker of history and master of society, he was suddenly (suddenly as historical process goes) revealed to himself as a creature whose fate it was to bridge this newly yawning gulf.

I am not saying, of course, that the multitudes who made up Hellenic and Judaic society thought in these terms or even dimly glimpsed them conceptually. I do maintain two things: first, that the inspirers of the two societies, the prophets of Judah and Israel and the philosophers of Greece, grasped this new condition of mankind, grasped it in fear and trembling, and, secondly, that their understanding shaped the enduring ethos of their societies as surely as the ethos of the Pharaoh God-King shaped the society of Egypt.

This common understanding of the Judaic and Hellenic cultures was expressed, of course, in radically different forms-so different, indeed, that these cultures have been more commonly conceived as polar opposites than as different expressions of the same stupendous insight. This is not to deny what is sharply opposed in the two cultures, most especially their different understandings of the relationship of man to the transcendent. But the overriding fact is that in both these cultures, at their highest level, there emerged a clear distinction between the world and the transcendent, as well as the startlingly new concept of a direct relationship between men and the transcendent.

In the Hellenic civilization it was the philosophical movement culminating with Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle that raised to the level of consciousness this new understanding of the nature of men and their relations to ultimate things. The sense of the individual, the person as over against society, had been inherent in the ethos of the Greeks from the dim beginnings of Hellenic civilization. Such a sense is apparent already in Hesiod and Homer. It inspires the human scale of their archaic temples, as contrasted with the monstrous inhumanity of scale of ziggurat, pyramid, and sphinx. But this inherent tendency of the Greek spirit did not, for a number of reasons, decisively shape Hellenic society. In the beginning, in the Northern war bands from which it arose, the collectivity of the pack contended always against the individual spirit; also, from that heritage it drew a religious practice and a pantheon of gods almost devoid of transcendence. Further, Hellenic civilization developed in its youth under the looming influence of the great cosmological civilizations of the East, and when the aridity of its inherited pantheon drove men to search further, the mystery religions which arose were saturated through and through with Eastern concepts. Finally, when the civilization reached maturity, the classical social form it assumed was the polis, the city-state, which was a tight unity of society, government, and religion. Despite the fact that within that form there was immeasurably greater room for the development of the individual personal consciousness than in the older civilizations, the shadow of the past and the limiting shackles of the life of the polis smothered and distorted the full emergence of the new consciousness.

It was the contradiction between the inherent Hellenic awakening to the possibilities of a new state of being and the trammels of the inherited old with which the Greek philosophers wrestled. What they created out of their struggles was the first systematic intellectual projection of an independent relationship between free men and transcendent value. (I stress “intellectual” because nearly simultaneously, in the Israel and Judah of the Prophetic age, there emerged another form of the same understanding, expressed not in intellectual but in existential and historic terms-a development I shall be discussing shortly.) The power and analytical depth of the Hellenic intellectual achievement were so great and profound that it has remained ever since a firm foundation for the philosophical and political thought of men who have been concerned with the freedom of the person and the authority of transcendent truth. But, as essential as the work of the Hellenic philosophers has been to the growth of this understanding, they were limited and their thought was distorted by two factors. Their limitation and distortion prevented, particularly in their political theory, the fullest confrontation with the radical independence of human beings before earthly institutions, their dependence only upon the transcendent. Of these two factors, the first, the problem of what might be called Utopianism, is best considered after we have discussed the Judaic Prophetic experience, since it is a factor that affects it as well as the Hellenic philosophical experience. The second factor was the effect of the life of the polis upon the consciousness of the Greek philosopher.

The mode of being of men living in the polis was effectively constrained by the character of that community. As I have said, the polis was at once state, society, and religious cult, all wrapped up in one. The citizen of such a state was truly, as Aristotle called him, “a political animal,” that is, an animal of the polis. It was the polis that gave him stature; outside of it, he was only potentially human. Such men the Greeks called “barbarians” – making little distinction between uncivilized tribal peoples and the subjects of the great civilized empires of the Middle East.

There was reason in this disdain in which the men of the polis held the cosmological civilizations of the Middle East. Although the form of the polis stood between its citizens and their full achievement of freedom by independent individual confrontation of the transcendent realm of value, it did so in a different way and to a far less degree than did the cosmological societies. Hellas had broken loose from a world in which human existence was completely absorbed in the cosmos, in which the earthly and the transcendent were so merged that the person could not stand free, clearly and sharply delineated from the surrounding universe. But this new consciousness of the Hellenic spirit was bound still by the necessity of expressing itself through a collectivity – no longer the cosmic collectivity of the Middle East, but a socio-political collectivity, the polis. It was, indeed, a great leap forward towards men’s consciousness of their personhood and their freedom, because now the limiting form on individual freedom and individual confrontation of transcendent destiny was a collectivity composed of the subjective spirit of men, not the objective, totally external, force of iron cosmic fatality. Nevertheless, the Hellenic philosophers who expressed this spirit at its highest level always had to struggle, in their farthest penetrations towards the meaning of human existence, against the circumstances of being and thought created by polis society.

The Judaic experience was extraordinarily parallel to the Hellenic, although its content was very different. The Hebrew prophets, like the Greek philosophers, expressed, at the highest level, the consciousness of a people broken loose from cosmological civilization to confront transcendence. As Exodus is the symbol of that breaking away, the content of the Judaic experience of transcendence is the belief in a unique, personal, revealed God.

But here also, as among the Greeks, a social structure distorted the individual experience of transcendence. The potentialities for full individuation inherent in the concept of a God of Righteousness were collectivized. The concept of the b’rith, the compact between God and the Chosen People, placed the collectivity of the Judaic people, rather than the individuals who made up that collectivity, as the receptor of the interchange with transcendence. The Prophets strove mightily with these circumstances, as the Greek philosophers struggled with the circumstances of the polis. Future events have taken from them both an inspiration and an understanding that are derived from the thrust of their struggle towards individuation, but neither the philosophy of Hellas nor the prophecy of Israel ever completely threw off the conditioning influence of their social and intellectual heritage.

At the heights of the philosophical and Prophetic endeavors, in a Plato or a proto-Isaiah, as occasionally among their predecessors and followers, the vision cleared and a simple confrontation between individual men and transcendence stood for a moment sharply limned. But at these heights of understanding another problem arose, one I have referred to above when discussing the Hellenic experience and have called the problem of Utopianism. A clear vision of the naked confrontation of individual men with transcendence created a yawning gap in human consciousness. It was something of the effect of eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. On the one hand stood the perfection of transcendence, and on the other the imperfection of human existence. The temptation was enormous to close that intolerable gap, to grasp that understood transcendent perfection and by sheer human will to make it live on earth, to impose it on other human beings – by persuasion if possible, by force if necessary.

The same temptation beset the Hellenic philosophers at their highest reach of vision. The effect of this temptation was portentous for the future, because of its continuing impact upon both the Hellenic and the Judaic traditions, the twin sources from which our Western civilization derives so much of its content. Its effects can be perceived in the most diverse areas: in the effect on Western thought of the concepts of moulding human life implicit in the Utopian society of Plato’s Republic or in the dictatorial powers of the Nocturnal Council in his somewhat less rigid Laws; or in the actual political absolutism, derived from the Judaic tradition, of such polities as Calvin’s Geneva or Spain of the Inquisition or Cromwell’s England. Secularized with the passage of time, the Utopian desire to impose a pattern of what the imposers considered perfection becomes ever more rigid, total, and terrible, as in the allpowerful Nation of the French Revolution or the Dictatorship of the Proletariat of the Communists.

The Utopian temptation arises out of the very clarity of vision that tore asunder the cosmological world-view. Released from the comforting, if smothering, certainties of identifica tion with the cosmic order, men became aware of their freedom to shape their destiny-but with that freedom came an awesome sense of responsibility. For the same leap forward that made them fully conscious of their own identity and their own freedom made them conscious also of the infinite majesty and beauty of transcendence and of the criterion of existence that perfection puts before human beings, who in their imperfection possess the freedom to strive to emulate perfection. A yawning gulf was opened between infinity and finity.

There are two possible human reactions to the recognition of this reality.

On the one hand, it can be accepted in humility and pride – humility before the majesty of transcendence and pride in the freedom of the human person. That acceptance requires willingness to live life on this earth at high tension, a tension of men conscious simultaneously of their imperfection and of their freedom and their duty to move towards perfection. The acceptance of this tension is the distinguishing characteristic of the Western civilization of which we are a part, a characteristic shared by no other civilization in the world’s history.

On the other hand, the hard and glorious challenge of reality can be rejected. The tension between perfection and imperfection can be denied. Men conscious of the vision of perfection, but forgetting that their vision is distorted by their own imperfection, can seek refuge from tension by trying to impose their own limited vision of perfection upon the world. This is the Utopian temptation. It degrades transcendence by tr ying to set up as perfect what is by the nature of reality imperfect. And it destroys the freedom of the individual person by forcing upon him conformity to someone else’s limited human vision, robbing him of freedom to move towards perfection in the tension of his imperfection. It is in form a return to the womb of the cosmological civilization, in which the tension of life at the higher level of freedom was not required of men, in which they could fulfill their duties in uncomplicated accep tance of the rhythms of the cosmos, without the pain or the glory of individuation. But Utopianism is only similar to cosmological civilizations in form; in essence it is something different, because cosmological civilization was, as it were, a state of innocence, while Utopianism comes after the eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of the persons of God and men. It is a deliberate rejection of the high level at which it is now possible for men to live, and as such it distorts and oppresses the human spirit. Yet it has remained, ever since the Hellenic and Judaic break through the cosmological crust, an everprevalent historical factor. In particular, as Western civilization is the civilization that accepts and lives with the tension of spirit, Utopianism has been a constantly recurring destructive force within it.

Indeed, the history of Western civilization is the history of the struggle to carry forward its insight of tension, both against the remaining inherited traumas of the cosmological attitude in its social structure and in its intellectual outlook and against the continuing recrudescence of Utopianism. For Western civilization inherited, as the Hellenic and Judaic did before it, much continuing influence from the long eons of cosmological life. And, although the forms of its thought and the content of its spirit rise directly out of the Hellenic and the Judaic themselves, it broke as far beyond them as they broke beyond the cosmological civilization. It founded itself, in its inmost core, on acceptance of the tension between the transcendent and the individual human person and on the reconciliation of that tension implicit in the great vision of the Incarnationthe flash of eternity into time.

The history of Western civilization, since it came into being out of the fermenting remnants left behind by the death of Classical civilization, is distinguished by a preeminent regard for the person. This is not to say that this regard has always, or indeed generally, been ideally reflected in its institutions and social reality; but it is to insist that, at the heart of the concept of being that forms the limiting notions by which the West has lived, the preeminence of the person has prevailed. And this is true of no previous civilization. It is of course a concept, a view of reality, at the opposite end of the scale from that of the cosmological civilizations. But it also goes radically beyond the intermediate experience of the Hellenic and Judaic civilizations. Although they, each in its own way, broke through the cosmological unity, they did so not in the name of the person as such but rather in the name of collectivities of persons, the polis and the Chosen People.

It was given to the West to drive to fruition the insights glimpsed in Greece and Israel. Its consciousness founded upon the symbol of the Incarnation placed the person at the center of being. From this very deepening of the understanding of the person there arises, even more than in Greece and Israel, a Utopian temptation; and that Utopianism has been expressed right down to our own day in more and more extreme forms. But while the factors we have discussed, which lead to Utopianism, are by the very nature of the Western concept of transcendence more intense than ever before, the symbol of the Incarnation that has made possible that concept and the temptation ensuing therefrom, also offers a resolution of the pressures leading to Utopianism, a resolution that did not exist in Greece and Israel. The simultaneous understanding that there exists transcendent perfection and that human beings are free and responsible to move towards perfection, although incapable of perfection, no longer puts men in an intolerable dilemma: the dilemma either, on the one hand, of denying their freedom and their personhood and sinking back into cosmological annihilation within a pantheistic All, or on the other hand of trying by sheer force of will to rival God and, as Utopians, to impose a limited human design of perfection upon a world by its nature imperfect. The Incarnation, understood as the “flash of eternity into time,” the existential unity of the perfect and the imperfect, has enabled men of the West to live both in the world of nature and in the transcendent world without confusing them. It has made it possible to live, albeit in a state of tension, accepting both transcendence and the human condition with its freedom and imperfection.

It is that tension which is the distinguishing mark of Western civilization. Of course, to say that for the West alone has it been possible to live in that state of tension, to rise above both cosmic absorption and the temptation of Utopianism, is not to say that either the men of the West or the institutions of the West have always, or even generally, existed at the heights that were open to them. It is only to say that in our civilization alone has such a conquest of these twin pitfalls of human history been possible. Further, it is to say that the direction of the understanding of the West has been towards a grasp of this insight, that the institutions of the West at their best reflected it, and that the men of the West at their highest moments were inspired by it. The West has strayed often, indeed constantly, towards the fleshpots of cosmic authoritarianism, as towards the false paradise of Utopianism. The history of the straying in the one and the other direction is the history of the West. But always there remained in the reservoirs of Western consciousness a solution not given to other civilizations, a way out from the impasse of previous human history, the way of its genius – life at the height of tension.

The characteristic concepts, institutions, and style of the West, where they stand in the sharpest contrast to those of other civilizations, are shot through and through with tension. And this is true from the most matter-of-fact levels of existence to the most exalted. Everywhere, impossible contradictions maintain themselves to create the most powerful and noble extensions of the Western spirit. At the most mundane level, the economic, the Western credit system takes leave of hard matter, etherealizing money, the very foundation of production and exchange. The Gothic cathedral, thrusting to the heavens, denies the weighty stone of which it is built, while rising from the center of its city it affirms the beauty of materiality. The doctrine of the Lateran Council, central to the philosophical tradition of the West, proclaimed, after a thousand years of intellectual effort, the pure tension of the Incarnational unity, in radical differentness, of the material and the transcendent. This is the mode of the West at its highest and most typical. But always the human heritage of the cosmological civilizations has pressed upon it, distorting its understanding, exerting a pull dragging it down from the height of its vision.

Nowhere was the effect of this force more profound in stifling and destroying the development of the Western genius than in the political sphere. It is here that the vision of the West should have been translated into actual relations of power that would have made the revolt from cosmologism real through and through the lives of individual men.

The state in the cosmological civilizations, reflecting the overall world-view of these civilizations, was the sanctified symbol of the cosmos. In it resided both earthly and transcendent meaning, unified in a grand power that left to the individual person little meaning or value beyond that which adhered to him as a cell of the whole.

In radical contrast, the vision of the West, splitting asunder the transcendent and the earthly, placed their meeting point in tension, in the souls of individual men. The individual person became, under God, the ultimate repository of meaning and value. That world-view demanded a consonant political structure, one in which the person would be primary and all institutions – in particular the state – secondary and derivative. But Western civilization in Europe never achieved this in serious measure, either in practice or in theory. The continuing heritage of cosmologism, which again and again, in all spheres, arose to resist, weaken, and destroy the Western vision, here, in the political sphere, combined with the natural lust of men for power to maintain in large measure the age-old sanctification of the state as enforcer of virtue.

The Western spirit broke through, of course, so that neither the state nor thought about the state was purely cosmological. In their thought, Christian men could never fully divinize the state; and in their practice, they early created two sets of tensions which divided power, thus effectively preventing the full reemergence of the cosmological state and creating room for the existence of the person to a degree impossible in cosmological civilization. Those two sets of tensions were, on the one hand, the separate centers of power represented by the Church and secular political power – empire or monarchy – and, on the other hand, the broad decentralization of secular power inherent in the feudal system. Nevertheless, both the holders of hierarchical churchly power and of secular power (first, the Holy Roman Emperors and then the emerging territorial monarchs) moved with all their strength to reestablish cosmological unity. The inner spirit of the West resisted and for long centuries the issue swayed back and forth in the balance. Only, indeed, in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, with the subordination of church (whether Protestant or Catholic) to state, with the increasing subordination of feudal and local rights to central authority, with the emergence of the absolutist monarchies of Bourbon, Tudor, and Habsburg, was the Western drive towards diversity and separation of powers tamed. But never, in fact, was cosmologism, even in the political sphere, established in the West. It took cosmologism’s twin, Utopianism, in the form of the mass egalitarian nationalism of the French Revolution, to make the decisive break towards mystical statism, to sow a harvest which was fully reaped by the totalitarianisms of the twentieth century.

All this is not to maintain that the political forms of the West were ever in a deep sense cosmological or even that the Utopian state in its grim parody of cosmologism, approached totalism until the emergence of the Communism and Nazism of our time. It is, however, to assert that Western civilization in its European experience did not achieve political institutions fully coherent with its spirit.

Likewise, the basic thrust of Western political theory on the European continent (and in England, though to a lesser degree) was bound always within the categories of the Hellenic philosophers and the Hebrew prophets. Neither of these influences allowed the expression of the full drive of the Western spirit towards the primacy of the person and the limitation of political powers. The one, bounded by the polis, could only conceive of full freedom of the person in the emancipated flight of the philosopher beyond temporal conditions; the other, inheriting the concept of the Chosen People-even when it enlarged that concept to all humanity in the manner of a proto-Isaiah, could grasp the freedom of the person only in other-worldly relationships between man and God. Both the Hebrew and the Hellenic influences bore strongly against the development of a political philosophy that would provide the basis for a political structure solidly based on the primacy of the person and directed towards achieving the greatest possible freedom of the person.

It is true that the underlying ethos of the West again and again moved in this direction. Much of the thought of medieval political philosophers and legal theorists, some of the arguments of writers on both sides of the Papal-Imperial struggle, the tradition of the common law of England, drive in this direction. But these efforts, while they broke ground for the future, never rose to the creation of a truly Western political philosophy of freedom. And when, in the ferment that culminated in the French Revolution, it seemed as though such a concept might break through, it was swallowed up in the communitarian outlook typified by Rousseau, in the egalitarianism of the collective Nation, and by the Revolution itself and the nationalisms that followed in its wake throughout the continent.

In England, both in practice and in theory, there arose out of the conflicts of the seventeenth century and the relaxation of the eighteenth, something closer to a society of personal freedom and limited government. But the drag of established ideas, institutions, and power held that society back from achieving the political potentiality towards which it was moving.

Thus the stage was set, when the American experience reached its critical point and the United States was constituted. The men who settled these shores and established an extension of Western civilization here carried with them the heritage of the centuries of Western development. With it they carried the contradiction between the driving demands of the Western ethos and a political system inconsonant with that ethos. In the open lands of this continent, removed from the overhanging presence of cosmological remains, they established a constitution that for the first time in human history was constructed to guarantee the sanctity of the person and his freedom. But they brought with them also the human condition, which is tempted always by the false visions of Utopianism.

The establishment of a free constitution is the great achievement of America in the drama of Western civilization. The struggle for its preservation against Utopian corrosion is the continuing history of the United States since its foundation, a struggle which continues to this day and which is not yet decided.

Modern Age (Spring 1968): 120-28


[1] I take this term from Eric Voegelin’s epoch-making Order and History, 3 vols. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1956-57). I owe as well the concept that underlies this section to his work, but – as I have said previously in my In Defense of Freedom (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1962) – I have developed that concept according to my own lights and he is certainly not responsible for the result.

Paul A. Rahe: Constitution of Liberty within Christendom

How the Medieval Church Made Modern Liberty

Paul A. Rahe

The civilization of the West is rendered an intelligible unit and distinguished from the alternatives by three characteristics present nowhere else: monotheism in religion, philosophy, and science as a means for understanding the natural world, and self-government. The first originates with the Jews; the second and third, with the Greeks. They become fully intertwined in the Middle Ages only under the aegis of Western Christianity.

Of course, self-government and liberty are not normally associated in the popular mind with the Roman church. For this error, there is warrant. Classical republicanism, the peculiar form of self-government invented by the Greeks, managed to survive in a dispirited and attenuated form under Hellenistic and Roman domination—but, eventually, it succumbed altogether, and it did so largely because, in its capacity as a universal religion, Christianity destroyed the little that remained of the ancient city’s particularistic foundations. Friedrich Nietzsche was on to something when he dubbed Christianity “Platonism for the people” for it accomplished for the great body of ordinary folk what ancient philosophy had only threatened to do for a tiny and relatively inconsequential elite: It devalued the quest for office, for power, and for glory and it rendered citizenship and civic loyalty at best a secondary concern. Where Pericles’ Athenians had been expected to “judge worthless” any “man who takes no part in politics” and could be described as “one who minds his own business,” Paul’s Thessalonians were enjoined, for the sake of respectability, “to find honor in being quiet” and “to mind” their own “private affairs “Tertullian tells us that his fellow Christians remain “cold in the face of all ardor for glory and honor” and that they have “no need for political gatherings” whatsoever. “There is nothing,” he concludes, “more alien to us than the commonwealth (res publica).” In making this last point, he no doubt goes too far—but not by much. To Christians inclined to take politics seriously, Augustine poses an unanswerable question: “In so far as concerns this life of mortal men, which is conducted and brought to conclusion within a few days, what does it matter under whose rule lives a man who is destined to die—as long as those who rule do not force him to commit impious and iniquitous deeds?”

Not surprisingly, when the Bible replaced Homer, the lives of the martyrs and saints supplanted Xenophon’s Cyropaedeia and Plutarch’s biographies of the noble statesmen and warriors of ancient Greece and Rome. Under the new dispensation, spiritual and temporal authority were both thought to descend from God; and so, properly speaking, men everywhere were subjects, not citizens. In fact, just as the Church was committed to its tutor the pope, so the kingdom was entrusted to its lawful ruler, and the city to its magistrates—all of whom ruled their charges by the grace of God. In time, to be sure, representative assemblies were established in the various kingdoms of the Christian West, and civic republics reappeared in Italy and elsewhere. But it is striking that self-government was initially justified not with an eye to man’s nature as a political animal and to the glorious role assigned the political community in completing and perfecting what nature had already offered men—but in terms of the far more prosaic principle governing the Roman law of private corporations as it had been applied in legal cases concerning the management of waterways: “What touches all in similar fashion shall be by all approved.”

The subsequent recovery of Aristotle’s works, their translation into Latin by William of Moerbeke, and their gradual absorption occasioned second thoughts on the part of some humanists and even a jurist or two. But if truth be told, the heightened civic consciousness which emerged in the republics of Renaissance Italy under the influence of Aristotle, Cicero, and the other ancient writers was never more than half-hearted, if that. Within Christendom (and, even more so, the House of Islam), politics could never regain the primacy it had been accorded within the pagan polities of ancient Greece and Rome. For, as Machiavelli did not fail to recognize, no one who embraced a system of character formation grounded on the distinction between the city of God and the city of man could honestly, and with full conviction, repeat the dictum which Francesco Guicciardini had lifted from Gino di Neri Capponi and Machiavelli had subsequently made his own: “I love my native city more than my soul.”

And yet, if the Greek polis and the Roman civitas disappeared, much of their legacy did not. To conquer Rome, Christianity had to absorb classical culture and learning; and to do that, it had to confront and come to terms with a political philosophy that had managed to defeat, accommodate, and, in some measure, even impose its hegemony on the poetry which served as a foundation for that culture and learning. Tertullian might fulminate against the Christian propensity for employing “that wretched Aristotle, who introduced for the heretics dialectic, which is so expert at building up and tearing down, so crafty in its statements, so forced in its conjectures, so harsh in its arguments, so productive of strife—an annoyance even to itself.” He might ask, “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” He might wonder, “What has the Academy to do with the Church (Ecclesia)?” He might demand to know, “What have heretics to do with Christians?” And in the end, he might proudly assert: “Our education takes place at the Stoa of Solomon, who stipulated that the Lord must be approached in the simplicity of heart. Off with those who have put forward a Stoic, Platonic, and dialectical Christianity. After Jesus Christ, we have no need for curiosity; nor do we need inquiry after the Gospel. When we believe, we desire to believe nothing more. For we believe this before all else: That there is nothing else that we ought to believe.” Tertullian might repeat himself endlessly in the most eloquent Latin prose. He might cite Paul’s injunction to the Colossians to beware lest “someone rob” them of the true faith “through philosophy and an empty deception in tune with human tradition, in tune with the elements of the cosmos, and not in tune with Christ.” But his efforts were of no avail.

Christianity was not, like Judaism and Islam, a religion of holy law; it was first and foremost a religion of faith. Moreover, the Gospel of John had identified the Godhead with speech, argument, and reason (logos), and it had described Christ himself as the logos made flesh. Even Paul speaks of what is demanded by Christianity as “reasonable servitude (logike latreia).” Of course, the author of the epistles to Timothy and Titus also denounced as “blind and demented” those who, “knowing nothing, betray a pathological interest in inquiries (zeteseis) and the logical disputes (logomachias) which give rise to envy, strife, blasphemy, base suspicions, and the violent contentions of human beings corrupt in mind and deprived of the truth”; and in the first epistle to the Corinthians, he juxtaposed “the Greeks” who “seek (zetousi) wisdom” with the Christians who “preach Christ crucified.” But, as even the most vociferous opponents of philosophy were aware, in the Gospel of Matthew, Christ is said to have promised his followers: “Seek (zeteite), and ye shall find.” Yet only two centuries after Tertullian had passed from the scene, when his fellow North African Augustine contended that “faith is nothing if it is not thought through,” he spoke for what had already become the Christian mainstream.

Tertullian unwittingly provides testimony foreshadowing his own defeat, for it is not without significance that, in the passage cited, he calls the Church by the name given the public assembly in the ancient Greek polis: Whether he liked it or not, the civic ekklesia of classical Hellas lived on within the Christian congregation. The man’s eloquence is itself a sign of the reappearance of politics in a new guise. For this, the evidence is dramatic. In the late fourth century A.D., when Gregory of Nyssa visited Constantinople, he found the townspeople, to his great exasperation, debating the theological questions pertinent to salvation with the same verve that their ancestors had reserved for disputes touching on matters of political prudence. “If you were to ask a shopkeeper for your change,” he later remembered, “the man would philosophize to you concerning what is begotten and what is not. If you were to inquire concerning the price of bread, the baker would reply, ‘The Father is greater and the Son, inferior.’ And if you were to ask whether your bath is ready, the attendant would specify that the Son takes his being from no being.” In the early fourteenth century, when Jacques Fournier, the future Pope Benedict XII, became bishop of Pamiers in Ariège in the Comté de Foix and conducted a severe inquisition in his diocese, he found the peasants resident in the mountain village of Montaillou and the illiterate shepherds who wandered back and forth across the Pyrenees in search of work arguing about questions of faith with no less interest and intensity than had been evidenced by the shopkeepers, bakers, and bath attendants of Gregory’s Constantinople. Nearly a millennium had passed, and nothing had changed. Throughout the Middle Ages, Christianity remained what it had been virtually from the start: a great debating society.

There is a sense, then, in which the Church absorbed the res publica, the republic, the public sphere: For the larger questions that had occupied the Greek polis and the Roman civitas, those pertaining to advantage, to justice, and to the common good, were judged in the end to be matters of religious rather than mere political concern, and they were subsumed within the realm of theology—the realm in which speech and reason (logos) were applied by the learned to questions concerning God (theos). Within Christendom, the Church claimed and was accorded moral and political hegemony: It exercised by divine right magisterial power; it possessed the teaching magisterium.

There were, of course, other spheres in which men were left to their own devices to govern their own affairs. The Church claimed spiritual hegemony, but no more. To monarchs, feudal nobles, and communes, it left the managerial, administrative side of politics. This largely coincided with what, in ancient Greece, had been subsumed under oikonomia, “economics” or household management: In consequence, medieval self-government foreshadowed and prepared the way for modern self-government in focusing on what the Romans had contemptuously called the resprivata—the private or domestic sphere, the realm of privation, of labor and provision. It is not, then, fortuitous that Gratian and the other pioneers of canon law found it convenient to revive and elaborate as the foundation for medieval self-government the principle governing the Roman law of private corporations as it had been applied in legal cases concerning the management of waterways: “What touches all in similar fashion shall be by all approved.” The original principle codified common sense by denying to those upstream the right to take all the available water for their own use and to deprive those downstream of that which they, too, had a self-evident right to share. When applied more generally, it nicely described the restricted species of politics that is principally concerned with the accommodation of needs and desires within an association or corporation that is itself narrowly conceived of as constituted by common interests.

This development was rendered possible by the failure of Charlemagne’s heirs to hold Western Christendom together. Had they succeeded in this endeavor, the Holy Roman Empire would probably have come to closely resemble its analog in the Greek East, where late antique Roman forms survived and even flourished, and liberty had no place. There, the division of responsibility between the spiritual and the secular power was only notional, and Caesaro-Papism was the norm, for the Byzantine Emperor’s control of the sword rendered him, in effect, supreme over the Church.

In the West, once Charlemagne’s experiment with universal monarchy failed, precisely because the Church was not coextensive with any particular realm, it managed to establish in some measure its independence from secular control. The Papal monarch was not subject to any particular ruler; and, at times, wielding the weapons of excommunication and edict, he and his bishops managed to exercise considerable leverage within the secular realm. The church that preached submission to the governing, civil authorities was itself often insubordinate.

The liberties conceded to the Church by the secular potentates were part of a larger pattern of political insubordination. In the absence of an effective universal monarchy, western Christendom dissolved into an exceedingly loose federation of notionally subordinate, but effectively independent polities. The weakness everywhere of centralized power made possible the preservation of certain elements of western Europe’s Germanic heritage that would otherwise have fallen by the wayside. If kings were no longer elected by army assemblies as in the days of Tacitus, there nonetheless persisted a notion that popular consent was somehow involved, and monarchs customarily took a coronation oath at the time that they were invested with the magisterial office. In taking that oath, they normally bound themselves to observe the customary laws that were a noteworthy feature of Germanic practice. Moreover, as is evident in the Icelandic sagas, not only law but law-giving and even primitive parliaments were part of the West’s Germanic heritage. Medieval monarchs were supposed to be supreme—but neither arbitrary nor absolute.

Reinforcing this was brute fact: The feudalism that emerged from the anarchy that followed the failure of Charlemagne’s Caesaro-Papist experiment was a constructed order. Kings who purportedly ruled by the grace of God secured allegiance, in fact, by exchanging an oath of fealty with their vassals, an oath that linked lord and vassal alike in a system of reciprocal obligations with land being conferred in return for service. If one broke the contract, the other was released from his obligation to perform. In practice, then, it was impossible for a monarch to make good on the absolutist claims implicit in the notion that he was God’s viceroy on earth. His powers were hedged in by the liberties accorded the church, by his promise to obey the law, and by the feudal contracts that bound him—just as they bound the vassals without whose cooperation and support he would perhaps have had authority but certainly no power. A monarch, such as England’s King John, who sought to liberate himself from such limitations, was likely to face a reckoning of the sort that he, in fact, encountered at Runnymede. As a document, the Magna Carta—extracted from John by a coalition of bishops and barons—nicely embodied the pattern of relationships that gave rise to medieval liberty.

The principle that “what touches all in similar fashion shall be by all approved” was initially lifted from Roman law and embedded in the canon law by Gratian in the eleventh century. Within its narrowly ecclesiastical context, it served to make sense of the fact that the Pope was elected by the College of Cardinals and that monks tended to elect their abbots; the Canons of Cathedrals, their bishops; and the masters at universities, their deans. It was inevitable that principles which prevailed within the Church be applied to the secular order. Canon law was, within western Christendom, the only universal law: Indirectly, at least, it affected everything everywhere. That Gratian’s principle should be cited to make sense of comparable practices already existing in the secular sphere was perfectly predictable. That it should inspire a vast extension of such practices also made good sense.

Monarchs were expected to secure their livelihoods from their own estates and found it impossible to conduct wars without additional revenues. Restrained by law from seizing that which was not their own, they solicited contributions from their subjects, summoning parliaments to parley—to talk and take council—concerning the well-being of the realm, promising a redress of grievances and securing consent to taxation in return. Cities secured charters guaranteeing their right to self-government from distant monarch’s intent on weakening the feudal magnates in the neighborhood. Within communes, guilds received charters devolving on them the right to police a given craft or profession. The peasants were excluded but virtually all other men within medieval society were, in one fashion or another, drawn into networks of consultation under the aegis of the principle that “what touches all in similar fashion shall be by all approved.”

The charters and constitutions that dictated the procedures by which Popes and Emperors, bishops, abbots, and magistrates were elected and that set the terms of self-governance, specified the rights and privileges of those within a given association, and defined its membership were not universal in their application. They were not abstract. They were particular—peculiar to a given corporation. In consequence, medieval men tended to value their liberties rather than liberty itself. But the principle underpinning the chartered liberty of the Christian epoch was no less universal and no less abstract than the principle embedded in our own Declaration of Independence. It is—or, at least, it seems—but a short step from asserting that “what touches all in similar fashion shall be by all approved” to contending that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” and that “to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed” so that “whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to affect their Safety and Happiness.” The character of the remarkable step that bore Western man from the medieval to the modern principle, the manner in which, and the reasons why it was taken deserve exceedingly careful attention.

The Intercollegiate Review, Fall 1997

Edmund Burke: Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs

Edmund Burke

In Consequence of Some Late
Discussions in Parliament
Relative to the
Reflections on the French Revolution

1791

Mr. Lechmere 1

“It becomes an indispensable duty upon us, who appear in the name and on the behalf of all the commons of Great Britain, not only to demand your Lordships’ justice on such a criminal, [Dr. Sacheverell,] but clearly and openly to assert our foundations.”

That the terms of our Constitution imply and express an original contract.
That the contract is mutual consent, and binding at all times upon the parties.
The mixed Constitution uniformly preserved for many ages, and is a proof of the contract.

“The nature of our Constitution is that of a limited monarchy, wherein the supreme power is communicated and divided between Queen, Lords, and Commons, though the executive power and administration be wholly in the crown. The terms of such a Constitution do not only suppose, but express, an original contract between the crown and the people, by which that supreme power was (by mutual consent, and not by accident) limited and lodged in more hands than one. And the uniform preservation of such a Constitution for so many ages, without any fundamental change, demonstrates to your Lordships the continuance of the same contract.

Laws the common measure to King and subject.
Case of fundamental injury, and breach of original contract.

“The consequences of such a frame of government are obvious: That the laws are the rule to both, the common measure of the power of the crown and of the obedience of the subject; and if the executive part endeavors the subversion and total destruction of the government, the original contract is thereby broke, and the right of allegiance ceases that part of the government thus fundamentally injured hath a right to save or recover that Constitution in which it had an original interest.”

Words necessary means selected with caution.

The necessary means (which is the phrase used by the Commons in their first article) words made choice of by them with the greatest caution. Those means are described (in the preamble to their charge) to be, that glorious enterprise which his late Majesty undertook, with an armed force, to deliver this kingdom from Popery and arbitrary power; the concurrence of many subjects of the realm, who came over with him in that enterprise, and of many others, of all ranks and orders, who appeared in arms in many parts of the kingdom in aid of that enterprise.

“These were the means that brought about the Revolution; and which the act that passed soon after, declaring the rights and liberties of the subject, and settling the succession of the crown, intends, when his late Majesty is therein called the glorious instrument of delivering the kingdom; and which the Commons, in the last part of their first article, express by the word resistance.

Regard of the Commons to their allegiance to the crown, and to the ancient Constitution.”

But the Commons, who will never be unmindful of the allegiance of the subjects to the crown of this realm, judged it highly incumbent upon them, out of regard to the safety of her Majesty’s person and government, and the ancient and legal Constitution of this kingdom, to call that resistance the necessary means; thereby plainly founding that power, of right and resistance, which was exercised by the people at the time of the happy Revolution, and which the duties of self-preservation and religion called them to, upon the NECESSITY of the case, and at the same time effectually securing her Majesty’s government, and the due allegiance of all her subjects.”

All ages have the same interest in preservation of the contract, and the same Constitution.

“The nature of such an original contract of government proves that there is not only a power in the people, who have inherited its freedom, to assert their own title to it, but they are bound in duty to transmit the same Constitution to their posterity also.”


Mr. Lechmere made a second speech. Notwithstanding the clear and satisfactory manner in which he delivered himself in his first, upon this arduous question, he thinks himself bound again distinctly to assert the same foundation, and to justify the Revolution on the case of necessity only, upon principles perfectly coinciding with those laid down in Mr. Burke’s letter on the French affairs.


Mr. Lechmere.

The Commons strictly confine their ideas of a revolution to necessity alone and self-defence.

“Your Lordships were acquainted, in opening the charge, with how great caution, and with what unfeigned regard to her Majesty and her government, and to the duty and allegiance of her subjects, the Commons made choice of the words necessary means to express the resistance that was made use of to bring about the Revolution, and with the condemning of which the Doctor is charged by this article: not doubting but that the honor and justice of that resistance, from the necessity of that case, and to which alone we have strictly confined ourselves, when duly considered, would confirm and strengthen [N.B. The remark implies, that allegiance would be insecure without this restriction.] and be understood to be an effectual security of the allegiance of the subject to the crown of this realm, in every other case where there is not the same necessity; and that the right of the people to self-defence, and preservation of their liberties, by resistance as their last remedy, is the result of a case of such NECESSITY ONLY, and by which the ORIGINAL CONTRACT between king and people is broke. This was the principle laid down and carried through all that was said with respect to ALLEGIANCE; and on WHICH FOUNDATION, in the name and on the behalf of all the commons of Great Britain, we assert and justify that resistance by which the late happy Revolution was brought about.”

“It appears to your Lordships and the world, that breaking the original contract between king and people were the words made choice of by that House of Commons,” (the House of Commons which originated the Declaration of Right,) “with the greatest deliberation and judgment, and approved of by your Lordships, in that first and fundamental step made towards the re-establishment of the government, which had received so great a shock from the evil counsels which had been given to that unfortunate prince.”


Sir John Hawles, another of the managers, follows the steps of his brethren, positively affirming the doctrine of non-resistance to government to be the general moral, religious, and political rule for the subject, and justifying the Revolution on the same principle with Mr. Burke,—that is, as an exception from necessity. Indeed, he carries the doctrine on the general idea of non-resistance much further than Mr. Burke has done, and full as far as it can perhaps be supported by any duty of perfect obligation, however noble and heroic it may be in many cases to suffer death rather than disturb the tranquillity of our country.


Sir John Hawles.2

“Certainly it must be granted, that the doctrine that commands obedience to the supreme power, though in things contrary to Nature, even to suffer death, which is the highest injustice that can be done a man, rather than make an opposition to the supreme power [is reasonable3], because the death of one or some few private persons is a less evil than disturbing the whole government; that law must needs be understood to forbid the doing or saying anything to disturb the government, the rather because the obeying that law cannot be pretended to be against Nature: and the Doctor’s refusing to obey that implicit law is the reason for which he is now prosecuted; though he would have it believed that the reason he is now prosecuted was for the doctrine he asserted of obedience to the supreme power; which he might have preached as long as he had pleased, and the Commons would have taken no offence at it, if he had stopped there, and not have taken upon him, on that pretence or occasion, to have cast odious colors upon the Revolution.”


General Stanhope was among the managers. He begins his speech by a reference to the opinion of his fellow-managers, which he hoped had put beyond all doubt the limits and qualifications that the Commons had placed to their doctrines concerning the Revolution; yet, not satisfied with this general reference, after condemning the principle of non-resistance, which is asserted in the sermon without any exception, and stating, that, under the specious pretence of preaching a peaceable doctrine, Sacheverell and the Jacobites meant, in reality, to excite a rebellion in favor of the Pretender, he explicitly limits his ideas of resistance with the boundaries laid down by his colleagues, and by Mr. Burke.


General Stanhope.

Rights of the subject and the crown equally legal.

“The Constitution of England is founded upon compact; and the subjects of this kingdom have, in their several public and private capacities, as legal a title to what are their rights by law as a prince to the possession of his crown.

Justice of resistance founded on necessity.

“Your Lordships, and most that hear me, are witnesses, and must remember the necessities of those times which brought about the Revolution: that no otherremedy was left to preserve our religion and liberties; that resistance wasnecessary, and consequently just.”

“Had the Doctor, in the remaining part of his sermon, preached up peace, quietness, and the like, and shown how happy we are under her Majesty’s administration, and exhorted obedience to it, he had never been called to answer a charge at your Lordships’ bar. But the tenor of all his subsequent discourse is one continued invective against the government.”


Mr. Walpole (afterwards Sir Robert) was one of the managers on this occasion. He was an honorable man and a sound Whig. He was not, as the Jacobites and discontented Whigs of his time have represented him, and as ill-informed people still represent him, a prodigal and corrupt minister. They charged him, in their libels and seditious conversations, as having first reduced corruption to a system. Such was their cant. But he was far from governing by corruption. He governed by party attachments. The charge of systematic corruption is less applicable to him, perhaps, than to any minister who ever served the crown for so great a length of time. He gained over very few from the opposition. Without being a genius of the first class, he was an intelligent, prudent, and safe minister. He loved peace, and he helped to communicate the same disposition to nations at least as warlike and restless as that in which he had the chief direction of affairs. Though he served a master who was fond of martial fame, he kept all the establishments very low. The land tax continued at two shillings in the pound for the greater part of his administration. The other impositions were moderate. The profound repose, the equal liberty, the firm protection of just laws, during the long period of his power, were the principal causes of that prosperity which afterwards took such rapid strides towards perfection, and which furnished to this nation ability to acquire the military glory which it has since obtained, as well as to bear the burdens, the cause and consequence of that warlike reputation. With many virtues, public and private, he had his faults; but his faults were superficial. A careless, coarse, and over-familiar style of discourse, without sufficient regard to persons or occasions, and an almost total want of political decorum, were the errors by which he was most hurt in the public opinion, and those through which his enemies obtained the greatest advantage over him. But justice must be done. The prudence, steadiness, and vigilance of that man, joined to the greatest possible lenity in his character and his politics, preserved the crown to this royal family, and, with it, their laws and liberties to this country. Walpole had no other plan of defence for the Revolution than that of the other managers, and of Mr. Burke; and he gives full as little countenance to any arbitrary attempts, on the part of restless and factious men, for framing new governments according to their fancies.


Mr. Walpole.

Case of resistance out of the law, and the highest offence.
Utmost necessity justifies it.

“Resistance is nowhere enacted to be legal, but subjected, by all the laws now in being, to the greatest penalties. It is what is not, cannot, nor ought ever to be described, or affirmed in any positive law, to be excusable; when, and upon what never-to-be-expected occasions, it may be exercised, no man can foresee; and ought never to be thought of, but when an utter subversion of the laws of the realm threatens the whole frame of a Constitution, and no redress can otherwise be hoped for. It therefore does and ought forever to stand, in the eye and letter of the law, as the highest offence. But because any man, or party of men, may not, out of folly or wantonness, commit treason, or make their own discontents, ill principles, or disguised affections to another interest, a pretence to resist the supreme power, will it follow from thence that the utmost necessity ought not to engage a nation in its own defence for the preservation of the whole?”


Sir Joseph Jekyl was, as I have always heard and believed, as nearly as any individual could be, the very standard of Whig principles in his age. He was a learned and an able man; full of honor, integrity, and public spirit; no lover of innovation; nor disposed to change his solid principles for the giddy fashion of the hour. Let us hear this Whig.


Sir Joseph Jekyl.

Commons do not state the limits of submission.
To secure the laws, the only aim of the Revolution.

“In clearing up and vindicating the justice of the Revolution, which was the second thing proposed, it is far from the intent of the Commons to state the limits and bounds of the subject’s submission to the sovereign. That which the law hath been wisely silent in, the Commons desire to be silent in too; nor will they put any case of a justifiable resistance, but that of the Revolution only: and they persuade themselves that the doing right to that resistance will be so far from promoting popular license or confusion, that it will have a contrary effect, and be a means of settling men’s minds in the love of and veneration for the laws; to rescue and secure which was the ONLY aim and intention of those concerned in that resistance.”


Dr. Sacheverell’s counsel defended him on this principle, namely,—that, whilst he enforced from the pulpit the general doctrine of non-resistance, he was not obliged to take notice of the theoretic limits which ought to modify that doctrine. Sir Joseph Jekyl, in his reply, whilst he controverts its application to the Doctor’s defence, fully admits and even enforces the principle itself, and supports the Revolution of 1688, as he and all the managers had done before, exactly upon the same grounds on which Mr. Burke has built, in his Reflections on the French Revolution.


Sir Joseph Jekyl.

Blamable to state the bounds of non-resistance.
Resistance lawful only in case of extreme and obvious necessity.

“If the Doctor had pretended to have stated the particular bounds and limits of non-resistance, and told the people in what cases they might or might not resist, he would have been much to blame; nor was one word said in the articles, or by the managers, as if that was expected from him; but, on the contrary, we have insisted that in NO case can resistance be lawful, but in case of EXTREME NECESSITY, and where the Constitution can’t otherwise be preserved; and such necessity ought to be plain and obvious to the sense and judgment of the whole nation: and this was the case at the Revolution.”


The counsel for Doctor Sacheverell, in defending their client, were driven in reality to abandon the fundamental principles of his doctrine, and to confess that an exception to the general doctrine of passive obedience and non-resistance did exist in the case of the Revolution. This the managers for the Commons considered as having gained their cause, as their having obtained the whole of what they contended for. They congratulated themselves and the nation on a civil victory as glorious and as honorable as any that had obtained in arms during that reign of triumphs.

Sir Joseph Jekyl, in his reply to Harcourt, and the other great men who conducted the cause for the Tory side, spoke in the following memorable terms, distinctly stating the whole of what the Whig House of Commons contended for, in the name of all their constituents.


Sir Joseph Jekyl.

Necessity creates an exception, and the Revolution a case of necessity, the utmost extent of the demand of the Commons.

“My Lords, the concessions” (the concessions of Sacheverell’s counsel) “are these: That necessity creates an exception to the general rule of submission to the prince; that such exception is understood or implied in the laws that require such submission; and that the case of the Revolution was a case of necessity.

“These are concessions so ample, and do so fully answer the drift of the Commons in this article, and are to the utmost extent of their meaning in it, that I can’t forbear congratulating them upon this success of their impeachment,—that in full Parliament, this erroneous doctrine of unlimited non-resistance is given up and disclaimed. And may it not, in after ages, be an addition to the glories of this bright reign, that so many of those who are honored with being in her Majesty’s service have been at your Lordships’ bar thus successfully contending for the national rights of her people, and proving they are not precarious or remediless?

“But to return to these concessions: I must appeal to your Lordships, whether they are not a total departure from the Doctor’s answer.”


I now proceed to show that the Whig managers for the Commons meant to preserve the government on a firm foundation, by asserting the perpetual validity of the settlement then made, and its coercive power upon posterity. I mean to show that they gave no sort of countenance to any doctrine tending to impress the people (taken separately from the legislature, which includes the crown) with an idea that they had acquired a moral or civil competence to alter, without breach of the original compact on the part of the king, the succession to the crown, at their pleasure,—much less that they had acquired any right, in the case of such an event as caused the Revolution, to set up any new form of government. The author of the Reflections, I believe, thought that no man of common understanding could oppose to this doctrine the ordinary sovereign power as declared in the act of Queen Anne: that is, that the kings or queens of the realm, with the consent of Parliament, are competent to regulate and to settle the succession of the crown. This power is and ever was inherent in the supreme sovereignty, and was not, as the political divines vainly talk, acquired by the Revolution. It is declared in the old statute of Queen Elizabeth. Such a power must reside in the complete sovereignty of every kingdom; and it is in fact exercised in all of them. But this right of competence in the legislature, not in the people, is by the legislature itself to be exercised with sound discretion: that is to say, it is to be exercised or not, in conformity to the fundamental principles of this government, to the rules of moral obligation, and to the faith of pacts, either contained in the nature of the transaction or entered into by the body corporate of the kingdom,—which body in juridical construction never dies, and in fact never loses its members at once by death.

Whether this doctrine is reconcilable to the modern philosophy of government I believe the author neither knows nor cares, as he has little respect for any of that sort of philosophy. This may be because his capacity and knowledge do not reach to it. If such be the case, he cannot be blamed, if he acts on the sense of that incapacity; he cannot be blamed, if, in the most arduous and critical questions which can possibly arise, and which affect to the quick the vital parts of our Constitution, he takes the side which leans most to safety and settlement; that he is resolved not “to be wise beyond what is written” in the legislative record and practice; that, when doubts arise on them, he endeavors to interpret one statute by another, and to reconcile them all to established, recognized morals, and to the general, ancient, known policy of the laws of England. Two things are equally evident: the first is, that the legislature possesses the power of regulating the succession of the crown; the second, that in the exercise of that right it has uniformly acted as if under the restraints which the author has stated. That author makes what the ancients call mos majorum not indeed his sole, but certainly his principal rule of policy, to guide his judgment in whatever regards our laws. Uniformity and analogy can be preserved in them by this process only. That point being fixed, and laying fast hold of a strong bottom, our speculations may swing in all directions without public detriment, because they will ride with sure anchorage.

In this manner these things have been always considered by our ancestors. There are some, indeed, who have the art of turning the very acts of Parliament which were made for securing the hereditary succession in the present royal family, by rendering it penal to doubt of the validity of those acts of Parliament, into an instrument for defeating all their ends and purposes,—but upon grounds so very foolish that it is not worth while to take further notice of such sophistry.

To prevent any unnecessary subdivision, I shall here put together what may be necessary to show the perfect agreement of the Whigs with Mr. Burke in his assertions, that the Revolution made no “essential change in the constitution of the monarchy, or in any of its ancient, sound, and legal principles; that the succession was settled in the Hanover family, upon the idea and in the mode of an hereditary succession qualified with Protestantism; that it was not settled upon elective principles, in any sense of the word elective, or under any modification or description of election whatsoever; but, on the contrary, that the nation, after the Revolution, renewed by a fresh compact the spirit of the original compact of the state, binding itself, both in its existing members and all its posterity, to adhere to the settlement of an hereditary succession in the Protestant line, drawn from James the First, as the stock of inheritance.”


Sir John Hawles.

Necessity of settling the right of the crown, and submission to the settlement.

“If he [Dr. Sacheverell] is of the opinion he pretends, I can’t imagine how it comes to pass that he that pays that deference to the supreme power has preached so directly contrary to the determinations of the supreme power in this government, he very well knowing that the lawfulness of the Revolution, and of the means whereby it was brought about, has already been determined by the aforesaid acts of Parliament,—and do it in the worst manner that he could invent. For questioning the right to the crown here in England has procured the shedding of more blood and caused more slaughter than all the other matters tending to disturbances in the government put together. If, therefore, the doctrine which the Apostles had laid down was only to continue the peace of the world, as thinking the death of some few particular persons better to be borne with than a civil war, sure it is the highest breach of that law to question the first principles of this government.”

“If the Doctor had been contented with the liberty he took of preaching up the duty of passive obedience in the most extensive manner he had thought fit, and would have stopped there, your Lordships would not have had the trouble in relation to him that you now have; but it is plain that he preached up his absolute and unconditional obedience, not to continue the peace and tranquillity of this nation, but to set the subjects at strife, and to raise a war in the bowels of this nation: and it is for this that he is now prosecuted; though he would fain have it believed that the prosecution was for preaching the peaceable doctrine of absolute obedience.”


Sir Joseph Jekyl.

Whole frame of government restored unhurt, on the Revolution.

“The whole tenor of the administration then in being was agreed to by all to be a total departure from the Constitution. The nation was at that time united in that opinion, all but the criminal part of it. And as the nation joined in the judgment of their disease, so they did in the remedy. They saw there was no remedy left but the last; and when that remedy took place, the whole frame of the government was restored entire and unhurt.4 This showed the excellent temper the nation was in at that time, that, after such provocations from an abuse of the regal power, and such a convulsion, no one part of the Constitution was altered, or suffered the least damage; but, on the contrary, the whole received new life and vigor.”


The Tory counsel for Dr. Sacheverell having insinuated that a great and essential alteration in the Constitution had been wrought by the Revolution, Sir Joseph Jekyl is so strong on this point, that he takes fire even at the insinuation of his being of such an opinion.


Sir Joseph Jekyl.

No innovation at the Revolution.

“If the Doctor instructed his counsel to insinuate that there was any innovation in the Constitution wrought by the Revolution, it is an addition to his crime. The Revolution did not introduce any innovation; it was a restoration of the ancient fundamental Constitution of the kingdom, and giving it its proper force and energy.”


The Solicitor-General, Sir Robert Eyre, distinguishes expressly the case of the Revolution, and its principles, from a proceeding at pleasure, on the part of the people, to change their ancient Constitution, and to frame a new government for themselves. He distinguishes it with the same care from the principles of regicide and republicanism, and the sorts of resistance condemned by the doctrines of the Church of England, and which ought to be condemned by the doctrines of all churches professing Christianity.


Mr. Solicitor-General, Sir Robert Eyre.

Revolution no precedent for voluntary cancelling allegiance.
Revolution not like the case of Charles the First.

“The resistance at the Revolution, which was founded in unavoidable necessity, could be no defence to a man that was attacked for asserting that the people might cancel their allegiance at pleasure, or dethrone and murder their sovereign by a judiciary sentence. For it can never be inferred, from the lawfulness of resistance at a time when a total subversion of the government both in Church and State was intended, that a people may take up arms and call their sovereign to account at pleasure; and therefore, since the Revolution could be of no service in giving the least color for asserting any such wicked principle, the Doctor could never intend to put it into the mouths of those new preachers and new politicians for a defence,—unless it be his opinion that the resistance at the Revolution can bear any parallel with the execrable murder of the royal martyr, so justly detested by the whole nation.”

Sacheverell’s doctrine intended to bring an odium on the Revolution.
True defence of the Revolution an absolute necessity.

“It is plain that the Doctor is not impeached for preaching a general doctrine, and enforcing the general duty of obedience, but for preaching against an excepted case after he has stated the exception. He is not impeached for preaching the general doctrine of obedience, and the utter illegality of resistance upon any pretence whatsoever, but because, having first laid down the general doctrine as true, without any exception, he states the excepted case, the Revolution, in express terms, as an objection, and then assumes the consideration of that excepted case, denies there was any resistance in the Revolution, and asserts that to impute resistance to the Revolution would cast black and odious colors upon it. This, my Lords, is not preaching the doctrine of non-resistance in the general terms used by the Homilies and the fathers of the Church, where cases of necessity may be understood to be excepted by a tacit implication, as the counsel have allowed,—but is preaching directly against the resistance at the Revolution, which, in the course of this debate, has been all along admitted to be necessary and just, and can have no other meaning than to bring a dishonor upon the Revolution, and an odium upon those great and illustrious persons, those friends to the monarchy and the Church, that assisted in bringing it about. For had the Doctor intended anything else, he would have treated the case of the Revolution in a different manner, and have given it the true and fair answer: he would have said that the resistance at the Revolution was of absolute necessity, and the only means left to revive the Constitution, and must be therefore taken as an excepted case, and could never come within the reach or intention of the general doctrine of the Church.”

“Your Lordships take notice on what grounds the Doctor continues to assert the same position in his answer. But is it not most evident that the general exhortations to be met with in the Homilies of the Church of England, and such like declarations in the statutes of the kingdom, are meant only as rules for the civil obedience of the subject to the legal administration of the supreme power in ordinary cases? And it is equally absurd to construe any words in a positive law to authorize the destruction of the whole, as to expect that King, Lords, and Commons should, in express terms of law, declare such an ultimate resort as the right of resistance, at a time when the case supposes that the force of all law is ceased.”5

Commons abhor whatever shakes the submission of posterity to the settlement of the crown.

“The Commons must always resent, with the utmost detestation and abhorrence, every position that may shake the authority of that act of Parliament whereby the crown is settled upon her Majesty, and whereby the Lords Spiritual and Temporal and Commons do, in the name of all the people of England, most humbly and faithfully submit themselves, their heirs and posterities, to her Majesty, which this general principle of absolute non-resistance must certainly shake.

“For, if the resistance at the Revolution was illegal, the Revolution settled in usurpation, and this act can have no greater force and authority than an act passed under a usurper.

“And the Commons take leave to observe, that the authority of this Parliamentary settlement is a matter of the greatest consequence to maintain, in a case where the hereditary right to the crown is contested.”

“It appears by the several instances mentioned in the act declaring the rights and liberties of the subject and settling the succession of the crown, that at the time of the Revolution there was a total subversion of the constitution of government both in Church and State, which is a case that the laws of England could never suppose, provide for, or have in view.


Sir Joseph Jekyl, so often quoted, considered the preservation of the monarchy, and of the rights and prerogatives of the crown, as essential objects with all sound Whigs, and that they were bound not only to maintain them, when injured or invaded, but to exert themselves as much for their reestablishment, if they should happen to be overthrown by popular fury, as any of their own more immediate and popular rights and privileges, if the latter should be at any time subverted by the crown. For this reason he puts the cases of the Revolution, and the Restoration exactly upon the same footing. He plainly marks, that it was the object of all honest men not to sacrifice one part of the Constitution to another, and much more, not to sacrifice any of them to visionary theories of the rights of man, but to preserve our whole inheritance in the Constitution, in all its members and all its relations, entire and unimpaired, from generation to generation. In this Mr. Burke exactly agrees with him.


Sir Joseph Jekyl.

What are the rights of the people.
Restoration and Revolution.
People have an equal interest in the legal rights of the crown and of their own.

“Nothing is plainer than that the people have a right to the laws and the Constitution. This right the nation hath asserted, and recovered out of the hands of those who had dispossessed them of it at several times. There are of this two famous instances in the knowledge of the present age: I mean that of the Restoration, and that of the Revolution: in both these great events were the regal power and the rights of the people recovered. And it is hard to say in which the people have the greatest interest; for the Commons are sensible that there it not one legal power belonging to the crown, but they have an interest in it; and I doubt not but they will always be as careful to support the rights of the crown as their own privileges.”


The other Whig managers regarded (as he did) the overturning of the monarchy by a republican faction with the very same horror and detestation with which they regarded the destruction of the privileges of the people by an arbitrary monarch.


Mr. Lechmere,

Constitution recovered at the Restoration and Revolution.

Speaking of our Constitution, states it as “a Constitution which happily recovered itself, at the Restoration, from the confusions and disorders which the horrid and detestable proceedings of faction and usurpation had thrown it into, and which after many convulsions and struggles was providentially saved at the late happy Revolution, and by the many good laws passed since that time stands now upon a firmer foundation, together with the most comfortable prospect of security to all posterity by the settlement of the crown in the Protestant line.”


I mean now to show that the Whigs (if Sir Joseph Jekyl was one, and if he spoke in conformity to the sense of the Whig House of Commons, and the Whig ministry who employed him) did carefully guard against any presumption that might arise from the repeal of the non-resistance oath of Charles the Second, as if at the Revolution the ancient principles of our government were at all changed, or that republican doctrines were countenanced, or any sanction given to seditious proceedings upon general undefined ideas of misconduct, or for changing the form of government, or for resistance upon any other ground than the necessity so often mentioned for the purpose of self-preservation. It will show still more clearly the equal care of the then Whigs to prevent either the regal power from being swallowed up on pretence of popular rights, or the popular rights from being destroyed on pretence of regal prerogatives.


Sir Joseph Jekyl.

Mischief of broaching antimonarchical principles.
Two cases of resistance: one to preserve the crown, the other the rights of the subject.

“Further, I desire it may be considered, these legislators” (the legislators who framed the non-resistance oath of Charles the Second) “were guarding against the consequences of those pernicious and antimonarchical principles which had been broached a little before in this nation, and those large declarations in favor of non-resistance were made to encounter or obviate the mischief of those principles,—as appears by the preamble to the fullest of those acts, which is the Militia Act, in the 13th and 14th of King Charles the Second. The words of that act are these: And during the late usurped governments, many evil and rebellious principles have been instilled into the minds of the people of this kingdom, which may break forth, unless prevented, to the disturbance of the peace and quiet thereof: Be it therefore enacted, &c. Here your Lordships may see the reason that inclined those legislators to express themselves in such a manner against resistance. They had seen the regal rights swallowed up under the pretence of popular ones: and it is no imputation on them, that they did not then foresee a quite different case, as was that of the Revolution, where, under the pretence of regal authority, a total subversion of the rights of the subject was advanced, and in a manner effected. And this may serve to show that it was not the design of those legislators to condemn resistance, in a case of absolute necessity, for preserving the Constitution, when they were guarding against principles which had so lately destroyed it.”

Non-resistance oath not repealed because (with the restriction of necessity) it was false, but to prevent false interpretations.

“As to the truth of the doctrine in this declaration which was repealed, I’ll admit it to be as true as the Doctor’s counsel assert it,—that is, with an exception of cases of necessity: and it was not repealed because it was false, understanding it with that restriction; but it was repealed because it might be interpreted in an unconfined sense, and exclusive of that restriction, and, being so understood, would reflect on the justice of the Revolution: and this the legislature had at heart, and were very jealous of, and by this repeal of that declaration gave a Parliamentary or legislative admonition against asserting this doctrine of non-resistance in an unlimited sense.”

General doctrine of non-resistance godly and wholesome; not bound to state explicitly the exceptions.

“Though the general doctrine of non-resistance, the doctrine of the Church of England, as stated in her Homilies, or elsewhere delivered, by which the general duty of subjects to the higher powers is taught, be owned to be, as unquestionably it is, a godly and wholesome doctrine,—though this general doctrine has been constantly inculcated by the reverend fathers of the Church, dead and living, and preached by them as a preservative against the Popish doctrine of deposing princes, and as the ordinary rule of obedience,—and though the same doctrine has been preached, maintained, and avowed by our most orthodox and able divines from the time of the Reformation,—and how innocent a man so ever Dr. Sacheverell had been, if, with an honest and well-meant zeal, he had preached the same doctrine in the same general terms in which he found it delivered by the Apostles of Christ, as taught by the Homilies and the reverend fathers of our Church, and, in imitation of those great examples, had only pressed the general duty of obedience, and the illegality of resistance, without taking notice of any exception,” &c.


Another of the managers for the House of Commons, Sir John Holland, was not less careful in guarding against a confusion of the principles of the Revolution with any loose, general doctrines of a right in the individual, or even in the people, to undertake for themselves, on any prevalent, temporary opinions of convenience or improvement, any fundamental change in the Constitution, or to fabricate a new government for themselves, and thereby to disturb the public peace, and to unsettle the ancient Constitution of this kingdom.


Sir John Holland.

Submission to the sovereign a conscientious duty, except in cases of necessity.

“The Commons would not be understood as if they were pleading for a licentious resistance, as if subjects were left to their good-will and pleasure when they are to obey and when to resist. No, my Lords, they know they are obliged by all the ties of social creatures and Christians, for wrath and conscience’ sake, to submit to their sovereign. The Commons do not abet humorsome, factious arms: they aver them to be rebellions. But yet they maintain that that resistance at the Revolution, which was so necessary, was lawful and just from that necessity.”

Right of resistance how to be understood.

“These general rules of obedience may, upon a real necessity, admit a lawful exception; and such a necessary exception we assert the Revolution to be.

“It is with this view of necessity, only absolute necessity of preserving our laws, liberties, and religion,—’tis with this limitation, that we desire to be understood, when any of us speak of resistance in general. The necessity of the resistance at the Revolution was at that time obvious to every man.”


I shall conclude these extracts with a reference to the Prince of Orange’s Declaration, in which he gives the nation the fullest assurance that in his enterprise he was far from the intention of introducing any change whatever in the fundamental law and Constitution of the state. He considered the object of his enterprise not to be a precedent for further revolutions, but that it was the great end of his expedition to make such revolutions, so far as human power and wisdom could provide, unnecessary.


Extracts from the Prince of Orange’s Declaration.

All magistrates, who have been unjustly turned out, shall forthwith resume their former employments; as well as all the boroughs of England shall return again to their ancient prescriptions and charters, and, more particularly, that the ancient charter of the great and famous city of London shall again be in force; and that the writs for the members of Parliament shall be addressed to the proper officers, according to law and custom.”

“And for the doing of all other things which the two Houses of Parliament shall find necessary for the peace, honor, and safety of the nation, so that there may be no more danger of the nation’s falling, at any time hereafter, under arbitrary government.”


Extract from the Prince of Oranges Additional Declaration.

Principal nobility and gentry well affected to the Church and crown, security against the design of innovation.

“We are confident that no persons can have such hard thoughts of us as to imagine that we have any other design in this undertaking than to procure a settlement of the religion and of the liberties and properties of the subjects upon so sure a foundation that there may be no danger of the nation’s relapsing into the like miseries at any time hereafter. And as the forces that we have brought along with us are utterly disproportioned to that wicked design of conquering the nation, if we were capable of intending it, so the great numbers of the principal nobility and gentry, that are men of eminent quality and estates, and persons of known integrity and zeal, both for the religion and government of England, many of them, also being distinguished by their constant fidelity to the crown, who do both accompany us in this expedition and have earnestly solicited us to it, will cover us from all such malicious insinuations.”


In the spirit, and, upon one occasion, in the words,6 of this Declaration, the statutes passed in that reign made such provisions for preventing these dangers, that scarcely anything short of combination of King, Lords, and Commons, for the destruction of the liberties of the nation, can in any probability make us liable to similar perils. In that dreadful, and, I hope, not to be looked-for case, any opinion of a right to make revolutions, grounded on this precedent, would be but a poor resource. Dreadful, indeed, would be our situation!


These are the doctrines held by the Whigs of the Revolution, delivered with as much solemnity, and as authentically at least, as any political dogmas were ever promulgated from the beginning of the world. If there be any difference between their tenets and those of Mr. Burke, it is, that the old Whigs oppose themselves still more strongly than he does against the doctrines which are now propagated with so much industry by those who would be thought their successors.

It will be said, perhaps, that the old Whigs, in order to guard themselves against popular odium, pretended to assert tenets contrary to those which they secretly held. This, if true, would prove, what Mr. Burke has uniformly asserted, that the extravagant doctrines which he meant to expose were disagreeable to the body of the people,—who, though they perfectly abhor a despotic government, certainly approached more nearly to the love of mitigated monarchy than to anything which bears the appearance even of the best republic. But if these old Whigs deceived the people, their conduct was unaccountable indeed. They exposed their power, as every one conversant in history knows, to the greatest peril, for the propagation of opinions which, on this hypothesis, they did not hold. It is a new kind of martyrdom. This supposition does as little credit to their integrity as their wisdom: it makes them at once hypocrites and fools. I think of those great men very differently. I hold them to have been, what the world thought them, men of deep understanding, open sincerity, and clear honor. However, be that matter as it may, what these old Whigs pretended to be Mr. Burke is. This is enough for him.

I do, indeed, admit, that, though Mr. Burke has proved that his opinions were those of the old Whig party, solemnly declared by one House, in effect and substance by both Houses of Parliament, this testimony standing by itself will form no proper defence for his opinions, if he and the old Whigs were both of them in the wrong. But it is his present concern, not to vindicate these old Whigs, but to show his agreement with them. He appeals to them as judges: he does not vindicate them as culprits. It is current that these old politicians knew little of the rights of men,—that they lost their way by groping about in the dark, and fumbling among rotten parchments and musty records. Great lights, they say, are lately obtained in the world; and Mr. Burke, instead of shrouding himself in exploded ignorance, ought to have taken advantage of the blaze of illumination which has been spread about him. It may be so. The enthusiasts of this time, it seems, like their predecessors in another faction of fanaticism, deal in lights. Hudibras pleasantly says of them, they

“Have lights, where better eyes are blind,—
As pigs are said to see the wind.”

The author of the Reflections has heard a great deal concerning the modern lights, but he has not yet had the good fortune to see much of them. He has read more than he can justify to anything but the spirit of curiosity, of the works of these illuminators of the world. He has learned nothing from the far greater number of them than a full certainty of their shallowness, levity, pride, petulance, presumption, and ignorance. Where the old authors whom he has read, and the old men whom he has conversed with, have left him in the dark, he is in the dark still. If others, however, have obtained any of this extraordinary light, they will use it to guide them in their researches and their conduct. I have only to wish that the nation may be as happy and as prosperous under the influence of the new light as it has been in the sober shade of the old obscurity. As to the rest, it will be difficult for the author of the Reflections to conform to the principles of the avowed leaders of the party, until they appear otherwise than negatively. All we can gather from them is this,—that their principles are diametrically opposite to his. This is all that we know from authority. Their negative declaration obliges me to have recourse to the books which contain positive doctrines. They are, indeed, to those Mr. Burke holds diametrically opposite; and if it be true (as the oracles of the party have said, I hope hastily) that their opinions differ so widely, it should seem they are the most likely to form the creed of the modern Whigs.


I have stated what were the avowed sentiments of the old Whigs, not in the way of argument, but narratively. It is but fair to set before the reader, in the same simple manner, the sentiments of the modern, to which they spare neither pains nor expense to make proselytes. I choose them from the books upon which most of that industry and expenditure in circulation have been employed; I choose them, not from those who speak with a politic obscurity, not from those who only controvert the opinions of the old Whigs, without advancing any of their own, but from those who speak plainly and affirmatively. The Whig reader may make his choice between the two doctrines.

The doctrine, then, propagated by these societies, which gentlemen think they ought to be very tender in discouraging, as nearly as possible in their own words, is as follows: That in Great Britain we are not only without a good Constitution, but that we have “no Constitution”;—that, “though it is much talked about, no such thing as a Constitution exists or ever did exist, and consequently that the people have a Constitution yet to form;—that since William the Conqueror the country has never yet regenerated itself, and is therefore without a Constitution;—that where it cannot be produced in a visible form there is none;—that a Constitution is a thing antecedent to government; and that the Constitution of a country is not the act of its government, but of a people constituting a government;—that everything in the English government is the reverse of what it ought to be, and what it is said to be in England;—that the right of war and peace resides in a metaphor shown at the Tower for sixpence or a shilling apiece;—that it signifies not where the right resides, whether in the crown or in Parliament; war is the common harvest of those who participate in the division and expenditure of public money;—that the portion of liberty enjoyed in England is just enough to enslave a country more productively than by despotism.”

So far as to the general state of the British Constitution.—As to our House of Lords, the chief virtual representative of our aristocracy, the great ground and pillar of security to the landed interest, and that main link by which it is connected with the law and the crown, these worthy societies are pleased to tell us, that, “whether we view aristocracy before, or behind, or sideways, or any way else, domestically or publicly, it is still a monster;—that aristocracy in France had one feature less in its countenance than what it has in some other countries: it did not compose a body of hereditary legislators; it was not a corporation of aristocracy” (for such, it seems, that profound legislator, M. de La Fayette, describes the House of Peers);—”that it is kept up by family tyranny and injustice;—that there is an unnatural unfitness in aristocracy to be legislators for a nation;—that their ideas of distributive justice are corrupted at the very source; they begin life by trampling on all their younger brothers and sisters, and relations of every kind, and are taught and educated so to do;—that the idea of an hereditary legislator is as absurd as an hereditary mathematician;—that a body holding themselves unaccountable to anybody ought to be trusted by nobody;—that it is continuing the uncivilized principles of governments founded in conquest, and the base idea of man having a property in man, and governing him by a personal right;—that aristocracy has a tendency to degenerate the human species,” &c., &c.

As to our law of primogeniture, which with few and inconsiderable exceptions is the standing law of all our landed inheritance, and which without question has a tendency, and I think a most happy tendency, to preserve a character of consequence, weight, and prevalent influence over others in the whole body of the landed interest, they call loudly for its destruction. They do this for political reasons that are very manifest. They have the confidence to say, “that it is a law against every law of Nature, and Nature herself calls for its destruction. Establish family justice, and aristocracy falls. By the aristocratical law of primogenitureship, in a family of six children, five are exposed. Aristocracy has never but one child. The rest are begotten to be devoured. They are thrown to the cannibal for prey, and the natural parent prepares the unnatural repast.”

As to the House of Commons, they treat it far worse than the House of Lords or the crown have been ever treated. Perhaps they thought they had a greater right to take this amicable freedom with those of their own family. For many years it has been the perpetual theme of their invectives. “Mockery, insult, usurpation,” are amongst the best names they bestow upon it. They damn it in the mass, by declaring “that it does not arise out of the inherent rights of the people, as the National Assembly does in France, and whose name designates its original.”

Of the charters and corporations, to whose rights a few years ago these gentlemen were so tremblingly alive, they say, “that, when the people of England come to reflect upon them, they will, like France, annihilate those badges of oppression, those traces of a conquered nation.”

As to our monarchy, they had formerly been more tender of that branch of the Constitution, and for a good reason. The laws had guarded against all seditious attacks upon it with a greater degree of strictness and severity. The tone of these gentlemen is totally altered since the French Revolution. They now declaim as vehemently against the monarchy as on former occasions they treacherously flattered and soothed it.

“When we survey the wretched condition of man under the monarchical and hereditary systems of government, dragged from his home by one power, or driven by another, and impoverished by taxes more than by enemies, it becomes evident that those systems are bad, and that a general revolution in the principle and construction of governments is necessary.

“What is government more than the management of the affairs of a nation? It is not, and from its nature cannot be, the property of any particular man or family, but of the whole community, at whose expense it is supported; and though by force or contrivance it has been usurped into an inheritance, the usurpation cannot alter the right of things. Sovereignty, as a matter of right, appertains to the nation only, and not to any individual; and a nation has at all times an inherent indefeasible right to abolish any form of government it finds inconvenient, and establish such as accords with its interest, disposition, and happiness. The romantic and barbarous distinction of men into kings and subjects, though it may suit the condition of courtiers, cannot that of citizens, and is exploded by the principle upon which governments are now founded. Every citizen is a member of the sovereignty, and, as such, can acknowledge no personal subjection, and his obedience can be only to the laws.”

Warmly recommending to us the example of Prance, where they have destroyed monarchy, they say,—

“Monarchical sovereignty, the enemy of mankind, and the source of misery, is abolished; and sovereignty itself is restored to its natural and original place, the nation. Were this the case throughout Europe, the cause of wars would be taken away.”

“But, after all, what is this metaphor called a crown? or rather, what is monarchy? Is it a thing, or is it a name, or is it a fraud? Is it ‘a contrivance of human wisdom,’ or of human craft, to obtain money from a nation under specious pretences? Is it a thing necessary to a nation? If it is, in what does that necessity consist, what services does it perform, what is its business, and what are its merits? Doth the virtue consist in the metaphor or in the man? Doth the goldsmith that makes the crown make the virtue also? Doth it operate like Fortunatus’s wishing-cap or Harlequin’s wooden sword? Doth it make a man a conjurer? In fine, what is it? It appears to be a something going much out of fashion, falling into ridicule, and rejected in some countries both as unnecessary and expensive. In America it is considered as an absurdity; and in France it has so far declined, that the goodness of the man and the respect for his personal character are the only things that preserve the appearance of its existence.”

“Mr. Burke talks about what he calls an hereditary crown, as if it were some production of Nature,—or as if, like time, it had a power to operate, not only independently, but in spite of man,—or as if it were a thing or a subject universally consented to. Alas! it has none of those properties, but is the reverse of them all. It is a thing in imagination, the propriety of which is more than doubted, and the legality of which in a few years will be denied.”

“If I ask the farmer, the manufacturer, the merchant, the tradesman, and down through all the occupations of life to the common laborer, what service monarchy is to him, he can give me no answer. If I ask him what monarchy is, he believes it is something like a sinecure.”

“The French Constitution says, that the right of war and peace is in the nation. Where else should it reside, but in those who are to pay the expense?

“In England, this right is said to reside in a metaphor, shown at the Tower for sixpence or a shilling apiece: so are the lions; and it would be a step nearer to reason to say it resided in them, for any inanimate metaphor is no more than a hat or a cap. We can all see the absurdity of worshipping Aaron’s molten calf, or Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image; but why do men continue to practise themselves the absurdities they despise in others?”

The Revolution and Hanover succession had been objects of the highest veneration to the old Whigs. They thought them not only proofs of the sober and steady spirit of liberty which guided their ancestors, but of their wisdom and provident care of posterity. The modern Whigs have quite other notions of these events and actions. They do not deny that Mr. Burke has given truly the words of the acts of Parliament which secured the succession, and the just sense of them. They attack not him, but the law.

“Mr Burke” (say they) “has done some service, not to his cause, but to his country, by bringing those clauses into public view. They serve to demonstrate how necessary it is at all times to watch against the attempted encroachment of power, and to prevent its running to excess. It is somewhat extraordinary, that the offence for which James the Second was expelled, that of setting up power by assumption, should be re-acted, under another shape and form, by the Parliament that expelled him. It shows that the rights of man were but imperfectly understood at the Revolution; for certain it is, that the right which that Parliament set up by assumption (for by delegation it had it not, and could not have it, because none could give it) over the persons and freedom of posterity forever, was of the same tyrannical unfounded kind which James attempted to set up over the Parliament and the nation, and for which he was expelled. The only difference is, (for in principle they differ not,) that the one was an usurper over the living, and the other over the unborn; and as the one has no better authority to stand upon than the other, both of them must be equally null and void, and of no effect.”

“As the estimation of all things is by comparison, the Revolution of 1688, however from circumstances it may have been exalted beyond its value, will find its level. It is already on the wane, eclipsed by the enlarging orb of reason and the luminous Revolutions of America and France. In less than another century, it will go, as well as Mr. Burke’s labors, ‘to the family vault of all the Capulets.’ Mankind will then scarcely believe that a country calling itself free would send to Holland for a man and clothe him with power on purpose to put themselves in fear of him, and give him almost a million sterling a year for leave to submit themselves and their posterity like bondmen and bondwomen forever.”

Mr. Burke having said that “the king holds his crown in contempt of the choice of the Revolution Society, who individually or collectively have not” (as most certainly they have not) “a vote for a king amongst them,” they take occasion from thence to infer that the king who does not hold his crown by election despises the people.

“‘The king of England,’ says he, ‘holds his crown’ (for it does not belong to the nation, according to Mr. Burke) ‘in contempt of the choice of the Revolution Society,'” &c.

“As to who is king in England or elsewhere, or whether there is any king at all, or whether the people choose a Cherokee chief or a Hessian hussar for a king, it is not a matter that I trouble myself about,—be that to themselves; but with respect to the doctrine, so far as it relates to the rights of men and nations, it is as abominable as anything ever uttered in the most enslaved country under heaven. Whether it sounds worse to my ear, by not being accustomed to hear such despotism, than what it does to the ear of another person, I am not so well a judge of; but of its abominable principle I am at no loss to judge.”

These societies of modern Whigs push their insolence as far as it can go. In order to prepare the minds of the people for treason and rebellion, they represent the king as tainted with principles of despotism, from the circumstance of his having dominions in Germany. In direct defiance of the most notorious truth, they describe his government there to be a despotism; whereas it is a free Constitution, in which the states of the Electorate have their part in the government: and this privilege has never been infringed by the king, or, that I have heard of, by any of his predecessors. The Constitution of the Electoral dominions has, indeed, a double control, both from the laws of the Empire and from the privileges of the country. Whatever rights the king enjoys as Elector have been always parentally exercised, and the calumnies of these scandalous societies have not been authorized by a single complaint of oppression.

“When Mr. Burke says that ‘his Majesty’s heirs and successors, each in their time and order, will come to the crown with the same contempt of their choice with which his Majesty has succeeded to that he wears,’ it is saying too much even to the humblest individual in the country, part of whose daily labor goes towards making up the million sterling a year which the country gives the person it styles a king. Government with insolence is despotism; but when contempt is added, it becomes worse; and to pay for contempt is the excess of slavery. This species of government comes from Germany, and reminds me of what one of the Brunswick soldiers told me, who was taken prisoner by the Americans in the late war. ‘Ah!’ said he, ‘America is a fine free country: it is worth the people’s fighting for. I know the difference by knowing my own: in my country, if the prince says, “Eat straw” we eat straw.’ God help that country, thought I, be it England, or elsewhere, whose liberties are to be protected by German principles of government and princes of Brunswick!”

“It is somewhat curious to observe, that, although the people of England have been in the habit of talking about kings, it is always a foreign house of kings,—hating foreigners, yet governed by them. It is now the House of Brunswick, one of the petty tribes of Germany.”

“If government be what Mr. Burke describes it, ‘a contrivance of human wisdom,’ I might ask him if wisdom was at such a low ebb in England that it was become necessary to import it from Holland and from Hanover? But I will do the country the justice to say, that was not the case; and even if it was, it mistook the cargo. The wisdom of every country, when properly exerted, is sufficient for all its purposes; and there could exist no more real occasion in England to have sent for a Dutch Stadtholder or a German Elector than there was in America to have done a similar thing. If a country does not understand its own affairs, how is a foreigner to understand them, who knows neither its laws, its manners, nor its language? If there existed a man so transcendently wise above all others that his wisdom was necessary to instruct a nation, some reason might be offered for monarchy; but when we cast our eyes about a country, and observe how every part understands its own affairs, and when we look around the world, and see, that, of all men in it, the race of kings are the most insignificant in capacity, our reason cannot fail to ask us, What are those men kept for?”7


These are the notions which, under the idea of Whig principles, several persons, and among them persons of no mean mark, have associated themselves to propagate. I will not attempt in the smallest degree to refute them. This will probably be done (if such writings shall be thought to deserve any other than the refutation of criminal justice) by others, who may think with Mr. Burke. He has performed his part.

I do not wish to enter very much at large into the discussions which diverge and ramify in all ways from this productive subject. But there is one topic upon which I hope I shall be excused in going a little beyond my design. The factions now so busy amongst us, in order to divest men of all love for their country, and to remove from their minds all duty with regard to the state, endeavor to propagate an opinion, that the people, in forming their commonwealth, have by no means parted with their power over it. This is an impregnable citadel, to which these gentlemen retreat, whenever they are pushed by the battery of laws and usages and positive conventions. Indeed, it is such, and of so great force, that all they have done in defending their outworks is so much time and labor thrown away. Discuss any of their schemes, their answer is, It is the act of the people, and that is sufficient. Are we to deny to a majority of the people the right of altering even the whole frame of their society, if such should be their pleasure? They may change it, say they, from a monarchy to a republic to-day, and to-morrow back again from a republic to a monarchy; and so backward and forward as often as they like. They are masters of the commonwealth, because in substance they are themselves the commonwealth. The French Revolution, say they, was the act of the majority of the people; and if the majority of any other people, the people of England, for instance, wish to make the same change, they have the same right.

Just the same, undoubtedly. That is, none at all. Neither the few nor the many have a right to act merely by their will, in any matter connected with duty, trust, engagement, or obligation. The Constitution of a country being once settled upon some compact, tacit or expressed, there is no power existing of force to alter it, without the breach of the covenant, or the consent of all the parties. Such is the nature of a contract. And the votes of a majority of the people, whatever their infamous flatterers may teach in order to corrupt their minds, cannot alter the moral any more than they can alter the physical essence of things. The people are not to be taught to think lightly of their engagements to their governors; else they teach governors to think lightly of their engagements towards them. In that kind of game, in the end, the people are sure to be losers. To flatter them into a contempt of faith, truth, and justice is to ruin them; for in these virtues consists their whole safety. To flatter any man, or any part of mankind, in any description, by asserting that in engagements he or they are free, whilst any other human creature is bound, is ultimately to vest the rule of morality in the pleasure of those who ought to be rigidly submitted to it,—to subject the sovereign reason of the world to the caprices of weak and giddy men.

But, as no one of us men can dispense with public or private faith, or with any other tie of moral obligation, so neither can any number of us. The number engaged in crimes, instead of turning them into laudable acts, only augments the quantity and intensity of the guilt. I am well aware that men love to hear of their power, but have an extreme disrelish to be told of their duty. This is of course; because every duty is a limitation of some power. Indeed, arbitrary power is so much to the depraved taste of the vulgar, of the vulgar of every description, that almost all the dissensions which lacerate the commonwealth are not concerning the manner in which it is to be exercised, but concerning the hands in which it is to be placed. Somewhere they are resolved to have it. Whether they desire it to be vested in the many or the few depends with most men upon the chance which they imagine they themselves may have of partaking in the exercise of that arbitrary sway, in the one mode or in the other.

It is not necessary to teach men to thirst after power. But it is very expedient that by moral instruction they should be taught, and by their civil constitutions they should be compelled, to put many restrictions upon the immoderate exercise of it, and the inordinate desire. The best method of obtaining these two great points forms the important, but at the same time the difficult problem to the true statesman. He thinks of the place in which political power is to be lodged with no other attention than as it may render the more or the less practicable its salutary restraint and its prudent direction. For this reason, no legislator, at any period of the world, has willingly placed the seat of active power in the hands of the multitude; because there it admits of no control, no regulation, no steady direction whatsoever. The people are the natural control on authority; but to exercise and to control together is contradictory and impossible.

As the exorbitant exercise of power cannot, under popular sway, be effectually restrained, the other great object of political arrangement, the means of abating an excessive desire of it, is in such a state still worse provided for. The democratic commonwealth is the foodful nurse of ambition. Under the other forms it meets with many restraints. Whenever, in states which have had a democratic basis, the legislators have endeavored to put restraints upon ambition, their methods were as violent as in the end they were ineffectual,—as violent, indeed, as any the most jealous despotism could invent. The ostracism could not very long save itself, and much less the state which it was meant to guard, from the attempts of ambition,—one of the natural, inbred, incurable distempers of a powerful democracy.

But to return from this short digression,—which, however, is not wholly foreign to the question of the effect of the will of the majority upon the form or the existence of their society. I cannot too often recommend it to the serious consideration of all men who think civil society to be within the province of moral jurisdiction, that, if we owe to it any duty, it is not subject to our will. Duties are not voluntary. Duty and will are even contradictory terms. Now, though civil society might be at first a voluntary act, (which in many cases it undoubtedly was,) its continuance is under a permanent standing covenant, coexisting with the society; and it attaches upon every individual of that society, without any formal act of his own. This is warranted by the general practice, arising out of the general sense of mankind. Men without their choice derive benefits from that association; without their choice they are subjected to duties in consequence of these benefits; and without their choice they enter into a virtual obligation as binding as any that is actual. Look through the whole of life and the whole system of duties. Much the strongest moral obligations are such as were never the results of our option. I allow, that, if no Supreme Ruler exists, wise to form, and potent to enforce, the moral law, there is no sanction to any contract, virtual or even actual, against the will of prevalent power. On that hypothesis, let any set of men be strong enough to set their duties at defiance, and they cease to be duties any longer. We have but this one appeal against irresistible power,—

Si genus humanum et mortalia temnitis arma,
At sperate Deos memores fandi atque nefandi.

Taking it for granted that I do not write to the disciples of the Parisian philosophy, I may assume that the awful Author of our being is the Author of our place in the order of existence,—and that, having disposed and marshalled us by a divine tactic, not according to our will, but according to His, He has in and by that disposition virtually subjected us to act the part which belongs to the place assigned us. We have obligations to mankind at large, which are not in consequence of any special voluntary pact. They arise from the relation of man to man, and the relation of man to God, which relations are not matters of choice. On the contrary, the force of all the pacts which we enter into with any particular person or number of persons amongst mankind depends upon those prior obligations. In some cases the subordinate relations are voluntary, in others they are necessary,—but the duties are all compulsive. When we marry, the choice is voluntary, but the duties are not matter of choice: they are dictated by the nature of the situation. Dark and inscrutable are the ways by which we come into the world. The instincts which give rise to this mysterious process of Nature are not of our making. But out of physical causes, unknown to us, perhaps unknowable, arise moral duties, which, as we are able perfectly to comprehend, we are bound indispensably to perform. Parents may not be consenting to their moral relation; but, consenting or not, they are bound to a long train of burdensome duties towards those with whom they have never made a convention of any sort. Children are not consenting to their relation; but their relation, without their actual consent, binds them to its duties,—or rather it implies their consent, because the presumed consent of every rational creature is in unison with the predisposed order of things. Men come in that manner into a community with the social state of their parents, endowed with all the benefits, loaded with all the duties of their situation. If the social ties and ligaments, spun out of those physical relations which are the elements of the commonwealth, in most cases begin, and always continue, independently of our will, so, without any stipulation on our own part, are we bound by that relation called our country, which comprehends (as it has been well said) “all the charities of all.”8 Nor are we left without powerful instincts to make this duty as dear and grateful to us as it is awful and coercive. Our country is not a thing of mere physical locality. It consists, in a great measure, in the ancient order into which we are born. We may have the same geographical situation, but another country; as we may have the same country in another soil. The place that determines our duty to our country is a social, civil relation.

These are the opinions of the author whose cause I defend. I lay them down, not to enforce them upon others by disputation, but as an account of his proceedings. On them he acts; and from them he is convinced that neither he, nor any man, or number of men, have a right (except what necessity, which is out of and above all rule, rather imposes than bestows) to free themselves from that primary engagement into which every man born into a community as much contracts by his being born into it as he contracts an obligation to certain parents by his having been derived from their bodies. The place of every man determines his duty. If you ask, Quem te Deus esse jussit? you will be answered when you resolve this other question, Humana qua parte locatus es in re?9

I admit, indeed, that in morals, as in all things else, difficulties will sometimes occur. Duties will sometimes cross one another. Then questions will arise, which of them is to be placed in subordination? which of them may be entirely superseded? These doubts give rise to that part of moral science called casuistry, which though necessary to be well studied by those who would become expert in that learning, who aim at becoming what I think Cicero somewhere calls artifices officiorum, it requires a very solid and discriminating judgment, great modesty and caution, and much sobriety of mind in the handling; else there is a danger that it may totally subvert those offices which it is its object only to methodize and reconcile. Duties, at their extreme bounds, are drawn very fine, so as to become almost evanescent. In that state some shade of doubt will always rest on these questions, when they are pursued with great subtilty. But the very habit of stating these extreme cases is not very laudable or safe; because, in general, it is not right to turn our duties into doubts. They are imposed to govern our conduct, not to exercise our ingenuity; and therefore our opinions about them ought not to be in a state of fluctuation, but steady, sure, and resolved.

Amongst these nice, and therefore dangerous points of casuistry, may be reckoned the question so much agitated in the present hour,—Whether, after the people have discharged themselves of their original power by an habitual delegation, no occasion can possibly occur which may justify the resumption of it? This question, in this latitude, is very hard to affirm or deny: but I am satisfied that no occasion can justify such a resumption, which would not equally authorize a dispensation with any other moral duty, perhaps with all of them together. However, if in general it be not easy to determine concerning the lawfulness of such devious proceedings, which must be ever on the edge of crimes, it is far from difficult to foresee the perilous consequences of the resuscitation of such a power in the people. The practical consequences of any political tenet go a great way in deciding upon its value. Political problems do not primarily concern truth or falsehood. They relate to good or evil. What in the result is likely to produce evil is politically false; that which is productive of good, politically true.

Believing it, therefore, a question at least arduous in the theory, and in the practice very critical, it would become us to ascertain as well as we can what form it is that our incantations are about to call up from darkness and the sleep of ages. When the supreme authority of the people is in question, before we attempt to extend or to confine it, we ought to fix in our minds, with some degree of distinctness, an idea of what it is we mean, when we say, the PEOPLE.

In a state of rude Nature there is no such thing as a people. A number of men in themselves have no collective capacity. The idea of a people is the idea of a corporation. It is wholly artificial, and made, like all other legal fictions, by common agreement. What the particular nature of that agreement was is collected from the form into which the particular society has been cast. Any other is not their covenant. When men, therefore, break up the original compact or agreement which gives its corporate form and capacity to a state, they are no longer a people,—they have no longer a corporate existence,—they have no longer a legal coactive force to bind within, nor a claim to be recognized abroad. They are a number of vague, loose individuals, and nothing more. With them all is to begin again. Alas! they little know how many a weary step is to be taken before they can form themselves into a mass which has a true politic personality.

We hear much, from men who have not acquired their hardiness of assertion from the profundity of their thinking, about the omnipotence of a majority, in such a dissolution of an ancient society as hath taken place in France. But amongst men so disbanded there can be no such thing as majority or minority, or power in any one person to bind another. The power of acting by a majority, which the gentlemen theorists seem to assume so readily, after they have violated the contract out of which it has arisen, (if at all it existed,) must be grounded on two assumptions: first, that of an incorporation produced by unanimity; and secondly, an unanimous agreement that the act of a mere majority (say of one) shall pass with them and with others as the act of the whole.

We are so little affected by things which are habitual, that we consider this idea of the decision of a majority as if it were a law of our original nature. But such constructive whole, residing in a part only, is one of the most violent fictions of positive law that ever has been or can be made on the principles of artificial incorporation. Out of civil society Nature knows nothing of it; nor are men, even when arranged according to civil order, otherwise than by very long training, brought at all to submit to it. The mind is brought far more easily to acquiesce in the proceedings of one man, or a few, who act under a general procuration for the state, than in the vote of a victorious majority in councils in which every man has his share in the deliberation. For there the beaten party are exasperated and soured by the previous contention, and mortified by the conclusive defeat. This mode of decision, where wills may be so nearly equal, where, according to circumstances, the smaller number may be the stronger force, and where apparent reason may be all upon one side, and on the other little else than impetuous appetite,—all this must be the result of a very particular and special convention, confirmed afterwards by long habits of obedience, by a sort of discipline in society, and by a strong hand, vested with stationary, permanent power to enforce this sort of constructive general will. What organ it is that shall declare the corporate mind is so much a matter of positive arrangement, that several states, for the validity of several of their acts, have required a proportion of voices much greater than that of a mere majority. These proportions are so entirely governed by convention that in some cases the minority decides. The laws in many countries to condemn require more than a mere majority; less than an equal number to acquit. In our judicial trials we require unanimity either to condemn or to absolve. In some incorporations one man speaks for the whole; in others, a few. Until the other day, in the Constitution of Poland unanimity was required to give validity to any act of their great national council or diet. This approaches much more nearly to rude Nature than the institutions of any other country. Such, indeed, every commonwealth must be, without a positive law to recognize in a certain number the will of the entire body.

If men dissolve their ancient incorporation in order to regenerate their community, in that state of things each man has a right, if he pleases, to remain an individual. Any number of individuals, who can agree upon it, have an undoubted right to form themselves into a state apart and wholly independent. If any of these is forced into the fellowship of another, this is conquest and not compact. On every principle which supposes society to be in virtue of a free covenant, this compulsive incorporation must be null and void.

As a people can have no right to a corporate capacity without universal consent, so neither have they a right to hold exclusively any lands in the name and title of a corporation. On the scheme of the present rulers in our neighboring country, regenerated as they are, they have no more right to the territory called France than I have. I have a right to pitch my tent in any unoccupied place I can find for it; and I may apply to my own maintenance any part of their unoccupied soil. I may purchase the house or vineyard of any individual proprietor who refuses his consent (and most proprietors have, as far as they dared, refused it) to the new incorporation. I stand in his independent place. Who are these insolent men, calling themselves the French nation, that would monopolize this fair domain of Nature? Is it because they speak a certain jargon? Is it their mode of chattering, to me unintelligible, that forms their title to my land? Who are they who claim by prescription and descent from certain gangs of banditti called Franks, and Burgundians, and Visigoths, of whom I may have never heard, and ninety-nine out of an hundred of themselves certainly never have heard, whilst at the very time they tell me that prescription and long possession form no title to property? Who are they that presume to assert that the land which I purchased of the individual, a natural person, and not a fiction of state, belongs to them, who in the very capacity in which they make their claim can exist only as an imaginary being, and in virtue of the very prescription which they reject and disown? This mode of arguing might be pushed into all the detail, so as to leave no sort of doubt, that, on their principles, and on the sort of footing on which they have thought proper to place themselves, the crowd of men, on the other side of the Channel, who have the impudence to call themselves a people, can never be the lawful, exclusive possessors of the soil. By what they call reasoning without prejudice, they leave not one stone upon another in the fabric of human society. They subvert all the authority which they hold, as well as all that which they have destroyed.

As in the abstract it is perfectly clear, that, out of a state of civil society, majority and minority are relations which can have no existence, and that, in civil society, its own specific conventions in each corporation determine what it is that constitutes the people, so as to make their act the signification of the general will,—to come to particulars, it is equally clear that neither in France nor in England has the original or any subsequent compact of the state, expressed or implied, constituted a majority of men, told by the head, to be the acting people of their several communities. And I see as little of policy or utility as there is of right, in laying down a principle that a majority of men told by the head are to be considered as the people, and that as such their will is to be law. What policy can there be found in arrangements made in defiance of every political principle? To enable men to act with the weight and character of a people, and to answer the ends for which they are incorporated into that capacity, we must suppose them (by means immediate or consequential) to be in that state of habitual social discipline in which the wiser, the more expert, and the more opulent conduct, and by conducting enlighten and protect, the weaker, the less knowing, and the less provided with the goods of fortune. When the multitude are not under this discipline, they can scarcely be said to be in civil society. Give once a certain constitution of things which produces a variety of conditions and circumstances in a state, and there is in Nature and reason a principle which, for their own benefit, postpones, not the interest, but the judgment, of those who are numero plures, to those who are virtute et honore majores. Numbers in a state (supposing, which is not the case in France, that a state does exist) are always of consideration,—but they are not the whole consideration. It is in things more serious than a play, that it may be truly said, Satis est equitem mihi plaudere.

A true natural aristocracy is not a separate interest in the state, or separable from it. It is an essential integrant part of any large body rightly constituted. It is formed out of a class of legitimate presumptions, which, taken as generalities, must be admitted for actual truths. To be bred in a place of estimation; to see nothing low and sordid from one’s infancy; to be taught to respect one’s self; to be habituated to the censorial inspection of the public eye; to look early to public opinion; to stand upon such elevated ground as to be enabled to take a large view of the wide-spread and infinitely diversified combinations of men and affairs in a large society; to have leisure to read, to reflect, to converse; to be enabled to draw the court and attention of the wise and learned, wherever they are to be found; to be habituated in armies to command and to obey; to be taught to despise danger in the pursuit of honor and duty; to be formed to the greatest degree of vigilance, foresight, and circumspection, in a state of things in which no fault is committed with impunity and the slightest mistakes draw on the most ruinous consequences; to be led to a guarded and regulated conduct, from a sense that you are considered as an instructor of your fellow-citizens in their highest concerns, and that you act as a reconciler between God and man; to be employed as an administrator of law and justice, and to be thereby amongst the first benefactors to mankind; to be a professor of high science, or of liberal and ingenuous art; to be amongst rich traders, who from their success are presumed to have sharp and vigorous understandings, and to possess the virtues of diligence, order, constancy, and regularity, and to have cultivated an habitual regard to commutative justice: these are the circumstances of men that form what I should call a natural aristocracy, without which there is no nation.

The state of civil society which necessarily generates this aristocracy is a state of Nature,—and much more truly so than a savage and incoherent mode of life. For man is by nature reasonable; and he is never perfectly in his natural state, but when he is placed where reason may be best cultivated and most predominates. Art is man’s nature. We are as much, at least, in a state of Nature in formed manhood as in immature and helpless infancy. Men, qualified in the manner I have just described, form in Nature, as she operates in the common modification of society, the leading, guiding, and governing part. It is the soul to the body, without which the man does not exist. To give, therefore, no more importance, in the social order, to such descriptions of men than that of so many units is a horrible usurpation.

When great multitudes act together, under that discipline of Nature, I recognize the PEOPLE. I acknowledge something that perhaps equals, and ought always to guide, the sovereignty of convention. In all things the voice of this grand chorus of national harmony ought to have a mighty and decisive influence. But when you disturb this harmony,—when you break up this beautiful order, this array of truth and Nature, as well as of habit and prejudice,—when you separate the common sort of men from their proper chieftains, so as to form them into an adverse army,—I no longer know that venerable object called the people in such a disbanded race of deserters and vagabonds. For a while they may be terrible, indeed,—but in such a manner as wild beasts are terrible. The mind owes to them no sort of submission. They are, as they have always been reputed, rebels. They may lawfully be fought with, and brought under, whenever an advantage offers. Those who attempt by outrage and violence to deprive men of any advantage which they hold under the laws, and to destroy the natural order of life, proclaim war against them.

We have read in history of that furious insurrection of the common people in France called the Jacquerie: for this is not the first time that the people have been enlightened into treason, murder, and rapine. Its object was to extirpate the gentry. The Captal de Buch, a famous soldier of those days, dishonored the name of a gentleman and of a man by taking, for their cruelties, a cruel vengeance on these deluded wretches: it was, however, his right and his duty to make war upon them, and afterwards, in moderation, to bring them to punishment for their rebellion; though in the sense of the French Revolution, and of some of our clubs, they were the people,—and were truly so, if you will call by that appellation any majority of men told by the head.

At a time not very remote from the same period (for these humors never have affected one of the nations without some influence on the other) happened several risings of the lower commons in England. These insurgents were certainly the majority of the inhabitants of the counties in which they resided; and Cade, Ket, and Straw, at the head of their national guards, and fomented by certain traitors of high rank, did no more than exert, according to the doctrines of ours and the Parisian societies, the sovereign power inherent in the majority.

We call the time of those events a dark age. Indeed, we are too indulgent to our own proficiency. The Abbé John Ball understood the rights of man as well as the Abbé Grégoire. That reverend patriarch of sedition, and prototype of our modern preachers, was of opinion, with the National Assembly, that all the evils which have fallen upon men had been caused by an ignorance of their “having been born and continued equal as to their rights.” Had the populace been able to repeat that profound maxim, all would have gone perfectly well with them. No tyranny, no vexation, no oppression, no care, no sorrow, could have existed in the world. This would have cured them like a charm for the tooth-ache. But the lowest wretches, in their most ignorant state, were able at all times to talk such stuff; and yet at all times have they suffered many evils and many oppressions, both before and since the republication by the National Assembly of this spell of healing potency and virtue. The enlightened Dr. Ball, when he wished to rekindle the lights and fires of his audience on this point, chose for the test the following couplet:—

When Adam delved and Eve span,
Who was then the gentleman?

Of this sapient maxim, however, I do not give him for the inventor. It seems to have been handed down by tradition, and had certainly become proverbial; but whether then composed or only applied, thus much must be admitted, that in learning, sense, energy, and comprehensiveness, it is fully equal to all the modern dissertations on the equality of mankind: and it has one advantage over them,—that it is in rhyme.10

There is no doubt but that this great teacher of the rights of man decorated his discourse on this valuable text with lemmas, theorems, scholia, corollaries, and all the apparatus of science, which was furnished in as great plenty and perfection out of the dogmatic and polemic magazines, the old horse-armory of the Schoolmen, among whom the Rev. Dr. Ball was bred, as they can be supplied from the new arsenal at Hackney. It was, no doubt, disposed with all the adjutancy of definition and division, in which (I speak it with submission) the old marshals were as able as the modern martinets. Neither can we deny that the philosophic auditory, when they had once obtained this knowledge, could never return to their former ignorance, or after so instructive a lecture be in the same state of mind as if they had never heard it.11 But these poor people, who were not to be envied for their knowledge, but pitied for their delusion, were not reasoned, (that was impossible,) but beaten, out of their lights. With their teacher they were delivered over to the lawyers, who wrote in their blood the statutes of the land, as harshly, and in the same sort of ink, as they and their teachers had written the rights of man.

Our doctors of the day are not so fond of quoting the opinions of this ancient sage as they are of imitating his conduct: first, because it might appear that they are not as great inventors as they would be thought; and next, because, unfortunately for his fame, he was not successful. It is a remark liable to as few exceptions as any generality can be, that they who applaud prosperous folly and adore triumphant guilt have never been known to succor or even to pity human weakness or offence, when they become subject to human vicissitude, and meet with punishment instead of obtaining power. Abating for their want of sensibility to the sufferings of their associates, they are not so much in the wrong; for madness and wickedness are things foul and deformed in themselves, and stand in need of all the coverings and trappings of fortune to recommend them to the multitude. Nothing can be more loathsome in their naked nature.

Aberrations like these, whether ancient or modern, unsuccessful or prosperous, are things of passage. They furnish no argument for supposing a multitude told by the head to be the people. Such a multitude can have no sort of title to alter the seat of power in the society, in which it ever ought to be the obedient, and not the ruling or presiding part. What power may belong to the whole mass, in which mass the natural aristocracy, or what by convention is appointed to represent and strengthen it, acts in its proper place, with its proper weight, and without being subjected to violence, is a deeper question. But in that case, and with that concurrence, I should have much doubt whether any rash or desperate changes in the state, such as we have seen in France, could ever be effected.

I have said that in all political questions the consequences of any assumed rights are of great moment in deciding upon their validity. In this point of view let us a little scrutinize the effects of a right in the mere majority of the inhabitants of any country of superseding and altering their government at pleasure.

The sum total of every people is composed of its units. Every individual must have a right to originate what afterwards is to become the act of the majority. Whatever he may lawfully originate he may lawfully endeavor to accomplish. He has a right, therefore, in his own particular, to break the ties and engagements which bind him to the country in which he lives; and he has a right to make as many converts to his opinions, and to obtain as many associates in his designs, as he can procure: for how can you know the dispositions of the majority to destroy their government, but by tampering with some part of the body? You must begin by a secret conspiracy, that you may end with a national confederation. The mere pleasure of the beginner must be the sole guide; since the mere pleasure of others must be the sole ultimate sanction, as well as the sole actuating principle in every part of the progress. Thus, arbitrary will (the last corruption of ruling power) step by step poisons the heart of every citizen. If the undertaker fails, he has the misfortune of a rebel, but not the guilt. By such doctrines, all love to our country, all pious veneration and attachment to its laws and customs, are obliterated from our minds; and nothing can result from this opinion, when grown into a principle, and animated by discontent, ambition, or enthusiasm, but a series of conspiracies and seditions, sometimes ruinous to their authors, always noxious to the state. No sense of duty can prevent any man from being a leader or a follower in such enterprises. Nothing restrains the tempter; nothing guards the tempted. Nor is the new state, fabricated by such arts, safer than the old. What can prevent the mere will of any person, who hopes to unite the wills of others to his own, from an attempt wholly to overturn it? It wants nothing but a disposition to trouble the established order, to give a title to the enterprise.

When you combine this principle of the right to change a fixed and tolerable constitution of things at pleasure with the theory and practice of the French Assembly, the political, civil, and moral irregularity are, if possible, aggravated. The Assembly have found another road, and a far more commodious, to the destruction of an old government, and the legitimate formation of a new one, than through the previous will of the majority of what they call the people. Get, say they, the possession of power by any means you can into your hands; and then, a subsequent consent (what they call an address of adhesion) makes your authority as much the act of the people as if they had conferred upon you originally that kind and degree of power which without their permission you had seized upon. This is to give a direct sanction to fraud, hypocrisy, perjury, and the breach of the most sacred trusts that can exist between man and man. What can sound with such horrid discordance in the moral ear as this position,—that a delegate with limited powers may break his sworn engagements to his constituent, assume an authority, never committed to him, to alter all things at his pleasure, and then, if he can persuade a large number of men to flatter him in the power he has usurped, that he is absolved in his own conscience, and ought to stand acquitted in the eyes of mankind? On this scheme, the maker of the experiment must begin with a determined perjury. That point is certain. He must take his chance for the expiatory addresses. This is to make the success of villany the standard of innocence.

Without drawing on, therefore, very shocking consequences, neither by previous consent, nor by subsequent ratification of a mere reckoned majority, can any set of men attempt to dissolve the state at their pleasure. To apply this to our present subject. When the several orders, in their several bailliages, had met in the year 1789, (such of them, I mean, as had met peaceably and constitutionally,) to choose and to instruct their representatives, so organized and so acting, (because they were organized and were acting according to the conventions which made them a people,) they were the people of France. They had a legal and a natural capacity to be considered as that people. But observe, whilst they were in this state, that is, whilst they were a people, in no one of their instructions did they charge or even hint at any of those things which have drawn upon the usurping Assembly and their adherents the detestation of the rational and thinking part of mankind. I will venture to affirm, without the least apprehension of being contradicted by any person who knows the then state of France, that, if any one of the changes were proposed, which form the fundamental parts of their Revolution, and compose its most distinguishing acts, it would not have had one vote in twenty thousand in any order. Their instructions purported the direct contrary to all those famous proceedings which are defended as the acts of the people. Had such proceedings been expected, the great probability is, that the people would then have risen, as to a man, to prevent them. The whole organization of the Assembly was altered, the whole frame of the kingdom was changed, before these things could be done. It is long to tell, by what evil arts of the conspirators, and by what extreme weakness and want of steadiness in the lawful government, this equal usurpation on the rights of the prince and people, having first cheated, and then offered violence to both, has been able to triumph, and to employ with success the forged signature of an imprisoned sovereign, and the spurious voice of dictated addresses, to a subsequent ratification of things that had never received any previous sanction, general or particular, expressed or implied, from the nation, (in whatever sense that word is taken,) or from any part of it.

After the weighty and respectable part of the people had been murdered, or driven by the menaces of murder from their houses, or were dispersed in exile into every country in Europe,—after the soldiery had been debauched from their officers,—after property had lost its weight and consideration, along with its security,—after voluntary clubs and associations of factious and unprincipled men were substituted in the place of all the legal corporations of the kingdom arbitrarily dissolved,—after freedom had been banished from those popular meetings12 whose sole recommendation is freedom,—after it had come to that pass that no dissent dared to appear in any of them, but at the certain price of life,—after even dissent had been anticipated, and assassination became as quick as suspicion,—such pretended ratification by addresses could be no act of what any lover of the people would choose to call by their name. It is that voice which every successful usurpation, as well as this before us, may easily procure, even without making (as these tyrants have made) donatives from the spoil of one part of the citizens to corrupt the other.

The pretended rights of man, which have made this havoc, cannot be the rights of the people. For to be a people, and to have these rights, are things incompatible. The one supposes the presence, the other the absence, of a state of civil society. The very foundation of the French commonwealth is false and self-destructive; nor can its principles be adopted in any country, without the certainty of bringing it to the very same condition in which France is found. Attempts are made to introduce them into every nation in Europe. This nation, as possessing the greatest influence, they wish most to corrupt, as by that means they are assured the contagion must become general. I hope, therefore, I shall be excused, if I endeavor to show, as shortly as the matter will admit, the danger of giving to them, either avowedly or tacitly, the smallest countenance.

There are times and circumstances in which not to speak out is at least to connive. Many think it enough for them, that the principles propagated by these clubs and societies, enemies to their country and its Constitution, are not owned by the modern Whigs in Parliament, who are so warm in condemnation of Mr. Burke and his book, and of course of all the principles of the ancient, constitutional Whigs of this kingdom. Certainly they are not owned. But are they condemned with the same zeal as Mr. Burke and his book are condemned? Are they condemned at all? Are they rejected or discountenanced in any way whatsoever? Is any man who would fairly examine into the demeanor and principles of those societies, and that too very moderately, and in the way rather of admonition than of punishment, is such a man even decently treated? Is he not reproached as if in condemning such principles he had belied the conduct of his whole life, suggesting that his life had been governed by principles similar to those which he now reprobates? The French system is in the mean time, by many active agents out of doors, rapturously praised; the British Constitution is coldly tolerated. But these Constitutions are different both in the foundation and in the whole superstructure; and it is plain that you cannot build up the one but on the ruins of the other. After all, if the French be a superior system of liberty, why should we not adopt it? To what end are our praises? Is excellence held out to us only that we should not copy after it? And what is there in the manners of the people, or in the climate of France, which renders that species of republic fitted for them, and unsuitable to us? A strong and marked difference between the two nations ought to be shown, before we can admit a constant, affected panegyric, a standing, annual commemoration, to be without any tendency to an example.

But the leaders of party will not go the length of the doctrines taught by the seditious clubs. I am sure they do not mean to do so. God forbid! Perhaps even those who are directly carrying on the work of this pernicious foreign faction do not all of them intend to produce all the mischiefs which must inevitably follow from their having any success in their proceedings. As to leaders in parties, nothing is more common than to see them blindly led. The world is governed by go-betweens. These go-betweens influence the persons with whom they carry on the intercourse, by stating their own sense to each of them as the sense of the other; and thus they reciprocally master both sides. It is first buzzed about the ears of leaders, “that their friends without doors are very eager for some measure, or very warm about some opinion,—that you must not be too rigid with them. They are useful persons, and zealous in the cause. They may be a little wrong, but the spirit of liberty must not be damped; and by the influence you obtain from some degree of concurrence with them at present, you may be enabled to set them right hereafter.”

Thus the leaders are at first drawn to a connivance with sentiments and proceedings often totally different from their serious and deliberate notions. But their acquiescence answers every purpose.

With no better than such powers, the go-betweens assume a new representative character. What at best was but an acquiescence is magnified into an authority, and thence into a desire on the part of the leaders; and it is carried down as such to the subordinate members of parties. By this artifice they in their turn are led into measures which at first, perhaps, few of them wished at all, or at least did not desire vehemently or systematically.

There is in all parties, between the principal leaders in Parliament and the lowest followers out of doors, a middle sort of men, a sort of equestrian order, who, by the spirit of that middle situation, are the fittest for preventing things from running to excess. But indecision, though a vice of a totally different character, is the natural accomplice of violence. The irresolution and timidity of those who compose this middle order often prevents the effect of their controlling situation. The fear of differing with the authority of leaders on the one hand, and of contradicting the desires of the multitude on the other, induces them to give a careless and passive assent to measures in which they never were consulted; and thus things proceed, by a sort of activity of inertness, until whole bodies, leaders, middle-men, and followers, are all hurried, with every appearance and with many of the effects of unanimity, into schemes of politics, in the substance of which no two of them were ever fully agreed, and the origin and authors of which, in this circular mode of communication, none of them find it possible to trace. In my experience, I have seen much of this in affairs which, though trifling in comparison to the present, were yet of some importance to parties; and I have known them suffer by it. The sober part give their sanction, at first through inattention and levity; at last they give it through necessity. A violent spirit is raised, which the presiding minds after a time find it impracticable to stop at their pleasure, to control, to regulate, or even to direct.

This shows, in my opinion, how very quick and awakened all men ought to be, who are looked up to by the public, and who deserve that confidence, to prevent a surprise on their opinions, when dogmas are spread and projects pursued by which the foundations of society may be affected. Before they listen even to moderate alterations in the government of their country, they ought to take care that principles are not propagated for that purpose which are too big for their object. Doctrines limited in their present application, and wide in their general principles, are never meant to be confined to what they at first pretend. If I were to form a prognostic of the effect of the present machinations on the people from their sense of any grievance they suffer under this Constitution, my mind would be at ease. But there is a wide difference between the multitude, when they act against their government from a sense of grievance or from zeal for some opinions. When men are thoroughly possessed with that zeal, it is difficult to calculate its force. It is certain that its power is by no means in exact proportion to its reasonableness. It must always have been discoverable by persons of reflection, but it is now obvious to the world, that a theory concerning government may become as much a cause of fanaticism as a dogma in religion. There is a boundary to men’s passions, when they act from feeling; none when they are under the influence of imagination. Remove a grievance, and, when men act from feeling, you go a great way towards quieting a commotion. But the good or bad conduct of a government, the protection men have enjoyed or the oppression they have suffered under it, are of no sort of moment, when a faction, proceeding upon speculative grounds, is thoroughly heated against its form. When a man is from system furious against monarchy or episcopacy, the good conduct of the monarch or the bishop has no other effect than further to irritate the adversary. He is provoked at it as furnishing a plea for preserving the thing which he wishes to destroy. His mind will be heated as much by the sight of a sceptre, a mace, or a verge, as if he had been daily bruised and wounded by these symbols of authority. Mere spectacles, mere names, will become sufficient causes to stimulate the people to war and tumult.

Some gentlemen are not terrified by the facility with which government has been overturned in France. “The people of France,” they say, “had nothing to lose in the destruction of a bad Constitution; but, though not the best possible, we have still a good stake in ours, which will hinder us from desperate risks.” Is this any security at all against those who seem to persuade themselves, and who labor to persuade others, that our Constitution is an usurpation in its origin, unwise in its contrivance, mischievous in its effects, contrary to the rights of man, and in all its parts a perfect nuisance? What motive has any rational man, who thinks in that manner, to spill his blood, or even to risk a shilling of his fortune, or to waste a moment of his leisure, to preserve it? If he has any duty relative to it, his duty is to destroy it. A Constitution on sufferance is a Constitution condemned. Sentence is already passed upon it. The execution is only delayed. On the principles of these gentlemen, it neither has nor ought to have any security. So far as regards them, it is left naked, without friends, partisans, assertors, or protectors.

Let us examine into the value of this security upon the principles of those who are more sober,—of those who think, indeed, the French Constitution better, or at least as good as the British, without going to all the lengths of the warmer politicians in reprobating their own. Their security amounts in reality to nothing more than this,—that the difference between their republican system and the British limited monarchy is not worth a civil war. This opinion, I admit, will prevent people not very enterprising in their nature from an active undertaking against the British Constitution. But it is the poorest defensive principle that ever was infused into the mind of man against the attempts of those who will enterprise. It will tend totally to remove from their minds that very terror of a civil war which is held out as our sole security. They who think so well of the French Constitution certainly will not be the persons to carry on a war to prevent their obtaining a great benefit, or at worst a fair exchange. They will not go to battle in favor of a cause in which their defeat might be more advantageous to the public than their victory. They must at least tacitly abet those who endeavor to make converts to a sound opinion; they must discountenance those who would oppose its propagation. In proportion as by these means the enterprising party is strengthened, the dread of a struggle is lessened. See what an encouragement this is to the enemies of the Constitution! A few assassinations and a very great destruction of property we know they consider as no real obstacles in the way of a grand political change. And they will hope, that here, if antimonarchical opinions gain ground as they have done in France, they may, as in France, accomplish a revolution without a war.

They who think so well of the French Constitution cannot be seriously alarmed by any progress made by its partisans. Provisions for security are not to be received from those who think that there is no danger. No! there is no plan of security to be listened to but from those who entertain the same fears with ourselves,—from those who think that the thing to be secured is a great blessing, and the thing against which we would secure it a great mischief. Every person of a different opinion must be careless about security.

I believe the author of the Reflections, whether he fears the designs of that set of people with reason or not, cannot prevail on himself to despise them. He cannot despise them for their numbers, which, though small, compared with the sound part of the community, are not inconsiderable: he cannot look with contempt on their influence, their activity, or the kind of talents and tempers which they possess, exactly calculated for the work they have in hand and the minds they chiefly apply to. Do we not see their most considerable and accredited ministers, and several of their party of weight and importance, active in spreading mischievous opinions, in giving sanction to seditious writings, in promoting seditious anniversaries? and what part of their description has disowned them or their proceedings? When men, circumstanced as these are, publicly declare such admiration of a foreign Constitution, and such contempt of our own, it would be, in the author of the Reflections, thinking as he does of the French Constitution, infamously to cheat the rest of the nation to their ruin to say there is no danger.

In estimating danger, we are obliged to take into our calculation the character and disposition of the enemy into whose hands we may chance to fall. The genius of this faction is easily discerned, by observing with what a very different eye they have viewed the late foreign revolutions. Two have passed before them: that of France, and that of Poland. The state of Poland was such, that there could scarcely exist two opinions, but that a reformation of its Constitution, even at some expense of blood, might be seen without much disapprobation. No confusion could be feared in such an enterprise; because the establishment to be reformed was itself a state of confusion. A king without authority; nobles without union or subordination; a people without arts, industry, commerce, or liberty; no order within, no defence without; no effective public force, but a foreign force, which entered, a naked country at will, and disposed of everything at pleasure. Here was a state of things which seemed to invite, and might perhaps justify, bold enterprise and desperate experiment. But in what manner was this chaos brought into order? The means were as striking to the imagination as satisfactory to the reason and soothing to the moral sentiments. In contemplating that change, humanity has everything to rejoice and to glory in,—nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to suffer. So far as it has gone, it probably is the most pure and defecated public good which ever has been conferred on mankind. We have seen anarchy and servitude at once removed; a throne strengthened for the protection of the people, without trenching on their liberties; all foreign cabal banished, by changing the crown from elective to hereditary; and what was a matter of pleasing wonder, we have seen a reigning king, from an heroic love to his country, exerting himself with all the toil, the dexterity, the management, the intrigue, in favor of a family of strangers, with which ambitious men labor for the aggrandizement of their own. Ten millions of men in a way of being freed gradually, and therefore safely to themselves and the state, not from civil or political chains, which, bad as they are, only fetter the mind, but from substantial personal bondage. Inhabitants of cities, before without privileges, placed in the consideration which belongs to that improved and connecting situation of social life. One of the most proud, numerous, and fierce bodies of nobility and gentry ever known in the world arranged only in the foremost rank of free and generous citizens. Not one man incurred loss or suffered degradation. All, from the king to the day-laborer, were improved in their condition. Everything was kept in its place and order; but in that place and order everything was bettered. To add to this happy wonder, this unheard-of conjunction of wisdom and fortune, not one drop of blood was spilled; no treachery; no outrage; no system of slander more cruel than the sword; no studied insults on religion, morals, or manners; no spoil; no confiscation; no citizen beggared; none imprisoned; none exiled: the whole was effected with a policy, a discretion, an unanimity and secrecy, such as have never been before known on any occasion; but such wonderful conduct was reserved for this glorious conspiracy in favor of the true and genuine rights and interests of men. Happy people, if they know to proceed as they have begun! Happy prince, worthy to begin with splendor or to close with glory a race of patriots and of kings, and to leave

A name, which every wind to heaven would bear,
Which men to speak, and angels joy to hear!

To finish all,—this great good, as in the instant it is, contains in it the seeds of all further improvement, and may be considered as in a regular progress, because founded on similar principles, towards the stable excellence of a British Constitution.

Here was a matter for congratulation and for festive remembrance through ages. Here moralists and divines might indeed relax in their temperance, to exhilarate their humanity. But mark the character of our faction. All their enthusiasm is kept for the French Revolution. They cannot pretend that France had stood so much in need of a change as Poland. They cannot pretend that Poland has not obtained a better system of liberty or of government than it enjoyed before. They cannot assert that the Polish Revolution cost more dearly than that of France to the interests and feelings of multitudes of men. But the cold and subordinate light in which they look upon the one, and the pains they take to preach up the other of these Revolutions, leave us no choice in fixing on their motives. Both Revolutions profess liberty as their object; but in obtaining this object the one proceeds from anarchy to order, the other from order to anarchy. The first secures its liberty by establishing its throne; the other builds its freedom on the subversion of its monarchy. In the one, their means are unstained by crimes, and their settlement favors morality; in the other, vice and confusion are in the very essence of their pursuit, and of their enjoyment. The circumstances in which these two events differ must cause the difference we make in their comparative estimation. These turn the scale with the societies in favor of France. Ferrum est quod amant. The frauds, the violences, the sacrileges, the havoc and ruin of families, the dispersion and exile of the pride and flower of a great country, the disorder, the confusion, the anarchy, the violation of property, the cruel murders, the inhuman confiscations, and in the end the insolent domination of bloody, ferocious, and senseless clubs,—these are the things which they love and admire. What men admire and love they would surely act. Let us see what is done in France; and then let us undervalue any the slightest danger of falling into the hands of such a merciless and savage faction!

“But the leaders of the factious societies are too wild to succeed in this their undertaking.” I hope so. But supposing them wild and absurd, is there no danger but from wise and reflecting men? Perhaps the greatest mischiefs that have happened in the world have happened from persons as wild as those we think the wildest. In truth, they are the fittest beginners of all great changes. Why encourage men in a mischievous proceeding, because their absurdity may disappoint their malice?—”But noticing them may give them consequence.” Certainly. But they are noticed; and they are noticed, not with reproof, but with that kind of countenance which is given by an apparent concurrence (not a real one, I am convinced) of a great party in the praises of the object which they hold out to imitation.

But I hear a language still more extraordinary, and indeed of such a nature as must suppose or leave us at their mercy. It is this:—”You know their promptitude in writing, and their diligence in caballing; to write, speak, or act against them will only stimulate them to new efforts.” This way of considering the principle of their conduct pays but a poor compliment to these gentlemen. They pretend that their doctrines are infinitely beneficial to mankind; but it seems they would keep them to themselves, if they were not greatly provoked. They are benevolent from spite. Their oracles are like those of Proteus, (whom some people think they resemble in many particulars,) who never would give his responses, unless you used him as ill as possible. These cats, it seems, would not give out their electrical light without having their backs well rubbed. But this is not to do them perfect justice. They are sufficiently communicative. Had they been quiet, the propriety of any agitation of topics on the origin and primary rights of government, in opposition to their private sentiments, might possibly be doubted. But, as it is notorious that they were proceeding as fast and as far as time and circumstances would admit, both in their discussions and cabals,—as it is not to be denied that they had opened a correspondence with a foreign faction the most wicked the world ever saw, and established anniversaries to commemorate the most monstrous, cruel, and perfidious of all the proceedings of that faction,—the question is, whether their conduct was to be regarded in silence, lest our interference should render them outrageous. Then let them deal as they please with the Constitution. Let the lady be passive, lest the ravisher should be driven to force. Resistance will only increase his desires. Yes, truly, if the resistance be feigned and feeble. But they who are wedded to the Constitution will not act the part of wittols. They will drive such seducers from the house on the first appearance of their love-letters and offered assignations. But if the author of the Reflections, though a vigilant, was not a discreet guardian of the Constitution, let them who have the same regard to it show themselves as vigilant and more skilful in repelling the attacks of seduction or violence. Their freedom from jealousy is equivocal, and may arise as well from indifference to the object as from confidence in her virtue.

On their principle, it is the resistance, and not the assault, which produces the danger. I admit, indeed, that, if we estimated the danger by the value of the writings, it would be little worthy of our attention: contemptible these writings are in every sense. But they are not the cause, they are the disgusting symptoms of a frightful distemper. They are not otherwise of consequence than as they show the evil habit of the bodies from whence they come. In that light the meanest of them is a serious thing. If, however, I should underrate them, and if the truth is, that they are not the result, but the cause, of the disorders I speak of, surely those who circulate operative poisons, and give to whatever force they have by their nature the further operation of their authority and adoption, are to be censured, watched, and, if possible, repressed.

At what distance the direct danger from such factions may be it is not easy to fix. An adaptation of circumstances to designs and principles is necessary. But these cannot be wanting for any long time, in the ordinary course of sublunary affairs. Great discontents frequently arise in the best constituted governments from causes which no human wisdom can foresee and no human power can prevent. They occur at uncertain periods, but at periods which are not commonly far asunder. Governments of all kinds are administered only by men; and great mistakes, tending to inflame these discontents, may concur. The indecision of those who happen to rule at the critical time, their supine neglect, or their precipitate and ill-judged attention, may aggravate the public misfortunes. In such a state of things, the principles, now only sown, will shoot out and vegetate in full luxuriance. In such circumstances the minds of the people become sore and ulcerated. They are put out of humor with all public men and all public parties; they are fatigued with their dissensions; they are irritated at their coalitions; they are made easily to believe (what much pains are taken to make them believe) that all oppositions are factious, and all courtiers base and servile. From their disgust at men, they are soon led to quarrel with their frame of government, which they presume gives nourishment to the vices, real or supposed, of those who administer in it. Mistaking malignity for sagacity, they are soon led to cast off all hope from a good administration of affairs, and come to think that all reformation depends, not on a change of actors, but upon an alteration in the machinery. Then will be felt the full effect of encouraging doctrines which tend to make the citizens despise their Constitution. Then will be felt the plenitude of the mischief of teaching the people to believe that all ancient institutions are the results of ignorance, and that all prescriptive government is in its nature usurpation. Then will be felt, in all its energy, the danger of encouraging a spirit of litigation in persons of that immature and imperfect state of knowledge which serves to render them susceptible of doubts, but incapable of their solution. Then will be felt, in all its aggravation, the pernicious consequence of destroying all docility in the minds of those who are not formed for finding their own way in the labyrinths of political theory, and are made to reject the clew and to disdain the guide. Then will be felt, and too late will be acknowledged, the ruin which follows the disjoining of religion from the state, the separation of morality from policy, and the giving conscience no concern and no coactive or coercive force in the most material of all the social ties, the principle of our obligations to government.

I know, too, that, besides this vain, contradictory, and self-destructive security which some men derive from the habitual attachment of the people to this Constitution, whilst they suffer it with a sort of sportive acquiescence to be brought into contempt before their faces, they have other grounds for removing all apprehension from their minds. They are of opinion that there are too many men of great hereditary estates and influence in the kingdom to suffer the establishment of the levelling system which has taken place in France. This is very true, if, in order to guide the power which now attends their property, these men possess the wisdom which is involved in early fear. But if, through a supine security, to which such fortunes are peculiarly liable, they neglect the use of their influence in the season of their power, on the first derangement of society the nerves of their strength will be cut. Their estates, instead of being the means of their security, will become the very causes of their danger. Instead of bestowing influence, they will excite rapacity. They will be looked to as a prey.

Such will be the impotent condition of those men of great hereditary estates, who indeed dislike the designs that are carried on, but whose dislike is rather that of spectators than of parties that may be concerned in the catastrophe of the piece. But riches do not in all cases secure even an inert and passive resistance. There are always in that description men whose fortunes, when their minds are once vitiated by passion or by evil principle, are by no means a security from their actually taking their part against the public tranquillity. We see to what low and despicable passions of all kinds many men in that class are ready to sacrifice the patrimonial estates which might be perpetuated in their families with splendor, and with the fame of hereditary benefactors to mankind, from generation to generation. Do we not see how lightly people treat their fortunes, when under the influence of the passion of gaming? The game of ambition or resentment will be played by many of the rich and great as desperately, and with as much blindness to the consequences, as any other game. Was he a man of no rank or fortune who first set on foot the disturbances which have ruined France? Passion blinded him to the consequences, so far as they concerned himself; and as to the consequences with regard to others, they were no part of his consideration,—nor ever will be with those who bear any resemblance to that virtuous patriot and lover of the rights of man.

There is also a time of insecurity, when interests of all sorts become objects of speculation. Then it is that their very attachment to wealth and importance will induce several persons of opulence to list themselves and even to take a lead with the party which they think most likely to prevail, in order to obtain to themselves consideration in some new order or disorder of things. They may be led to act in this manner, that they may secure some portion of their own property, and perhaps to become partakers of the spoil of their own order. Those who speculate on change always make a great number among people of rank and fortune, as well as amongst the low and the indigent.

What security against all this?—All human securities are liable to uncertainty. But if anything bids fair for the prevention of so great a calamity, it must consist in the use of the ordinary means of just influence in society, whilst those means continue unimpaired. The public judgment ought to receive a proper direction. All weighty men may have their share in so good a work. As yet, notwithstanding the strutting and lying independence of a braggart philosophy, Nature maintains her rights, and great names have great prevalence. Two such men as Mr. Pitt and Mr. Fox, adding to their authority in a point in which they concur even by their disunion in everything else, might frown these wicked opinions out of the kingdom. But if the influence of either of them, or the influence of men like them, should, against their serious intentions, be otherwise perverted, they may countenance opinions which (as I have said before, and could wish over and over again to press) they may in vain attempt to control. In their theory, these doctrines admit no limit, no qualification whatsoever. No man can say how far he will go, who joins with those who are avowedly going to the utmost extremities. What security is there for stopping short at all in these wild conceits? Why, neither more nor less than this,—that the moral sentiments of some few amongst them do put some check on their savage theories. But let us take care. The moral sentiments, so nearly connected with early prejudice as to be almost one and the same thing, will assuredly not live long under a discipline which has for its basis the destruction of all prejudices, and the making the mind proof against all dread of consequences flowing from the pretended truths that are taught by their philosophy.

In this school the moral sentiments must grow weaker and weaker every day. The more cautious of these teachers, in laying down their maxims, draw as much of the conclusion as suits, not with their premises, but with their policy. They trust the rest to the sagacity of their pupils. Others, and these are the most vaunted for their spirit, not only lay down the same premises, but boldly draw the conclusions, to the destruction of our whole Constitution in Church and State. But are these conclusions truly drawn? Yes, most certainly. Their principles are wild and wicked; but let justice be done even to frenzy and villany. These teachers are perfectly systematic. No man who assumes their grounds can tolerate the British Constitution in Church or State. These teachers profess to scorn all mediocrity,—to engage for perfection,—to proceed by the simplest and shortest course. They build their politics, not on convenience, but on truth; and they profess to conduct men to certain happiness by the assertion of their undoubted rights. With them there is no compromise. All other governments are usurpations, which justify and even demand resistance.

Their principles always go to the extreme. They who go with the principles of the ancient Whigs, which are those contained in Mr. Burke’s book, never can go too far. They may, indeed, stop short of some hazardous and ambiguous excellence, which they will be taught to postpone to any reasonable degree of good they may actually possess. The opinions maintained in that book never can lead to an extreme, because their foundation is laid in an opposition to extremes. The foundation of government is there laid, not in imaginary rights of men, (which at best is a confusion of judicial with civil principles,) but in political convenience, and in human nature,—either as that nature is universal, or as it is modified by local habits and social aptitudes. The foundation of government (those who have read that book will recollect) is laid in a provision for our wants and in a conformity to our duties: it is to purvey for the one, it is to enforce the other. These doctrines do of themselves gravitate to a middle point, or to some point near a middle. They suppose, indeed, a certain portion of liberty to be essential to all good government; but they infer that this liberty is to be blended into the government, to harmonize with its forms and its rules, and to be made subordinate to its end. Those who are not with that book are with its opposite; for there is no medium besides the medium itself. That medium is not such because it is found there, but it is found there because it is conformable to truth and Nature. In this we do not follow the author, but we and the author travel together upon the same safe and middle path.

The theory contained in his book is not to furnish principles for making a new Constitution, but for illustrating the principles of a Constitution already made. It is a theory drawn from the fact of our government. They who oppose it are bound to show that his theory militates with that fact; otherwise, their quarrel is not with his book, but with the Constitution of their country. The whole scheme of our mixed Constitution is to prevent any one of its principles from being carried as far as, taken by itself, and theoretically, it would go. Allow that to be the true policy of the British system, then most of the faults with which that system stands charged will appear to be, not imperfections into which it has inadvertently fallen, but excellencies which it has studiously sought. To avoid the perfections of extreme, all its several parts are so constituted as not alone to answer their own several ends, but also each to limit and control the others; insomuch that, take which of the principles you please, you will find its operation checked and stopped at a certain point. The whole movement stands still rather than that any part should proceed beyond its boundary. From thence it results that in the British Constitution there is a perpetual treaty and compromise going on, sometimes openly, sometimes with less observation. To him who contemplates the British Constitution, as to him who contemplates the subordinate material world, it will always be a matter of his most curious investigation to discover the secret of this mutual limitation.

Finita potestas denique cuique
Quanam sit ratione, atque alte terminus hærens?

They who have acted, as in France they have done, upon a scheme wholly different, and who aim at the abstract and unlimited perfection of power in the popular part, can be of no service to us in any of our political arrangements. They who in their headlong career have overpassed the goal can furnish no example to those who aim to go no further. The temerity of such speculators is no more an example than the timidity of others. The one sort scorns the right; the other fears it; both miss it. But those who by violence go beyond the barrier are without question the most mischievous; because, to go beyond it, they overturn and destroy it. To say they have spirit is to say nothing in their praise. The untempered spirit of madness, blindness, immorality, and impiety deserves no commendation. He that sets his house on fire because his fingers are frost-bitten can never be a fit instructor in the method of providing our habitations with a cheerful and salutary warmth. We want no foreign examples to rekindle in us the flame of liberty. The example of our own ancestors is abundantly sufficient to maintain the spirit of freedom in its full vigor, and to qualify it in all its exertions. The example of a wise, moral, well-natured, and well-tempered spirit of freedom is that alone which can be useful to us, or in the least degree reputable or safe. Our fabric is so constituted, one part of it bears so much on the other, the parts are so made for one another, and for nothing else, that to introduce any foreign matter into it is to destroy it.

What has been said of the Roman Empire is at least as true of the British Constitution:—”Octingentorum annorum fortuna disciplinaque compages hæc coaluit; quæ convelli sine convellentium exitio non potest.” This British Constitution has not been struck out at an heat by a set of presumptuous men, like the Assembly of pettifoggers run mad in Paris.

“It is not the hasty product of a day,
But the well-ripened fruit of wise delay.”

It is the result of the thoughts of many minds in many ages. It is no simple, no superficial thing, nor to be estimated by superficial understandings. An ignorant man, who is not fool enough to meddle with his clock, is, however, sufficiently confident to think he can safely take to pieces and put together, at his pleasure, a moral machine of another guise, importance, and complexity, composed of far other wheels and springs and balances and counteracting and cooperating powers. Men little think how immorally they act in rashly meddling with what they do not understand. Their delusive good intention is no sort of excuse for their presumption. They who truly mean well must be fearful of acting ill. The British Constitution may have its advantages pointed out to wise and reflecting minds, but it is of too high an order of excellence to be adapted to those which are common. It takes in too many views, it makes too many combinations, to be so much as comprehended by shallow and superficial understandings. Profound thinkers will know it in its reason and spirit. The less inquiring will recognize it in their feelings and their experience. They will thank God they have a standard, which, in the most essential point of this great concern, will put them on a par with the most wise and knowing.

If we do not take to our aid the foregone studies of men reputed intelligent and learned, we shall be always beginners. But men must learn somewhere; and the new teachers mean no more than what they effect, as far as they succeed,—that is, to deprive men of the benefit of the collected wisdom of mankind, and to make them blind disciples of their own particular presumption. Talk to these deluded creatures (all the disciples and most of the masters) who are taught to think themselves so newly fitted up and furnished, and you will find nothing in their houses but the refuse of Knaves’ Acre,—nothing but the rotten stuff, worn out in the service of delusion and sedition in all ages, and which, being newly furbished up, patched, and varnished, serves well enough for those who, being unacquainted with the conflict which has always been maintained between the sense and the nonsense of mankind, know nothing of the former existence and the ancient refutation of the same follies. It is near two thousand years since it has been observed that these devices of ambition, avarice, and turbulence were antiquated. They are, indeed, the most ancient of all commonplaces: commonplaces sometimes of good and necessary causes; more frequently of the worst, but which decide upon neither. Eadem semper causa, libido et avaritia, et mutandarum rerum amor. Ceterum libertas et speciosa nomina pretexuntur; nec quisquam alienum servitium, et dominationem sibi concupivit, ut non eadem ista vocabula usurparet.

Rational and experienced men tolerably well know, and have always known, how to distinguish between true and false liberty, and between the genuine adherence and the false pretence to what is true. But none, except those who are profoundly studied, can comprehend the elaborate contrivance of a fabric fitted to unite private and public liberty with public force, with order, with peace, with justice, and, above all, with the institutions formed for bestowing permanence and stability, through ages, upon this invaluable whole.

Place, for instance, before your eyes such a man as Montesquieu. Think of a genius not born in every country or every time: a man gifted by Nature with a penetrating, aquiline eye,—with a judgment prepared with the most extensive erudition,—with an Herculean robustness of mind, and nerves not to be broken with labor,—a man who could spend twenty years in one pursuit. Think of a man like the universal patriarch in Milton (who had drawn up before him in his prophetic vision the whole series of the generations which were to issue from his loins): a man capable of placing in review, after having brought together from the East, the West, the North, and the South, from the coarseness of the rudest barbarism to the most refined and subtle civilization, all the schemes of government which had ever prevailed amongst mankind, weighing, measuring, collating, and comparing them all, joining fact with theory, and calling into council, upon all this infinite assemblage of things, all the speculations which have fatigued the understandings of profound reasoners in all times. Let us then consider, that all these were but so many preparatory steps to qualify a man, and such a man, tinctured with no national prejudice, with no domestic affection, to admire, and to hold out to the admiration of mankind, the Constitution of England. And shall we Englishmen revoke to such a suit? Shall we, when so much more than he has produced remains still to be understood and admired, instead of keeping ourselves in the schools of real science, choose for our teachers men incapable of being taught,—whose only claim to know is, that they have never doubted,—from whom we can learn nothing but their own indocility,—who would teach us to scorn what in the silence of our hearts we ought to adore?

Different from them are all the great critics. They have taught us one essential rule. I think the excellent and philosophic artist, a true judge, as well as a perfect follower of Nature, Sir Joshua Reynolds, has somewhere applied it, or something like it, in his own profession. It is this: that, if ever we should find ourselves disposed not to admire those writers or artists (Livy and Virgil, for instance, Raphael or Michael Angelo) whom all the learned had admired, not to follow our own fancies, but to study them, until we know how and what we ought to admire; and if we cannot arrive at this combination of admiration with knowledge, rather to believe that we are dull than that the rest of the world has been imposed on. It is as good a rule, at least, with regard to this admired Constitution. We ought to understand it according to our measure, and to venerate where we are not able presently to comprehend.

Such admirers were our fathers, to whom we owe this splendid inheritance. Let us improve it with zeal, but with fear. Let us follow our ancestors, men not without a rational, though without an exclusive confidence in themselves,—who, by respecting the reason of others, who, by looking backward as well as forward, by the modesty as well as by the energy of their minds, went on insensibly drawing this Constitution nearer and nearer to its perfection, by never departing from its fundamental principles, nor introducing any amendment which had not a subsisting root in the laws, Constitution, and usages of the kingdom. Let those who have the trust of political or of natural authority ever keep watch against the desperate enterprises of innovation: let even their benevolence be fortified and armed. They have before their eyes the example of a monarch insulted, degraded, confined, deposed; his family dispersed, scattered, imprisoned; his wife insulted to his face, like the vilest of the sex, by the vilest of all populace; himself three times dragged by these wretches in an infamous triumph; his children torn from him, in violation of the first right of Nature, and given into the tuition of the most desperate and impious of the leaders of desperate and impious clubs; his revenues dilapidated and plundered; his magistrates murdered; his clergy proscribed, persecuted, famished; his nobility degraded in their rank, undone in their fortunes, fugitives in their persons; his armies corrupted and ruined; his whole people impoverished, disunited, dissolved; whilst through the bars of his prison, and amidst the bayonets of his keepers, he hears the tumult of two conflicting factions, equally wicked and abandoned, who agree in principles, in dispositions, and in objects, but who tear each other to pieces about the most effectual means of obtaining their common end: the one contending to preserve for a while his name, and his person, the more easily to destroy the royal authority,—the other clamoring to cut off the name, the person, and the monarchy together, by one sacrilegious execution. All this accumulation of calamity, the greatest that ever fell upon one man, has fallen upon his head, because he had left his virtues unguarded by caution,—because he was not taught, that, where power is concerned, he who will confer benefits must take security against ingratitude.

I have stated the calamities which have fallen upon a great prince and nation, because they were not alarmed at the approach of danger, and because, what commonly happens to men surprised, they lost all resource when they were caught in it. When I speak of danger, I certainly mean to address myself to those who consider the prevalence of the new Whig doctrines as an evil.

The Whigs of this day have before them, in this Appeal, their constitutional ancestors; they have the doctors of the modern school. They will choose for themselves. The author of the Reflections has chosen for himself. If a new order is coming on, and all the political opinions must pass away as dreams, which our ancestors have worshipped as revelations, I say for him, that he would rather be the last (as certainly he is the least) of that race of men than the first and greatest of those who have coined to themselves Whig principles from a French die, unknown to the impress of our fathers in the Constitution.

FOOTNOTES:

1. State Trials, Vol. V. p. 651.

2. Page 676.

3. The words necessary to the completion of the sentence are wanting in the printed trial—but the construction of the sentence, as well as the foregoing part of the speech, justify the insertion of some such supplemental words as the above.

4. “What we did was, in truth and substance, and in a constitutional light, a revolution, not made, but prevented. We took solid securities; we settled doubtful questions; we corrected anomalies in our law. In the stable, fundamental parts of our Constitution we made no revolution,—no, nor any alteration at all. We did not impair the monarchy. Perhaps it might be shown that we strengthened it very considerably. The nation kept the same ranks, the same orders, the same privileges, the same franchises, the same rules for property, the same subordinations, the same order in the law, in the revenue, and in the magistracy,—the same lords, the same commons, the same corporations, the same electors.”—Mr. Burke’s Speech in the House of Commons, 9th February, 1790.—It appears how exactly he coincides in everything with Sir Joseph Jekyl.

5. See Reflections, pp. 42, 43.—Works, Vol. III. p. 270, present edition.

6. Declaration of Right.

7. Vindication of the Rights of Man, recommended by the several societies.

8. “Omnes omnium charitates patria una complectitur.”—Cic.

9. A few lines in Persius contain a good summary of all the objects of moral investigation, and hint the result of our inquiry: There human will has no place.

Quid sumus? et quidnam victuri gignimur? ordo
Quis datus? et metæ quis mollis flexus, et unde?
Quis modus argento? Quid fas optare? Quid asper
Utile nummus habet? Patriæ charisque propinquis
Quantum elargiri debet? Quem te Deus esse
Jussit? et humana qua parte locatus es in re?

10. It is no small loss to the world, that the whole of this enlightened and philosophic sermon, preached to two hundred thousand national guards assembled at Blackheath (a number probably equal to the sublime and majestic Fédération of the 14th of July, 1790, in the Champ de Mars) is not preserved. A short abstract is, however, to be found in Walsingham. I have added it here for the edification of the modern Whigs, who may possibly except this precious little fragment from their general contempt of ancient learning.

“Ut suâ doctrinâ plures inficeret, ad le Blackheth (ubi ducenta millia hominum communium fuere simul congregata) hujuscemodi sermonem est exorsus.

“Whan Adam dalfe and Eve span,
Who was than a gentleman?

Continuansque sermonem inceptum, nitebatur per verba proverbii, quod pro themate sumpserat, introducere et probare, ab initio omnes pares creatos a naturâ, servitutem per injustam oppressionem nequam hominum introductam contra Dei voluntatem, quia si Deo placuisset servos creâsse, utique in principio mundi constituisset, quis servus, quisve dominus futurus fuisset. Considerarent igitur jam tempus a Deo datum eis, in quo (deposito servitutis jugo diutius) possent, si vellent, libertate diu concupitâ gaudere. Quapropter monuit ut essent viri cordati, et amore boni patrisfamilias excolentis agrum suum, et extirpantis ac resecantis noxia gramina quæ fruges solent opprimere, et ipsi in præsenti facere festinarent. Primò majores regni dominos occidendo. Deinde juridicos, justiciarios, et juratores patriæ perimendo. Postremò quoscunque scirent in posterum communitati nocivos tollerent de terrâ suâ, sic demum et pacemsibimet parerent et securitatem in futurum. Si sublatis majoribus esset inter eos æqua libertas, eadem nobilitas, par dignitas, similisque potestas.

Here is displayed at once the whole of the grand arcanum pretended to be found out by the National Assembly, for securing future happiness, peace, and tranquillity. There seems, however, to be some doubt whether this venerable protomartyr of philosophy was inclined to carry his own declaration of the rights of men more rigidly into practice than the National Assembly themselves. He was, like them, only preaching licentiousness to the populace to obtain power for himself, if we may believe what is subjoined by the historian.

“Cumque hæc et plura alia deliramenta” (think of this old fool’s calling all the wise maxims of the French Academy deliramenta!) “prædicâsset, commune vulgus cum tanto favore prosequitur, ut exclamarent eum archiepiscopum futurum, et regni cancellarium.” Whether he would have taken these situations under these names, or would have changed the whole nomenclature of the State and Church, to be understood in the sense of the Revolution, is not so certain. It is probable that he would have changed the names and kept the substance of power.

We find, too, that they had in those days their society for constitutional information, of which the Reverend John Ball was a conspicuous member, sometimes under his own name, sometimes under the feigned name of John Schep. Besides him it consisted (as Knyghton tells us) of persons who went by the real or fictitious names of Jack Mylner, Tom Baker, Jack Straw, Jack Trewman, Jack Carter, and probably of many more. Some of the choicest flowers of the publications charitably written and circulated by them gratis are upon record in Walsingham and Knyghton: and I am inclined to prefer the pithy and sententious brevity of these bulletins of ancient rebellion before the loose and confused prolixity of the modern advertisements of constitutional information. They contain more good morality and less bad politics, they had much more foundation in real oppression, and they have the recommendation of being much better adapted to the capacities of those for whose instruction they were intended. Whatever laudable pains the teachers of the present day appear to take, I cannot compliment them so far as to allow that they have succeeded in writing down to the level of their pupils, the members of the sovereign, with half the ability of Jack Carter and the Reverend John Ball. That my readers may judge for themselves, I shall give them, one or two specimens.

The first is an address from the Reverend John Ball, under his nom de guerre of John Schep. I know not against what particular “guyle in borough” the writer means to caution the people; it may have been only a general cry against “rotten boroughs,” which it was thought convenient, then as now, to make the first pretext, and place at the head of the list of grievances.

JOHN SCHEP.

“Iohn Schep sometime seint Mary priest of Yorke, and now of Colchester, greeteth well Iohn Namelesse, and Iohn the Miller, and Iohn Carter, and biddeth them that they beware of guyle in borough, and stand together in Gods name, and biddeth Piers Ploweman goe to his werke, and chastise well Hob the robber, [probably the king,] and take with you Iohn Trewman, and all his fellows, and no moe.

“Iohn the Miller hath yground smal, small, small:
The kings sonne of heauen shal pay for all.
Beware or ye be woe,
Know your frende fro your foe,
Haue ynough, and say hoe:
And do wel and better, & flee sinne,
And seeke peace and holde you therin,

& so biddeth Iohn Trewman & all his fellowes.”

The reader has perceived, from the last lines of this curious state-paper, how well the National Assembly has copied its union of the profession of universal peace with the practice of murder and confusion, and the blast of the trumpet of sedition in all nations. He will in the following constitutional paper observe how well, in their enigmatical style, like the Assembly and their abettors, the old philosophers proscribe all hereditary distinction, and bestow it only on virtue and wisdom, according to their estimation of both. Yet these people are supposed never to have heard of “the rights of man”!

JACK MYLNER.

“Jakke Mylner asket help to turne his mylne aright.

“He hath grounden smal smal,
The Kings sone of heven he schal pay for alle.

Loke thy mylne go a rygt, with the fours sayles, and the post stande in steadfastnesse.

“With rygt and with mygt,
With skyl and with wylle,
Lat mygt helpe rygt,
And skyl go before wille,
And rygt before mygt:
Than goth oure mylne aryght.
And if mygt go before ryght,
And wylle before skylle;
Than is oure mylne mys a dygt.”

JACK CARTER understood perfectly the doctrine of looking to the end, with an indifference to the means, and the probability of much good arising from great evil.

“Jakke Carter pryes yowe alle that ye make a gode ende of that ye hane begunnen, and doth wele and ay bettur and bettur: for at the even men heryth the day. For if the ende be wele, than is alle wele. Lat Peres the Plowman my brother duelle at home and dygt us corne, and I will go with yowe and helpe that y may to dygte youre mete and youre drynke, that ye none fayle: lokke that Hobbe robbyoure be wele chastysed for lesyng of youre grace: for ye have gret nede to take God with yowe in alle yours dedes. For nowe is tyme to be war.”

11. See the wise remark on this subject in the Defence of Rights of Man, circulated by the societies.

12. The primary assemblies.

Is Humanism a Religion? by G. K. Chesterton

G. K. Chesterton

I have just been reading Mr. Norman Foerster’s book on “American Criticism”; and I hope it is no disrespect to the bulk of the book, a series of very thoughtful studies on American thinkers, if I say that the whole point of it is in the last chapter; which propounds a certain problem or challenge to modern thought. It is the problem of whether what he calls Humanism can satisfy humanity. Of his other topics it would be easy to talk forever. He generally says the right thing; he sometimes says the last word, in that suggestive or provocative style that tempts somebody to say one word more. In my own estimate of his subjects, Whitman would be very much larger and Lowell very much smaller. About Emerson he seems both sensitive and just; and Emerson certainly had distinction; but just that dry sort of distinction to which I should always be afraid of being unfair.

A Puritan tried to be a Pagan; and succeeded in being a Pagan who hesitated about whether he ought to go and see a girl dancing. But all these things are stimulating but secondary to the question which I will take the liberty of attacking separately and attempting to answer seriously. I fear that answering it seriously must mean answering it personally. The question really is whether Humanism can perform all the functions of religion; and I cannot but regard it in relation to my own religion. It is only just to say that Humanism is quite different from Humanitarianism. It means, as explained here, something like this.

Modern science and organization are in a sense only too natural. They herd us like the beasts along lines of heredity or tribal doom; they attach man to the earth like a plant instead of liberating him, even like a bird, let alone an angel. Indeed, their latest psychology is lower than the level of life. What is subconscious is sub-human and, as it were, subterranean: or something less than earthly. This fight for culture is above all a fight for consciousness: what some would call self-consciousness: but anyhow against mere subconsciousness. We need a rally of the really human things; will which is morals, memory which is tradition, culture which is the mental thrift of our fathers. Nevertheless, my first duty is to answer the question put to me; and I must answer it in the negative.

I do not believe that Humanism can be a complete substitute for Superhumanism. I do not believe it because of a certain truth to me so concrete as to be called a fact. I know it sounds very like something that has often been said in conventional or superficial apologetics.

But I do not mean it in that vague sense; so far from inheriting it as a convention, I have rather recently collided with it as a discovery. I have realized it relatively late in life, and realized that it is indeed the whole story and moral of my own lifetime. But even a few years ago, when most of my moral and religious views were pretty finally formed, I should not have seen it quite sharply and clearly; as I see it now.

The fact is this: that the modern world, with its modern movements, is living on its Catholic capital. It is using, and using up, the truths that remain to it out of the old treasury of Christendom; including, of course, many truths known to pagan antiquity but crystallized in Christendom. But it is NOT really starting new enthusiasms of its own. The novelty is a matter of names and labels, like modern advertisement; in almost every other way the novelty is merely negative. It is not starting fresh things that it can really carry on far into the future. On the contrary, it is picking up old things that it cannot carry on at all. For these are the two marks of modem moral ideals. First, that they were borrowed or snatched out of ancient or mediaeval hands. Second, that they wither very quickly in modern hands. That is, very briefly, the thesis I maintain; and it so happens that the book called AMERICAN CRITICISM might almost have been meant for a text-book to prove my point.

I will begin with a particular example with which the book also deals. My whole youth was filled, as with a sunrise, with the sanguine glow of Walt Whitman. He seemed to me something like a crowd turned to a giant, or like Adam the First Man. It thrilled me to hear of somebody who had heard of somebody, who saw him in the street; it was as if Christ were still alive. I did not care about whether his unmetrical poetry were a wise form or no, any more than whether a true Gospel of Jesus were scrawled on parchment or stone. I never had a hint of the evil some enemies have attributed to him; if it was there, it was not there for me. What I saluted was a new equality, which was not a dull levelling but an enthusiastic lifting; a shouting exultation in the mere fact that men were men. Real men were greater than unreal gods; and each remained as mystic and majestic as a god, while he became as frank and comforting as a comrade. The point can be put most compactly in one of Whitman’s own phrases; he says somewhere that old artists painted crowds, in which one head had a nimbus of gold-coloured light; “but I paint hundreds of heads, but paint no head without its nimbus of gold-coloured light.” A glory was to cling about men as men; a mutual worship was to take the form of fellowship; and the least and lowest of men must be included in this fellowship; a hump-backed Negro half-wit, with one eye and homicidal mania, must not be painted without his nimbus of gold-coloured light.

This might seem only the final expansion of a movement begun a century before with Rousseau and the Revolutionists; and I was brought up to believe and did believe that the movement was the beginning of bigger and better things. But these were songs before sunrise; and there is no comparison between even sunrise and the sun. Whitman was brotherhood in broad daylight, showing endless varieties of radiant and wonderful creatures, all the more sacred for being solid. Shelley had adored Man, but Whitman adored Men. Every human face, every human feature, was a matter of mystical poetry, such as lit like chance torchlight, hitherto, a face here and there in the crowd. A king was a man treated as all men should be treated. A god was a man worshipped as all men should be worshipped. What could they do against a race of gods and a republic of kings; not verbally but veritably the New World?

Well here is what Mr. Foerster says about the present position of the founder of the new world of democracy: “Our present science lends little support to an inherent ‘dignity of man’ or to his ‘perfectibility.’ It is wholly possible that the science of the future will lead us away from democracy towards some form of aristocracy. The millennial expectations that Whitman built upon science and democracy, we are now well aware rested upon insecure foundations… The perfection of nature, the natural goodness of man, ‘the great pride of man in himself’ offset with an emotional humanitarianism–these are the materials of a structure only slightly coloured with modernity. His politics, his ethics, his religion belong to the past, even that facile ‘religiousness’ which he hoped would suffuse and complete the work of science and democracy… In the essentials of his prophecy, Whitman, we must conclude, has been falsified by the event.” This is a very moderate and fair statement; it would be easy to find the same thing in a much fiercer statement.

Here is a monumental remark by Mr. H.L. Mencken: “They (he means certain liberal or ex-liberal thinkers) have come to realize that the morons whom they sweated to save do not want to be saved, and are not worth saving.” That is the New Spirit, if there is any New Spirit. “I will make unconquerable cities, with their arms about each other’s necks,” cried Walt Whitman, “by the love of comrades, by the lifelong love of comrades.” I like to think of the face of Mr. Mencken of Baltimore, if some casual comrade from Pittsburgh tried to make him unconquerable by putting an arm around his neck. But the idea is dead for much less ferocious people than Mr. Mencken. It is dead in a man like Aldous Huxley, who complained recently of the “gratuitous” romancing of the old republican view of human nature. It is dead in the most humane and humorous of our recent critics. It is dead in so many wise and good men to-day, that I cannot help wondering whether, under modern conditions of his favourite “science,” it would not be dead in Whitman himself.

It is not dead in me. It remains real for me, not by any merit of mine, but by the fact that this mystical idea, while it has evaporated as a mood, still exists as a creed. I am perfectly prepared to assert, as firmly as I should have asserted in my boyhood, that the hump-backed and half-witted Negro is decorated with a nimbus of gold-coloured light. The truth is that Whitman’s wild picture, or what he thought was a wild picture, is in fact a very old and orthodox picture. There are, as a matter of fact, any number of old pictures in which whole crowds are crowned with haloes, to indicate that they have all attained Beatitude.

But for Catholics it is a fundamental dogma of the Faith that all human beings, without any exception whatever, were specially made, were shaped and pointed like shining arrows, for the end of hitting the mark of Beatitude. It is true that the shafts are feathered with free will, and therefore throw the shadow of all the tragic possibilities of free will; and that the Church (having also been aware for ages of that darker side of truth, which the new sceptics have just discovered) does also draw attention to the darkness of that potential tragedy. But that does not make any difference to the gloriousness of the potential glory. In one aspect it is even a part of it; since the freedom is itself a glory. In that sense they would still wear their haloes even in hell.

But the point is that anyone believing that all these beings were made to be blessed, and multitudes of them probably well on their way to be blessed, really has a sound philosophic reason for regarding them all as radiant and wonderful creatures, or seeing all their heads in haloes. That conviction does make every human face, every human feature, a matter of mystical poetry. But it is not at all like modern poetry. The most modern of modern poetry is not the poetry of reception, but of rejection, or rather, of repulsion. The spirit that inhabits most recent work might be called a fury of fastidiousness. The new man of letters does not get his effect by saying that for him a hump-backed Negro has a halo. He gets his effect by saying that, just as he was about to embrace finally the fairest of women, he was nauseated by a pimple above her eyebrow or a stain of grease on her left thumb.

Whitman tried to prove that dirty things were really clean, as when he glorified manure as the matrix of the purity of grass. His followers in free verse try to prove that clean things are really dirty; to suggest something leprous and loathsome about the thick whiteness of milk, or something prickly and plague-stricken about the unaccountable growth of hair. In short, the whole mood has changed, as a matter of poetry. But it has not changed as a matter of theology; and that is the argument for having an unchanging theology.

The Catholic theology has nothing to do with democracy, for or against, in the sense of a machinery of voting or a criticism of particular political privileges. It is not committed to support what Whitman said for democracy, or even what Jefferson or Lincoln said for democracy. But it is absolutely committed to contradict what Mr. Mencken says against democracy. There will be Diocletian persecutions, there will be Dominican crusades, there will be rending of all religious peace and compromise, or even the end of civilization and the world, before the Catholic Church will admit that one single moron, or one single man, “is not worth saving.”

I have therefore found in my middle age this curious fact about the lesson of my life, and that of all my generation. We all grew up with a common conviction, lit by the flames of the literary genius of Rousseau, of Shelley, of Victor Hugo, finding its final flare up and conflagration in the universalism of Walt Whitman. And we all took it for granted that all our descendants would take it for granted. I said the discovery of brotherhood seemed like the discovery of broad daylight; of something that men could never grow tired of. Yet even in my own short lifetime, men have already grown tired of it.

We cannot now appeal to the love of equality as an EMOTION. We cannot now open a new book of poems, and expect it to be about the life-long love of comrades, or “Love, the beloved Republic, that feeds upon freedom and lives.” We realize that in most men it has died, because it was a mood and not a doctrine. And we begin to wonder too late, in the wise fashion of the aged, how we could ever have expected it to last as a mood, if it was not strong enough to last as a doctrine. And we also begin to realize that all the real strength there was in it, which is the only strength that remains in it, was the original strength of the doctrine.

What really happened was this: that the men of the eighteenth century, many of them in a just impatience with corrupt and cynical priests, turned on those priests and said in effect, “Well, I suppose you call yourselves Christians; so you can’t actually DENY that men are brothers or that it is our duty to help the poor.” The very confidence of their challenge, the very ringing note in the revolutionary voice, came from the fact that the Christian reactionaries were in a false position as Christians. The democratic demand won because it seemed unanswerable. And it seemed unanswerable, not in the least because it is unanswerable, but because even decadent Christians dared not give the answer. Mr. H. L. Mencken will always be happy to oblige with the answer.

Now, it was just here that, for me, the business began to be odd and interesting. For, looking back on older religious crises, I seem to see a certain coincidence, or rather, a set of things too coincident to be cried a coincidence After all, when I come to think of it, all the other revolts against the Church, before the Revolution and especially since the Reformation, had told the same strange story. Every great heretic had always exhibit three remarkable characteristics in combination. First, he picked out some mystical idea from the Church’s bundle or balance of mystical ideas. Second, he used that one mystical idea against all the other mystical ideas. Third (and most singular), he seems generally to have had no notion that his own favourite mystical idea was a mystical idea, at least in the sense of a mysterious or dubious or dogmatic idea. With a queer uncanny innocence, he seems always to have taken this one thing for granted. He assumed it to be unassailable, even when he was using it to assail all sorts of similar things.

The most popular and obvious example is the Bible. To an impartial pagan or sceptical observer, it must always seem the strangest story in the world; that men rushing in to wreck a temple, overturning the altar and driving out the priest, found there certain sacred volumes inscribed “Psalms” or “Gospels”; and (instead of throwing them on the fire with the rest) began to use them as infallible oracles rebuking all the other arrangements. If the sacred high altar was all wrong, why were the secondary sacred documents necessarily all right? If the priest had faked his Sacraments, why could he not have faked his Scriptures? Yet it was long before it even occurred to those who brandished this one piece of Church furniture to break up all the other Church furniture that anybody could be so profane as to examine this one fragment of furniture itself. People were quite surprised, and in some parts of the world are still surprised, that anybody should dare to do so.

Again, the Calvinists took the Catholic idea of the absolute knowledge and power of God; and treated it as a rocky irreducible truism so solid that anything could be built on it, however crushing or cruel. They were so confident in their logic, and its one first principle of predestination, that they tortured the intellect and imagination with dreadful deductions about God, that seemed to turn Him into a demon. But it never seems to have struck them that somebody might suddenly say that he did not believe in the demon. They were quite surprised when people called “infidels” here and there began to say it. They had assumed the Divine foreknowledge as so fixed, that it must, if necessary, fulfil itself by destroying the Divine mercy. They never thought anybody would deny the knowledge exactly as they denied the mercy.

Then came Wesley and the reaction against Calvinism; and Evangelicals seized on the very Catholic idea that mankind has a sense of sin; and they wandered about offering everybody release from his mysterious burden of sin. It is a proverb, and almost a joke, that they address a stranger in the street and offer to relax his secret agony of sin. But it seldom seemed to strike them, until much later, that the man in the street might possibly answer that he did not want to be saved from sin, any more than from spotted fever or St. Vitus’s Dance; because these things were not in fact causing him any suffering at all. They, in their turn, were quite surprised when the result of Rousseau and the revolutionary optimism began to express itself in men claiming a purely human happiness and dignity; a contentment with the comradeship of their kind; ending with the happy yawp of Whitman that he would not “lie awake and weep for his sins.”

Now the plain truth is that Shelley and Whitman and the revolutionary optimists were themselves doing exactly the same thing all over again. They also, though less consciously because of the chaos of their times, had really taken out of the old Catholic tradition one particular transcendental idea; the idea that there is a spiritual dignity in man as man, and a universal duty to love men as men. And they acted in exactly the same extraordinary fashion as their prototypes, the Wesleyans and the Calvinists. They took it for granted that this spiritual idea was absolutely self-evident like the sun and moon; that nobody could ever destroy that, though in the name of it they destroyed everything else. They perpetually hammered away at their human divinity and human dignity, and inevitable love for all human beings; as if these things were naked natural facts. And now they are quite surprised when new and restless realists suddenly explode, and begin to say that a pork-butcher with red whiskers and a wart on his nose does not strike them as particularly divine or dignified, that they are not conscious of the smallest sincere impulse to love him, that they could not love him if they tried, or that they do not recognize any particular obligation to try.

It might appear that the process has come to an end, and that there is nothing more for the naked realist to shed. But it is not so; and the process can still go on. There are still traditional charities to which men cling. There are still traditional charities for them to fling away when they find they are only traditional. Everybody must have noticed in the most modern writers the survival of a rather painful sort of pity. They no longer honour all men, like St. Paul and the other mystical democrats. It would hardly be too much to say that they despise all men; often (to do them justice) including themselves. But they do in a manner pity all men, and particularly those that are pitiable; by this time they extend the feeling almost disproportionately to the other animals.

This compassion for men is also tainted with its historical connection with Christian charity; and even in the case of animals, with the example of many Christian saints. There is nothing to show that a new revulsion from such sentimental religions will not free men even from the obligation of pitying the pain of the world. Not only Nietzsche, but many Neo-Pagans working on his lines, have suggested such hardness as a higher intellectual purity. And having read many modern poems about the Man of the Future, made of steel and illumined with nothing warmer than green fire, I have no difficulty in imagining a literature that should pride itself on a merciless and metallic detachment. Then, perhaps, it might be faintly conjectured that the last of the Christian virtues had died. But so long as they lived they were Christian.

I do not therefore believe that Humanism and Religion are rivals on equal terms. I believe it is a rivalry between the pools and the fountain; or between the firebrands and the fire. Each of these old intellectuals snatched one firebrand out of the undying fire; but the point is that though he waved the torch very wildly, though he would have used the torch to burn down half the world, the torch went out very soon. The Puritans did not really perpetuate their sublime exultation in helplessness; they only made it unpopular. We did not go on indefinitely looking at the Brooklyn crowds with the eye of Whitman; we have come with singular rapidity to regard them with the eye of Dreiser. In short, I distrust spiritual experiments outside the central spiritual tradition; for the simple reason that I think they do not last, even if they manage to spread. At the most they stand for one generation; at the commonest for one fashion; at the lowest for one clique. I do not think they have the secret of continuity; certainly not of corporate continuity. For an antiquated, doddering old democrat like myself may be excused for attaching some slight importance to that last question; that of covering the common life of mankind.

How many Humanists are there supposed to be among the inferior crowd of human beings? Are there to be, for instance, no more than there were Greek philosophers in an ordinary rabble of jolly pagan polytheistic Greeks? Are there to be no more than there were men concentrated on the Culture of Matthew Arnold, among the mobs who followed Cardinal Manning or General Booth? I do not in the least intend to sneer at Humanism; I think I understand the intellectual distinction it draws, and I have tried to understand it in a spirit of humility; but I feel a faint interest in how many people out of the battered and bewildered human race are actually expected to understand it. And I ask with a certain personal interest; for there are three hundred million people in the world who accept the mysteries that I accept and live by the faith I hold. I really want to know whether itis anticipated that there will be three hundred million Humanists in Humanity. The sanguine may say that Humanism will be the religion of the next generation, just as Comte said that Humanity would be the God of the next generation; and so in one sense it was. But it is not the God of this generation. And the question is what will be the religion of the next generation after that, or all the other generations (as a certain ancient promise ran)even unto the end of the world.

Humanism, in Mr. Foerster’s sense, has one very wise and worthy character. It is really trying to pick up the pieces; that is, to pick up all the pieces. All that was done before was first blind destruction and then random and scrappy selection; as if boys had broken up a stained-glass window and then made a few scraps into coloured spectacles, the rose-coloured spectacles of the republican or the green or yellow spectacles of the pessimist and the decadent.

But Humanism as here professed will stoop to gather all it can; for instance, it is great enough to stoop and pick up the jewel of humility. Mr. Foerster does understand, as the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries did not understand, the case for humility. Matthew Arnold, who made something of the same stand for what he called Culture in the mid-nineteenth century, attempted something of the same preservation of chastity; which he would call, in a rather irritating manner, “pureness.” But before we call either Culture or Humanism a substitute for religion, there is a very plain question that can be asked in the form of a very homely metaphor.

Humanism may try to pick up the pieces; but can it stick them together? Where is the cement which made religion corporate and popular, which can prevent it falling to pieces in a debris of individualistic tastes and degrees? What is to prevent one Humanist wanting chastity without humility, and another humility without chastity, and another truth or beauty without either? The problem of an enduring ethic and culture consists in finding an arrangement of the pieces by which they remain related, as do the stones arranged in an arch. And I know only one scheme that has thus proved its solidity, bestriding lands and ages with its gigantic arches, and carrying everywhere the high river of baptism upon an aqueduct of Rome.