RATIONALISM IN EUROPE.
[Fifth chapter continued from previous file.]
It may be said that the work of Manana is an extreme instance of Jesuitical principles, and in a certain sense this is undoubtedly true. Mariana stands almost alone among his brethren in the directness and absence of qualifications that characterise his teaching, and he is still more remarkably distinguished for the emphasis with which he dwells upon purely political rights. In his book the interests of the Church, though never forgotten, never eclipse or exclude the interests of the people, and all the barriers that are raised against heresy are equally raised against tyranny. But his doctrine of tyrannicide, extreme, exaggerated, and dangerous as it is, was but a rash conclusion from certain principles which were common to almost all the theologians of his order, and which are of the most vital importance in the history both of civil liberty and of Rationalism. In nearly every writing that issued from this school we find the same desire to restrict the power of the sovereign and to augment the power of the people, the same determination to base the political system on a doctrine derived from reason rather than from authority, the same tendency to enunciate principles the application of which would -- whether their authors desired it or not -- inevitably extend beyond the domain of theology. All or nearly all these writers urged in the interests of the Church that doctrine of a 'social contract' which was destined at a later period to become the cornerstone of the liberties of Europe. Nearly all drew a broad distinction between kings and tyrants; nearly all divided the latter into those who were tyrants, as it was said, in regimine (that is to say, legitimate rulers who misgoverned), and tyrants in titulo (that is to say, rulers with no original authority); and nearly all admitted that the Papal deposition, by annulling the title-deeds of regal power, transferred the sovereign from the former class to the latter. These were the really important points of their teaching, for they were those which deeply and permanently influenced the habits of political thought, and on these points the Jesuits were almost unanimous. In the application of them they differed. Usually tyrannicide, at least in the case of a tyrant in regimine, was condemned, though, as we have seen, there were not wanting those who maintained that the nation as well as the Pope might depose a sovereign, might condemn him to death and depute any individual to slay him. In the case of a tyrant in titulo the more violent opinion seems to have predominated. If he was a conqueror or a usurper, St. Thomas Aquinas had distinctly said that he might be slain. [1:163] If he was a monarch deposed for heresy, it was remembered that heresy itself might justly be punished with death, and that every act of the deposed sovereign against Catholicity was a crime of the deepest die perpetrated by one who had no legitimate authority in the State. The cloud of subtle distinctions that were sometimes raised around these questions might give scope for the ingenuity of controversialists, but they could have but little influence over the passions of fanatics. [2:163]
If we now turn from the Jesuits to the Gallican section of the Catholic Church, the contrast is very remarkable. We find ourselves in presence of a new order of interests, and consequently of new principles. The great power of the French Church and of the monarchy with which it was connected had early induced its bishops to assume a tone of independence in their dealings with the Papal See that was elsewhere unknown, and a close alliance between Church and State was the manifest interest of both. But in order that such an alliance should be effectual, it was necessary that the Pope should be reduced as much as possible to the level of an ordinary bishop, while the sovereign was exalted as the immediate representative of the Deity. In this way the bishops were freed from the pressure of Papal ascendency, and the sovereign from the worst consequences of excommunication. The advocates of Gallican principles have been able to prove decisively that in nearly all attempts to prevent the encroachments of the Pope upon secular dominion, French theologians have been prominent, while their opponents have rejoined with equal truth that the Gallican authorities were by no means unanimous in their sentiments, and that the negation of the Papal claims was not usually thrown into a very dogmatic form. [1:164] The case of an heretical prince before the Reformation was hardly discussed, [2:164] and in other cases the rivalry between the two sections of the Church was rather implied in acts than expressed in formal statements. On the one side there was a steady tendency to exalt the spiritual power of the Popes above that of the Councils, and their temporal power above that of kings; on the other side there was a corresponding tendency in the opposite direction. As the power of deposition was in the middle ages the centre of the more liberal system of politics, and as everything that was taken from the popes was given to the kings, the Gallican system was always inimical to freedom. At the same time, as the interference of an Italian priest with French politics offended the national pride, it was eminently popular; and thus, as in many subsequent periods of French history, patriotism proved destructive to liberty.
It appeared for a short time as if the Reformation were about to give rise to new combinations. The invectives of the Protestants against the Papal Power produced a momentary reaction in its favour, which was remarkably shown in the States General assembled at Paris in 1615. The Third Estate, either because Protestant principles were diffused among its members or because it represented especially the secular feelings of the middle classes, then proposed, among other articles, one declaring that the Pope possessed no power of deposing sovereigns, or under any circumstances releasing subjects from the oath of allegiance; but the nobles and the clergy refused to ratify it, and Cardinal Perron, probably as the representative of the clergy, asserted the Ultramontane principles with the strongest emphasis. [1:165]
Very soon, however, a complete change passed over the minds of the French clergy. The Huguenots, in several of their synods, had dwelt with great emphasis upon their denial of the existence of a mediate power between the Deity and a king, and there was some danger that if they possessed the monopoly of this opinion the civil power might be attracted to their side. Besides this, the French Protestants made war against their rulers for the purpose of obtaining liberty of conscience, and the French Catholics naturally pronounced these wars to be sinful. In 1668 the Sorbonne asserted the absolute independence of the civil power, and the same thing was again declared in the famous Articles of 1682, which are the recognised bases of Gallicanism. In his defence of these articles Bossuet soon afterwards systematised the whole theology of the school. The general result, as far as it regards civil liberty, may be briefly told. The king occupied his throne by the direct and immediate authority of the Deity, and is consequently, in his temporal capacity, altogether independent both of the Pope and of the wishes of the people. Every pope who had exercised or claimed a power of deposition had exceeded his functions and been guilty of usurpation; every subject who had raised his hand against the sovereign or his agents had committed a mortal sin. The sole duty of the nation is to obey, and from this obligation no tyranny and no injustice can release it. If the rulers of the people are as wolves, it is for the Christians to show themselves as sheep. [1:166]
Such was the teaching of the different sections of the Catholic Church. If we now turn to Protestantism, we find a diversity at least equally striking and not less manifestly due to the diversity of interests. At the same time, although the opinions advocated by any particular section at a particular time were mainly the result of the special circumstances under which it was placed, there were some general considerations that complicated the movement. In the first place, the fact that the Reformation was essentially an act of spiritual rebellion -- an appeal from those in authority to the judgments of the people -- gave an impulse to the spirit of insubordination which was still further strengthened by the republican form that many of the new organisations assumed. In the Early Church the ecclesiastical government had combined in a very remarkable manner the principle of authority and the principle of liberty, by magnifying to the highest point the episcopal authority, while the bishops were themselves elected by universal suffrage. But a process of gradual centralisation soon destroyed this balance, and transformed the ecclesiastical organisation from a republic into a monarchy; and although the primitive elements were revived in Protestantism, they were revived in such a way that their original character was essentially falsified. For the system of popular election and the supreme and divine authority of the episcopacy, which in the Early Church formed the two compensatory parts of a single scheme, at the Reformation were violently dissevered and thrown into the strongest antagonism -- the Calvinistic churches constituting themselves the leading champions of the one, while Anglicanism was the representative of the other.
Now it has often been observed, and is in itself sufficiently obvious, that when men have formed an ecclesiastical organisation which is intensely democratic, they will have a certain predisposition in favour of a political organisation of a kindred nature. If in Church government they are accustomed to restrict very jealously the influence of the ruler, to diffuse as much as possible the supreme power, and to regard the will of the majority as the basis of authority, they will scarcely submit without a murmur to a political system in which all power is centralised in a single man, and from which all popular influence has been carefully eliminated. Puritanism has therefore a natural bias towards democracy, and Episcopalianism, which dwells chiefly on the principle of authority, towards despotism. Special circumstances have occasionally modified but seldom or never altogether reversed these tendencies. Both forms have sometimes coalesced cordially with constitutional monarchy; but even in these cases it will usually be found that the Puritans have gravitated towards that party which verges most upon republicanism, and the Episcopalians to that which is most akin to despotism.
Another general tendency which has been much less frequently noticed than the preceding one results from the proportionate value attached by different Churches to the Old and New Testaments. To ascertain the true meaning of passages of Scripture is the business not of the historian but of the theologian, but it is at least an historical fact that in the great majority of instances the early Protestant defenders of civil liberty derived their political principles chiefly from the Old Testament, and the defenders of despotism from the New. The rebellions that were so frequent in Jewish history formed the favourite topic of the one -- the unreserved submission inculcated by St. Paul, of the other. When, therefore, all the principles of right and wrong were derived from theology, and when by the rejection of tradition and ecclesiastical authority Scripture became the sole arbiter of theological difficulties, it was a matter of manifest importance in ascertaining the political tendencies of any sect to discover which Testament was most congenial to the tone and complexion of its theology. [1:168]
The favourable influence Protestantism was destined to exercise upon liberty was early shown. Among the accusations the Catholics brought against Huss and Wycliffe, none was more common than that they had proclaimed that mortal sin invalidated the title of the sovereign to his throne; and the last of these Reformers was also honourably distinguished for his strong assertion of the unchristian character of slavery. [1:169] At the Reformation the different attitudes assumed by different sovereigns towards the new faith and the constant vicissitudes of the religious wars exercised their natural influence upon the opinions of the leaders; but on the whole, liberal views strongly predominated, although they were not often thrown into formal statements. Luther and Calvin both fluctuated a good deal upon the subject, and passages have been cited from each by the adherents of both views. It is probable, however, that Calvin ultimately inclined rather to the republican, and Luther -- who had been greatly agitated by the war of the peasants -- to the despotic theory. Zuinglius, without reasoning much on the subject, [2:169] accepted the liberal principles of his countrymen, and he died bravely upon the battle-field. Ulrich von Hutten appears to have adopted the Reformed tenets mainly as a principle of liberty, emancipating men both from intellectual and from political tyranny. 'From truth to liberty and from liberty to truth' was the programme he proclaimed. The country, however, in which Protestantism assumed the most emphatically liberal character was unquestionably Scotland, and the man who most clearly represented its tendency was Knox.
A great writer, whose untimely death has been one of the most serious misfortunes that have ever befallen English literature, and whose splendid genius, matured by the most varied and extensive scholarship, has cast a flood of light upon many of the subjects I am endeavouring to elucidate -- has lately traced with a master-hand the antecedents of the Scotch Reformation. [1:170] He has shown that for a long period before it was accomplished there had been a fierce contest between the aristocracy on the one hand, and the sovereigns and Catholic clergy of Scotland upon the other; that this struggle at last terminated in the triumph of the aristocracy and the subversion of the Catholic establishment; that the new clergy, called into existence by a movement that was intensely hostile to the sovereign, were from the first the main promoters of sedition; and that being hated by the Crown, and having speedily quarrelled with the nobles, they cast themselves for support upon the people, and became the most courageous and energetic of the champions of democracy. The utter contempt for ecclesiastical traditions that characterised the Puritanical sects enabled them without much difficulty to mould their theology into conformity with their wishes; for Scripture was the only guide they acknowledged, and it has been most abundantly proved that from Scripture honest and able men have derived and do derive arguments in support of the most opposite opinions. In all the conflicts with the civil authorities Knox threw himself into the foreground, and constantly asserted, with the most emphatic clearness, that it was the right and even the duty of a nation to resist a persecuting sovereign. Speaking of the persecutions that Mary had directed against the English Protestants, he declared that when they began it was the duty of the English people not merely to have deposed their queen, but also to have put her to death; and he added, with characteristic ferocity, that they should have included in the same slaughter all her councillors and the whole body of the Catholic clergy. [2:170]
The opinions which Knox embodied chiefly in fierce declamations, and which he advocated mainly with a view to religious interests, were soon after systematised and at the same time secularised by Buchanan in a short dialogue entitled 'De Jure Regal apud Scotos,' which was published in 1579, and which bears in many respects a striking resemblance to some of the writings that afterwards issued from the Jesuits. In Buchanan, however, we find none of those countless subtleties and qualifications to which the Catholic theologians commonly resorted in order to evade the decisions of the Fathers or the schoolmen, nor do we find anything about the deposing power of the Pope. The principles that were enunciated were perfectly clear and decisive: they were derived exclusively from reason, and they were directed equally against every form of tyranny. The argument is based upon 'the social contract.' Men were naturally formed for society: in order to arrest the intestine discord that sprang up among them, they created kings; in order to restrain the power of their kings, they enacted laws. The nation being the source of regal power is greater than and may therefore judge the king; the laws being intended to restrain the king in case of collision, it is for the people and not for the ruler to interpret them. It is the duty of the king to identify himself with the law, [1:171] and to govern exclusively according to its decisions. A king is one who governs by law, and according to the interests of the people; a tyrant is one who governs by his own will, and contrary to the interests of the people. An opinion had been spread abroad by some that a king being trammelled by recognised constitutional ties might be resisted if he violated them, but that a tyrant who reigns where no constitution exists must be always obeyed; but this opinion was altogether false. The people may make war against a tyrant, and may pursue that war until he is slain. Though Buchanan does not expressly defend the slaughter of a tyrant by a private individual, he recalls in language of unqualified praise the memories of the tyrannicides of antiquity.
This little tract, being in conformity with the spirit of the time, and especially with the spirit of the Scotch people, had a very great influence. Its main principles, as we have seen, differ but little from those of St. Thomas Aquinas and the schoolmen; but by disengaging them from the crowd of theological considerations that had previously rendered them almost inoperative except when religious interests were concerned, Buchanan opened a new stage in the history of liberty. The doctrines, however, which he for the first time systematised had been at a still earlier period diffused among his fellow-countrymen. When Queen Elizabeth, in 1571, put some questions to a Scotch deputation concerning the reasons that had induced the Scots to depose their queen, she was immediately favoured in reply with a long dissertation on the manifest superiority of nations to their sovereigns; which, as Camden assures us, and as we can readily believe, she received with extreme indignation. [1:172] The same principles were no less general among the English Dissenters, and were exhibited alike in their writings and in their policy: Milton only translated into eloquent prose the no less eloquent acts of Cromwell.
It is difficult indeed to overrate the debt of gratitude that England owes both to her own Nonepiscopal Churches and to those of Scotland. In good report and in evil, amid persecution and ingratitude and horrible wrongs, in ages when all virtue seemed corroded and when apostasy had ceased to be a stain, they clung fearlessly and faithfully to the banner of her freedom. If the Great Rebellion was in England for the most part secular in its causes, it is no less true that its success was in a great measure due to the assistance of the Scotch, who were actuated mainly by religion, to the heroic courage infused into the troops by the English ministers, and to the spirit of enthusiasm created by the noble writings that were inspired by Puritanism. Neither the persecutions of Charles nor the promised toleration of James ever caused them to swerve. Without their assistance English liberty would no doubt have been attained, but no one can say how long its triumph would have been retarded, or what catastrophes would have resulted from the strife. For it is to Puritanism that we mainly owe the fact that in England religion and liberty were not dissevered: amid all the fluctuations of its fortune, [1:173] it represented the alliance of these two principles, which the predominating Church invariably pronounced to be incompatible.
The attitude of this latter Church forms indeed a strange contrast to that of Puritanism. Created in the first instance by a court intrigue, pervaded in all its parts by a spirit of the most intense Erastianism, and aspiring at the same time to a spiritual authority scarcely less absolute than that of the Church which it had superseded, Anglicanism was from the beginning at once the most servile and the most efficient agent of tyranny. Endeavouring by the assistance of temporal authority and by the display of worldly pomp to realise in England the same position as Catholicism had occupied in Europe, she naturally flung herself on every occasion into the arms of the civil power. No other Church so uniformly betrayed and trampled on the liberties of her country. [1:174] In all those fiery trials through which English liberty has passed since the Reformation, she invariably cast her influence into the scale of tyranny, supported and eulogised every attempt to violate the Constitution, and wrote the fearful sentence of eternal condemnation upon the tombs of the martyrs of freedom. [2:174] That no tyranny however gross, that no violation of the constitution however flagrant, can justify resistance; that all those principles concerning the rights of nations on which constitutional government is based are false, and all those efforts of resistance by which constitutional government is achieved are deadly sins, was her emphatic and continual teaching. 'A rebel,' she declared, 'is worse than the worst prince, and rebellion worse than the worst government of the worst prince hath hitherto been.' 'God placeth as well evil princes as good,' and therefore 'for subjects to deserve through their sins to have an evil prince and then to rebel against him were double and treble evil by provoking God more to plague them.' St. Paul counselled passive obedience under Caligula, Claudius, and Nero, 'who were not only no Christians but pagans, and also either foolish rulers or cruel tyrants;' nay the Jews owed it even to Nebuchadnezzar, when 'he had slain their king, nobles, parents, children, and kinsfolk, burned their country cities, yea Jerusalem itself, and the holy temple, and had carried the residue into captivity.' Even the Blessed Virgin, 'being of the royal blood of the ancient natural kings of Jewry, did not disdain to obey the commandment of an heathen and foreign prince;' much more therefore should we 'obey princes, though strangers, wicked, and wrongful, when God for our sins shall place such over us,' unless, indeed, they enjoin anything contrary to the Divine command; but even 'in that case we may not in anywise withstand violently or rebel against rulers, or make any insurrection, sedition, or tumults, either by force of arms or otherwise, against the anointed of the Lord or any of his officers, but we must in such case patiently suffer all wrongs.' [1:175]
'If I should determine no cases,' wrote Jeremy Taylor, when treating the question of resistance in the greatest work on Moral Philosophy that Anglicanism has produced, 'but upon such mighty terms as can be afforded in this question, and are given and yet prevail not, I must never hope to do any service to any interest of wisdom or peace, of justice or religion; and therefore I am clearly of opinion that no man who can think it lawful to fight against the supreme power of his nation can be fit to read cases of conscience, for nothing can satisfy him whose conscience is armour of proof against the plain and easy demonstration of this question.... The matter of Scripture being so plain that it needs no interpretation, the practice and doctrine of the Church, which is usually the best commentary, is now but of little use in a case so plain; yet this also is as plain in itself, and without any variety, dissent, or interruption universally agreed upon, universally practised and taught, that, let the powers set over us be what they will, we must suffer it and never right ourselves.' [1:176]
The teaching of which these extracts are examples was constantly maintained by the overwhelming majority of the Anglican clergy for the space of more than 150 years, and during the most critical periods of the history of the English Constitution. When Charles I. attempted to convert the monarchy into a despotism, the English Church gave him its constant and enthusiastic support. When, in the gloomy period of vice and of reaction that followed the Restoration, the current of opinion set in against all liberal opinions, and the maxims of despotism were embodied even in the Oath of Allegiance, [1:177] the Church of England directed the stream, allied herself in the closest union with a court whose vices were the scandal of Christendom, and exhausted her anathemas not upon the hideous corruption that surrounded her, but upon the principles of Hampden and of Milton. All through the long series of encroachments of the Stuarts she exhibited the same spirit. The very year when Russell died was selected by the University of Oxford to condemn the writings of Buchanan, Baxter, and Milton, and to proclaim the duty of passive obedience in a decree which the House of Lords soon afterwards committed to the flames. [2:177] It was not till James had menaced her supremacy that the Church was aroused to resistance. Then indeed, for a brief but memorable period, she placed herself in opposition to the Crown, and contributed largely to one of the most glorious events in English history. But no sooner had William mounted the throne than her policy was reversed, her whole energies were directed to the subversion of the constitutional liberty that was then firmly established, and it is recorded by the great historian of the Revolution that at least nine-tenths of the clergy were opposed to the emancipator of England. All through the reaction under Queen Anne, all through the still worse reaction under George III., the same spirit was displayed. In the first period the clergy, in their hatred of liberty, followed cordially the leadership of the infidel Bolingbroke; in the second they were the most ardent supporters of the wars against America and against the French Revolution, which have been the most disastrous in which England has ever engaged. From first to last their conduct was the same, and every triumph of liberty was their defeat.
There are contrasts that meet us in the history of Rationalism which it is impossible to realise without positive amazement. When we remember for how long a period the Church of England maintained that resistance to the regal power was in all cases a deadly sin, and that such men as a Washington or a Garibaldi were doomed 'to burn together in hell with Satan the first founder of rebellion,' it is hard to say whether the present condition of English public opinion shows most clearly the impotence of the theologians who were unable to prevent so absolute a rejection of their principles, or the elasticity of the Church that has survived it.
Although, however, the general current of Anglican ecclesiastical opinion was on this subject extremely steady, there was one divine who forms a marked exception, and that divine was probably the ablest that Protestantism has ever produced. Hooker -- not indeed the greatest but perhaps the most majestic of English writers -- was not more distinguished for his splendid eloquence than for his tendency to elevate the principles of natural right, and for his desire to make the Church independent of the State. In his discussions of the nature of the civil power both of these characteristics are strikingly shown. In examining the true origin and functions of government he scarcely ever appeals to the decisions of the Fathers, and not often to the teachings of Scripture, but elaborates his theory from his own reason, aided by the great philosophers of antiquity. His doctrine in its essential parts differs little from that of Buchanan. Individuals joining together in societies created kings to govern them. The regal power was at first absolute, but soon 'men saw that to live by one man's will became the cause of all men's misery, and this constrained them to come into laws whereto all men might see their duty.' [1:179] Although the king received his authority from the people in the first instance, it was not on that account the less sacred, for 'on whom the same is bestowed even at men's discretion they likewise do hold it of Divine right.' At the same time the king was subject to the law, and as the power of enacting laws resides with the whole people, any attempt upon his part to enact laws contrary to the will of the people is a tyranny. Such laws are, in fact, a nullity. [2:179]
From these principles we should naturally have supposed that Hooker would have drawn the conclusion of Buchanan, and would have maintained that the will of the people is a sufficient reason for changing the government. It is, however, an extremely remarkable fact as showing the spirit of the class to which he belonged, that this great writer, who had exhibited so clearly the fundamental propositions of modern liberalism, who had emancipated himself to so great a degree from the prejudices of his profession, and who wrote with the strongest and most manifest bias in favour of freedom, shrank to the last from this conclusion. He desired to see the power of the government greatly restricted; he eulogised constitutional government as immeasurably superior to despotism; he even thought that the violation of a constitutional tie was a just cause for resistance, but when he came to the last great question he dismissed it with these melancholy words: -- 'May then a body-politick at all times withdraw, in whole or in part, that influence of dominion which passeth from it if inconvenience doth grow thereby? It must be presumed that supreme governors will not in such cases oppose themselves and be stiff in detaining that the use whereof is with public detriment, but surely without their consent I see not how the body should be able by any fresh means to help itself, saving when dominion doth escheat.' [1:180]
It is scarcely necessary, I think, to review in detail the other works which appeared in England upon this subject. A large proportion of them at least are well known: their arguments are little more than a repetition of those which I have described, and after all they were not the real causes of the development. A spirit of freedom, fostered in England by the long enjoyment of political and social institutions far superior to those of other nations, had produced both a capacity and an ambition for freedom which must inevitably have triumphed, and it is a matter of comparative insignificance what particular arguments were selected as the pretext. On the other hand, the genius and the circumstances of the Anglican Church predisposed its leaders towards despotism, and they naturally grasped at every argument in its support. I may observe, however, that there was a slight difference of opinion among the English supporters of despotic principles. [2:180] The earliest school, which was represented chiefly by Barclay and Blackwood, appears to have acknowledged that men were born free, and to have admitted some possible circumstances under which resistance was lawful. The later school, which was led by Filmer, Heylin, Mainwaring, and Hobbes, entirely denied this original freedom. The 'Patriarcha' of Filmer, which was the principal exposition of the doctrines of the last class, rested, like some of the writings of the Gallican school, upon the supposition that the political government is derived from and is of the same nature as paternal government, [1:181] and it concluded that resistance was in all cases sinful. This book was in the first instance answered by Sidney, who opposed to it 'the social compact,' but rested a considerable portion of his argument on the Old Testament. At the Revolution, however, the clergy having revived the principles of Filmer, [2:181] Locke thought it necessary to publish another answer, and accordingly wrote his famous treatise of 'Government,' which differs from that of Sidney in being almost entirely based upon secular considerations, although a considerable space is devoted to the refutation of the theological arguments of his opponent. Locke adopts almost entirely the principles of Hooker, for whom he entertained feelings of deep and well-merited admiration, but he altogether discards the qualifications by which Hooker had sometimes neutralised his teaching. All government, he maintains, is the gift of the people for the people's advantage, and therefore no legislation is legitimate which is contrary to the people's interests, and no change of government wrong which is in accordance with them. [1:182] Prerogative is that measure of power which the nation concedes to its ruler, and the nation may either extend or restrict it. [2:182] To impose taxes on a people without their consent is simply robbery. [3:182] Those who are appointed by the people to legislate have no power to transfer their authority to others, [4:182] nor may they govern except by established laws. [5:182] And as the sovereignty in the first instance emanates from the people, so the people may reclaim it at will. The ability with which these views were urged, and the favourable circumstances under which they appeared, gave them an easy triumph, and the Revolution made them the bases of the Constitution.
It is well worthy of remark that the triumph of toleration and the triumph of civil liberty should both have been definitively effected in England at the same time, and should both have found their chief champion in the same man. Both were achieved by laymen in direct opposition to the Church and in the moment of her extreme depression. Both too represented a movement of secularisation: for by the first theological questions were withdrawn from the sphere of politics, and by the second the principle of authority was removed from a theological to a secular basis. But what especially characterises the development of English liberty is that, although it was effected contrary to the Church and contrary to the clergy, it was not effected contrary to religion. This -- which, when we consider the mournful history of Continental liberty, may perhaps be regarded as the happiest fact in English history -- was no doubt due in a great measure to the success with which the Dissenters had associated religion and liberty; to the essential imperfection of the Anglican theory, which left undefined the question when allegiance may be transferred to a triumphant rebel, [1:183] and also to the admirable moderation of Somers and Locke: but it was still more due to the genius of the Reformation. Never did Protestantism exhibit more clearly its admirable flexibility of doctrine, its capacity for modifying and recasting its principles to meet the wants of succeeding ages, than when, without any serious religious convulsion, the political system of England was based upon the direct negation of the unanimous teaching of the Early Church and of the almost unanimous teaching of the National one. And the contrast the history of English liberty bears to that of Continental liberty becomes still more remarkable when we remember the attitude exhibited by the avowed opponents of Christianity. In England, with the exception of Shaftesbury, the most eminent of these were either indifferent or opposed to the movement. Under the government of the Stuarts, Hobbes not only maintained the most extreme views of Taylor and Ussher, but carried them to a point from which even those divines would have recoiled: for the result of his philosophy was nothing less than to make the civil ruler the supreme arbiter of the moral law. During the reaction under Queen Anne the clerical party owed its chief strength to the genius of Bolingbroke, who consolidated its broken forces, and elaborated with an almost dazzling eloquence his ideal of 'A Patriot King' to counterbalance the ideal of liberty. And at a still later period, while Bishop Horsley was proclaiming that 'subjects had nothing to say to the laws except to obey them,' Hume was employing all his skill in investing with the most seductive colours the policy of the Stuarts, in rendering the great supporters of liberty in the seventeenth century either odious or ridiculous, and in throwing into the most plausible aspects the maxims of their opponents. [1:185]
It is remarkable that while England and France have been the two nations which have undoubtedly done most for the political emancipation of mankind, they have also been those in which the National Churches were most bitterly opposed to freedom. We have seen the manner in which the double movement of secularisation and of liberty was effected in the Protestant country; it remains to trace the corresponding development in the Catholic one.
It was upon the French Protestants that the office which in England was filled by the Puritans naturally devolved. The fact that they were a minority, and often a persecuted minority, gave them a bias in favour of liberty, while at the same time their numbers were sufficiently great to communicate a considerable impulse to public opinion. Unfortunately, however, the extreme arrogance and the persecuting spirit they manifested whenever they rose to power rendered them peculiarly unfit to be the champions of liberty; while at the same time their position as a minority of the nation, governed mainly by religious principles in an era of religious wars, rendered their prevailing spirit profoundly anti-national. Wherever sectarian feeling is keenly felt, it proves stronger than patriotism. The repulsion separating men as members of different religions becomes more powerful than the attraction uniting them as children of the same soil, and the maxim that a man's true country is not that in which he was born but that of his co-religionists being professed, or at least acted on, treason is easily justified. In the present day, when the fever of theology has happily subsided, Ireland forms an almost solitary example of a nation in which national interests and even national pride are habitually sacrificed to sectarianism; but in the sixteenth century such a sacrifice was general, and although in France at least it was made quite as much by the majority as by the minority, it naturally appeared in the latter case more conspicuous and repulsive. The atrocious persecutions the majority directed against the minority rendered the alienation of the latter from the national sympathies both natural and excusable, but it did not appear so to the persecutors. The majority have therefore usually been able to enlist the patriotic feelings of the multitude against the minority, and this has weakened the political influence of the latter.
In the political teaching of the French Protestants it is easy to detect two distinct currents. Whenever the Pope or the Ultramontane theologians put forward a claim to the power of deposition, the Protestants constituted themselves the champions of loyalty, and endeavoured in this manner to win the favour of the rulers. Thus we find their synods condemning with great solemnity the treatise of Suarez, protesting in the most emphatic language against the disloyalty of the Catholics, and assuring the sovereign in their petitions that they at least recognised no mediate power between the king and the Almighty. [1:187] If we were to judge their opinions by the language of some of their petitions, we might imagine that they were no less favourable to despotism than the Anglicans. But such a judgment would do them great injustice. No body of men ever exhibited a greater alacrity in resisting persecution by force, and, with a few exceptions, the general tone of their theology as of their policy was eminently favourable to liberty. Opinions on these subjects have so completely changed since the seventeenth century, that the defence of the French Protestants is chiefly to be found in the writings of their adversaries; and, according to modern notions, it would be difficult to find a nobler eulogy than is implied in the accusation of one of the ablest of these, who declared that the general tendency of the Protestant writings was always to the effect that 'kings and subjects were reciprocally bound by contract to the performance of certain things, in such a manner that if the sovereign failed to perform his promise the subjects were freed from their oath of allegiance, and might engage themselves to new masters.' [2:187]
The opinions of the French Protestants on these points may be more easily ascertained from their actions than from their writings; and the right of resisting religious persecution was naturally more considered than the right of resisting political tyranny. Jurieu strenuously asserted the first right; and although Saurin is said to have taken the opposite view, [1:188] the numerous rebellions of the Protestants leave no doubt as to their general sentiments. The two most remarkable works bearing upon the secular aspect of the question that issued from this quarter were the 'Franco-Gallia' of Hotman, and the 'Vindiciæ contra Tyrannos' of Junius Brutus.
The first of these was published in 1573. Its author (who had escaped from France to Geneva at the time of the massacre of St. Bartholomew) was one of the most learned lawyers of the day, and the chief advocate of the Protestant view of some of the legal questions that arose about the succession of the crown. [2:188] The 'Franco-Gallia' is an elaborate attempt to prove that the Crown of France is, by right, not hereditary but elective. The arguments are drawn in part from general considerations about the origin of government, which Hotman attributed to the will of the people, [3:188] but chiefly from facts in French history. The writer also attempts to show, in an argument that was evidently directed against Catherine de' Medici, that the exclusion of women from the French throne implied, or at least strongly recommended, their exclusion from the regency, and that on every occasion in which they had exercised the supreme power disastrous consequences had ensued. [4:188]
A much more remarkable book was the 'Vindiciæ contra Tyrannos,' which was published about the same time as the 'Franco-Gallia,' and translated into French in 1581, and which, being written with much ability, exercised a very considerable influence. Some have ascribed it, but apparently without reason, to Hotman -- others to Linguet or to Parquet. The author, whoever he may be, holds, like Hooker, that the regal authority is, in the first instance, derived from the people, but that notwithstanding this it is held by Divine right. From this consideration he argues that a king is bound by two pacts, on the observance of which his legitimacy depends -- a pact to God that he will govern according to the Divine law, and a pact to the people that he will govern according to their interests. [1:189] A nation may resist by arms a sovereign who has violated the Divine law, because the first of these pacts is then broken, and also because it is part of the Providential system that subjects should be punished for the crimes of their ruler, which implies that they are bound to prevent them. [2:189] This last proposition the author maintains at length from the Old Testament. Whenever the king violated the Divine command, some fearful chastisement was inflicted upon the nation, and the chief office of the prophets was to signalise these violations, and to urge the people to resistance. Every page of Jewish history bears witness to this, and at the present day the Jews are dispersed because their ancestors did not snatch Christ from the hands of Pilate. But it is impossible to go so far without advancing a step further; for if the Jewish precedent is to be applied, it is manifest the Divine law is violated not merely by the persecution of truth, but also by the toleration of error. No crime was more constantly denounced or more fiercely punished under the old Dispensation than religious tolerance. No fact is more legibly stamped upon the Jewish writings than that, in the opinion of their authors, a Jewish sovereign who permitted his people to practise unmolested the rites of an idolatry which they preferred was committing a sin. Nor does the author of the book we are considering shrink from the consequence. He quotes, as an applicable precedent, the conduct of the people who at the instigation of Elijah massacred the whole priesthood of Baal, and he maintains that the toleration of an 'impious sacred rite' is a justifiable cause of rebellion. [1:190]
The question then arose in what manner this resistance was to be organised. And here the writer separates himself clearly from the school of Mariana, for he strongly denies the right of an individual to take the life of a persecutor by way of assassination, however favourable the people might be to the act. Resistance can only be authorised by a council representing the people. In all well-regulated countries a parliament or assembly of some kind exists which may be regarded as representative; and although each individual member is less than the king, the council, as a whole, is his superior, and the vote of the majority may depose him. [2:190] When such a council does not exist it may be extemporised, but the elements should, if possible, be drawn from the aristocracy and the magistrates. Nor is it simply a nation that may thus withdraw its allegiance. The author, evidently with a view to the position of the French Protestants, adds that particular districts or cities, if the inhabitants desire it and if their magistrates consent, may likewise withdraw themselves from their allegiance, and may insist upon the maintenance among them of the worship they believe to be right, and the suppression of that which they believe to be wrong. [1:191] The principles which were thus urged in favour of rebellion on religious grounds apply, with very little change, to rebellions that are purely political. A king who ruled in opposition to the will of his people had broken the pact that bound him, and had consequently become a tyrant. In the case of a tyrant who had occupied the throne by force against the manifest will of the people, but in this case alone, tyrannicide is lawful, and the examples of Harmodius and Aristogeiton, of Brutus and Cassius, are to be commended. In other cases, however, resistance must first be authorised by a council representing the nation, and consisting of its leading men. Like Hotman, the author contends that all monarchy was originally elective, and he adds that it still so retains its character, that the people may at any time reject the family they have rained to the throne, and that the heir apparent is no more than a candidate for office. [2:191]
There is one other question treated in this remarkable book to which I may advert for a moment, because, although not connected with the right of resistance, it throws some light upon the condition of feeling sectarian animosities had produced. This question is whether, when the majority of a nation is persecuting the minority, a foreign potentate may interpose by arms to succour his co-religionists. The reply is that it is his imperative duty to do so. If he does not, he is guilty of the blood of the martyrs: he is even worse than the persecutors; for they at least imagine that they are slaying the wicked, while he permits the slaughter of those whom he knows to be the just.
It is not probable that many of the French Protestants would have sanctioned all the propositions of this book, but the principles of which it may be regarded as the concentration were very widely diffused among the members of both creeds, and had no inconsiderable influence in preparing the way for the Revolution. The chief political importance, however, of the religious wars was not so much in the doctrines they produced as in the circumstances under which those doctrines were advocated. Few things contributed more powerfully to the secularisation of politics than the anarchy of opinions, the manifest subordination of principles to interests, that was exhibited on all sides among theologians. A single battle, a new alliance, a change in the policy of the rulers, a prospect of some future triumph, was sufficient to alter the whole tone and complexion of the teachings of a Church. Doctrines concerning the sinfulness of rebellion, which were urged with the most dogmatic certainty and supported by the most terrific threats, swayed to and fro with each vicissitude of fortune, were adopted or abandoned with the same celerity, curtailed or modified or expanded to meet the passing interests of the hour. They became, as Bayle said, like birds of passage, migrating with every change of climate. In no country and in no Church do we find anything resembling the conduct of those ancient Christians who never advocated passive obedience more strongly than when all their interests were against it. The apostasies were so flagrant, the fluctuations were so rapid, that it was impossible to overlook them, and they continued till the ascendency of theology over politics was destroyed. The keen eye of the great sceptic of the age soon marked the change, and foresaw the issue to which it was leading. [1:193]
It will probably have struck the reader in perusing the foregoing pages, and it will certainly have struck those who have examined the books that have been referred to, that, in addition to theological interests and traditions, there was a purely secular influence derived from the writings of paganism acting strongly in the direction of liberty. The names that recur most frequently in these writings are those of the great heroes of antiquity; and whether we examine the works of Mariana or Hooker, or of the author of the 'Vindiciæ,' we are transported into discussions concerning the origin of power that are drawn mainly from the pagan philosophers. [2:193]
This influence was, I think, of two kinds -- the first being chiefly logical, and the second chiefly moral. At the close of the twelfth or the beginning of the thirteenth century, two professors of the University of Bologna, named Irnerius and Accursius, devoted themselves to exploring manuscripts of some of the Laws of Justinian, which had for centuries been buried in the great library of Ravenna; and they not only revived the knowledge of a legislation that was supposed to have perished, but also formed a school of commentators who did good service in elucidating its character. For a very long period the labours that were thus instituted had but little influence outside the domain of jurisprudence; but at last, in the sixteenth century, a succession of great lawyers arose -- of whom Bodin, Cujas, and Alciat were the most remarkable -- who applied to the Roman law intellects of a far higher order, and, among other points, paid great attention to its historic development. The balance between the popular and the aristocratic rights and the gradual encroachment of the imperial power upon the liberties of Rome became for about a century favourite subjects of discussion, and naturally produced similar enquiries concerning modern States. From a philosophical investigation of these questions the lawyers passed by an inevitable transition to an examination of the origin of government, a subject which they pursued, from their own point of view, as energetically as the theologians. Bodin, who was probably the ablest of those who devoted themselves to these studies, cannot indeed be regarded as a representative of the democratic tendency; for he strenuously repudiated the notion of a social contract, maintaining the origin of monarchy to be usurpation; he denied that the ruler should be regarded simply as a chief magistrate, and he combated with great force the distinction which Aristotle and the schoolmen had drawn between a king and a tyrant. [1:194] Hotman, however, in France, and, about a century later, Gronovius and Noodt, who were two of the most eminent Dutch advocates of liberty, based their teaching almost entirely upon these legal researches. [1:195]
But the principal influence which the pagan writings exercised upon liberty is to be found in the direction they gave to the enthusiasm of Europe. It has no doubt fallen to the lot of many who have come in contact with the great masterpieces of the Greek chisel to experience the sensation of a new perception of beauty which it is the prerogative of the highest works of genres to evoke. A statue we may have often seen with disappointment or indifference, or with a languid and critical admiration, assumes one day a new aspect in our eyes. It is not that we have discovered in it some features that had before escaped our notice; it is not that we have associated with it any definite ideas that can be expressed by words or defended by argument: it is rather a silent revelation of a beauty that had been hidden, the dawn of a new conception of grandeur, almost the creation of another sense. The judgment is raised to the level of the object it contemplates; it is moulded into its image; it is thrilled and penetrated by its power.
Something of this kind took place in Europe as a consequence of the revival of learning. In the middle ages the ascendency of the Church had been so absolute that the whole measure of moral grandeur had been derived from the ecclesiastical annals. The heroism, the self-sacrifice, the humility, the labours of the saints formed the ideal of perfection, and a greatness of a different order could scarcely be imagined. The names of the heroes of antiquity were indeed familiar, their principal achievements were related, and the original writings in which they were recorded were sometimes read, but they fell coldly and lifelessly upon the mind. The chasm that divided the two periods arose not so much from the fact that the heroes of antiquity were pagans, and therefore, according to the orthodox doctrine, doomed to eternal reprobation, or even from the different direction their heroism had taken, as from the type of character they displayed. The sense of human dignity and the sense of sin, as we have already noticed, are the two opposing sentiments one or other of which may be traced in almost every great moral movement mankind has undergone, and each, when very powerful, produces a moral type altogether different from that which is produced by the other. The first is a proud aspiring tendency, intolerant of every chain, eager in asserting its rights, resenting promptly the slightest wrong, self-confident, disdainful, and ambitious. The second produces a submissive and somewhat cowering tone, it looks habitually downwards, grasps fondly and eagerly at any support which is offered by authority, and in its deep self-distrust seeks, with a passionate earnestness, for some dogmatic system under which it may shelter its nakedness. The first is the almost invariable antecedent and one of the chief efficient causes of political liberty, and the second of theological change. It is true that as theological or political movements advance they often lose their first character, coalesce with other movements, and become the representatives of other tendencies; but in the first instance one or other of these two sentiments may almost always be detected. It was the sense of sin that taught the old Catholic saints to sound the lowest depths of mortification, of self-sacrifice, and of humiliation; that convulsed the mind of Luther in the monastery of Wittenberg, and persuaded him that neither his own good works nor the indulgences of the Pope could avert the anger of the Almighty; that impelled Wesley and Whitfield to revolt against the frigid moral teaching of their time, and raise once more the banner of Justification by Faith; that urged the first leaders of Tractarianism towards a Church which by authoritative teaching and multiplied absolutions could allay the paroxysms of a troubled conscience. [1:197] On the other hand, almost every great political revolution that has been successfully achieved has been preceded by a tone of marked self-confidence and pride, manifested alike in philosophy, in general literature, and in religion. When a theological movement has coalesced with a struggle for liberty, it has usually been impregnated with the same spirit. The sense of privilege was much more prominent in the Puritanism of the seventeenth century than the sense of sin, and a fierce rebellion against superstition than humility. [2:197]
Now the sense of human dignity was the chief moral agent of antiquity, and the sense of sin of mediævalism; and although it is probable that the most splendid actions have been performed by men who were exclusively under the influence of one or other of these sentiments, the concurrence of both is obviously essential to the well-being of society, for the first is the especial source of the heroic, and the second of the religious, virtues. The first produces the qualities of a patriot, and the second the qualities of a saint. In the middle ages, the saintly type being the standard of perfection, the heroic type was almost entirely unappreciated. The nearest approach to it was exhibited by the Crusader, whose valour was nevertheless all subordinated to superstition, and whose whole career was of the nature of a penance. The want of sympathy between the two periods was so great that for the space of many centuries, during which Latin was the habitual language of literature, the great classical works scarcely exercised any appreciable influence. Sometimes men attempted to mould them into the image of the mediæval conceptions, and by the wildest and most fantastic allegories to impart to them an interest they did not otherwise possess. Thus Troy, according to one monkish commentator, signified Hell, Helen the human soul, Paris the Devil, Ulysses Christ, and Achilles the Holy Ghost. Actæon torn by his own dogs was an emblem of the sufferings of Christ; the Rubicon was an image of Baptism. [1:198] It was not till the revival of learning had been considerably advanced that a perception of the nobility of the heroic character dawned upon men's minds. Then for the first time the ecclesiastical type was obscured, a new standard and aspiration was manifested; and popular enthusiasm, taking a new direction, achieved that political liberty which once created intensified the tendency that produced it.
We cannot have a better example of this passionate aspiration towards political liberty than is furnished by the treatise 'On Voluntary Servitude,' or, as it was afterwards called, the 'Contre-un,' [1:199] of La Boétie. This writer, who was one of the most industrious labourers in the classical field, never pauses to examine the origin of government, or to adjudicate between conflicting theologians; but he assumes at once, as a fact that is patent to the conscience, that the subordination of the interests of a nation to the caprices of a man is an abuse, and that the great heroes of antiquity are deserving of imitation. The 'Contre-un' is throughout one fiery appeal -- so fiery indeed that Montaigne, who published all the other works of La Boétie, refused to publish this -- to the people to cast off their oppressors. It reads like the declamations of the revolutionists of the eighteenth century. 'Wretched and insensate people,' writes the author, 'enamoured of your misery and blind to your interests, you suffer your property to be pillaged, your fields devastated, your houses stripped of their goods, and all this by one whom you have yourselves raised to power, and whose dignity you maintain with your lives! He who crushes you has but two eyes, but two hands, but one body. All that he has more than you comes from you. Yours are the many eyes that spy your acts, the many hands that strike you, the many feet that trample you in the dust: all the power with which he injures you is your own. From indignities that the beasts themselves would not endure you can free yourselves by simply willing it. Resolve to serve no more, and you are free. Withdraw your support from the Colossus that crushes you, and it will crumble in the dust.... Think of the battles of Miltiades, of Leonidas, and of Themistocles, which, after two thousand years, are as fresh in the minds of men as though they were of yesterday; for they were the triumphs not so much of Greece as of liberty.... All other goods men will labour to obtain, but to liberty alone they are indifferent, though where it is not every evil follows, and every blessing loses its charm.... Yet we were all moulded in the same die, all born in freedom as brothers, born too with a love of liberty which nothing but our vices has effaced.'
During the last century language of this kind has by constant repetition lost so much of its force that we can scarcely realise the emotions it kindled when it possessed the freshness of novelty, and in a nation convulsed by the paroxysms of civil war. The French Protestants in 1578 adopted the 'Contre-un' as one of the most effectual means of arousing the people to resistance, [1:200] and as late as 1836 Lamennais made its republication the first measure of his democratic crusade. In the history of literature it will always occupy a prominent place on account of the singular beauty of its language, while in the history of Rationalism it is remarkable as one of the clearest illustrations of the tendency of the classical writings to foster and at the same time secularise the spirit of liberty.
Owing to the influences I have endeavoured to trace, the ascendency theology had so long exercised over politics was during the religious wars materially weakened, while at the same time the aspiration towards liberty was greatly strengthened. During the comparative torpor that followed the Peace of Westphalia, and still more after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, the struggle was for a time suspended; and it was not till near the close of the eighteenth century that the question of the rights of nations reappeared prominently in France -- this time, however, not under the auspices of the theologians, but of the freethinkers. But, before reviewing the principles that were then urged, it is necessary to notice for a moment the chief causes that were preparing the people for liberty, and without which no arguments and no heroism could have triumphed.
The first of these was the increase of wealth. Whatever may be the case with small communities and under special circumstances, it is certain that, as a general rule, large masses of people can only enjoy political liberty when the riches of the country have considerably increased. In the early periods of civilisation, when capital is very scanty, and when, owing to the absence of machines and of commerce, the results of labour are extremely small, slavery in one form or another is the inevitable condition of the masses. The abject poverty in which they live casts them helplessly upon the few who are wealthy; wages sink to a point that is barely sufficient for the sustenance of life, and social progress becomes impossible. 'If the hammer and the shuttle could move themselves,' said Aristotle, 'slavery would be unnecessary;' and machinery having virtually fulfilled the condition, the predicted result has followed. [1:201] The worst and most degrading forms of labour being performed by machinery, production, and consequently capital, have been immensely increased, and, progress becoming possible, a middle class has been formed. Commerce not only gives an additional development to this class, but also forms a bond of union connecting the different parts of the country. The roads that are formed for the circulation of wealth become the channels of the circulation of ideas, and render possible that simultaneous action upon which all liberty depends.
The next great cause of liberty was the increase of knowledge. And here again we may discern the evidence of that inexorable fatality which for so many centuries doomed mankind alike to superstition and to slavery, until the great inventions of the human intellect broke the chain. When we hear men dilating upon the degrading superstitions of Catholicism, marvelling how a creed that is so full of gross and material conceptions could win belief, and denouncing it as an apostasy and an error, it is sufficient to say that for 1,500 years after the establishment of the Christian religion it was intellectually and morally impossible that any religion that was not material and superstitious could have reigned over Europe. Protestantism could not possibly have existed without a general diffusion of the Bible, and that diffusion was impossible until after the two inventions of paper and of printing. As long as the material of books was so expensive that it was deemed necessary to sacrifice thousands of the ancient manuscripts in order to cover the parchment with new writing, as long as the only way of covering those parchments was by the slow and labourious process of transcription, books, and therefore the knowledge of reading, were necessarily confined to an infinitesimal fraction of the community. Pictures and other material images, which a Council of Arras well called the 'Book of the Ignorant,' were then the chief means of religious instruction, not simply because oral instruction without the assistance of books was manifestly insufficient, but also because, in a period when the intellectual discipline of reading is unknown, the mind is incapable of grasping conceptions that are not clothed in a pictorial form. To those who will observe, on the one hand, how invariably the mediæval intellect materialised every department of knowledge it touched, and on the other hand how manifestly the peculiar tenets of Catholicism are formed either by the process of materialising the intellectual and moral conceptions of Christianity or else by legitimate deductions from those tenets when materialised -- to those who still further observe how every great theological movement, either of progress or of retrogression, has been preceded by a corresponding change in the intellectual condition of society, it will appear evident that nothing short of a continued miracle could have produced a lasting triumph of Christian ideas except under some such form as Catholicism presents. It was no doubt possible that small communities like the Waldenses, shut out from the general movement of the age, inspired by very strong enthusiasm, and under the constant supervision of zealous pastors, might in some small degree rise above the prevailing materialism; but when we remember how readily nations, considered as wholes, always yield to the spirit of the time, and how extremely little the generality of men strive against the natural bias of their minds, it will easily be conceived that the great mass of men must have inevitably gravitated to materialism. When under such circumstances a spiritual faith exists, it exists only as the appanage of the few, and can exercise no influence or control over the people.
But while superstition is thus the inevitable, and therefore the legitimate condition of an early civilisation, the same causes that make it necessary render impossible the growth of political liberty, Neither the love of freedom nor the capacity of self-government can exist in a great nation that is plunged in ignorance. Political liberty was in ancient times almost restricted to cities like Athens and Rome, where public life, and art, and all the intellectual influences that were concentrated in a great metropolis, could raise the people to an exceptional elevation. In the middle ages, servitude was mitigated by numerous admirable institutions, most of which emanated from the Church; but the elements of self-government could only subsist in countries that were so small that the proceedings of the central government came under the immediate cognisance of the whole people. Elsewhere the chief idea that was attached to liberty was freedom from a foreign yoke. It was only by the slow and difficult penetration of knowledge to the masses that a movement like that of the eighteenth century became possible; and we may distinctly trace the steps of its evolution through a long series of preceding centuries. The almost simultaneous introduction into Europe from the East of cotton-paper by the Greeks and by the Moors, the invention of rag-paper at the end of the tenth century, the extension of the area of instruction by the substitution of universities for monasteries as the centres of education, the gradual formation of modern languages, the invention of printing in the middle of the fifteenth century, the stimulus given to education by the numerous controversies the Reformation forced upon the attention of all classes, the additional inducement to learn to read arising among Protestants from the position assigned to the Bible, and in a less degree among Catholics from the extraordinary popularity of the "Imitation" of Thomas à Kempis, the steady reduction in the price of books as the new art was perfected, the abandonment of a dead language as the vehicle of instruction, the simplification of style and arguments which brought knowledge down to the masses, the sceptical movement which diverted that knowledge from theological to political channels, were all among the antecedents of the Revolution. When knowledge becomes so general that a large proportion of the people take a lively and constant interest in the management of the State, the time is at hand when the bounds of the Constitution will be enlarged.
A third great revolution favourable to liberty is to be found in the history of the art of war. In the early stages of civilisation military achievements are, next to religion, the chief source of dignity, and the class which is most distinguished in battle is almost necessarily the object of the most profound respect. Before the invention of gunpowder, a horseman in armour being beyond all comparison superior to a foot-soldier, the whole stress of battle fell upon the cavalry, who belonged exclusively to the upper classes -- in the first instance because the great expense of the equipment could only be met by the rich, and in the next place because express laws excluded plebeians from its ranks. It is, however, well worthy of notice that in this respect the position of the English was exceptional. Although St. George, who was the object of extreme reverence throughout the middle ages as the patron saint of cavalry, was also the patron saint of England, the skill of the English archers was so great that they rapidly rose to European fame, and obtained a position which in other countries belonged exclusively to the horsemen. In all the old battles the chivalry of France and the yeomen of England were the most prominent figures; and this distinction, trivial as it may now appear, had probably a considerable influence over the history of opinions.
With this exception, the ascendency of the cavalry in the middle ages was unquestionable, but it was not altogether undisputed; and it is curious to trace from a very distant period the slow rise of the infantry accompanying the progress of democracy. The Flemish burghers brought this force to considerable perfection, and in the battle of Courtray their infantry defeated the cavalry opposed to them. A similar achievement was performed by the Swiss infantry in the battle of Morgarten. The French had always treated their own foot-soldiers with extreme contempt; but Crecy and Poitiers having been mainly won by the English archers, a slight revulsion of feeling took place, and great though not very successful efforts were made to raise a rival corps. For some time after the battle of Poitiers all games except archery were prohibited in France. More than once, too, in their combats with the English, the French cavalry were compelled to dismount and endure what they conceived the degradation of fighting on foot, and the same practice was frequent among the free-lances of Italy under the leadership of Sir John Hawkwood and of Carmagnola.
The invention of gunpowder, as soon as firearms had acquired some degree of excellence, seriously shook the ascendency of the cavalry. The mounted soldier was no longer almost invulnerable by the foot-soldier, or his prowess decisive in battle. Yet, notwithstanding this change, the social distinction between the two branches of the army which chivalry [1:206] had instituted continued; the cavalry still represented the upper and the infantry the lower classes, and in France the nobles alone had a right to enter the former. The comparative depression of the military importance of the cavalry had therefore the effect of transferring in a measure the military prestige from the nobles to the people. For some time the balance trembled very evenly between the two forces, until the invention of the bayonet by Vauban gave the infantry a decided superiority, revolutionised the art of war, and thereby influenced the direction of enthusiasm. [1:207]
The last general tendency I shall mention was produced by the discoveries of political economy. Liberty cannot be attained without a jealous restriction of the province of government, and indeed may be said in a great measure to consist of such a restriction. The process since the Reformation has passed through two distinct stages. The first, which was effected mainly by the diffusion of Rationalism, was the triumph of tolerance, by which the vast field of speculative opinions was withdrawn from the jurisdiction of the civil power. The second, which was effected by political economy, was free-trade, by which the evil of the interference of government with commercial transactions was proved. This last proposition, which was one of the most important, was also one of the earliest of the achievements of political economists, for it was ardently professed by the French school nearly twenty years before the publication of the 'Wealth of Nations;' and as the catastrophe of Law and the ministerial position of Turgot directed public opinion in France very earnestly towards economical questions, it exercised an extensive influence. Many who were comparatively impervious to the more generous enthusiasm of liberty became by these enquiries keenly sensible of the evil of an all-directing government, and anxious to abridge its power. [1:208]
There were of course innumerable special circumstances, growing out of the policy of the French rulers, which accelerated or retarded the advance or influenced the character of the Revolution. The foregoing pages have no pretension to be a complete summary of its antecedents, but they may serve to show that a revolutionary movement of some kind was the normal result of the tendencies of the age, that its chief causes are to be sought entirely outside the discussions of political philosophers, and that the rise of great republican writers, the principles they enunciated, and the triumph of their arguments were all much more the consequences than the causes of the democratic spirit. In other words, these men were rather representative than creative. But for the preceding movement they would never have appeared, or, at least, would never have triumphed, although when they appeared they undoubtedly modified and in a measure directed the movement that produced them. The change must necessarily have taken place, but it was a question of great importance into whose hands its guidance was to fall.
If we take a broad view of the history of liberty since the establishment of Christianity, we find that the ground of conflict was at first personal and at a later period political liberty, and that in the earlier stage the Catholic Church was the special representative of progress. In the transition from slavery to serfdom, and in the transition from serfdom to liberty, she was the most zealous, the most unwearied, and the most efficient agent. The same thing may be said of the earliest period of the political evolution. As long as the condition of society was such that an enlarged political liberty was impossible, as long as the object was not so much to produce freedom as to mitigate servitude, the Church was still the champion of the people. The balance of power produced by the numerous corporations she created or sanctioned, the reverence for tradition resulting from her teaching, which perpetuated a network of unwritten customs with the force of public law, the dependence of the civil upon the ecclesiastical power, and the rights of excommunication and deposition, had all contributed to lighten the pressure of despotism. After a time, however, the intellectual progress of society destroyed the means which the Church possessed for mitigating servitude, and at the same time raised the popular demand for liberty to a point that was perfectly incompatible with her original teaching. The power of the Papal censure was so weakened that it could scarcely be reckoned upon as a political influence, and all the complicated checks and counter-checks of mediæval society were swept away. On the other hand, the struggle for political liberty in its widest sense -- the desire to make the will of the people the basis of the government -- the conviction that a nation has a right to alter a government that opposes its sentiments -- has become the great characteristic of modern politics. Experience has shown that wherever intellectual life is active and unimpeded a political fermentation will ensue, and will issue in a movement having for its object the repudiation of the Divine right of kings, and the recognition of the will of the people as the basis of the government. The current has been flowing in this direction since the Reformation, but has advanced with peculiar celerity since the Peace of Westphalia, for since that event the desire of securing a political ascendency for any religious sect has never been a preponderating motive with politicians. With this new spirit the Catholic Church cannot possibly harmonise. It is contrary to her genius, to her traditions, and to her teaching. Resting upon the principle of authority, she instinctively assimilates with those forms of government that most foster the habits of mind she inculcates. Intensely dogmatic in her teaching, she naturally endeavours to arrest by the hand of power the circulation of what she believes to be error, and she therefore allies herself with the political system under which alone such suppression is possible. Asserting as the very basis of her teaching the binding authority of the past, she cannot assent to political doctrines which are, in fact, a direct negation of the uniform teaching of the ancient Church. [1:210] In the midst of the fierce struggle of the sixteenth century isolated theologians might be permitted without censure to propound doctrines of a seditious nature, but it was impossible ultimately to overlook the fact that the modern secularisation of the basis of authority and the modern latitude given to a discontented people are directly contrary to the teaching of the Fathers, and extend far beyond the teaching of the mediæval theologians. [1:211] The fact that modern opinions have been in a measure evolved from the speculations of the schoolmen, or that the schoolmen were the liberals of their time, though important in the judgment of the rationalist, is of no weight in the eyes of those who assert the finality of the teaching of the past.
The natural incapacity of Catholicism to guide the democratic movement had in the eighteenth century been aggravated by the extremely low ebb to which it had fallen, both intellectually and morally. Nearly all the greatest French intellects of the seventeenth century were warmly attached to Catholicism; all those of the eighteenth century were opposed to it. The Church, therefore, like every retrogressive institution in a progressive age, cast herself with more than common zeal into the arms of power, and on every occasion showed herself the implacable enemy of toleration. In 1780, but a few years before the explosion that shattered the ecclestastical system of France, the assembly of the French clergy thought it necessary solemnly to deplore and condemn the partial tolerance that had been accorded to the French Protestants, and to petition the king that no further privileges might be granted them. Such a Church was manifestly identified with despotism, and having repeatedly asserted the evil of toleration she had no right to complain when the Revolutionists treated her according to her principles. [1:212]
Catholicism having thus become the representative of despotism, and French Protestantism having sunk into insignificance, the guidance of the democratic movement necessarily passed into the hands of the freethinkers. In the earlier stages of the movement, when liberty was evolved from the religious wars, they had usually stood aloof. Thus Faustus Socinus had predicted that the seditious doctrines by which the Protestants supported their cause would lead to the dissolution of society, and in denouncing them he especially singled out for condemnation the noble struggle of the Dutch against Spain. [2:212] Montaigne, though Buchanan had been his tutor and La Boétie one of his most intimate friends, always leaned strongly towards political conservatism. His disciple Charron went still further, and distinctly asserted the doctrine of passive obedience. [3:212] Bayle, too, exerted all his influence in discouraging the revolutionary tenets of Jurieu. [4:212] Nor was there anything extraordinary in this, for the aspect Europe presented in their time might well have appalled any spectator who was exempt from the prevailing fanaticism. All the bonds of cohesion upon which the political organisation depended were weakened or destroyed. The spirit of private judgment had descended to those who by ignorance or long servitude were totally incapable of self-government, and it had lashed their passions to the wildest fury. Patriotism seemed to have almost vanished from Christendom. Neither Catholics nor Protestants deemed it the least disgraceful to call down a foreign invasion upon their land, to trample its interests in the dust, and to avow the warmest sympathy for its enemies. Religion, which had so long formed the basis of order, inspired the combatants with the fiercest hatred, and transformed every vice into a virtue. While a pope was causing medals to be struck in honour of the massacre of St. Bartholomew, and enjoining Vasari to paint the scene upon the walls of the Vatican; while the murderer of Henry III. was extolled as a martyr, and writings defending his act were scattered broadcast among the people; while the conflagration spreading from land to land absorbed or eclipsed all other causes of dissension, blasted the material prosperity of Europe, and threatened a complete dissolution of almost all political structures, it was not surprising that the freethinkers, who stood apart from the conflict, should have sought at any risk to consolidate the few remaining elements of order. But in the eighteenth century their position and the circumstances that surrounded them were both changed; and the writings of Rousseau and of his disciples proved the trumpet-blast of that great revolution which shattered the political system of France, and the influence of which is even now vibrating to the furthest limits of civilisation.
It has been said [1:214] that while the Revolution of England bore in its womb the liberty of England, the Revolution of France bore that of the world; and those who have traced the long series of political changes already effected will scarcely deem the boast an hyperbole. All around us the spirit of that Revolution is permeating the masses of the people with its regenerating power. Many ancient despotisms have already crumbled beneath its touch; others are even now convulsed by the agonies of transformation, or by the last paroxysms of a despairing resistance. Every form of government in which the nation does not actively participate is recognised as transitory, and every sagacious despot keeps the prospect of future liberty continually before his people. The resurrection of nations is the miracle of our age. All the power of standing armies and of protecting laws, all the treaties of diplomatists and the untiring vigilance of strong-willed despots, have been unable to arrest it. The treaties have been torn, the armies have been scattered, the spirit of liberty has survived. The doctrine of nationalities, by the confession of its keenest adversaries, has now 'almost acquired the force of public law;' [2:214] it has annulled the most solemn international obligations, and there is every reason to believe that before the century has closed it will be the recognised basis of politics.
Assuredly no part of this great change is due to any original discoveries of Rousseau, though his personal influence was very great, and his genius peculiarly fitted for the position he occupied. He was one of those writers who are eminently destitute of the judgment that enables men without exaggeration to discriminate between truth and falsehood, and yet eminently endowed with that logical faculty which enables them to defend the opinions they have embraced. No one plunged more recklessly into paradox, or supported those paradoxes with more consummate skill. At the same time the firmness with which he grasped and developed general principles, and that wonderful fusion of passion and argument which constitutes the preëminent beauty of his style, gave his eloquence a transcendent power in a revolutionary age. Nothing is more curious than to observe how the revolt against the empire of conventionalities of which he was the apostle penetrated into all parts of French society, revolutionising even those which seemed most remote from his influence. It was shown in fashionable assemblies in a disregard for social distinctions, for decorations, and for attire, that had for centuries been unknown in France. It was shown in the theatre, where Talma, at the instigation of the great revolutionary painter David, banished from the French stage the custom of representing the heroes of Greece and Rome with powdered wigs and in the garb of the courtiers of Versailles, and founded a school of acting which made an accurate imitation of nature the first condition of excellence. [1:215] It was shown even in the country houses, where the mathematical figures, the long formal alleys arranged with architectural symmetry, and the trees dwarfed and trimmed into fantastic shapes, which Le Nôtre had made the essential elements of a French garden, were suddenly discarded and replaced by the wild and irregular beauties that Kent had made popular in England. [1:216] But though the character and the original genius of Rousseau were stamped upon every feature of his time, the doctrines of the 'Social Contract' are in all essentials borrowed from Locke and from Sidney, and where they diverge from their models they fall speedily into absurdity. [2:216] The true causes of their mighty influence are to be found in the condition of society. Formerly they had been advocated with a view to special political exigencies, or to a single country, or to a single section of society. For the first time, in the eighteenth century, they penetrated to the masses of the people, stirred them to their lowest depths, and produced an upheaving that was scarcely less general than that of the Reformation. The history of the movement was like that of the enchanted well in the Irish legend, which lay for centuries shrouded in darkness in the midst of a gorgeous city, till some careless hand left open the door that had enclosed it, and the morning sunlight flashed upon its waters. Immediately it arose responsive to the beam; it burst the barriers that had confined it; it submerged the city that had surrounded it; and its resistless waves, chanting wild music to heaven, rolled over the temples and over the palaces of the past.
There is no fact more remarkable in this movement than the manner in which it has in many countries risen to the position of a religion -- that is to say, of an unselfish enthusiasm uniting vast bodies of men in aspiration towards an ideal, and proving the source of heroic virtues. It is always extremely important to trace the direction in which the spirit of self-sacrifice is moving, for upon the intensity of that spirit depends the moral elevation of an age, and upon its course the religious future of the world. It once impelled the war-riots of Europe to carry ruin and desolation to the walls of Jerusalem, to inundate the plains of Palestine with the blood of slaughtered thousands, and to purchase by unparalleled calamities some relics for the devotion of the pilgrim. It once convulsed Europe with religious wars, suspended all pacific operations, and paralysed all secular interests in order to secure the ascendency of a church or of a creed. It once drove tens of thousands into the retirement of the monasteries; induced them to macerate their bodies, and to mortify their affections; to live in sackcloth and ashes, in cold and poverty and privations, that by such means they might attain their reward. These things have now passed away. The crusader's sword has long been shattered, and his achievements have been idealised by the poet and the novelist. The last wave of the religious wars that swept over so many lands has subsided into a calm that is broken only by the noisy recriminations of a few angry polemics. The monastic system and the conceptions from which it grew are fading rapidly before the increasing day. Celibacy, voluntary poverty, and voluntary subjection, were the three subjects which Giotto painted over the high altar of Assisi as the distinctive characteristics of the saint -- the efforts of self-sacrifice that lead to the beatitude of heaven. All of them have now lost their power. Even that type of heroic grandeur which the ancient missionary exhibited, though eulogised and revered, is scarcely reproduced. The spirit of self-sacrifice still exists, but it is to be sought in other fields -- in a boundless philanthropy growing out of affections that are common to all religions, and above all in the sphere of politics. Liberty and not theology is the enthusiasm of the nineteenth century. The very men who would once have been conspicuous saints are now conspicuous revolutionists, for while their heroism and their disinterestedness are their own, the direction these qualities take is determined by the pressure of their age.
If we analyse the democratic ideal which is exercising so wide an influence, we find that it consists of two parts -- a rearrangement of the map of Europe on the principle of the rights of nationalities, and a strong infusion of the democratic element into the government of each State. The recognition of some universal principle of political right powerful enough to form a bond of lasting concord has always been a favourite dream with statesmen and philosophers. Hildebrand sought it in the supremacy of the spiritual power, and in the consequent ascendency of the moral law; Dante in the fusion of all European States into one great empire, presided over in temporal matters by the Cæsars and in spiritual by the Popes; Grotius and Henry IV. of France, in a tribunal like the Amphictyonic assembly of ancient Greece, deciding with supreme authority international differences; diplomacy in artificial combinations, and especially in the system of the balance of power. The modern doctrine of the rights of nationalities could not possibly have attained any great importance till the present century -- in the first place because it is only after the wide diffusion of education that the national sentiment acquires the necessary strength, concentration, and intelligence, and in the next place because the influence of the selfish side of human nature was hostile to it. The conceptions that the interests of adjoining nations are diametrically opposed, that wealth can only be gained by displacement, and that conquest is therefore the chief path to progress, were long universal; but during the last century political economy has been steadily subverting them, and has already effected so much that it scarcely seems unreasonable to conclude that the time will come when a policy of territorial aggrandisement will be impossible. At the same time the extension of free-trade has undoubtedly a tendency to effect the disintegration of great heterogeneous empires by destroying the peculiar advantages of colonies and of conquered territory; while railways and increasing knowledge weaken national antipathies and facilitate the political agglomeration of communities with a common race, language, and geographical position. The result of all this is that motives of self-interest do not oppose themselves as powerfully as of old to the recognition of territorial limits defined by the wishes of the people. And this is peculiarly important, because not only does interest, as distinguished from passion, gain a greater empire with advancing civilisation, but passion itself is mainly guided by its power. If, indeed, we examine only the proximate causes of European wars, they present the aspect of a perfect chaos, and the immense majority might be ascribed to isolated causes or to passing ebullitions of national jealousy. But if we examine more closely, we find that a deepseated aversion produced by general causes had long preceded and prepared the explosion. The great majority of wars during the last 1,000 years may be classified under three heads -- wars produced by opposition of religious belief, wars resulting from erroneous economical notions either concerning the balance of trade or the material advantages of conquest, and wars resulting from the collision of the two hostile doctrines of the Divine right of kings and the rights of nations. In the first instance knowledge has gained a decisive, and in the second almost a decisive, victory. Whether it will ever render equally impossible political combinations that outrage national sentiment is one of the great problems of the future. This much at least is certain, that the progress of the movement has profoundly and irrevocably impaired the force of treaties and of diplomatic arrangements as the regulating principles of Europe.
But whatever may be thought on these subjects, it is at least certain that the movement we have traced has become a great moral influence in Europe, and, like many others, exhibits a striking synthesis of the distinctive elements of two different civilisations. The spirit of patriotism has under its influence assumed a position scarcely less prominent than in antiquity, while at the same time, by a transformation to which almost all the influences of modern society have concurred, it has lost its old exclusiveness without altogether losing its identity, and has assimilated with a sentiment of universal fraternity. The sympathy between great bodies of men was never so strong, the stream of enthusiasm never flowed in so broad a current as at present; and in the democratic union of nations we find the last and highest expression of the Christian ideal of the brotherhood of mankind.
Nor is it simply in the international aspect of democracy that we trace this influence; it is found no less clearly in the changes that have been introduced into internal legislation and social life. The political merits of democracy I do not now discuss, but no one at least can question the extent to which legislation has of late years been modified in favour of the lower classes, the sympathy and even deference that has been shown to their wants, the rapid obliteration of the lines of class divisions, and the ever increasing tendency to amalgamation based upon political equality and upon enlarged sympathy.
It is thus that amid the transformation or dissolution of intellectual dogmas the great moral principles of Christianity continually reappear, acquiring new power in the lapse of ages, and influencing the type of each succeeding civilisation.
[End of Fifth Chapter]