Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

THE STATIONARY DOCTRINE.

23

[ocr errors]

royalty, which is the only power of the old polity that is still active : now, the balance which is instituted by the stationary doctrine surrounds the royal power with bonds that are always tightening, while declaring that royal power to be the chief basis of the government. It is only a question of time when the function of sovereignty, thus embarrassed, shall cease, and the pretended balance be destroyed. This parliamentary polity serves the cause of progress no better than that of order: for, as it proposes no new principle, the restraints which it puts upon the revolutionary spirit are all derived from the ancient system, and therefore tend to become more and more retrograde and oppressive. An example of this is, the restrictions on the right of election ; restrictions always derived from irrational material conditions, which, being arbitrary in their character, oppress and irritate, without answering their proposed purpose, and leave the multitude of the excluded much more offended than the small number of the privileged are gratified.

There is no need to say more in this place of the mixed or Stationary doctrine, which is, in fact, only a last phase of the metaphysical polity. The reader cannot but see that a theory so precarious and subaltern, so far from being able to reorganize modern society, can only regulate, by protracting, the political conflict, and discharge the negative office of preventing kings from retrograding and peoples from destroying. Whatever the value of this service may be, we cannot expect regeneration to be accomplished by means of impediments.

We have now seen the worth of these three systems. To complete our conviction of the need of a better, we niust Dangers of the briefly notice the chief social dangers which result critical period. from the deplorable protraction of such an intellectual condition, and which must, from their nature, be aggravated from day to day. The dangers are imputable to all the three systems; though the revolutionary and stationary systems assume that the blame of our disorders rests with the retrograde school : but they are certainly no less guilty; for, powerless to discover the remedy, they protract the mischief, and embarrass the treatment. And again, the discordance between the movement of governments and of their peoples is to be attributed quite as much to the hostile spirit of the directing power as to the anarchical tendency of popular opinions. The social perturbations, the aspects of which we are about to examine, proceed no less from the kings than from their peoples, with this aggravated disgrace,—that it seems as if the solution ought to emanate from the kings.

The first, the most fatal, and the most universal consequence of this situation is the alarming and ever-widening extent of the intellectual anarchy which all acknowledge, anarchy. however they may differ about its cause and termination. This evil is charged almost exclusively on the revolutionary philosophy;

Intellectual

[ocr errors]

and that school too readily admits the charge. But, as we have seen, that doctrine does not prohibit decision, when the requisite grounds are ascertained : and it is the stationary theory that ought to bear the blame of the absence of those grounds : and yet more the retrograde, which is chargeable with urging the restoration of the same worn-out principles which, by their decrepitude, have caused all this anarchy. The stationary school does not want to hear of any such principles, and interdicts them; and the retrograde school insists that the old ones will do over again. So that, if the revolutionary school first encouraged the anarchy, the other two protract it.

Of all questions, there are none which have so much claim as social problems to be consigned to a small number of choice minds which shall have been prepared by a high order of discipline and instruction for the investigation of questions so complex and so mixed up with human passions. Such is, at least, the natural state of the human mind, in contrast with which its condition in revolutionary periods may be regarded as, in a manner, pathological, however inevitable. The social malady must be very serious when we see all manner of persons, however inferior their intelligence, and however unprepared, stimulated, in the highest manner, and from day to day, to cut the knot of the most intricate political questions, without any guidance or restraint. The wonder is, not that the divergence of opinion is what it is, but that any points of agreement at all are left amidst all this dissolution of social maxims. The evil bas reached such a point that all political opinions, though of course derived from one of the three schools, differ through so many degrees as to become individual ;-through all degrees, in fact, that the combination of three orders of vicious principles admits of. Except on occasion of emergency, when there is a temporary coalition (amidst which each one usually hopes to have his own way) it becomes more and inore difficult to make even a very small number of minds adhere to a plain and explicit profession of political faith. This inability to co-operate prevails in all the three camps, -as we ought carefully to observe: and each party has often, in its ingenuous moments, bitterly deplored the intense disagreement with which it supposed itself to be especially afilicted; whereas, the others were no better organized; and the chief difference in the three cases was that each was most acutely sensible of its own misery.

In countries where this intellectual anarchy has been sanctioned by the political preponderance of Protestantism, the divergences have been more multiplied than elsewhere, without being less serious. It could not but be so from the tendency of the general mind, in its then infantile state, to use its new emancipation to plunge into the indefinite discussion of religious opinions—(the most vague

and discordant of all),—in the absence of a restraining spiritual authority.

EXISTING ANARCHY.

25

In the United States, for instance, there are hundreds of Christian sects, radically discordant, and incessantly parting off into opinions which are really little more than individual, which it is impossible to classify, and which are already becoming implicated with innumerable political differences. The nations which, like the French, have escaped the treacherous stage of Protestantism, and have passed at once from the Catholic to the fully revolutionary state, were not, on that account, entirely exempt from the intellectual anarchy inherent in any prolonged exercise of the absolute right of free individual inquiry. All that can be said is that their aberrations, without being less anti-social, have a less vague character, and are less in the way of the final reorganization. They arise, take possession for a while of even healthy and well-trained intellects, and then give place to others that have their day, and in their turn are superseded. In our time, we hear of proposals, entertained here and there even by men who know what positive science is in some one department of study, which it is a shock to one's hopes to see so advocated; proposals, for instance, to abolish money and recrir to a state of barter; to destroy the great capitals in order to restore rural innocence; to have a fixed rate of wages, and the same rate for every kind of labour, and so forth. Such opinions are daily given out, side by side with those which are the most philosophical and the most carefully elaborated; and none have any chance of being established under the rule of any intellectual discipline whatever, though the wise are compromised with the foolish in the eyes of public reason. The inevitable result of such a chronic epidemic is the gradual destruction of the public morale, which

Destruction is not sustained, among the generality of men, so of public much by the direct sentiment as by habit

, guided by

morality. the uniform assent of individual wills to invariable and general rules, adapted to fix, on every serious occasion, the true idea of the public good. So complex is the nature of social questions that there is much that is to be said on all sides; and there is no institution, however indispensable, which does not involve serious and numerous inconveniences, more or less partial and transient; and, on the other hand, there is no Utopia so wild as not to offer some incontestable advantages : and few are the minds which are not so preoccupied by ideas, or stimulated by passion, as to be able to contemplate at once all the aspects of any social subject. Thus it is that almost all the great maxims of public morality are condemned on account of their salient faults, while their determining grounds are hidden till exhibited by an exact analysis, which must in many cases be extremely delicate. Thus, again, it is that all true moral order is incompatible with the existing vagabond liberty of individual minds if such license were to last; for the great social rules which should become customary cannot be abandoned to the blind and arbitrary decision of an incompetent public without losing all their efficacy. The

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

requisite convergence of the best minds cannot be obtained without the voluntary renunciation, on the part of most of them, of their sovereign right of free inquiry, which they will doubtless be willing to abdicate, as soon as they have found organs worthy to exercise appropriately their vain provisional supremacy. If it is so in problems of science, there is every reason to expect it in the more difficult questions of social principle. Meanwhile, all vague notions of public good, degenerating into an indistinct philanthropy, must succumb to the energetic forces of a highly stimulated selfishness. In the daily course of our political conflicts we see accordingly the most conscientious men taxing each other with wickedness and folly; and, on every serious occasion, the most opposite doctrines maintained by persons equally worthy of confidence: and, while all deep and steady conviction is thus rendered impossible, no true political morality can be hoped for by those who desire it most.

This public demoralization has, it must be admitted, been sensibly retarded, in our time, by the preponderance of that revolutionary doctrine which has borne the imputation of causing it; for the revolutionary party, progressive in character, could not but be animated, more than the others, by sincere convictions, which, in their depth and activity, must tend to restrain, and even annihilate, individual selfishness. This was especially remarkable during the season when the revolutionary doctrine was, by a general illusion, supposed to be destined to reorganize society. Under the impulse of this persuasion, the strongest social devotedness that can shed honour upon contemporary history was manifested. But this could be only for a time. As the illusion disappeared, the convictions which arose from it became first weakened, and then mingled with the influences of the stationary, and even the retrograde polity: and though they are still of a higher order than those which are inspired by the other doctrines, and especially among the young, they have not energy to resist the dissolving action of the revolutionary philosophy, even among its own advocates ; so that this philosophy now contributes, almost as much as its two antagonists, to the spread of political demoralization.

Private morality is, happily, much less dependent on established Private opinions. Other conditions enter into this case; and morality.

in the commonest questions, natural sentiment is far more operative than in public relations. Disorganizing influences are strongly counteracted by the continuous amelioration of our manners, through a more equable intellectual development, by a juster sense and more familiar taste for the various fine arts, and by the gradual improvement of social condition in consequence of steady industrial progress. The common rules of domestic and personal morality have guarded private life longer than political from the invasion of disorganizing influences, and the intrusion of individual analysis. But the time has arrived for these inevitable

[ocr errors]

PERIL TO PRIVATE MORALITY.

27

disturbances, long concealed, to manifest their dangerous activity. So long ago as the first rise of the revolutionary state, this deleterious influence on morality, properly so called, began with a serious innovation on the institution of Marriage, which would have been radically changed, by the permission of divorce in Protestant countries, if public decency and private good sense had not, up to this time, weakened the pernicious effects of theologico-metaphysical extravagances. Still, private morality could be reached only through the destruction of political morals: and now, that barrier being broken through, the dissolving action threatens domestic, and even personal morality, which is the necessary foundation of every other. Whichever way we look at it, whether as to the relations of the sexes, to those of ages, or of conditions, it is clear that the elements of all social life are directly compromised by a corrosive discussion which is not directed by true principles, and which brings into question, without the possibility of solution, even the least important ideas of duty. Even the Family, which, amidst the fiercest revolutionary tumults, had been on the whole respected, has been assailed in our day in its very foundations, by attacks on the hereditary principle and on marriage. We have even seen the commonest principle of personal morality, the subjection of the passions to reason, denied by pretended reformers who, in defiance of all experience and such positive science as we have, have proposed as a fundamental dogma of their regenerated morality, the systematic dominion of the passions, which they have striven, not to restrain, but to excite by the strongest stimulants. These speculations have so far penetrated social life, that any one is now at liberty to make an easy merit of the most turbulent passions; so that, if such license could last, insatiable stomachs might at length get to pride themselves on their own voracity. It is in vain for the retrograde school to throw the blame of all this on the revolutionary school. The censure rests upon themselves, inasmuch as they have persisted in extolling, as the only intellectual bases of social duty, principles which have betrayed their impotence in this very case ; for, if theological conceptions are, in truth, the immutable bases of future as well as past morality, how is it that they now fail to obviate such license ? What are we to think of the attempt to shore up by laborious artifices, the religious principles which are proposed, after they have lost their strength, as the only supports of moral order ? No supreme function can be assigned to convictions that have themselves given way before the development of human reason, which is not likely to use its mature power to reconstruct the bonds which it broke through in the efforts of its youth. It is remarkable that the license I have spoken of has been proposed by the ardent restorers of religious theories, in their exasperation against all positive philosophy; and this has, for some time past, been the case with Protestant, no less than Catholic

« AnteriorContinuar »