« AnteriorContinuar »
advocates. So far from furnishing bases for morality, domestic or
It is the systematic corruption which is set up as an corruption. indispensable instrument of government. The three doctrines bear their share, though it may be an unequal one, in this disgraceful result, because all exclude, as we have seen, true political convictions. Amidst the absence, or the discredit, of general ideas, which have now no power to command genuine acts, there is no other daily resource for the maintenance of even a rough and precarious order than an appeal, more or less immediate, to personal interests. Such an influence is scarcely ever needed with men of deep convictions. Even in the lower order of characters,
, human nature is rarely so debased as to allow a course of political conduct in opposition to any strong convictions; and such contrariety, if persevered in, would soon paralyse the faculties. In the scientific class, in which philosophical convictions are at present most common and best marked, active corruption is scarcely practicable, though minds are there much of the same quality as they are elsewhere. Thus, exceptional cases apart, the rapid spread of a corruption which avails itself of the half-convictions that are prevalent in the political world must be attributed mainly to the undecided and fluctuating state in which social ideas are kept by the intellectual anarchy of our time. Not only does this disorder of minds permit the political corruption : it even requires it, as the only means of obtaining any sort of practical convergence,
TO PUBLIC MORALITY.
such as is necessary for the mere preservation of the social state in its grossest interests : and we must prepare ourselves for the continuous extension of the evil, as long as intellectual anarchy goes on destroying all strong political conviction. Rulers and the ruled are alike guilty in regard to this vice : the rulers by their disdain of all social theory; by their repression of mind, and by their application of the instrument which they cannot dispense with to their own, instead of the general interest; and the ruled by their acceptance of the proffered corruption, and by their intellectual condition rendering the use of it inevitable. It individuals cannot co-operate on any other ground than that of private interest, they have no right to complain that governments take the same ground 10 procure the assistance that they cannot dispense with, during a period in which it is scarcely possible to see clearly what the public good really consists in. All that can be said for such a state of things is that matters would be worse if individual eccentricities were not somewhat restrained by personal interest, in the absence of better influences; and that it is the natural result of the situation to which it applies, and therefore certainly destined to disappear whenever society shall begin to admit of a better discipline. Till then we must expect to see this miserable expedient more and more resorted to; as is proved by the constant experience of all peoples living under a prolonged constitutional or representative régime, as we now call it, always compelled to organize in this manner a certain material discipline in the midst of a complete intellectual, and therefore moral anarchy. All that we have a right to require is that governments, instead of welcoming this disastrous necessity, and making an eager use of the facilities it offers, should set themselves to favour, systematically, by all the means at their command, the great philosophical elaboration through which modern society may enter upon a better course.
By corruption, I do not mean only direct venality, nor yet the holding of honorary distinctions which are merely flattering to the vanity. The scope offered to various kinds of ambition is a more corrupting influence. In some countries this had been carried so far, in the form of creation of offices, that nations are farmed by the functionaries of their governments. The danger of such a course is obvious enough ; for the number of aspirants, where offices are very numerous, must always largely exceed that of the chosen ; and their disappointment must awaken passions anything but favourable to the established régime. Moreover, the practice must spread the more it is resorted to; and it will go on extending till the time for social reorganization has arrived. Here, again, ali the three schools must share the blame. The Revolutionary school supplied, as we have seen, the dissolving influence which rendered the system of corruption necessary. The Stationary school even sets it up as a type, declaring the equal admission of all to, public
functions to be the final destination of the general social movement; and aggravating the case by connecting the conditions of order with the mere possession of fortune, however obtained. As for the Retrograde school, with all its pretensions to moral purity, it employs corruption as fatally as the other two, under the special form which it appropriates,—that of systematic hypocrisy. From the opening of the revolutionary period, in the sixteenth century, this system of hypocrisy has been more and more elaborated in practice, permitting the emancipation of all minds of a certain bearing, on the tacit condition that they should aid in protracting the submission of the masses. This was, eminently, tlie policy of the Jesuits. Thus has the retrograde school suffered under this vice as early as the others; and it cannot but resort to corruption more and more, in proportion to its own opposition to the general movement of the society which it pretends to rule. This, then, is our state. For want of a moral authority, material
. order requires the use of either terror or corruption; and the latter is both more durable, less inconvenient, and more accordant with the nature of modern society than the former. But, while admitting the inevitable character of the evil, it is impossible not to lament, bitterly and mournfully, the blindness which prevents the social powers of our time from facilitating to the utmost the philosophical evolution by which alone we can issue into a better state. It seems as if statesmen of all parties were agreed to close this sole avenue of safety by visiting with stupid reprobation all elaboration of social theories. This again, however, is only another consequence of the present state of the most civilized nations; and, as a consequence, not less necessary or characteristic than those that have gone before. The third symptom of our social situation is the growing prepon
derance of material and immediate considerations in of political regard to political questions. There is something questions.
more concerned here than the ordinary antagonism between theory and practice, aggravated by the weakness of attempts at theory in an infantile period of social science. The repugnance to theory is further attributable to the historical circumstance that when, three centuries ago, the spiritual power was finally annulled or absorbed by the temporal, all lofty social speculations were more and more devolved upon minds which were always pre-occupied by practical affairs. Thus kings and their peoples concurred in exalting the lower order of considerations ; and the tendency belonged to all the three schools of polity. If the crowning evil of our time be its intellectual anarchy, it is clear that we cannot too
strongly lament this irrational unanimity of the Progress. political world in closing the path of progress by proscribing speculative researches. We see the consequences in our experience of the past century. In seeking social reorganization, men
UNWORTHINESS OF POLITICAL QUESTIONS.
have not first looked to the doctrines of a new social order, and then to the corresponding manners; but have gone straight to the construction of institutions, at a time when we have all possible evidence that institutions can be nothing more than provisional, restricted to the most indispensable objects, and having no other relation to the future than such facility as they may afford to the process of political regeneration. The making of institutions in
. our day consists in parcelling out the old political powers, minutely organizing factitious and complex antagonisms among them, rendering them more and more precarious by submitting them to election for terms; but in no way changing either the general nature of the ancient régime or the spirit which worked it. For want of all social doctrine, nothing more has been attempted than restraining the powers thus preserved, till there is every danger of their being altogether annulled, while the principles which were to direct their application were left doubtful and obscure. The pompous name of a Constitution is then given to this piece of work, and it is consecrated to the eternal admiration of posterity. Though the average duration of these constitutions has been at most ten years, each new system set up on the very ground of the failure of the last, has claimed, under pains and penalties, a general faith in its absolute and indefinite triumph. The only action of such institutions is in preventing all social reorganization by fixing minds on puerile questions of political forms, and by interdicting speculations and philosophical discussions which would disclose the principles of reorganization. By this action, the character of the disease has been concealed as much as possible, and any gradual and specific cure has been almost impracticable. It is strange that minds should be so self-deceived as to disclaim all speculative prejudices while they propose the most absurd of all political Utopias,-the construction of a system of government which rests upon no true social doctrine. Such an absurdity is referrible to the cloudy prevalence of the metaphysical philosophy, which perverts and confuses men’s notions in politics, as it did formerly, during its short triumph, in all other orders of human conceptions.
It is not only as an impediment to progress that the preponderance of material conceptions is to be deplored. It is dangerous to order. When all political evils are imputed to institutions instead of to ideas and social manners, which are now the real seat of the mischief ; the remedy is vainly sought in changes, each more serious than the last, in institutions and existing powers. The failure of the last change is forgotten; and hopes are concentrated on the next, showing how ineffectual are the lessons of experience when the results are not elucidated by a rational analysis. Such changes must occur, in our progress to a better state. What it is fair to require in regard to them is that they should be recognized as provisional, and be guided by some philosu
Fatal to Order.
phical consideration of the social question at large. Another consequence of the prevalent preference of institutions to doctrines is, besides its prematurity, its engendering errors of the most serious kind, and of a permanent character, by including in the domain of temporal government what belongs to the spiritual. For their neglect of this grand distinction, the various governments of Europe have been punished by becoming responsible for all the evils of society, whencesoever they might have arisen. The illusion is yet more injurious to society itself through the disturbances and mortifications which it induces. An illustration of the case is presented by the discussions and attacks which have so often menaced the institution of Property. It is impossible to deny that, when all exaggerations are stripped away, an unquestionable amount of evil remains in connection with property, which ought to be taken in hand, and remedied, as far as our modern social state permits. But it is equally evident that the remedy must arise from opinions, customs, and manners, and that political regulations can have no radical efficacy; for the question refers us to public prepossessions and usages which must habitually direct, for the interest of society, the exercise of property, in whose hands soever it may be lodged. We may see here how futile and how blind, and also how disturbing, is this tendency to refer everything to political institutions, instead of fixing expectation on an intellectual and moral reorganization.
Thus we proceed, securing neither order nor progress, while we consider our sufferings to be of a physical, whereas they are really of a moral nature. Modifications of ancient systems have been tried, and have given no relief; and our ideas of political progress are narrowing down to that of a substitution of persons,—the most disgraceful political degradation of all, because, directed by no plan, it tends to subject society to an interminable series of catastrophes.
The material order, which is all that is contemplated, is confided to a power which is regarded as hostile, and perpetually enfeebled by a systematic antagonism. The restricted view of each of the agents of such a mechanism prevents their co-operation, except under the immediate alarm of material anarchy, when they suspend their useless controversies till the storm has blown over, when they go on as before, till some catastrophe ensues, taking everybody by surprise, though any one might have foreseen it. In this discarding of social speculation for the sake of material and immediate considerations, we see a fresh indication that intellectual anarchy is the main cause of our social maladies.
A fourth characteristic of our social condition is a natural conIncompetence of sequence and complement of the preceding; the political leaders. incompetence of the minds which occupy the chief political stations, during such a condition of affairs, and even their antipathy to a true reorganization : so that a final, and not less disastrous illusion of modern society is that the solution of the pro