Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

Europe united to set up a power in opposition to revolutionary tendencies, they usurped the attributes of the old spiritual authority and exhibited the spectacle of a high council composed of heretic chiefs, and governed by a schismatic prince. After this, it was manifestly impossible to introduce the papal power into the alliance, in any way whatever. Such instances of the postponement of religious principles to temporal convenience are not new; but they show how the main idea of the old political system has ceased to preponderate in the minds of the very persons who undertook to restore it. The divisions in the retrograde school have been of late apparent under all circumstances, whether of success or defeat. Any temporary success ought to rally all dissentients, in a school which boasts of the unity of its doctrine : yet, through a long course of years we have witnessed successive, and more and more serious schisms among the subdivisions of the triumphant party. The advocates of Catholicism and those of feudality have quarrelled : and the latter have split into partisans of aristocracy and defenders of royalty. Under the completest restored supremacy, the schisms would only break ont again, with more violence, through the incompatibility of the existing social state with the old political system. The vague assent to its general principles which is yielded in a speculative sense, must give way in their application; and every practical development must engender further divisions: and this is the scientific description of any theory which is incompatible with the facts.

When the retrograde party is reduced to the rank of an opposition, it has recourse to the principles of the revolutionary doctrine. This has been the case repeatedly during the last three centuries, when that party has been put upon the defensive. Thus we see the Catholics in England, and yet more in Ireland, asserting the claim of liberty of conscience, while still clamouring for the repression of Protestantism in France, Austria, and elsewhere. Again, when the sovereigns of Europe invoked the aid of the peoples to put down Napoleon, they surrendered their retrograde doctrine, and testified to the power of the critical, as that which was really influencing civilized society, even though they were proposing, all the while, to effect the restoration of the ancient polity. We have seen something even more wonderful since that struggle. We have seen the retrograde party taking possession of the whole body of critical doctrine, endeavouring to systematize it for its own uses, and sanctioning all its anarchical consequences ; trying to set up the Catholic and feudal régime by the very means which have destroyed it; and believing that a mere change in the person of the sovereign would intercept the consequences of a political movement which they had done nothing to modify.* This is simply a new way of signing a political abdication, however the ability of those THE METAPHYSICAL POLITY.

* This was written during the reign of Louis Philippe, and the administration of

M. Guizot.

9

[ocr errors]

who do it may be extolled. We need not look further for illustrations of the pregnant fact that a polity which is the type of unity and permanence has been full of schisms, and now contains elements directly incompatible with its fundamental principles ; and that, as when we find De Maistre reproaching Bossuet with mistaking the nature of Catholicism, and then himself falling into inconsistencies, the party of Order is proposing to re-establishı that which is not comprehended by its most illustrious defenders.

Turning now to the Metaphysical polity, we must first observe and carefully remember that its doctrine, though The Metaphyexclusively critical, and therefore revolutionary, has

sical polity. still always had the virtue of being progressive, having, in fact, superintended the chief political progress accomplished during the last three centuries, which must be, in the first instance, essentially negative. What this doctrine had to do was to break up a system which, having directed the early growth of the human mind and society, tended to protract that infantile period : and thus, the political triumph of the metaphysical school was a necessary preparation for the advent of the positive school, for which the task is exclusively reserved of terminating the revolutionary period by the formation of a system uniting Order with Progress. Though the metaphysical system; considered by itself, presents a character of direct anarchy, an historical view of it, such as we shall take hereafter, shows that, considered in its origin, and in its antagonism to the old system, it constitutes a necessary provisional state, and must be dangerously active till the new political organization which is to succeed it is ready to put an end to its agitations.

The passage from one social system to another can never be continuous and direct. There is always a transitional state of anarchy which lasts for some generations at least ; and lasts the longer the more complete is the renovation to be wrought. The best political progress that can be made during such a period is in gradually demolishing the former system, the foundations of which had been sapped before. While this inevitable process is going on, the elements of the new system are taking form as political institutions, and the reorganization is stimulated by the experience of the evils of anarchy. There is another reason why the constitution of the new system cannot take place before the destruction of the old; that without that destruction no adequate conception could be formed of what must be done. Short as is our life, and feeble as is our reason, we cannot emancipate ourselves from the influence of our environment. Even the wildest dreamers reflect in their dreams the contemporary social state : and much more impossible is it to form a conception of a true political system, radically different from that amidst which we live. The highest order of minds cannot discern the characteristics of the coming period till they are close upon it; and before that, the incrustations of the old system will have been pretty much broken away, and the popular mind

a

will have been used to the spectacle of its demolition. The strongest head of all antiquity is an example of this. Aristotle could not conceive of a state of society that was not founded on slavery, the irrevocable abolition of which took place some centuries after him.—These considerations are illustrative of our own times, for which all former transition periods were merely a preparation. Never before was the destined renovation so extensive and so thorough ; and never before, therefore, was the critical preparatory period so protracted and so perilous. For the first time in the history of the world, the revolutionary action is attached to a complete doctrine of methodical negation of all regular government. Such being the origin of the existing critical doctrine, we can explain the services which that doctrine has hitherto rendered, and the obstacles which it now opposes to the reorganization of modern society. We shall see hereafter how each of its principal dogmas has sprung out of some corresponding decay in the old social order; a decay which then proceeded all the faster for the opposition having become a dogma. The misfortune of the case lies in the doctrine which was thus necessarily relative to the old system coming by degrees to be supposed absolute: but we may leave it to those who desire it to blame the political conduct of our fathers, without whose energetic perseverance we should not have found ourselves at our present stage of progress, or have been able to conceive of the better polity that is approaching. The absolute or inetaphysical spirit was necessary to direct the formation of the critical and anti-theological doctrine, which needed all possible energy to overthrow the great ancient system ; and this energy could no otherwise be imparted to the dogmas of the critical philosophy. The necessity and the fact of the case are obvious enough: but not the less must we deplore the consequence,—that the energy imparted to the anarchical principle has gone on to impede the institution of the very political order for which it came to prepare the way. When, in the natural course of events, any doctrine has become hostile to the purposes it was destined to serve, it is evidently done with; and its end, or the close of its activity, is near. We have seen that the retrograde or theological polity has become as disturbing as the metaphysical or revolutionary: if we find also that the latter, whose office was to aid progress, has become obstructive, it is clear that both doctrines are worn out, and must soon be replaced by a new philosophy.—This condition of the metaphysical polity is a matter so serious that we must dwell

upon little, to see how so provisional an influence can have produced the appearance of a new and stable system.

The spirit of revolutionary polity is to erect into a permanency Becomes ob- the temporary action which it prompts. For in

structive. stance, being in antagonism with ancient order, its tendency is to represent all government as being the

it a METAPHYSICAL DOGMAS.

II

[ocr errors]

enemy of society, and the duty of society to be to keep up a perpetual suspicion and vigilance, restricting the activity of government more and more, in order to guard against its encroachments, so as to reduce it at length to mere functions of police, in no way participating in the supreme direction of collective action and social development. This was the inevitable action by which the social evolution was brought about: and it is our misfortune that it now remains as an obstacle to the reorganization that we need. As the process could not but occupy several centiiries, the power that wrought it must needs be invested with something definitive and absolute in the popular view, which cannot look far beyond the present : and it was well that it was so; for the old system could not have been deprived of its directing powers, if they had not been stripped off from the governments, and assumed by the polity which had arisen to supersede them.

Regarding the doctrine in a more special view, it is clear that its most important principle is the right of free

Dogma of inquiry, or the dogma of unbounded liberty of con- liberty of science; involving the immediate consequences of the

conscience. liberty of the press, or of any® other mode of expression, and of communication of opinions. This is the rallying-point of the revolutionary doctrine, to which all orders of minds have come up,the proud and the humble, the wise and the weak,—those whose other opinions were compatible with this dogma, and those who unconsciously held views of an opposite order. The impulse of this emancipation was irresistible ; and the revolutionary contagion was, in this one respect, universal. It is a chief characteristic of the mind of society in this century. The most zealous partisans of the theological polity are as apt as their adversaries to judge by their perscnal knowledge; and those who, in their writings, set up as defenders of spiritual government, recognize, like the revolutionists whom they attack, no other supreme authority than that of their own reason. Now if we look at what is the real meaning of this dogma of the universal and absolute right of inquiry, we shall find that it is the mere abstract expression (such as is common in metaphysics) of the temporary state of unbounded liberty in which. the human mind was left by the decay of the theological philosophy, and which must last till the social advent of the positive philosophy. Such an embodiment of the fact of the absence of intellectual regulation powerfully concurred in expediting the dissolution of the old system. The formula could not but appear absolute at the time, because no one could foresee the scope of the transitional state which it marked; a state which is even now mistaken by many enlightened minds for a definitive one. Negative as we now see this dogma to be, signifying release from old authority while waiting for the necessity of positive science (a necessity which already puts

[ocr errors]

liberty of conscience out of the question in astronomy and physics, etc.), the absolute character supposed to reside in it gave it energy to fulfil its revolutionary destination ; enabled philosophers to explore the principles of a new organization; and, by admitting the right of all to a similar research, encouraged the discussion which must precede and effect the triumph of those principles. Whenever those principles shall have become established, the right of free inquiry. will abide within its natural and permanent limits : that is, men will discuss, under appropriate intellectual conditions, the real connection of various consequences with fundamental rules uniformly respected. Till then, the opinions which will hereafter bring understandings into submission to an exact continuous discipline by embodying the principles of the new social order can appear only as simple individual thoughts, produced in virtue of the right of free inquiry ; since their final supremacy can result in no other way than from the voluntary assent of numbers, after the freest discussion. I shall enter further into this subject hereafter: and what I have said will, I hope, prevent any one being shocked by my general appreciation of the revolutionary dogma of free inquiry, as it is plain that without it this book would never have been written.

Indispensable and salutary as it has been, this dogma can never be an organic principle: and, moreover, it constitutes an obstacle to reorganization, now that its activity is no longer absorbed by the demolition of the old political order. In any case, private or public, the state of inquiry can evidently be only provisional, indicating the condition of mind which precedes and prepares for a final decision, towards which our reason is always tending, even when it is renouncing old principles, in order to form new ones.

It is taking the exception for the rule when we set up, as a natural and permanent state, the precarious situation which belongs to the period of transition; and we ignore the deepest necessities of human reason when we would protract that scepticism which is produced by the passage from one mode of belief to another, and which is, in our need of fixed points of conviction, a kind of morbid perturbation which cannot be prolonged beyond the corresponding crisis without serious danger. To be always examining and never deciding would be regarded as something like madness in private conduct: and no dogmatic consecration of such conduct in all individuals conld constitute any perfection of social order, with regard to ideas which it is much more essential, and much more difficult to establish beyond the reach of dispute. There are very few persons who consider themselves fit to sit in judgment on the astronomical, physical, and chemical ideas which are destined to enter into social circulation; and everybody is willing that those ideas should direct corresponding operations; and here we see the beginnings of intellectual government. Can it be supposed that the most important and the most delicate conceptions, and those which by their complexity are

« AnteriorContinuar »