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advance and which the retrogression ? Does history teach us that the tendency of nations is towards monarchy or republicanism? Looking first at ancient history, we find that large portions of the earth have for thousands of years been governed by monarchs more or less absolute. The only nations which in times past stood pre-eminently forward as republics were Greece and Rome. Now had the theory been true which supposes that democratic opinions are always on the advance, would not those republics have continued to advance, or at least have maintained their advanced position ? But no, we find that after a short experience of democracy, these states relapsed into monarchical rule. The states of Greece, after countless revolutions and ages of turmoil, succumbed to a foreign yoke. Rome fell into internal anarchy, and the effusion of blood was stopped only by a military despotism. Certainly the examples which ancient history affords us, furnish no great proofs of either the permanence or advantage of democracy. They rather teach us that democracy contains within itself the seeds of its own destruction.
Our own country presents a striking illustration of the principle of oscillation. The absolute power of the Tudors and Stuarts stirred up the opposition of the Puritans, and ended in the destruction of the monarchy under Charles I. The licence of the Puritans succumbed in its turn to the military tyranny of Cromwell. Then came the reaction of the Restoration, when kingly power was again in the ascendant, again to be abated by the Revolution of 1688. We are now under a constitutional monarchy, and long may we remain so.
This form of government secures on the whole the greatest amount of good with the least evil. It has in it also the largest element of permanency, for though opinion still vibrates, its oscillations are confined within the narrowest limits; and instead of bringing about violent periodical revolutions, show themselves more innocently in the alternate party triumphs of Whigs and Tories.
France in its recent history exhibits a similar oscillation of the pendulum. The arbitrary power and regal pomp of Louis XIV. and his successor, came to its crisis in the reign of the amiable Louis XVI., when the pent up disaffection of generations burst forth in the eruption of 1789. The reign of Terror, which was the climax of the Revolution, prepared men again for the absolute power of Napoleon, and for the restoration of legitimacy. Legitimacy again proving a burden to the fickle nation, was replaced by the constitution of 1830. That again having gradually changed its character to more absolute power, was again subverted in 1848 : and now by a fresh turn of the pendulum, Cavaignac and Algerine law are in the ascendant.*
* August, 1848.
From all this it will be manifest that the notion of the course of events advancing in a regular and uniform order; the idea of human society marching onward with a fixed destiny towards republicanism, is a theory altogether unsupported by facts. On the contrary, history presents to us a continual succession of oscillations, or backwards and forwards movements. Sometimes the one principle is in the ascendant, sometimes the other. And the theory of oscillation is quite in accordance with the philosophy of human nature. Those indeed who believe in “ the march of intellect," in the sense that the human mind is advancing in moral as well as physical science, may consistently hold the doctrine that as the world grows older, men will be more able to govern themselves, and need less of external authority. But the moral or political advancement of the human mind is a theory entirely unsupported by facts. On the contrary, the most advanced republicans of Paris are in conduct mere savages, in politics madmen, more fit for strait waistcoats than self-government; and exhibiting no signs whatever that they are likely to establish even social order, except under the stern guidance of authority. The notion of advancement therefore entirely fails both in theory and practice. Change, not advance, is the principle of human affairs; and that such must needs be the case is evident, when we consider their inherent faultiness. The truth appears to be this. In all worldly arrangements there is inherent evil. Man's nature being itself evil, all his plans and schemes partake of that evil. He is ever endeavouring to escape from it, but cannot. There is evil in monarchy. Monarchs are fallible men, and the best cannot always act rightly. Subjects suffer, as they suppose, under control and interference. They see mischiefs and inconveniences which they fancy they could remove if they had power and liberty. They do not consider that to remove the evils under which they labour, might be only to subject themselves to greater. They long for the removal of present evils, and hope everything from a change. Hence under monarchies which are at all despotic, there is a natural desire and consequent tendency to free institutions. And sometimes such institutions work themselves out gradually, and sometimes they are the effect of a violent revolution. Then comes a reaction, for free institutions are equally or even more tainted with the imperfections of man. Men are found unfit for the liberty which they have gained; unable to govern themselves. Confusion and disorder spring up. Then comes the desire for repose under the shelter of authority. And when this is attained, liberal opinions begin to work, and the same course is played over again. The fact is that man and everything connected with him is incapable of perfection, and equally incapable of rest.
We go round our weary cycle only to begin again, and prove at each change our inherent imperfection.
Thus we have shown, then, both from the philosophy of the case, and also from an induction of facts, that human society, instead of advancing in any fixed course, or being ruled by any onward destiny, is subject rather to oscillation; that is, that the tide of opinion ebbs and flows,--sometimes setting-in in one direction, sometimes in the opposite.
But now we come to another important fact, viz., that these oscillations, or tides in human affairs, are subject to every sort of variation and irregularity. The oscillation of inert matter, like the pendulum of a clock, is uniform; it swings to and fro, dingdong, ding-dong, at uninterrupted intervals. But the oscillation of human events depends on the free agency of man, and therefore is liable to infinite variation. Events are sometimes suspended for centuries,-sometimes hastened on in a few months or weeks. There are in truth always existing in society, two antagonistic principles,—the one the principle of order, the other of anarchy. Sometimes the anarchical principle is scarcely visible, or ible only in the occasional crimes of individuals against property and life. At other times the anarchical principle is all but ready at any moment to burst forth. A nation may go on for years and generations like a dormant volcano, and some conjuncture of affairs, some sudden furor, some neighbouring example, may precipitate an explosion.
Thus, in another point of view, it is evident that there is no fixed destiny of events. The course of events depends on a variety of circumstances. The first French revolution might have burst forth much sooner than it did : the seeds were sown long before they sprang forth. Or it might have been indefinitely postponed; perhaps altogether prevented. There were many points in its course where it might have been arrested; or at least have been guided into quite a different direction. It began with difficulties of finance. Had the privileged orders consented to share the burdens of taxation with the people, as their sovereign called on them to do, matters might have been arranged. Had the king not been induced to adopt the perilous expedient of calling together the States-general; had he, when they were called, firmly insisted on the separation of the three Estates, instead of their union in one assembly, the democratic principle would not have attained a legal ascendancy. Had the Estates, on their part, accepted the liberal constitution which the king offered them, France might have settled down into a constitutional monarchy, without passing through the bloody scenes of the Reign of Terror. Lastly, had the king put himself at the head of his army while they were yet loyal and devoted, he might have retained his crown and head. The first French revolution, like most other similar events, was the result of a series of blunders on both sides. It is true that when passions are excited, and the loyalty of a nation corrupted, great evils must be expected to fall on a country. Still the intensity of those evils
-the direction which they take, and the final result, depend, under Providence, on the agency and instrumentality of man. There is, perhaps, no period at which a bloody revolution may not be brought on by mis-government and weakness, or may not be averted by skill, and prudence, and courage. It is scarcely too much to say, that, as the calmest state of society contains within it the embers of mischief, which might be fanned quickly into a flame, so the most turbulent and corrupt state may be kept from convulsion for years and generations, and the seeds of evil gradually removed by human vigour and foresight. Thus was the overthrow and captivity of Judah suspended during the reigns of the good Hezekiah and Josiah. Who knows but that revolution may have been averted from England by the honest and patriotic character of George III. and his advisers, and that the fate of the nation, at this moment, may depend, under Providence, on the courage and prudence of our present rulers ?
What we would particularly impress on the minds of our readers, is this : that we ought never to be secure of continued prosperity ; never to despair of the safety of the country; never suppose that safety or ruin is inevitable; never think that we are drawn into the fatal influence of the cataract, and must infallibly be precipitated over it. Both history and philosophy teach us that there is no such uncontrollable destiny in human affairs. - The sky may look very gloomy; every moment we may expect the bursting of a storm. But how often does the darkest cloud pass away after a few heavy drops have fallen. So when national ruin seems all but arrived, the gloom may gradually subside, and the sun again shine forth.
There is, however, yet a deeper view of the question. We must not forget that there is an Almighty Ruler at the head of affairs, Whose will is the real arbiter of events. That will, however, is not irrespective of human conduct. In the record which we have of His dealings with one nation, which is in truth but an example of His mode of government of others, we have abundant evidence that His favour or displeasure, and consequently their happiness or misery, depended on their own conduct. Hear the words of the great founder of the Jewish polity, with which, before his departure, he addressed his people—“It shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe and to do all His Commandments which I command thee this day, that the LORD thy God will set thee on
high above all nations of the earth: and all these blessings shall come upon thee and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God. Blessed shalt thou be in the city, and blessed in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of thy body, and the fruit of thy ground, and the fruit of thy cattle, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep. . . . The LORD shall cause thine enemies that rise up against thee to be smitten before thy face. The LORD shall establish thee an holy people unto Himself, as He hath sworn unto thee, if thou shalt keep the Commandments of the LORD thy God, and walk in
But it shall come to pass if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe to do all His Commandments, and His statutes, which I command thee this day, that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee. Cursed shalt thou be in the city, and cursed shalt thou be in the field. Cursed shall be thy basket and thy store. Cursed shall be the fruit of thy body, and the fruit of thy land; the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep.
The LORD shall send upon thee cursing, vexation and rebuke, in all that thou settest thine hand unto for to do, until thou be destroyed, and until thou perish quickly, because of the wickedness of thy doings, whereby thou hast forsaken Me."* Then follows a dreadful enumeration of the curses which should overtake them if they persisted in their disobedience. The whole history of the Jewish nation is an illustration of this prophetic sentence; and we have no doubt that the rule of providential government, which is here depicted and recorded, in reference to one people, is the rule by which the Supreme Governor directs the destinies of the world. Human conduct determines His favour or disfavour; human instrumentality works out His decrees. At the end of the last century, the French people rose against their rulers, overturned their government, and were in consequence punished with many years of the most grievous suffering, under a reign of terror so grievous and tyrannical, that no man held his life by a day's tenure. During the same period, the English responded to the voice of their legitimate rulers, and cherished a spirit of loyalty, which bore them comparatively unhurt through one of the most stormy periods of the world's history.
The same good spirit, we may trust, is still in the ascendant amongst us, and will again, under God's good Providence, save
The difference of the character of the two nations has been strongly marked on two recent occasions on which it has been tested, and the result of the difference of conduct on those two occasions is so manifest and striking, as not only to afford a
* Deut. xxviii.