« ZurückWeiter »
Not by eastern windows only, When daylight comes, comes in the
light, In front the sun climbs slow-how
slowly! But westward, look, the land is bright.
A. I. Clough.
The subject of this article is the slow growth of moral influence in political affairs, and the practical question that rises out of it and haunts the mind of every educated and thoughtful person -how best to expedite and invigorate this slow growth.
Bearing in mind that the teaching of the New Testament is professedly accepted by most of us as furnishing the imperative rules and standards of moral conduct, and that it has been so accepted in Europe for many centuries, and setting over against this fact the prevalent opinions, aims and standards of action that meet us everywhere, in any country, alike in the language and temper of leading statesmen, in the tone of the press and of public opinion, in party politics, in national policy and in international relationships, there can be no doubt as to the slowness of the growth.
As Christians we believe that the moral principles of the Sermon on the Mount are destined to become the dominating influence in public as in private
affairs; but as observers of the prevalent phenomena of public life we have to acknowledge that amid many doubtful signs the one thing which stands out clearly in this evolutionary process is that a thousand years are but as one day, so slow is the rate of advancement.
It might even be maintained, with some show of reason, that while in Christian countries and under Christian influences individual morality has risen as never before or elsewhere, publicor political moral standards rose more rapidly in Israel under the Old Testament covenant, and this because of the untiring insistence and emphasis with which the great national prophets preached the duty of national righteousness and kept the living God before the eyes and mind of the people as the Judge of all national and corporate life.
But, however this may be, there stands before us the plain fact, and it is a fact far too generally disregarded or ignored, that after eighteen centuries of Christian teaching and influence in Europe, a great deal of our public life, both at home and abroad, although in the hands of Christian statesmen, is to all practical intents and purposes still carried on as if the Sermon on the Mount had never been spoken, and
only the lower or selfish motives had a rightful claim to exercise dominion in practical affairs.
It is not that action and practice are constantly falling short of the acknowledged and accepted standard of ethical duty. This we should expect to occur in public as in private matters.
The point is that honest and good men do not seem to recognize those standards of ethical judgment which they accept without question in private life, as having the same claim on their allegiance in the arena of politics, or in the relationships of nations. "Blindness in part is happened to Israel."
We turn, for instance, to that sphere which furnishes the most glaring instances of this strange inconsistency, the sphere of international politics.
In these we see how again and again, there is hardly more than a thinly veiled pretence of any appeal to the higher standards of ethical obligation, or to the spirit of Christianity.
The terms in which national or imperial aims and policy are defined and the spirit in which international affairs are conducted are such as to make it only too plain that the whole structure of foreign politics, and also a great part of internal politics, are built upon a foundation of selfishness, jealousy, rivalry, greed of power and wealth, and not upon any higher or Christian basis.
Thus twenty-six centuries after the prophet Isaiah, twenty-three centuries after Socrates, and nineteen centuries after the Manifestation of Christ, we see, so to speak, whole continents of life, opinion and practice, still under the dominion of that spirit of selfish greed which St. Paul denounced pleonexia, and held up to view as lying very near to the root of all that is vicious in human life. By way
of illustration reference might be made to many contemporary
events or to events within the memory of most of us; but it may suffice to note the impression made by the current phenomena of public affairs on some of the great writers and thinkers.
Mr. Herbert Spencer has forcibly reminded us that men seem to give their allegiance, as it were, to two religions, the religion of amity and the religion of enmity, for use in different departments of life and conduct. The real homage is paid in large measure, if not in the larger measure, to the code dic. tated by enmity.
From the books of the New Testament we take our religion of amity. Greek and Latin epics and histories serve as gospels for our religion of enmity.
In the education of our youth we devote a small portion of time to the one, and a large portion of time to the other.
A priori it might be thought impossible that men should continue through life holding two doctrines which are mutually destructive. But this ability to compromise between conflicting beliefs is very remarkable.
A boy, while growing up, acquires in common with all around him the habit of living by first one and then the other of his creeds, as the occasion may demand; and so great is the power of custom that he does this in ordinary cases without any distinct feeling of inconsistency, and by the time that he reaches maturity the habit has been established in his life. So educated, he will enlarge at one moment on the need of maintaining the national honor, and he thinks it derogatory or unpa. triotic or mean to arbitrate about an aggression, trespass, or difference, instead of avenging it by war; at another moment he calls his household together and leads them in the beautiful prayer in which he asks God to forgive his
1 Study of Sociology.
trespasses as he forgives those that trespass against him. That spirit which he prays for as a virtue on Sunday, or in his home, he will repudiate as vice or a weakness on Monday, in his club or in parliament, or on the Stock Exchange.
Such is the blunt conclusion of our greatest writer on sociology, and we should find it hard to confute his testimony.
Another distinguished writer has said that the key to all rational estimate of European politics is to recognize that the dominant factor in them to-day is the passion of national selfassertion, the struggle for national primacy. For right or wrong the great nations are resolved to make themselves as big, as formidable, as extensive, as rich as science and energy can make them, or at least to tolerate no other nation bigger than themselves.
For this they are ready to sacrifice almost everything at home or abroad, their traditions, their safety, their credit and almost their honor.
And we might add to this testimony that it is this same principle of selfish greed which is mainly responsible for that degrading and mischievous influence in English life commonly described as jingoism, that spurious or bastard patriotism which it should be the aim of every ethical teacher to erad. icate and destroy, planting in its stead the true progressive Christian patriotism, whose aim is righteousness and goodwill.
Again, the most distinguished man of letters now engaged in English political life is reported to have said only the other day, when referring to the prevalent sentiment on our South African policy, that the language of England hardly affects to be moral language; it is the language of pride, of mastery, of force, of violence, of revenge. And as
we read the sentiments that pervade a great portion of the newspaper press, and the language used by some leading and representative men, it is not possible for us to deny the essential truth. of such criticism.
But the specially noticeable point about it in our consideration of the ethical question is that all this language seems to be used in good faith by men who, while thus recognizing, accepting, and even helping to propagate pride and self-interest as the dominant motives in public life, are all the time professing obedience to the moral standards of the Gospel, and joining in the customary and special worship of the Christian Church, and this, to all appearance, without any distinct feeling of inconsistency.
Even an excellent Church dignitary has been known to hold that our recent experiences in South Africa furnish a warning lesson to remind us that we should carefully avoid all sentiment in politics; and yet the Book of Common Prayer and the Gospel of Christ are that good Churchman's daily companions in his private life, and he would probably have agreed with Mr. Froude when he said that every gen. erous and living relation between man and man, or between men and their country, is sentiment and nothing else.
The subject being so fundamentally important, and the perversions and contradictions of conventional public sentiment being so instructive when analyzed, it may not be a work of supererogation to cite one more witness.
Mr. Lecky, in his “Map of Life,” in order to bring out clearly the comparatively low standards of conduct which men are still content to follow in public affairs, has set graphically before us two recent illustrations, which deserve to be pondered very carefully and dispassionately.
Referring to what may fairly be đe. scribed as the meanest incident in the
2 Mr. F. Harrison in Cosmopolis.
Where great additions
modern political history of England, he -- reminds us how at the close of this
nineteenth century of the Christian era, a man holding the confidential position of Prime Minister of a colony, and being at the same time a Privy Councillor of the Queen, could engage in a conspiracy for the overthrow of a neighboring and friendly state; and, moreover, how, to carry out this design, he deceived the High Commissioner, whose Prime Minister he was, and his colleagues in the ministry; how he collected for the conspiracy armed force under false pretences, and took part in smuggling arms to be used for purposes of rebellion, made use of newspapers under his influence or control, and spent large sums of money in fomenting rebellion, and finally was implicated in the concoction of a letter pretending to be an appeal on behalf of women and children whose lives were in danger, a letter to be dated and issued at the right moment.
Here we see course of conduct which in private life would have been honestly and sincerely reprobated by the very man who did all these things, as by the general sense of the community; but inasmuch as it belongs to the field of politics, what happens?
The verdict of fashionable society condones it, and a great part of the nation follows suit, and even a leading minister of the Crown is found to declare in the House of Commons, apparently with the assent of his colleagues, and in all sincerity, that in all these transactions, although the man had made a gigantic mistake, he had done nothing affecting his personal honor.
In the face of such phenomena one is tempted to ask whether men's conceptions of personal honor are not in some danger of deteriorating, and whether, after all, we had not better hold on to Shakespeare as a safer guide and interpreter when he writes:
Let us glance at the other illustration furnished by Mr. Lecky. Very few massacres in history, he says, have been more gigantic or more clearly traced to the action of a Government than those perpetrated by Turkish soldiers in our generation; and few signs of the low level of public feeling in Christendom are more impressive than the general indifference with which these massacres were contemplated in most countries, or the spectacle of the sovereign of one of the greatest and most civilized Christian nations hastening to Constantinople, so after those
savage Armenian atrocities, to clasp the hand which was thus deeply imbued with Christian blood, and then proceeding to the Mount of Olives, where, amid scenes consecrated by the most sacred of all memories, he proclaimed himself the champion and the patron of the Christian faith.
Illustrations like these are surely a sufficient proof, if proof were needed. to show how slow men are to give an undivided allegiance to moral princi. ples in all departments of life, and, moreover, how readily the conscience becomes a conventional and purblind conscience, domesticated and living at ease amid the most glaring inconsistencies.
How, then, it is natural to ask, are we to account for the fact that the standards of individual ethics are thus applied so slowly, so fitfully, so partially and so inconsistently, in the field of political or public life?
And the question is one to which it is not altogether easy to give a simple categorical answer, because the dislocation between private and public, or in
3 Cf. Mozley's University Sermon on the Pharisees.
dividual and corporate standards of Thus, throughout our whole educajudgment and conduct is felt to be the tional system we find very little sys. resultant of various causes.
tematic training in the morals of citiIn the first place it is relevant to no- zenship. tice that the Divine Founder of our re- In other subjects it is recognized ligion and His apostles deliberately that the young must be trained and confined their teaching to personal disciplined for the work of their pracmorals.
tical life by systematic daily lessons. Living' as they did under a heathen repeated and learnt again and againImperial government, which would decies repetita docent; but we act as if have crushed them without mercy had our social and political morals were exthey been suspected of any political or pected to grow without any such daily revolutionary aim, they left the politi. watering and tending; and the result is cal world severely alone, content to an attenuated or arrested moral growth sow the seeds of new principles and a such as may be constantly observed in new spirit in individual hearts.
pohtical action, temper and opinion; And this attitude of the Saviour and and remembering how deep-rooted and His immediate followers towards all tenacious of life are selfish motives that concerned the corporate or politi- and traditional, conventional and oldcal life of the comunity, while they world ideas, we must acknowledge that rendered to Cæsar without question or we have no right to expect a very difcriticism the things that were recog- ferent result until we take more pains nized as Cæsar's, has doubtless exer- to secure it. cised a continuous influence on suc. But the most fundamental ceeding generations, tending to deter why a late or slow growth in corporate men from bringing the higher moral morality was to be expected is, that all standards of the Gospel teaching di. real moral progress is from the individrectly and unreservedly to bear upon ual heart outwards, and consequently the conduct of public or State affairs, corporate advance has to wait upon inand so leaving a great portion of our dividual advance. public opinion and activities in these Thus the tide of moral advancement departments of life still outside the
first of all uplifts the individual, and pale of Christian ethics.
then the family, and after that the triFollowing upon this, and in some de. bal, the national and the international gree as a consequence of it, we may conscience. note the prevalent lack of any system- National and international morality atic training of the young in the right are thus seen to lie on the outermost application of moral principles to the fringe of moral influence, and they rise details of their public life.
in consequence very slowly. We are indeed so far from adequately In this slow uprising, amid the strug. recognizing the duty of giving such gle of contending forces, we find, as training that there still survives in or- we have seen in the instances already dinary society a very general prejudice quoted, compromise and lax judgments to the effect that a religious teacher prevailing in public affairs with regard should confine himself to what are to matters in which no compromise and called religious matters, and abstain no such judgments would be tolerated from all political teaching, as if politi- in private personal relationships. cal morality might safely be left to So it comes to pass that after all our grow of itself.
centuries of moral and religious teach* Cf. Goldwin Smith on American Slavery.
ing, with all the treasures of ancient