« AnteriorContinuar »
government confer? It does not till our fields, build our houses, weave the ties which bind us to our families, give disinterestedness to the heart, or energy to the intellect and will. All our great interests are left to ourselves; and governments, when they have interfered with them, have obstructed, much more than advanced them. For example, they have taken religion into their keeping only to disfigure it. So, education, in their hands, has generally become a propagator of servile maxims, and an upholder of antiquated errors.
In like manner, they have paralysed trade by their nursing care, and multiplied poverty by expedients for its relief. Government has almost always been a barrier against which intellect has had to struggle; and society has made its chief progress by the minds of private individuals, who have outstripped their rulers, and gradually shamed them into truth and wisdom.
Virtue and intelligence are the great interests of a community, including all others, and worth all others; and the noblest agency is that by which they are advanced. Now we apprehend, that political power is not the most effectual instrument for their promotion; and accordingly, we doubt whether goverment is the only or highest sphere for superior minds. Virtue, from its very nature, cannot be a product of what may be called the direct operation of government; that is, of legislation. Laws may repress crime. Their office is to erect prisons for violence and fraud. But moral and religious worth, dignity of character, loftiness of sentiment, all that makes man a blessing to himself and society, lies beyond their province. Virtue is of the soul, where laws cannot penetrate. Excellence is something too refined, spiritual, celestial, to be produced by the coarse machinery of government. Human legislation addresses itself to self-love, and works by outward force. Its chief instrument is punishment. It cannot touch the springs of virtuous feelings, of great and good deeds. Accordingly, rulers, with all their imagined omnipotence, do not dream of enjoining by statute, philanthropy, gratitude, devout sentiment, magnanimity, and purity of thought. Virtue is too high a concern for government. It is an inspiration of God, not a creature of law; and the agents whom God chiefly honours in its promotion, are those who, through experience, as well as meditation, have risen to generous conceptions of it, and who show it forth, not in empty eulogies, but in the language of deep conviction, and in lives of purity.
Government, then, does little to advance the chief interest of human nature by its direct agency; and what shall we say of its indirect? Here we wish not to offend; but we must be allowed to use that plainness of speech which becomes Christians and freemen. We do fear, then, that the indirect influence of government is on the whole adverse to virtue; and in saying this, we do not speak of other countries, or of different political institutions from our own. We do not mean to say, what all around us would echo, that monarchy corrupts a state, that the air of a court reeks with infection, and taints the higher classes with a licentiousness which descends to their inferiors. We speak of government at home; and we ask wise men to say, whether it ministers most to vice or virtue. We fear, that here, as elsewhere, political power is of corrupting tendency; and that, generally speaking, public
men are not the most effectual teachers of truth, disinterestedness, and incorruptible integrity to the people. An error prevails in relation to political concerns, which necessarily makes civil institutions demoralizing. It is deeply rooted, the growth of ages. . We refer to the belief. that public men are absolved in a measure from the everlasting and immutable obligations of morality; that political power is a prize, which justifies arts and compliances that would be scorned in private life; that management, intrigue, hollow pretensions, and appeals to base passions, deserve slight rebuke when employed to compass political ends. Accordingly, the laws of truth, justice, and philanthropy, have seldom been applied to public as to private concerns. Even those individuals, who have come to frown indignantly on the machinations, the office-seeking, and the sacrifices to popularity, which disgrace our internal condition, are disposed to acquiesce in a crooked or ungenerous policy towards foreign nations, by which great advantages might accrue to their own country. Now the great truth on which the cause of virtue rests, is, that rectitude is an eternal, unalterable, and universal law, binding at once heaven and earth, the perfection of God's character, and the harmony and happiness of the rational creation; and in proportion as political institutions unsettle this great conviction —in proportion as they teach, that truth, justice, and philanthropy are local, partial obligations, claiming homage from the weak, but shrinking before the powerful—in proportion as they thus insult the awful and inviolable majesty of the Eternal Law—in the same proportion they undermine the very foundation of a people's virtue. In regard to the other great interest of the community, its intelligence, government may do much good by a direct influence, that is, by instituting schools or appropriating revenue for the instruction of the poorer classes. Whether it would do wisely in assuming to itself, or in taking from individuals, the provision and care of higher literary institutions, is a question not easily determined. But no one will doubt, that it is a noble function, to assist and develop the intellect in those classes of the community, whose hard condition exposes them to a merely animal existence. Still the agency of government in regard to knowledge, is necessarily superficial and narrow. The great sources of intellectual power and progress to a people, are its strong and original thinkers, be they found where they may. Government cannot, and does not, extend the bounds of knowledge; cannot make experiments in the laboratory, explore the laws of animal or vegetable nature, or establish the principles of criticism, morals, and religion. The energy which is to carry forward the intellect of a people, belongs chiefly to private individuals, who devote themselves to lonely thought, who worship truth, who originate the views demanded by their age, who help us to throw off the yoke of established prejudices, who improve old modes of education or invent better. It is true that great men at the head of affairs, may, and often do, contribute much to the growth of a nation's mind. But it too often happens that their station obstructs rather than aids their usefulness. Their connexion with a party, and the habit of viewing subjects in reference to personal aggrandizement, too often obscure the noblest intellects, ...] convert into patrons of narrow views and temporary interests, those who, in other conditions, would have been the lights of their age, and the propagators of everlasting truth. From these views of the limited influence of government on the most precious interests of society, we learn that political power is not the noblest power, and that, in the progress of intelligence, it will cease to be coveted as the chief and most honourable distinction on earth. If we pass now to the consideration of that interest, over which government is expected chiefly to watch, and on which it is most competent to act with power, we shall not arrive at a result very different from what we have just expressed. We refer to property, or wealth. That the influence of political institutions on this great concern is important, inestimable, we mean not to deny. But as we have already suggested, it is chiefly negative. Government enriches a people by removing obstructions to their powers, by defending them from wrong, and thus giving them opportunity to enrich themselves. Government is not the spring of the wealth of nations, but their own sagacity, industry, enterprise, and force of character. To leave a people to themselves, is generally the best service their rulers can render. Time was, when sovereigns fixed prices and wages, regulated industry and expense, and imagined that a nation would starve and perish, if it were not guided and guarded like an infant. But we have learned, that men are their own best guardians, that property is safest under its owner's care, and that, generally speaking, even great enterprises can better be accomplished by the voluntary association of individuals, than by the state. Indeed, we are met at every stage of this discussion by the truth, that political power is a weak engine compared with individual intelligence, virtue, and effort; and we are the more anxious to enforce this truth, because, through an extravagant estimate of government, men are apt to expect from it what they must do for themselves, and to throw upon it the blame which belongs to their own feebleness and improvidence. The great hope of society, is individual character. Civilization and political institutions, are themselves sources of not a few evils, which nothing but the intellectual and moral energy of the private citizen can avert or relieve. Such, for example, are the monstrous inequalities of property, the sad contrasts of condition, which disfigure a large city; which laws create and cannot remove; which can only be mitigated and diminished by a principle of moral restraint in the poorer classes, and by a wise beneficence in the rich. The great lesson for men to learn, is, that their happiness is in their own hands; that it is to be wrought out by their own faithfulness to God and conscience; that no outward institutions can supply the place of inward principle, of moral o whilst this can go far to supply the place of almost every outward aid. Our remarks will show that our estimate of political institutions, is more moderate than the prevalent one, and that we regard the power, for which ambition has woven so many plots and shed so much blood, as destined to occupy a more and more narrow space, among the means of usefulness and distinction. There is, however, one branch of government, which we hold in high veneration, which we account an unspeakable blessing, and which, for the world, we would not say a word to disparage; and we are the more disposed to speak of it, because its relative importance seems to us little understood. We refer to the Judiciary, a department worth all others in the state. Whilst politicians expend their zeal on transient interests, which perhaps derive their chief importance from their connexion with a party, it is the province of the Judge to apply those solemn and universal laws of rectitude, on which the security, industry, and prosperity of the individual and the state essentially depend. From his tribunal, as from a sacred oracle, go forth the responses of justice. To us there is nothing in the whole fabric of civil institutions so interesting and imposing, as this impartial and authoritative exposition of the principles of moral legislation. The administration of justice in this country, where the Judge, without a guard, without a soldier, without pomp, decides upon the dearest interests of the citizen, trusting chiefly to the moral sentiment of the community for the execution of his decrees, is the most beautiful and encouraging aspect under which our government can be viewed. We repeat it, there is nothing in public affairs so venerable as the voice of Justice, speaking through her delegated ministers, reaching and subduing the high as well as the low, setting a defence around the splendid mansion of wealth and the lowly hut of poverty, repressing wrong, vindicating innocence, humbling the oppressor, and publishing the rights of human nature to every human being. We confess, that we often turn with pain and humiliation from the hall of Congress where we see the legislator forgetting the majesty of his function, forgetting his relation to a vast and growing community, and sacrificing to his party or to himself the public weal; and it comforts us to turn to the court of justice, where the dispenser of the laws, shutting his ear against aft solicitations of friendship or interest, dissolving for a time every private tie, forgetting public opinion, and withstanding public feeling, asks only what is RIGHT. To our courts, the resorts and refuge of weakness and innocence, we look with hope and joy. We boast, with a virtuous pride, that no breath of corruption has as yet tainted their pure air. To this department of government, we cannot ascribe too much importance. Over this, we cannot watch too jealously. Every encroachment on its independence we should resent, and repel, as the chief wrong our country can sustain. Wo, wo to the impious hand, which would shake this most sacred and precious column of the social edifice. In the remarks which we have now submitted to our readers, we have treated of great topics, if not worthily, yet, we trust, with a pure purpose. We have aimed to expose the passion for dominion, the desire of ruling mankind. We have laboured to show the superiority of moral power and influence to that sway which has for ages been seized with eager and bloody hands. We have laboured to hold up to unmeasured reprobation, him who would establish an empire of brute force over rational beings. We have laboured to hold forth, as the enemy of his race, the man, who, in any way, would fetter the human mind, and subject other wills to his own. In a word, we have desired to awaken others and ourselves, to a just self-reverence, to the free use and expansion of our highest powers, and especially to that moral force, that energy of holy, virtuous purpose, without which we are slaves amidst the freest institutions. Better gifts than these we cannot supplicate from God; nor can we consecrate our lives to nobler acquisitions.
Selections from the Writings of FENELON; with an Appendix, containing a Memoir
of bis Life. By a Lady. Boston: Hilliard, Gray, Little, & Wilkins. 1829.
We perform a very gratifying duty, in introducing and recommending to our readers the book which stands at the head of this article. An attractive and quickening work on practical religion we regard as a valuable accession to our literature. Indeed anything written with power on Christian morals and theology is most welcome. It is too true, and a sad truth, that religious books are pre-eminently dull. If we wished to impoverish a man's intellect, we could devise few means more effectual, than to confine him to what is called a course of theological reading. The very subject, to which, above all others, the writer should bring his whole strength of thought and feeling, which allies itself to our noblest faculties, to which reason, imagination, taste, and genius should consecrate their noblest efforts, is of all subjects treated most weakly, tamely, and with least attraction.
Of course there are splendid exceptions, but we speak of the immense majority of theological books. It is wonderful how men can think and write upon religion to so little effect. That a theme so vast, so sublime as Christianity, embracing God and man, earth and heaven, time and eternity, connected intimately with all human history, deriving lights from all human experience, admitting application to the whole of human life, and proposing as its great end the everlasting progress of the soul — that such a subject should be treated so monotonously as to be proverbially dull, that its professed explorers should be able to plant their footsteps so exactly in the track of their predecessors, that the boundlessness of the field should so seldom tempt an adventurous spirit from the beaten way, is wonderful, and might seem a miracle to a man unacquainted with the vassalage which has broken down the mind in the department of religion. It is true, that those who write on this topic are accustomed to call it sublime; but they make its sublimity cold and barren, like that of mountain-tops wrapped in everlasting snows. We write this, not in severity, but in sorrow of heart; for we despair of any great progress of the human character or of society, until the energies of the mind shall be bent, as they seldom have been, on those most important subjects and interests of the human mind, morals and religion.