Abbildungen der Seite

as would seem-Mr. Morley imputes to Aquinas the doctrine that "the reason of the multitude" is the ultimate source of human authority, he greatly errs. Nothing could be farther removed from the teaching of the Angelic Doctor. The original and pattern of all earthly law, ever to be kept in view by the human legislator, is, as Aquinas holds, that lex æterna which is the necessary rule of ethics, and of which "the reason of the multitude" is no more the accredited organ than is the will of the prince. To which it may be not superfluous to add that "the multitude" meant for Aquinas, not what it meant for Rousseau, and means for Mr. Morley, a fortuitous congeries of sovereign human units, but, an organic whole, implying all that may be gathered from Darwinism, and elsewhere, as natural and necessary in the organism. So much, in passing, to vindicate a great name from the misconception to which a popular and accomplished writer has given wide currency. And now, without further enquiry, at present, into the sources of Rousseau's political speculations, let us consider a little, the view of civil society, for which the world is indebted to him.


That view is indicated in the picturesque words with which the Contrat Social opens: "Man is born free and is everywhere in chains." restricted liberty and boundless sovereignty Rousseau postulates as the normal state of the abstract universal Man who is the unit of his system. Hence




he holds that the inhabitants of any country are entitled to absolute political equality: that every man may claim, of natural right, an equal share in the government of the territory where he happens to be born. This is not a mere bygone speculation of Rousseau. Much has dropped away from his theory of the public order. For example, the turbid, inconsequent Theism in which it was originally veiled, has long disappeared, and has been replaced by acrid Atheism. But the dogma of the absolute equivalence of men-" any man equal to any other, Quashee Nigger to Socrates or Shakespeare, Judas Iscariot to Jesus Christ"-is of the essence of his teaching. And so is the dogma of the sufficiency of the individual in the order of thought and in the order of action. These are the very foundations upon which the disciples of JeanJacques, from his day to ours, have been endeavouring to reconstruct society. The great political problem, according to Rousseau is, "to find a form of association which defends and protects with all the public force, the person and property of each partner, and by which, each, while uniting himself to all, still obeys only himself." And this problem is supposed to be solved by the assignment to each adult male of an equal morsel of sovereignty, or— for that is what it comes to-of an equal infinitesimal share in the election of one of the depositaries of sovereignty. The essence of the Revolutionary dogma is, that only in equality, absolute

and universal, can the public order be properly founded. Arrange that every adult male shall count for one, and nobody for more than one, and by this distribution of political power, whatever the moral, social, or intellectual state of its recipients, you realise the perfect, and only legitimate form of the State.

Such, then, is the new conception of civil society adopted by the Revolution-a multitude of sovereign human units, who, that is to say, the majority of whom, exercise their sovereignty through their mandatories. And, in the will of this numerical majority, we are bidden to find the unique source of all rights. Hear the exposition of this doctrine by worthy professor of it, the late M. Gambetta, in a famous speech, received with tumult of acclaim throughout Europe. "Political philosophy demands that the people be considered as the exclusive, the perennial source, of all powers, of all rights.. All authority (la toute-puissance) has its seat in the national sovereignty. The will of the people must manifest itself directly, openly; it must have the last word; all must bow before it, else national sovereignty has no existence, and the people are sold (le peuple est joué)." Nothing is sacred against the will of the numerical majority, called "the people." The only real crime is to contravene its desires. The laws made by the legislature, the policy pursued by diplomatists, the judgments delivered by the tribunals, all must be dictated by this


supreme power, from which, alone, they derive their validity. To sum up. That complete freedom or lawlessness-for the two things were supposed to be identical-is the natural condition of man, that all men are born and continue equal in rights, that civil society is an artificial state resting upon a contract between these sovereign units, whereby the native independence of each is surrendered, and a power over each is vested in the body politic, as absolute as that which nature gives every man over his limbs, "that human nature is good, and that the evil in the world is the result of bad education and bad institutions," that man, uncorrupted by civilisation, is essentially reasonable, and that the will of the sovereign units, dwelling in any territory under the social contract, that is of the majority of them, expressed by their delegates, is the rightful and only source of justice and of law, such is the substance of the dogma which the Revolution has been endeavouring, for a century, to unite to the reality of life. What are we to think of it?

That is the inquiry which I propose to pursue in the following pages. And I shall conduct it in a method specially dear to Englishmen, a method which, without disparaging others more in favour

*Diderot, by John Morley, vol. i. p. 5. Mr. Morley rightly regards this proposition as "the central moral doctrine of the Revolution."

with historical philosophers in France and Germany, I take leave to think of peculiar excellence. I mean the method indicated by the maxim Exitus acta probat, the way of judging a tree by its fruits, a principle by its results. There are four great factors of civilisation as it exists in the world: Liberty, Religion, Science, Art. I shall proceed to consider the Revolution in its relation with each of these. I shall then examine its connection with the political fact of this age commonly called Democracy; and, in conclusion, I shall indicate its influence upon public life in England.

« ZurückWeiter »