Abbildungen der Seite



A GREAT English poet has recorded, in majestic verse, the high hopes which filled his own, and so many

other generous hearts, a century ago, “When France, in wrath, her giant limbs upreared,

And with that oath which smote earth, air, and sea,

Stamped her strong foot, and swore she would be free.” How far have those hopes been realised ? How far has the Revolution vindicated liberty ? That is the subject to be considered in this Chapter.

And first, how are we to conceive of liberty ? The Revolutionary dogma holds it to reside in political equality. Rousseau's receipt for making the constitution is to devise " a form of association which defends and protects, with the whole power of the State, the person and goods of each partner, and by virtue of which each, while uniting himself with others, nevertheless obeys only himself, and remains as free as before." Assign to each adult


" He votes,

male an equal morsel of political power, or—for that is what it comes to in practice-an equal infinitesimal share in the election of one of the depositaries of political power, and the result is liberty, which is therefore the outcome of a simple mechanism. “ He digests, therefore he lives,” said the admirers of Vaucanson's duck. therefore he is free,” say the Revolutionary publicists, as they behold “the man and the citizen" performing at the ballot box. Quite in accordance with this view Sir George Trevelyan is stated to have declared, upon one occasion, that a householder who has not a vote has no more freedom than a negro

slave. The utterance is said to have been received with loud cheers. Sir George Trevelyan is, at all events, a scholar, and, one would think, can hardly have listened to those cheers without putting to himself Phocion's question in somewhat similar circumstances, “Dear me, have I been saying anything unusually foolish ?” Let me endeavour to exhibit a somewhat worthier conception of liberty, as revealed by philosophy and illustrated by history.

Liberty, in the largest sense of the word, is, strictly, the unimpeded use of any faculty. But the notion of the exercise of absolute and unbounded liberty by any finite being is irrational, because it




necessarily implies the destruction of such being. Law is the essential condition of the right use of liberty. And law is grounded in that faculty of reason whence springs free agency. Moral liberty, with which we are here concerned, may, in a sense, be said to be unlimited, for it is beyond the attack of any human power: and so the proverb, “Thought is free.” But as soon as it manifests itself externally, it is brought in contact with the environment, and becomes conditioned. The dictum of Cicero in one of his most famous orations, that we obey laws in order to be free—"Legum idcirco omnes servi sumus ut liberi esse possimus”—may properly receive the widest application. In the moral, the intellectual, the physical, the political order, liberty is found not in chaos but in cosmos, not in anarchy but in obedience, not in lawlessness but in law. Nor is law an abstraction. Invisible, impalpable, imponderable, it is the most real thing in the world. “Its power,” Coleridge has admirably said, “is the same with that of my own permanent self, and all the choice which is permitted to me consists in having it for my guardian angel or my avenging fiend. This is the spirit of law, the lute of Amphion, the harp of Orpheus. This is the true necessity which compels men into the social state, by a still-beginning, never-ceasing force of moral cohesion.” It is in the social state to which man is thus compelled, by an inward necessity of his nature, that liberty is realised.

Let us see how this primary and most pregnant truth was apprehended by the greatest political thinker of ancient Hellas-I mean Aristotle. It is worth while to do so, both because his incomparable treatise, based as it is upon a profound knowledge of human nature, is “not of an age, but for all time,” and because of the direct and most potent influence which he has exercised in the modern world, through the masters of the medieval school. Open Aristotle's Politics, and what do you find laid down, upon the very first page, as the end of political association ? Only protection of person and property ? Mere existence ? By no means; not only existence, but noble existence, or the higher life (tò Sîv kalôs). The doctrine of the sophists, that “political society is a mere security for the mutual respect of rights.” is mentioned by him only to be dismissed as unworthy of the wise. “To citizens, both collectively and individually, the higher life is the aim proposed.” Man, he tells us, is a political animal, and the State a natural institution; and one who is not a citizen of any State, “the clanless, lawless, hearthless man," of Homer, if the cause of his isolation be not accidental, is either a superhuman being or a savage, a brute or a god. But when man is called a political animal, be continues, the word bears a higher sense than that which attaches to it, if applied to bees and other gregarious creatures. For the special attribute of man, marking him off from the rest of







The supreme

animate nature, is that he is a moral being, enjoying perception of good and evil, justice and injustice, and the like. But it is only in a polity that justice can be realised ; justice which, as we read in the Nicomachean Ethics, may, in a sense, be accounted perfect virtue, according to the proverb, “. In justice lies the whole of virtue's sum.” Hence, civil society is the instrument of man's complete development; such development is its true end. And its best form will be that which makes it the most efficacious instrument for that end. The State he defines as an association of free persons. political problem, he deems, is upon what principles to organise this association of free persons, justly. The object to be kept in view is the good of the political organism, of the community as a whole, which is really the good of every individual member of it. And he accounts it clear that the many should control greater interests than the few, due limits being set to their authority in order to prevent injustice; for the oppression of the wealthy few, by the many poor, is quite as unjust as the oppression of the many poor, by the wealthy few; the oppression, in either case, being merely the iniquitous employment of superior strength. He thinks, then, that the many should elect the rulers and hold them responsible. He gives two reasons for it. The first is, that if you exclude a large number of persons from participation in political affairs, the State of which they are composed is

« ZurückWeiter »