« AnteriorContinuar »
It is a
to any of our habits of life or modes of activity. All follows in the ordinary course of things. But it is not so with a nation that throws off an old monarchical government, and seeks to establish the republican order. The new order imposes a new language, new forms of interior as well as exterior life, un wonted modes of action. Nothing flows on spontaneously. All is strange, and no one feels himself at home. You can conform to the new order only as you deliberate, make an effort, force your activity into new channels. All your indeliberate and instinctive action takes a wrong direction. You must be constantly on your guard, and can allow yourself no relaxation, no abandon. All your faculties must be strained taut, and every man must be a profound political philosopher and a thoroughly accomplished statesman, or be liable to blunder, and to blunder, perhaps, fatally. It is not the change of one king, or one dynasty, for another, but it is the destruction of the old nation, and the attempt to mould a new nation out of its ashes. fearful change. It requires the whole past life of the nation to be stricken ont, and reduces the great body of the people to political infancy, sends them back to the cradle or the nurse's arms, just at the moment when they have the most need to be full-grown men. May we not, then, without forfeiting our claim to be reckoned among the friends of liberty, when we see a great nation trying this change, pause awhile before concluding it to be necessarily the triumph of the popular cause?
There are, indeed, politicians among us, and not without influence on public affairs, who will tell us that no danger is to be apprehended; that all is safe as soon as kings are got rid of, and the people take the management of affairs into their own hands; but these politicians will excuse us for saying that their appropriate place is in the nursery, not in the professor's chair, the halls of legislation, or the cabinets of ministers. As long as they consider it a proof of their wisdom to turn up their little noses at the bare idea of an infallible church, they must not expect us to swallow an infallible people, and especially, if such as they can be its leaders. The people are, no doubt, in general, honest in their aims, but they lack discriinination and forecast, and are, for the most part, the dupes of their leaders or of their own passions. Rarely in what they approve or in what they oppose do they distinguish between the good and the evil they find mingled together,-between the essential and the accidental, the use and the abuse. They know, of course, that such distinction exists and shonld be made; but they do not know how or where to make it. If a systein has worked ill in consequence of its having been abused, or in consequence of matters accidentally connected with it, but not springing from it, their approved and nsual remedy is to sweep it away. The remains of the barbarism which preceded its establishment, and sprang from other sources, disturbed the workings of feudalism, and they cried out, Down with feudalism! Corrupt and courtly prelates basked in the sunshine of royalty, forgot their flocks, and failed to denounce the tyrant, and they exclaimed, Down with the church! The king abused his powers and oppressed his subjects, and they screamed out, Down with monarchy, and np with democracy! In their eagerness to throw off the evil, they almost invariably throw away the good in juxtaposition with which they find it, just as your modern philanthropists, in pursuing some special object, trample down inore good by the way than they could possibly remove of evil by gaining the end they seek. There is no use in denying or in seeking to disguise this fact, which is obvions to every one who has studied popular movements with the least attention.
Where republicanism is already constituted, as it is with us, and has grown up with the life of the nation, we have no lack of confidence in the capacity of the people, through their representatives, to administer the government as wisely and as beneficially as human governments can be administered; but we have yet to be convinced that wise and good government is sure to follow, the moment the people have thrown off royalty, and taken upon themselves the task of reconstituting the state, and of administering the public affairs. In point of fact, whatever the form of government established or proposed, the great body of the people count for little or nothing in determining its character or its policy. The questions which arise are decided by the few, and the many have simply the liberty to grumble, or acquiesce in silence. The action of the government, whether monarchical or democratical, is determined by the natural or artificial chiefs of the people, and will be wise and beneficial for the public good, in proportion to the intelligence, wisdom, firmness, and disinterestedness of these chiefs. If these chiefs are able and disposed to administer the government for the public good, it will be so administered, and if not able and so disposed, it will not be so administered, whatever its form. The reliance is always on the few, frequently on one man alone; as is evinced by the manner in which moderate republicans now speak of Lamartine, and the radicals of Ledru-Rollin. Save in a sen. timental point of view, universal suffrage counts for far less than is coinmonly supposed. The real constituency of the government is never the numerical majority of the people, but the numerical minority composed of the active politicians of the country. Viewed in the abstract, we confess, the question as to which is the best form of government is not in our judgment of primary importance. Forms of government, as somebody says, are like the forms of shoes, those are best which best fit the feet that are to wear thein. The motives which should decide us in favor of one form or another are extrinsic, not intrinsic. Any form is good, if adapted to the people for whom it is designed; and any form is bad, if not so adapted. The existing form is always the best ; and we consider it a capital mistake for a people to look upon the form of government to which it is wedded as a thing that can be changed. The nation should always look upon its established form of government as immutable; as every married couple should always look upon their marriage as indissoluble. If, whenever something unpleasant occurs in their mutual relations, instead of taking each a charitable view of it, and coöperating with the other to overcome it and restore the sunshine of domestic peace, a married couple contemplate and threaten a separation and a change of partners, their union is henceforth constrained and unnatnral; love and confidence take their departure; each suspects the other; each magnifies the slightest imperfections or errors of the other into enormous faults or crimes, and both find their condition intolerable. So is it with a pation. The moment the people once get their heads filled with the notion, that their marriage to the state is dissoluble at their will, and that the remedy for their real or imaginary grievance is in throwing off the existing form and adopting a different one, they place themselves out of the condition of being well governed. They have no longer the moral state to judge properly of the acts of the government, or to be satistied with a single measure it can adopt. The first law of every governinent, as well as of the individual, is self-preservation; and how can a governinent improve its adıninistration, redress grievances, and lighten the burdens of its subjects, if it is obliged to use all its resources solely for the preservation of its own existence? The people themselves, by demanding political instead of administrative changes, by seeking the destruction of the government instead of loyally coöperating with it for the public good, create the necessity for those repressive measures of which they complain, and which become to them new motives for the change they seek or threaten.
We certainly have no admiration for that centralized monarchical system of government which sprang up in Europe during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, which culminated in Louis XIV. of France, but which has lingered on as the dominant régime to our own times. Under it the European populations have suffered immense evils, and have received coinparatively few of the benefits which it is the purpose of the state to secure for all her subjects, whatever their rank or condition in life. But whence came that system? Was it due sulely to the ambition of the kings themselves? And after its establishment, was it the wisest course for the people to seek to exchange it for democracy? Let us dwell for a few moments on these questions.
Europe, after the destruction of the Roman empire, was gradually reorganized on the feudal principle, under the moderatorship of the church. The constituent elements of the state were the king, the barons, the clergy, and the communes, or free cities. The mutual relations of nations, of estates, and of princes and their subjects, were placed under the safeguard of the papacy, which, as having the special interests of none, but the good of all, in view, was, even humanly considered, naturally an impartial judge, and a wise and just moderator. Such, in a word, was the feudai system, and, theoretically considered, perhaps as perfect a political system as the world has ever witnessed or ever will witness. But, unhappily for its satisfactory practical workings, the populations placed under it, and the kings and barons constituent elements of it, personally retained no small share of the barbarism into which all Europe, except the church, was plunged by the destruction of the Roman empire and its civilization. The barbarians who invaded and overthrew the empire were gradually converted, indeed, and they received from the church, with the faith, the germs of her generous and noble civilization; but they for a long time retained but too many traces of their old barbaric habits and dispositions. To overcome these, and bring the populations into personal conformity to Christian civilization, demanded generations of peaceful and continued training. The church labored for it with supernatural energy and astonishing success; but her labors were repeatedly interrupted by the invasion of new hordes of barbarians and infidels, which continued, with brief intervals, till the eleventh century. The Huns in the East and the centre, the Saracens in the South and Southwest, the Saxons in Germany, the Danes in England and Ireland, the Normans in France and parts of Italy, prove to the historical reader how long pagan and infidel barbarians continued to invade Christian Europe, and how often the labors of the church were broken off, how frequently the slow gains of years were destroyed in a moment, and she was compelled to begin her work of civilization anew. The Saxons were not converted till the ninth century; the Prussians, Danes, Swedes, Norwegians, were pagans in the eleventh century, and the greater part of them in the twelfth. The Saracenic power was not fairly checked till the invasion of Asia by the crusaders, nor broken till the celebrated battle of Lepanto, in the sixteenth century.
These facts should lead us to expect in the feudal ages no little of unredeemed barbarism alongside of the generous and noble forms of Christian civilization, as the grotesque in juxtaposition with the beautiful; and we, in fact, do find in then the most wonderful developments of intellectual and moral energy, miracles of Christian meekness, gentleness, love, manifesting themselves in all their sublime beauty in the cathedrals, the public worship, the religious and charitable establishinents, and the piety, fervor, and devotedness of individuals of all ranks, from the prince to the peasant, along with an unmitigated personal barbarism that an Attila, an Alaric, a Genseric, a Caled, a Ralph the Ganger, would not have disdained. The huge form of the barbarian was oftener revealed than concealed by the ample folds of the toga. The tiger from the forest or the jungle was but half domesticated, and resumed all his native ferocity at the first lap of blood. Throughout are the feudal ages marked by huge disproportions, by the sublimest virtues and the darkest crimes, the most winning gentleness and the most brntal violence; Christian charity in all its supernatural beauty, and savage humanity in all its hideous deformity, brought together in fearful contrast and mortal combat. On their Christian side, we cannot exaggerate their merit;