« AnteriorContinuar »
is as essentially the application of art, as the most approved Parisian coat upon the shoulders of the highly civilized and elegant gentleman. The difference is in degree, not in essence. Both are appropriate, both in character; in short, both are natural. The same may be said of the savage hut and the palace of the enlightened prince. In few words, art is as much the product of man's nature as the hair on his head, and quite as component a part of his being.
We discard, therefore, the notion of a “state of nature." Every state in which a man finds himself, is a state of nature. This must be admitted by all who believe humanity susceptible of advancement. It man really has the faculty of improving his condition, promoting his comfort, gratifying and restraining his desires, developing his ideas, and reducing to use the objects around him, it seems pure absurdity to say that the moment he puts this faculty into operation, he ceases to be in a state of nature. If this were so, idiocy would be a state of nature; a conclusion, we apprehend, which but few are prepared to receive. But if the first exercise of this faculty does not remove him from his natural state, it remains to be shown whether the second does. The same absurdity is involved in the second as in the first case, and in every succeeding one which could be enumerated. Hence, we cannot but regard the “primitive condition" as a matter wholly beyond either our reach or our understanding, with which we have nothing to do, and from a discussion of which no possible benefit is to be derived. The most we can say, is, that every step, in the march of civilization, is but an advance toward the destiny of the species, and a continuation of the natural progression of man. And on the score of the natural state, nothing is to be said, beyond the thought of Montesquieu-"man is born in society, and there he remains.”
What society is, need not be stated here ; we simply assume, as the risult of our reflection, that it is out of society that government springs. The impossibility for men, as individual members of society, to govern themselves, or so to comport themselves as not to injure those around them, renders a power necessary, somewhere, for the government of all. The preservation of society is essential to the existence of man, and the government of man is essentiai to the preservation of society. Man, every one will admit, cannot be trusted to his own individual discretion or sell-gorernment; hence the necessity, for the safety of society, of a power to govern all the individuals of the community. The force of government is felt through the enactment and execution of law; and in the system under which we live, the use of law is thus summed up by Lord Bacon : “ The use of the law," says he* "consisteth principally in these three things-to secure men's persons from death and violence-to dispose the property of their goods and lands—and, for preservation of their good names from shame and infamy."
Simply to say, however, that government results from society, or that it arises out of the nature of things, is vague and incomplete. We must add, that it is a provision, in God's temporal economy, whereby the human race is enabled to progress steadily in the career, and advance certainly to the end, for which man was created. And, since this is the origin and end of government, but little reflection is needed to convince us that it must be, in its character, nature and operation, progressive.
But it is not at this stage of our remarks that we propose discussing the progressive tendency of government. It is enough for us to understand, here, that, though government originates in the fixed and everlasting law of necessity, yet its mechanism depends on variable causes. Society, in general, demands government in general; but each particular society, on account of its peculiar habits, intelligence, wants, vices, tradition, energy and religion, requires its own forms and modifications of government. Nor is this applicable only to the first formation or erection of particular systems. It continues throughout the historic period of the existence of the society or state ; thus rendering the necessary restraint, which belongs to every system, not a fixed and unalterable curb upon human progress, but a pliant and salutary check upon the evil tendencies of our nature, adapting
* Works of Francis Bacon, Viscount St. Albans, &c., &c. London, 1824. Vol.. 4, page 82.
itself to the wants of the occasion, and assuaging the asperity of human passions.
The world's history is but a continuous illustration of this. The whole fabric of society is in constant transition, and the unavoidable consequence is a corresponding series of changes in every human institution. And, since government is, at best, but a human agency, it must experience the changes which befall humanity. The proud Castilian uf the 10th century would have loathed the idea of Spanish weakness in the 19th. The great Tudor could have laughed merrily over the prediction that his royal office would one day become a sinecure And what would the Grande Monarque have said, had he been told that the scum of Paris would yet rule in France ?
Assuming, then, the inevitable existence of government of some sort, in every society, we are led to enquire—what has become of that boasted “natural liberty' of which so much has been said and written ? To say, in plain terms, that it never existed, would perhaps be too summary a disposition of the matter; but we question seriously if we would be at all in error. Dr. Lieber-than whom no better authority exists-says: "Liberty, in its absolute sense, means the faculty of wiling, and the power of doing what has been willed, without infuence from any other source, or from without. It means self-determination ; unrestrainedness of action."* Such liberty as this, it is evident, has never fallen to the lot of mortals. So that the term must always be received in a comparative or qualified sense. Algernon Sid. ney had this in view, when he defined liberty to be—“not a licentiousness of doing what is pleasing to every one against the command of God; but an exemption from all human laws to which they have not given their assent." Thus, if by natural liberty is meant absolute liberty, it is plainly seen that it can never exist but in the imagination. That it has a very general abode there, cannot be disputed, but it is induced by the spirit of personal independence, which seems to be a very prevailing attribute in our nature. The illus
* Civil Liberty and Self-Government, by Francis Lieber, LL.D. Philadelphia, 1863. Vol. 1, page 48.
trious Sidney seemed possessed with the idea of such a liberty, when he spoke of "the liberty which God hath given us;” but he nevertheless perceived it could never be enjoyed unimpaired; hence, starting upon the supposition of its real existence, and of the actual existence of the condition generally meant by the “ state of nature,” he reached his conclusion thus :*
“ All such as enter into society, must, in some degree, diminish their liberty. Reason leads them to this. No one man or family is able to provide that which is requisite for their convenience or security, whilst every one has an equal right to every thing, and none acknowledges a superior to determine the controversies that, upon such occasions, must continually arise, and will probably be so many and great, that mankind cannot bear them. Therefore, there is nothing of absurdity in saying, that man cannot continue in the perpetual and entire fruition of the liberty that God hath given him. The liberty of one is thwarted by that of another; and whilst they are all equal, none will yield to any, otherwise than by a general consent. This is the ground of all just governments ; for violence or fraud can create no right; and the same consent gives the form to them all, how much soever they differ from each other. It were a folly hereupon to say, that the liberty for which we contend, is of no use to us, since we cannot endure the solitude, barbarity, weakness, want, misery and dangers that accompany it whilst we live alone, nor can enter into a society without resigning it; for the choice of that society, and the liberty of framing it, according to our own wills, for our own good, is all we seek. This remains to us wbilst we form governments, that we ourselves are judges how far 'tis good for us to recede from our natural liberty ; which is of so great importance, that from thence only, we can know whether we are freemen or slaves."
It is matter of opinion, however, whether the term natural liberty is admissible, and the real effect it can have on human affairs is quite unimportant. It is agreed on all sides that it can never exist in society, and in relation to those “outside barbarians," who are not in society, if any there be, we positively decline having anything to say. But, on the other hand, the liberty which men enjoy in the several societies to which they belong, cannot properly be called “a chartered right.” Liberty is not a thing to be granted or chartered. It must be earned. It accrues as a resuli. None
* Discourses concerning Government, by Algernon Sidney. Edinburgh, 1750. Vol. 1, pages 37 and 38.
but the Author of Life can be the dispenser of liberty. Long preparation is requisite to obtain it, and individual virtue and courage can alone preserve it. Wereadily conceive how the germ of this great blessing is planted by nature in the heart of man; how a capacity for the love of liberty is a part of his being ; but we must remember it must first be known to a certain extent before it can be loved. Nations, in their very infancy, enjoy liberty to the exact extent to which their capacity and virtue entitle them. Such we all know to have been the case with Britain ; a nation which never permanently lost its liberty, and which has steadily increased and refined it, as it has itself advanced in civilization and knowledge. All the state papers to which writers so often refer as “charters of liberty," are nothing more than declaratory deeds and conventional guarantees of pre-existing facts and privileges. English liberty found its origin neither in Mugna Charta, the Bill of Rights, the Habeas Corpus, or any other law. The germ was planted in the breasts of the Britons and Saxons, even in the obscurity of their ancient barbarism. There Cæsar found it, and thence in vain he sought to drive it. He tells us himself that the Britons were a fierce people, zealous for liberty, and so obstinately valiant in the defence of it, that, though unskilled and overpowered, their country could not be subdued otherwise than by the slaughter of all the warriors. And if ever fear was known to the heart of Cæsar, it was when he had to cope with Ariovistus, at the head of the German tribes; of which the Saxons were renowned as the most valiant, and the greatest lovers and defenders of liberty. When Caractacus, the brave and sturdy Welchman, after defending his country seven years against the Romans, was carried captive to the Emperor, he wore a prouder mien than all the Romans present. Tacitus, also,* speaks of this nation in language which meets corroboration at a period as recent as the times of Charles II.
“The Britons are willing to supply our armies with new levies ; they pay their tribute without a murmur; and they perform all the services
* In bis Life of Agricola. Chapter 13.