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argument in respect to the witnessing ministry, duties, and responsibilities of the church, in regard to the Word, for a more deliberate and unfettered consideration.
THE REVOLUTIONARY SPIRIT.
By Professor TAYLER LEWIS, L.L.D., University of New York.
Were it possible for a man to be suddenly transferred to the scenes and associations of some period very remote from the present, the first impression would, doubtless, be one of surprise at the strange aspect of every thing around him. Laws, language, customs, all merely external institutions, would seem to belong to a different order of things, and almost to a different species. “A change,” however, we may believe, “would soon come over the spirit of his dream.” When the new emotions called forth by the mere outward survey had subsided, another and very different feeling would most probably spring up in the soul. As the differences arising from external institution had thus lost their first aspect of strangeness to the sense, there would come forth, more and more, the strong emotion of wonder at the unchangeableness of human nature. How like ourselves, would be the growing thought—the same motives, the same moral instincts, the same depravity, the same selfishness, the same unsatisfied, and never to be satisfied, desire to extract the highest good from the present world, the same restless dread, coming whence they know not, and which all their worldliness cannot wholly stifle, respecting the retributions of an unseen future state. And then there would come next the thought of a closer resemblance, even in external forms, than had at first been imagined. A discovery of the unchanging conformity of the inward life would begin to impress a corresponding aspect on the outward; and hundreds of striking coincidences, in matters both of public and private institution, would fill us with surprise on account of their very near resemblance to our own.
The cultivation of this feeling, and the enlarged view which comes from such a contemplation of mankind, form the true essential elements of that much misunderstood state of mind and opinion commonly called conservatism. No term has been more loosely employed, or more deserves that an effort be made to set it in the clearest light. With many it is only another name for ignorance, prejudice, unreasonable attachment to the past, a foolish contempt of the present, and a still more stupid dread of the future. It is, with them, the foe of humanity, the stubborn opponent of all attempts to meliorate the condition of mankind, the grand obstacle which must be swept away before the car of progress can move on rapidly to the future glory.
There is, it may be admitted, a spurious conservatism, which has done much to bring discredit on that noble feeling of humanity implied by the word in its true and legitimate conception. There are many who, without either reason, or intelligence, or honest enthusiasm, assume this attitude both in church and state. They are the men who look upon government as a very useful machine to keep the masses in order, and to preserve the rights of property. They are ever crying out lustily against agrarianism, and would characterise even many a true reform by that odious name. Property is their everlasting watchword ; religion and morality are very good, because they tend to its security. These are the men who would go to church to set a good example to the common people. They are great sticklers for chaplains and prayers in Congress, as being very decent, very respectful to religion, and therefore very conservative. They have great respect for morals, and education, and all that, as the support of political institutions, and, therefore, an admirable thing for the turbulent masses, who have not the inducement to order arising from high-standing and large estates. Besides, infidelity and radicalism have heretofore been vulgar, and then, there are the fine sounding terms, reverence, and antiquity, and law and order, and first, and last, and every where, the rights of property. All this is yet exceedingly respectable, and, therefore, Christianity must be patronised as the support of government, and government is to be upheld for the defence of property, and thus-ever travelling round and round in the same endless circle--the rights of property, they contend, must be maintained as the very ground and object of the constitution of society. The protection of man against himself, that is, of the higher classes, or rather, the wealthier bourgeois, against the poorer rabble, is their ideal of government. Of law and civil institutions, as possessing in themselves an ever elevating and humanizing power they have no conception. In short, this Hobbean species of conservatism is as vulgarly utilitarian and selfish as the radicalism it so fiercely and proudly denounces, without manifesting any of those nobler, enthusiastic qualities by which the latter frequently challenges our admiration and respect.
What, then, is true conservatism? It may seem an affectation of paradox, and yet, we would venture to set forth, as its chief trait,
its bold and decided opposition to the spirit of formalism. It is a contemner of forms and mere outward institutions; whilst radi. calism, and spurious conservatism, may be justly charged with being, each in its own way, a blind worshipper of both. In the second place, we would assert, what may seem to some another paradox equally strange, that a sound conservatism is the true friend, and the only true friend, of that substantial progress which is ever marred and impeded by the revolutionary spirit. It presents the only true ground of such progress ; because, holding to the essential oneness of humanity in the highest sense, it rejects every dream of the present or the future that would cut loose from the world's past historical life, or would vainly hope to realize, under institutions entirely new, any idea which has not existed, and may not yet be developed in such as have long been familiar to mankind. In the third place, it has far more of a kindly humanity than radicalism, with all the boast which the latter is ever making of its irrepressible philanthropy. It more heartily adopts the maxim of the Roman dramatic poet
Homo sum, nihil humani a me alienum puto.
It sees, and ever delights to see, the past living over again in the present, substantially the same life, though refined and carried forward by the gradual falling away of circumstantial evils; and this, through the general amelioration of society, in all its departments, rather than by any abrupt change of constitution. It sees also the present in every leading event of the past, and loves to trace back, through the whole line of mankind, the same unchanging ideas, the same law of the conscience, the same fundamental political truths growing directly out of the constitution of human nature-yea, too, amid all diversities and corruptions of outward ritual, the same elemental religious feelings,-- whether derived from one ancient common source, or so impressed on the human soul by its Creator, that however it may darken and corrupt them, there have remained in all ages, and among all nations, something of the same ideas of sin, of a fallen state, of expiation, of a dread future existence, of redemption under some form, and of law and government in this world, having, in some way, an authority and a sanction from the Divine and invisible.
However paradoxical it may seem, radicalism, on the other hand, may be briefly characterized as formal, and the radical as a great formalist. In other words, it attaches vast intrinsic importance to certain imagined forms and institutions. It traces all evils to those which it condemns, and expects all good from others which it would substitute in their places. It cuts loose from all previous aspects of humanity ; finds no good in the past, but little worthy of preservation in the present, and all glory,
unmixed with shade, in the future. It talks loudly of humanity, and yet is practically marked by a predominant individualizing tendency; so that it not only would sever the present generation from all others, and call upon it to work out its own separate destiny by new and utterly untried methods, but would also seek most falsely to magnify the importance of the individual, viewed aside from that in which his true importance must ever consist,-namely, his relations, as a member of the family, the neighborhood, the state, and the church.
True conservatism, we have said, is a liberal spirit, rising above forms to the purer life of principles and ideas. The very contrary position we know has been often taken, but still would we maintain our apparent paradox. True conservatism is conserving, for this very reason, that although it acknowledges certain grand outlines which God has immutably fixed in the three great departments of relation, the domestic, the political, and the ecclesiastical,—and which, in their primary elements, are never to be meddled with,-it also regards all outward institutions as having their value, and consequent legitimacy, only in subordination to the preservation of these fundamental ideas among men. Considering forms, therefore, as, in themselves, of little consequence, it is conservative of existing institutions; and this, for two substantial reasons. In the first place, it regards time, and the gradual but certain improvement of the race, through the advance of science, philosophy, and religion, as the great means of
progress, whatever may be the forms through which they operate,--causing monarchies and republics to share alike in their progressive meliorating influences, and bringing both under the same humanizing sentiment of the common mind of the race, which is ever carrying on the great work with far more strength and certainty, when undisturbed, than any imaginary magical power of any particular form. In the second place, the true conservative knows that the contrary feeling, ever turbulent and revolutionary, actually destroy the good at which it professes to aim, by the very fact of trusting to mere change of form, and thus despising, and, because despising, losing the far higher influences through which alone any forms are available for good. It is hard to be profound here, if we would. The truth lies too near the surface ; however much satan may blind men, and cause them to overlook it. If man is depraved, and very depraved, then is the recognition of it the cardinal truth in political philosophy. If man is depraved, and very depraved, nothing is more important than that he should know it. Nothing, on the other hand, can be more mischievous, than anything, be it passion, be it sentiment, be it philosophy, which blinds him to his own fallen nature ; which leads him to seek the causes of his miseries, in certain mere outward forms of government, of which
makes him regard other mere forms as that cure which can only come from a true knowledge of his real condition, from a humbling distrust of himself, and from a reverential attitude in view of his Maker's law, and the life to come. If there be a difference, then we have here something of a test. Those forms are worst which do most to foster the false feeling; those are best which have a tendency to check or suppress its growth. It may be that the restless spirit of man is thus condemned to make trial of all forms, and to experience their utter vanity in themselves, as the only means by which the great lesson may be not only theoretically but practically and enduringly learned. Is man capable of self-government? We would not give an absolute denial, but would only say,-certainly not, whilst he is ever boasting of it,certainly not, whilst he is so blind and so absurd, as to believe that any mere form can elevate him above his own passions, and his own selfishness.
But the ultra-radical, as we have said, is ever an ultra-formalist. Blind to the true disease of human nature, he is ever charging it upon the institutions of society. If this could only be put down, or that idolized form put in its place, then would come at length the golden age. Just as some spurious conservatives of the Tory school can never conceive of a church without a bishop, or a state without a King and House of Lords, so he also sees nothing good, nothing hopeful, unless the most unchecked democracy predominate alike in the civil and ecclesiastical constitution. Could this democracy everywhere supplant monarchy, then would shine out man's semi-angelic nature. Humanity, so long trampled on by humanity, would rise again to fall no more. The condemned forms, therefore, are violently changed. A short period of excitement follows, during which a mock heroic is the order of the day; and then it is found that the restless invalid has only turned himself upon his feverish couch, perhaps to a more disadvantageous position than before, but he has not arisen, he cannot arise, take up his bed and walk. What little advance had been gradually made before is lost in the revolutionary tumult. Political power, by a law of corrupt humanity, soon settles down again into the hands of a few; but without that orderly guidance which weakened its mischief, and actually turned it to good, under previous established institutions. The people have erected their barricades, they have overturned the throne, but they have not expelled the unseen spiritual monarch, the dread evil power, that tyrannizes over them the more unrelentingly in consequence of that very revolutionary feeling which causes them,' more than ever, to lose sight of the true source of all the woes of humanity. In the fustian and rant so common a few months ago, nations were said to have lain down at night in chains, and to have awaked in the morning to