« PreviousContinue »
life and draw together into unity the individual souls of men, are not in danger either of laying too heavy a burden on the individual will, or of deprecating the binding power of social, even though they seem purely human, ties. They believe that the will of man, free as it is, is not meant to guide, but only freely to follow guidance; and that the less it strives to carve out its own path, the more quickly and freely it will ascend.
The defect we have pointed out in Channing's type of faith shines out especially in his doctrine of humility, which—genuinely humble as the man himself was-is the meagrest and falsest in effect of any part of his teaching. "Humility," he said, "is the virtue of an enlightened understanding." It "has its foundations in a correct estimate of our characters..... It is to be formed not by fixing our thoughts exclusively on the worst parts of our conduct, and ascribing the guilt of these to our whole lives, but by observing our whole lives impartially, surveying the good and the evil in our temper and general deportment, and in this way learning to what degree we are influenced by the various dispositions and principles which enter into our character." Now had this been the description of the mode of truly estimating what our characters are like,-what are our tendencies and dangers, it would be true enough; but pride consists in the desire to reject assistance, to undervalue the assistance we have received, to stand alone where our nature is not capable of standing alone. Humility has nothing to do with "enlightened understanding," it is a willingness to see our need of help,-to recognise to the full the reality and amount of the help we have received. The clearest vision is consistent with pride,-for we may discern, but discern most reluctantly, how little we are. It is in the desire to claim a power we have not, not in the mistake of claiming it, that the sin against humility lies. Nor could any question of measuring present dispositions, and weighing out individual temper arise in such a case. It is of course no humility to affect a lower estimate of ourselves than we really have; but it is not a question of estimate at all; it is rather whether we are inclined to credit ourselves with powers and dispositions which have been formed in us by no power of our own. Those who feel that right consists in simply not resisting the divine life in us,-in declining to make a false choice,-and that no higher power than this is within the limits of human freedom, must feel that humility has more to do with the willing recognition of the divine life and Word in us, than with any microscopic attention to our own characters. In fact, the duty of estimating our own characters accurately is seldom a duty at all. If we are really eager to recognise the Light that shines into us, we shall have no need to catalogue the dark lines in the spirit on which it falls.
But though we believe that Channing's faith was, for the reasons we have enumerated, not adequate to satisfy the yearnings for a social religion, its deficiencies were perhaps a blessing to his country. The growing power of the American democracy was even then beginning to threaten individual freedom. Even then "manifest Destiny" was pleaded against individual conscience. Even then the ocean of popular opinion threatened to engulf the calm and deliberate judgments of private thought. Channing's faith-nay, the very deficiencies of his faith-led him to stem this tide. He did not respect, he dreaded the encroachments of social opinion. He raised his voice with undismayed courage against the most terrible of these "manifest destinies," -Democratic Encroachment, Slavery, and Annexation,-which are to the States of America what Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos were to the States of ancient Greece. Without exaggeration and without timidity he denounced the greatest political sin of his day. Habitually self-restrained even in indignation, his clear sweet voice was heard where the voice of stormy invective would never have been listened to. His faith was something like that of a high-mettled child,—so simple, so eager, so ideal. It did not give him all the command of social forces which he might otherwise have wielded; but if it had not all the breadth of a maturer religion, it had all the immunity from corrupting elements, the spotless purity, of a faith that has grown up in the solitude of one meditative spirit. Amidst the raging tempests of American politics at the present day, we doubt if any living voice has so much power to strengthen the hands of Northern freedom, and disarm the fierce passions of the South, as the clear keen words of Channing. He had not the faith that would closely knit together a great society, but he had a faith that could purify it from its social selfishness.
ART. VII.-EARL GREY ON REFORM.
Parliamentary Government considered with reference to a Reform of Parliament: an Essay. By Earl Grey. London, 1858. LORD GREY Would have saved his readers some disappointment if he had simply announced an essay on Parliamentary Government. As such his book is valuable both from the strong clear sense of his remarks on the results of various lines of policy, and from his authority as a witness to the existing facts of our constitution, not ill-placed for taking a dispassionate view. In the latter capacity he has done good service in calling attention to
many of the features which distinguish that form of polity at present subsisting among ourselves from others which likewise admit popular representation to a greater or less extent. But he mostly "works in the deeper strata of the matter," as Mr. Carlyle says; and there are few or none of those practical suggestions which we should naturally look for in a book appearing with such a titlepage, at a time when a new Reform Bill was supposed to be at hand.
Another omission has been referred to with high praise by some of our contemporaries. It is most true that Lord Grey proves himself to belong to the modern type of English statesmanship by ignoring all theories of representation based on notions of the inherent rights of a free community; and confines himself to stating and weighing a great variety of practical advantages and disadvantages attendant upon various systems. This is the course almost universally adopted by recent English opponents of democratic ideas; and it has many notable precedents in its favour. It distinguishes those who pursue it alike from dreamers of the study, and from those who spin webs of theory to hide their want of specific information. It gets rid of some controversies which will never be settled, and of some classes of opponents whom it is neither possible to satisfy nor worth while to be always refuting. It suits well that tone of scepticism, mildly cynical and conspicuously indisposed to the labour of grappling with principles, which is epidemic in our society of to-day. It commits to nothing, and leads to none of that one-sided stress of mind in argument which makes both sides forget necessary qualifications, offend quiet people, and rush into some untenable position. Above all, it affords to those who wish that nothing should be done, a reasonable anticipation that nothing will be done while people are persuaded to stand balancing pros and cons, and working hard calculations of political probability. Yet with all these unquestionable advantages, it may be doubted whether the method has not received more praise than it deserves. It is right to press all these particular matters on public attention; but men seldom, if ever, act from more than one real motive at a time, and they do not decide large questions by casting up two columns of pros and cons, and striking a balance. No process is more difficult or more deceptive, and the vote is generally staked upon some leading characteristic or evident result of the one opinion or the other. Why does that characteristic or result attract the perplexed attention and fix the wavering mind, but because it is felt that there opposing principles join issue and conflict? Other matters may illustrate the point, lead up to the point, show how much must be sacrificed on the one side or the other, whichever way the point is decided; but there is the point itself, there is what gives interest to the
struggle, and is the reason why there is a separation into opposite parties at all. The real questions to be faced when Parliamentary Reform is dealt with, are, whether certain unrepresented classes have or have not (speaking roughly) a fair right to be represented; whether other classes, already admitted to some share of power, have or have not a fair right to a greater share.
An anti-democratic thinker who evades the question of right is necessarily driven in the last resort to one of these two modes of conception and argument;—either the idea of government by the people must give way to that of government for the people instead of being reconciled with it; or the democratic view must be admitted to be theoretically just, while all attempts to apply it are staved off on one temporary pretext after another. The speculative dilemma expresses the practical danger of drifting into absolutism on the one hand, or democracy on the other; and the natural repugnance of mankind to the first makes it peculiarly desirable that they should not be left between two such alternatives. If the two were looked at with equable indifference, common sense, unaided by theory, might perhaps be trusted to strike out some other course distinct from both. But this is not so. Absolutism is never embraced but as a refuge from some worse evil. It is far more than the extreme expression of one of the elements of a mixed polity. It is hostile to all polity. Absolutism and democracy are not two mutually qualifying principles which can be left to check each other and combine; but the former is an immoral reaction from a generous error; and till two wrongs make a right, the mere conflict of the one with the other cannot issue in a healthy national organisation. If that which we call in England "constitutional freedom" can only be supported as a compromise between right and wrong, or as a limitation which can be superinduced upon absolutism and turn that wrong into right, we may rest assured that it is not destined for permanence.
The difficulty of discussing the subject lies really in the fact that the constitutional theory, so far from having nothing to do with speculations on political right and wrong, is based upon abstractions much too subtle to admit of any direct and immediate reduction into practice. It is far otherwise with democracy. Its theory is the old revolutionary notion of the Rights of Man, which, so far from being exploded, is, we are persuaded, highly influential with many who are little aware of it, and gives them an apologetic tone in dealing with democrats which must soon lead to an abandonment of their own position. That all men are free and equal, and that therefore the numerical majority. of the moment must govern, is a simple theory enough, and is not much hampered or impaired by the mere rejection of persons of proved incapacity, moral or intellectual, although there
is much room for disagreement about the precise limits of qualification. As long as this is tacitly or expressly held up as the ultimate ideal of the State, and only opposed by arguments which deny the principle of national self-government altogether, and tend to substitute despotisms of right divine, of intellect, of mere physical power, of empirical convenience, or of blind fate, the advance of the true doctrines of constitutional government cannot be hoped for. It is necessary to give an emphatic denial to the assertion that the sense of the nation is obtained by resolving it into its component atoms, and watching whether the greater number of them run into one vessel or another. But the denial cannot be given unless we rise to an abstract conception of the nation in the unity of its life and the historic completeness of its career, which it would strain the most "victorious analysis" to reduce to a scientific formula, and which, if so reduced, would convey no idea except to philosophical students. We shall indulge in no such pedantry of definition, holding it part of the good fortune of Englishmen that the fundamental ideas of political philosophy have been already presented to them in a form so descriptive, so well adapted to convey profound and abstract ideas to persons who dislike the show of profundity, and the reality as well as the show of abstraction,-in a word, in a form so national,-that subsequent writers need do little more, so far as respects the elements of the subject, than select and quote. The ornate Burke (like the plain and massive Butler) seems to have been created to clothe abstract principles in a form in which Englishmen can be asked to take them to heart; and we think that a recurrence to his writings at the present day would do a great deal of good, and prevent much aimless drifting, and stop much needless apologising for a departure from conceptions which are really wanting in breadth as well as in depth.
We wish that our space did not oblige us to omit the connecting links between the following passages in the Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs:
"We are so little affected by things which are habitual, that we consider this idea of the decision of a majority as if it were a law of our original nature: but such constructive whole residing in a part only, is one of the most violent fictions of positive law that ever has been, or can be made on the principles of artificial incorporation. Out of civil society nature knows nothing of it; nor are men, even when arranged according to civil order, otherwise than by very long training brought at all to submit to it. The mind is brought far more easily to acquiesce in the proceedings of one man, or a few, who act under a general procuration for the state, than in the vote of a victorious majority in councils in which every man has his share in the deliberation.