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as between man and man, be regarded as a matter of opinion—that is, as matter of doubt, whatever may be the case as between man and God.
The theories, which we so often hear described collectively as the principles of 1789, amount in a few words to the assertion that men can and do associate, and in France amongst other places actually have associated, together for the purpose of conferring upon each other the elementary benefits of society —including all that is meant by the protection of person and property at least, and tending, as every one can see, to include a great deal more—on the simple principle that they find such an association highly advantageous with a view to this present life alone, and independently of the question whether or not there is any other.
It was the possibility and the morality of such an association which Burke denied, with almost frantic violence, and which he branded as atheism and anarchy. That point, however, has been established with immovable solidity, though no doubt at an awful expense. Like the sovereignty of the people, it is one of those matters upon which controversy between reasonable men is no longer possible; and it is beyond all doubt a point upon which Burke's most cherished doctrines are emphatically and directly contradicted by experience.
What may be the value of such an association, whether it will be final, and what will ultimately be its relations to associations of a different kind, and founded upon different principles, are questions of another order; and it appears eminently probable that the effort to obtain a proximate solution of them, will be the great leading feature of the history of Europe and America for generations, perhaps for centuries, to come. One fact, at all events, is clear. The questions which Burke, and those whom he represented, earnestly struggled to avoid, have been opened, never to be closed again till they are either solved or definitively renounced as insoluble. They are all included under one general head—Is the Christian, or any, and what, other system of religion and morals true? If an affirmative answer to this question is arrived at by the great mass of the population of any nation, or of any group of nations, there can be no doubt that political institutions will again be founded upon, or at all events, closely allied with, religion and morals.
So long as the question is practically regarded as insoluble, or at all events as unsolved, the present state of things will continue. Law proper will be founded upon simple temporal prudence, and government will have a growing tendency to become a mere affair of police, and to be separated from all moral control over the minds of men. Morals and religion, on the other hand, will suffer equally, though in different ways. Morals will tend to become a mere sentiment or a mere speculation ; and religion will tend to be merged in superstition.
There neither will nor can be any other deliver
ance from these evils than that which lies in finding a solution of the great questions, which, so to speak, exploded now nearly ninety years ago. Whatever the final result may be, it can hardly admit of a doubt, that none of those who have handled them were so hopelessly wrong, as the writers and statesmen who thought that, because the discussion would be terribly dangerous, it either could or ought to be permanently avoided.
BURKE AND DE TOCQUEVILLE ON THE
FRENCH REVOLUTION 1
PERHAPS no event in history has been so much written about as the French Revolution, and perhaps there is none in which we are so much mocked with the outside both of history and of speculation. Every one can see, on the very first view of the subject, that the event was one which required to be explained by general causes, and every one can see equally well, that the incidents of the revolution were picturesque beyond all former experience. It was also a subject on which every one had eager sympathies. Hence most of the books written about it have been filled with plausible generalities, more or less amusing details, and vehement party arguments.
Hardly a single writer on either side of the Channel has ever appeared to see what was meant by understanding the subject. We always seem to be reading
Reflections on the Revolution in France. By Edmund Burke. L'Ancien Régime et la Révolution. Par A. de Tocqueville.
either anecdotes, metaphysical abstractions, or pamphlets. To adjust the particular facts exactly, or even tolerably well, to general maxims sufficiently wide to render the facts comprehensible, and not sufficiently wide to fit everything equally well, is a great achievement. Hardly any one can do it at any time, and it would seem to be impossible to do it at all in a satisfactory manner till after the lapse of a time considerable enough to cool down party feelings.
A notion of the meaning and importance of such considerations may be obtained by comparing the views taken of the French Revolution by its most distinguished contemporary and by its greatest historical critic. M. de Tocqueville and Burke had two qualities in common, which suggest a comparison between their writings, notwithstanding the many particulars which would rather invite a contrast. Each was a deep thinker, and each passed a large and most important part of his life in the management of great political affairs. Each, in a word, was both a philosopher and a statesman; and a comparison of the ways in which the French Revolution struck one of these men, when he viewed it as a contemporary and by the light of antecedent experience, and the other when he viewed it as a past event and by the light of subsequent experience, may serve to illustrate the limitations under which even the most remarkable men are obliged, by the nature of things, to criticise the great events which occur before their eyes.
Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France may