Слике страница
PDF
ePub

this point of view, his character does not seem to have been sufficiently contemplated—we mean, contemplated with fervid admiration as an object at once of taste and example-under the head of the sublime and beautiful, as well as of moral duty. We hope it has been reserved as a subject for a hand worthy of treating it-and that we shall see the “awful goodness” of that incomparable man transmitted to posterity in contrast with Napoleon's guilty and little ambition, and fitly associated with the grandeur of Milton's genius.

The democracy of which the ancient political writers concur in drawing so frightful a picture, is deseribed by one of them as a government in which decrees stand in the place of laws-that is to say, where the popular assembly exercised judicial powers in the shape of legislation, and passed statutes, not only for general rules, but' for particular cases. This confounding of the executive and judicial power is the very definition of tyranny under every kind of polity--but we may not so readily perceive why it should have been more intolerable in a popular than a monarchical or aristocratic form. These philosophers, however, had ample opportunities of comparing them in the petty States of Greece. Aristotle, for instance, is said to bave examined upwards of a hundred and fifty different constitutions by way of preparation for his great work on politics. They saw that, as Burke expresses it, “a mob has no heart," for the same reason that a corporation is said by Lord Coke, to have no soul. It retains only the harshest features, the most fearful and repulsive energies of the individuals that compose it. It may be good for attack and defence--for sueing and being sued-for grasping at acquisition, and keeping whatever it acquires locked up in perpetual mortmain--but it has no bowels of mercy and compassion-no amiable weaknesses-no compunctious visitings of nature. The individual feels-perhaps weeps, to think what his duty as a member of an artificial body requires of him. But in this metaphysical way of abstracting himself from himself, the root of the whole mischief is to be found. He finds all his purposes strengthened and consecrated by it. He considers himself as representing others, and as having no discretion. His very repugnance to an act is a motive for committing it. His conduct as a public man, is sanctified in his own eyes by the tears which it makes him shed in private. He looks upon himself as a Brutus or a Manlius, and glories in being able to controul the instincts of nature by a comprehensive reason and an unconquerable sense of duty. When he attains to this sublime degree of perfection, and has added to it an intrepid confidence in his own opinions, he is, what we understand by the word, jacobin. Many of those cannibal monsters were men of the gentlest natures and most inoffensive lives. But they had learned the metaphysics of a mob--they became corporators-they got the freedom of the city of Paris, a glorious exemption from all the weaknesses of undisciplined and simple hearts. They thus stopped up, completely, “the access and passage to remorse." The end sanctioned every means--they were ready to sacrifice, to the wildest speculative opinion, all that is held venerable and sacred and dear among men--and their boly covenant of regeneration was to have been sealed and solemnized-not as Catiline's conspiracy is said to have been, by the blood of a single human victim-but, if need were, by the massacre of half the population of France. Nothing can be imagined more cold-blooded, inexorable and exterminating than this sort of philosophical fanaticism-not even that of the Dominicans in the first fervour of their zeal. The disease is the more incurable because its seat is in the head. It is the madness of Ravaillac and Sands. The following is a genuine specimen of Jacobin morals and philosophy. It is the language of Gracchus Barbouf, who got up the conspiracy of-Floréal, ann. 4, for the purpose of restoring the blessed Reign of Terror. Robespierre, he regarded as the wisest and best of men-a prophet sent upon a special mission for the redemption of mankind from the bondage of prejudice and abuse, and raised, himself, above all the common infirmities and errors of our nature. We should translate it if we durst—but no language but his own can do justice to the cold atrocity of such doctrines. "Le salut de vingt cinq millions d'hommes ne doit point être balancé, &c. Un régénerateur doit voir en grand ; son devoir est de faucher tout ce qui le gène, tout ce qui obstrue son passage, tout ce qui peut nuire à sa prompte arrivée au terme; fripons, imbécilles, présomtueux; c'est égal, tant pis pour eux : pourquoi se trouvaient ils là? Il est vrai que ce principe pouvait nous écraser, toi et moi, mais le bonheur commun devait être la suite de son execution rigoureuse.” The mischief of this sort of philosophy is, that it bears an imposing resemblance to the highest republican virtue. The difference consists in this--that the jacobin considers himself as infallible, and has the most profound contempt for the understandings of the rest of mankind, and for all established institutions and received opinions, merely as such. So that whenever a fit of regeneration takes him, he has no sort of scruple about putting the most important interests of society to the hazard of the wildest experiment in government, which his own conceits may dictate.

When to these considerations we add what has been justly remarked, that there is no feeling of responsibility-no fear, no shame in multitudes, even for avowed crimes, while the passions which animate them are contagious, and in the supreme legislative assemblies of a democracy, uncontrollable ; and when we further reflect how very excitable the Greeks were, and how imperfect was their social civilization in comparison with that of the present times, we shall cease to wonder at the sentiments of their political writers in relation to this species of tyranny. Any mob is bad--a mob of philosophers, on the principles just explained, as bad as any other---but there was a morbid activity, a feverish restlessness in the Athenians, which made their mob particularly mischievous. The following observation of Burke is fully warranted by the history of the ancient democracies, as well as of those which existed in Italy some centuries ago.'"Of this I am certain, that in a democracy, the majority of the citizens is capable of exercising the most cruel oppressions upon the minority, whenever strong divisions prevail in that kind of polity, as they often must; and that oppression of the minority will extend to far greater numbers, and will be carried on with much greater fury, than can almost ever be apprehended from the dominion of a single sceptre. In such a popular persecution, individual sufferers are in a much more deplorable condition than in any other. Under a cruel prince, they have the balmy compassion of mankind to assuage the smart of their wounds; they have the plaudits of the people to animate their generous constancy under their sufferings; but those who are subjected to wrong under multitudes, are deprived of all external consolation. They seem deserted by mankind overpowered by a conspiracy of their whole species.In the petty Italian commonwealths there was a standing party of banished citizens-Fuorusciti.

How far this state of things affected the freedom of thought and opinion in the republics of antiquity, is a question equally curious and important. Following out the reasoning of the great man just quoted, we should infer that an unmitigated democracy were, to a certain extent, most unfavourable to this highest sort of liberty. Few men have the firmness to be right alone. The sympathies, the concurrence of mankind, are as necessary to us in matters of opinion as in any other. If we have these, there is nothing terrible—there is something even attractive in the persecutions of men in power. Punitis ingeniis gliscit auctoritas, is a profound sentence of Tacitus. But the tyranny of Demus had the advantage even here. It attacked VOL. IV.NO. 7.

22

liberty in its seat and citadel. It shook the confidence of a man in his own opinions. The firm persuasion that he was right, would have supported him against a single despot, and he would have been willing to suffer and to die for the truth. But how could it be the truth where the majority was against him? How presumptuous and criminal-what an obstinate heretic—to persevere in opinions condemned by the common sense of mankind ! We find, accordingly, that great complaints are made by the Athenian writers upon this subject. It is the burthen of the song with Demosthenes, that nothing is tolerated from the Bema but flattery and falsehood, and that all the public speakers of his day were systematic dealers in them. On the other hand, Isocrates in one of his orations,* declares that liberty of speech is allowed to none but the demagogues and the comic writers. We know from Aristophanes, that nothing could exceed the license allowed to the latter ; and were it not for this caveat of Isocrates, we should infer that the Athenians extended the same privilege to all other classes of writers and speakers. Nay, this very orator in his Areopagiticus, ventured with impunity to tell the people to their face, that their democracy was become a wild and tyrannical anarchy. This passage of his oration, it is true, is remarked on by Dionysius of Halicarnassus,t as a singular instance of daring, though if we knew all the circumstances, perhaps, we should see less cause to wonder at it. Upon the whole, the most reasonable conclusion seems to be, that in merely speculative matters, a sufficient freedom of thought was tolerated by the people—but that in every thing that related to the administration of affairs, it was necessary to approach them with extreme caution ; except in the license of the stage, where Demus excused any thing for wit. A striking instance of the former is found in the writings of these very political

lead in this sort of despotism did not degrade the understandings, howlatter. Still, as all might bope to us in examples of the ever it may have perverted the morals of the citizens.

But as an unmitigated democracy was considered by the ancient writers as the worst form of government, so they extolled a well-balanced republic as the best. Aristotle calls the latter a polity rari szoxnu. Plato, in one of his works, describes the mixed government which he prefers.Ş It corresponds singularly with our own in many important characteristics. It would ap

Περί Ειρηνής. .

† Jud. de Isocr. x. .
Pol. 1.iü. c. 5. I. iv. c. 8 & c.7. See also Plato de Legib, 1. iii. &c.

De Legib. 1. vi.

[ocr errors]

pear, however, that provided there were real checks in a constitution—that is to say, opposing and equally balanced interests, they were not very curious about the form or name of the government. They thought with Rousseau-"I call every state a republic which is governed by laws, under whatever form of administration it may be for there only the public interest governs, et la chose publique est quelque chose. Every government of laws is republican.*”. Plato says so expressly in the dialogue “De Republica." The same inference is deducible from the constitutions which are pointed out by all these writers as the best in practice. These were the Spartan, the Cretan, the Carthaginian, and (by Polybius and Cicero) the Roman. The only point in which all these government's coincided was, that while the democratic spirit was strong enough to give vigour and animation to the whole system, it was too much repressed and controlled to do any mischief. It must be owned, however, that they were all of a more oligarchical, or at least, aristocratic character than we approve.t Thus Cicero praises the wisdom of Servius Tullius for having attained that quod semper in republicâ tenendum est, ne plurimum valeant plurimi.

This leads us to the second point, in which the political philosophers of antiquity generally concur. They were, as we have said, rather more inclined to aristocracy, or more properly speaking, to oligarchy, than to popular government. Harrington, who learned his republicanism in a good degree from these doctors, expresses their universal sentiment in a passage, in which he declares, that "there is something first in the making of a commonwealth, then in the governing of it, and last of all, in the leading of its armies, which (though there be great divines, great lawyers, great men in all professions) seems to be peculiar only to the genius of a gentleman: for it is plain in the universal series of story, that if any man founded a commonwealth he was first a gentleman;" as he takes good care to add, that Oliver Cromwell was. And in another place, he does not scruple to make “that victorious captain and incomparable patriot, Olphaus Megaletor say, in reference to the constitution of Oceana, “I will stand no more to the judgment of lawyers and divines in this work, than to that of so many other tradesmen." Thus Plato and Aristotle both consider what is called in Greek, Cavavoia, that is, the exercise of any mechanic art, as altogether inconsistent with the character of a freeman and a good citizen. I

* Contra-Social, ii. 6. + Aristotle characterizes representative governments, however, as aristocratic. Pol. 1. iv. c. 14.

Plato de Legib. I. v. Aristot. Polit. ). vii. c. 9. Cic. Off. 1. i.

« ПретходнаНастави »