Слике страница
PDF
ePub

CHAPTER II.

THE SOCIAL LIFE.

We open this chapter with the following proposition :Religion is the only stable basis on which a commonwealth can be reared. This, we think, might be demonstrated by clear, unimpassioned, inductive reasoning; we desire to trace in outline one or two of the main divisions of the proof.

The first, and perhaps, all things considered, the most im. portant argument in its support, is to be derived from the analogy of the individual. It is an indisputable fact that the community has, so to speak, a distinct personality; that it is not a mere collection of individuals. Yet, we venture to say, that the more careful and protracted our observation of the man and the nation is, and the more profound our reflection upon the phenomena presented by each, the more firm will our assurance become that a strict analogy holds between them. So strong is our conviction of this, that Butler's demonstration of the supremacy of conscience in the individual bosom is quite sufficient to satisfy us that the healthful and natural state of the nation is exhibited, only when the national conscience is dominant, when religion prevails. The political Butler has not yet appeared; but a noble task awaits him. He will show how, as the man who listens to the voice of conscience, who can stand apart from his fellows, and, over all the brawling of the popular wind, hear the still small voice of conscience as supreme on earth, and turn his eye at its monition toward heaven for an approval which will make him independent of human opinion, is he who is most true to his nature; so the nation which would rightly occupy its position in the world must have aims above all that is sublunary, and hold itself as a nation responsible to God.

The second source of argument on this point is the evidence of history. More express and conclusive evidence than is derivable from this source, we can scarce conceive. Of many things the historical student may be doubtful, but of this at least he must be sure: That no amount of wealth, no extent of culture, has ever given a nation strength and stability, when the religious element has been in decay. Let it be noted that we now speak of the development and power of the religious faculty ; we treat not the subordinate, though important question, whether the religion is true or false. And we bid any man consider the whole history of Judea, of Greece, of Rome, of Italy, and we may add of France, and declare, whether the nation is capable of avoiding some one fatal peril or another which is not strongly religious. Either foreign subjugation, or domestic despotism, or maniac anarchy, has ever overtaken the godless nation; and, in all times, the nation that had a faith, that reverenced an oath, has put a bridle in the teeth of the unbelieving peoples.

The only other department of proof to which we can refer is that of the testimony of great individual thinkers. It is interesting to note how, we might say without exception, the great thinkers and workers of all time have agreed in this. Consider the amount and the nature of the evidence to be derived from that one source, the construction of ancient and modern politics. Every legislator requires this as his boweranchor; every man who attempts to establish a commonwealth, or to rule an empire, commences with religion. That he was himself an irreligious man, or skeptic, mattered little. Whether he were a Zoroaster or Mahomet, or a Ptolemy Lagus or Napoleon, it was the same; the point of the national pyramid, each felt, must point to heaven. And the testimony of thinkers is equally explicit. Plato virtually makes religion the base of his republic; and Mr. Carlyle is, in our day, again proclaiming, in what manner, or with what likelihood of success, we say not, the same truth. In one of Bacon's Essays, you find his authority, and that of Cicero, like one sword with two edges, knit together. The fact is explicitly stated by Montesquieu; and, while the influence of what was or was not named the positive philosophy has here affected injuriously our last schools of political economy, even they are compelled to lend their indirect suffrage. One of the most healthy thinkers of recent times, Thomas Chalmers, gave the strength of his life to enunciate and enforce the momentous doctrine.

Our initial proposition being established, we proceed to in. quire in what way, in the internal arrangements of society, a pantheistic theory of things would naturally and logically be embodied: we shall then note briefly the basis on which Chris tianity places social relations.

The works of Mr. Carlyle, in one great aspect of them, are a series of endeavors, or rather one great connected endeavor, to bring the state into approximation to that condition in which rank, power, and possession, would be exactly graduated by ability. And this were a result fraught with so many beneficent consequences that, it must be acknowledged, that the extent to which he has succeeded in striking and infusing his great idea into cotemporary literature and the public mind in

general, is to be considered a grateful and promising achievement. It is, however, an indubitable fact, that an error in the original axioms on which any system of teaching is based, although in the course of that teaching separate and partial truths may find advocacy or enforcement, will show itself in any attempt to reduce theory to practice, and will most likely, we might perhaps say certainly, neutralize or poison the very truths amid which, erewhile, it lurked in concealment. And thus we conceive it to be with the teaching of Mr. Carlyle: it contains invaluable truth, yet in the original fountain was a poison-drop, which will be found, if its streams ever come to irrigate the general fields of life, to kill the plants it was expected to nourish, and leave a sterile waste where men looked for the bloom and the opulence of a garden of God.

The fundamental axiom of that pantheism of which we recognize Mr. Carlyle as the great living advocate, we found to be, that man is divine. The great man is he in whom the divinity is most clearly manifested. This being so, how, we ask, would that graduation proceed of which we have spoken? It would tend altogether to the exaltation of the great man; if such a thing as worship could exist, it would be worship of him: if a theory of government were to be propounded, it would be that in which his wisdom ruled without let, and his will was absolute. If my fellow is more divine than I, it is right that I bow down to him, it is right that I serve him: and it is no difficult task to show, that the good things of this life will plenteously result to me from my doing so. In one word, if well traced out, the legitimate social theory of pantheism would be despotism. In the course of this volume, we shall have occasion to mark, in certain important departments of social life, the development of this theory, and to discover whether Mr. Carlyle's own ultimate teaching confirms our view; for the present, we can merely state it without exposing defects or considering advantages.

Christianity is able to accept from Mr. Carlyle all that is of value in his doctrines, while avoiding those perils with which they would prove unable to contend. It bids me not to bow down to any fellow mortal; yet it may enjoin my according him all respect consistent with manliness; it bids me not to take commands from any absolute will with the servile cringe of the slave, yet it makes room for hearty and strenuous obedience. All this it does by the recognition of two great doctrines: the absolute sovereignty of God; and the relative sovereignty, yet absolute equality, of man. It sets the world, so to speak, in a particular point of view, and by so doing makes every thing plain; it represents it as the Lord's, as a field, or a vineyard, in which He has certain grand objects to accomplish. It shows every man to be a servant; and to every man who is a dutiful servant, it dispenses an equality of honor, and in certain grand particulars, nay, in all, though we can not now stay to make good the point, an equality of reward. To endeavor to define and enumerate the ends which Divine Providence has in view with man in this world, were a rash and impotent attempt. But we certainly know that the great end of all things is the glory of God; that His glory is manifested in the perfection of His creatures; and that He, in His benignity, has ordained that an integral part of perfection is joy, that the higher man or nation ascends on that path, the richer are the fruits and the more beautiful the flowers which line the way. And it is not impossible, with the light of rev. elation and the voice of history, to discern the grand outline of that method by which God has ordained and commanded man, in slow progress through the centuries, to work out his perfection as a species. On the one hand, he has a freedom

« ПретходнаНастави »