Imagens da página
[ocr errors]

happiness as Englishmen, that our ancestors both felt and argued in a loftier mood. Dr. Miller, to whom we have no allusion in the observation just made, has, we think, introduced a great deal of politic confusion into his statement, by uni. formly either evading or begging the question. We have no quarrel with his general definition, that government is a con• trivance for promoting the happiness of man,' nor with his inference,' that it is therefore their duty to give it their sup'port;' but we are not prepared to follow him in his despe-, rate leap to the startling proposition, that every government

is in some degree an instrument of good, and therefore every ' government is morally entitled to claim the obedience of its • subjects.' He has not thought it necessary to point out the connexion between the two positions, and we are quite unable to assist him in tracing it; we will, however, suggest to him as an interesting problem, the application of the second to the actual condition of Greece and Spain. Is Dr. Millet prepared to prove, that there are no cases in which it becomes both a moral and a political duty to resolve society into its first elements, in order to get rid of injurious and incurable defects in its construction? If not, what becomes of his triumphant challenge to instance, the government which is • not more beneficial than anarchy.' Extremes meet, in political as well as in geometrical circumferences; and were we required to describe the most fearful examiples of anarchy, we should find them most readily and most impressively in the annals of despotism. We are not aware that the wildest excesses of the French Revolution were visitations more disorderly and destructive, than the relentless sovereignties' of Muley Ishmael and Ezzelino da Romano-to say nothing of times more recent and instances nearer home.

Neither is Dr. Miller more successful in his attempts to make the people responsible for the vices of their rulers, and to reduce the right of insurrection against intolerable tyranny, to the single case of a nation able to overthrow it by the • expression of the public will. When Melchtal, Furst, Stauffacher, and Tell, conspired the violent overthrow of Geisler's despotism, was the Austrian government destitute of the * efficiency of political power ?' And when the true-hearted patriots who invited the Prince of Orange to liberate their country by force of arms from the dastardly tyranny of James, joined for that noble end, was the administration against which they conspired, adapted to the actual qualities of the * people' of England ?-or would the ' mere expression of the

public will have sufficed for its overthrow, without the présence of the Dutch army? To be consistent with his VOL. XXIII. N.S.



own principles, Dr. Miller must reprobate both these glorious instances of successful conspiracy against efficient government; and to establish the hypothesis which infers the depravity of a people from the iniquity of the rulers, he must shew, that the heroes of the Forest-Cantons deserved no milder rule than that of their ferocious persecutor, and that the Englishmen of 1688 possessed a congenial governor in the sacred person of the contemptible James Stuart.

Of modern writers on points either immediately or remotely connected with the main subject, the mass is too great for even enumeration, and we shall content ourselves with a single reference to the brilliant generalizations of Montesquieu. The Esprit des loix, though open on every side to the assaults of captious criticism, will rank, after every deduction, among the most vigorous and acute of intellectual productions.

• What former age,' is the observation of Sir James Mackintosh in his admirable Discourse on the Study of the Law of Nature and of Nations, ' could have supplied facts for such a work as that of Montesquieu? He, indeed, has been, perhaps justly, charged with abusing this advantage, by the undistinguishing adoption of the narratives of travellers of very different degrees of accuracy and veracity. But if we reluctantly confess the justness of this objection ; if we are compelled to own that he exaggerates the influence of climate, that he ascribes too much to the foresight and forming skill of legis. lators, and far too little to time and circumstances, in the growth of political constitutions; that the substantial character and essential differences of governments are often lost and confounded in his tech. nical language and arrangement; that he often bends the free and irregular outline of nature, to the imposing but fallacious geometrical regularity of system; that he has chosen a style of affected abruptness, sententiousness, and vivacity, ill-suited to the gravity of his subjects: after all these concessions, (for his fame is large enough to spare many concessions,) the “ Spirit of Laws” will remain, not only one of the most solid and durable monuments of the power of the human mind, but a striking evidence of the inestimable advantages which political philosophy may receive from a wide survey of all the various conditions of human society. pp. 67, 68.

Amid all the facts elicited by patient investigation, and all the speculations struck out by inventive fancy or ingenious inference, it was still reserved for some bolder or more sagacious genius to discover the master principle of the great system of moral and intellectual existence-the grand purpose of creation, to which the past history and the future destinies of man might be referred. Plato had not overlooked this important view of human life and action; he had endeavoured to solve the difficulties connected with it, by referring them to the irregularities of human agency-the interference of the Supreme Being--and the Divine institution of civil government. These notions were, however, left to the dust and cobwebs which the neglect of ages accumulated over the Platonic Republic; and the transcendental view of human policy' was lost sight of until the investigation was revived by Leibnitz, who proposed the theory of Optimism as the universal solvent. The celebrated Bayle, in various parts of his dictionary-more particularly in the articles Manichéens, Marcionites, Pauliciens had, with his characteristic subtlety, given a plausible aspect to the erroneous sentiments of Manes on the nature and origin of evil. With a view to counteract the mischievous tendency of these principles, Leibnitz entered the lists, and published his theological master-piece, the Theodicée ; a work which Dr. Miller does not appear to be acquainted with, since he no where refers to or names it, but makes up an imperfect account from second-hand authorities. The following abstract of one of the most singular and (as we once heard it characterised by one of the most gifted men of the present day) awful' representations that ever occurred to the human imagination, is cited by Dr. M. from the academic Eloge of Leibnitz, without any mention of the Theodicée, to which it forms a most impressive conclusion. The abridgement is very far from giving a complete view of the original, and we should feel gratified, were it fairly required by the tenor of the present article, in furnish. ing a more adequate transcript. The doctrine of Optimism rests upon the hypothesis, that, notwithstanding the undeniable existence of natural and moral evil, the world in which we live is yet the best which it was possible to construct, the

evil of either kind being in the smallest quantity possible, • and being followed by the most advantageous consequences.'

The manner in which the existence of evil is reconciled with the doctrine of Optimism, has been illustrated by its author in a philosophic fiction. The story had been begun by Laurentius Valla, who feigned that Sextus, the son of Tarquin the Proud, went to Delphi, to consult the oracle of Apollo, in regard to his destiny. The oracle foretold that he should violate Lucretia ; and when Sextus complained of the prediction, Apollo replied, that he was but the prophet, that Jupiter had regulated every thing, and that to that deity his complaint should be addressed. Here terminated the fiction of Valla. Leibnitz supposed, that Sextus went to Dodona, to complain to Jupiter, as he had been directed by Apollo ; that Jupiter replied, that he needed only to absent himself from Rome, and that Sextus declared, that he could not renounce the hope of acquiring possession of the crown. The high-priest is then described as inquiring of Jupiter, after the departure of Sextus, why he had not granted him a different will. Jupiter sent the high-priest to Athens to consult. Minerva, who shewed him the palace of the Destinies, containing a

representation of every possible universe, from the worst to the best. The bigh-priest perceived in the best the crime of Sextus, from which sprang the liberty of the Roman state, a government fruitful in virtues, an empire beneficial to a large portion of the human race; and he could urge no further objection. pp. 41, 42.

To the theory of Optimism, there are obvious and plausible objections, among which it has been suggested, that the system in question represents the Divine Being as himself trammelled by the necessity of ordaining that arrangement of human affairs, which approaches most nearly to perfection. To this, Malebranche could find no better reply, than the lame proposition, that` the Deity was at liberty to have not acted at all.' A better answer would have been, to concede the point without hesitation ; placing the argument in its true light, and admitting that the Supreme Being is so far under the control of his own infinite perfections, as to choose invariably that which is wisest and best Thus Hooker says very finely : The • Being of God is a kind of law to his working; for that per• fection which God is, giveth perfection to that he doth.' The principle of piety on which this system was established, was quite sufficient to discredit it among infidel philosophers; and Voltaire assailed it with that peculiar species of ridicule in which lay his forte. Condorcet proposed another scheme, and endeavoured to establish the doctrine of Perfectibility as the great secret of human nature. We entirely agree with Dr. Miller, that we are authorised to adopt both these principles within certain limits, in our general estimate of man and his history. It is, most unquestionabiy, the intention of Infinite Benevolence, from the moral chaos of the universe, to elicit ultimate good; and an accurate survey of the general course of events wiil satisfy the observer, that, notwithstanding frequent signs of retrogradation, there has been, from the begining, a traceable tendency to improvement in human affairs.

Availing himself of the labours of his predecessors in this important track of inquiry, as far as they may be suited to his purposes, Dr. Miller proposes to take a consistent view of one great section of the history of man, considered as constituting one great drama of the Divine government, all the parts • of which are, with a strict unity of action, subordinate and • conducive to the result. In his execution of this plan, he adopts a somewhat unusual course: instead of a minute induclion of particulars, and a gradual ascent to first principles, he begins by assuming the latter, and then establishes their accuracy by demonstrating their strict harmony with consequent events. When Newton had explained, by the theory of gravitation, the regular movements of the celestial bodies, he endeavoured to trace upward to the same principle, the minute and complicated perturbations consequent on the action and reaction of the different parts of the planetary system. In this difficult investigation he completely failed. His inferences from observed phenomena were at variance with the hypothesis, and insufficient for the explanation of the circumstances from which they were evolved. But when La Place adopted the opposite course, and, assuming the truth of the Newtonian theory, proceeded at once to ascertain the disorders which would naturally result from such a constitution, he arrived at results which were in precise accordance with actual observation. This is precisely the plan of Dr. Miller. In the second lecture, he arranges and adopts a regular classification of political causes, as inferred from their ascertained operation ; and then devotes the remaining sections of his work to an exami• nation of the results which have arisen from the diversified • combination of these causes, as they have affected the various nations of the world within the period of their modern

history. The different causes of political events are, according to Dr. M., reducible to six distinct classes : 1. General Causes ; 2. Local ; 3. Personal; 4. Adventitious; 5. Existing Institutions; and 6. External Compression. Now we confess that this arrangement appears to us altogether unscientific, and essentially deficient in that precision which is indispensible in systematic inquiries. For any thing that appears to the contrary, the whole of these classes may be merged in the first; and if not referrible to that, can only come under some head that may balance against it. The sole antagonist to general, is particular; and if a third class may be admitted, it can only be the fourth. On the scheme of classification adopted by Dr. M., majors and minors are confounded; and, instead of a simple distinction between primary and secondary causes, we have a scheme that baffles every attempt at specific discrimination. Why not divide influential causes into theoretical and circumstantial?-the first including all those regular motives and impulses which occur in the natural course of human operations; the second, all those incidental interferences which are irreducible to any invariable rule or order.

At this point, however, our most decided objections cease; for, though we are by no means prepared to agree with Dr. Miller in all his views and statements, we cheerfully give him the praise due to an able and learned man, who has employed himself to excellent purpose, in the skilful investigation of a difficult and most important subject. He writes well, and although we think he sometimes mistakes mere writing for effective illustration, he has thrown much light on obscure and

« AnteriorContinuar »