« AnteriorContinuar »
But how far does this analogy between the human individual and the body politic hold good ? Limits it unquestionably has. Those passions which sway alike the state and the individual have the former under less thorough control. Fear is less paralysing: generosity and enthusiasm are less inspiring: the mighty collective mass is slower both in its sympathies and its repugnances. The human individual, again, presuming him to escape casual causes of death, is sure of dissolution in the ordinary course of nature within a certain space of time. But it is false to argue from this to similar conditions in the body politic. The body politic, well says Mr. Mill, may indeed die: but it dies of disease or violence, not of old age. That grand and beautiful relation which subsists between an old country and its offshoots which are settled beyond seas, has been the subject of a more pernicious misconception. What business, Burke had heard it gravely argued in Parliament, has a child to rebel against its parent, and therefore, what business have the Colonies to resist taxation from home? It is clear, therefore, that the analogy has its limits; perhaps very narrow ones.
The general question to which Burke's arguments belong is, When is a nation bound to go to war, and having once gone to war, when is it justified in making peace? Wars, said Burke, are suits to the tribunal of God's justice. That fearful tribunal is not to be lightly invoked. Justa bella quibus necessaria. A war is only just when it is also necessary; and it only becomes necessary when all other means of accomplishing its object have been tried, and have failed. War is to the community of nations what the ordinary means of justice are to single societies. It is clear that therefore nothing can banish it from the world which does not also banish international justice from the world. Those who say otherwise can scarcely impose even upon themselves. When diplomacy has failed, war is the sole means of obtaining redress among nations: and nations, in their own suits, fulfil the functions both of advocate and judge. Socially viewed, man has ceased to be judge in his own cause as soon as he has emerged from the Hobbesian state of nature. Here, then, the analogy of the state and the individual terminates. In the appeal to justice, states are burdened with a responsibility of which the individual now knows nothing. On the question of that justice itself, the analogy is still valid. Justice is either civil or criminal. To obtain his civil rights, a man has recourse to the law; he has recourse to the same law to protect himself from wrong by punishing the malefactor in such a way as shall deter generally from the commission of the offence. Criminal justice, in its true aspect, is strictly preventive: the murderer is sent to the gallows, not because he has murdered a man, but that men may not be murdered. Of vindictive or avenging justice, fully civilized society knows nothing. That form of justice, in the strict sense, has long been left by legislators to other and not less potent instruments; to social penalties, to the guilty conscience, and to the awful Power which says Vengeance is mine, I will repay.' Both these forms of justice have their analogies in that transcendent justice which a nation demands by making war. But England stands with regard to the appeal to war in a different relation from the rest of Europe: in a relation, indeed, so far as relates to offensive war, which may be described as intermediate between that of the rest of Europe and that of America. 'So far as relates to defensive war, the case is otherwise. Here England must fully realize and amply guard against the strategic dangers which are peculiar to her position. The relations of England with the rest of Europe differ widely from the relations among themselves of the nations which compose the rest of Europe. The physical cause, in Burke's phrase, is 'a slender dyke of five and twenty miles. This insular position has been the occasion, while other powerful elements have been the efficient causes, of England's vast commerce, and of England's naval superiority. England's interests lie less on the continent than on the sea-shore: her neighbours inhabit the coasts of the whole world. New York and Bombay are nearer to her than Paris and Vienna; disturbances in the highlands of India and China, war in the Drakenberg or the Rocky Mountains, touch her more nearly than such events at her own door as the annexation of Holstein, or the separation of Belgium and Holland. But her navy and her purse are tempting objects to the designing politicians of Europe: and happy is the European schemer who can make a cat's-paw of Great Britain. And there are a mean sort of Englishmen who are anxious that England should be ever huffing and swaggering in the councils of Europe, as if this great kingdom, with her six hundred years of national glory, with her splendid offshoots and dependencies on every habitable shore of the globe, were in continual peril of being cast into the shade by some brand-new Republic or Empire of yesterday. The difference between England and the rest of Europe is a difference in kind. The deduction which in Burke's time was drawn from this, and which in a modified form has survived all subsequent changes in the European system, was well expresssd by Waller, in his famous comparison of the situation of England to that of the mysterious powers of the air :
• Angels and we have this prerogative,
That none can at our happy seats arrive :
England was the natural arbitress of Europe. This position had been aspired to by Henry the Eighth: it had been seized by Elizabeth: it had been gloriously held by Cromwell : it had been extended and confirmed by William of Orange: within living memory it had been pushed to the utmost, amidst the plaudits of the world, by Chatham. To most Englishmen in those days the doctrine of Waller's lines was a matter not only of belief, but of sentiment. England was proudly conscious of being the supreme court of appeal in the transcendent lawsuits of Europe. Moral causes alone could put her mighty forces in motion: and these moral causes might lie not only in wrongs attempted on herself, but in those attempted on others. As to what England should construe as a wrong to herself, it was unnecessary to examine; it was sufficient that England was always able to make up her mind on the question when the contingency occurred. The question of the wrongs of others was more difficult. Now, both these questions were united in the case of the war with France. England had at her door a political nuisance which was fast spreading over Europe, and even propagating itself within England's own limits. Was England justified in going to war? In the circumstances, according to the standard maxims of eighty years ago, unquestionably she was.
By which of the different forms of justice enumerated by the philosophers was England's war with France justified ? Burke answered, in the first place, by the civil law itself. Suppose your neighbour's house to have been seized by a gang of thieves and assassins, who after murdering the owner, and driving out his family, settled into an organized gang of marauders, infesting the whole neighbourhood. From an obvious point of view, this is what France might be said to have done. Even if such a gang of thieves and assassins abstained from molesting yourself, and confined themselves for a time to attacking those who cccupied a less defensible position, was it a wise policy to let them go on confirming their position and adding to their strength, instead of doing your utmost to crush them at the outset? And intervention in France was, he thought, justifiable on much more limited grounds. Put the case in a much more modest way, Suppose your neighbour to have set up at your door a new erection in the nature of a nuisance. Were you not justified in taking immediate steps to abate it ? Clear as might be his right to do what he would with his own, the rights of ownership are regulated and restrained by the rights of vicinage. The court-leet of Christendom, the grand vicinage of Europe, were therefore bound to ascertain and to prevent any capital innovation which might amount to a dangerous nuisance. This was the ground that had been taken up in the famous Whitehall Declaration. All the surrounding powers, it was there said, had a right, and felt it a duty, to stop the progress of an evil which attacked the fundamental principles by which mankind were united in civil society.
Burke readily admitted great limitations to this right of making war upon a neighbouring nation for misgovernment. The evil to be attacked must have declared itself by something more than casual or temporary manifestations. It must be shown to be radicated in the nature of the thing itself: to be permanent in its action and constant in its effects: to be progressive, and not stationary; and to be curable by no other means than the knife. Burke had remarked that such communities existed in Europe long anterior to the French Republic. In one memorable passage in his book on the Revolution, he had denounced to the whole of the Christian world the barbarous and anarchic despotism of Turkey. Here was a power more barbarous and anarchic, more destructive, in its policy and in the tendency of its whole being, to the human race, than even the monstrous despotism of Turkey. It enjoyed a less advantageous position. It was a new wrong, and could plead no prescription. It had destroyed a great nation: that nation ought to be reinstated. It had discomposed Europe : Europe ought to be rearranged in its old relations. Of its doings, if left to itself, none could foresee the end : let another end then be put to them, and that right speedily.
Such had in a great measure been the grounds on which war with France had been resolved upon by the English cabinet in '92. But that resolution had beyond question been leavened by a less controllable element. Still more did that same element leaven the resolution with which England maintained her warlike attitude after the execution of Louis in '93. That element was the impulse to vindictive justice: the demand for the actual punishment of the regicides, the atheists, and the levellers. This fact Burke took small pains to conceal. When in '93 the fortunes of the Allies had given delusive hopes of success, he had even sketched out the limits to which retribution should proceed. He was totally opposed to an amnesty. He was for executing a stern vengeance on the regicides who had sat in the Convention : on those who had composed the Revolutionary Tribunal: on those who should be proved to have taken a leading part in acts of sacrilege : on the leaders of the Jacobin Clubs. Not one of these, he said, should escape his due punishment. He was not, indeed, for taking the lives of all. Justice ought to be tempered with mercy. “There would be deaths--but for the number of criminals, and the size of France, not many. The rest was to be done by transportation, by the galleys, in some cases by mere exile. And in fortifying this opinion by the example of the English restoration, Burke half apologized for the treachery of the monarch who after granting a general amnesty had sent more than one true English patriot to a cruel death. Here, then, we see what Burke regarded as one object of the war. The restoration of the monarchy and the church was to be followed by a Bloody Assize.
Was the war with France really justifiable on these grounds ? British public opinion soon cooled down to the conviction that it was not: and these 'second thoughts' are confirmed by the verdict of history. When these Letters were written, the war, in whatever spirit commenced, was not being waged as a Regicide War: the objection to peace was not Burke's repugnance to a Regicide Peace. That aspect of the question has ceased to be a practical one. It would have been as easy to reanimate the King's corpse, as to expel the Republic from France, and to reinstate