Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION V. An Abhorrence of Despotism and an ardent Love of Liberty perfectly consistent with Order and Tranquillity; and the natural Consequence of well-informed Understandings and benevolent Dispositions. - The Works of Vicesimus Knox, vol. 5
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SECTION V. An Abhorrence of Despotism and an ardent Love of Liberty perfectly consistent with Order and Tranquillity; and the natural Consequence of well-informed Understandings and benevolent Dispositions. - Vicesimus Knox, The Works of Vicesimus Knox, vol. 5 
The Works of Vicesimus Knox, D.D. with a Biographical Preface. In Seven Volumes (London: J. Mawman, 1824). Vol. 5.
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An Abhorrence of Despotism and an ardent Love of Liberty perfectly consistent with Order and Tranquillity; and the natural Consequence of well-informed Understandings and benevolent Dispositions.
Those who are possessed of exorbitant power, who pant for its extension, and tremble at the apprehension of losing it, are always sufficiently artful to dwell with emphasis, on the evils of licentiousness; under which opprobrious name, they wish to stigmatize liberty. They describe the horrors of anarchy and confusion, in the blackest colours; and boldly affirm that they are the necessary consequences of intrusting the people with power. Indeed, they hardly condescend to recognise the idea of a PEOPLE; but whenever they speak of the mass of the community, denominate them the mob, the rabble, or the swinish multitude. Language is at a loss for appellatives, significant of their contempt for those, who are undistinguished by wealth or titles, and is obliged to content itself with such words as reptiles, scum, dregs, or the many-headed monster.
Man, that noble animal, formed with powers capable of the sublimest virtues, possessed of reason, and tremulously alive to every finer feeling, is degraded by his fellow man, when drest in a little brief authority, to a rank below that of the beasts of the field; for the beasts of the field are not treated with epithets of contumely, but regarded with a degree of esteem. The proud man views the horses in his stable and the dogs in his kennel with affection, pampers them with food, lodges them in commodious habitations, and, at the same time, despises his fellow-creatures, scarcely fed, wretchedly clothed, and barely sheltered in the neighbouring cottage. And if this fellow-creature dares to remonstrate, his complaint is contumacy and sedition, and his endeavour to meliorate his own state and that of his peers, by the most lawful means, downright treason and rebellion.
Villainous oppression on one hand, and on the other, contemptible submission! If such acquiescence, under the most iniquitous inequality; such wretchedness, without the privilege of complaint, is the peace, the order, and the tranquillity of despotism; then peace, order, and tranquillity change their nature, and become the curse and bane of human nature. Welcome, in comparison, all the feuds, animosities, and revolutions attributed to a state of freedom; for they are symptoms of life and robust health, while the repose of despotism is the deadness of a palsy. Life, active, enterprising life, with all its tumult, disaster, and disappointment, is to be preferred to the silence of death, the stillness of desolation.
But I deny that a love of liberty, or a state of liberty, is of necessity productive of injurious or fatal disorder. I presuppose that the minds of the people, even the lowest of the people, are duly enlightened; that the savageness of gross ignorance is mitigated by culture; by that culture, which all well-regulated states are solicitous to bestow on every partaker of the rational faculty.
In a state of liberty, every man learns to value himself as man; to consider himself as of importance in the system which himself has approved and contributed to establish; and therefore resolves to regulate his own behaviour consistently with its safety and preservation. He feels as a proprietor, not as a tenant. He loves the state because he participates in it. His obedience is not the cold reluctant result of terror; but the lively, cheerful, and spontaneous effect of love. The violation of laws, formed on the pure principle of general beneficence, and to which he has given his full assent, by a just and perfect representation, he considers as a crime of the deepest die. He will think freely, and speak freely, of the constitution. He will incessantly endeavour to improve it; and enter seriously into all political debate. In the collision of agitated minds, sparks will sometimes be emitted; but they will only give a favourable light and a genial warmth. They will never produce an injurious conflagration.
What employment, in the busy scene in which man engages from the cradle to the tomb, is more worthy of him than political discussion? It affords a field for intellectual energy, and all the finest feelings of benevolence. It exercises and strengthens every faculty. It calls forth latent virtues, which else had slept in the bosom, like the diamond in the mine. And is this employment, thus useful and honourable, to be confined to a few among the race of mortals? Is there to be a monopoly of political action and speculation? Why then did heaven bestow reason and speech, powers of activity, and a spirit of enterprise, in as great perfection on the lowest among the people, as on those who, by no merit of their own, inherit wealth and high station? Heaven has declared its will by its acts. Man contravenes it; but time, and the progressive improvement of the understanding, will reduce the anomaly to its natural rectitude. And if a few irregularities should sometimes arise in the process, they are of no importance when weighed with the happy result; the return of distorted systems to truth, to reason, and the will of God. Occasional ferments, with all their inconveniencies, are infinitely preferable to the putrescence of stagnation. They are symptoms of health and vigour; and though they may be attended with transient pain, yet while they continue to appear at intervals, there is no danger of mortification. Good hearts, accompanied with good understandings, seldom produce, even where mistaken, lasting evil. They repair and compensate.
But I repeat that the people should be enlightened, in every rank, the highest as well as the lowest, to render them capable of perfect liberty, without danger of those evils which its enemies are always asserting to be its unavoidable consequences. The vulgar must be instructed not merely in the arts which tend to the acquisition, increase, and preservation of money, but in a generous philosophy. They must be liberalized. They must early learn to view human life and society in their just light; to consider themselves as essential parts of a whole, the integrity of which is desirable to every component member. Their taste will improve with their understanding; and they will see the beauty of order, while they are convinced of its utility. Thus principled by virtue, and illuminated with knowledge, they will eagerly return, after every deviation, which even a warmth of virtue may cause, to regular obedience, and to all the functions of citizens; valuing the public peace and prosperity, because they understand clearly that the public happiness is intimately combined with their own. They may infringe laws, from the imperfection of their nature; but they will return to their obedience without force; having been convinced that no laws are made, but such as are necessary to their well-being in society. They will consider laws, not as chains and fetters, but as helmets and shields for their protection. The light of the understanding will correct the eccentricities of the heart; and all deviations, however rapid at their commencement, will be short in extent and transitory in duration.
Such would be the effect of enlightening the people with political knowledge, and enlarging their minds by pure philosophy. But what say the despots? Like the tyrannical son of Philip, when he reprimanded Aristotle for publishing his Discoveries, they whisper to their myrmidons, “Let us diffuse darkness round the land.∗ Let the people be kept in a brutal state. Let their conduct, when assembled, be riotous and irrational as ignorance and our spies can make it, that they may be brought into discredit, and deemed unfit for the management of their own affairs. Let power be rendered dangerous in their hands, that it may continue unmolested in our own. Let them not taste the fruit of the tree of knowledge, lest they become as we are, and learn to know good and evil.”
That such are the sentiments of the men who wish for the extension of royalism and the depression of the people, is evident from the uneasiness they have shown at all benevolent attempts to diffuse knowledge among the poor. They have expressed, in terms of anger and mortification, their dislike of Sunday schools. The very newspapers which they have engaged in the service of falsehood and toryism, have endeavoured to discountenance, by malignant paragraphs, the progress of those patriotic institutions. Scribblers of books and pamphlets, in the same vile cause, have intimated their apprehensions that the poor may learn to read political books in learning to read their Bible; and that the reading of political books must unavoidably produce discontent. A wretched compliment to the cause which they mean to defend! It is impossible not to infer from their apprehensions, that as men increase in understanding and knowledge, they must see reason to disapprove the systems established. These men breathe the very spirit of despotism, and wish to communicate it. But their conduct, in this instance, is an argument against the spirit which they endeavour to diffuse. Their conduct seems to say, The spirit of despotism is so unreasonable, that it can never be approved by the mass of the people, when their reason is suffered to receive its proper cultivation. Their conduct seems to say, Let there be light, and the deformity of despotism will create abhorrence.
Be the consequence what it may, let the light of knowledge be diffused among all who partake of reason; and let us remember that it was theLord God Almighty who first said: Let There Be Light.
[∗]Σκοτισον, σκοτισον darken your doctrines, said the despot, Alexander, to the great philosopher.