Front Page Titles (by Subject) VIII: MR. GOLDWIN SMITH'S IRISH HISTORY - The History of Freedom and Other Essays
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VIII: MR. GOLDWIN SMITH’S IRISH HISTORY - John Emerich Edward Dalberg, Lord Acton, The History of Freedom and Other Essays 
The History of Freedom and Other Essays, ed. John Neville Figgis and Reginald Vere Laurence (London: Macmillan, 1907).
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MR. GOLDWIN SMITH’S IRISH HISTORY1
When Macaulay republished his Essays from the Edinburgh Review, he had already commenced the great work by which his name will be remembered; and he had the prudence to exclude from the collection his early paper on the art of historical writing. In the maturity of his powers, he was rightly unwilling to bring into notice the theories of his youth. At a time when he was about to claim a place among the first historians, it would have been injudicious to remind men of the manner in which he had described the objects of his emulation or of his rivalry—how in his judgment the speeches of Thucydides violate the decencies of fiction, and give to his book something of the character of the Chinese pleasure-grounds, whilst his political observations are very superficial; how Polybius has no other merit than that of a faithful narrator of facts; and how in the nineteenth century, from the practice of distorting narrative in conformity with theory, “history proper is disappearing.” But in that essay, although the judgments are puerile, the ideal at which the writer afterwards aimed is distinctly drawn, and his own character is prefigured in the description of the author of a history of England as it ought to be, who “gives to truth those attractions which have been usurped by fiction,” “intersperses the details which are the charm of historical romances,” and “reclaims those materials which the novelist has appropriated.”
Mr. Goldwin Smith, like Macaulay, has written on the study of history, and he has been a keen critic of other historians before becoming one himself. It is a bold thing for a man to bring theory so near to execution, and, amidst dispute on his principles and resentment at his criticism, to give an opportunity of testing his theories by his own practice, and of applying his own canons to his performance. It reminds us of the professor of Cologne, who wrote the best Latin poem of modern times, as a model for his pupils; and of the author of an attack on Dryden’s Virgil, who is styled by Pope the “fairest of critics,” “because,” says Johnson, “he exhibited his own version to be compared with that which he condemned.” The work in which the professor of history and critic of historians teaches by example is not unworthy of his theory, whilst some of its defects may be explained by it.
The point which most closely connects Mr. Goldwin Smith’s previous writings with his Irish History is his vindication of a moral code against those who identify moral with physical laws, who consider the outward regularity with which actions are done to be the inward reason why they must be done, and who conceive that all laws are opposed to freedom. In his opposition to this materialism, he goes in one respect too far, in another not far enough.
On the one hand, whilst defending liberty and morality, he has not sufficient perception of the spiritual element; and on the other, he seems to fear that it would be a concession to his antagonists to dwell on the constant laws by which nature asserts herself, and on the regularity with which like causes produce like effects. Yet it is on the observation of these laws that political, social, and economical science rests; and it is by the knowledge of them that a scientific historian is guided in grouping his matter. In this he differs from the artist, whose principle of arrangement is drawn from himself, not from external nature; and from the annalist, who has no arrangement, since he sees, not the connection, but the succession of events. Facts are intelligible and instructive,—or, in other words, history exhibits truths as well as facts,—when they are seen not merely as they follow, but as they correspond; not merely as they have happened, but as they are paralleled. The fate of Ireland is to be understood not simply from the light of English and Irish history, but by the general history of other conquests, colonies, dependencies, and establishments. In this sort of illustration by analogy and contrast Mr. Goldwin Smith is particularly infelicitous. Nor does Providence gain what science loses by his treatment of history. He rejects materialism, but he confines his view to motives and forces which are purely human.
The Catholic Church receives, therefore, very imperfect measure at his hands. Her spiritual character and purpose he cannot discern behind the temporal instruments and appendages of her existence; he confounds authority with influence, devotion with bigotry, power with force of arms, and estimates the vigour and durability of Catholicism by criterions as material as those of the philosophers he has so vehemently and so ably refuted. Most Protestant writers fail in approbation; he fails in appreciation. It is not so much a religious feeling that makes him unjust, as a way of thinking which, in great measure, ignores the supernatural, and therefore precludes a just estimate of religion in general, and of Catholicism in particular. Hence he is unjust rather to the nature than to the actions of the Church. He caricatures more than he libels her. He is much less given to misrepresentation and calumny than Macaulay, but he has a less exalted idea of the history and character of Catholicism. As he underrates what is divine, so he has no very high standard for the actions of men, and he is liberal in admitting extenuating circumstances. Though he never suspends the severity of his moral judgment in consideration of the purpose or the result, yet he is induced by a variety of arguments to mitigate its rigour. In accordance with the theory he has formerly developed, he is constantly sitting in judgment; and he discusses the morality of men and actions far oftener than history—which has very different problems to solve—either requires or tolerates. De Maistre says that in our time compassion is reserved for the guilty. Mr. Goldwin Smith is a merciful judge, whose compassion generally increases in proportion to the greatness of the culprit; and he has a sympathy for what is done in the grand style, which balances his hatred of what is wrongly done.
It would not be fair to judge of an author’s notion and powers of research by a hasty and popular production. Mr. Goldwin Smith has collected quite enough information for the purpose for which he has used it, and he has not failed through want of industry. The test of solidity is not the quantity read, but the mode in which the knowledge has been collected and used. Method, not genius, or eloquence, or erudition, makes the historian. He may be discovered most easily by his use of authorities. The first question is, whether the writer understands the comparative value of sources of information, and has the habit of giving precedence to the most trustworthy informant. There are some vague indications that Mr. Goldwin Smith does not understand the importance of this fundamental rule. In his Inaugural Lecture, published two years ago, the following extravagant sentence occurs: “Before the Revolution, the fervour and the austerity of Rousseau had cast out from good society the levity and sensuality of Voltaire” (p. 15). This view—which he appears to have abandoned, for in his Irish History he tells us that France “has now become the eldest daughter of Voltaire”—he supports by a reference to an abridgment of French history, much and justly esteemed in French schools, but, like all abridgments, not founded on original knowledge, and disfigured by exaggeration in the colouring. Moreover, the passage he refers to has been misinterpreted. In the Irish History Mr. Goldwin Smith quotes, for the character of the early Celts, without any sufficient reason, another French historian, Martin, who has no great authority, and the younger Thierry, who has none at all. This is a point of very little weight by itself; but until our author vindicates his research by other writings, it is not in his favour.
The defects of Mr. Goldwin Smith’s historic art, his lax criticism, his superficial acquaintance with foreign countries, his occasional proneness to sacrifice accuracy for the sake of rhetorical effect, his aversion for spiritual things, are all covered by one transcendent merit, which, in a man of so much ability, promises great results.
Writers the most learned, the most accurate in details, and the soundest in tendency, frequently fall into a habit which can neither be cured nor pardoned,—the habit of making history into the proof of their theories. The absence of a definite didactic purpose is the only security for the good faith of a historian. This most rare virtue Mr. Goldwin Smith possesses in a high degree. He writes to tell the truths he finds, not to prove the truths which he believes. In character and design he is eminently truthful and fair, though not equally so in execution. His candour never fails him, and he is never betrayed by his temper; yet his defective knowledge of general history, and his crude notions of the Church, have made him write many things which are untrue, and some which are unjust. Prejudice is in all men of such early growth, and so difficult to eradicate, that it becomes a misfortune rather than a reproach, especially if it is due to ignorance and not to passion, and if it has not its seat in the will. In the case of Mr. Goldwin Smith it is of the curable and harmless kind. The fairness of his intention is far beyond his knowledge. When he is unjust, it is not from hatred; where he is impartial, it is not always from the copiousness of his information. His prejudices are of a nature which his ability and honesty will in time inevitably overcome.
The general result and moral of his book is excellent. He shows that the land-question has been from the beginning the great difficulty in Ireland; and he concludes with a condemnation of the Established Church, and a prophecy of its approaching fall. The weakness of Ireland and the guilt of England are not disguised; and the author has not written to stimulate the anger of one nation or to attenuate the remorse of the other. To both he gives wise and statesman-like advice, that may soon be very opportune. The first American war was the commencement of the deliverance of Ireland, and it may be that a new American war will complete the work of regeneration which the first began. Agreeing as we do with the policy of the author, and admiring the spirit of his book, we shall not attempt either to enforce or to dispute his conclusions, and we shall confine our remarks to less essential points on which he appears to us in the wrong.
There are several instances of inaccuracy and negligence which, however trivial in themselves, tend to prove that the author is not always very scrupulous in speaking of things he has not studied. A purist so severe as to write “Kelt” for “Celt” ought not to call Mercury, originally a very different personage from Hermes, one of “the legendary authors of Greek civilisation” (p. 43); and we do not believe that anybody who had read the writings of the two primates could call Bramhall “an inferior counterpart of Laud” (p. 105). In a loftier mood, and therefore apparently with still greater license, Mr. Goldwin Smith declares that “the glorious blood of Orange could scarcely have run in a low persecutor’s veins” (p. 123). The blood of Orange ran in the veins of William the Silent, the threefold hypocrite, who confessed Catholicism whilst he hoped to retain his influence at court, Lutheranism when there was a chance of obtaining assistance from the German princes, Calvinism when he was forced to resort to religion in order to excite the people against the crown, and who persecuted the Protestants in Orange and the Catholics in Holland. These, however, are matters of no consequence whatever in a political history of Ireland; but we find ourselves at issue with the author on the important question of political freedom. “Even the highly civilised Kelt of France, familiar as he is with theories of political liberty, seems almost incapable of sustaining free institutions. After a moment of constitutional government, he reverts, with a bias which the fatalist might call irresistible, to despotism in some form” (p. 18). The warning so frequently uttered by Burke in his last years, to fly from the liberty of France, is still more needful now that French liberty has exhibited itself in a far more seductive light. The danger is more subtle, when able men confound political forms with popular rights. France has never been governed by a Constitution since 1792, if by a Constitution is meant a definite rule and limitation of the governing power. It is not that the French failed to preserve the forms of parliamentary government, but that those forms no more implied freedom than the glory which the Empire has twice given in their stead. It is a serious fault in our author that he has not understood so essential a distinction. Has he not read the Rights of Man, by Tom Paine? —
It is not because a part of the government is elective that makes it less a despotism, if the persons so elected possess afterwards, as a parliament, unlimited powers. Election, in this case, becomes separated from representation, and the candidates are candidates for despotism.1
Napoleon once consulted the cleverest among the politicians who served him, respecting the durability of some of his institutions. “Ask yourself,” was the answer, “what it would cost you to destroy them. If the destruction would cost no effort, you have created nothing; for politically, as well as physically, only that which resists endures.” In the year 1802 the same great writer said: “Nothing is more pernicious in a monarchy than the principles and the forms of democracy, for they allow no alternative, but despotism and revolutions.” With the additional experience of half a century, a writer not inferior to the last repeats exactly the same idea:—
Of all societies in the world, those which will always have most difficulty in permanently escaping absolute government will be precisely those societies in which aristocracy is no more, and can no more be.1
French constitutionalism was but a form by which the absence of self-government was concealed. The State was as despotic under Villèle or Guizot as under either of the Bonapartes. The Restoration fenced itself round with artificial creations, having no root in the condition or in the sympathies of the people; these creations simply weakened it by making it unpopular. The hereditary peerage was an anomaly in a country unused to primogeniture, and so was the revival, in a nation of sceptics, of the Gallican union between Church and State. The monarchy of July, which was more suited to the nature of French society, and was thus enabled to crush a series of insurrections, was at last forced, by its position and by the necessity of self-preservation, to assume a very despotic character. After the fortifications of Paris were begun, a tendency set in which, under a younger sovereign, would have led to a system hardly distinguishable from that which now prevails; and there are princes in the House of Orleans whose government would develop the principle of democracy in a manner not very remote from the institutions of the second Empire. It is liberalism more than despotism that is opposed to liberty in France; and it is a most dangerous error to imagine that the Governments of the French Charter really resemble ours. There are States without any parliament at all, whose principles and fundamental institutions are in much closer harmony with our system of autonomy. Mr. Goldwin Smith sees half the truth, that there is something in the French nation which incapacitates it for liberty; but he does not see that what they have always sought, and sometimes enjoyed, is not freedom; that their liberty must diminish in proportion as their ideal is attained; and that they are not yet familiar with the theory of political rights. With this false notion of what constitutes liberty, it is not surprising that he should repeatedly dwell on its connection with Protestantism, and talk of “the political liberty which Protestantism brought in its train” (p. 120). Such phrases may console a Protestant reader of a book fatal to the Protestant ascendency in Ireland; but as there are no arguments in support of them, and as they are strangely contradicted by the facts in the context, Mr. Goldwin Smith resorts to the ingenious artifice of calling to mind as many ugly stories about Catholics as he can. The notion constantly recurs that, though the Protestants were very wicked in Ireland, it was against their principles and general practice, and is due to the Catholics, whose system naturally led them to be tyrannical and cruel, and thus provoked retaliation. Mr. Smith might have been reminded by Peter Plymley that when Protestantism has had its own way it has uniformly been averse to freedom: “What has Protestantism done for liberty in Denmark, in Sweden, throughout the north of Germany, and in Prussia?”—not much less than democracy has done in France. An admirer of the constitutions of 1791, 1814, or 1830 may be excused if he is not very severe on the absolutism of Protestant countries.
Mr. Goldwin Smith mistakes the character of the invasion of Ireland because he has not understood the relative position of the civilisation of the two countries at the time when it occurred. That of the Celts was in many respects more refined than that of the Normans. The Celts are not among the progressive, initiative races, but among those which supply the materials rather than the impulse of history, and are either stationary or retrogressive. The Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, and the Teutons are the only makers of history, the only authors of advancement. Other races possessing a highly developed language, a copious literature, a speculative religion, enjoying luxury and art, attain to a certain pitch of cultivation which they are unable either to communicate or to increase. They are a negative element in the world; sometimes the barrier, sometimes the instrument, sometimes the material of those races to whom it is given to originate and to advance. Their existence is either passive, or reactionary and destructive, when, after intervening like the blind forces of nature, they speedily exhibit their uncreative character, and leave others to pursue the course to which they have pointed. The Chinese are a people of this kind. They have long remained stationary, and succeeded in excluding the influences of general history. So the Hindoos; being Pantheists, they have no history of their own, but supply objects for commerce and for conquest. So the Huns, whose appearance gave a sudden impetus to a stagnant world. So the Slavonians, who tell only in the mass, and whose influence is ascertainable sometimes by adding to the momentum of active forces, sometimes by impeding through inertness the progress of mankind.
To this class of nations also belong the Celts of Gaul. The Roman and the German conquerors have not altered their character as it was drawn two thousand years ago. They have a history, but it is not theirs; their nature remains unchanged, their history is the history of the invaders. The revolution was the revival of the conquered race, and their reaction against the creations of their masters. But it has been cunning only to destroy; it has not given life to one constructive idea, or durability to one new institution; and it has exhibited to the world an unparalleled political incapacity, which was announced by Burke, and analysed by Tocqueville, in works which are the crowning pieces of two great literatures.
The Celts of these islands, in like manner, waited for a foreign influence to set in action the rich treasure which in their own hands could be of no avail. Their language was more flexible, their poetry and music more copious, than those of the Anglo-Normans. Their laws, if we may judge from those of Wales, display a society in some respects highly cultivated. But, like the rest of that group of nations to which they belong, there was not in them the incentive to action and progress which is given by the consciousness of a part in human destiny, by the inspiration of a high idea, or even by the natural development of institutions. Their life and literature were aimless and wasteful. Without combination or concentration, they had no star to guide them in an onward course; and the progress of dawn into day was no more to them than to the flocks and to the forests.
Before the Danish wars, and the decay, which is described by St. Bernard in terms which must not be taken quite literally, had led to the English invasion, there was probably as much material, certainly as much spiritual, culture in Ireland as in any country in the West; but there was not that by whose sustaining force alone these things endure, by which alone the place of nations in history is determined—there was no political civilisation. The State did not keep pace with the progress of society. This is the essential and decisive inferiority of the Celtic race, as conspicuous among the Irish in the twelfth century as among the French in our own. They gave way before the higher political aptitude of the English.
The issue of an invasion is generally decided by this political aptitude, and the consequences of conquest always depend on it. Subjection to a people of a higher capacity for government is of itself no misfortune; and it is to most countries the condition of their political advancement. The Greeks were more highly cultivated than the Romans, the Gauls than the Franks; yet in both cases the higher political intelligence prevailed. For a long time the English had, perhaps, no other superiority over the Irish; yet this alone would have made the conquest a great blessing to Ireland, but for the separation of the races. Conquering races necessarily bring with them their own system of government, and there is no other way of introducing it. A nation can obtain political education only by dependence on another. Art, literature, and science may be communicated by the conquered to the conqueror; but government can be taught only by governing, therefore only by the governors; politics can only be learnt in this school. The most uncivilised of the barbarians, whilst they slowly and imperfectly learned the arts of Rome, at once remodelled its laws. The two kinds of civilisation, social and political, are wholly unconnected with each other. Either may subsist, in high perfection, alone. Polity grows like language, and is part of a people’s nature, not dependent on its will. One or the other can be developed, modified, corrected; but they cannot be subverted or changed by the people itself without an act of suicide. Organic change, if it comes at all, must come from abroad. Revolution is a malady, a frenzy, an interruption of the nation’s growth, sometimes fatal to its existence, often to its independence. In this case revolution, by making the nation subject to others, may be the occasion of a new development. But it is not conceivable that a nation should arbitrarily and spontaneously cast off its history, reject its traditions, abrogate its law and government, and commence a new political existence.
Nothing in the experience of ages, or in the nature of man, allows us to believe that the attempt of France to establish a durable edifice on the ruins of 1789, without using the old materials, can ever succeed, or that she can ever emerge from the vicious circle of the last seventy years, except by returning to the principle which she then repudiated, and by admitting, that if States would live, they must preserve their organic connection with their origin and history, which are their root and their stem; that they are not voluntary creations of human wisdom; and that men labour in vain who would construct them without acknowledging God as the artificer.
Theorists who hold it to be a wrong that a nation should belong to a foreign State are therefore in contradiction with the law of civil progress. This law, or rather necessity, which is as absolute as the law that binds society together, is the force which makes us need one another, and only enables us to obtain what we need on terms, not of equality, but of dominion and subjection, in domestic, economic, or political relations. The political theory of nationality is in contradiction with the historic nation. Since a nation derives its ideas and instincts of government, as much as its temperament and its language, from God, acting through the influences of nature and of history, these ideas and instincts are originally and essentially peculiar to it, and not separable from it; they have no practical value in themselves when divided from the capacity which corresponds to them. National qualities are the incarnations of political ideas. No people can receive its government from another without receiving at the same time the ministers of government. The workman must travel with the work. Such changes can only be accomplished by submission to a foreign State, or to another race. Europe has seen two great instances of such conquests, extending over centuries,—the Roman Empire, and the settlement of the barbarians in the West. This it is which gives unity to the history of the Middle Ages. The Romans established a universal empire by subjecting all countries to the authority of a single power. The barbarians introduced into all a single system of law, and thus became the instrument of a universal Church. The same spirit of freedom, the same notions of the State, pervade all the Leges Barbarorum, and all the polities they founded in Europe and Asia. They differ widely in the surrounding conditions, in the state of society, in the degree of advancement, in almost all external things. The principle common to them all is to acknowledge the freedom of the Church as a corporation and a proprietor, and in virtue of the principle of self-government to allow religion to develop her influence in the State. The great migration which terminated in the Norman conquests and in the Crusades gave the dominion of the Latin world to the Teutonic chivalry, and to the Church her proper place. All other countries sank into despotism, into schism, and at last into barbarism, under the Tartars or the Turks. The union between the Teutonic races and the Holy See was founded on their political qualities more than on their religious fervour. In modern times, the most pious Catholics have often tyrannised over the Church. In the Middle Ages her liberty was often secured and respected where her spiritual injunctions were least obeyed.
The growth of the feudal system coinciding with the general decay of morals led, in the eleventh century, to new efforts of the Church to preserve her freedom. The Holy See was delivered from the Roman factions by the most illustrious of the emperors, and a series of German Popes commenced the great reform. Other princes were unwilling to submit to the authority of the imperial nominees, and the kings of France and Castile showed symptoms of resistance, in which they were supported by the heresy of Berengarius. The conduct of Henry IV. delivered the Church from the patronage of the Empire, whilst the Normans defended her against the Gallican tendencies and the feudal tyranny. In Sicily, the Normans consented to hold their power from the Pope; and in Normandy, Berengarius found a successful adversary, and the King of France a vassal who compelled him to abandon his designs. The chaplain of the Conqueror describes his government in terms which show how singularly it fulfilled the conditions which the Church requires. He tells us that William established in Normandy a truly Christian order; that every village, town, and castle enjoyed its own privileges; and that, while other princes either forbade the erection of churches or seized their endowments, he left his subjects free to make pious gifts. In his reign and by his conduct the word “bigot” ceased to be a term of reproach, and came to signify what we now should call “ultramontane.” He was the foremost of those Normans who were called by the Holy See to reclaim what was degenerate, and to renovate the declining States of the North.
Where the Church addressed herself to the conversion of races of purely Teutonic origin, as in Scandinavia, her missionaries achieved the work. In other countries, as in Poland and Hungary, political dependence on the Empire was the channel and safeguard of her influence. The Norman conquest of England and of Ireland differs from all of these. In both islands the faith had been freely preached, adopted, and preserved. The rulers and the people were Catholic. The last Saxon king who died before the Conquest was a saint. The last archbishop of Dublin appointed before the invasion was a saint. Neither of the invasions can be explained simply by the demoralisation of the clergy, or by the spiritual destitution of the people.
Catholicism spreads among the nations, not only as a doctrine, but as an institution. “The Church,” says Mr. Goldwin Smith, “is not a disembodied spirit, but a spirit embodied in human society.” Her teaching is directed to the inner man, and is confined to the social order; but her discipline touches on the political. She cannot permanently ignore the acts and character of the State, or escape its notice. Whilst she preaches submission to authorities ordained by God, her nature, not her interest, compels her to exert an involuntary influence upon them. The jealousy so often exhibited by governments is not without reason, for the free action of the Church is the test of the free constitution of the State; and without such free constitution there must necessarily ensue either persecution or revolution. Between the settled organisation of Catholicism and every form of arbitrary power, there is an incompatibility which must terminate in conflict. In a State which possesses no security for authority or freedom, the Church must either fight or succumb. Now, as authority and freedom, the conditions of her existence, can only be obtained through the instrumentality of certain nations, she depends on the aid of these nations. Religion alone cannot civilise men, or secure its own conquest. It promotes civilisation where it has power; but it has not power where its way is not prepared. Its civilising influence is chiefly indirect, and acts by its needs and wants as much as by the fulness of its ideas. So Christianity extends itself by the aid of the secular power, relying, not on the victories of Christian arms, but on the progress of institutions and ideas that harmonise with ecclesiastical freedom. Hence, those who have most actively served the interests of the Church are not always those who have been most faithful to her doctrines. The work which the Goth and the Frank had done on the continent of Europe the Normans came to do in England, where it had been done before but had failed, and in Ireland, where neither Roman nor German influences had entered.
Thus the theory of nationality, unknown to Catholic ages, is inconsistent both with political reason and with Christianity, which requires the dominion of race over race, and whose path was made straight by two universal empires. The missionary may outstrip, in his devoted zeal, the progress of trade or of arms; but the seed that he plants will not take root, unprotected by those ideas of right and duty which first came into the world with the tribes who destroyed the civilisation of antiquity, and whose descendants are in our day carrying those ideas to every quarter of the world. It was as impossible to realise in Ireland the mediæval notions of ecclesiastical liberty without a great political reform, as to put an end to the dissolution of society and the feuds of princes without the authority of a supreme lord.
There is one institution of those days to which Mr. Goldwin Smith has not done entire justice.
It is needless to say that the Eric, or pecuniary composition for blood, in place of capital or other punishment, which the Brehon law sanctioned, is the reproach of all primitive codes, and of none. It is the first step from the license of savage revenge to the ordered justice of a regular law (p. 41).
Pecuniary composition for blood belongs to an advanced period of defined and regular criminal jurisprudence. In the lowest form of civil society, when the State is not yet distinct from the family, the family is compelled to defend itself; and the only protection of society is the vendetta. It is the private right of self-defence combined with the public office of punishment, and therefore not only a privilege but an obligation. The whole family is bound to avenge the injury; but the duty rests first of all with the heir. Precedency in the office of avenger is naturally connected with a first claim in inheritance; and the succession to property is determined by the law of revenge. This leads both to primogeniture, because the eldest son is most likely to be capable of punishing the culprit; and, for the same reason, to modifications of primogeniture, by the preference of the brother before the grandson, and of the male line before the female. A practice which appears barbarous is, therefore, one of the foundations of civilisation, and the origin of some of the refinements of law. In this state of society there is no distinction between civil and criminal law; an injury is looked upon as a private wrong, not, as religion considers it, a sin, or, as the State considers it, a crime.
Something very similar occurs in feudal society. Here all the barons were virtually equal to each other, and without any superior to punish their crimes or to avenge their wrongs. They were, therefore, compelled to obtain safety or reparation, like sovereigns, by force of arms. What war is among States, the feud is in feudal society, and the vengeance of blood in societies not yet matured into States—a substitute for the fixed administration of justice.
The assumption of this duty by the State begins with the recognisance of acts done against the State itself. At first, political crimes alone are visited with a public penalty; private injuries demand no public expiation, but only satisfaction of the injured party. This appears in its most rudimentary form in the lex talionis. Society requires that punishment should be inflicted by the State, in order to prevent continual disorders. If the injured party could be satisfied, and his duty fulfilled without inflicting on the criminal an injury corresponding to that which he had done, society was obviously the gainer. At first it was optional to accept or to refuse satisfaction; afterwards it was made obligatory.
Where property was so valuable that its loss was visited on the life or limb of the robber, and injuries against property were made a question of life and death, it soon followed that injury to life could be made a question of payment. To expiate robbery by death, and to expiate murder by the payment of a fine, are correlative ideas. Practically this custom often told with a barbarous inequality against those who were too poor to purchase forgiveness; but it was otherwise both just and humane in principle, and it was generally encouraged by the Church. For in her eyes the criminal was guilty of an act of which it was necessary that he should repent; this made her desire, not his destruction, but his conversion. She tried, therefore, to save his life, and to put an end to revenge, mutilation, and servitude; and for all this the alternative was compensation. This purpose was served by the right of asylum. The Church surrendered the fugitive only on condition that his life and person should be spared in consideration of a lawful fine, which she often paid for him herself. “Concedatur ei vita et omnia membra. Emendat autem causam in quantum potuerit,” says a law of Charlemagne, given in the year 785, when the influence of religion on legislation was most powerful in Europe.
No idea occurs more frequently in the work we are reviewing than that of the persecuting character of the Catholic Church; it is used as a perpetual apology for the penal laws in Ireland:—
“When the Catholics writhe under this wrong, let them turn their eyes to the history of Catholic countries, and remember that, while the Catholic Church was stripped of her endowments and doomed to political degradation by Protestant persecutors in Ireland, the Protestant churches were exterminated with fire and sword by Catholic persecutors in France, Austria, Flanders, Italy, and Spain” (p. 92). He speaks of Catholicism as “a religion which all Protestants believed to be idolatrous, and knew by fearful experience to be persecuting” (p. 113). “It would not be difficult to point to persecuting laws more sanguinary than these. Spain, France, and Austria will at once supply signal examples. . . . That persecution was the vice of an age and not only of a particular religion, that it disgraced Protestantism as well as Catholicism, is true. But no one who reads the religious history of Europe with an open mind can fail to perceive that the persecutions carried on by Protestants were far less bloody and less extensive than those carried on by Catholics; that they were more frequently excusable as acts of retaliation; that they arose more from political alarm, and less from the spirit of the religion; and that the temper of their authors yielded more rapidly to the advancing influence of humanity and civilisation” (pp. 127, 129).
All these arguments are fallacies; but as the statements at the same time are full of error, we believe that the author is wrong because he has not studied the question, not because he has designed to misrepresent it. The fact that he does not distinguish from each other the various kinds and occasions of persecution, proves that he is wholly ignorant of the things with which it is connected.
Persecution is the vice of particular religions, and the misfortune of particular stages of political society. It is the resource by which States that would be subverted by religious liberty escape the more dangerous alternative of imposing religious disabilities. The exclusion of a part of the community by reason of its faith from the full benefit of the law is a danger and disadvantage to every State, however highly organised its constitution may otherwise be. But the actual existence of a religious party differing in faith from the majority is dangerous only to a State very imperfectly organised. Disabilities are always a danger. Multiplicity of religions is only dangerous to States of an inferior type. By persecution they rid themselves of the peculiar danger which threatens them, without involving themselves in a system universally bad. Persecution comes naturally in a certain period of the progress of society, before a more flexible and comprehensive system has been introduced by that advance of religion and civilisation whereby Catholicism gradually penetrates into hostile countries, and Christian powers acquire dominion over infidel populations. Thus it is the token of an epoch in the political, religious, and intellectual life of mankind, and it disappears with its epoch, and with the advance of the Church militant in her Catholic vocation. Intolerance of dissent and impatience of contradiction are a characteristic of youth. Those that have no knowledge of the truth that underlies opposite opinions, and no experience of their consequent force, cannot believe that men are sincere in holding them. At a certain point of mental growth, tolerance implies indifference, and intolerance is inseparable from sincerity. Thus intolerance, in itself a defect, becomes in this case a merit. Again, although the political conditions of intolerance belong to the youth and immaturity of nations, the motives of intolerance may at any time be just and the principle high. For the theory of religious unity is founded on the most elevated and truest view of the character and function of the State, on the perception that its ultimate purpose is not distinct from that of the Church. In the pagan State they were identified; in the Christian world the end remains the same, but the means are different.
The State aims at the things of another life but indirectly. Its course runs parallel to that of the Church; they do not converge. The direct subservience of the State to religious ends would imply despotism and persecution just as much as the pagan supremacy of civil over religious authority. The similarity of the end demands harmony in the principles, and creates a decided antagonism between the State and a religious community whose character is in total contradiction with it. With such religions there is no possibility of reconciliation. A State must be at open war with any system which it sees would prevent it from fulfilling its legitimate duties. The danger, therefore, lies not in the doctrine, but in the practice. But to the pagan and to the mediæval State, the danger was in the doctrine. The Christians were the best subjects of the emperor, but Christianity was really subversive of the fundamental institutions of the Roman Empire. In the infancy of the modern States, the civil power required all the help that religion could give in order to establish itself against the lawlessness of barbarism and feudal dissolution. The existence of the State at that time depended on the power of the Church. When, in the thirteenth century, the Empire renounced this support, and made war on the Church, it fell at once into a number of small sovereignties. In those cases persecution was self-defence. It was wrongly defended as an absolute, not as a conditional principle; but such a principle was false only as the modern theory of religious liberty is false. One was a wrong generalisation from the true character of the State; the other is a true conclusion from a false notion of the State. To say that because of the union between Church and State it is right to persecute, would condemn all toleration; and to say that the objects of the State have nothing to do with religion, would condemn all persecution. But persecution and toleration are equally true in principle, considered politically; only one belongs to a more highly developed civilisation than the other. At one period toleration would destroy society; at another, persecution is fatal to liberty. The theory of intolerance is wrong only if founded absolutely upon religious motives; but even then the practice of it is not necessarily censurable. It is opposed to the Christian spirit, in the same manner as slavery is opposed to it. The Church prohibits neither intolerance nor slavery, though in proportion as her influence extends, and civilisation advances, both gradually disappear.
Unity and liberty are the only legitimate principles on which the position of a Church in a State can be regulated, but the distance between them is immeasurable, and the transition extremely difficult. To pass from religious unity to religious liberty is to effect a complete inversion in the character of the State, a change in the whole spirit of legislation, and a still greater revolution in the minds and habits of men. So great a change seldom happens all at once. The law naturally follows the condition of society, which does not suddenly change. An intervening stage from unity to liberty, a compromise between toleration and persecution, is a common but irrational, tyrannical, and impolitic arrangement. It is idle to talk of the guilt of persecution, if we do not distinguish the various principles on which religious dissent can be treated by the State. The exclusion of other religions — the system of Spain, of Sweden, of Mecklenburg, Holstein, and Tyrol — is reasonable in principle, though practically untenable in the present state of European society. The system of expulsion or compulsory conformity, adopted by Lewis XIV. and the Emperor Nicholas, is defensible neither on religious nor political grounds. But the system applied to Ireland, which uses religious disabilities for the purpose of political oppression,1 stands alone in solitary infamy among the crimes and follies of the rulers of men.
The acquisition of real definite freedom is a very slow and tardy process. The great social independence enjoyed in the early periods of national history is not yet political freedom. The State has not yet developed its authority, or assumed the functions of government. A period follows when all the action of society is absorbed by the ruling power, when the license of early times is gone, and the liberties of a riper age are not yet acquired. These liberties are the product of a long conflict with absolutism, and of a gradual development, which, by establishing definite rights revives in positive form the negative liberty of an unformed society. The object and the result of this process is the organisation of self-government, the substitution of right for force, of authority for power, of duty for necessity, and of a moral for a physical relation between government and people. Until this point is reached, religious liberty is an anomaly. In a State which possesses all power and all authority there is no room for the autonomy of religious communities. Those States, therefore, not only refuse liberty of conscience, but deprive the favoured Church of ecclesiastical freedom. The principles of religious unity and liberty are so opposed that no modern State has at once denied toleration and allowed freedom to its established Church. Both of these are unnatural in a State which rejects self-government, the only secure basis of all freedom, whether religious or political. For religious freedom is based on political liberty; intolerance, therefore, is a political necessity against all religions which threaten the unity of faith in a State that is not free, and in every State against those religions which threaten its existence. Absolute intolerance belongs to the absolute State; special persecution may be justified by special causes in any State. All mediæval persecution is of the latter kind, for the sects against which it was directed were revolutionary parties. The State really defended, not its religious unity, but its political existence.
If the Catholic Church was naturally inclined to persecute, she would persecute in all cases alike, when there was no interest to serve but her own. Instead of adapting her conduct to circumstances, and accepting theories according to the character of the time, she would have developed a consistent theory out of her own system, and would have been most severe when she was most free from external influences, from political objects, or from temporary or national prejudices. She would have imposed a common rule of conduct in different countries in different ages, instead of submitting to the exigencies of each time and place. Her own rule of conduct never changed. She treats it as a crime to abandon her, not to be outside her. An apostate who returns to her has a penance for his apostasy; a heretic who is converted has no penance for his heresy. Severity against those who are outside her fold is against her principles. Persecution is contrary to the nature of a universal Church; it is peculiar to the national Churches.
While the Catholic Church by her progress in freedom naturally tends to push the development of States beyond the sphere where they are still obliged to preserve the unity of religion, and whilst she extends over States in all degrees of advancement, Protestantism, which belongs to a particular age and state of society, which makes no claim to universality, and which is dependent on political connection, regards persecution, not as an accident, but as a duty.
Wherever Protestantism prevailed, intolerance became a principle of State, and was proclaimed in theory even where the Protestants were in a minority, and where the theory supplied a weapon against themselves. The Reformation made it a general law, not only against Catholics by way of self-defence or retaliation, but against all who dissented from the reformed doctrines, whom it treated, not as enemies, but as criminals,—against the Protestant sects, against Socinians, and against atheists. It was not a right, but a duty; its object was to avenge God, not to preserve order. There is no analogy between the persecution which preserves and the persecution which attacks; or between intolerance as a religious duty, and intolerance as a necessity of State. The Reformers unanimously declared persecution to be incumbent on the civil power; and the Protestant Governments universally acted upon their injunctions, until scepticism escaped the infliction of penal laws and condemned their spirit.
Doubtless, in the interest of their religion, they acted wisely. Freedom is not more decidedly the natural condition of Catholicism than intolerance is of Protestantism; which by the help of persecution succeeded in establishing itself in countries where it had no root in the affections of the people, and in preserving itself from the internal divisions which follow free inquiry. Toleration has been at once a cause and an effect of its decline. The Catholic Church, on the other hand, supported the mediæval State by religious unity, and has saved herself in the modern State by religious freedom. No longer compelled to devise theories in justification of a system imposed on her by the exigencies of half-organised societies, she is enabled to revert to a policy more suited to her nature and to her most venerable traditions; and the principle of liberty has already restored to her much of that which the principle of unity took away. It was not, as our author imagines (p. 119), by the protection of Lewis XIV. that she was formidable; nor is it true that in consequence of the loss of temporalities, “the chill of death is gathering round the heart of the great theocracy” (p. 94); nor that “the visible decline of the papacy” is at hand because it no longer wields “the more efficacious arms of the great Catholic monarchies” (p. 190).
The same appeal to force, the same principles of intolerance which expelled Catholicism from Protestant countries, gave rise in Catholic countries to the growth of infidelity. The Revolutions of 1789 in France, and of 1859 in Italy, attest the danger of a practice which requires for its support the doctrines of another religion, or the circumstances of a different age. Not till the Church had lost those props in which Mr. Goldwin Smith sees the secret of her power, did she recover her elasticity and her expansive vigour. Catholics may have learnt this truth late, but Protestants, it appears, have yet to learn it.
In one point Mr. Goldwin Smith is not so very far from the views of the Orange party. He thinks, indeed, that the Church is no longer dangerous, and would not therefore have Catholics maltreated; but this is due, not to her merits, but to her weakness.
Popes might now be as willing as ever, if they had the power, to step between a Protestant State and the allegiance of its subjects (p. 190).
Mr. Smith seems to think that the Popes claim the same authority over the rulers of a Protestant State that they formerly possessed over the princes of Catholic countries. Yet this political power of the Holy See was never a universal right of jurisdiction over States, but a special and positive right, which it is as absurd to censure as to fear or to regret at the present time. Directly, it extended only over territories which were held by feudal tenure of the Pope, like the Sicilian monarchy. Elsewhere the authority was indirect, not political but religious, and its political consequences were due to the laws of the land. The Catholic countries would no more submit to a king not of their communion than Protestant countries, England for instance, or Denmark. This is as natural and inevitable in a country where the whole population is of one religion, as it is artificial and unjust in a country where no sort of religious unity prevails, and where such a law might compel the sovereign to be of the religion of the minority.
At any rate, nobody who thinks it reasonable that any prince abandoning the Established Church should forfeit the English throne, can complain of a law which compelled the sovereign to be of the religion, not of a majority, but of the whole of his subjects. The idea of the Pope stepping between a State and the allegiance of its subjects is a mere misapprehension. The instrument of his authority is the law, and the law resides in the State. The Pope could intervene, therefore, only between the State and the occupant of the throne; and his intervention suspended, not the duty of obeying, but the right of governing. The line on which his sentence ran separated, not the subjects from the State, but the sovereign from the other authorities. It was addressed to the nation politically organised against the head of the organism, not to the mass of individual subjects against the constituted authorities. That such a power was inconsistent with the modern notion of sovereignty is true; but it is also true that this notion is as much at variance with the nature of ecclesiastical authority as with civil liberty. The Roman maxim, princeps legibus solutus, could not be admitted by the Church; and an absolute prince could not properly be invested in her eyes with the sanctity of authority, or protected by the duty of submission. A moral, and à fortiori a spiritual, authority moves and lives only in an atmosphere of freedom.
There are, however, two things to be considered in explanation of the error into which our author and so many others have fallen. Law follows life, but not with an equal pace. There is a time when it ceases to correspond to the existing order of things, and meets an invincible obstacle in a new society. The exercise of the mediæval authority of the Popes was founded on the religious unity of the State, and had no basis in a divided community. It was not easy in the period of transition to tell when the change took place, and at what moment the old power lost its efficacy; no one could foresee its failure, and it still remained the legal and recognised means of preventing the change. Accordingly, it was twice tried during the wars of religion, in France with success, in England with disastrous effects. It is a universal rule that a right is not given up until the necessity of its surrender is proved. But the real difficulty arises, not from the mode in which the power was exercised, but from the way in which it was defended. The mediæval writers were accustomed to generalise; they disregarded particular circumstances, and they were generally ignorant of the habits and ideas of their age. Living in the cloister, and writing for the school, they were unacquainted with the polity and institutions around them, and sought their authorities and examples in antiquity, in the speculations of Aristotle, and the maxims of the civil law. They gave to their political doctrines as abstract a form, and attributed to them as universal an application, as the modern absolutists or the more recent liberals. So regardless were they of the difference between ancient times and their own, that the Jewish chronicles, the Grecian legislators, and the Roman code supplied them indifferently with rules and instances; they could not imagine that a new state of things would one day arise in which their theories would be completely obsolete. Their definitions of right and law are absolute in the extreme, and seem often to admit of no qualification. Hence their character is essentially revolutionary, and they contradict both the authority of law and the security of freedom. It is on this contradiction that the common notion of the danger of ecclesiastical pretensions is founded. But the men who take alarm at the tone of the mediæval claims judge them with a theory just as absolute and as excessive. No man can fairly denounce imaginary pretensions in the Church of the nineteenth century, who does not understand that rights which are now impossible may have been reasonable and legitimate in the days when they were actually exercised.
The zeal with which Mr. Goldwin Smith condemns the Irish establishment and the policy of the ascendency is all the more meritorious because he has no conception of the amount of iniquity involved in them.
The State Church of Ireland, however anomalous and even scandalous its position may be as the Church of a dominant minority upheld by force in the midst of a hostile people, does not, in truth, rest on a principle different from that of other State Churches. To justify the existence of any State Church, it must be assumed as an axiom that the State is the judge of religious truth; and that it is bound to impose upon its subjects, or at least to require them as a community to maintain, the religion which it judges to be true (p. 91).
No such analogy in reality subsists as is here assumed. There is a great difference between the Irish and the English establishment; but even the latter has no similarity of principle with the Catholic establishments of the continent.
The fundamental distinction is, that in one case the religion of the people is adopted by the State, whilst in the other the State imposes a religion on the people. For the political justification of Catholic establishments, no more is required than the theory that it is just that the religion of a country should be represented in, and protected by, its government. This is evidently and universally true; for the moral basis which human laws require can only be derived from an influence which was originally religious as well as moral. The unity of moral consciousness must be founded on a precedent unity of spiritual belief. According to this theory, the character of the nation determines the forms of the State. Consequently it is a theory consistent with freedom. But Protestant establishments, according to our author’s definition, which applies to them, and to them alone, rest on the opposite theory, that the will of the State is independent of the condition of the community; and that it may, or indeed must, impose on the nation a faith which may be that of a minority, and which in some cases has been that of the sovereign alone. According to the Catholic view, government may preserve in its laws, and by its authority, the religion of the community; according to the Protestant view it may be bound to change it. A government which has power to change the faith of its subjects must be absolute in other things; so that one theory is as favourable to tyranny as the other is opposed to it. The safeguard of the Catholic system of Church and State, as contrasted with the Protestant, was that very authority which the Holy See used to prevent the sovereign from changing the religion of the people, by deposing him if he departed from it himself. In most Catholic countries the Church preceded the State; some she assisted to form; all she contributed to sustain. Throughout Western Europe Catholicism was the religion of the inhabitants before the new monarchies were founded. The invaders, who became the dominant race and the architects of a new system of States, were sooner or later compelled, in order to preserve their dominion, to abandon their pagan or their Arian religion, and to adopt the common faith of the immense majority of the people. The connection between Church and State was therefore a natural, not an arbitrary, institution; the result of the submission of the Government to popular influence, and the means by which that influence was perpetuated. No Catholic Government ever imposed a Catholic establishment on a Protestant community, or destroyed a Protestant establishment. Even the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, the greatest wrong ever inflicted on the Protestant subjects of a Catholic State, will bear no comparison with the establishment of the religion of a minority. It is a far greater wrong than the most severe persecution, because persecution may be necessary for the preservation of an existing society, as in the case of the early Christians and of the Albigenses; but a State Church can only be justified by the acquiescence of the nation. In every other case it is a great social danger, and is inseparable from political oppression.
Mr. Goldwin Smith’s vision is bounded by the Protestant horizon. The Irish establishment has one great mark in common with the other Protestant establishments,—that it is the creature of the State, and an instrument of political influence. They were all imposed on the nation by the State power, sometimes against the will of the people, sometimes against that of the Crown. By the help of military power and of penal laws, the State strove to provide that the Established Church should not be the religion of the minority. But in Ireland the establishment was introduced too late—when Protestantism had spent its expansive force, and the attraction of its doctrine no longer aided the efforts of the civil power. Its position was false from the beginning, and obliged it to resort to persecution and official proselytism in order to put an end to the anomaly. Whilst, therefore, in all cases, Protestantism became the Established Church by an exercise of authority tyrannical in itself, and possible only from the absolutism of the ruling power, in Ireland the tyranny of its institution was perpetuated in the system by which it was upheld, and in the violence with which it was introduced; and this tyranny continues through all its existence. It is the religion of the minority, the church of an alien State, the cause of suffering and of disturbance, an instrument, a creature, and a monument of conquest and of tyranny. It has nothing in common with Catholic establishments, and none of those qualities which, in the Anglican Church, redeem in part the guilt of its origin. This is not, however, the only point on which our author has mistaken the peculiar and enormous character of the evils of Ireland.
With the injustice which generally attends his historical parallels, he compares the policy of the Orange faction to that of the Jacobins in France.
The ferocity of the Jacobins was in a slight degree redeemed by their fanaticism. Their objects were not entirely selfish. They murdered aristocrats, not only because they hated and feared them, but because they wildly imagined them to stand in the way of the social and political millennium, which, according to Rousseau, awaited the acceptance of mankind (p. 175).
No comparison can be more unfair than one which places the pitiless fanaticism of an idea in the same line with the cruelty inspired by a selfish interest. The Reign of Terror is one of the most portentous events in history, because it was the consistent result of the simplest and most acceptable principle of the Revolution; it saved France from the coalition, and it was the greatest attempt ever made to mould the form of a society by force into harmony with a speculative form of Government. An explanation which treats self-interest as its primary motive, and judges other elements as merely qualifying it, is ludicrously inadequate.
The Terrorism of Robespierre was produced by the theory of equality, which was not a mere passion, but a political doctrine, and at the same time a national necessity. Political philosophers who, since the time of Hobbes, derive the State from a social compact, necessarily assume that the contracting parties were equal among themselves. By nature, therefore, all men possess equal rights, and a right to equality. The introduction of the civil power and of private property brought inequality into the world. This is opposed to the condition and to the rights of the natural state. The writers of the eighteenth century attributed to this circumstance the evils and sufferings of society. In France, the ruin of the public finances and the misery of the lower orders were both laid at the door of the classes whose property was exempt from taxation. The endeavours of successive ministers — of Turgot, Necker, and Calonne—to break down the privileges of the aristocracy and of the clergy were defeated by the resistance of the old society. The Government attempted to save itself by obtaining concessions from the Notables, but without success, and then the great reform which the State was impotent to carry into execution was effected by the people. The destruction of the aristocratic society, which the absolute monarchy had failed to reform, was the object and the triumph of the Revolution; and the Constitution of 1791 declared all men equal, and withdrew the sanction of the law from every privilege.
This system gave only an equality in civil rights, a political equality such as already subsisted in America; but it did not provide against the existence or the growth of those social inequalities by which the distribution of political power might be affected. But the theory of the natural equality of mankind understands equal rights as rights to equal things in the State, and requires not only an abstract equality of rights, but a positive equality of power. The varieties of condition caused by civilisation were so objectionable in the eyes of this school, that Rousseau wrote earnest vindications of natural society, and condemned the whole social fabric of Europe as artificial, unnatural, and monstrous. His followers laboured to destroy the work of history and the influence of the past, and to institute a natural, reasonable order of things which should dispose all men on an equal level, which no disparity of wealth or education should be permitted to disturb. There were, therefore, two opinions in the revolutionary party. Those who overthrew the monarchy, established the republic, and commenced the war, were content with having secured political and legal equality, and wished to leave the nation in the enjoyment of those advantages which fortune distributes unequally. But the consistent partisans of equality required that nothing should be allowed to raise one man above another. The Girondists wished to preserve liberty, education, and property; but the Jacobins, who held that an absolute equality should be maintained by the despotism of the government over the people, interpreted more justly the democratic principles which were common to both parties; and, fortunately for their country, they triumphed over their illogical and irresolute adversaries. “When the revolutionary movement was once established,” says De Maistre, “nothing but Jacobinism could save France.”
Three weeks after the fall of the Gironde, the Constitution of 1793, by which a purely ideal democracy was instituted, was presented to the French people. Its adoption exactly coincides with the supremacy of Robespierre in the Committee of Public Safety, and with the inauguration of the Reign of Terror. The danger of invasion made the new tyranny possible, but the political doctrine of the Jacobins made it necessary. Robespierre explains the system in his report on the principles of political morality, presented to the Convention at the moment of his greatest power:—
If the principle of a popular government in time of peace is virtue, its principle during revolution is virtue and terror combined: virtue, without which terror is pernicious; terror, without which virtue is powerless. Terror is nothing but rapid, severe, inflexible justice; therefore a product of virtue. It is not so much a principle in itself, as a consequence of the universal principle of democracy in its application to the urgent necessities of the country.
This is perfectly true. Envy, revenge, fear, were motives by which individuals were induced or enabled to take part in the administration of such a system; but its introduction was not the work of passion, but the inevitable result of a doctrine. The democratic Constitution required to be upheld by violence, not only against foreign arms, but against the state of society and the nature of things. The army could not be made its instrument, because the rulers were civilians, and feared, beyond all things, the influence of military officers in the State. Officers were frequently arrested and condemned as traitors, compelled to seek safety in treason, watched and controlled by members of the Convention. In the absence of a military despotism, the revolutionary tribunal was the only resource.
The same theory of an original state of nature, from which the principle of equality was deduced, also taught men where they might find the standard of equality; as civilisation, by means of civil power, education, and wealth, was the source of corruption, the purity of virtue was to be found in the classes which had been least exposed to those disturbing causes. Those who were least tainted by the temptations of civilised society remained in the natural state. This was the definition of the new notion of the people, which became the measure of virtue and of equality. The democratic theory required that the whole nation should be reduced to the level of the lower orders in all those things in which society creates disparity, in order to be raised to the level of that republican virtue which resides among those who have retained a primitive simplicity by escaping the influence of civilisation.
The form of government and the condition of society must always correspond. Social equality is therefore a postulate of pure democracy. It was necessary that it should exist if the Constitution was to stand, and if the great ideal of popular enthusiasm was ever to be realised. The Revolution had begun by altering the social condition of the country; the correction of society by the State had already commenced. It did not, therefore, seem impossible to continue it until the nation should be completely remodelled in conformity with the new principles. The system before which the ancient monarchy had fallen, which was so fruitful of marvels, which was victorious over a more formidable coalition than that which had humbled Lewis XIV., was deemed equal to the task of completing the social changes which had been so extensively begun, and of moulding France according to the new and simple pattern. The equality which was essential to the existence of the new form of government did not in fact exist. Privilege was abolished, but influence remained. All the inequality founded on wealth, education, ability, reputation, even on the virtues of a code different from that of republican morality, presented obstacles to the establishment of the new régime, and those who were thus distinguished were necessarily enemies of the State. With perfect reason, all that rose above the common level, or did not conform to the universal rule, was deemed treasonable. The difference between the actual society and the ideal equality was so great that it could be removed only by violence. The great mass of those who perished were really, either by attachment or by their condition, in antagonism with the State. They were condemned, not for particular acts, but for their position, or for acts which denoted, not so much a hostile design, as an incompatible habit. By the loi des suspects, which was provoked by this conflict between the form of government and the real state of the country, whole classes, rather than ill-disposed individuals, were declared objects of alarm. Hence the proscription was wholesale. Criminals were judged and executed in categories; and the merits of individual cases were, therefore, of little account. For this reason, leading men of ability, bitterly hostile to the new system, were saved by Danton; for it was often indifferent who were the victims, provided the group to which they belonged was struck down. The question was not, what crimes has the prisoner committed? but, does he belong to one of those classes whose existence the Republic cannot tolerate? From this point of view, there were not so many unjust judgments pronounced, at least in Paris, as is generally believed. It was necessary to be prodigal of blood, or to abandon the theory of liberty and equality, which had commanded, for a whole generation, the enthusiastic devotion of educated men, and for the truth of which thousands of its believers were ready to die. The truth of that doctrine was tested by a terrible alternative; but the fault lay with those who believed it, not exclusively with those who practised it. There were few who could administer such a system without any other motive but devotion to the idea, or who could retain the coolness and indifference of which St. Just is an extraordinary example. Most of the Terrorists were swayed by fear for themselves, or by the frenzy which is produced by familiarity with slaughter. But this is of small account. The significance of that sanguinary drama lies in the fact, that a political abstraction was powerful enough to make men think themselves right in destroying masses of their countrymen in the attempt to impose it on their country. The horror of that system and its failure have given vitality to the communistic theory. It was unreasonable to attack the effect instead of the cause, and cruel to destroy the proprietor, while the danger lay in the property. For private property necessarily produces that inequality which the Jacobin theory condemned; and the Constitution of 1793 could not be maintained by Terrorism without Communism, by proscribing the rich while riches were tolerated. The Jacobins were guilty of inconsistency in omitting to attack inequality in its source. Yet no man who admits their theory has a right to complain of their acts. The one proceeded from the other with the inflexible logic of history. The Reign of Terror was nothing else than the reign of those who conceive that liberty and equality can co-exist.
One more quotation will sufficiently justify what we have said of the sincerity and ignorance which Mr. Goldwin Smith shows in his remarks on Catholic subjects. After calling the Bull of Adrian IV. “the stumbling-block and the despair of Catholic historians,” he proceded to say:—
Are Catholics filled with perplexity at the sight of infallibility sanctioning rapine? They can scarcely be less perplexed by the title which infallibility puts forward to the dominion of Ireland. . . . But this perplexity arises entirely from the assumption, which may be an article of faith, but is not an article of history, that the infallible morality of the Pope has never changed (pp. 46, 47).
It is hard to understand how a man of honour and ability can entertain such notions of the character of the Papacy as these words imply, or where he can have found authorities for so monstrous a caricature. We will only say that infallibility is no attribute of the political system of the Popes, and that the Bulls of Adrian and Alexander are not instances of infallible morality.
Great as the errors which we have pointed out undoubtedly are, the book itself is of real value, and encourages us to form sanguine hopes of the future services of its author to historical science, and ultimately to religion. We are hardly just in complaining of Protestant writers who fail to do justice to the Church. There are not very many amongst ourselves who take the trouble to ascertain her real character as a visible institution, or to know how her nature has been shown in her history. We know the doctrine which she teaches; we are familiar with the outlines of her discipline. We know that sanctity is one of her marks, and that beneficence has characterised her influence. In a general way we are confident that historical accusations are as false as dogmatic attacks, and most of us have some notion of the way in which the current imputations are to be met. But as to her principles of action in many important things, how they have varied in course of time, what changes have been effected by circumstances, and what rules have never been broken,—few are at the pains to inquire. As adversaries imagine that in exposing a Catholic they strike Catholicism, and that the defects of the men are imperfections in the institution and a proof that it is not divine, so we grow accustomed to confound in our defence that which is defective and that which is indefectible, and to discover in the Church merits as self-contradictory as are the accusations of her different foes. At one moment we are told that Catholicism teaches contempt, and therefore neglect of wealth; at another, that it is false to say that the Church does not promote temporal prosperity. If a great point is made against persecution, it will be denied that she is intolerant, whilst at another time it will be argued that heresy and unbelief deserve to be punished.
We cannot be surprised that Protestants do not know the Church better than we do ourselves, or that, while we allow no evil to be spoken of her human elements, those who deem her altogether human should discover in her the defects of human institutions. It is intensely difficult to enter into the spirit of a system not our own. Particular principles and doctrines are easily mastered; but a system answering all the spiritual cravings, all the intellectual capabilities of man, demands more than a mere mental effort,—a submission of the intellect, an act of faith, a temporary suspension of the critical faculty. This applies not merely to the Christian religion, with its unfathomable mysteries and its inexhaustible fund of truth, but to the fruits of human speculation. Nobody has ever succeeded in writing a history of philosophy without incurring either the reproach that he is a mere historian, incapable of entering into the genius of any system, or a mere metaphysician, who can discern in all other philosophies only the relation they bear to his own. In religion the difficulty is greater still, and greatest of all with Catholicism. For the Church is to be seen, not in books, but in life. No divine can put together the whole body of her doctrine; no canonist the whole fabric of her law; no historian the infinite vicissitudes of her career. The Protestant who wishes to be informed on all these things can be advised to rely on no one manual, on no encyclopædia of her deeds and of her ideas; if he seeks to know what these have been, he must be told to look around. And to one who surveys her teaching and her fortunes through all ages and all lands, ignorant or careless of that which is essential, changeless, and immortal in her, it will not be easy to discern through so much outward change a regular development, amid such variety of forms the unchanging substance, in so many modifications fidelity to constant laws; or to recognise, in a career so chequered with failure, disaster, and suffering, with the apostasy of heroes, the weakness of rulers, and the errors of doctors, the unfailing hand of a heavenly Guide.
[1 ]The Rambler, March 1862.
[1 ]Works, ii. 47. This is one of the passages which, seventy years ago, were declared to be treasonable. We trust we run no risk in confessing that we entirely agree with it.
[1 ]Tocqueville, L’Ancien Régime et la Révolution, Préface, p. xvi.
[1 ]“From what I have observed, it is pride, arrogance, and a spirit of domination, and not a bigoted spirit of religion, that has caused and kept up those oppressive statutes. I am sure I have known those who have oppressed Papists in their civil rights exceedingly indulgent to them in their religious ceremonies, and who really wished them to continue Catholics, in order to furnish pretences for oppression. These persons never saw a man (by converting) escape out of their power but with grudging and regret” (Burke, “On the Penal Laws against Irish Catholics,” Works, iv. 505).