Front Page Titles (by Subject) XVII: HISTORICAL PHILOSOPHY IN FRANCE AND FRENCH BELGIUM AND SWITZERLAND. By Robert Flint - The History of Freedom and Other Essays
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XVII: HISTORICAL PHILOSOPHY IN FRANCE AND FRENCH BELGIUM AND SWITZERLAND. By Robert Flint - 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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HISTORICAL PHILOSOPHY IN FRANCE AND FRENCH BELGIUM AND SWITZERLAND. By Robert Flint1
When Dr. Flint’s former work appeared, a critic, who, it is true, was also a rival, objected that it was diffusely written. What then occupied three hundred and thirty pages has now expanded to seven hundred, and suggests a doubt as to the use of criticism. It must at once be said that the increase is nearly all material gain. The author does not cling to his main topic, and, as he insists that the science he is adumbrating flourishes on the study of facts only, and not on speculative ideas, he bestows some needless attention on historians who professed no philosophy, or who, like Daniel and Velly, were not the best of their kind. Here and there, as in the account of Condorcet, there may be an unprofitable or superfluous sentence. But on the whole the enlarged treatment of the philosophy of history in France is accomplished not by expansion, but by solid and essential addition. Many writers are included whom the earlier volume passed over, and Cousin occupies fewer pages now than in 1874, by the aid of smaller type and the omission of a passage injurious to Schelling. Many necessary corrections and improvements have been made, such as the transfer of Ballanche from theocracy to the liberal Catholicism of which he is supposed to be the founder.
Dr. Flint’s unchallenged superiority consists alike in his familiarity with obscure, but not irrelevant authors, whom he has brought into line, and in his scrupulous fairness towards all whose attempted systems he has analysed. He is hearty in appreciating talent of every kind, but he is discriminating in his judgment of ideas, and rarely sympathetic. Where the best thoughts of the ablest men are to be displayed, it would be tempting to present an array of luminous points or a chaplet of polished gems. In the hands of such artists as Stahl or Cousin they would start into high relief with a convincing lucidity that would rouse the exhibited writers to confess that they had never known they were so clever. Without transfiguration the effect might be attained by sometimes stringing the most significant words of the original. Excepting one unduly favoured competitor, who fills two pages with untranslated French, there is little direct quotation. Cournot is one of those who, having been overlooked at first, are here raised to prominence. He is urgently, and justly, recommended to the attention of students. “They will find that every page bears the impress of patient, independent, and sagacious thought. I believe I have not met with a more genuine thinker in the course of my investigations. He was a man of the finest intellectual qualities, of a powerful and absolutely truthful mind.” But then we are warned that Cournot never wrote a line for the general reader, and accordingly he is not permitted to speak for himself. Yet it was this thoughtful Frenchman who said: “Aucune idée parmi celles qui se réfèrent à l’ordre des faits naturels ne tient de plus près à la famille des idées religieuses que l’idée du progrès, et n’est plus propre à devenir le principe d’une sorte de foi religieuse pour ceux qui n’en ont pas d’autres. Elle a, comme la foi religieuse, la vertu de relever les âmes et les caractères.”
The successive theories gain neither in clearness nor in contrast by the order in which they stand. As other countries are reserved for other volumes, Cousin precedes Hegel, who was his master, whilst Quetelet is barely mentioned in his own place, and has to wait for Buckle, if not for Oettingen and Rümelin, before he comes on for discussion. The finer threads, the underground currents, are not carefully traced. The connection between the juste milieu in politics and eclecticism in philosophy was already stated by the chief eclectic; but the subtler link between the Catholic legitimists and democracy seems to have escaped the author’s notice. He says that the republic proclaimed universal suffrage in 1848, and he considers it a triumph for the party of Lafayette. In fact, it was the triumph of an opposite school—of those legitimists who appealed from the narrow franchise which sustained the Orleans dynasty to the nation behind it. The chairman of the constitutional committee was a legitimist, and he, inspired by the abbé de Genoude, of the Gazette de France, and opposed by Odilon Barrot, insisted on the pure logic of absolute democracy.
It is an old story now that the true history of philosophy is the true evolution of philosophy, and that when we have eliminated whatever has been damaged by contemporary criticism or by subsequent advance, and have assimilated all that has survived through the ages, we shall find in our possession not only a record of growth, but the full-grown fruit itself. This is not the way in which Dr. Flint understands the building up of his department of knowledge. Instead of showing how far France has made a way towards the untrodden crest, he describes the many flowery paths, discovered by the French, which lead elsewhere, and I expect that in coming volumes it will appear that Hegel and Buckle, Vico and Ferrari, are scarcely better guides than Laurent or Littré. Fatalism and retribution, race and nationality, the test of success and of duration, heredity and the reign of the invincible dead, the widening circle, the emancipation of the individual, the gradual triumph of the soul over the body, of mind over matter, reason over will, knowledge over ignorance, truth over error, right over might, liberty over authority, the law of progress and perfectibility, the constant intervention of providence, the sovereignty of the developed conscience — neither these nor other alluring theories are accepted as more than illusions or half-truths. Dr. Flint scarcely avails himself of them even for his foundations or his skeleton framework. His critical faculty, stronger than his gift of adaptation, levels obstructions and marks the earth with ruin. He is more anxious to expose the strange unreason of former writers, the inadequacy of their knowledge, their want of aptitude in induction, than their services in storing material for the use of successors. The result is not to be the sifted and verified wisdom of two centuries, but a future system, to be produced when the rest have failed by an exhaustive series of vain experiments. We may regret to abandon many brilliant laws and attractive generalisations that have given light and clearness and simplicity and symmetry to our thought; but it is certain that Dr. Flint is a close and powerful reasoner, equipped with satisfying information, and he establishes his contention that France has not produced a classic philosophy of history, and is still waiting for its Adam Smith or Jacob Grimm.
The kindred topic of development recurs repeatedly, as an important factor in modern science. It is still a confused and unsettled chapter, and in one place Dr. Flint seems to attribute the idea to Bossuet; in another he says that it was scarcely entertained in those days by Protestants, and not at all by Catholics; in a third he implies that its celebrity in the nineteenth century is owing in the first place to Lamennais. The passage, taken from Vinet, in which Bossuet speaks of the development of religion is inaccurately rendered. His words are the same which, on another page, are rightly translated “the course of religion”—la suite de la religion. Indeed, Bossuet was the most powerful adversary the theory ever encountered. It was not so alien to Catholic theology as is here stated, and before the time of Jurieu is more often found among Catholic than Protestant writers. When it was put forward, in guarded, dubious, and evasive terms, by Petavius, the indignation in England was as great as in 1846. The work which contained it, the most learned that Christian theology had then produced, could not be reprinted over here, lest it should supply the Socinians with inconvenient texts. Nelson hints that the great Jesuit may have been a secret Arian, and Bull stamped upon his theory amid the grateful applause of Bossuet and his friends. Petavius was not an innovator, for the idea had long found a home among the Franciscan masters: “Proficit fides secundum statum communem, quia secundum profectum temporum efficiebantur homines magis idonei ad percipienda et intelligenda sacramenta fidei. — Sunt multae conclusiones necessario inclusae in articulis creditis, sed antequam sunt per Ecclesiam declaratae et explicatae non oportet quemcumque eas credere. Oportet tamen circa eas sobrie opinari, ut scilicet homo sit paratus eas tenere pro tempore, pro quo veritas fuerit declarata.” Cardinal Duperron said nearly the same thing as Petavius a generation before him: “L’Arien trouvera dans sainct Irénée, Tertullien et autres qui nous sont restez en petit nombre de ces siècleslà, que le Fils est l’instrument du Père, que le Père a commandé au Fils lors qu’il a esté question de la création des choses, que le Père et le Fils sont aliud et aliud; choses que qui tiendroit aujourd’huy, que le langage de l’Eglise est plus examiné, seroit estimé pour Arien luymesme.” All this does not serve to supply the pedigree which Newman found it so difficult to trace. Development, in those days, was an expedient, an hypothesis, and not even the thing so dear to the Oxford probabilitarians, a working hypothesis. It was not more substantial than the gleam in Robinson’s farewell to the pilgrims: “I am very confident that the Lord has more truth yet to break forth out of His holy word.” The reason why it possessed no scientific basis is explained by Duchesne: “Ce n’est guère avant la seconde moitié du xviie siècle qu’il devint impossible de soutenir l’authenticité des fausses décrétales, des constitutions apostoliques, des ‘Récognitions Clémentines,’ du faux Ignace, du pseudo-Dionys et de l’immense fatras d’œuvres anonymes ou pseudonymes qui grossissait souvent du tiers ou de la moitié l’héritage littéraire des auteurs les plus considérables. Qui aurait pu même songer à un développement dogmatique?” That it was little understood, and lightly and loosely employed, is proved by Bossuet himself, who alludes to it in one passage as if he did not know that it was the subversion of his theology: “Quamvis ecclesia omnem veritatem funditus norit, ex haeresibus tamen discit, ut aiebat magni nominis Vincentius Lirinensis, aptius, distinctius, clariusque eandem exponere.”
The account of Lamennais suffers from the defect of mixing him up too much with his early friends. No doubt he owed to them the theory that carried him through his career, for it may be found in Bonald, and also in De Maistre, though not, perhaps, in the volumes he had already published. It was less original than he at first imagined, for the English divines commonly held it from the seventeenth century, and its dirge was sung only the other day by the Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol.1 A Scottish professor would even be justified in claiming it for Reid. But of course it was Lamennais who gave it most importance, in his programme and in his life. And his theory of the common sense, the theory that we can be certain of truth only by the agreement of mankind, though vigorously applied to sustain authority in State and Church, gravitated towards multitudinism, and marked him off from his associates. When he said quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus, he was not thinking of the Christian Church, but of Christianity as old as the creation; and the development he meant led up to the Bible, and ended at the New Testament instead of beginning there. That is the theory which he made so famous, which founded his fame and governed his fate, and to which Dr. Flint’s words apply when he speaks of celebrity. In that sense it is a mistake to connect Lamennais with Möhler and Newman; and I do not believe that he anticipated their teaching, in spite of one or two passages which do not, on the face of them, bear date b.c., and may, no doubt, be quoted for the opposite opinion.
In the same group Dr. Flint represents De Maistre as the teacher of Savigny, and asserts that there could never be a doubt as to the liberalism of Chateaubriand. There was none after his expulsion from office; but there was much reason for doubting in 1815, when he entreated the king to set bounds to his mercy; in 1819, when he was contributing to the Conservateur; and in 1823, when he executed the mandate of the absolute monarchs against the Spanish constitution. His zeal for legitimacy was at all times qualified with liberal elements, but they never became consistent or acquired the mastery until 1824. De Maistre and Savigny covered the same ground at one point; they both subjected the future to the past. This could serve as an argument for absolutism and theocracy, and on that account was lovely in the eyes of De Maistre. If it had been an argument the other way he would have cast it off. Savigny had no such ulterior purpose. His doctrine, that the living are not their own masters, could serve either cause. He rejected a mechanical fixity, and held that whatever has been made by process of growth shall continue to grow and suffer modification. His theory of continuity has this significance in political science, that it supplied a basis for conservatism apart from absolutism and compatible with freedom. And, as he believed that law depends on national tradition and character, he became indirectly and through friends a founder of the theory of nationality.
The one writer whom Dr. Flint refuses to criticise, because he too nearly agrees with him, is Renouvier. Taking this avowal in conjunction with two or three indiscretions on other pages, we can make a guess, not at the system itself, which is to console us for so much deviation, but at its tendency and spirit. The fundamental article is belief in divine government. As Kant beheld God in the firmament of heaven, so too we can see him in history on earth. Unless a man is determined to be an atheist, he must acknowledge that the experience of mankind is a decisive proof in favour of religion. As providence is not absolute, but reigns over men destined to freedom, its method is manifested in the law of progress. Here, however, Dr. Flint, in his agreement with Renouvier, is not eager to fight for his cause, and speaks with a less jubilant certitude. He is able to conceive that providence may attain its end without the condition of progress, that the divine scheme would not be frustrated if the world, governed by omnipotent wisdom, became steadily worse. Assuming progress as a fact, if not a law, there comes the question wherein it consists, how it is measured, where is its goal. Not religion, for the Middle Ages are an epoch of decline. Catholicism has since lost so much ground as to nullify the theories of Bossuet; whilst Protestantism never succeeded in France, either after the Reformation, when it ought to have prevailed, nor after the Revolution, when it ought not. The failure to establish the Protestant Church on the ruins of the old régime, to which Quinet attributes the breakdown of the Revolution, and which Napoleon regretted almost in the era of his concordat, is explained by Mr. Flint on the ground that Protestants were in a minority. But so they were in and after the wars of religion; and it is not apparent why a philosopher who does not prefer orthodoxy to liberty should complain that they achieved nothing better than toleration. He disproves Bossuet’s view by that process of deliverance from the Church which is the note of recent centuries, and from which there is no going back. On the future I will not enlarge, because I am writing at present in the Historical, not the Prophetical, Review. But some things were not so clear in France in 1679 as they are now at Edinburgh. The predominance of Protestant power was not foreseen, except by those who disputed whether Rome would perish in 1710 or about 1720. The destined power of science to act upon religion had not been proved by Newton or Simon. No man was able to forecast the future experience of America, or to be sure that observations made under the reign of authority would be confirmed by the reign of freedom.
If the end be not religion, is it morality, humanity, civilisation, knowledge? In the German chapters of 1874 Dr. Flint was severe upon Hegel, and refused his notion that the development of liberty is the soul of history, as crude, one-sided, and misunderstood. He is more lenient now, and affirms that liberty occupies the final summit, that it profits by all the good that is in the world, and suffers by all the evil, that it pervades strife and inspires endeavour, that it is almost, if not altogether, the sign, and the prize, and the motive in the onward and upward advance of the race for which Christ was crucified. As that refined essence which draws sustenance from all good things it is clearly understood as the product of civilisation, with its complex problems and scientific appliances, not as the elementary possession of the noble savage, which has been traced so often to the primeval forest. On the other hand, if sin not only tends to impair, but does inevitably impair and hinder it, providence is excluded from its own mysterious sphere, which, as it is not the suppression of all evil and present punishment of wrong, should be the conversion of evil into an instrument to serve the higher purpose. But although Dr. Flint has come very near to Hegel and Michelet, and seemed about to elevate their teaching to a higher level and a wider view, he ends by treating it coldly, as a partial truth requiring supplement, and bids us wait until many more explorers have recorded their soundings. That, with the trained capacity for misunderstanding and the smouldering dissent proper to critics, I might not mislead any reader, or do less than justice to a profound though indecisive work, I should have wished to piece together the passages in which the author indicates, somewhat faintly, the promised but withheld philosophy which will crown his third or fourth volume. Any one who compares pages 125, 135, 225, 226, 671, will understand better than I can explain it the view which is the master-key to the book.
[1 ]English Historical Review, 1895.
[1 ][Dr. Ellicott.]