Conversations of an Old Man No. I
Brownson's Quarterly Review, January, 1850
Art. IV. Conversations of an Old Man and his Young
Friends. No. I.
F. I have been told that your views on most subjects were not always what they now are. My father says he has known you when you boasted of being a liberalist in politics and in religion, when you professed yourself a firm believer in the progress of the race, and were really a man of the modern world, sympathizing with humanity, and foremost in the various socialist movements of the day.
B. I did not, as a young man, differ much from most young
men of ardent temperaments, lively sensibilities, generous im
pulses, and little practical knowledge ; I said and did a great
many foolish things.
C. You will hardly persuade your young friends that it is
foolish to sympathize with our kind, to feel that every man is
our brother, to plead for the wronged, and to devote ourselves
heart and soul to the progress of liberty, and the melioration of society, especially of the poorer and more numerous classes.
B. We are, till after long and sometimes bitter experience, the dupes of words and phrases. It is not difficult to disguise mischievous purposes in fine words; it is also easy, in pursuing even a laudable object, to say and do a great many foolish tilings. It may be very laudable to fell a tree that cumbers the ground, or hides our prospect, but not very wise to attempt to do it by climbing up and beginning at the top. It is rather foolish to cut off the branch on which we must stand. We may fall and break our necks, and not accomplish our purpose after all.
G. By which you would admonish us that our ends are not necessarily good because we express them in fine phrases, and that even good ends are wisely sought only by appropriate and adequate means ?
B. Precisely, my young friend. Schiller's Marquis of
Posa bids us remember, when we are old, the dreams of our
youth. Some follow his direction, and remain ignorant in
spite of experience. Others do not. It is not, as you young
sters suppose, that we harden with age, grow cold and selfish,
and cease to interest ourselves in the welfare of others ; it is
that we profit by experience, and that a wider survey of men
and things, a deeper insight into the springs of human action,
individual and social, enable us to see what we proposed in the
ardor of youth is seldom desirable, and when desirable, seldom
practicable. Youth deals mostly in generals, and rarely de
scends to particulars. The evils which afflict the individual
and society spring chiefly from moral causes, from inordinate
desires, and unrestrained passions. The methods of ameliora
tion which our young enthusiasm proposes appeal exclusively
to these for their support, and can only strengthen them, and
aggravate the evils we seek to remove.
O. Pardon me, but I am a little impatient at the outcry which even you do not disdain to echo against human nature. I have never been able to see any truth or justice in this perpetual admonition to restrain our feelings and subdue our passions. The moralist seems to me to make himself the accomplice of the despot.
C. All our native instincts, unperverted feelings, and gener
ous sentiments are for liberty. They lead us to resist the
tyrant, and where they have free scope, tyranny can never gain
a permanent establishment. The tyrant would repress them, annihilate them, so that we may have no spirit or disposition to rebel against him. It is the fox preaching to the geese, the wolf to the lamb.
B. All very spiritedly said, my young friends ; but it is nothing very novel. I have in the course of my life said as much, and a great deal more. All authority appears to us in youth very hateful. We see not its reason or necessity, and we fancy that it only creates the crimes that it punishes. I thought my mother was exceedingly tyrannical, when she gave me, then a boy some four or five years old, a severe whipping for telling a lie. I have lived long enough to thank her for that whipping over and over again; for it impressed indelibly upon my memory this important lesson, If you speak at all, speak the truth. Indeed, all authority that restrains us, or hinders us from doing whatever we wish, seems to us tyrannical. Tyranny is always odious, and so we conclude that we ought to be freed from all restraint, and at liberty to follow our inclinations. Since our inclinations, instincts, feelings, passions, resist whatever resists them, we conclude that they are intrinsically opposed to tyranny, and that whoever would restrain them is a tyrant, deserving of universal execration. God, indeed, gives us no faculties that it is unlawful to exercise in a lawful manner, and he requires the physical destruction of no element of that nature which he has created. All the several elements of our nature may be exercised, but they are to be exercised in the order the Creator intended, in due subordination, the lower to the higher ; or, in other words, order and harmony are to be maintained in the bosom of the individual, and" between individual and individual, and you will need very little experience of practical life to learn that this is impossible without authority and self-denial. We see not this at first, but gradually it dawns on our minds, and by and by becomes clear to us, and from hot-headed radicals, clamoring for liberty, seeking the elevation of mankind and social progress by removing all restraints, and giving loose reins to appetite and passion, we become sober conservatives, insisting upon submission to authority, obedience to law, as the first lesson to be taught, and the first to be learned.
F. I do not object to all authority ; for one needs not to have lived long to be aware that order is desirable, and that it is not possible, without authority of some sort, to maintain it. But I want order with liberty, not order without liberty.
0. The authority should be reasonable, and govern by appeals to reason, not by a resort to physical force, as if man were a brute.
B. I am not learned in such matters, but I have heard it stated, that man combines in his animal nature the distinctive traits of every species of animal with which we are acquainted. Certain it is, that he has an animal nature distinct from his rational nature, and that he is often beastly in his habits, and brutish in his conduct. It is not seldom that it is necessary to treat him as a wild colt or an unruly ox. Physical force is frequently the only force that can restrain him, and corporal chastisement the only argument he is able to appreciate. The fine sentimentalisms now so common are very becoming in the young men and maidens who delight in them. One is rarely pleased to see an old head upon young shoulders. I am always afraid of a very wise youth. It is unnatural, almost monstrous. I am never displeased to hear the young and inexperienced protest against the use of the rod, and, in their sprightly way, maintain that parents and magistrates should always govern by moral suasion, by love. It carries me back to my own spring-time of life, before I had dreamed the support for virtue which the sentiments afford is very precarious, or how hard it is, even when one's reason is fully convinced, to resist passion, or to overcome inveterate habits. Parents and magistrates should, unquestionably, govern by love, but love, if worthy of the name, is far more an affection of the rational than of the sensitive nature. It is often the highest proof of love the parent can give, to chastise his child, and the prince would show little love to his subjects, and have little claim to be called the father of his people, if he should do nothing to protect the innocent, and to repress crime by punishing the guilty.
F. I think authority, whether parental or civil, relies too little on moral power. The parent would succeed better if he would pay more respect to the reason of the child, and the prince would have less occasion to resort to physical force, if he would be more ready to treat his subjects as reasonable beings.
O. I would have authority appeal always to reason and affection. We obey cheerfully and readily, when we obey from conviction and love.
B. Authority is bound to be reasonable, and has no right to exact any thing contrary to reason or justice. Yet whatever legitimate authority commands must be presumed to be reasonable, till the contrary is established, and whether we see its reasonableness or not, it is ours to obey for conscience' sake. As long as it commands nothing contrary to the law of God, its commands are binding upon us, and cannot be lawfully disregarded. Authority is under no obligation to reason with its subjects, and I have seldom seen good come from its attempts to set forth the reasons of its acts. The parent who reasons with his child usually wastes his breath. lie who is so unreasonable as to demand what is not reasonable, will seldom prove himself a good reasoner. The reasons can rarely be given, because they for the most part surpass the child's comprehension.
When my eldest son was born, I entertained the doctrine contended for by my young friends. My child was never to be crossed, no restraint was ever to be placed upon his will or inclination ; I would use only moral suasion, and induce him to conform to my wishes by simple appeals to his reason and affection. It did not occur to me that moral suasion can have little efficacy with a child not yet capable of moral action. I tried, however, to carry out my theory. I soon found that it was founded in sheer ignorance, and, if practicable at all, could be so only by having two or three grown persons of extraordinary natural endowments, and rare accomplishments, whose sole business it should be to attend upon one child. I learned that, though affection in a child is early developed, and is never to be disregarded, yet it is seldom, if ever, sufficient to enable him to resist the ten thousand temptations he has to do what his own preservation requires him not to do. He must be restrained long before he can in any possible way understand the reason of the restraint. Even when sufficiently advanced to understand it, in some measure, it is not enough to induce him to practise the requisite self-denial. My experience taught me that long moral lectures have as little effect on children as they usually have on grown people. A word, a proper word, in the proper tone, at the proper time, is useful; beyond, the fewer words we use the better. The child must be made to obey, and obey because his father bids. " I your father bid," is the only proper reason to address to a child, at least till the habit of obedience is well formed. Taking care to be uniformly reasonable, just, and kind, the parent will have, in ordinary cases, rarely occasion to resort to coercion ; but sometimes, let him do the best he can, he will find the rod indispensable.
Men are but children of a larger growth, and are always in need of tutors and governors. We can count on their good behaviour no farther than they are imbued with the'principle of obedience ; and that is no obedience at all which is yielded only from private conviction and inclination. If our reason, love, feelings, inclinations, are on the side of authority, and go with its requirements, so much the easier will it be for us to obey ; but if we refuse to obey when what is commanded demands their sacrifice, we lack the principle of obedience. We must obey, whether agreeable to our feelings and convictions or not.
C. That appears to me to be pushing the matter rather too far. It denies to me the right to have any will of my own, and may make it my duty to act contrary to my own convictions.
B. It undoubtedly does not favor what is called the right of private judgment; but that is no solid objection. Private judgment and authority, in the same matter, are not reconcilable. The subject cannot be both subject and sovereign. The world, for*three hundred years has been trying to solve the problem, how authority can be authority and yet not be authority, how men can be governed where all are governors and none are governed ; but it does not appear to have made much progress. Where the sovereign has the right to command, the subject is bound to obey, and has no right to have any will of his own other than his sovereign's will. We have no right over our sovereign, or to sit in judgment on our judge. Our will should be to conform to the will of God, expressed by himself through such organs as he has constituted, and we have no right to have any will or any conviction to the contrary.
F. Nothing is more sacred than a man's own convictions, and I know of no more intolerable tyranny than that which compels him to do violence to them.
O. It is because religion, or what claims to be religion, fails to respect our private convictions, because it tramples on the sacred rights of the mind, and prohibits free inquiry, free thought, free speech, and free action, that so many in the modern world are opposed to it. No man wishes to be without religion, and every one would willingly embrace a religion which should not demand the sacrifice of his manhood.
C. The priesthood seem to me to stand greatly in their own light. They do not appear to comprehend the age. The dominant sentiment of our age is the love of freedom, of humanity, and it will not submit to be directed by those who seek to repress its lofty aspirations and its noble energies. If the clergy would respect the age, it would respect them ; but it has sworn it will not bow its neck to the yoke of servitude, and surrender its conscience to those who will not respect its rights.
B. It was Lucifer, I believe, that Milton represents as saying,
" Better to reign in hell, than serve in heaven."
But Lucifer finds less freedom in reigning than St. Michael in serving. The principle of license, and that tof despotism, are one and the same, and the clamor for freedom usually indicates only impatience of law, and the desire for the predominance of mere will, the essential principle of despotism. Your radical is always an ingrained despot, who, finding he cannot himself rule, resolves that nobody shall rule. Clothe him with authority, and he forthwith institutes the Reign of Terror. You never find your Robespierres as moderate in the exercise of power as even your Mirabeaus, your Ledru-Rollins as your Lamartines, your Thierses as your Guizots. That the dominant spirit of our age is freedom from all restraint may be true enough, but I have never read of an age, claiming to be civilized, in which there was less of the spirit of true liberty, or in which tyranny, under the form either of anarchy or of despotism, more abounded. The age not only has failed to establish liberty in any proper sense of the term, but has labored, not unsuccessfully, to render its establishment for a long time to come extremely difficult, if not absolutely impossible. The revolutionary efforts throughout Europe, in our day, to introduce democracy, have loosened the bands of society, to a great extent destroyed respect for law, and left authority no possible means of preserving itself and maintaining social order but the resort to physical force. I can prudently give a child who I know will not abuse it far more liberty than I can one who I know will use whatever liberty I give him only for his and my ruin. Government threatened in its very existence by a numerous band of restless spirits, who are constantly plotting against it, is obliged to resort to the most stringent measures of repression, measures which would be as unjustifiable as unnecessary, if the whole population were submissive and loyal.
The great mass of the people are easily imposed upon. Let a number of men set up and continue for a certain length of time the cry, that religion is hostile to freedom, and they begin to think that there must be something in it. Where there is so much smoke there must be some fire. Religion certainly is opposed to license, it certainly does require us to practise self-denial, but this simply proves that it is the necessary basis of all true liberty. There is no liberty without justice, and justice is inconceivable without religion. What you call freedom of mind is its slavery, did you but know it. The mind was created for truth, and finds its freedom, as its food, only in the possession of truth. Without truth it has no free movement, no active force, no life, but necessarily droops, withers, and dies. A worse calamity is not conceivable, than to be doomed to be ever seeking the truth and never to find it. He who is so doomed has no resting-place, no repose. He has no solid footing ; at every step, he feels the ground give way beneath him. Darkness is before him, darkness is behind him. He cannot see his hand before his face, and yet he must move on, for to stand still is to sink into the abyss ; but whither, he sees not. He knows not where he is, or in what direction he is moving, or ought to move. It is idle to pretend that such a man has freedom of mind, for he has no mind at all, cannot make up his mind on any thing.
My young friends do not at this moment appreciate what T am saying, for they have not yet felt the pressure of life. They are just entering what appears to them a career of free inquiry, buoyant and hopeful, sustained in part by their animal spirits, and in part by the truths they have learned from their tutors and governors, and which they have not as yet wholly effaced from their minds. They are charmed, too, by the novelty of their situation and the freshness of their emotions, and borne onward by the excitement of the exercise. But the excitement will soon subside, the freshness will fade, the novelty will wear off, and the heart and soul will cry out for their appropriate food. It is dangerous tampering with the eternal laws of God ; a day of vengeance is sure to come. If you are not among those, as I trust you are not, who cannot learn even in the school of experience, you will one day cease to find delight in the pursuit of what continues constantly to elude your grasp, and will fall back upon yourselves weary and disheartened ; a universal lassitude will succeed to your present buoyancy, your hopes will be withered, and nothing will remain for you but to seek forgetfulness in sensual gratification, or in the vice of avarice or ambition.
Strike out religion and morality, and nothing remains but our animal nature and its objects. The sensualist did not begin in gross sensualism. He began in soft and sweet sentiments, which, as he was conscious of no impure intention, he imagined to be pure, and such as he could safely indulge. Nay, he imagined it almost a sin to forego them. Day by day they grew upon him by indulgence, till they became too strong for ordinary virtue to repress, and then he found them to have been only the germs of beastly vices and grievous sins. The beginnings of all vice and crime are pleasant and sweet to our animal nature ; but all emotions or sentiments originating in that nature are vice and crime, when fully developed. u Every man is tempted, being drawn away by his own concupiscence, [or lusts,] and allured. Then when concupiscence hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin ; but sin when it is completed begetteth death." The modern world followeth concupiscence, the inferior or irrational nature. It began in what is most pleasing and seductive in that nature, which it dignifies with the names of liberty and philanthropy. But these when taken as affections of the animal, not of the rational soul, can be followed only on condition that we gradually discard both revealed religion and natural. Hence you find that your modern reformers, notwithstanding their fine words and lofty phrases, tend with all their energy to establish the supremacy of the flesh over the spirit. Hence their breach with the past. The past has labored, not indeed always with complete success, to institute and maintain a social and political order in which the rational nature should be supreme, and the animal be subordinate, find held, as far as possible, in subjection. This our reformers condemn ; they seek to organize society and the state on an entirely different set of principles, so that intellect and reason shall be the mere instruments of appetite and passion. It could not be otherwise ; for the flesh knoweth not God, and, if followed, excludes God and the whole rational nature.
Freedom of inquiry, thought, speech, and action, rightly understood, are no doubt good things ; but your friends who claim their exclusive possession have very little right to them. All they understand by them is freedom to think, speak, and act against religion, without losing their reputation, or suffering any social or civil inconvenience. The pickpocket, the thief, the robber, the adulterer, the murderer, the traitor, wish, no doubt, as much, and with as much justice. I have never found unbelievers actuated by a love of truth ; I have never found one of their number going forth in pursuit of it with a free mind, and an open heart, ready to receive it. They are all disciples of some master, and if they inquire at all, it is only to confirm their prejudices. I have no reason to think that I was, when among them, less candid, open, and truthful than the rest; yet I never knew what it was to seek for the truth, till I became a believer. I sought to refute that doctrine, or to establish this, never distinctly to ascertain what is true doctrine ; and I embraced the truth only as it forced itself upon me. I had no intention, no thought, of becoming a Catholic ; I did not even ask myself whether Catholicity was true or false. Its truth burst of itself upon me, while I was busily engaged with something else ; and I accepted it only because i could not help it. It interfered with all my plans of life, with all my old habits, with all my associations, and was any thing but pleasant to flesh and blood. But it broke upon my mind with such clearness, distinctness, and force, that I had no power to resist it. I did not seek it, it came of itself; I did not find it, it found me, and took me captive, and carried me away in spite of myself.
I have looked over no small portion of the literature of the modern Liberal world ; I have looked in vain for some trace of free, strong, and manly thought. Your most admired authors are cramped in their movements, narrow and superficial in their views, and generally weak and flippant in their expressions. They are strong only in their appeals to passion, and invariably fall far below the better sort of enlightened heathen. Out of the departments of physical science and mathematics, which do not require a very high order of intellect, the greatest names you can boast are Bayle and Voltaire, and these have been able to make no real advance on Celsus and Julian. Jean Jacques Rousseau was a sophist, a puny sentimentalist, and a disgusting sensualist, who set forth nothing novel that was not false. Your English deists, Lord Herbert, Tindall, Toland, Woolston, &c, are the dullest of mortals. I never could fairly read through one of their stupid productions. Your liberals have succeeded in shaking the faith of many, in sowing doubt and despair; but I do not call to mind a single subject on which their lucubrations have thrown new light. They only repeat one another, and are tediously monotonous in error. What are the greatest of them by the side of such men as St. Athanasius, St. Basil, St. Gregory Na-zianzen, St. John Chrysostom, St. Ambrose, St. Jerome, St. Austin, St. Gregory the Great, St. Bernard, St. Thomas of Aquin, Suarez, Bossuet, the great Fathers and Doctors of the Church, the really great men of the human race, great as men, as scholars, thinkers, philosophers, as well as great in sanctity, the highest order of greatness, what beside these men are your Bayles, your Voltaires, your Rous-seaus, your Tom Paines, your Saint-Simons, your Owens, your Fouriers ? These men were at the summit of their respective epochs, and every one of them has contributed to the sum of human knowledge and virtue.
There is no doubt the age would respect religion, if religion would respect it; but religion gives the law, it does not receive it. Unbelievers, no doubt, would accept religion, if she would make herself infidel ; but has it never occurred to our wise young men, that religion become infidel is no longer religion ? You remind me of my old friends, the Unitarians, who are in the habit of maintaining that their religion is the best in the world for checking the spread of infidelity, because it presents nothing that an unbeliever can find any difficulty in accepting. It brings Christianity down to the level of the unbeliever's capacity, that is, strips it of every thing, except its name, that distinguishes it from infidelity. I know no solid reason why an unbeliever should hesitate to accept of u Christianity which requires him to change only his name. The clergy very possibly stand in their own light by not conforming to the dominant spirit of the age, if religion be, as our sage liberals pretend, mere priestcraft, and if they seek only temporary popular applause. But the clergy are the ministers of religion, and have no authority over it. If they were at liberty to mould it to the various and ever-varying caprices of the multitude, to make it one thing in one age or country, and another thing in another, no sensible man could respect either it or them. It is singular that our liberals take it upon them to advise the clergy, in order to secure respect for religion, to adopt a policy which would show on its very face that they hold religion to be mere craft and imposition, and still more singular that they should suppose any friend to religion should not see that their advice is that of an enemy.
O. Yet the clergy, as a body, have always shown themselves hostile to liberty, and have never sufficiently urged the importance of improving society, and elevating the lower classes.
C. Their chief study relates to another world, and they appear to have proceeded on the principle, that it matters little what is our condition in this world, if we but secure the salvation of our souls in the world to come.
F. They proceed as if the chief business of religion were not to teach us how to live, but how to die, as if we had nothing to do in this world but to get out of it the best way we can !
B. That the clergy have as a body been opposed to what is sometimes called liberty is no doubt true, but this is to their honor. There can be no question that they have taken the words of their Master literally, " Seek first the kingdom of God and his justice " ; but this does not prove that they have at all neglected man's social well-being, for the only certain way of making sure of earth is first to make sure of heaven. He who lives solely for heaven lives the best life even for this world. The clergy, as a body, have always been the friends of liberty, but they very frequently deny that what some men call liberty is liberty, and I know no reason for asserting that they have less authority than their opponents to define what is, or is not, true liberty. They certainly teach that this world is not our abiding-place, that we are here only pilgrims and sojourners, that we are here to prepare for another world, for the return to our native country. If in this they are right, and which of my young friends dares say they are wrong ? this world is, in itself considered, a matter of no importance, and social well-being, save in its bearing on our eternal welfare, deserves no attention. That state of society which is the most favorable to preparation for heaven, is the best. Supposing, then, the clergy do as you allege, it is only a proof that they are faithful to their God and to the human soul; and if my young friends were to inquire into the matter, they would find that the evils they complain of result solely from attachment to the world, from giving it an undue place in our affections, and from not following the teaching of the clergy, and trampling the world beneath our feet. If all men would live for heaven, and not for earth, there would be no tyranny, no oppression, no political or social evils. cc Seek first the kingdom of God and his justice, and all these things shall be superadded to you." This world feeds only our animal nature, and you should be prepared to maintain that man ought to live as a mere animal, before you venture to urge your objection to the Christian doctrine of detachment and self-denial.
0. Supposing Christianity to be true, the clergy are, no doubt, justifiable ; but the very fact that it enjoins this detachment and self-denjal is to me the best of all reasons for believing it false..
B. That is, Christianity is false because it asserts in man something superior to the human animal, and for man a higher destiny than that of the beasts that perish ! Whatever asserts the superiority of the soul over the body, and teaches us to live for the soul instead of the body, is false ! My young friend, I grant, is consistent with himself.
F. But is it not an objection to the Church, that she uniformly frowns upon all efforts to ameliorate the political and
social condition of mankind ?
B. I am not aware that she ever does so. She may frown
upon the efforts of hot-headed radicals and savage revolution
ists, for she does not recognize the so-called " sacred right of
insurrection " as one of her dogmas. She enjoins obedience
to legitimate authority, so long as it commands nothing con
trary to the law of God, and therefore regards sedition, insur
rection, rebellion, as sins against God, no less than as crimes
against the state. But she is always on the side of honest
freedom, and never fails to exert all her influence to lessen
political and social evils, and to augment the sum of political
and social well-being.
C. Before you became a Catholic, you were the friend of
the people, ready to do battle to the best of your ability in
their cause ; now we find you siding with the people's masters,
sympathizing with the despotic governments that, in the recent
revolutions in Europe, have repressed the popular movements
for liberty. Is it not because your religion requires you to do so?
B. There are several ways of telling a story. In my youth I was a wild radical, and sympathized with rebels wherever I found them, unless rebels against the authority of the mob. I took it for granted, that all old institutions are bad, and tend only to restrain the free spirit of man, and I looked upon every established government as necessarily tyrannical, and hostile to liberty. Whoever seeks to demolish old institutions, and to overthrow all fixed government, belongs, I said, to the party of progress, and is on the side of humanity. I sympathized with Lucifer in his rebellion against the Almighty, and with admiration heard him say, in Milton, alter his defeat,
" All is not lost; the unconquerable will, And study of revenge, immortal bate. And courage never to submit or yield, And what is else not to be overcome; Tliat glory never shall his wrath or might Extort from me : to bow and sue for grace, With suppliant knee, and deify his power, Who from the terror of this arm no late Doubted his empire, that were low indeed, That were an ignominy and shame beneath This downfall; since by fate the strength of gods And this empyreal substance cannot fiiil; Since through experience of this great event, In arms not worse, in foresight much advanced, We may with more successful hope resolve To wage by force or guile eternal war, Irreconcilable to our grand foe, Who now triumphs, and in the excess of joy Sole reigning holds the tyranny of heaven.
But in those mad days when I was animated by the spirit of the age, I was any thing but a friend to the people.
I have not sympathized with the recent European revolutions, not, indeed, because I am hostile to the people, but because I love them and wish their good. Kings and nobles are nothing to me. What have I to gain by opposing popular frenzy, and telling the people they are fools and mad ? Am I not one of the people ? Is not my earthly lot, and that of my children, bound up with theirs ? Why should I desert my old friends, and expose myself to the reproach and obloquy of popular leaders ? I do not concede that nobody understands or seeks the good of the people but radicals, Red Republicans, communists, and socialists. I oppose these because they are the enemies of the people, as well as of God. Men who consult the lessons of past experience, who respect the wisdom of past ages, and uniformly act under an abiding sense of their accountability, are fully as likely to understand and seek the real good of the people, as your atheistical and immoral revolutionists, who despise all knowledge, wisdom, or authority but their own.
I can hardly restrain my indignation when I find our liberal press representing these recent revolutions as attempted in favor of the people. A more God-forgetting and God-forsaken set of mortals it would be difficult to find, than the leaders of the European liberals, who excited these revolutions and sought through them to introduce popular government in the European states. There may be here and there an honest man in the ranks of the party, but among the chiefs I have not found a single one worthy of the least respect for his moral principles or his practical virtue. Some of them have received a passable education, are not deficient either in scientific culture or refinement of manners, but as yet not a great man, a man of a high order of character, has appeared among them. Mazzini has low cunning and some rhetorical ability ; Lamar-tine is a mere phrase-monger, and Kossuih is a whimpering sentimentalist. Bern and Dembinski, their ablest generals, have proved what they were by turning Turks, if reports are to be credited. Ledru Itollin is a cross between Marat and Robespierre. Nothing in the world is easier than to gain a reputation by opposing authority, declaiming for liberty, and professing unlimited devotion to the cause of the people. One needs but rattle off a few commonplaces for liberty, or against despotism, to gain the admiration of the multitude, and the name of patriot and people's friend. Chime in with popular passions, and those passions will swell your voice, and sustain you for a time.
I was trained to sympathize with European liberals, and to receive as so much law and gospel whatever received the sanction of French infidels, Polish and Italian refugees, and English Whigs. In later years I have asked myself what European liberals, or the liberals in any country, from the Gracchi down to our own time, have ever effected for the liberty or the happiness of the people. In modern times they have frequently been in power. They were in power in England in the seventeenth century ; they beheaded their king, brushed away the lords temporal and the lords spiritual, and had every thing their own way. The nation gladly, to get rid of their misrule, submitted, under Cromwell, to a military despotism, to a slavery hitherto unknown in England. They were in power in Holland under the De Witts, and brought their country to the verge of ruin. They were in power in France in 1789, 18S3O, and in 1848, and in each instance, as long as they held the power, terror reigned, and there was no security for person or property. Never do they rise to power but they prove themselves real despots, savages, and butchers. No nation has yet been found that could for any considerable length endure their sway, or that has not on the very first opportunity thrown them off. Religion and philosophy teach us that it must be so, and history proves that it is so. The reason is, that every liberal is by nature a despot, and it is his spirit of lawlessness and insubordination that places him in opposition to authority. However he may disguise the matter from himself or others, he wishes to be governed only by his own will, that is, to make his own will the government, which is the essential principle of despotism. When 1 hear a man declaiming lustily for liberty, I suspect it is for liberty to debauch my wife, to pick my pocket, or cut my throat.
If you are wise, you will place no confidence in European liberals. You cannot rely on one of their statements. They fear not God, and regard not man. The truth is the last thing in the world they see or choose to tell, and whoever has in these days relied on their published statements has found himself deceived. Witness the case of the Hungarians. Up to the very last moment, the liberal press in Europe and this country teemed with glowing accounts of the successes of the Hungarians, and the defeats of the Russo-Austrian forces, while every man not blinded by his sympathy with the rebels knew that these successes and defeats were pure inventions, as well as every body knows now that the Russo-Austrian army met with no serious check even once during the whole campaign.
In none of the European states was a revolution called for. Abuses of administration there may have been, but it is well known that the governments were doing their best to correct them ; evils, no doubt, there were, but chiefly of that nature which no government can reach, and which will generally be greater under a democratic government than any other. As a Catholic I complain of nearly all the European governments, for their denial of the freedom of religion, and their taking into their own hands the business of education, which of right belongs to the Church ; but besides this I am aware of no well-grounded complaint that could be brought against any of the European governments, and this was no ground of complaint with the liberals. None of them were tyrannical, or showed any disposition to tyrannize over their subjects, and whatever severity they practised was practised against those only who were continually conspiring to overthrow them. The complaints of the liberals were ridiculous. " The government won't keep still and suffer us to destroy it. It is detestably tyrannical. It has no respect for the rights of the people ; it puts down free discussion ; it insults the majesty of reason, and tramples intellect in the dust. It puts out the light of the soul, and involves man in darkness. It will not let us quietly cut its throat, and insists that we shall demean ourselves as good citizens and loyal1 subjects ! " This is the sum and substance of their complaint, as you may gather, if you will, even from the Mie Prigione of Silvio Pellico.
F. But do you not overlook the fact, that all the European governments were antipopular in their constitution ? The liberals were struggling to introduce popular forms of government as the condition and guaranty of popular liberty. In this I sympathize with them, and regret that the combined forces of the crowned despots have been able to triumph over them.
O. Their triumph is only for a time. The friends of the people, European democrats, are defeated, but not subdued, nor even disheartened. They have not struggled in vain ; their cause lives ; the sacred fire of popular liberty is still cherished, and they will conquer at last.
" Yet, Freedom ! yet, thy banner torn, but flying, Screams like the thunder-storm against the wind ; m Thy trumpet-voice, though broken now and dying, The loudest still the tempest loaves behind ; Thy tree hath lost its blossoms, and its rind, Chopped by the axe, looks rough and little worth, But the sap lasts, and still the seed we find Sown deep, even in the bosom of the North ; So shall a better spring loss bitter fruit bring forth."
The people have been awakened, and tyrants will never charm them to sleep again. Henceforth no throne is firm, no crown sits secure. The struggle will never cease till the people obtain their rights.
B. My young friends, I see, do not lack the power to declaim. But lofty words and high-sounding periods cost little expenditure of thought. I am no prophet, and therefore shall not undertake to say what will or will not occur hereafter. I do not, however, think the struggle between society and its enemies is by any means ended. There is no doubt great truth in what you say about the people having been awakened. So large a portion of the European population have been rendered dissatisfied with their condition,'have been made to believe that their sufferings are due to bad government, or to a falsely organized society, and induced to hope amelioration only from popular institutions, that I do not believe the democratic movement will suddenly subside ; and the youngest of you probably will not live long enough to see social peace restored, and legitimate government at liberty to devote all its energies to the welfare and prosperity of its subjects.
If I, like my young friends, believed that popular liberty and democracy were inseparable, and that it is impossible to have one without the other, I should undoubtedly think and feel very differently, in respect of European liberals, from what I do at present. But you liberals are too illiberal for me. You are political bigots, and would compel us all to think as you do. You will allow of no political salvation out of democracy. I cannot stand that. I nowhere read that Almighty God declares all forms of government, except the democratic, are illegitimate. When he himself framed immediately a civil polity for his chosen people, it was not the democratic. The Jewish polity was, as near as it can be described by comparison with secular governments generally, a federative aristocracy, under the hierarchy, which was monarchical. The Church has never made democracy a dogma of faith, and I have never been able to find in the Holy Scriptures a single passage that gives the preference to the democratic over other forms of government. If I find myself the citizen of a democratic state, I hold myself bound to sustain democracy. I am a republican by habit, association, and by preference for my own country ; but, excepting my own country and Switzerland, I know of no country in which the introduction of democratic republicanism would not sacrifice liberty, and prove a curse to the people. I therefore do not regard European liberals as worthy of our sympathy because they are struggling for democracy. That is rather a ground of accusation against them.
It is very easy to call the emperors of Russia and Austria despots and tyrants, to rail at Metternich, and pronounce Hay-nau a butcher, to call the victims of their just punishment the martyrs of liberty, and to brand as enemies of the people all who will not say as much. Nay, it is not difficult to make the dear people themselves believe so. But it will take much to convince me that Nicholas of Russia is not a better man than Joseph Mazzini, Haynau a better friend of the people than the weak and whimpering Kossuth, or that Prince Metternich has not done more for real liberty and the welfare of the people of Europe, during the last thirty years, than has been done by all your liberals from Hampden to M. Proudhon. I do not expect you to believe me to-day. You are young, and filled with the spirit of liberalism. You have not yet learned that the first lesson in freedom is submission to authority, and the practice of self-denial. There is and can be no freedom for irreligious men, or a godless nation. Never is it the free government that makes a free people ; always is it the free people that makes the free government. You may turn the matter over as you will, to this you must come at last. " If the Son make you free, you shall be free indeed." If he does not, you are slaves in democratic America no less than in despotic Turkey.