« ForrigeFortsett »
also an association of men, disciplined and welded together by what Burke called 'hard essays of practised friendship and experimented fidelity. This may have its drawbacks. But the gain is that it is just in this instinct and habit of loyalty that there lies a safeguard against the precipitancy, the crudity, the instability, the misgivings, which are so apt to waylay even the most self-confident of men, when in their decisions they have no one to think of but themselves."
These are most welcome and memorable expressions, such as it is both delightful and useful to have from the pen of a distinguished thinker-out and illustrator of doctrine in terms of ethical seriousness. They deserve not only to live in recorded authority, but to be incorporated in the lives of citizens, for I believe, and I hope that Professor MacCunn concurs, that membership of a party is a downright duty from which citizens can only be excused before man and God by congenital imbecility.
The point is perhaps scarcely worth making, and it is certainly not worth illustrating, but I have a feeling that Mr. MacCunn is not quite equal in the tone of his canons. Many of them he lays down like these on Party upon grounds of reason and ethics, but occasionally he attaches too much importance as an ethical principal to conformity to human nature. Now, human nature is all very well, and politics which had no regard to human nature might as well—to use a vulgar expression-put up the shutters. But human nature wants a great deal of correcting and keeping in order and bringing up to a higher standard, and happily the only methods which are of good credit in free, organised democratic politics are such as naturally tend to make human nature in the mass distinctly better than it is in the individual. One of these is public eloquence, which cannot be too much encouraged, because the better it is, I will even say the more ambitious it is, is the more likely to raise the people to a high level of spirit and conscience in public affairs. I once had the privilege of telling Mr. Bright a story about himself. Though extremely positive, and even self-satisfied as to his opinions and his line of conduct, he had a tinge of pessimism in him which made him misdoubt, or affect to misdoubt, the effect of his own speeches. I told him of a scene in a London restaurant. Two very ordinary business men were sitting opposite each other at luncheon, reading the while, as is the way with Londoners. “What a splendid speech this is of John Bright's,” said one to the other. "Oh! I never read all that rubbish,” was the reply. “Now come,” said the first speaker, “just read this bit that I'll show you," and he handed the paper over to his acquaintance. It was a passage, I remember, in which some fine ideal of State amelioration was brought home to the emotions by some poignant representation of woes or evils as they were. When next the man who lent the newspaper looked up from his plate the man to whom he had lent it was in tears.
In the shrewd and persuasive passage of Cicero's oration for Lucius Murena, in which he insinuatingly pleads, with human nature on his side, for mitigations of that Stoic code which he admits Marcus Cato not only believed in but acted on, he wisely says that all virtues should be tempered by moderation. Nothing more serious requires the attention of our very best statesmen, because in proportion as they are high-minded and public of spirit, and have lofty aims, they are apt to forget how stolid and low in conceptions human nature in general is. But, as it is part of the business of high statesmanship to hit the happy mean to which average human nature may be induced by teaching and oratory and insensible habit to rise, and to which practical statesmanship may, without compromise of principle, descend, so it is part of the business of political philosophy, while recognising human nature as necessary to be taken into account in affairs, to reject utterly the foibles of human nature as in any way a standard of public right and policy. For instance, it is human nature to aggrandise one's country, but that does not excuse unjust aggression. On the other hand, the fact that encroachments will be led up to by trade, which is good, and by greed, which is bad, and by love of enterprise, which is neutral, is constantly creating for a great country situations in which it has to be decided whether duty lies in accepting or in rejecting acquisitions of territory. So, again, human nature loves military display and naval strength, but it must be settled by policy and ethics, not by human nature, how far naval and military armaments are to be carried, and what is to be done with them. Similarly it is human nature to hate paying rates, but the impatience of ratepaying must be limited to a minimum effect on the ordering of public expenditure ; and, while it is trying to human nature to witness destitution, the giving of relief and the provision of employment must be regulated only partially by feelings of compassion. Sheer patriotism, as it may be called-sheer patriotism in ourselves, spread-eagleism and Chauvinism in our neighboursis one of the most seductive of human nature's wiles for the citizen. It was said by Guizot, of Berryer, that he always remained popular because he was always patriotic. It may be said with equal truth that there is no country whose patriotism, so called, has not at times made it justly ridiculous to all the rest of the world. These and almost all public subjects must be more or less complicated as they appeal to the judgment. The worst possible final arbiter of the whole case is human nature. Statesmanship and Parliaments must try as a point of duty, and of reason, and of conscience, and of philosophy, to represent men at their collective best, and to avoid, in public action, as much of the error of mankind as is collectively avoidable. Am I right in thinking that Professor MacCunn's book has this fault—that it too readily accepts unimproved human nature as a standard and force in the ethics of citizenship ? Am I entitled to insist in politics, as in other matters, that in the domain of ethics unimproved, unperfected human nature has little if any prerogative? I hold that I am; and that only thus can we hope to reach what Baron de Bunsen set forth in one of his letters as an ideal of public as well as of private well-being, the breaking down of the rule of the dark despot Self, and the evolving of the reality of freedom.
We should shrink from basing duty-even the duty of kindness, even the duty of living for high and unseen ends-on anything but inherent rightness. Professor MacCunn says that only Religion can habituate the ordinary citizen to such moral achievements. He deprecates any scoffing at the State as an object of devotion, and admits that it would be rash to set limits to that sentiment so directed. But in a passage all too eloquent for philosophy he exclaims, “Our thoughts go back to the God of our Puritan and Covenanting forefathers, the God of Knox and of Cromwell, and to the things that were done in His name; and we wonder how the mastery of that awful Presence over the human heart and conscience is to be won by the noblest State that is likely to be fashioned by human hands and minds.” None of us is likely to be insensible to the ringing appeal that vibrates in such words. But I demur to this division of the secular and the sacred. The theology of Knox and Cromwell is likely to be no more and no less God-made than the perfections of a noble State; and though philosophy may record that civic duty has been done under theological impulses, philosophy should assert the sufficiency of civic obligations for the performance of civic duty. Granted that religion is a potent assistance to all performance of duty; granted that there are minds which only religion will work up to any consciousness of high duty; it is nevertheless the function of an ethical teacher to insist on ethical sanctions, and to argue for their being brought into general regard, and for their being recognised as of sufficient power.
Take again the obligation of being kind and philosophic. Professor MacCunn quotes the “Brother, Brother,” passage from Sartor Resartus, which I think Mr. Brett took for the motto of his Stonebreaker, and finds in it the doctrine that if we apprehend “the reality and indestructibility of the relation of man to God we must needs look upon our fellow men with a love and a pity such as are due only to beings in whom the Divine spirit, through which all are one, is for ever doomed to the sorrowful, heroic, struggles of our strangely obstructed partially unintelligible life on earth.” He calls this “ Fraternity standing upon something more than sentiment,” and pooh, poohs those “whose language is at times such as to suggest that to be faithful to the idea of Fraternity we must love the distant savage even as we love our own flesh and blood.” He even states that it is just narrower ties dividing the allegiance” to Humanity as a whole that “most surely foster the wider affections.” If this is so, as a matter of fact, it is valeat quantum a fit matter for philosophical observation; but the moral doctrine of it is not fit to be laid down as an ethical obligation. The good man will be as truly kind to a cat as to a