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Christian. He cannot help being kind. It is his natural and trained desire, and he knows it to be right. He cannot get behind that. He wants no other reason for it. If he suddenly learnt that one half of his fellowmen were of diabolic origin it would not make the slightest difference in his behaviour to them. The springs of benevolence, to have virtue, must rise in ourselves without collateral stimulus-even if we acknowledge that the stimulus of common Divine parentage is not irrelevant. There is a very beautiful subtlety in the parable of the Good Samaritan. That parable is a reply to the question “Who is my neighbour ?” According to the natural and expected structure of the argument proof ought to be given that the man who fell among robbers was neighbour to those who passed him by, and to the good Samaritan who succoured him. But no! Our Saviour asked, after telling the lovely story,“ Which of the three—the priest, the Levite, or the Samaritan-was neighbour to him who fell among robbers ? ” The governing principle suddenly and unexpectedly-with a sort of parabolic wit—turns out to be not that the injured man was the neighbour of the others, but that one of these others, and not the other two, was neighbourly to him.
The great value of Professor MacCunn's work—which all-outweighing merit I am heartily glad to recognise-is its hopeful tone as to the future of Democracy. Let not this be checked, either by the seemingly contradictory probabilities which the philosopher has to recognise or by the somewhat confusing enrichment of his pages by quotations from all and sundry authorities.
As to the latter peculiarity, I submit that the citation of things great men have said in politics, though more interesting, perhaps, than the old blind citation of Scripture texts in religion, is liable to be quite as vexatious and misleading. In every case before admitting the force of a quotation you need to have before you, and you need to be able to pronounce upon the context, the facts of the time, the precision of the analogy, the competence of the speaker or writer, the quality of temporariness or permanency in his utterance. Let us boldly tackle the greatest example: You can prove almost any doctrine from Burke ; because almost every doctrine is in some sort true; and because Burke saw everything, and at some time or other said everything. But all this is against his being quoted as an authority. He is an incomparable illustrator and elucidator, for the consideration of mankind, of the moral facts of life and government. But one is often wrong in any given case if one allows Burke to have more than a qualifying or suspensory effect on the judgment. As in an ideal jurisprudence so in a perfect choice of opinion and action, previous decisions should only illuminate the issue, not decree the conclusion.
As to the other drawback-the frank and serious recognition of difficulties—this is greatly to Professor MacCunn's honour, and does not militate in the least against the good hopes which the balance of his argument encourages. Democracy will certainly never have an unchequered existence. It will always be liable, like everything else human, to all the errors and unhappinesses, which may come either because those who are in it and those who have the conduct of it do not make the most of their advantageous circumstances, or because they find disadvantageous circumstances too strong for them.
There is no royal road to be counted upon, anywhither. Those who seek royal roads are apt to arrive at very unroyal destinations.
Baron de Bunsen, whom I have already quoted, said in another letter, “We have prophets : therefore we have a future.” It is a fine epigram. Professor MacCunn is one of our prophets. He foretels a good future for Democracy because under Democracy can be secured the greatest amount of cooperative service with the least amount of irretrievable disaster that men can provide for themselves under any system of government.
As time goes on, and as the scene opens, he and other hopeful seeing men will discern in clearer detail the course of future progress. Most instructive is it, and it should be most stimulating, to reflect how continually that great vista is opening, and how inexorably that man is shut out from human affairs who closes his eyes to its holpening promises.
I have told one anecdote of Mr. Bright. I must tell another. In the year 1869 he was talking in a more meditative, less confident, tone than usual of the history and prospects of popular progress. “I often think,” said he, “ that we shall almost immediately have got as far as we can get. We have obtained free trade. We have in towns household suffrage, which will no doubt soon be extended to the counties. Next year we shall have Education. Religious equality may come soon. And then-I really don't see what more we can wish for.” I will not dwell upon the yet further great changes which he helped to carry, nor on the improvement (from his point of view) of our foreign policy (in which he failed, and thereupon resigned office), nor upon the great proposal for the future of one part of the Empire at which he craned. I would rather point out that almost all the great range of improvements which are now generally believed to be producible by State action, and which now occupy the politicians of all parties when they contemplate the future, were left, in blank unconsciousness of their practical possibility, absolutely out of Mr. Bright's prospect.
Professor MacCunn believes, and I humbly subscribe to his opinion, that the prospects of humanity under Democracy are unlimited and, on the whole, happy. This is philosophy. It is the philosophy of History to hope much from change. It is the philosophy of Politics to make changes wisely. For my own part I hold it rational to look forward, for example, to such changes as the abolition of war; the recognition of how much may be done for society by spending on amelioration the vast sums which till now have been spent on defence and readiness for warfare ; the regeneration and training and placing of waifs and strays by the State, acting in loco parentis ; the almost total abolition of alcoholic intemperance; a great dimunition of the vicissitudes of labour; a minimisation of preventible disease; and the virtual extension to the poorest of all the intellectual opportunities of the rich. These are great aims. Some of them may come to be realised with unexpected rapidity. Come they quickly, or come they slowly, they will come on the lines of Professor MacCunn's Optimism.