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is necessary to his happiness both in his individual and social capacity; that he has pointed out to him the means by which that resistance may be effectually carried on ; and that as he has made the happiness of the individual dependant upon the degree in which he perseveres in that resistance, so has he made the happiness and well-being of society no less dependant upon the degree in which the mass of individuals pursue the same course. If society, therefore, make any progress at all, it must be in consequence of the obedience of the individuals composing it to the commands of God, that is, of their resistance to the evil and selfish and savage passions which obstruct that progress. So that the Providential course of society runs directly counter to human perversity, and depends entirely upon the degree in which it is subdued, and man in some degree restored to his original constitution and dignity. I am aware that it may here be objected, that since Society is composed of individuals whose proneness to evil is admitted, and there is reason to suppose that few of them fully and effectually resist it, it seems rather inconsistent to argue that the Providential course of a society thus constituted should run in a contrary direction. I admit that this objection would be conclusive, were the universal obedience and sinless perfection of individuals mecessary to such a gradual improvement in their condition as the healthy progress of society requires. But a reference to fact and experience proves that this is by no means the case. We see many societies advanced to a high degree of happiness and civilization, not indeed where morals are generally relaxed
and religion neglected, not indeed where the laws themselves are founded in injustice and immorality, but certainly where the opposite virtues are merely sufficiently prevalent to render them upon the whole the ruling principles upon which public and private conduct is regulated. The degree of happiness and civilization will of course depend upon the extent to which the habits and dispositions of the people prompt them to a ready obedience or to a profligate resistance to such laws; but as long as the principle of virtue is strong enough to maintain them in the respect of the people, and to ensure a general obedience to their enactments, so long will the society continue to advance, and the spontaneous arrangements of the people to produce those political effects which have been detailed in the preceding chapters of this treatise. If this hypothesis be just, it must follow of course that any principle of conduct, which is allowable on grounds of morality and religion, cannot be politically mischievous, since those grounds are asserted to form the criterion to which, and to which only, political expediency can with certainty be referred. In other words nothing can be politically expedient that is inconsistent with morals and religion; and every thing plainly consistent with them is politically expedient as a fundamental principle of action. Here then another very wide field of difference is opened between the principles of this treatise and those which it is my object to oppose. By these many actions, perfectly allowable upon moral and religious grounds, some indeed which appear to be specifically commanded as branches of our duty, are concluded to be contrary to the well-being of society, and alto
gether inconsistent with the views of Providence for the government of the world. The course of nature is set up against the divine laws, and the principle of political expediency against the revealed will of God.
Now there are two ways of attacking positions of this nature, either by asserting at once that Providence is a better judge of its own work, and consequently of what is erpedient to keep it in due course, than any human philosopher can pretend to be; which at once precludes all argument except as to what really is the revealed will of God. The other method, and upon the whole perhaps the most satisfactory, in so far as the proof can be clearly made out, is to show that, upon fair principles of philosophy unaided by higher authority, the duties which are commanded, and the actions which are permitted, are in themselves expedient and in their consequences beneficial to society: and while we carefully abstain from any idea that the authority of the divine laws is at all affected by our necessarily confined notions concerning their expediency, we may be thankful that on many important points of practical conduct the proof of that expediency lies so much within the scope of our intellectual faculties. The last is the method which I mean to pursue on the present occasion, and shall in the following chapters select the most prominent of the actions and duties connected with this inquiry; first endeavouring to show the extent to which we are commanded or permitted to practise them, and then to exhibit the degree in which the expediency and advantages of practising them can be proved from the arguments of the two preceding books.
Of the Nature and Ertent of the Duty of
It is surely superfluous in these days, and most emphatically so in this country, to enlarge upon the absolute and unconditional nature of the duty of charity; or to assert that it is strictly speaking a moral duty, and that we are commanded to practise it for our own improvement and the profit of others, without any nice reference to our notions or presumptions concerning its political expediency. “Let every one of you assist his neighbour in whatsoever business he hath need of you:” (Rom. xvi. 2.) “Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn thou not away:” (Matt. v. 42.) “Give, and it shall be given unto you,” &c. (Luke vi. 38.) “The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth shall be watered also himself: (Prov. ii. 25.) “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers:” (Heb. xiii. 2.) with many other texts of Scripture, are positive injunctions enforced by sanctions having mo reference whatsoever to political expediency. Yet if it be true, as asserted, that population has in all cases a tendency of itself to exceed the supply of food for its support; since we can scarcely, by the nature of things, assist the poor in any way without encouraging them to produce, and enabling them to rear, a greater number of children, or at least without prolonging the existence of the objects of our charity; it is evident that by every exertion of it we
are only increasing the quantum of human misery. While we assist some we are proportionably depressing others, and adding to that number which is already exuberant to a fault. It is impossible to parry this conclusion; and although the humanity of many who profess to admit its truth, especially of the author of the Essay on Population, very naturally recoils from the proposition, nothing can more strongly mark its practical deficiency when applied to the exigences of human life than the manner in which he endeavours to escape from it. They say that general principles should not be pushed too far; and that cases may occur where the good resulting may more than overbalance the evil to be apprehended. But if the principle be true, how is it possible to know that the beings we thus evalt may be more worthy than those so unjustifiably depressed? If the world be already miserable because it has a continual tendency to repletion, all charity which encourages marriage among the lower orders in order to promote happiness and morality, which assists women in child-birth, which promotes vaccination and the cure of painful and distressing diseases, which helps in short any of the poor to rear their children in soundness of body, which bestows relief upon the old who have not saved a provision from their youthful earnings, which saves in any manner the life of one whose death would set his fellow-creatures more at ease, is a criminal indulgence of individual feeling at the expense of the general welfare of mankind: since by the exercise of any one of these charities towards one individual, we reduce another, who may deserve it less, to the same distress from which the object of our benevolence is relieved.