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it. He left nothing else which compares with the first volume of his « History of Civilization, except such occasional essays as that in which he reviews Mill on “Liberty.” There he shows the quality of his intellect in sentences which the intensity of his conviction makes piercing with a power of penetration beyond that possible for mere logic. “Liberty,” he says, “is the one thing most essential to the right development of individuals and to the real grandeur of nations. It is a product of knowledge when knowledge advances in a healthy and regular manner; but if under certain unhappy circumstances it is opposed by what seems to be knowledge, then, in God's name, let knowledge perish and liberty be preserved.”
Buckle was born in Kent, England, November 24th, 1821. His family was wealthy, but, as his constitution was delicate, he escaped the formal English academic training which might have stereotyped his intellect. Educated at home, and having an ample fortune, he lived surrounded by books which he used under the inspiration of his desire to produce a great historical work adequate for the explanation of human history from the standpoint of nineteenth-century science. «The History of Civilization in England,” the first volume of which appeared in 1857, was the result. A second volume followed it, but Buckle's death, May 29th, 1862, left unachieved the history of civilization as a whole, which, had he lived, he might have attempted.
W. V. B.
LIBERTY A SUPREME GOOD
LIBERTY is the one thing most essential to the right develop
ment of individuals and to the real grandeur of nations.
It is a product of knowledge when knowledge advances in a healthy and regular manner; but if under certain unhappy circumstances it is opposed by what seems to be knowledge, then, in God's name, let knowledge perish and liberty be preserved. Liberty is not a means to an end, it is an end itself. To secure it, to enlarge it, and to diffuse it, should be the main object of all social arrangements and of all political contrivances. None but a pedant or a tyrant can put science or literature in competition with it. Within certain limits, and very small limits too, it is the inalienable prerogative of man, of which no force of circumstances and no lapse of time can deprive him. He has no right to barter it away even from himself, still less from his children. It is the foundation of all self-respect, and without it the great doctrine of moral responsibility would degenerate into a lie and a juggle. It is a sacred deposit, and the love of it is a holy instinct engraven on our hearts. And if it could be shown that the tendency of advancing knowledge is to encroach upon it; if it could be proved that in the march of what we call civilization, the desire for liberty did necessarily decline, and the exercise of liberty become less frequent; if this could be made apparent, I for one should wish that the human race might halt in its career, and that we might recede step by step, so that the very trophies and memory of our glory should vanish, sooner than that men were bribed by their splendor to forget the sentiment of their own personal dignity.
But it cannot be. Surely it cannot be that we, improving in all other things, should be retrograding in the most essential. Yet, among thinkers of great depth and authority, there is a fear that such is the case. With that fear I cannot agree; but the existence of the fear, and the discussions to which it has led and will lead are extremely salutary, as calling our attention to an evil which in the eagerness of our advance we might otherwise overlook. We are stepping on at a rate of which no previ. ous example has been seen; and it is good that, amid the pride and flush of our prosperity, we should be made to inquire what price we have paid for our success. Let us compute the cost as well as the gain. Before we announce our fortune we should balance our books. Every one, therefore, should rejoice at the appearance of a work in which for the first time the great question of liberty is unfolded in all its dimensions, considered on every side and from every aspect, and brought to bear upon our present condition with a steadiness of hand and a clearness of purpose which they will most admire who are most accustomed to reflect on this difficult and complicated topic.
In the actual state of the world, Mr. Mill rightly considers that the least important part of the question of liberty is that which concerns the relation between subjects and rulers. On this point, notwithstanding the momentary ascendency of despotism on the Continent, there is, I believe, nothing to dread. In France and Germany the bodies of men are enslaved, but not their minds. Nearly all the intellect of Europe is arrayed against tyranny, and the ultimate result of such a struggle can hardly be doubted. The immense armies which are maintained, and which some mention as a proof that the love of war is increasing instead of diminishing, are merely an evidence that the governing classes distrust and suspect the future, and know that their real danger is to be found not abroad, but at home. They fear revolution far more than invasion. The state of foreign affairs is their pretense for arming; the state of public opinion is the cause. And right glad they are to find a decent pretext for protecting themselves from that punishment which many of them richly deserve. But I cannot understand how any one who has carefully studied the march of the European mind, and has seen it triumph over obstacles ten times more formidable than these, can really apprehend that the liberties of Europe will ultimately fall before those who now threaten their existence. When the spirit of freedom was far less strong and less universal, the task was tried, and tried in vain. It is hardly to be supposed that the monarchical principle, decrepit as it now is, and stripped of that dogma of divine right which long upheld it, can eventually withstand the pressure of those general causes which, for three centuries, have marked it for destruction. And, since despotism has chosen the institution of monarchy as that under which it seeks a shelter, and for which it will fight its last battle, we may fairly assume that the danger is less imminent than is commonly imagined, and that they who rely on an old and enfeebled principle, with which neither the religion nor the affections of men are associated as of yore, will find that they are leaning on a broken reed, and that the sceptre of their power will pass from them.
I cannot, therefore, participate in the feelings of those who look with apprehensions at the present condition of Europe. Mr. Mill would, perhaps, take a less sanguine view; but it is observable that the greater part of his defense of liberty is not directed against political tyranny. There is, however, another sort of tyranny which is far more insidious, and against which he has chiefly bent his efforts. This is the despotism of custom, to which ordinary minds entirely succumb, and before which even strong minds quail. But custom being merely the product of public opinion, or rather its external manifestation, the two principles of custom and opinion must be considered together; and I will briefly state how, according to Mr. Mill, their joint action is producing serious mischief, and is threatening mischief more serious still
The proposition which Mr. Mill undertakes to establish is that society, whether acting by the legislature or by the influence of
public cpinion, has no right to interfere with the conduct of any individual for the sake of his own good. Society may interfere with him for their good, not for his. If his actions hurt them, he is, under certain circumstances, amenable to their authority; if they only hurt himself, he is never amenable. The proposition, thus stated, will be acceded to by many persons who, in practice, repudiate it every day of their lives. The ridicule which is cast upon whoever deviates from an established custom, however trifling and foolish that custom may be, shows the determination of society to exercise arbitrary sway over individuals. On the most insignificant as well as on the most important matters, rules are laid down which no one dares to violate, except in those extremely rare cases in which great intellect, great wealth, or great rank enable a man rather to command society than to be commanded by it. The immense mass of mankind are, in regard to their usages, in a state of social slavery, each man being bound under heavy penalties to conform to the standard of life common to his own class. How serious those penalties are is evident from the fact that though innumerable persons complain of prevailing customs and wish to shake them off, they dare not do so, but continue to practice them, though frequently at the expense of health, comfort, and fortune. Men, not cowards in other respects, and of a fair share of moral courage, are afraid to rebel against this grievous and exacting tyranny. The consequences of this are injurious not only to those who desire to be freed from the thraldom, but also to those who do not desire to be freed; that is, to the whole of society. Of these results, there are two particularly mischievous, and which, in the opinion of Mr. Mill, are likely to gain ground, unless some sudden change of sentiment should occur.
The first mischief is, that a sufficient number of experiments are not made respecting the different ways of living; from which it happens that the art of life is not so well understood as it otherwise would be. If society were more lenient to eccentricity, and more inclined to examine what is unusual than to laugh at it, we should find that many courses of conduct which we call whimsical, and which according to the ordinary standard are utterly irrational, have more reason in them than we are disposed to imagine. But, while a country or an age will obstinately insist upon condemning all human conduct which is not in accordance with the manner or fashion of the day, deviations from the straight line will be rarely hazarded. We are, therefore, prevented from knowing how far such deviations would be useful. By discouraging the experiment, we retard the knowledge. On this account, if on no other, it is advisable that the widest latitude should be given to unusual actions, which ought to be valued as tests whereby we may ascertain whether or not particular things are expedient. Of course, the essentials of morals are not to be violated, nor the public peace to be disturbed. But short of this, every indulgence should be granted. For progress depends upon change; and it is only by practicing uncustomary things that we can discover if they are fit to become customary.
The other evil which society inflicts on herself by her own tyranny is still more serious; and although I cannot go with Mr. Mill in considering the danger to be so imminent as he does, there can, I think, be little doubt that it is the one weak point in modern civilization, and that it is the only thing of importance in which, if we are not actually receding, we are making no perceptible advance.
This is that most precious and inestimable quality, the quality of individuality. That the increasing authority of society, if not counteracted by other causes, tends to limit the exercise of this quality, seems indisputable. Whether or not there are counteracting causes is a question of great complexity, and could not be discussed without entering into the general theory of our existing civilization. With the most unfeigned deference for every opinion enunciated by Mr. Mill, I venture to differ from him on this matter, and to think that, on the whole, individuality is not diminishing, and that so far as we can estimate the future, it is not likely to diminish. But it would ill become any man to combat the views of this great thinker, without subjecting the point at issue to a rigid and careful analysis; and as I have not done so, I will not weaken my theory by advancing imperfect arguments in its favor, but will, as before, confine myself to stating the conclusions at which he has arrived, after what has evidently been a train of long and anxious reflection.
According to Mr. Mill, things are tending, and have for some time tended, to lessen the influence of original minds, and to raise mediocrity to the foremost place. Individuals are lost in the crowd. The world is ruled not by them, but by public opinion; and public opinion, being the voice of the many, is the voice of mediocrity. Affairs are now governed by average men, who