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THE PEOPLE BECOME THEIR SELF-TORMENTORS
HAD the great Roman satirist lived in a reforming age, when all the conflicting passions raged uncontrolled, even by the superior light of Christianity, and abstracted the discreet pastor and sober citizen from the performance of their relative duties, until they both became lost in the maze of utopian visions of popular felicity and prosperity; where would the ire of his sarcastic genius have found its limit? Assuredly, not within the compass of a "little book."
Having assumed that the efforts of all true patriots should be directed to the production of a national reformation of men and manners, as necessary for the improvement and preservation of our social edifice, how is this desideratum to be obtained? It is fully evident that human nature is not to be reformed by an Act of Parliament; and that extension of privileges without adequate se
curities, will increase the opportunities for doing evil; for, alas! the page of history shows, that pride, ambition, corruption, and folly, have been the natural attendants on man in every age!
The many-watered spring with which rulers have to contend in this age of change is popular opinion. It is a torrent that cannot be stemmed; but whilst it may be directed and led into proper channels, it is the wisdom and duty of the rulers of empires to provide for the right conduct of the popular mind, and to shape their legislation suitably to the current of the national intelligence. Resist it or dam it inconsiderately up, and at one swell it may endanger the entire fabric of the society. Hence the advantage of constitutional government.
In an age of ignorance, the people were as loyal to King Log as they now are to the man of their own choice. It was not until they leaped upon him, and experimentally discovered of what materials he was composed, that they altered their minds upon the subject of the "divine rights of kings." It was not until they knew something of what the world had been and had become, that they thought upon their "relative rights and duties, and prying into the laws of nature itself, at once set at defiance the dogmas of theorizing scholiasts, and the arbitrary mandates of usurping despots." But, whatever may be the faults of rulers, their subjects are often equally faulty in the means they take to correct them. Captivated by the charms of reason in the abstract, they have made gods of their own ideas,
the objects of which have in the practical argum of their own experiments, as by a lusus natur entirely disappeared. Sometimes they devise u pian views of human happiness, which they are ev never agreed how to attain. Sometimes they co trive a scheme of government which it is only po sible soon to accomplish by a national revolution and which a counter-revolution as soon sweep away. At other times we see them endeavourin to intimidate the existing legislature by insurrec tion and tumult-now expressing their disconten by an active, and now by a passive resistance.
It is plainly seen that open rebellion is accompanied with the destruction of all rights, property, and life; and it is equally clear that a passive resistance, more or less according to its extent, suspends the existing laws from being executed, and, consequently, superseding all civil rule and order, disorganizes the social community, and tends equally with the former to anarchy and misery.
But people often suppose that whatever thwarts their personal convenience, or opinions, must of necessity be wrong, and that they can never be wrong in the means they use for redress-hence those frequent popular tumults and breaches of law, which occur amongst the working classes of the community. It is then that the civil powers are necessitated to put forth their energies. The laws of society must be maintained-the conduct of a civil community must be systematic-bad laws and any system are better than none.
To promise much, although they are conscious they can perform little, is the common resort of all parties in pursuit of popularity. But a discerning people soon discover the cheat; and when they recollect how much was promised, and see how little is performed, they attribute it not to previous miscalculation, but to the deception and corruption of office; and where they would otherwise have been content with little because little was needed, being now deceived by the promise of much, they demand infinitely more, and you shall not retract. Then comes the state lottery of revolution, where, whilst most may calculate upon certain loss, some, who have little to lose, expect to gain prodigiously. Some arch political adventurer, or modern Frog, now arises, and the following is his harangue :
"Oh! people, who sue for plenty, liberty, and prosperity, know ye not that it is in my power to obtain for ye whatever ye want? Make me your legislator, and I will give ye laws, life, and liberty! Ye now have rulers, who, exhausting your substance by their odious imposts, give you nothing in return. Submit yourselves to me, oh, people! and I will prefer your offerings to the god of reason and right, which I will set up upon this plain; and ye shall fall down before it, and rise again as free as the light; and though stripped of all other things, yet rich in this glorious consolation, that ye have sacrificed them all for justice and equality!" Oh, people! deluded and denuded, what can your deity do for ve in return? What is your quarantee for
the sacrifice ye must make? Ye have hearkene that high priest in politics-ye may do as he joins-but can he perform his promises? Will not rather consider the impolicy of bartering your present comforts and even small advantag for the unsubstantial shadow of promises and po sibilities?
Unnecessary changes, or such laws as are n decidedly for the better, are worse than if no alte ation had been attempted; for they unsettle th established usages of the country, and break i upon what had become the habitual, and, therefore almost natural system of society. If a perfect poli tical system be essential to human happiness, w may well despair of ever becoming happy; but tha some of us are happy without it, makes us question the supposition. Many of the most unaccountable usages and laws have answered the purposes of society, as well as the most rational and intelligible; so that any extensive innovation, merely for the purpose of vulgar or fancied propriety, seems hardly worth a serious sacrifice.
Of all the absurd and even monstrous anomalies in the history of mankind, perhaps none surpasses the hatred and animosities to which a difference in opinion frequently gives rise. Although it is natural for men to differ in opinion about the self-same thing, and even whilst it is admitted that it is impossible to make all men think alike, yet we continually see men give way to the most ridiculous
freeks of nesci