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as of everything else, and the feudal system is merely, in politics, what the miracle lives and scholasticism are in literature and science. ...
It is evident that a system of this sort would be a serious obstacle in the reconstruction of a strong and consolidated state. It is a fact still more familiar to us that the legal and social privileges, the shadow of a once dominant feudalism, which the state allowed to remain or was forced to tolerate, secured for it a universal popular hatred and condemnation. But these facts ought not to obscure for us the great work which fell to the share of feudalism in the general development of civilization. The preceding account should have given some indication, at least, of what this work was. The feudal castle, torn to pieces by the infuriated mob of revolted peasants, as the shelter of tyrannous privileges, was originally built by the willing and anxious labor of their ancestors as their only refuge from worse evils than the lord's oppression. ...
Feudalism is a form of political organization which allows the state to separate into as minute fragments as it will, virtually independent of one another and of the state, without the total destruction of its own life with which such an experience would seem to threaten every general government. ...
It was this that feudalism did. It was an arrangement suited to crude and barbarous times, by which an advanced political organization belonging to a more orderly civilization might be carried through such times without destruction, though unsuited to them, and likely to perish if left to its own resources. There is no intention of asserting in this proposition that such a system is ideally the best way to accomplish this result, or that it could not have been done, perhaps with less time and expense, by some other expedient, but only that this is what it did do historically, and possibly further that the general history of the world shows it to be a natural method in similar cases.
57. Essential principles of the medieval empire. The theory underlying the medieval concept of the Holy Roman Empire is brilliantly worked out by Bryce : 1
There was, nevertheless, such a thing as medieval imperialism, a theory of the nature of the state and the best form of government, which has been described once already, and need not be described again. It is enough to say, that from three leading principles all its properties may be derived. The first and the least essential was the existence of the state as a monarchy. The second was the exact coincidence of the
1 By permission of The Macmillan Company.
state's limits and the perfect harmony of its workings with the limits and the workings of the church. The third was its universality. These three were vital. Forms of political organization, the presence or absence of constitutional checks, the degree of liberty enjoyed by the subject, the rights conceded to local authorities, all these were matters of secondary importance. But although there brooded over all the shadow of a despotism, it was a despotism not of the sword but of law; a despotism not chilling and blighting, but one which, in Germany at least, looked with favor on municipal freedom, and everywhere did its best for learning, for religion, for intelligence; a despotism not hereditary, but one which constantly maintained in theory the principle that he should rule who was found the fittest. To praise or to decry the Empire as a despotic power is to misunderstand it altogether. We need not, because an unbounded prerogative was useful in ages of turbulence, advocate it now; nor need we, with Sismondi, blame the Frankish conqueror because he granted no "constitutional charter" to all the nations that obeyed him. Like the Papacy, the Empire expressed the political ideas of a time, and not of all time: like the Papacy, it decayed when those ideas changed; when men became more capable of rational liberty; when thought grew stronger, and the spiritual nature shook itself more free from the bonds of sense.
· 58. Individualism in the feudal state. The contributions of the medieval period to the principles that underlie modern democracy are pointed out by Woodrow Wilson :
Through all the developments of government down to the time of the rise of the Roman Empire the State continued, in the conception of the western nations at least, to eclipse the individual. Private rights had no standing as against the State. Subsequently many influences combined to break in upon this immemorial conception. Chief among these influences were Christianity and the institutions of the German conquerors of the fifth century. Christianity gave each man a magistracy over himself by insisting upon his personal, individual responsibility to God. For right living, at any rate, each man was to have only his own conscience as a guide. In these deepest matters there must be for the Christian an individuality which no claim of his State upon him could rightfully be suffered to infringe. The German nations brought into the Romanized and partially Christianized world of the fifth century an individuality of another sort, — the idea of allegiance to individuals. Perhaps their idea that each man had a money value which must be paid by any one who might slay him also contributed to the process of making men units instead of State fractions; but their idea of personal allegiance played the more prominent part in the transformation of society which resulted from their western conquests. The Roman knew no allegiance save allegiance to his State. He swore fealty to his imperator as to an embodiment of that State, not as to an individual. The Teuton, on the other hand, bound himself to his leader by a bond of personal service which the Roman either could not understand or understood only to despise. There were, therefore, individuals in the German State: great chiefs or warriors with a following (comitatus) of devoted volunteers ready to die for them in frays not directed by the State, but of their own provoking. There was with all German tribes freedom of individual movement and combination within the ranks, -a wide play of individual initiative. When the German settled down as master amongst the Romanized populations of western and southern Europe, his thought was led captive by the conceptions of the Roman law, as all subsequent thought that has known it has been, and his habits were much modified by those of his new subjects; but this strong element of individualism was not destroyed by the contact. It lived to constitute one of the chief features of the Feudal System. ...
This system was fatal to peace and good government, but it cleared the way for the rise of the modern State by utterly destroying the old conceptions. The State of the ancients had been an entity in itself, — an entity to which the entity of the individual was altogether subordinate. The Feudal State was merely an aggregation of individuals, - a loose bundle of separated series of men knowing few common aims or actions. It not only had no actual unity: it had no thought of unity. National unity came at last, — in France, for instance, by the subjugation of the barons by the king; in England by the joint effort of people and barons against the throne, — but when it came it was the ancient unity with a difference. Men were no longer State fractions; they had become State integers. The State seemed less like a natural organism and more like a deliberately organized association. Personal allegiance to kings had everywhere taken the place of native membership of a body politic. Men were now subjects, not citizens.
Presently came the thirteenth century with its wonders of personal adventure and individual enterprise in discovery, piracy, and trade. Following hard upon these, the Renaissance woke men to a philosophical study of their surroundings, - and above all of their long-time unquestioned systems of thought. Then arose Luther to reiterate the almost forgotten truths of the individuality of men's consciences, the right of individual judgment. Erelong the new thoughts had penetrated to the masses of the people. Reformers had begun to cast aside their scholastic weapons and come down to the common folk about them, talking their own vulgar tongue and craving their acquiescence in the new doctrines of deliverance from mental and spiritual bondage to Pope or Schoolman. National literatures were born. Thought had broken away from its exclusion in cloisters and universities and had gone out to challenge the people to a use of their own minds. By using their minds, the people gradually put away the childish things of their days of ignorance, and began to claim a part in affairs. Finally, systematized popular education has completed the story. Nations are growing up into manhood. Peoples are becoming old enough to govern themselves.
III. THE MODERN STATE 59. Rise of monarchic states. The rise of national states, in the form of absolute monarchies, that characterized the close of medieval and the beginning of modern political history is briefly outlined in the following:
Before 1300, Europe had tried various principles of organization. Feudal aristocracy and town democracy had both been found wanting in order and permanence. The ideal of a universal monarchy had been shattered by the quarrel between popes and emperors. The papacy (theocratic rule) had seemed to come out of that struggle triumphant, but almost at once it was to fall before a new form of organization, — the separate monarchic states, into which Europe had been growing. Says Lavisse," from the wreck of the two universal powers (papacy and empire), the various nationalities emerged. Just as Christendom had succeeded the Roman Empire, so Europe succeeded Christendom.”
This rise of "new monarchies,” each with a definite territory, is the political change that characterized the close of the Middle Ages. Each such territory had contained several distinct, mutually jealous classes, nobles, burgesses, artisans, clergy, peasantry, — and for centuries, French nobility and German nobility had had more in common with each other than either had with the townsmen of their own country. So of the other classes. Social unity and sympathies had not been national, German or English: they had followed the lines of class-cleavage across Europe. The monarchies were to change all this. They were to weld these classes, within each of their respective territories, into one nation with a common patriotism. Probably no king put this end before him clearly as his task; but the result followed naturally from the thing the king did strive for, — namely, to consolidate the numerous petty feudal states within his realm into one state with a uniform administration centering in his will.
While this was being accomplished, some old liberties were lost and the monarchs became despots : but the liberties were of a kind that had proved to be intertwined with anarchy, and the seeming loss was only for a time. A few centuries later there was to grow up a freer, broader, more secure freedom than had ever before been possible.
In Germany and Italy the destructive conflict between papacy and Empire ruined all chance for progress toward national monarchies for hundreds of years. Until 1250, these countries had been the centers of interest; then leadership passed to England, France, and Spain, — the lands in which the new monarchic movement was best developed.
60. Science and the spirit of reform. One of the leading influences that struck a powerful blow at the remnants of feudal institutions in modern Europe is thus stated in a recent book :
A thoughtful observer in the eighteenth century would, as we have seen, have discovered many medieval institutions which had persisted in spite of the considerable changes which had taken place in conditions and ideas during the previous five hundred years. Serfdom, the guilds, the feudal dues, the nobility and clergy with their peculiar privileges, the declining monastic orders, the confused and cruel laws, — these were a part of the heritage which Europe had received from what was coming to be regarded as a dark and barbarous period. People began to be keenly alive to the deficiencies of the past, and to look to the future for better things, even to dream of progress beyond the happiest times of which they had any record. They came to feel that the chief obstacles to progress were the outworn institutions, the ignorance and prejudices of their forefathers, and that if they could only be freed from this incubus, they would find it easy to create new and enlightened laws and institutions to suit their needs.
This attitude of mind seems natural enough in our progressive age, but two centuries ago it was distinctly new. Mankind has in general shown an unreasoning respect and veneration for the past. Until the opening of the eighteenth century the former times were commonly held to have been better than the present, for the evils of the past were little known while those of the present were, as always, only too apparent. Men looked backward rather than forward. They aspired to fight as well, or be as saintly, or write as good books, or paint as beautiful pictures, as the great men of old. That they might excel the achievements of their predecessors did not occur to them. Knowledge was sought not by studying the world about them but in some ancient authority. In Aristotle's vast range of works on various branches of