페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

red ay again be, anime within. Por of religious

ing out freedom and life. Orthodoxy had become a matter of police regulation, unintelligently framed and brutally administered: the Calas case—which cannot be too often retold, for the history has repeated itself mutatis mutandis in our own time—accounts for and justifies the light in which it was regarded by right-minded men. It would have been desirable, no doubt-greatly desirable—that this state of things should have been reformed from within. But if there is one thing which history can be relied on to show it is this: that no sincere reformation of religion or of religious societies can be looked for from within. Partial reforms have been, and may again be, attempted; the secular clergy has endeavoured to reform the religious, and the religious the secular, the Pope the bishops, a Council the Pope. But the indifferent success of these attempts has furnished a plausible excuse for their discontinuance: the sufficient reason of Ultramontanism is the proof afforded by the Councils of Basle and Constance that the rule of many is more intolerable than the rule of one. The permanent dictatorship of Rome was accepted by the Church as the lesser of two evils; but it brought with it, as a consequence, the petrifaction of religion, the overweighting of the kernel by the shell. The Catholic reaction which followed the Reformation accentuated those tendencies: the Papacy became the tool of that Spanish-Austrian absolutism, which has been a curse wherever its blighting shadow has fallen.* Where would Europe have stood to-day, what would have been the fate of learning, of liberty, of religion even, had the Inquisition and the Index had their way unchecked ? The increase of intellectual and spiritual freedom which the various Churches enjoy has been purchased for them by heretics : Luther has deserved better of Catholicism than Philip II. or Alva, Voltaire than De Maistre or Veuillot. The negative movement of the eighteenth century, irreligious itself, worked for religion : it let in light and air, it drove out those who bought and sold in the sanctuary, it cleansed the sbrine.

It is with greater justice that the reproach of inconsideration is brought against the period :

'Il était tout neuf, tout primitif et comme tout brut. La tradition est l'expérience d'un peuple; il manquait de tradition, et n'en voulait point. Aussi, et c'est en cela qu'il est d'un si grand intérêt, c'est un siècle enfant, ou, si l'on veut, adolescent. Il a de cet âge la fougue,

* Cf. Cavour, von F. X. Kraus, c. 1.

l'ardeur indiscrète, la curiosité, la malice, l'intempérance, le verbiage, la présomption, l'étourderie, le manque de gravité et de tenue, les polissonneries, et aussi une certaine générosité, bonté de cæur, facilité aux larmes, besoin de s'attendrir, et enfin cet optimisme instinctif qui sent toujours le bonheur tout proche, se croit toujours tout près de le saisir, et en a perpétuellement le besoin, la certitude et l'impatience.' (Dix-huitième Siècle, p. xii.) The criticism amounts to this : that in its generous ardour for reform it attempted the impossible—a break with the past, and a new departure independent of it; hence Taine's criticism that the Revolution neither destroyed nor created despotism, but gave it a new form. Sincerely and enthusiastically philanthropic, it underrated the complexity of social problems and of economic facts. A twofold source of error was opened in consequence : forgetting that with all its faults the ancien régime was the historical form which the national life had taken, the reformers discarded not only its abuses but the elements of permanent value which it contained; forgetting that ideas can only be applied to concrete facts when allowance has been made for the difference between the actual and the abstract, they relied on a priori reasonings, overlooking the realities with which they had to deal. Such errors revenge themselves. But it may be questioned whether it is possible to avoid them except at the price of stagnation, whether they are not the condition under which progress is brought about. The inertia of men in general is such that they are not moved without a disproportionate expenditure of force; for a generation to free itself from the burden of ages dead and gone a certain self-complacency and limitation of view, together with an incapacity to understand the past and its own dependence on it, are required.* Our no doubt superior wisdom has been dearly—some may think too dearly-bought. We live in an age of half-beliefs and half-scepticisms; we see so many reasons for and against each alternative that we cannot decide for either, but oscillate between the two. To say 'I do not know' is one thing; to acquiesce in ignorance where vital interests of the individual or the community are at stake is quite another. This state of mind is inconsistent not only with action-and one part is to act-but with intellectual sincerity. Knowledge, if speculative and no more, is a doubtful good; it is only as leading to truth and directing conduct that it has significance and worth. If

* Cf. Harnack, Dogmengeschichte, i. 29.

the malady of thought has chilled the blood in our veins, if a nerveless agnosticism has emptied philosophy of its content and paralysed energy and will, we may look back with regret to the robust thinkers of the Illumination with their strong sense, their hopefulness, their vitality, their vigorous affirmations and denials. Their yes was yes, and their no no. They denounced a lie as a lie; we satisfy ourselves with the jesting What is truth?' of Pilate : they were confident that there was no evil without a remedy; we half suspect that there is no remedy for any evil : they disbelieved, or thought they disbelieved, in God, but believed in goodness; we disbelieve in goodness, but believe, or think we believe, in God. Pecca fortiter,' said a theologian; their vices and their virtues were those of men.

'Le xviiie siècle, au regard de la postérité, s'obscurcira, s'offusquera, et semblera peu à peu s'amincir entre les deux • grands siècles dont il est précédé et suivi.' From the literary standpoint this is so. It was neither profound nor creative; it lived on the surface of things, and was satisfied to reproduce. The shepherdesses of Watteau are representative :

Il fut franchement traditionnel, . . . Mais c'était la tradition prise par son petit côté. Pour être dans la grande tradition et dans le vrai classique il ne s'agissait pas de les imiter, il s'agissait de faire comme eux; il s'agissait de comprendre l'antique et de s'en inspirer librement; et au lieu de remonter à la première source, imiter ceux qui déjà empruntent, c'est risquer de faire des imitations d'imitations. ... Le grand art du xviiie siècle est une manière de mandarinat très lettré, très circonspect, très digne et très impuissant.' (Dix-huitième Siècle, p. xxiii.) The fact was that there was a great deal to be done on the surface of things; the age was too busy for reflexion or artistic effort. It was practical, perhaps rather Philistine, and had little eye for effects of light and shade.

M. Faguet is on more questionable ground when he tells us that its conquests have been turned against it, that the sciences which it called into being have been fatal to the ideas by which it laid store. That the ideas of the eighteenth century have been revised is true. Politics are no longer regarded as an abstract science, but as a science of observation and experience; history has exhibited the unity of national, biology and its kindred sciences that of individual life. We no longer reason from the social contract; we have ceased to accept the figment of equality; the doctrine of heredity and natural selection have rehabilitated what had been too indiscriminately set down as the prejudices of aristocracy and race. In pressing this M. Faguet makes the same point that is made by a Catholic controversialist who exhibits the divergence between the opinions of the Reformers and those of modern Protestants. Literally accurate, the criticism is in fact sophistical. The ideas of the eighteenth century have not been modified in the direction of tradition; the most that their modification justifies us in asserting is that, like those of the Reformation, they were not born fullgrown. Had they been so they would have been short-lived ; to live is to change. A new idea is often for the time being an idée fixe, and its propaganda a religion falling little short of the older cults in fanaticism and onesidedness. It was so with Evolution, it was so with the Hegelian philosophy. Neither of these fulfilled the expectations of the first generation of disciples; there is a residuum of the universe which escapes the meshes of the most skilfully framed formula : but each raised the fabric of knowledge higher, and contributed a layer on which later comers build. So with the ideas of the eighteenth century. Their content is to be distinguished from their form; this was of the time and passed with it, that is lasting and remains. The achievement of the age was the assertion of the individual against the community which, defeating its own end, crushed him; over against the sovereign he became a freeman, over against the State a citizen, over against the Church a Christian. And this ground, once gained, was gained for good and all. Later thinkers have shown that the community is as necessary to the individual as the individual to the community, that the citizen realises himself only in relation to the State, the Christian to the Church. But other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid ; the Christian religion is not more surely built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets than modern society, develope itself as it may in future, on the Rights of Man. This is matter of fact, not of opinion: De Maistre knew as clearly as Napoleon that France could not be governed after the Revolution as she was before. Discussing with the future Louis XVIII, the terms of a proposed manifesto to the nation, 'If we forget that we are living in ' 1804,' he said, the thing will be a failure; the almanack ' is the most useful book to refer to before we begin. On * dirait un libéral,' is M. Faguet's pertinent comment,

c'est simplement un homme qui sait ce que c'est un 'gouvernement.' *

* Politiques et Moralistes, i. 4.

The immediate work of the nineteenth century was one of reconstruction; the new wine had burst the old bottles.

En effet, ce qui a disparu au xviiie siècle dans l'ordre moral, ce sont deux sentiments, le sens du surnaturel et le sens de la tradition; et par suite un grand fait: la religion chrétienne, même réduite par le protestantisme à une sorte de minimum. (Politiques et Moralistes, vii.) It would be truer to say that what had disappeared was the dominion of custom, the taking beliefs and institutions for granted and on authority. The human mind had made an immense stride in the direction of self-consciousness; it not only lived, but knew that it lived. The temporary displacement of ideas inseparable from a sudden enlargement of the horizon is not to be confounded with the permanent loss of their content. No element of worth in the past was lost, but the past as a whole was re-stated; what was valuable in it was preserved in new combinations and under new forms. It was inevitable that the first criticism of this advance movement should be hostile, but from this criticism it had everything to gain. It is no advantage to ideas to remain unsifted, the dross encumbering the pure metal, the tares bound in the same bundle with the corn. The atmosphere in which they flourish best is one of criticism : it discriminates, separates content from form, and facilitates developement; the most mischievous form of infidelity is the disbelief in the power of truth to hold its own. Of those hostile critics its ablest and the most uncompromising was De Maistre. It was easy for him to expose the fallacies which underlay not a few of the positions of his opponents—representative government, the law of majorities, equality. Such things are like the dry bones in the valley of vision: it is only when the breath of life has come into them that they possess moral worth. As machinery they are as dead as all machinery in itself must be: the soul of a people is not in them. He did not see that his criticism applied to the machinery on which he insisted-monarchy, aristocracy, the Papacy-no less than to that which he denounced. As machinery each is lifeless; either, if informed by spiritual life, may be effective. The question is, Which, under given circumstances, is the most suitable vehicle of this life? De Maistre's sense of duty was lofty. If he insisted on the rights of kings and nobles, he insisted even more on their duties ; if he would have nothing done by, he would have everything done for the people. An intelligent despotism was his ideal form of government. Unfortunately for his theory history shows

« 이전계속 »