Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

Clearing-up. All goes in into thought. Descartes begins with it as the ultimate, irreducible residuum of analysis, and, therefore, the principum of synthesis. From it he educes his own existence and the existence of God. Again, the outward world is challenged to exhibit that reason which the Ego possesses. Bacon proposes to Physics the study of efficient causes, and to Metaphysics the study of final causes. Before this insight of the rational the shades of superstition vanish exorcised. Astrology becomes astronomy; alchemy, chemistry; and the art of medicine begins with the discarding of amulets against disease. It might seem, indeed, to contemporaries of Copernicus, Kepler, and Newton, that moon and stars, plants and animals, were now but just created, so wholly new is the interest which the self-recognition of Reason lends the contemplation of the universe. Nor is thought less active in the moral world. The subjective principle claims to determine the relation of the existent to the right. All received opinions and sanctioned institutions are brought to its bar for decision on their merits. International right is made, by Grotius, an induction from the social instinct, and commends itself to the sense of the just implanted in the minds of men. In like manner all law and government must find their new ground in natural law or the nature of man. Thus, Understanding becomes the absolute criterion, and takes the place of divine right. Protestantism was a clearingup within Religion. In its war on the old Church there was no antagonism to Christian truth, but rather its appropriation ; the subject made that objective his own. But private judgment, the individual's freedom of thought and conscience, is a first principle which may lead a long way — as far in the new direction as obedience to authority had led before. Luther brought in the truth that man's spiritual life must be wrought out in himself by himself, and cannot be a transaction effected for him and apart from him. He claimed the spirit's freedom of action ; but the content of its action, the course of its life, he took for granted as a datum to faith. Now, it was insisted that this objective content of thought and life must also submit to the judgment of Understanding; must be analyzed by its abstract laws, and become intelligible; or else must take its place among the discarded superstitions of the past. For to this abstract culture Religion is indifferent, since Religion is the form in which truth exists for nonabstract consciousness. The so-called age of Reason requires that the results of thought be definite; but to this grade of intellect the definite can only be the finite. The infinite, the divine, are not reducible to the grasp of Understanding : and, hence, all spiritual truth is rejected as the invention of priestcraft. Thus the movement which began by attacking the Mediæval Church went on to attack Christianity, and a lineal descent leads from the intensely religious Luther to the utterly irreligious Voltaire.

The movement took a different course under the different religions. In Protestant countries it went quietly on, spreading a leavening influence, encountering no opposition to its principle; in the English Deistic controversy, for example, the orthodox, as well as their opponents, make their ultimate appeal to Reason. Consequently we find no Reformers roused to excited aggressiveness. Men were patient in the instinctive confidence that, the principle of religious liberty once established, civil and social liberty must soon follow. Indeed, it was already evident that the entire compass of secular relations was undergoing a change for the better. The German Clearing-up takes the direction of egoistic culture. All things have value only in proportion as they concern the individual and subserve his ends. In religion, the one topic of discussion is personal immortality ; in ethics, self-interest is the supreme principle ; in social affairs, utility ; art is a ministry to refined pleasure ; in letters, the prevalent form of composition is autobiography, in which every man is his own Boswell, and lingers fondly over “ confessions” of his own sentiments and experience. For each man the world is an orange, and the end of life is to suck thereout the greatest advantage to the various faculties of the soul. Readers of Wilhelm Meister will remember how this genial individualism appears in the group of Illuminati there introduced. In England the movement wears more the aspect of a social tone. Enlightenment” affects a polite superiority to old-fashioned notions. It adopts the loose-fitting creed of Deism, and amuses itself with satirizing the whole brood of priests of all religions. Its tone of light indifference to the supersensible, of easy Epicureanism in morals, is heard throughout all the literature that reflects the course and frivolous life of

the age.

Far other was the course of things in Catholic France. When Henry IV. abjured his heresy, and the Reformation was overthrown in its hour of seeming victory, the ancient order entrenched itself, through the alliance of the Church and State, in all the irresponsibility of resistless power. The monarchy became a soulless tyranny, the court a sty of animalism, and the Church a naked mockery of faith and holiness that no longer cared to veil itself with a decent hypocrisy. Outside the gilded halls of Versailles all the earth was full of darkness and cruel habitations. To the people, despoiled and enslaved, the gift of life was made a curse; and those who are familiar with the picture of the time, in all its sickening details, must wonder, not at the fury that broke out in the Revolution, but at the patience that delayed the outbreak so long. It had its beginning in the sphere of abstract thought. The empiricism of Locke was carried out to its ultimate consequences in the sensualism - intellectual and moral - of Condillac and Helvetius. In these writers abstract thought gained a popular hearing, and the new philosophy met with

A mindless and heartless society was delighted to find in outspoken materialism a logical basis for its life of sensuality. But, when the ground is struck from under the spiritual and substantial, the traditional and positive are left without support. If man was just an animal, what was all social order but what it plainly enough appeared to be in France - a tyranny of the strong and cunning few over the weak and simple many? And so the philosophy of materialism was implicitly the philosophy of Revolution, and the clearing-up went on to rouse a deep sentiment against the constituted absolutism in Church and State. Of all who took part in this work, Voltaire was the most influential and

enormous success.

now

conspicuous. Upon all classes and orders, all prescriptions and usages, that helped to sustain the existing order, he waged incessant and relentless war. Dexterous and tireless, he used now argument, now wit ; attacking now in front, now in flank; now beating down with passionate invective, stinging to death with more terrible ridicule. The vocation of the “philosophers” was to destroy, and they accomplished it. Intellectually, they laid the Church and State in ruins.

But this result was wholly negative, and, this reached, the movement went on to construct a new social system in harmony with its principle. In the inevitable failure of this attempt appears the total inadequacy of an abstract principle to any concrete demand. As regards institutions, subjectivity can hold none but a negative attitude, for Understanding is not a faculty of the material, but purely of the formal, and, therefore, is simply a solvent of the concrete. It can create or sustain nothing. It is strictly the skeptical faculty, and, if taken for the supreme exercise of mind, the logical result is Pyrrhonism. Between this abstract thinking of Understanding and the concrete thinking of Reason there is an immeasurable chasm. The one may be compared to the motion of mill machinery, taken by itself, apart from the power which starts it and the grain it acts upon ; the other, to the working of the mill in the unity of all its constituent elements — the power, the motion, the full hoppers, the production of the flour. The attempt in France was to turn out a superior flour by rapid working of an empty mill. The man who took the lead in this attempt was Rousseau. He took Voltaire's negative for his positive. In accordance with the abstract position generally attained, subjective will was made the absolute basis of social right. The State was no substantial unity, but an aggregate of individuals. The volitional atoms were made the starting-point, and the will of the State was voided of all intrinsic validity. To found the authority of law upon individual acquiescence, and the State upon an assumed contract of sovereign individuals ; to seek the sources of civilization in the primitive instincts of a mythical state of nature, and to represent simple savagery as the golden age of man — these were the chief features of the new gospel of political sentimentalism, whose latest preachers are Louis Blanc, Karl Marx, and the leaders of the Paris Commune; and whose practical effect can be nothing but the dissolution of all social and civil order. Yet, distinctly negative as was the individualism of Rousseau, it was hailed universally as a positive principle hy men who were seeking a guiding-light for action. Voltaire had urged escape from the present social system, but whither was not declared until Rousseau reared the baseless fabric of his vision as the goal of the exodus. And then what an outburst of jubilant enthusiasm thrilled the land! Man was to shake off the bitter subjection of his minority, and now, for the first time since the sun had stood in the heavens, enter upon his full inheritance. The mountain-tops of aspiration glowed with the promise of a new day when all reality should be remodeled on a glorious ideal. Rousseau was courted, feasted, idolized as no man, except, perhaps, Mahomet, ever was before. We know the result. Paper constitutions were found rootless plants that would not grow, and Liberty, Equality, Fraternity turned in men's hands to Suspicion, Terror, and Death. The principles of Rousseau could only perpetuate revolution, and for eighty years French history has been only the back and forth of its obverse and reverse, anarchy and despotism.

With its defeat at Waterloo the revolutionary spirit throughout Europe received a check. In France the Bourbons were restored by foreign arms. In Italy, Hungary, and Belgium the revolution dived under ground and hid itself. In England a reaction against the Clearing-up set in, showing itself nearly at once in politics, religion, letters, and art. A conservative reaction under the government of Wellington; an ecclesiastical reaction in the Oxford movement; an artistic one in Pugin and the Pre-R:phaelites; a literary one in Scott, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Carlyle. But mere reaction could not be permanent. The Tory government fell before the Liberals; the Tractarians were driven into the position of a Romanizing clique; and Romanticism in art and letters went

« PoprzedniaDalej »