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people towards that condition in which they might most safely be the depositaries of sovereign and unlimited power. Conspirator he was not: his reverence for the laws was too great; and this continued to the last. It was shown by his full submission to the legally pronounced sentence of his Judges, and his refusal to avail himself of the provided means of escape. Had there been any ground for suspecting him of this treason, some act would have been alleged; and had he known this to have been the source of the charge, some plain allusion to it would have appeared in the course of his defence.' Nor is the subsequent conduct of the Athenians themselves reconcilable with the notion that he was really (though not avowedly) condemned for seeking the subversion of the popular government. To the memory of Socrates, honours were decreed; while one of his accusers, who still survived, was condemned to death, and the families of both were declared to be infamous. This seems to demonstrate that he was not guilty in the only sense for which he would have been liable to accusation, that of privately conspiring to effect his object contrary to law; for though he had entertained the abstract opinion, expressed it, or even argued in its favour, surely all this belongs to individual liberty. Is it meant that in a republic, which professes to give the largest quantity and the highest degree of civil liberty, (or, more properly, political power, an actual share in the government, the liberty of forming and expressing an opinion on the merits of the constitution is not to be allowed? And yet this does really seem to be the meaning of the charge brought against the Grecian sage ; proving that such republicans (we say not, all) are tyrants in their heart, and cannot bear that any one should differ from them. This is the very essence of tyranny. Liberty of opinion, and of its explicit (of course, its rational and respectful) utterance, is one of the brightest and most valuable gems in the coronet of true freedom ; and no gift of political power, under the name of liberty, can compensate for the deprivation of it. Thus it is said, “We are of opinion that Socrates, though a thoroughly good and virtuous man, endued with great self-control, wonderful amiability of disposition, and, indeed, with almost all those qualities
which obtain for an individual the love and admiration of his fellows, was deficient in the higher kind of political virtue.” And pray what is this? The criminality is thought to be so great, that the writer says, “ The Athenians were justified, by every principle of law which was acknowledged in those days, in the sentence which they passed.” And, “If we only put ourselves in the place of the Athenians, we cannot wonder that a small majority of the Judges were compelled by their duty to pronounce him guilty.” It is well that the writer has himself stated what this “higher kind of political virtue" is. We could scarcely have satisfied ourselves that our reasoning had been just, had we been obliged to collect it inferentially ; it would have looked so much like a libel, or at least a satire, on the holders of republican opinions. The sentence is thus continued and finished : “ That in fact he was not a good citizen, because, with every wish to obey the laws of the state, he could not refrain from,”—not conspiring ; on that there could have been no question : had he thus endeavoured, treasonably, to alter the fundamental form of the state, he would have set his life on the hazard, and would have had no right to complain of its forfeiture had he been unsuccessful: but it is not with conspiring that he is charged," he could not refrain from BROACHING theories at variance with the first principles of a democratic constitution, because he could not prevail upon his intellectual convictions to bow before the supremacy of public opinion.” This, then, is the highest degree of political virtue. If a man lives in a democratic state, where public opinion is all in favour of its first principles, he is—whatever the character of his intellect, however rational the mode by which he has arrived at his convictions - criminal if he does not “prevail on his intellectual convictions to bow to the supremacy of public opinion !” This is, in politics, precisely what Rome demands of her votaries in religion. That individual conviction is not to be allowed to produce treasonable effort for change, is not in debate. This is admitted. But intellectual convictions themselves are to “bow to the supremacy of public opinion," and a man is not to “BROACH” his own opinions, if they vary from those of the community. This is servility and baseness, not virtue; and where men are required thus to act, rational, manly freedom does not exist. So monstrous is this position, that the writer is not able to conclude without introducing a change in the terms he employs, which completely alters the whole character of the argument.—"That in the abstract he might have been in the right, while Athens was in the wrong, is not the question. As laws, in a democratic state, are made by the majority, the voice of one man, or of a small class of men, though they may be all philosophers, will never justify the speakers in breaking through those rules, to which, as members of the body politic, they are bound to submit."* Certainly not in breaking the laws, by seeking unlawfully to change the constitution. There is no question but that this is criminal. But is it one of the rules necessarily required by a democratic state, that a contrary opinion to that of the majority may not be entertained, at all events, may not be uttered, however calmly, argumentatively? We do not ourselves think a democracy the best form of government; but neither do we see that it necessarily requires the surrender of the liberty of thought and speech, in its respectful exercise. Truth can lose nothing by open argument, fairly conducted. The political constitution that can only be considered safe when contrary opinion is refused utterance, is essentially unsound; for liberty of thought and speech (always supposing its exercise to be moral and respectful) is one of the most valuable prerogatives of individual man, for the sake of which, along with others, government itself exists. As to the submission of the intellectual convictions of individuals to "the supremacy of public opinion” being “ the highest degree of political virtue,” it has no pretension to be virtue at all, except on such a supposition as this, that the principles of a democratic constitution are so absolutely and exclusively right, that no one can hold a contrary opinion except by both imperfect and perverse argumentation; so that it becomes the duty of those whose intellectual convictions are
* All the above extracts are taken from the article, “Socrates,” in the Penny Cyclopædia, vol. xxii., p. 183.
unfortunately different, to believe that though they think they are right, they are really wrong. But if it be a subject on which, rationally and morally, different opinions may be held, then, however a man is bound to refrain from unlawful attempts to produce a change, he is not bound to make “his intellectual convictions bow to the supremacy of public opinion.”
We are not now writing either for or against either. democratic, or any other forms of government. We only contend for this, that no well-constituted government requires the suppression of individual convictions, expressed judiciously, respectfully, and argumentatively. A majority is not necessarily right. In politics, as in theology, it may sometimes happen that the truth is with one, error with the many. Athanasius contra mundum. Be that, however, as it may, it must never be received as a maxim that it belongs to “the higher kind of political virtue," for a man to be able “to prevail upon his intellectual convictions to bow to the supremacy of public opinion.” Public opinion may be such that a virtuous mind will respect it, while differing from it; but true virtue will only bow to the supremacy of truth. If the Athenian law was, that a man must only think and speak with the majority, his times were not felicitous as those of which the nervous Roman historian spoke in one of the most memorable sentences ever committed to writing.* In old Tacitus there was nothing like abject servility. To tyranny his whole soul was evidently opposed, whether exercised by one, by few, or by many; and he calls it “a rare felicity of the times, where for men to think what they will, and what they think to speak, is lawful.”
We say once more, that, in these remarks, our object has not been to give any intimation for or against any one form of government. But, first, at a time when so much is said upon such subjects, to guard our readers against statements which, under the ambiguity of terms, tend to the destruction of all manly freedom. Political liberty is this ambiguous term. As employed by many, it signifies that constitution in which
* Rara temporum felicitate, ubi sentire quæ velis, et quæ sentias licere licet. Hist., 1. i., 1.
governing power is distributed in equal shares among all the members of the community. This is political power, and may be political liberty. But it is not so if personal freedom of thought, speech, and action does not co-exist with it. This last is the most important, inasmuch as upon its proper exercise depends the well-being of individuals, and the improvement and prosperity of the community. To be truly free, man must be individually free. He must have the unrestricted right of doing all that such a creature as man, under the revealed government of his Maker and Sovereign, may do, and is required to do. Where law does not secure this, it is inconsistent with the freedom which is man's birthright; and though he may possess, in common with others, an equal share in the governing power, still it is a governing power involving, in some particular part of its exercise, real tyranny; so that though, as sharing in the government, he is politically free, yet as under its rule, in this particular respect, he is personally a slave. The object of government, whatever its form, ought to be the happiness of the governed, through the possession of the largest measure of personal freedom that is consistent with the wellbeing of the whole, which is never really inconsistent with the well-being of each. That form of government is best for a people, whether its particular form be monarchical, aristocratical, or democratical, or a mixture of all three, which practically secures the possession and perpetuity of the largest measure of personal freedom, consistent with the character of man, and the true welfare of the entire community. When the intellectual convictions of the individual must bow to the supremacy of public opinion, and this subjection is placed among the higher kinds of political virtues, so that the utterance of opinions differing from those of the majority shall be reckoned criminal, “there is something rotten in the state of Denmark.”
Secondly, our object has been the justification of Socrates, and the verification of the common opinion, which here we believe to be the correct one, that his condemnation (as subsequently its reversal) proceeded from the extreme and dangerous versatility of the Athenians, whose character has received a