« НазадПродовжити »
large upon questions of general import: not the manufactured dictate of party interest. It was of such Public Opinion that Talleyrand said: “Il y a quelqu'un qui a plus d'esprit que Voltaire; plus d'esprit que Bonaparte; plus d'esprit que chacun des directeurs, que chacun des ministres, présents, passés, et à venir. C'est tout le monde.” This is, I suppose, a form of the argument e consensu gentium, which is by no means the absurdity that nowadays it is usually considered to be, however absurdly it is sometimes applied. It is an instinct of our nature—an organic instinct and therefore not false—which leads us, in judging of truth and untruth, to attach weight to common consent, or general authority. Nay, it is accounted, justly, by writers on medical jurisprudence, a token of insanity, if a man oppose his individual judgment to the judgment of mankind. “I thought other men mad,” explained the lunatic in the asylum, to the visitor who inquired the cause of his detention; "they thought me mad, and they were the stronger; so I am here." I know well that the wide prevalence of a belief is no certain guarantee of its correctness. But in matters of general interest, in questions touching the fundamental principles of life, common consent certainly does possess a claim upon our respect.
“Securus judicat orbis terrarum." There is a true sense in the saying of Pliny the younger, that no
man has deceived all mankind, and that all mankind has
THE TRUE IDEAL.
deceived no man. fefellerunt."
“Nemo omnes, neminem omnes
But let us look at the matter a little more deeply. What is the true ideal of Public Opinion ? It appears to me that Public Opinion ought to be the public conscience, accompanying and ruling events. And, what do we mean by conscience ? The word itself is of comparatively late origin. • It was unknown to the writers of the Hebrew sacred books. They speak of heart' instead. It does not occur in the Gospels, except in the history of the woman taken in adultery, which the most authoritative critics of our own day regard as a modern interpolation. Only after nascent Christianity had appealed to the Gentiles, and to the Jews scattered abroad, was the word, so to speak, naturalized in it. And then it was a new word in the Hellenic world. It seems not to have come into use until after the Peloponnesian war." * But however late the coinage of the term by which we commonly describe the subjective organ of ethical knowledge, the thing which the term describes is visible to us, as a living and energizing power in humanity, from the very beginning of history, long before we meet with positive religions, properly so called; as the examples of Cain
* I am quoting from my book On Right and Wrong, p. 107, where the subject is considered at some length.
and Orestes may serve to show. From the first, we find conscience sitting as a moral judge in the interior forum, and giving sentence of right and wrong. From the first, conceptions of ethical obligation, written on the fleshly tables of the heart, thoughts excusing or else accusing one another, are essential characteristics of humanity. Without conscience we should not be men, but something lower --merely the most highly developed of mammals, to be classed as biped, bimanous, and so forth ; primates among animals, and no more.
Now let us for a moment contemplate conscience as a fact.
The tone in which it speaks most decisively, most loudly, is accusatory. It arraigns us as culpable in having upon this or that occasion sacrificed duty to desire. Those mental pictures - Vorstellungen, intellectual representations, the Germans call them-presented by the imaginative faculty to the passions, have overmastered the dictates of right and reason.
But it is in reason that man consists. A world in himself, the bond of his oneness is ethical. And conscience is the voice of that divine organic unity, vindicating its claims against the exorbitant and illegitimate demands of one or another component part of our nature; demands detrimental to our spiritual wholeness. Hence, borrowing certain words of Aquinas, we may call conscience “the participation of the eternal law in the rational creature." It is the dictate of that Supreme Righteousness in obedience
THE NATIONAL CONSCIENCE.
to which is our true life: “Do this, and thou shalt live.”
Such is the office of the individual conscience. The office of the public conscience is similar. The State is an ethical organism. It is also a tumult of conflicting interests, of warring passions, of individuals and classes necessarily pitted against one another in the struggle for existence. Hence discontent with existing institutions, and desire for innovations, constantly arise. Such desire and discontent find expression in representations which are not accurate, not faithfully descriptive, but distorted by selfishness, by fear, by hope, by hatred. They are debated in various ways, in order that, in the event, “from Discussion's lips may fall the law.” It is the public conscience that should dictate that law. But conscience is the voice of the whole-- of the moral sense of the social organism, which, like the individual, consists in reason, of which right is the bond and the life and the light.
This is the higher meaning, the true ideal of Public Opinion. It should be the expression of the national conscience, pointing from what is to what should be. In this sense, and in this sense only, we may assent to the dictum, “Vox populi vox Dei.” In that lower sense in which Public Opinion is too often taken, as the expression of the popular humour of the moment, of party prejudice, of class hatred or greed, it would be more accurate to call
it Vox Diaboli. During the Middle Ages, it was the function of the clergy to be the organ of Public Opinion in that higher sense which I have been unfolding. Quinet has well called the Church "the substance of those extinct centuries.” It was a grand conception, that of a spiritual society which should be the embodied conscience of mankind; the witness to the world of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come.
Of course, no man in the least acquainted with the facts of history would pretend that this great ideal was ever adequately realized. Even in the best ages of the Church there is constantly cause to remember that “we have this treasure in earthen vessels”; while in the worst, the spiritual power whose very raison d'étre it is to bear witness to the moral law, to speak of the divine testimonies before kings, and, if need be, patiently to suffer for the truth's sake, has fellowship with unrighteousness and sinks into the accomplice of secular tyranny. Astute sovereigns found their account in manipulating the ecclesiastical order, much as Prince von Bismarck manipulated his reptile press. Queen Elizabeth knew how to tune her pulpits; and the Anglican clergy were the most effective teachers of the monstrous doctrine of the “right divine of kings to govern wrong," so dear to the monarchs of the House of Stuart. Still, while a Christian commonwealth was regarded as the true idea of the State, and was, more or less, realized in fact, the office