Imatges de pÓgina




YOULD we view our own species from a

distance, or regard mankind with the same sort of observation with which we read the natural history, or remark the manners, of any other animal, there is nothing in the human character which would more surprise us, than the almost universal subjugation of strength to weaknessthan to see many millions of robust men, in the complete use and exercise of their personal faculties, and without

waiting upon the will of a child, a woman, a driveller, or a lunatic. And although, when we suppose a vast empire in absolute subjection to one person, and that one depreffed beneath the level of his species by infirmities, or vice, we fuppose perhaps an extreme case; yet in all cases, even in the most popular forms of civil government, the physical strength resides in the governed.

any defect of courage,

In what manner opinion thus prevails over strength, or how power, which naturally belongs to superior force, is maintained in opposition to it; in other words, by what motives the many are induced to submit to the few, becomes an enquiry which lies at the root of almost every political speculation. It removes, indeed, but does not resolve the difficulty, to say, that civil governments are now-a-days almost universally upheld by standing armies : for the question still returns, How are these armies themselves kept in subjection, or made to obey the commands, and carry on the designs, of the prince or state which employs them? Now although we should look in vain for

any single reason which will account for the general submission of mankind to civil government, yet it may not be difficult to assign for


class and character in the community, considerations powerful enough to diffuade each from any altempts to resist established authority. Every man has his motive, though not the same. In this as in other instances, the conduct is similar, but the principles which produce it extremely various.

There are three distinctions of character, into which the subjects of a state may be divided;


into those who obey from prejudice; those who obey from reason; and those who obey from felf-interest.

1. They who obey from prejudice, are determined by an opinion of right in their governors;

which opinion is founded upon prescription. In monarchies and aristocracies which are hereditary, the prescription operates in favour of particular families; in republics and elective offices, in favour of particular forms of government, or constitutions. Nor is it to be wondered at, that mankind should reverence authority founded in prescription, when they observe that it is prescription which confers the title to a'most every thing else. The whole course, and all the habits of civil life, favour this prejudice. Upon what other foundation stands any man's right to his estate? The right of primogeniture, the succession of kindred, the descent of property, the inheritance of honours, the demand of tythes, tolls, rents, or services from the estates of others, the right of way, the powers of office and magistracy, the privileges of nobility, the immunities of the clergy-upon what are they all founded, in the apprehension at least of the multitude, but upon prescription ? To what elle, when the claims are contested, is





the appeal made? It is natural to transfer the fame principle to the affairs of government, and to regard those exertions of


which have been long exercised and acquiesced in, as so many rights in the sovereign; and to consider obedience to his commands, within certain accustomed limits, as enjoined by that rule of conscience, which requires us to render to every man his due.

In hereditary monarchies, the prescriptive title is corroborated, and its influence considerably augmented, by an accession of religious sentiments, and by that sacredness which men are wont to ascribe to the persons of princes. Princes themselves have not failed to take advantage of this disposition, by claiming a superior dignity, as it were, of nature, or a peculiar delegation from the Supreme Being. For this purpose were introduced the titles of sacred majesty, of God's anointed, representative, vicegerent, together with the ceremonies of investitures and coronations, which are calculated not so much to recognize the authority of sovereigns, as to consecrate their persons. Where a fabulous religion permitted it, the public veneration has been challenged by bolder pretensions. The Roman emperors usurped the titles, and arro


[ocr errors]

gated the worship of gods. The mythology of
the heroic ages, and of many barbarous nations,
was easily converted to this purpose. Some
princes, like the heroes of Homer, and the
founder of the Roman name, derived their birth
from the gods : others, with Numa, pretended
a secret communication with some divine being :
and others again, like the incas of Peru, and the
ancient Saxon kings, extracted their descent
from the deities of their country. The Lama
of Tbibet, at this day, is held forth to his subjects,
not as the offspring or successor of a divine race
of princes, but as the immortal God himself,
the object at once of civil obedience and religious
adoration. This instance is singular, and may
be accounted the farthest point to which the
abuse of human credulity has ever been carried.
But in all these instances the purpose was the
fame-to engage the reverence of mankind, by
an application to their religious principles.

The reader will be careful to observe, that in
this article we denominate every opinion, whe-
ther true or falle, a prejudice, which is not
founded upon argument, in the mind of the
person who entertains it.

II. They who obey from reason, that is to fay, from conscience as instructed by rcasonings


[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinua »