« ForrigeFortsæt »
ry and politics. These publications are circulated among all classes of people, at great expense and with peculiar art and industry. They are read openly by the bold and profligate, and in private by the young and timid. The same sentiment, which these dangerous writings contain and diffuse, is greatly propagaled by those secret societies, which have lately increased beyond all example. They highly applaud and recommend universal philanthrophy, and draw multitudes into the brotherhood, by this pleasing principle. The leaven also has begun to spread and operate among many in the learned professions, who throw in all their weight and influence to carry on the delusion. While these various causes are co-operating with increasing force, to proselyte the nation to the first principle of infidelity, is there not great danger of its eradicating from their minds those sound principles of piety and morality, in which they have been better educated than any other people on earth? It is undoubtedly true, that this absurd and ensnaring doctrine is spreading as fast among us, as ever it did in any part of Europe. It was about fifty years in coming to maturity and producing its full effects in France. And in less than that time, if the eyes of people here be not opened, and their fears alarmed, they may lose all their religious principles and privileges, and sink down into the darkness and horrors of Infidelity!
2. If our nation are exposed to embrace the absurd and pernicious doctrine, that virtue consists in utility, then they are in great danger of losing all their civil, as well as religious institutions. The same licentious principle, which strikes at the foundation of all religion and morality, equally tends to subvert all good government. It is impossible to bind men by civil authority, after they have lost all sense of religious and moral obligation. The same doctrine that leads a people into infidelity, so far tends to throw them into anarchy and confusion. This the disorganizers in France knew, and therefore the first step they took to subvert their civil government was, to propagate the doctrine, which' had a direct tendency to destroy all religion and morality. If the absurd sentiment we have been considering, should lead the American people into infidelity, it will in that way indirectly serve to weaken and overturn our government. But this is not all; for it has a direct as well as indirect tendency to destroy all civil order and authority. It operates as directly and forcibly against all human, as against all divine laws. This Godwin makes appear, by reasoning fairly upon it, and applying it to the fundamental principles of all civil government.
. He infers from it, that promises and oaths of allegiance are not binding upon mankind. Hear his reasoning. “When I enter into an engagement, 1 engage for that which is in its own nature conducive to human happiness, or which is not so. Can my engagement always render that which was before injurious agreeable to, and that which was beneficial opposite of duty? Previously to my entering into a promise, there was something which I ought to promise, and something which I ought not. Previously to my entering into a promise, all modes of action were not indifferent. Nay, the very opposite to this is true. Every conceivable mode of action has its appropriate tendency and shade of tendency to benefit or to mischief, and consequently its appropriate claim to be performed or avoided. Thus clearly does it appear that promises and compacts are not the foundation of morality.” He adds, “promises are, absolutely considered, an evil, and stand in opposition to the genuine and wholesome exercise of an intellectual nature."* As to ouths of allegiance, he says, “When a promise or an oath is imposed upon me superfluously, as is always the case with promises of allegiance; or when I ain compelled to make it by the operation of a penalty, the treatment I suffer is atrociously unjust, and of consequence the breach of such a promise is peculiarly susceptible of apology. A promise of allegiance is a declaration that I approve the existing constitution of things, and, so fur as it is binding, an engagement that I will continue to support that constitution. But I shall support it for as long a time and in as great a degree as I approve of it, without needing the intervention of a promise. It will be my duty not to undertake its destruction by precipitate and unpromising means, for a much greater reason than can be deduced from any promise I have made. An engagement for any thing further than this is both immoral and absurd; it is an engagement to a non-entity, a constitu. tion; a promise that I will abstain from doing that which I believe to be beneficial to my fellow citizens.”' Upon Treaties he observes, “Treaties of alliance are in all cases wrong, in the first place, because all absolute promises are wrong, and neither individuals nor bodies of men ought to preclude themselves from the benefit of future improvement and deliberation.”!
Another inference he draws from his absurd notion of virtue is, that all human laws are unjust and ty. rannical. He demands, "Whois it that has authority to make laws? What are the characteristics of that man or body of men, in whom the tremendous faculty is invested, of prescribing to the rest of the community what they are to perform and what avoid? The
* Vol. i, page 165, 166.
1 Vol. i, page 176.
# Vol. ii, page 26.
answer to these questions is exceedingly simple: Legis. lation, as it has been usually understood, is not an affair of human competence."* Again he asserts, "Law tends, no less than creeds, catechisms, and tests, to fix the human mind in a stagnant condition, and to substitute a principle of permanence, in the room of that unceasing perfectibility which is the only salubrious element of mind.”+
Arguing from the same principle, he denies that there ought to be any such thing as punishment in human society, because it cannot conduce to general utility. “Thus it appears, says he, whether we enter philosophically into the principle of human action or merely analyse the ideas of rectitude and justice which have the universal consent of mankind, that, accurately speaking, there is no such thing as desert. It cannot be just that we should inflict suffering on any man, except so far as it tends to good. Hence it follows, that the strict acceptation of the word punishment by no means accords with any sound principles of reasoning.”
He carries his disorganizing principle still further, and infers from it, that all civil government ought to be totally annihilated. He says, “The language of reason on this subject is–Give us equality and justice, but no constitution. Suffer us to follow without restraint the dictates of our own judgment, and to change our forms of social order as fast as we improve in understanding and knowledge.” He anticipates such a state of things, and exults in the glorious prospect. “With what delight must every well informed friend of mankind look forward to the auspicious period, the DISSOLUTION OF POLITICAL GOVERNMENT, of that brute
Voli, p. 189. Vol. ä, p. 293. Vol. ü, p. 237. § Vol. ï, p. 210.
engine, which has been the perennial cause of the vices of mankind, and which, as has abundantly appeared in the progress of the present work, has mischiefs of various sorts incorporated with its substance, and no otherwise to be removed than by its utter ANNIHILATION!"*
Thus Godwin himself illustrates the natural tendency of his unhinging principle, and clearly shows that its practical operation is to strip all promises, oaths, and treaties of their moral obligation, and all human laws and institutions of their civil sanctions. It is the most disorganizing principle in nature, and cannot fail to ruin any people who embrace it. Its present ap. pearance and prevalence among us is extremely threatening. And unless it can be checked and restrained in its progress, it will prepare the whole nation to burst all the bands of morality, religion, and government, and involve us in anarchy and destruction.
3. We learn from what has been said, why those, who believe that virtue consists in utility, are so much given to change. It is the natural tendency of this loose and absurd sentiment to produce this effect in all who govern their conduct by it. For, according to this principle, there is no immutable rule of right, but every man is left to act just as he happens to think best, in his present situation. He may change his opinions, and alter his conduct every day in the year, and every hour in the day. He may promise, and break his promise, as often as he pleases. He may betray his friends, or murder his enemies, or overturn .the government, if circumstances admit or require it. There is nothing too bad to be done upon the principle of universal philanthropy. Accordingly we find that those, who have adopted this licentious sentiment,
* Vol. ï, page 154 Occa.