Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/465

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

their defects being generally very obvious, while the facts that justify them, though in reality far more decisive, lie sometimes far below the surface, and are only brought to light by a careful and delicate analysis. But to abandon the rules of social action to the blind and arbitrary decision of an incompetent public, is really to destroy their authority. Before, therefore, there can be that convergence of opinion in relation to such matters which is indispensable to social well-being, there must be a voluntary and intentional abdication by the majority of their sovereign right of judgment—an abdication which they would probably be very willing to make if they could only find suitable organs for the exercise of the function. In the wretched routine of our political struggles, it is common to find the most judicious and honorable men accusing one another of folly or of wickedness, on the strength of the vain antagonism of their political principles; while, in every important crisis, the most opposite political principles are habitually defended by partisans of apparently equal respectability. How, then, is it possible that the influence of this double spectacle, essentially incompatible as it is with any deep and permanent conviction, should not destroy all true political morality in the minds of those alike who take part in it or who view it with admiration? Private morality depends, fortunately, on many other general conditions besides fixity of opinion. Here, in ordinary cases, a true natural sentiment speaks much more powerfully than it does in regard to public relations. The disorganizing forces have, moreover, been counterbalanced to a great extent; partly by a progressive softening of manners, the result of more general intellectual culture, bringing in its train a greater familiarity with and a juster appreciation of the fine arts, and partly by the unceasing development of industry. It must be added that the rules of domestic or personal morality, as they depend on simpler conditions, and admit of easier demonstration, are naturally less endangered by the incursions of individual analysis. And yet the time has undoubtedly come when, in the private as well as in the public sphere, we are called upon to witness the lamentable results of the general unsettlement of opinion. Whether we consider the relations of the sexes, or of different ages and conditions, we shall find that the necessary elements of all satisfactory social life are directly compromised, and are daily becoming more so, by the action of a corrosive discussion, dominated by no real principles, which delivers up to hopeless uncertainty every idea of duty. The family, which the fiercest blasts of the revolutionary tempest in the last century had left untouched, is, in our day, radically assailed in its two essential foundations, marriage and inheritance. We have seen even the most general and obvious principle of individual morality, the subordination of the passions to the reason, flatly contradicted by certain would be reformers, who, without stopping to consider the teachings of universal experience, rationally sanctioned as they are by the scientific