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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 25.djvu/422

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

EDITOR'S TABLE.

 

THE SURVIVAL OF POLITICAL SUPERSTITIONS.

AS explained by the law of evolution, progress is the result of slow transformations in the parts of adaptable organisms under changed conditions. Still, influenced by the old ideas that things were once suddenly created and may be quickly changed, we fail to appreciate the slowness of the modifications that take place, and how tenaciously old things survive and live on in their essences, with only sufficient alteration to justify the introduction of new names.

We see this strikingly illustrated in the history of government. There is an enormous overvaluation in the import of their changing forms. It was, of course, a great event when we of this country, a hundred years ago, repudiated formal monarchy, and its aristocratic and hierarchical appendages, and adopted republican government in its place, but the real value and extent of the change have been in many respects much magnified. Fundamental ideas of the old order of things continue in vigorous operation, with but very superficial modification of character.

For thousands of years the conceptions of government and of king-craft were identical. Nations appeared and disappeared in the march of history; empires rose and fell, systems of religion and systems of philosophy succeeded each other, knowledge augmented and the literary arts were perfected in their different types, and great civilizations unfolded and passed away, and all this while the forms of government continued monarchical, and human society was governed by the superstition that kings represent the gods and are infallible. The overshadowing and persistent superstition was that government was supernaturally organized, and that kings ruled by right divine. We look upon this idea now as a mere curious vestige of an empty illusion of ages of ignorance, but it was an idea of living application and tremendous power. Men religiously believed in it and thoroughly acquiesced in it. It was broadly asserted alike by the occupants of thrones and by the classes authorized to teach the people, and they accepted it as fundamental and sacred political truth. The open avowal of this doctrine comes down to quite modern times. The standard of loyalty exacted by the sovereign was thus laid down by King James, the translator of the Bible: "As it is atheism and blasphemy in a creature to dispute what the Deity may do, so it is presumption and sedition in a subject to dispute what a king may do in the height of his power; good Christians will be content with God's will revealed in his word, and good subjects will rest in the king's will revealed in his law."

It is not yet two centuries since De Foe could write in England as follows: "It was for many years—and I am witness to it—that the pulpit sounded nothing but absolute submission; obedience without reserve; subjection to princes as God's vicegerents; accountable to none; to be withstood in nothing and by no person. I have heard it publicly preached that, if the king commanded my head, and sent his messengers to fetch it, I was bound to submit, and to stand still while it was cut off."

Now, it is not to be supposed that so deep and long-established a sentiment, by which the lives of generations were regulated, was to be extirpated from human nature, and dismissed to annihilation in any short period of time. Some features of it might fall away