Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/315

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

litical vicissitudes, but the dogma of natural rights was aiding them all the time, by undermining the institutions of the law, and by destroying the confidence of the ruling classes, so far as they were religious and humane, in the justice of the actual situation.

Therefore the most important fact in regard to the history of the dogma of natural liberty is that that dogma has never had an historical foundation, but is the purest example that could be brought forward of an out-and-out a priori dogma; that this dogma, among the most favored nations, helped and sustained the emancipation of the masses; and that, by contagion, it has, in the nineteenth century, spread liberty to the uttermost parts of the earth. At no time during this movement could anybody, by looking backward to history, have found any warrant for the next step to be made in advance. On the contrary, he would have found only warning not to do anything. Such must always be the effect of any appeal to history, as to what we ought to do, or as to what ought to be. It is a strange situation in which we find ourselves, when those of us who are most unfriendly to "metaphysics," and have most enthusiastic devotion to history, find ourselves compelled to remonstrate against half-educated denial of what speculative philosophy has done and may do for mankind, and also to remonstrate against the cant of an historical method which makes both history and method ridiculous. To go off and begin to talk about history, in the crisis of a modern discussion, is the last and best device of reaction and obscurantism.

Let it be noticed also that from our present standpoint this doctrine has lost nearly all the arguments which were ever brought to its support. The notion of natural rights is not now held by anybody in the sense of reference to some original historical state of the human race. The biblical scholars would scarcely avow the exegesis by which the doctrine was got out of the Scriptures. The dogma to-day does not stand on the ground of an inference from any religious doctrine. The doctrine of evolution, instead of supporting the natural equality of all men, would give a demonstration of their inequality; and the doctrine of the struggle for existence would divorce liberty and equality as incompatible with each other. The doctrine, thus stripped of all the props which have been brought to its support, would remain only a poetic inspiration; but, if all this is admitted, if its historic legitimacy is all taken away, does that detract anything from the beneficence of the doctrine in history, or render invalid a single institution

    refined and beautiful an application of the "teachings of history" as could possibly have been made to that case, yet it requires very little knowledge of the case as it really stood to see that this programme was as unpractical and pedantic as the wildest proposition which could have been made by an a priori philosopher.