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by being shared by many minds; and especially in politics, it is all important that it be known that ideas are backed by numbers. Oppression is easily exercised over multitudes, so long as the resistance it excites is confined to the individual; but as soon as the feeling of each one is known to all, it becomes impossible. That a Public Opinion, worthy of the name, exists at all in a nation, that is, that the whole or a large portion are disciplined into harmony of feeling, is a sure sign of a high state of civilization; and it proves the existence of good government. Such a union, and the knowledge of it, are the most powerful of all political instruments in the hands of government or people. But the union which is predominant in politics is a union of interests, and of interests alone; for the nature of political association represents nothing more. Very little instruction is needed to give men a knowledge of their own interests. Whether this union of opinion is wise or foolish, based on knowledge or ignorance, truth or falsehood, whether its objects are just or unjust, provided it exists and is known to exist, it must prevail in politics, for there is nothing but itself to control or to reform it.
To judge correctly belongs to other departments of education and action. But farther than the mere knowledge, we think it very doubtful whether that information which can be acquired by any process of education is, or ever can be made, an element of such first-rate importance in politics as it is very generally supposed to be. The love of knowledge is indeed one of the most ardent and generous feelings that takes possession of individual minds. It is ordinarily favorable to the growth of virtue, and prompts occasionally to great sacrifices. But it is not a general passion, or one which stimulates enthusiasm and union in action; and without one or the other of these, political consequence is impossible. Then, again, education and the possession of knowledge are usually distributed upon a certain scale, as it were, through the ranks of society. If one part is advanced, the rest are apt to be advanced likewise, so that much the same proportion of power is preserved between the different parts. If greater skill, greater information, greater wisdom, are demanded in the government of a wellinformed people, there are also better means of obtaining them, and we see no reason why they should not be supplied. We do not see that there is, in fact, any insufficiency in the statesmen of modern times in relation to the people. The Websters, Peels, Guizots of our time, are as much in advance of the Walpoles and Cobbetts, as we are of the people whom they governed. To represent knowledge as the only source of political power, is to take it for granted that it is only necessary for men to know their best interests in order to induce them to pursue these interests. How far this is from the truth, those who have had most experience of mankind can best determine. Knowledge is a power which is capable of being turned to the worst, as well as the best, uses; and the roused passions of governments or people care little for the instruction that is offered to them, except as it adds fuel to their flame, or furnishes the means of their gratification. It is no denial of the doctrine of progress to suggest that the progress takes place principally outside of the operation of government, which, within its own sphere, remains always substantially the same. That sphere may be enlarged or narrowed by external causes. The means of applying principles, and the modes of exercising power, change with the course of time and increase of knowledge. Special measures pursued in our age are outgrown in the next; and in this way, great improvements are made in government. But the new measures were not neg. lected so long because nobody knew of them before ; nor are they introduced solely because they have been found out by a great number. When interest is opposed to knowledge, the latter finds no better foothold now than formerly. We do not hear that the moralists are grown better satisfied with the doings of politicians; their standing quarrel still remains.
There has been an evident advance in general knowledge among civilized nations during the last century. Has there been any corresponding moral change in the nature and objects of their governments? This is a question which we hardly dare ask, because we are aware how prevalent the opinion is, that a great change has come over the spirit of power, and a new era of peace and good-will commenced on earth. It is indeed a time of peace and dearly bought exhaustion; a time in which all kinds of moralists, philosophers,
and reformers are at liberty to occupy the public stage, while it is vacant of other performers. As against them, the daring, active, and worldly spirits who touch the springs and hold the traditional authority of government keep their own secret because they are confident of their strength. They know that whenever they please, whenever the time of that success arrives which justifies crime and silences remorse, they can blow away these public delusions at a breath. In every society, as in every heart of man, there is a hell that can be unloosed. The time of little wars and aimless battles is past; but great systems of war and empire, in harmony with the enlarged scale of moral enterprises, and vast enough to bewilder the imagination and affect the interests of the world, are possible still. Is not Europe a camp of hostile armies? Does England attach less importance than formerly to her empire of the seas? Is France kept down by moral suasion ? Are not the United States plainly striding towards the dominion of this continent? And what hand can save us from the fate of greatness and power? After more than half a century of the largest political education, under the most favorable constitution that was ever enjoyed by any nation; after having our political life developed and intensified certainly to an extraordinary preponderance among our social interests, and, in the opinion of many, so as to threaten to absorb and extinguish every other liberal inclination; after having produced so many great men, and placed them in situations of influence and honor, from which their spirit and instructions have descended upon the whole body of the people by means of the widest circulating press which the most unlimited freedom and universal popular education that ever existed together have been able to create, - how much nearer are we to that happy condition which is presented in this Discourse as the natural result of the diffusion of useful knowledge? And although our knowledge and cultivation increase daily, it is by no means the general impression that our politics are improving, either in the details of practice, or in the scope and character of their objects.
The effect of such arguments as those of this Discourse, when applied to real life, is the same as when one undertakes VOL. LXXVII. —NO. 160.
to convince us of the beauty of virtue and the desirability of perfection. It is better that men should be virtuous and nations just; but when we have learned this, we have not learned how to make them so. No philosophy has yet in. vented the method to prevent force from governing, or to establish government on any other foundation than force. It is called by many other names, and attempted to be disguised, both by governors and governed; but they all amount to the same thing in the end. Whether known as paternal authority, or as existing by consent of the people, government without power is nothing; and power, whether recognized or not, is the government. This does not refer to brute force alone, or to the mere visible machinery of government; for these are only a part of the means by which those governments which are most dependent on them are supported; but we include all those tendencies and elements of combination and influence existing in every society. These, although they do not always affect its political complexion, are still its moral and intellectual law, and determine its spiritual condition and direction. The more unconscious they are in their operation, the more effective they frequently are; and although this is only another way of saying that, in politics also, persuasion is better than force, we venture to repeat the lesson, because, under any form of government, however often repeated, it is still oftener forgotten. The forces upon which the march of communities depends have their own life, and subsist by their own strength, and are amenable to no judgment but that of reality. How they succeed and supplant each other, how one is developed from obscurity and another falls from power, is the problem of society and the secret of history. As they do not originate in human calculation, they continually stretch beyond its reach. For politics is not philosophy, and although Mr. Burke is against us, we believe politicians have something else to do than to reduce philosophy to practice. Among these political elements, we are afraid that ignorance holds as high a place as knowledge, and that it is as capable of maintaining its ancient rank, and as much disposed to do it. It is far too important a power to be suffered to die out of politics. Rather than that such a fate should befall them, ignorance and dul
ness may call in aid from the highest quarters of intelligence. For so far as knowledge is a political instrument, it is taken hold of and employed, like other such instruments, for political purposes. It is not strong enough to defend itself, nor can any thing else protect it, as long as courage, will, and energy bear sway in human affairs. These are the qualities which finally determine the position of individuals and nations. Power is their birthright, and it is the burden of history, that neither private knowledge nor public opinion has been able to extend or allowed to flourish, when opposed to their domination. If not able to prevent the spread of knowledge and the existence of public opinion, these are inevitably moulded to their purposes.
The political education of a people is always in the interest of its most powerful element - always tends to the strengthening of the strongest. Emancipation is impossible. The well of political truth is never undefiled. No despotism is so hopeless and unrelenting as the despotism of intelligence; and it is only through the operation of secret and unfathomable instincts of humanity, leading mysteriously towards freedom and light, that mankind are ever able to break loose from this formidable oppression. There are periods when the destiny of nations seems to hang in suspense, and the wheels of their progress to stop. Lord Bolingbroke quotes from Davila the maxim that, in order to insure the duration of governments, it is necessary for them, from time to time, to return to the original principles of their constitution. He does not, indeed, tell us how it is to be done; and although this is an omission, we should not think of finding fault with Lord Bolingbroke for so small a matter. But we refer to it to show that it has been observed that, at intervals, the fate of nations seems to be deliberately submitted to their own choice. The present seems to be one of those occasions with us. The dogs of party are hushed for the moment, apparently because they are so completely at fault that none dare open the mouth for fear they will be found baying at the wrong quarry; and the time is favorable to the expression of some ideas which, we hope, are applicable to the present state of our affairs, and which, at least, have been excited by them.