France: The Decadence of Natural Law

France: The Decadence of Natural Law. The Revolution of 1688 and the publication of John Locke’s tracts brought to a close the astonishing half-century creative Political philosophy which accompanied the civil wars in England are followed, as often happens, a period of quiescence or even of stagnation, The need of the moment was that the new government should consolidate its gains; until the middle of the eighteenth century a Stuart restoration, bringing a Roman Catholic succession under the influence of France, seemed a real threat.

The temper of English thought became conservative, even complacent, and not without reason, for though English government was oligarchical and corrupt, in comparison with the rest of Europe it was liberal. At least it offered a large measure of civil liberty to all and political liberty to the classes which alone were politically self-conscious.

The growth of a party-system and of ministerial responsibility was a matter of experiment and adjustment rather than of conscious theorizing. Not until David Hume in the middle of the century and Edmund Burke toward its close did British thinkers add materially to social philosophy, and the later years of Burke’s thought were controlled by political events in France.

The Revival of Political Philosophy in France:-

In the eighteenth century, therefore, political theory had its center in France. This fact was in itself a revolution, for though French philosophy in the age of Descartes had led the scientific emancipation of Europe, as French literature had led the arts, it had nothing to Say on politics or social questions. Its domain had been rather in mathematics, metaphysics, and theology.

There was little that social philosophy could say to an era of personal or bureaucratic autocracy such as began in France under Henry IV, developed in the age of Richelieu and Mazarin, and culminated in the monarchy of Louis XIV. The English civil wars, it is true, did not pass unnoticed at the time of the Fronde, but such attention as they received served only to show that political ideas are powerless except as they respond to political occasions.

The only response consonant with Louis’s autocracy was that of Bossuet. The royal throne is not the throne of a man but of God himself. In form it was the old theory of monarchical divine right; in substance, so far gs it had any philosophical substance, it depended on Thomas Hobbes’s argument that there can be no third position between absolutism and anarchy.

The last thirty years of Louis’s long reign, however, from about 4685 until his death in 1715, were years of increasing decadence. Louis, after a period of military glory that hypnotized France, committed the cardinal sin of failing. His ambition arrayed all Europe against him; his grandiose schemes of conquest ended in humiliation; the cost of his campaigns brought the country to the edge of bankruptcy; oppressive and unequal taxation spread poverty broadcast.

His hand was as heavy on the church as on the state, and yet by a Jesuit ultramodern policy he alienated the sympathy of Gallican Catholics. The persecution of Protestants, culminating in the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, not only horrified all men of humane mind but added substantially to the impoverishment of the country.

The decadence of absolute government turned French philosophy once more in the direction of political and social theory. Beginning somewhat doubtfully in the last years of the seventeenth century, the interest in politics grew steadily.

In the first half of the eighteenth century there was an amazing output of books on all phases of the subject-historical works on the ancient institutions of France, descriptive works on European government and especially that of England, books of travel describing the morals and institutions of American or Asiatic peoples usually with an oblique reference to France, plans for the reform of taxation and the improvement of agriculture or trade, and philosophical theories of the end and justification of government.

Between 1750 and the Revolution the discussion of such subjects became an obsession. Every branch of literature-poetry, the drama, and the novel-became a vehicle of social discussion. All philosophy, indeed all scholarship, was bent in this direction, and even books on science might include the rudiments of a social philosophy.

A poet like Voltaire or a novelist like Rousseau, a scientist like Diderot or D-Alembert, a civil servant like Turgot, and a meta physician like Holbach produced political theory as naturally as a sociologist like Montesquieu wrote satire.

In this welter of ideas, repeated endlessly with varying applications, it is difficult to produce order without reducing philosophies to formulas that obscure their meaning and doubly difficult to evaluate the new meaning that was continually put into old formulas. Considered merely as abstract theory this French philosophy contained little that was new. For the most part discussion popularized rather than created, and on the score of originality the eighteenth century in philosophy compared badly with the seventeenth.

Yet an old idea in a new setting is not quite the same idea in the course of the century, theories that had been reasonably clear-cut tended to become blurred and to take on the eclectic quality characteristic of popular thinking The self-evidence of natural rights was asserted and reasserted, yet thy rationalism essential to a system of self-evident principles became continually more remote from the growing empiricism of social studies An ethical and political utilitarianism, essentially empirical in its implications, was repeatedly crossed with the theory of natural right in spite of the logical incompatibility of the two positions.

A more serious incompatibility was involved in the growth of a philosophical romanticism that was hostile to empiricism and rationalism alike, though it was still expressed in the old terminology. This new tendency was the most original factor that appeared In the philosophy of the eighteenth century, but its disruptive force was not fully manifest until after the Revolution.

A really satisfactory arrangement of this complex material is probably impossible but on the whole it seems clear that one figure in the French eighteenth century stands apart, Jean Jacques Rousseay, He himself felt it and suffered from it; his acquaintances felt it and detested him for it; all discerning critics have tried to take account of it.

Lytton Strachey has said:

He possessed one quality which cut him off from his contemporaries, which set an immense gulf betwixt him and them, he was modern.

The word modern means nothing, but it suggests an important fact. However much he might use the current catchwords, Rousseau’s political philosophy was different, both in its quality and its effects, from anything else written in the eighteenth century; it was differently related both to the Revolution and to the period that followed the Revolution. It seems best, therefore, to reserve Rousseau for a separate chapter and to give a fuller exposition of his vague but significant political philosophy. The present chapter will present summarily the more typical French thought of the age before the Revolution. In the main this philosophy grew from that of Locke but it developed important differences which need to be especially noted.

The Reception of Locke:-

The criticism of Louis XIV government which began at the end of the seventeenth century was not at first the product of any political philosophy but merely the reaction of conscientious men to the shacking effects of bad government. It came from the observations of an engineer like Vauban on the effects of unequal taxation on agriculture or of a magistrate like Boisguillebert on the wasteful effect of oppressive restrictions on trade, and it asked only a more enlightened form of autocracy.

Criticism of autocracy itself came in the first instance in the name of the ancient institutions of France which the crown had crushed. This idea was developed speculatively by Fenelon in the romance Telemaque and more positively in his occasional writings. Independent local governments and provincial assemblies, the restoration of the States General, the revival of the power and influence of the nobility, and the independence of the parliaments were sought as correctives of absolutism and defended as a return to the ancient constitution of the country.

Such a dream persisted, especially among the nobility, even down to the Revolution; traces of it may be seen in the Spirit of the Laws. But it was only a dream. From time to-time the Parliament of Paris might resist the registering of an edict and gain popular favor by so doing, a kind of obstruction which suggests the controversies between Coke and James J. The latter, however, were effective only as preliminary to the struggle between Charles and parliament, and in France there was no parliament to take up the controversy. The parliaments in fact represented nothing, and the suppression of their privileges in 1770 was really a reform. Absolutism had left France no traditional constitution which a reforming party could pretend to restore.

Criticism of the absolute monarchy urgently needed a philosophy -needed it doubly since the roots-of a constitutional tradition had been so thoroughly grubbed out and the philosophy of the English Revolution was ready to hand. In the seventeenth century French philosophy and science had been relatively self-contained; in the eighteenth, as Cartesian ism hardened into a kind of scholasticism, it was deliberately supplanted by the philosophy of Locke and the science of Newton.

In political thought such a result was a foregone conclusion after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes made religious toleration a major part of any reforming philosophy. With the residence of Voltaire in England between 1726 and 1729, and of Montesquieu ten years later, the philosophy of Locke became the foundation of French enlightenment, and the admiration of English government became the keynote of French liberalism.

Henceforth the new way of ideas was the rule of philosophical and psychological speculation, and the principles of the Treatises of Government (supplemented of course by other English works) became axioms of political and social criticism. These principles were very simple and-very general.

The law of nature, or of reason, was supposed to provide an adequate rule of life without *he addition of any revealed or supernatural truth and was believed to be imprinted in essentially the same form upon the minds of all men. As a result of Hobbes and Locke, the content of the law of nature had become substantially enlightened self-interest, but because of the harmony inherent in nature a truly enlightened self-interest was thought to be conducive to the good of all. In accord with these general ethical principles; governments were held to exist only to further liberty, security, the enjoyment of property, and other individual goods.

Hence political reform must aim to secure responsible government, to make it representative, to limit abuses and tyranny, to abolish monopoly and privilege-in short, to create a society in which individual energy and capacity are the keys to power and wealth. Upon the validity of these general principles there was no substantial difference among French writers nor between them and Locke, but in France a changed environment gave to the abstractions a coloring quite different from that which they had in England.

The Changed Environment:-

Reference has already been made to the fact that the autocracy had done its work so thoroughly that no effective reform in France could attach itself to the idea of reviving the traditional constitution. The ancient ideal of a fundamental law, which sixteenth-century France had shared with all Europe and which had still vitality enough to hold an almost equal footing with sovereignty in Bodin’s philosophy, had lost all concrete meaning in the monarchy of Louis XIV.

In England it was little more than a difference of terminology if a Leveller called his birthright the right of a man or the right of an Englishman; in either case it meant something concrete in the tradition of the common law. The rights of Frenchmen-unless one meant the privileges of the nobility-would have been a practically meaningless phrase.

In consequence, the rights of man, and there was nothing else that a French liberal could appeal to, were necessarily more abstract, more detached from usage and concrete applicability, more open to speculative interpretation. In importing Locke into France, the French must omit precisely the most characteristic-at all events the most English quality of Locke’s political rationalism.

They could not import Richard Hooker or the gradual transition of ideas and institutions which made it passable for Locke to attach his philosophy to a tradition continuous with St. Thomas and the Middle Ages, nor could they tie back the new philosophy to any French thinker of the sixteenth century. The historical and with it the relatively conservative quality of the English Revelation in fact as well as in idea was bound to be lost.

The effect of this upon French political philosophy was profound. Reason was placed in stark opposition to custom and fact as it had never been in Locke. Probably no English politician would ever have said, as a speaker said before the National Convention.

In dealing with matters so weighty I have sought the truth in the natural order of things and nowhere else. I have desired, so to speak, to preserve the virginity of my thought.

The a priori, dogmatic, and hence radical quality of French political thought, in contrast with its English model, was heightened also by the circumstances under which it was produced. Though a doctrine of liberty it was written under a despotism, mostly by men with no experience of government and no possibility of such experience.

Outside the ranks of the civil service no one in France had experience, and bureaucrats (allowing for the exception of Turgot produced little political philosophy. The autocracy had made government a mystery conducted in secret, never divulging, even if it knew, the information, financial or other, on which an intelligent judgment of policy might be formed.

Criticism and discussion, in public assemblies or in the press, were out of the question. Local government, always the school of English politics, had been completely subjected to central control, with the normal accompaniments of delay, friction, and red tape.

Neither was there in France any such body of common ideas, tested in continual application, as the English common law. Before the Napoleonic Code France had some three hundred and sixty systems of local private law, left standing by the merely administrative unification of the monarchy of necessity French political philosophy in the eighteenth century, far more than English, was a literary philosophy, in a sense a bookish though not a scholarly philosophy, written for the salons and the educated bourgeoisie, the only public to which an author could address himself. It abounds in formulas and sweeping generalizations; it strives after brilliant effects; and it moves largely in an atmosphere of vague tut familiar ideas.

It is often effective propaganda, more frequently negative than positive, but relatively seldom responsible. It is only fair to add that one knows today as little as in the eighteenth century what criticism of existing French government might have been really constructive.

There were social causes as well as political that gave to French political philosophy a tone of bitterness that had no counterpart in Locke. French society was a tissue of privilege which made the cleavage between classes more conscious and more irritating, if not more real, than in England.

The clergy were still in possession of perhaps a fifth of the soil of France, with an enormous revenue and substantial exemptions and privileges, but with no moral or intellectual pre-eminence to justify their position. Similarly, the nobility had privilege without political power or leadership.

French agriculture offered them no such chance for capitalist development as the English landlord enjoyed, and French politics no such chance for leadership. The feudal rents of the nobility were an economic drain for which no return was made, either economic or political. To the middle class both clergy and nobility seemed parasites decked out with social privilege and with substantial exemptions from the burdens of taxation.

Moreover, the French middle class was itself different from the English, There was nothing in France corresponding to the English yeomanry, and French agriculture was notable even before the Revolution for a large number of peasant proprietors. The middle class was typically an urban bourgeoisie, owning nearly all the capital and forming the main creditor of the insolvent state.

In French political writing there was a class-consciousness and a sense of exploitation such as had appeared only sporadically in English political writing. And in fact the French Revolution was a social revolution as the English Revolution was not; it compressed into three or four years an expropriation of church lands, crown lands, and lands of émigré nobles comparable to that spread through the reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that Locke’s philosophy in France before the Revolution was an attack on vested interests and in England after the Reformation a defense of them.

The foregoing divergences refer to the category of space but equal!y important ones refer to that of time. The fact that Locke in England belonged to the seventeenth century while Locke in France belonged to the eighteenth was itself a significant difference.

In the days of Grotius and Descartes, and even in the days of Locke, the appeal! to reason had been a high intellectual adventure, a new exploration on the frontiers of philosophy and science, and a deliverance from authority. In the eighteenth century it ran the risk of becoming a cliche.

The farther it got from its source, the more assured it became, the more dogmatic, and the more commonplace. For despite the reverence expended on enlightenment, a good deal of what passed for rational ethics or rational politics was an obvious kind of prudential moralizing that was not intellectually penetrating and does not now seem morally stirring.

Holbach’s materialism proved that the literature of edification can be as flat when written by an atheist as it is when written by the clergy. Yet thousands of Frenchmen, and of Englishmen and Germans too, read such books with passionate interest.

They made known to a new and larger public what a series of great philosophers and scientists, from Descartes and Galileo to Locke and Newton, had created. It is inevitable that by comparison the eighteenth century now suffers heavily. A genius of any age is always worth reading, but nothing is so dead as popular philosophy that has ceased to be popular.

There is, however, another and a more important side to, this. The assurance of the eighteenth century and its confidence in reason was not bred of familiarity alone but was partly the effect of solid achievement. Until the publication of Newton’s Principal in 1687, modern science was on trial; a few philosophers had believed passionately in it but no one knew that it would work.

After Newton everyone knew, even though he had only the vaguest conception of the new engine. The idea of the new science affected men’s imaginations far more than the actuality affected technology. For the reason of Newton seemed to have pierced to the very heart of nature, to have disclosed that wisdom which we see equally displayed in the exquisite structure and just motions of the greatest and subtilest parts.

Nothing was beyond the power of reason; Bacon’s saying that knowledge is power had come true and for the first time in history men could cooperate with the benevolent intentions which even atheists like Holbach still attributed to the harmony of nature. Nothing characterizes social thought in the eighteenth century so completely as belief in the possibility of happiness and progress under the guidance of reason.

Much of this-the belief in the harmony of nature, for example-was sheer confusion in no way warranted by the new science. But on the whole the belief that man’s fate was in the keeping of his intelligence was an honorable faith, more humane than the religion of authority that preceded it or the religion of sentimentality that followed it. In the large it did not overestimate the power of scientific reason to control nature, but whether that power extends to human relationships, no one knows today any more than the philosophers knew then. Their superficiality lay in a shocking exaggeration of the simplicity of the problem.

Montesquieu: Sociology and Liberty:-

Of all French political philosophers in the eighteenth century (other than Rousseau) the most important was Montesquieu of them all he had perhaps the clearest conception of the complexities of a social philosophy, and yet he too was guilty of extreme oversimplification.

He alone undertook what purported to be an empirical study of society and government oh a large scale, and yet his supposed inductions were controlled throughout by preconceptions for which he neither had nor sought empirical proof. He attempted a political philosophy avowedly applicable to the widest range of circumstances and yet nearly all that he wrote was written with an eye upon the state of affairs in France.

Consequently Montesquieu presents at once the best scientific aspirations of his age and its unavoidable confusions. Without laying aside the rationalist apparatus, such as the immutable natural law of justice and the contract, in effect he neglected the contract and suggested a sociological relativism quite incompatible with self evident moral laws.

He provided a plan for the study of government in relation to both the physical and the social milieu which required the comparison of institutions on a wide scale, but he lacked both the accuracy of knowledge and the detachment needed to make the plan effective.

His love of political liberty, the sole enthusiasm of an otherwise chilly temperament, was in the best tradition of the eighteenth century, but he united his theory to a, hasty and superficial analysis of the constitutional principles of liberty.

It cannot be said that Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws has any arrangement; it has been saved from the fate suffered by Bodin’s Republic mainly by superior style. He addressed himself to two main points which had no intrinsic relationship.

In the first place, he undertook,to develop a sociological theory of government and law by showing that these depend for their structure and functioning upon the circumstances in which a people lives. The circumstances include physical conditions, such as climate and soil, which he supposed to have a direct influence upon national mentality; the state of the arts, trade, and the modes of producing goods; mental and moral temperaments and dispositions; the form of the political constitution; and the customs and habits that have become ingrained in national character.

In a word, a form of government, using the expression in its broadest possible sense, is a whole requiring the mutual adjustment of all a people’s institutions, if the government is to remain stable and orderly. In the second place, Montesquieu was haunted by the fear that the absolute monarchy had so undermined the traditional constitution of France that liberty had become forever impossible.

His detestation of despotism is clearly to be seen even in what purport to be objective statements about governments such as those of Russia and Turkey. His practical object-and much the most influential part of his work was to analyze the constitutional conditions upon which freedom depends and so to discover the means of restoring the ancient liberties of Frenchmen.

In respect to the last-point it does not appear that he reached a definite conclusion. His writings gave aid and comfort both to reactionaries who hoped for the restoration of the parliaments, the estates, and the provincial assemblies and to liberals who looked to an migration of English government.

These two aspects of Montesquieu’s thought were not definitely separated in his writings, either by place or date. The Lettres Persanes (1721) was in the main a social satire on the condition of France, in which the author paid his respects to the church, to Louis XIV, the decline of the parliaments, and the decay of the nobility.

The thought behind the criticism was the same conception of despotism developed in the Spirit of the Laws-a government in which all intermediate powers between the king and the people have been crushed and law has been made identical with the sovereign’s will.

It was this interpretation of despotism that gave importance to the separation of powers, which he believed he had found in the English constitution. Yet in the Persian Letters he already thought that the best government is that which “leads men in the way best suited to their disposition,” and his discussion of the causes of depopulation showed a flair for sociological speculation.

The composition of the Esprit des lois (1748) extended at least over seventeen years and everyone has recognized that its parts are disparate. The occasional remarks on England in Books to X by no means suggest the account of the English Constitution in Book Xi, and the treatment of the Roman constitution at the end of that book, after he had discovered the separation of powers, is unlike his earlier remarks on the ancient republic.

There seems to be no doubt that Montesquieu’s travels in Europe between 1728 and 1731, and especially his residence in England, formed the crucial experience in his intellectual history. His love of-liberty was in its early phase mainly ethical, bred of his study of the classics and reflecting an admiration for the ancient republic similar to that of Machiavelli, Milton, and Harrington.

This phase of his thought remains in the Spirit of the Laws in the theory that virtue or public spirit is a precondition of this form of government. But Montesquieu’s observation of existing republics, in Italy and in Holland, by no means bore out this preconception, and his residence in England suggested a new idea-that liberty might be the result not of superior civic morality but of a correct organization of the state. His famous eleventh book, on the construction of constitutions in accordance with the separation of powers, was the record of this discovery.

Law and Environment:-

Overtly the general principles of Montesquieu’s social philosophy, Started with the law of nature. A law, he says in the opening sentence of the Spirit of the Laws, means the necessary relations arising from the nature of things. This vague formula covers as always an ambiguity which he does nothing to clear up.

In physics a necessary relation is merely a uniformity in the behavior of bodies. In society a law is a rule or norm of human behavior which presumably ought to be observed but is often violated of this fact Montesquieu has two explanations, neither of which explains anything the freedom of the will and the defective intelligence of men, which prevents them from living up to the perfection displayed by the rest of nature.

But he was emphatic in urging, against Hobbes, that nature does provide a standard of absolute justice prior to positive law; to deny it is as absurd as to say that before describing a circle all the radii were not equal. Evidently he had never considered natural law with any care.

His enumeration included factors as disparate as a knowledge of God, the bodily appetites, and the fundamental conditions of society. This was merely a conventional way of getting started. What interested him was the idea that this fundamental natural law in society, which he identified in the usual way with reason, must operate in different environments and so must produce different institutions in different places.

Climate, soil, occupation, form of government, commerce, religion, customs are all relevant conditions in determining what in a particular case reason (or law) will set up. This fitness or relation of conditions, physical, mental, and institutional, forms the spirit of the laws.

Obviously what Montesquieu was suggesting Was a sociological study, by a comparative method, of institutions and the incidence upon them of other institutions and non-institutional physical conditions. The assumption that all are variants of one nature was hardly more than a fiction.

It is not easy to estimate with certainty either the originality or the importance of Montesquieu’s project. What was most definitely his was the grandiose scale on which he proposed to carry it out. The idea itself he probably got in the first instance from Aristotle, especially from those books of the Politics in which were analyzed the innumerable nuances of democracy and oligarchy in the city-states.

That laws must be adapted to a variety of circumstances, physical and institutional, and that good government must be good in this relative sense, had been fully stated by Aristotle, as had the speculation about the relation of national character to climate.

Among modern writers Bodin had urged the same conceptions, but neither Aristotle nor Bodin had planned the investigation on what might be called cosmic lines. Montesquieu was intrigued by the great body of travel-literature which had grown up in the seventeenth century, dealing with the aborigines of the Americas and Africa and with the exotic civilizations of Asia. Chardin’s Journal (1711) had stressed the effects of climate and from this Montesquieu got most of the information used in the Persian letters. What he proposed to do was to show the variability of the main types of government in all the multitude of circumstances to which these types are forced to adapt themselves.

For Montesquieu as for Aristotle the types or species of government were fixed; they are merely modified by the influence of their environment. Since Aristotle limited himself to the Greek cities, this assumption was substantially true; it was much more dangerous in an investigation planned on Montesquieu’s scale.

Considering the importance of the matter for his project, he devoted surprisingly little effort to determining the forms of government capable of being used in a comparison so wide. He explained his reasons neither for adopting in part the traditional threefold classification nor for departing from it. He merely asserted that governments are of three kinds republican (a conflation of democracy and aristocracy), monarchical, and despotic.

Despotism differs from monarchy in being arbitrary and capricious, while the latter is a constitutional government cording to forms of law and requires the continuance of intermediate powers, such as the nobility or communes, between the monarch and the people. To each of these forms of government he attached a “principle,” or motive force in the character of subjects, from which its power is derived and which is necessary to its continuance and functioning. Thus popular government depends on the civil virtue or public spirit of the people, monarchy depends upon the sense of honor of a military class, and despotism depends upon the fear or slavishness of its subjects.

It is impossible to see that Montesquieu’s classification followed any principle at all in respect to the number of rulers, monarchy and despotism fall together; and in respect to constitutionality, a republic can be as lawless as a despotism.

Moreover, the idea that despotic governments have no law was a fiction, as was also the idea that his three kinds of government correspond respectively to small, middle sized, and large states. It cannot be supposed that this classification of forms of government was in any sense produced by observation or comparison. As a venture in political realism it was not comparable with Harrington’s theory that governments may be classified according to certain forms of land-tenure.

Montesquieu seems to have followed merely a subjective interest motives by his ethical reaction to the political problems of France. His republic, actuated by the sturdy civic virtue of its citizens, was the Roman republic (or his idealization of it), having no relation to modern republics. His despotism was what he feared France had become under the policy of Richelieu and Louis XIV, after local government, the parliaments, and the nobility had been deprived of their privileges.

His monarchy was what he desired that France should remain, or what he later came to believe that England was. The main outline of Montesquieu’s theory, therefore, was determined not by empirical considerations but by his preconceptions about what was desirable in France.

In so far as the Spirit of the Laws has any arrangement, it consists in following out the modifications in law and institutions appropriate to each form of government and the variations in each required by circumstances, physical or institutional. But there is not in truth much concatenation of subject-matter, and the amount of irrelevance is extraordinary.

Books IV to X deal with educational institutions, criminal law, sumptuous laws and the position of women, the characteristic corruptions of each form, and the type of military organization appropriate to each. Books XI and XII contain the celebrated discussion of political and civil liberty, and Book XIII deals with policies of taxation, Books XIV to XVII have to do with the effects of climate on government and industry, its relation to slavery and to political liberty.

Book XVII covers more briefly the effects of soil. With Book XIX, which reverts incongruously to the influence of custom, even this tenuous outline begins to break down. Books XX to XXII are practically observations at large on commerce and money; Book XXII on population; and Books XXIV and XXV on religions. The work trails off in Books XXVI to XXX into remarks on the history of Roman and Feudal Law.

To summarize Montesquieu’s conclusions is quite impossible; they are mainly episodic and as a rule they have little dependence on what he alleges to be evidence. With respect to his main purpose it may be said that he oscillates between two tendencies inherent in the confused principles from which he started. On the one hand, he was inclined to assume that human law is rational and that accordingly there is a good reason, under the circumstances, for any usage that is widely and permanently established.

Such an attitude agreed with his generally conservative inclination and with the theory that physical causes, Such as climate, act directly on mental and moral capacities. Carried to its logical conclusion, however, it would have meant a complete moral relativism, and this was certainly never Montesquieu’s position. On the other hand, he perhaps usually thought of climate and certain institutions (like slavery and polygamy) as adverse conditions which have to be compensated by legislation to produce a good moral result.

This way of interpreting political evolution implies that the moral ideas at least of legislators are independent of social causation and that the causal influence of climate and the like is effective mainly as it enters into their calculations. Such a view cuts under a sociological theory of politics and repeats the exaggerated ideas about the influence of rulers which Machiavelli had made current. In fact, however, Montesquieu was less guilty on this score than his contemporaries.

It is impossible, therefore, to attach any very precise meaning to Montesquieu’s celebrated dictum that laws must be adapted to the circumstances in which a nation lives. Undoubtedly it suggested a corrective for a purely abstract or a priori treatment of political justice. Undoubtedly also it suggested a comparative study of law on a wide scale, but it left the plan for such study quite vague. Montesquieu’s most positive suggestion-that natural forces like climate act directly on the body and so upon the mind-has shared the fate of the same hypothesis in biology, which seemed so promising to Lamarck.

The statement that Montesquieu really envisaged and used an inductive and comparative method of studying social institutions must be taken with extreme qualification. Probably few important political theorists were more addicted to hasty generalizations or less inclined to distinguish between exact inference and the impulsion of prior convictions. He was indeed a man of wide reading but his knowledge was inexact, judged not by the scholarly standards of a later time but in terms of the sources at his disposal.

His curious erudition was largely used to illustrate beliefs that would have been exactly the same if he had never heard of Persia. Even of political affairs in Europe, which lay under his eyes, Montesquieu was not so profound an observer as Machiavelli, Bodin, or even Harrington, who made no such pretensions universal knowledge.

What saves him from the charge of being an legant amateur was not his scientific achievement but his wholesaled enthusiasm for liberty. He was a moralist for whom the eternal entices had begun to wear thin but who lacked the constructive power 9 get on without them.

The Separation of Powers:-

On the whole the estimate of Montesquieu’s contemporaries that his importance lay in spreading and strengthening the belief in British institutions as the means of political liberty was not wrong. His residence in England freed him from the preconception that political liberty depends upon a superior virtue known only to the Romans and realized only in a city-state. It gave substance to his rooted dislike for despotism and suggested a way in which the evil effect of absolutism in France might perhaps be remedied.

That Montesquieu himself believed it possible to imitate English government in France is probably not true, but certainly the famous eleventh book of the Spirit of the Laws, in which he ascribed liberty in England to the separation of the legislative, executive, and judicial powers, and to the balancing of these powers against each other, set up these doctrines as dogmas of liberal constitution-making. The extent of Montesquieu’s influence in this respect is unquestionable and may be read at large in the bills of rights of American and French constitutions.

This idea was, of course, one of the most ancient In political theory. The idea of the mixed state was as old as Plato’s Laws and had been utilized by Polybius to explain the supposed stability of Roman government. The tempered or mixed monarchy was a familiar conception throughout the Middle Ages, and medieval constitutionalism had in fact depended on a division of powers, as distinct from the sovereign power claimed by the new monarchy.

In England the controversies between the crown and the courts of common law and between the crown and parliament had given concrete importance to the separation of powers. Harrington had considered it to be essential to free government and Locke had given it a subsidiary place in his theory of parliamentary priority.

But in truth the idea of mixed government had never had a very definite meaning. It had connoted in part a participation and a balancing of social and economic interests and classes, in part a sharing of power by corporations such as Communes or municipalities, and only in a small degree a constitutional organization of legal powers, Perhaps its greatest use had been as a makeweight against extreme centralization and as a reminder that no political organization will work unless it can assume comity and fair dealing between its various parts,

So far as Montesquieu modified the ancient doctrine it was by making the separation of powers into a system of legal checks and balances between the parts of a constitution. He was not in fact very precise. Much of what his eleventh book contained, such for example as the general advantages of representative institutions or the specific advantages of the jury-system or a hereditary nobility, had nothing to do with the separation of powers.

The specific form of his theory depended upon the proposition that all political functions must of necessity be classifiable as legislative, executive, or judicial, yet to this crucial point he devoted no discussion whatever. The feasibility of making a radical separation between legislation and the judicial process, or between the making of a policy and control over its execution, would hardly have commended itself in any age to a political realist.

Montesquieu, like everyone who used his theory, did not really contemplate an absolute separation of the three powers the legislative ought to meet at the call of the executive; the executive retains a veto on legislation; and the legislature ought to exercise extraordinary judicial powers. The separation of powers, as Montesquieu described it and as it always remained, was crossed by a contradictory principle-the greater power of the legislature-which in effect made it a dogma supplemented by an undefined privilege of making exceptions.

It is a remarkable fact about Montesquieu’s version of the separation of powers that he professed to discover it by a study of the English constitution. In truth the civil wars had destroyed the vestiges of medievalism that made it appropriate to call England a mixed government, and the Revolution of 1688 had settled the supremacy of Parliament.

To be sure, when Montesquieu visited England, the status of the ministry was not very clearly fixed, but no man who relied on independent observation would have pitched upon the separation of powers as the distinctive feature of the constitution. But Montesquieu did not rely on observation. Locke and Harrington had taught him what to expect and for the rest he adopted the myth which was current among the English themselves. Thus he may have learned from his friend Bolingbroke.

It is by this mixture of monarchical, aristocratic; and democratic power, blended together in one system, and by these three estates balancing one another, that our free constitution of government hath been preserved so long inviolate.

This theory of the constitution was preserved, partly under Montesquieu’s influence, by Blackstone. Even Burke, though he was the last man to take seriously a rigid separation of legal powers, believed that the Revolution had resulted in the balancing of interests and orders. It was not until Bentham’s criticism of Blackstone in the Fragment on Government (1776) that the separation of powers was effectively attacked.

Voltaire and Civil Liberty:-

Apart from its analysis of the English constitution, the Spirit of the Laws was not in its implications characteristic of political thought in the eighteenth century. The book at least suggested a dependence of political institutions upon physical and social causes, and a consequent relativism of political values, which was contrary to the view that commonly prevailed.

In general French writers in the eighteenth century believed as firmly as those of the seventeenth that reason provides an absolute standard by which human conduct and social institutions can be once for all justified or discredited. The tactical value of this assumption for the criticism of corrupt or oppressive governments is evident.

Moreover, the two great triumphs of modern thought-Newton’s physics and Locke’s psychology-appeared for the time being to lend themselves to such an interpretation. Newton’s success in stating the mechanical laws of nature, true without limitation of space or time, gave color to the presumption that political and economic events could be treated in the same highly generalized fashion, while Locke’s proposal of a universal natural history of the mind, conceived on lines substantially similar to those of Newton’s physics, implied the psychological explanation of social processes without reference to limitations set by history or the evolution of institutions. Newton and Locke were the two writers whose authority stood highest throughout the eighteenth century. To popularize Newton’s physics and Locke’s philosophy were the two projects that Voltaire brought with him from England when he returned to France in 1729.

Voltaire’s admiration for England was directed less toward its representative government than toward the freedom of discussion and publication which it permitted. Hence the first incidence of Locke’s philosophy in France was only indirectly political. It came as much from the Letters on Toleration as from the Treatises of Government, and it coincided both with the tradition of French constitutionalism, which Louis XIV had violated by revoking the Edict of Nantes, and with the effects of Pierre Bayle’s genial skepticism, which had urged, even before Locke had published his similar argument, that no religious doctrine is either indubitable or indispensable to morals.

The oppressive censorship both of religious and political opinion made the freedom of publication a vital issue in France, and in this cause no publicist labored so tirelessly as Voltaire. His onslaught on persecuting Christianity was probably the greatest contribution to freedom of speech ever made.

But he largely divorced this crusade from the cause of popular government, a not very far-sighted policy, since civil liberty was unattainable unless political liberty came with it. He had little interest in politics on its own account and no interest at all in the masses of men, whom he regarded as cruel and stupid. But he had an intense interest in the freedom of scholars, and he was humane enough  to be revolted by the stupidities and brutalities of French criminal law.

Best of all, he was endlessly pugnacious and he was gifted with a wit that could always make his enemies ridiculous. Since it was impossible to argue with institutions that had no brains, ridicule was his most effective weapon. Because of the censorship, this sort of attack on the church and also on the state had to be carried on chiefly by innuendo and indirection. Diderot in the Encyclopaedia stated the plan upon which that great organ of liberalism was edited.

In all cases where a national prejudice would seem to deserve respect, the particular article ought to set it respectfully forth, with its whole procession of attractions and probabilities. But the edifice of mud ought to be overthrown and an unprofitable heap of dust scattered to the wind, by references to articles in which solid principles serve as a base for the opposite truths. This way of undeceiving men operates promptly on minds of the right stamp, and it operates infallibly and without any troublesome consequences, secretly and without disturbance, on minds of every description.

The novelty of Voltaire’s ideas of religion and toleration consisted not in any quality intrinsic to them. They differed from Locke’s only slightly, in a more complete denial of revelation, and not at all from those of many Englishmen. But in France they took on a radical tone which they entirely lacked in England, and the same was true of Locke’s political philosophy. This was due less to the ideas themselves than to the environment in which they found themselves. The French government and the French church being what they were, even moderately liberal ideas were subversive. The very same philosophy, abstractly considered, that had a conservative tone in England had a radical tone in France. As John Morley has pointed out, the Englishmen who set the fashions of English thought in the eighteenth century were all on the side of the status quo, while any similar group of French writers would include many who were the objects of active and effective persecution.

Helvetius: French Utilitarianism:-

The theoretical enlargement of Locke’s social philosophy took place on similar lines both in France and England. The Treatises of Government, depending substantially on the self-evidence of individual rights, and also the theory of knowledge in the fourth book of the Essay, stood in no relation to what was immediately recognized as the most suggestive part of his work-a natural history of the understanding in terms of ideas derived ultimately from the senses, which he had attempted in the second book.

The speculative development of Locke’s philosophy therefore concerned itself with enlarging what he had called “the new way of ideas and with eliminating the Cartesian-ism which still mainly characterized his theory of scientific knowledge. Probably the work which turned the scale was Berkeley’s brilliantly successful little essay on a New Theory of Vision, published in 1709 and based partly on Malebranche, which showed how effectively the psychological law of association could be used in analyzing and explaining a mental operation: (the visual perception of depth) which seemed to be unitary and innate.

Moreover, this way of developing Locke’s thought seemed to be in line with his own expressed admiration for Newton’s physics. Hume in his Treatise (1739) compared the association of ideas as an explanatory principle in psychology with the attraction of gravity in the physical world. Henceforth explanations of mental processes meant reducing them to elements of sensation and showing their evolution through the law of association. By the middle of the century Condillac had made this kind of psychology familiar in France.

Locke’s ethical and political ideas now needed revision, because these depended upon the intuitive power of reason to grasp manifest truths. He might reject innate ideas but the self-evident rights of individuals were in reality nothing else. There was no great difficulty, however, in constructing a theory of human behavior that would make it, too, explainable by the association of ideas.

The simplest hypothesis was to assume two native forces of motivation, the desire for pleasure and the dislike of pain, and to explain all more complicated motives as derivative by the association of pleasure or pain with more or less remote causes of them; substantially conditioned reflexes.

The end of human conduct is simply to enjoy as much pleasure and suffer as little pain as possible. Such a theory was developed in England in the 1730’s and 1740’s and was elaborately presented in France in Helvetius’s Delesprit in 1758. Again there was a surprising difference between the tone which this utilitarian ethics had in England and that which it acquired in France.

In England it was in origin a theological, even an ecclesiastical, theory preferred by the orthodox because of the importance which they attached to the pleasures or pains of a future life. In France Helvetius made it a program for the reforming legislator, who can utilize the mechanism of human motives to bring private happiness and public welfare into the most complete accord.

In short, he made the greatest happiness principle an instrument of reform and passed it on to his two followers, Beccaria and Bentham. Thus it was that the latter learned in France, and in the first instance from Helvetius, an English philosophy which he could bring back to England and use as an agent of radical reform, though its philosophical principles had been bulwarks of English orthodoxy for half a century.

Helvetius says in the Preface of De Iesprit that he has tried to treat ethics like any other science and to make it as empirical as physics. Moralists have tended to be hortatory or denunciation, both equally futile, for morals must start from an understanding of the force? that cause human action. The first principle of conduct is the fact that men must of necessity pursue their own interests; self-interest in the moral sciences has the same place as motion in physics.

What any man judges to be good is what he supposes to conduce to his interests, and similarly what any group of men or any nation sets up as moral is what it believes to conduce to the general interest.

Moralists declaim continually against the badness of men, but this shows how little they understand of the matter. Men are not bad; they are merely subject to their own interests. The lamentations of moralists will certainly not change this motive power of human nature. The thing to complain of is not the badness of men but the ignorance of legislators, who have always put the interest of individuals into opposition with the general interest.

The only rational standard of conduct on the whole, then, must be the greatest good of the greatest number; what stands opposed to it is the special good of a particular class or group. A group may have an erroneous notion of the causes of its happiness and so may set up a faulty standard, or a small group may exploit a larger group for its own interests.

The remedy in either case is a more enlightened understanding of true interest or a more widespread enlightenment. Morality thus becomes the problem of the legislator,who must make special  interests consonant with general and must above all spread the knowledge by which men can see how the public welfare includes their own. Because moral teaching has largely been entrusted to religious fanatics, because tyrannous rulers have not really desired the public good, and because men have been lazy and superstitious and ignorant, ethics has remained backward relative to other sciences. It is idle to tell men to honor virtue and leave them under institutions that put a premium on vice. A proper understanding of human motives places unlimited power in the hands of intelligent rulers and opens an unlimited possibility of progress in human happiness. An ethics thus conceived becomes the key to public policy.

Good laws are the only means of making men virtuous. The whole art of legislation consists in forcing men, by the sentiment of self-love, to be always just to others. To make such laws it is necessary to know the human heart, and first of all to know that men, though concerned about themselves and indifferent to others, are born neither good nor bad but are capable of being the one or the other according as a common interest unites or divides them; that the preference which each man feels for him self-a sentiment on which the continuance of the race depends is ineffable graved upon him by nature; that physical sensation produces in us the love of pleasure and the dislike of pain; that pleasure and pain have placed the germ of self-love in the hearts of every man, which grows in turn into the passions from which arise all our virtues and vices.

Helvetius supported his conclusion by developing the psychological argument suggested in this quotation. Only the desire for pleasure and the aversion to pain are native impulses. In language later borrowed by Bentham he describes these as the two “safeguards” that nature has supplied to men; all other motives are “factices’” and come about by the association of pleasure and pain with acts that are more or less remote causes of them. On this foundation he erected what may be called a psychological theory of culture opposed to Montesquieu’s theory that it is directly influenced by climate and the like, and implying a denial of the influence of race.

Since all mental operations reduce to associations, he concluded that there are no innate differences of intellectual faculty. The forming of associations depends on attention and attention depends upon the motive force supplied by pleasure or pain. In particular there are no innate moral faculties. The ideas of good and evil that men form depend wholly on what circumstance, or in a broad sense education, makes pleasurable or the reverse; the inferiority or superiority of a nation’s morals results chiefly from legislation. Despotism brutalizes while good laws make a natural harmony of individual and public interests; on the whole, great and good men appear wherever the skill of legislators has created the proper rewards of talent and virtue. Though difficult, this task is not impossible, and the moral development of any people to any height is at least simple in principle it consists in creating the necessary incentives to the desired virtues by supplying increments of pleasure or pain at the strategic points.

The associational psychology and the utilitarian ethics appeared to be a great simplification of Locke’s political theory because, for an unspecified number of self-evident rights, it substituted a single standard of value, the greatest happiness of the greatest number.

In fact, it was much more than a simplification because, thoroughly applied, it destroyed natural right, the contract theory of government, and the whole system of natural law that was supposed to guarantee the harmony of individual interests in society. No writer in the eighteenth century was entirely clear on this point except Hume, and even Bentham, who followed him in setting utility in opposition to natural rights, was far from seeing all the implications of doing so.

For if morality and social institutions are justified merely by their utility, rights must be so too, and in consequence any claim to a natural right is either nonsense or merely a confused way of saying that the right really does conduce to the greatest happiness. Helvetius seems to have been quite unaware of this discrepancy.

As the utilitarian ethics was actually worked out it contained assumptions that were in no way justified by the principle of utility but were accepted as in effect self-evident. Thus the presumption that everyone’s happiness could be maximized at once was nothing except the old belief in the harmony of nature, which was supposed to prove that realizing all individual rights would produce the most harmonious society.

Again, the presumption that one man’s happiness ought to be counted as having the same value as another was identical with the belief in natural equality. It was quite possible that the two principles, utility and natural right, should have led to opposite practical conclusions, and in some degree they really did so.

The conclusion that Helvetius drew from the principle of utility was that a wise legislator would use pains and penalties to make men’s interests harmonize, which need not imply any great degree of liberty. Natural law, on the contrary, implied that men’s interests were naturally harmonious if they were left free, and this argument was used by the economists to prove that the legislator ought to keep his hands off trade.

What held the two arguments together was not logic but the fact that those who used them were pretty well agreed about the conclusions they meant to reach. The same political reforms were defended indifferently in the name of utility or of natural law.

The Physiocrats:-

The utilitarianism which Helvetius developed as a theory of morals and legislation-was extended simultaneously to economics, Quesnay’s Tableau economique being published in the same year with De lesprit. Like Helvetius the Physiocrats regarded pleasure and pain as the two springs of human action and enlightened self-interest as the rule fora well-regulated society. But they allowed no such role to the legislator; his task is easy, namely, to avoid interfering with the natural operation of economic laws. Since each man is the best judge of his own interests, the surest way to make men happy is to reduce restrictions on individual effort and initiative. Governments ought, therefore, to reduce legislation to the indispensable minimum that will prevent invasions of individual liberty.

This argument assumes that there are natural economic laws-what Adam Smith later called the obvious and simple system of natural liberty which produce the greatest prosperity and harmony when they are not interfered with.

It was a curious confusion of two quite different meanings of natural law, the older meaning of it as setting up a standard of justice and right reason and the newer meaning of it as giving merely an empirical generalization. From the point of view merely of utility there was no reason to presume that a policy of keeping government out of business would necessarily lead to the greatest good of the greatest number.

Economic liberty was not taken to imply political rights; the Physiocrats were content with absolute monarchy if it would follow an enlightened economic policy, In general, all the French philosophers, except Rousseau, were more concerned with civil liberties, such as equality before the law and freedom of action, than they were with popular government.

Holbach:-

The full polemic force of the utilitarian version of natural rights was not felt in France until the 1770’s, when Holbach published the Bible of atheists, his famous System of Nature, and also his works on politics. In place of Voltaire’s vague deism Holbach put a thoroughgoing atheism or materialism, supposed to depend on physical science, and made it the ground for a drastic attack on religion.

The System of Nature was the first of a series of books, punctuating philosophy at intervals of about a generation, which have achieved enormous popularity with those who believe that religion is the opium of the people. Like the others, Holbach’s book included a kind of pantheist religion of its own which had no logical dependence on science. Certainly the famous apostrophe to Nature with which he ended was never derived by any intellectual operation from contemplating a mechanical system.

Holbach left Voltaire behind in still another respect; side by side with his attack on religion he placed an equally outspoken attack on government. Governments in general, and the government of France in particular, have been ignorant, incompetent, unjust, rapacious, devoted to the exploitation rather than the well-being of their subjects, indifferent to trade and agriculture as well as to education and the arts, mainly interested in war and conquest, and rather the breeders of depopulation and famine than the agents of the general good. Through this indictment ran an intense note of class-consciousness, that of the excluded middle class, acutely aware of its own virtues, bitterly hostile to a government that exploited it in the interest of a class of social parasites, and serenely confident that its own interests were identical with the general good.

For Holbach and the English utilitarians the belief that the middle class is in a special sense the representative of social welfare made it appear that class-conflict was merely an evil to be removed by extending political rights. This awareness of class conflict and of government as an instrument of exploitation was carried to England with utilitarianism, where it lay ready to the hand of Karl Marx.

In its general principles there was little difference between Holbach’s political philosophy and that of Helvetius, but Holbach was less interested in psychology and more interested in government. Men are not born bad but are made so by bad government; the essence of bad government is that it has not made the general happiness its main object; the cause of bad government is that it has been in the hands of tyrants and priests whose interest is not to govern but to exploit; and the remedy is to give free scope to the general will which implies a harmony of self-interest and natural good.

The sovereign is an agent who exercises the authority of society to repress injurious conduct. But society is good only because it gives men freedom to seek their own good, and liberty is an inalienable right because prosperity is impossible without it. All nations taken together make up an international society in which war is the counterpart of murder and robbery within a single nation.

Despotism is a perversion of sovereignty in which the interests of a governing class usurp the place belonging to the general interest; the division of interests between classes is a chief source of weakness. The remedy, in a word, is education, which by itself Holbach expected to work the miracle of a reformation, for men are rational and need only see their true interest to follow it.

Enlighten them, remove the obstacles set up by superstition and tyranny, leave them free to follow the light of reason, convince rulers that their interests are really identical with those of their subjects, and a happy state of society will follow almost automatically.

If men see their real interests they will follow them; if they follow their true self-interest, the good of all follows. Nothing is more astonishing than the way in which Holbach can draw an indictment against the stupidity of all history and in the same breath propose to change it by merely pointing out that stupidity does not pay.

In contrast with the violence of Holbach’s charges against government is the rather extreme moderation of the liberal remedies that he had to propose. He was in no sense a revolutionist, at least in intention. Again and again he says that reason sheds no blood, that enlightened men are peaceable, that intelligence is slow but sure.

Still less was he a democrat. The representatives of the people must been of property, found to the state by their possessions and interested to conserve them as much as to maintain liberty.

By the word people I do not mean the stupid populace which, being deprived of enlightenment and good sense, may a any moment become the instrument and accomplice of turbulent demagogues who wish to disturb society. Every man who Can live respectably from the income of his property and every head of a family who owns land ought to be regarded as a citizen. The artisan, the merchant, and the wage-earner ought to be protected by a state which they serve usefully after their fashion, but they are not true members until by their labor and industry they have acquired land.

Hence for Holbach the true reformer was the sovereign; all that is needed is to convince him that “the absurd right to do wrong” is bad policy. The belief in the omnipotence of enlightenment was not a democratic doctrine because universal education appeared to be impossible. The great democrat of the eighteenth century was Rousseau, and his ideas about education attached least importance to intellectual enlightenment.

Progress: Turgot and Condorcet:-

Throughout this literature from Helvetius to Holbach runs the idea of human progress. It was implicit in the idea of a natural social order and in the vision of a general science of human nature, in the belief that social well-being is a product of knowledge, and most emphatically in Locke’s conception that knowledge results from the accumulation of experience.

The idea of progress had never been wholly absent from philosophical empiricism, from the time when Bacon, comparing ancient with modern learning, had asserted that the modern age is a more advanced age of the world, and stored and stocked with infinite experiments and observations, or when Pascal had suggested that the history of the race, like that of an individual, may be conceived as a continuous process of learning.

Voltaire in his histories, by emphasizing the idea that the evolution of the arts and sciences ts the key to social development, contributed to the same point of view. Turgot and Condorcet turned the idea of progress into a philosophy of history by 2numerating the stages of development through which society has passed of the two Turgot’s brief essay was philosophically the more important, though Condorcet shows more clearly the aspirations and hopes which inspired the belief in progress.

Turgot with profound insight stated the essential difference between those sciences, such as physics, which seek for laws of recurrent phenomena, and history which follows the ever-growing accumulation of experience that makes up a Civilization.

In seeking a pattern for this infinitely growing variety he suggested something not very different from Comte’s law of the three stages an animistic, a speculative, and a scientific stage. Condorcet contented himself, after mentioning three hypothetical prehistorical stages, with dividing European history into six stages, two for the ancient, two for the medieval, and two for the modern period.

The French Revolution, he thought, marked the beginning of a new and more glorious era. The disasters in which the Revolution involved him and which destroyed him before his book was finally revised could not destroy his confidence in human destiny.

Condorcet’s account of the coming era is more indicative of the meaning which the idea of progress had for him than his division of history. This utopia is to arise from the spread of knowledge and from the power which knowledge gives to men over the obstacles to happiness, physical and mental. Its basis is Locke’s empiricism, interpreted after the manner of Helvetius.

Progress, Condorcet believed, will probably follow three lines, growing equality between nations, the elimination of class-differences, and a general mental and moral improvement resulting from the first two. It is possible for all nations and all races to become as enlightened as the revolutions have shown the Americans and the French to be. Democracy will do away with the exploitation of backward races and make Europeans the elder brothers rather than the masters of black men.

Within each nation it is possible to remove the disadvantages of education, opportunity, and wealth which inequalities of social class have imposed on the less fortunate. Freedom of trade, insurance for the sick and aged, the abolition of war, the elimination of both poverty and luxury, equal rights for women, and above all universal education can give a practically equal chance to all. Finally, Condor expectorated that progress would be cumulative, since the perfecting of social arrangements will improve the mental, moral, and physical powers of the race itself.

The time will come when the sun will shine only upon a world of free men who recognize no master except their reason, when tyrants and slaves, priests and their stupid or hypocritical tools; will no longer exist except in history or on the stage.

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very heaven!

When the philosophy briefly described in this chapter is passed in review, the conclusion cannot be avoided that it was important rather for the extent of the public which it influenced than for the novelty or the profundity of the ideas which it disseminated. It be longed more to the métier of popularization than of discovery.

The eighteenth century has rightly been called the age of encyclopaedia, an age in which Europe consolidated the gains made by the more original genius of the preceding century. This was true even of a figure as striking as Montesquieu. Its political philosophy remained essentially that of natural rights, inhering in individual personalities and setting the standards of what law and government may rightfully do and the limits beyond which they may not rightfully go.

In the nature of the case such rights must be set up as axioms, the products of rational intuition, incapable of proof and still less defensible by empirical generalization. At the worst this was a better dogmatism than that of authority from which it released the seventeenth century, but the appeal to self-evidence was none the less dogmatism. Neither in science nor social studies could it withstand a wide and steady application of empirical methods.

There was a steady though not a completely conscious change in this respect throughout the eighteenth century social philosophy was empirical as neither Hobbes nor Locke had been. It prosecuted the study of social history as the seventeenth century had never done; it explored the customs and the manners of outlandish folk as no rationalist would have thought worth while; it followed the processes of manufacture and the mechanic arts, of trade and finance and taxation, in a manner shocking to the pundits of the higher learning.

Yet this empiricism had, so to speak, all the bias of rationalism; it had the foible of omniscience and the itch for simplicity. It appealed to fact but it insisted that facts should speak a predetermined language. Even the new ethics of utility and the new economics, which were the chief -additions made to social theory, were logically incoherent for precisely this reason.

They professed to rest on an empirical theory of human motives but they assumed a harmony of nature for which no scientific proof could ever have been given. Thus the popular thought of the eighteenth century reiterated a philosophy which in effect it only half believed and professed a method which it only half practiced.

The practical importance of this popular philosophy was very great. It spread through all Europe the belief in science; it fostered the hope that intelligence might make men measurably the masters of their social and political fate; it passionately defended ideals of liberty, opportunity, and humane living, even though it did so mainly in the interest of a single social class.

Beyond measure it did rot apotheosize its prejudices. But intellectually it was superficial and partly for this reason it fella prey to an appeal to sentiment, begun by Rousseau, which on the whole lacked its solid virtues.

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