By O.A. Brownson
[England the Civilizer; her History developed in its Principles; with References to the Civilizational History of Modern Europe, (America inclusive), and with a View to the Denouement of the Difficulties of the Hour. By a Woman. London, Simpkins, Marshall, & Co. January, 1848 12 mo. Pp.470]
This handsomely printed volume, has been sent us "from the author," and we can do no less than acknowledge its reception. It is filled with the wild speculations and demoralizing theories hardly to be expected from "a Woman." In a literary point of view, it is beneath criticism, but it bears the marks of some reading, and even of hard, though ill-directed, thinking. Nature has treated the author liberally, and she will have much to answer for. The work could have proceeded only from a strong mind and a corrupt heart.
The work itself pertains to the Socialistic school, and, substantially, to the Fourieristic section of that school. According to it, the human race began its career in ignorance and weakness, and establish a false system of civilization. Modern society, dating from the fall of the Western Roman empire, has been engaged in a continual struggle to throw off that system, and to establish a true system in its place.
It has been engaged, thus far, in the work of demolition, which it has finally terminated. It has prepared the ground for true civilization, and the human race now stand waiting, or did stand waiting on the first of January, 1848, the signal to introduce it, and to put an end for ever to all evils, moral, social, and physical.
The old civilization, now effete, committed the capital error of recognizing religion,--in the language of the author, superstition,--government, property, and "the ascendency of the male sex," or family,--for the family cannot subsist without that ascendency;--the new civilization will correct this error, and for religion substitute science; for government, federation; for law, instinct; for property, communal wealth; for family, lov; and for the scendency of the male sex, the administration of women. Consequently, the new civilization is to be a petticoat civilization, in which we must include the human race in those genera which are named after the female, as cows, geese, ducks, hens, etc.
Into the details of this new civilization, or the means by which it is to the introduced and preserved, we need not enter. Some things may be assumed to be settled; if not, the human race can settle nothing, and it is idle to examine the claims of a new theory. If any thing can be settled, it is that the man is the head of the women,--that she is for him, not he for her; and that religion, government, family, property, are essential elements of all civilization. Without them man must sink below the savage, for in the lowest savage state we find, at least, some reminiscences of them. Any system which proposes their abolition or essential modification is by that fact alone condemned, and proved to deserve no examination. We do the Socialists too much honor when we consent to hear and refute their dreams. We have not at this late day to resettle the basis of society, to seek for unknown truth in religion or politics, in relation to public or domestic, private or social life; we have no new discoveries to make, no important changes to introduce; and all that we need attempt is to ascertain the truth which hs been known from the beginning, and to conform ourselves to it.
Nevertheless, the work before us is a pregnant sign of the times, and may afford food for much useful reflection to those prepared to digest it. People who attend to their own business, tread the routine their fathers trod, and attempt to discharge in peace and quiet the practical duties of their state, little suspect what is fermenting in the heated brains of this nineteenth century. They know next to nothing of what is going on around them. They look upon the doctrines contained in works like the one before us as the speculation of a few insane dreamers, and are sure that the good sense of mankind will prevent them from spreading, and confine their mischief to the misguided individuals who put them forth. They regard them as too ridiculous, as too absurd, to be believed. They can do no harm, and we need not trouble our heads about them. This is certainly a plausible view of the subject, but, unhappily, there is nothing too ridiculous or too absurd to be believed, if demanded by the dominant spirit or sentiment of an age or country; for what is seen to be demanded by that spirit or sentiment never appears ridiculous or absurd to those who are under its influence.
Nothing, to a rightly instructed mind, is more ridiculous or absurd than the infidelity which so extensively prevailed in the last century, and which under another form prevails equally in this. Yet when the philosophy which necessarily implied it first made its appearance, few comparatively took the alarm, and even learned and sound Churchmen were unable to persuade themselves that there was any serious danger to be apprehended. When the philosophers and literary men went further, and, developing that philosophy, actually made free with the Scriptures, and even the mysteries of faith, the majority of those who should have seen what was coming paid little attention to them, jested at the incipient incredulity with great good humor, felt sure that no considerable number of persons would proceed so far as to deny not only the Church, but the very existence of God, and flattered themselves that the infidelity which was manifest would prove only a temporary fashion, a momentary caprice, which would soon become weary of itself, and evaporate. Nevertheless, all the while, the age was virtually infidel, and thousands of those who had persisted in believing there was no danger were themselves but shortly after driven into exile, or brought to the guillotine by its representatives. The same thing occurs now in regard to Socialism. The great body of those who have faith and sound principles look upon it as the dream of a few isolated individuals, as undeserving a moment's attention, and think it a waste of time and breath even to caution the public against it. Yet in one form or other it has already taken possession of the age, has armed itself for battle, made the streets of Paris, Berlin, Frankfort, Vienna, and other cities, run with blood, and convulsed nearly the whole civilized world. It is organized all through Europe and the United States; scarcely a book, a tract, or a newspaper is issued from a constantly teeming press, that does not favor it, and there is scarcely any thing else going that can raise a shout of applause from the people; and yet we are told, even by grave men, that is a matter which need excite no apprehension.
Nor is this the worst aspect of the case. Not a few of these who shrink with horror from Socialism, as drawn out and set forth by its avowed advocates, do themselves, unconsciously, adopt and defend the very principles of which it is only the logical development; nay, not only adopt and defend those principles, but denounce, as behind their age, as the enemies of the people, those who call them in question. Have we not ourselves been so denounced? If you doubt it, read the criticisms of The Boston Pilot on our review of Padre Ventura's Oration, or The New York Commercial Advertiser's notice of our censure of the Italian Liberals for their persecution of the Jesuits. Of course, these papers have no authority of their own, but they echo public opinion, and tell, as well as straws which way the wind blows. If the public condemned in no measured terms the "horrible doctrines" we a few years since put forth in an Essays on the Laboring Classes, it has not condemned, but through some of its leading organs commended, an article on The Distribution of Property, published in The North American Review for July, 1848, the most conservative periodical, except our own, in the country,--which defends at length, and with more ability than we ordinarily expect in that Journal, the very principles from which we logically derive them. We hold now in utter detestation the doctrines of the Essay referred to and which raised a terrible clamor against us throughout the country; but we proved, in our defence, and no one has yet, to our knowledge, ventured to maintain the contrary, that these doctrines were only legitimate conclusions from the Protestant men, and by what they do and must regard as the more enlightened portion of mankind. In fact, a very common objection to us was, that we were ahead of the age, that is, drew the conclusions before the people were ready to receive them. We did but reason logically from the principles we had imbibed from public opinion, from general literature, and the practical teachings of those we h ad been accustomed from our childhood to hear mentioned with honor, and had been required to reverse,--principles, which we had never heard questioned, and never thought of questioning, till we undertook to explain to ourselves the universal outery which had been raised against us. As we found our countrymen saying two and two, we thought we might innocently add, two and two make four, and complete the proposition. We were wrong, not in our logic, but in our principles. We had trusted the age; we had confided in its maxims, and received them as axioms. As the mists cleared away, as the gloss of novelty wore off, and the excitement of self-defence subsided, we saw the horrible nature of the doctrines we had put forth, and recoiled, not only from them, but from the principles of which they were the necessary logical development. But the age has not followed our example. The great body of the people continue to adhere to those principles, and will not suffer them to be questioned.
No doubt, the majority of numbers are as yet unprepared to adopt Socialism as developed by Owen, Fourier, Saint-Simon, Cabet, Proudhon, or by "A Woman" in the work before us; but no man who has studied the age can, if he have any tolerable powers of generalization, doubt that Socialistic princples are those now all but universally adopted. They are at the bottom of nearly all hearts, and at work in nearly all minds; and just in proportion as men acquire courage enough to say not only two and two, two and two, but that two and two make four, the age rushes to their practical realization,--accepts their logical developments, however horrible, however impious. There is an invincible logic in society which pushes it to the realization of the last consequences of its principles. In vain do moderate men cry out against carrying matters to extremes; in vain do practical men appeal to common sense; in vain do brave men rush before the movement and with their bodies attempt to interpose a barrier to its onward progress. Society no more-nay, less-than individuals recoils from the conclusion which follow logically from premises it holds to be sound and well established. It draws practically those conclusions, with a terrible earnestness, and a despotism that scorns every limitation. On it moves, heedless of what or of whom it may crush beneath the wheels of its ponderous car. Woe to him who seeks to stay its movement! Social evils grow as it advances, and these it lays to the charge of those who would hold it back, and result, it maintains, only from the feet that it has not yet reached its goal. The reform is not crried far enough. Put on more steam, carry it farther, carry it farther, is the loud cry it raises.
We see this in the Protestant Reformation. The Reformers did not fulfil their promises, did not secure to the people the good they had led them to expect. Everybody saw this, everybody felt it; for everybody found himself distracted and unsatisfied. What was the inference drawn? That the Reformers had erred in principle, and that the Reformation could not secure the good promised? By no means. The people had accepted its principle. The Reform, said they, is good, is just and true; but it has not been carried far eough; the Reformers were only half reformed; they stopped short of the mark. The Reform must not stop with Luther and Calvin; we must carry it farther. This is what the children of the Reformation said, as we all know; and they have been from the first struggling to carry it farther and farther, and have at length carried it to the borders, if not into the region, of nibility. The evils remain, nay, every day increase, and each day a new party rises up in the bossom of the most advanced sect, and demands a further advance.
In the political world we see the same thing. Revolution has followed revolution, and no political reform goes far enough to satisfy its friends. In the last century, revolutions were political, and had for their object the establishment of political equality, or democracy. It was soon seen that political equality answers no purpose where there is social inequality. A writer, who could speak with as much authority on this subject as any of our contemporaries, thus expressed himself in 1841:--
"But democracy as a form of government, political democracy, as we call it, could not be the term of popular aspiration. Regarded in itself, without references to any thing ulterior, it is no better than the aristocratic form of government, or even the monarchical. Universal suffrage and eligibility, the expression of perfect equality before the state, and which with us are nearly realized, unless viewed as means to an end, are not worth contending for. What avails it, that all men are equal before the state, if they must stop there? If under a democracy, aside from mere politics, men may be as unequal in their social condition as under other forms of government, wherein consists the boasted advantages of your democracy? Is all possible good summed up in suffrage and eligibility? Is the millennium realized, when every man may vote and be voted for? Yet this is all that political democracy, reduced to its simplest elements, proposes. Political democracy, then, can never satisfy the popular mind. This democracy is only one step-a necessary step-in its progress. Having realized equality before the state, the popular mind passes naturally to equality before society. It seeks and accepts political democracy only as a means to social democracy; and it cannot fail to attempt to reralize equality in men's social condition, when it has once realized equality in their political condition." -The Boston Quarterly Review, January, 1841, pp. 113,114.
Political democracy leaves the principle social evils unredressed, and the causes which led the reform thus far remain in all their force to carry it still farther. Hence we see in the present century the same party which in the last demanded political democracy attempting throughout nearly the whole civilized world a series of revolutions in favor of social democracy. The leaders in the late French Revolution tell you that it was a social revolution they sought, and that it was the fact which distinguished it from the Revolution of 1789. In Italy and Germany two revolutions are going on at once, a political revolution and a social revolution. Young Italy is socialistic; so is Young Germany; and it was its socialistic character that gave to the movement of Ronge and his associates its significance and its modern success. The race, modern philosophers tell us, is progressive, and in a certain sense we concede it. It tends invariably to reach the end implied in the principles it adopts or the impulse it has received, and that tendency is never self-arrested. Its progress toward that end is irresistible; and when it happens to be downward, as at present it is fearfully rapid, and becomes more fearfully rapid in proportion to the distance it decends.
The only possible remedy is, not declamation against the horrible results, the pernicious conclusions, at which the popular mind arrives,--the resource of weak men,--but the correction of the popular premises and recalling the people to sound first principles. Once concede that even political equality is a good, an object worth seeking, you must concede that social equality is also a good; and social equality is necessarily the annihilation of religion, government, property, and family. The same principle which would justify the Moderate Republicans of France in dethroning the king would justify M. Proudhon in making war on property, declaring every rich man a robber, and seeking to exterminate the bourgeoisie, as these have already exterminated the nobility. There is no stopping place between legitimacy-whether monarchical or republican legitmacy-and the most ultra Socialism. Once in the career of political reform,--we say political, not administrative, reform,--we are pledged to pursue it to its last results. We are miserable cowards, or worse, if we shrink from the legitimate deductions from our own premises. There is not a meaner sin than the sin of inconsequence,--a sin against our own rational nature which distinguishes us from the mere animal world. If we adopt the Socialistic premises, we must go on with the Socialists in their career of destruction; nay, we shall be compelled to do so, or strew the battle-field with our dead bodies. If we recoil from the Socialistic conclusions, we must reexamine our own premises, and reject distinctly, unreservedly, and heroically every Socialistic principle we may have unwittingly adopted, every Socialistic tendency we may have unintentionally cherished.
The people, it is well known, do not discriminate, do not perceive, until it is too late, the real nature and tendency of their principles. They mix up truth and falsehood, and can hardly ever be made to distinguish the one from the other. They adopt principles which ....
(to be continued soon)
Source: Essays and Reviews
O. A. Brownson, LL. D.
D. & J. Sadlier & Co.
New York 1862