Characteristics of the Present Age/Lecture 15

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We begin this lecture with a remark, which properly closes the inquiry we brought to a termination in our last address, and opens that which we have to enter upon today, and is thus the point of transition from the one to the other;—a remark, the import of which we have all along tacitly assumed, but which we now desire clearly and distinctly to set forth.

From Christianity we have deduced the whole character of Modern Time, and the form and manner of the development of this character. But everything which becomes the Principle of Phenomena is, on that very account, lost in the Phenomena themselves; becomes invisible to mere outward sense, and is only recognisable to the piercing eye of reflection. Thus in so far as Christianity has become a true Principle, it is no longer present in clear consciousness to the men of the Age; on the contrary, that which they regard as Christianity has, precisely on that account, never become a Principle, nor is it truly accepted and received into the inward, essential, and peculiar Life of the Age. Christianity was to us synonymous with the One True Religion; and we carefully distinguished it from the various accidental modifications which this True Religion received at the time of its first appearance in the world. In so far as the consequences of these accidental modifications have taken firm root in the actual condition of the Human Race,—and we have already shown how far this has taken place in the existing Constitution of the European Republic of States,—in so far are their true sources no longer known or recognised, and that is frequently ascribed to chance which is the result of Christianity.

It could not be otherwise with those relations of the Human Race which lie beyond the jurisdiction of the State. To mention that which ranks highest among these after Religion,—Science;—and to instance that branch of it which has at all times had the most powerful influence on the form of the whole domain of Science, and has, tacitly at least, and apparently with justice, assumed the legislative function in that domain,—Philosophy;—by what has the love of Philosophy in modern times been kindled but by Christianity? what has been the highest and ultimate task of Philosophy but thoroughly to explore and even to rectify the Christian Doctrine?—by what means has Philosophy, in all its shapes, acquired its most wide-spread influence, and, emerging from the narrow circle of its own disciples, flowed forth over the whole Human Race, but by means of the Symbols of Religion and in the communication of this Religion to the People? In all Modern Times the present history of Philosophy has been the future history of Religious Symbols. Both proceed in the same course towards a higher purity and an original harmony; and the Religious Teacher is thus the permanent Interpreter between the learned and the unlearned Public. Thus has the whole of Modern Philosophy directly, and by means of it the whole form of Science indirectly, been the creation of Christianity;—and this is also the case with other elements of civilization;—so that it may be found that the One Permanent and Immutable Element in the perpetual current of Modern Time is Christianity, in its pure, unchangeable form; and that this alone shall remain so to the end.

In pursuance of the plan which we have formerly indicated, we have to-day to set forth the character of the General and Public Manners of the Present Age. After what has been previously said, you will not be surprised if here again we revert to Christianity, as the principle of all Public Manners in Modern Times.

In the first place, what is meant by Manners? and in what sense do we use this word? To us, and according to our opinion, in every intelligible use of language, it signifies,—the accustomed Principles which regulate the mutual intercourse and reciprocal influence of men, and which have become a second nature throughout the whole domain of Culture, but on that very account are not distinctly recognised in Consciousness. The Principles, we have said;—and therefore by no means the fortuitous actual course of conduct, determined, it may be, by mere accidental circumstances; but, on the contrary, that concealed Principle of conduct which always remains the same, the existence of which we always presuppose in Man whenever left to his own instincts, and from which we can, with so much apparent certainty, calculate beforehand the course of conduct which will be its necessary result. The Principles, I said, which have become a second nature, but on that very account are not distinctly recognised in Consciousness:—and hence there are to be excepted from this definition, all those impulses and motives influencing the general course of conduct which are founded upon Freedom,—the inward impulse of Morality, as well as the outward motive of Law;—whatever Man must first consider and then freely resolve upon does not fall within the category of Manners. In so far as a fixed standard of Manners may be ascribed to an Age, in so far is it to be regarded as an unconscious instrument of the Spirit of the Time.

We have already ascribed to the introduction of the Equality of all Men before the tribunal of Right, and before a Legislation which should discover with certainty every transgression and with equal certainty inflict the threatened punishment,—which Legislation has only been introduced in Modern Times through the influence of Christianity,—we have ascribed, I say, to such a Legislation a most important and highly beneficial influence upon the Manners of the Citizens. Were every inward temptation to injustice towards others,—so we casually expressed ourselves,—were every such inward temptation crushed, even in its birth, by the consciousness that no other result could follow this course but certain punishment and loss, then would the People gradually lose the habit of even entertaining thoughts of injustice, or of exhibiting such desires even by the most trifling outward manifestation:—all would appear virtuous; although it were yet only the menaces of Law which scared back evil desire to the most secret recesses of the heart; the remembrance of these menaces would have become a part of the Manners of the People, and thus it would have likewise become a part of such Manners to give way to no thought of injustice. These Manners, as merely restraining from evil but not as yet impelling towards good behaviour, would be negatively good; i.e. they would not be Bad Manners,—and their production would be the negative influence of Legislation, and through it of Christianity, upon Public Morality.

This influence of Legislation upon Manners is necessary and infallible:—If in no case any advantage is to be expected from injustice, but at all times only loss and detriment?—then no one, if he but love himself and seek his own welfare, can desire to be unjust. Should this influence upon Manners fail to show itself to the anticipated extent in actual and really efficient Legislation, then we should have to inquire whether this defect does not arise from some existing uncertainty as to the execution of the Law; either because the guilty may with great probability hope to remain undiscovered, or because the course of Justice and of Judicial Inquiry and Evidence is intricate and obscure, and presents many opportunities of escape. In this case, the subject of temptation might thus argue with himself:—‘Ten others, or more perhaps around me, have done this thing and go unpunished; why should I, the eleventh, be discovered?’—or thus: ‘I myself have done this thing already ten times; let me venture it again this eleventh time. Should I unfortunately be discovered, I have already the gain of ten to set against the loss of one;’—and no exception could be taken to this mode of reckoning. In the first case, the probability of no accusation being made would indicate a want of strict surveillance despite the good Legislation; in the second case, the hope of escaping conviction, even should an accusation take place, would indicate a deficiency in the requisite number of acute and sharp-sighted judges. In both cases, our next task would be to discover the cause of this deficiency; for example,—whether it did not arise out of the necessity which we have already described of the State employing all its powers directly for its outward protection; and whether such a State, were the augmentation of its Police or the improvement of its system of Judicial Inquiry demanded of it, would not be forced to lament its inability to provide the means for the accomplishment of these purposes. In this case, it would be necessary to represent to such a Government that inward security and strength is yet more important than outward, and that the former is the firmest foundation for the latter; that the means for the attainment of the former must first be provided, before there should be any question of the latter condition: and should we not dare to make these representations to the State, and were still less able to enforce our views upon its attention, it were at least much to be desired that internal disorder, carried to the highest extreme, and the frustration of its most cherished and well-considered schemes by means of this disorder, should force it to return to the path of Wisdom.

It may be remarked, with reference to Judicial Procedure, that whatever respect may be due to the endeavour absolutely to prevent the possibility of an innocent person being convicted, and although this endeavour must never cease to be made; yet the opposite duty,—to take care that no guilty person remain undiscovered and unpunished,—is by no means a less important task; that there is nothing to hinder the solution of both;—nay, that without the solution of the latter that of the former cannot be attained, but on the contrary that, in such a case, the State would be found hindering and obstructing the accomplishment of its own purposes.

At this point, I, as an individual, have nothing further to say, but you yourselves must judge how far this influence of Legislation upon Manners has actually proceeded in Europe, and particularly in those parts of Europe where the State is most thoroughly cultivated; wherein the defect, if defect there be, consists; and thus in what direction the New Age must proceed in its onward course.

But be it as it may with this influence of Legislation upon the negative side of Public Morality, yet Public Manners, wherever they exist, in turn exert a powerful influence upon the State, and upon the mode and form of its Legislation. This, which we shall immediately prove, being presupposed, it is obvious that a course of action thus directed, adopted by the State in its Legislation, is itself but a part of the Morality of the Age, since it proceeds solely from the Manners of the Citizens, and is determined by them and not by Legislation as such; and,—since in that case it does not even restrain the State from injustice, such injustice being already wholly inconsistent with Legislation, but only guides this Legislation into a different course,—it thus becomes the positive Morality of the State. Positive Good Manners, however, consist herein, that in every individual we recognise and honour the representative of the Human Race. This Morality, I said, is made possible for the State, in the way of its Legislation, by means of the negative Good Manners of its Citizens. Thus, we may lay down the following as the permanent fundamental principle of Criminal Legislation:—The more certain it is that punishment will follow crime, and the more the Manners of the Nation are formed upon this certainty, so much the milder and more humane may punishment itself be made. This amelioration, however, is not on account of the transgressor, for whom as such the State has no ulterior regard; but it is on account of the Race whose image he still bears in his person.

For example:—He who is accustomed to consider this matter not superficially, but in its profounder aspects, will unquestionably admit that an individual may become so dangerous to society that it is impossible for the State thoroughly to protect society from his aggressions without removing him from the world. It will, however, be likewise admitted—unless indeed we were to proceed upon the barbarous Mosaic principle,—‘an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,’—it will, I say, be admitted that the State ought to adopt this method only in cases of extreme necessity, and where there is actually no other course available; for the transgressor still remains a member of the Race, and as such possesses the right to live as long as he can for the purpose of self-improvement. But admitting this course to be necessary in particular cases, yet for the Government to employ a pompous ceremonial in the execution of the condemned, to sharpen the agonies of death by torments, to expose the remains of the dead in a disgusting public spectacle, is at most only to be justified where the great mass of the Nation stand in need of such frightful exhibitions, in order that they may be rendered less prone to deeds of horror upon other occasions. In a cultivated Age, not addicted to bloodshed, it would, in our opinion, be sufficient if the death-judgment were only pronounced in public, but carried into effect in secrecy and silence; and thereafter, the body left open to inspection, so that any one who desired to do so might convince himself that the sentence had been actually completed. In short, the more civilized a People becomes, the punishment of death, and generally all punishments, must become milder and less frequent among them.

This gradual amelioration of Criminal Legislation, we have said, is rendered possible to the State, by means of the improvement of Manners among the People. But, after this possibility has been created, what shall move and impel the State actually to realize that which has thus merely become possible? I answer: The general opinion of Europe, as well as, in particular, the voice of its own Citizens. Until it has become a part of Public Manners to recognise and honour in each individual man the representative of the Race, the People are yet disposed to deeds of violence, and must be held in check by means of severe and, in part, terrible punishments. After this principle has entered into Public Manners, and consequently deeds of violence have become less frequent, it can no longer be endured that any one who bears the human form, whatever offence he may have committed, should be tortured as an exhibition to the crowd; the civilized man turns away his eyes with horror from the spectacle, and the whole world despises, as barbarous, a Government and a Nation which still sanctions such enormities;—and thus the Government is impelled by its own love of honour, as well as that of the Nation, to keep its Criminal Legislation in harmony with the Spirit of the Time, and in so doing itself to adopt Good Manners.

And here once more we have attained a point where I must appeal to your own judgment, and leave it to yourselves to compare the Past with the Present in this respect, to determine at what point our own Age has arrived, and in what direction it must now proceed onwards.

The inquiry which we have thus brought to a close, has afforded us an opportunity of ascertaining and pointing out in what positive public Good Manners consist. They consist in habitually regarding each individual, without exception, as a member of the Race, and in desiring to be so regarded by him; in treating him as possessing that character, and in desiring to be so treated by him in return. To regard and to be regarded, to treat and to be treated in return, I have said;—for both are inseparably united, and he who does not desire the latter will not fulfil the former condition. He to whom it is a matter of indifference what others think of him, and how they treat him, in those matters as to which no course of duty is prescribed by the Law, far from accepting their judgment as the judgment of the Race, despises them and casts them from him as worthy of no consideration. It is indeed unquestionably true, that any one by his own bad conduct may place others in such a position that they can entertain towards him no feeling save that of most profound contempt, and they would be quite justified in doing so;—but this contempt must not be an original habit of mind; it must be called forth and deserved, and in that case clear conviction takes the place of mere habit.

The chief feature in our conception of Good Manners as above set forth is this,—that every individual, without exception, merely as such, and on account of his bearing the human form, ought, in the event of his not having forfeited this character by his own misdeeds, to be recognised as a member and representative of the Race;—or, in other words, that the Original Equality of all men ought to be the predominant and fundamental idea in all our intercourse with our fellow-men. Now this Equality of all men is the peculiar principle of Christianity; hence the universal but unconscious dominion of this Christianity, and its acceptance as the essential actuating principle of public life, would be also the foundation of Good Manners, or rather would itself be Good Manners. The unconscious dominion, I have said;—that is, when it should be no longer publicly proclaimed, ‘Christianity teaches this or that;’—but when the Principle should itself possess a true and living existence within the minds of men, and manifest itself in all their actions.

Now, this presupposed principle has assuredly had a recognised existence in the world since the origin of Christianity, and no man acts in opposition to it because no man has power to do so. ‘Before God we are all Equal,’ says many a one,—and he readily admits that in another life we shall actually be placed upon an Equality, because this is a matter beyond his control,—who nevertheless himself relies upon the inequality of men in this life, maintains this inequality with all his power, and endeavours to draw from it the greatest possible advantage to himself. The principle of Equality must therefore be applied to the earthly relations of men, if it is to become the source of true, active Good Manners among them. This can only be effected through the influence of the Perfect State which penetrates all men in the same manner, each in his own place, and employs them all as its instruments. Thus it is not the mere ideal dominion of Christianity, but the dominion which it acquires by means of the State, and which is realized in the State, which is true Good Manners; and the idea of such Good Manners may now be further defined in this way:—Each Individual is recognised as a member of the Race when we regard him as an instrument of the State, and desire to be so regarded by him; when we treat him as such, and desire to be so treated by him in return. We must desire to be so regarded and so treated by him, I have said; but we are not entitled to expect or demand from him any error in this judgment, and therefore we must actually be, and desire to be, instruments of the State, and that to the same extent as he, although it may be in another sphere.

The complete interpenetration of all its members by the State, and therewith the Equality of all men in the State, is first effected by means of the perfect conformity of the Rights of all; and thus perfect Good Manners consist in the supposition of this Equality of Rights, as at least something which ought to come to pass, and which must come to pass;—in acting towards every man as if this must be the case, and likewise in desiring to be treated in return upon this supposition, and not otherwise. It is thus clear that Inequality of Rights is the true source of Bad Manners; and the tacit assumption that we must continue in this state of Inequality is itself Bad Manners.

To make this clear by farther explanation: In the first place, there stand opposite to each other in Society the opulent and cultivated Citizen-class, and the Privileged Classes. Among the former, it is Bad Manners, either, on the one hand, to set too high a value on the distinctions of the latter, and, going beyond those ordinary conventional forms of respect which every reasonable man concedes, to put on a slavish, submissive, and cringing behaviour towards the Privileged Classes; or, on the other hand, enviously to grudge them the distinctions which they enjoy, to indulge in bitterness of expression towards them, and to represent these distinctions in false and hateful colours, either from real antipathy, or from want of mature reflection. These forms of Bad Manners on the one part, naturally produce other forms of Bad Manners on the other; either by the Privileged Classes not spurning the unseemly homage with fitting indignation, but satisfying themselves with holding in little esteem those who by their own conduct invite contempt; or by strictly repulsing every approach of the other Class, and carefully shutting themselves up from such contact in a system of narrow exclusiveness.

How shall these two estranged Classes of the same State now peacefully reunite and harmonize in one and the same system of Good Manners? The most advantageous means of attaining that end would be, that they should be bound together by Knowledge; and indeed that the Citizen-class should first find themselves in possession of this Knowledge, and that the communication of it should proceed from them. Were it at first to be an acquisition of the Privileged Classes, it might be feared that they would seek to retain exclusive possession of it, and so appropriate, in addition to the accidental distinctions of fortune, the far more important superiority of true worth. Of the Citizen, educated by the light of true Knowledge, it may be expected that he will rightly understand and appreciate the real meaning and value of these distinctions of the Privileged Classes,—perchance as we have set these forth in our preceding lecture,—and just upon that account will be as far from over-estimating as from grudging them. The Educated Man of the Privileged Classes, would acquire a new, peculiar, and personal value, which would powerfully dispose him to open his eyes to the light which true Knowledge throws upon his fortuitous and hereditary Privileges. To both, the distinctions which exist between them in matters of small moment would readily disappear before their Equality in those higher Privileges upon which they set supreme value.

Both Classes, now united by this tie, still stand opposed in society to the great mass of the People who are engaged in mechanical and manual labour, and who on that account are almost universally without that perfect instruction of which they stand in need. This large Class feels the oppression of its daily toil; it sees that the Higher Classes in their copious and comfortable enjoyment of life do not participate in its mechanical labours:—but how these have also their labours and toils in other spheres, how they are useful and necessary for the general welfare, and even indispensable for the People themselves; and in particular, what important advantages are secured to the community by its own labour;—all this it does not know, and cannot comprehend. Under these circumstances it cannot be but that Bad Manners should become a second nature to the Lower Classes, prompting them to regard the Higher Classes as oppressors who live upon their toil, and to look upon every proposition which comes to them from that quarter as an attempt to gain some new advantage over them. There is no other way by which these Lower Classes may be assisted, or their Bad Manners improved, except by their attaining a living conviction that they are not made subservient to the arbitrary will of an individual, but to the Community as a Whole; and even this only in so far as that Whole needs their services; and that all their Fellow-Citizens, without exception, to whatever Class they belong, stand in the same position:—but, in order that they may arrive at this conviction, it is necessary that this should actually be the case; for it is in vain to indulge the hope of deceiving the Lower Classes in matters which affect their interests. Hence either Equality of Rights must be actually introduced; or else the Privileged Classes must constantly, publicly, and before the eyes of all men, act as if this Equality were introduced. This condition of things must be brought distinctly under the notice of the Lower Classes, and be made evident to them by their Teachers, who are the mediators between them and the Higher Classes, and who ought to be well acquainted with their language and ways of thinking;—in one word, the People ought to receive instruction, and indeed fundamental, solid, and convincing instruction, not in Religion only, but also regarding the State, its purposes and its laws.

To make my views clear by a distinct example: The great proprietor must be able thus to speak to his dependants, or to enable their Teachers thus to speak for him, and that with truth, calling to witness the daily testimony of their own eyes:—‘Although I possess as much as hundreds or perhaps thousands of you do together, yet I cannot, on that account, either eat, drink, or sleep, for a hundred or a thousand. The undertakings in which you see me daily engage; the experiments on a great scale with new methods of husbandry; the introduction, from distant lands, of new and nobler races of animals, new plants, new seeds; the study of their proper treatment which, being hitherto unknown, has now to be patiently sought out;—these demand great immediate outlay, and the means of defraying the loss consequent upon possible failure. You cannot afford to do this, and hence it is not required of you: but that wherein I am successful you may learn from me, and imitate; what proves unsuccessful you may avoid, for I have already encountered the risk for you. From my herds there will gradually extend to yours those nobler races of animals already domesticated with me; from my fields there will be propagated to yours those more profitable fruits already inured to the climate, with the art of their cultivation already acquired and tested at my expense. It is true that my granaries are plentifully filled with stores of every kind; but to whom among you who stood in need of aid have they ever been closed?—who among you all has ever been in difficulty and I have not succoured him? What you do not require shall, at the first signal given by the State, flow forth freely to any province of our Fatherland that may feel the iron hand of want. Grudge me not the gold which I receive;—it shall be so expended as I have hitherto expended, before your eyes, all that ever I had; there shall not be, with my will, a single farthing of it applied without some gain to the cause of Human Culture. Moreover, if the State shall require my money for the pay of its armies or the support of its provinces; or the division of my goods for the maintenance of a larger population; I shall be ready at all times to deliver them up into its hands. I promise you, you shall not see me shrink from my duty. Should the State not require this sacrifice at my hands, and should I leave my possessions to my children; then I have educated them so that they shall use these possessions as I have used them, and shall teach their successors to act as I have acted, even to the end of time.’

Such is public and universal Good Manners. How far such Manners have attained dominion in our own Age, in those countries where the State and its Citizens have attained the highest point of Culture, in comparison with earlier Ages; in what respects the Age is yet defective, and how our Race must next proceed forward to higher attainments;—this I leave to the judgment of those among you who have opportunities of making observations upon this matter, and I do so the more readily that I myself have not possessed such opportunities, particularly as regards the relation of the Cultivated Classes to the People, for a long series of years,—and in certain countries have never possessed them at all. I had nothing more to do than to set forth in general the principles upon which such a judgment ought to proceed. Briefly to recount these once more:—Herein consists the true vocation and worth of Man,—that he, with all he is, has, and can do, should devote himself to the service of the Race;—and since, and in so far as, the State determines the form and mode of the service which this Race does actually need, that he should devote himself to the service of the State. In what mode, chosen by himself, or assigned to him by the State, each man may do this, is of little moment, but only that he do it: and each one is to be honoured not according to the mode in which he performs this service, but according to the extent to which he performs it in the mode assigned to him. Even he who may not have performed it at all, or may have performed it most imperfectly, is yet to be respected at least as one who ought to perform it, who can perform it, and who perhaps one day will perform it; and he is to be treated according to this view. So also no one can lay claim to the honour and respect of others upon any other ground than this, and no pretension can justly be made to any value or influence with others, save only in this respect. Thus would the influence of the distinction of Classes in Society upon the conduct of those Classes towards each other be wholly extinguished, and all the Citizens of the State, and at last the whole Human Race, be united in equal and reciprocal esteem, and in a mode of conduct founded upon this esteem; because such conduct would spring from a common source in which all partake in the same manner and in the same degree.