Page:Earth-Hunger and Other Essays.djvu/144

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

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

Let it be noticed also that from our present standpoint

    really stood to see that this program was as unpractical and pedantic as the wildest proposition which could have been made by an a priori philosopher.