Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/774

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

Phœnicia, Carthage, and Egypt, the author likewise fails to discover germs of democratic ideas. It will not be amiss for us to state that Von Schlegel, Ferrari, and the more distinguished modern critics, have agreed that the East, too, has been always progressing, steadily if slowly, in the path of civilization, and that at no period was democracy entirely unknown in Eastern countries; the village communities of India, old as the nation itself, bear witness to this assertion.

Chapters II.-VI. are devoted to Greece and Rome. An attempt to go over the whole of his ground with the author would be a trespass upon the limits of this notice. We can only refer the reader to the work itself, where, among many absurd theories and startling declarations, he may nevertheless find many good ideas.

We cannot, we are sorry to say, so recommend that portion of the work which treats of the fortunes of democracy during the middle ages. Like the older writers who had not comprehended the philosophy of history, Sir Erskine May persists in calling this epoch by the now exploded title of "the dark ages," and seems to see in it nothing beyond vandalism and ruins. In love with "the old world," he has failed to realize its shortcomings, and accordingly the necessity of demolishing it in order to rebuild with the old materials one more in keeping with democratic ideas. He is forced, however, later on, to acknowledge that "this general prostration of the people of Europe was gradually lessened by the operation of several causes, which contributed to the ultimate regeneration of society and the advancement of freedom. These causes are to be sought in the 'free' institutions of the conquerors themselves, in the traditional laws and customs of Rome, in the influence of Christianity and the Catholic Church, and in the increasing enlightenment and general expansion of mediaeval society." Here he presents the Church as the protector of the people's rights, and as counteracting the absolutism of kings and barons, and therefore as a democratic institution; afterward he notices the Church as directly antagonistic to freedom, and in the end hits upon the truth by saying: "Any pretensions of the Church which impaired the absolutism of rulers were so far favorable to liberty; but the pope was contending for ecclesiastical domination, not for civil freedom; and, if the latter cause sometimes profited by his intervention, it was because kings were weakened—not because the Church was the apostle of liberty." As he proceeds, our author shows how the cause of democracy was gradually helped along by the growing refinement of the barons, by minstrelsy, chivalry, and the crusades; which, "by weakening the aristocracy, increased on one side the power of the monarchs and on the other the freedom of the people," and led to the enfranchisement of the rising communes, to the revival of towns and the growth of municipal liberties; how all this brought about a revival of learning, an impulse of new life in the universities, to which was due the development later on of the liberty of thought and the Reformation.

Resuming his way backward, Sir Erskine May devotes the seventh chapter to the Italian republics, and, in presenting their history, shows how several causes, foremost among them being the earlier intellectual revival, operated to bring about an early development of municipal liberties in Italy. He explains how feudalism never firmly took root in Italy; how, after Charlemagne, the weakness of its kings favored the political power of the cities; how the fusion of the sturdy northern races with the Italians similarly assisted the assertion of popular rights; how a comparatively equal distribution of lands contributed toward social and political equality; how from all these varying causes no less than two hundred free municipalities or republics arose in this fair land, in which, in short, democracy attained to an unprecedented development. But here, we are afraid, the author has over-estimated this "freedom" of the Italian republics, each of which aimed at liberty only for itself—each party in every city determining upon the exclusion of its rivals from the enjoyment of all franchises. He concludes with a comparison of the Italian republics with one another, and with the old republics of Greece, and surveys, briefly and accurately, the causes that led to Italy's enslavement and its regeneration in our own day.

Next follows a review of the history of Switzerland, which offers one of the most