Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 25.djvu/301

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THE

POPULAR SCIENCE

MONTHLY.

 

JULY, 1884.


 

THE GREAT POLITICAL SUPERSTITION.
By HERBERT SPENCER.

THE great political superstition of the past was the divine right of kings. The great political superstition of the present is the divine right of parliaments. The oil of anointing seems unaware to have dripped from the head of the one on to the heads of the many, and given sacredness to them also and to their decrees.

However irrational we may think the earlier of these beliefs, we must admit that it was more consistent than is the latter. Whether we go back to times when the king was a god, or to times when he was a descendant of a god, or to times when he was god-appointed, we see valid reason for passive obedience to his will. When, as under Louis XIV, theologians like Bossuet taught that kings "are gods, and share in a manner the Divine independence," or when it was thought, as by our own Tory party in old days, that "the monarch was the delegate of heaven," it is clear that, given the premise, the inevitable conclusion was that no bounds could be set to governmental commands. But for the modern belief, such a warrant does not exist. Making no pretension to divine descent or divine appointment, a legislative body can show no supernatural justification for its claim to unlimited authority; and no natural justification has ever been attempted. Hence, belief in its unlimited authority is without that consistency which of old characterized belief in a king's unlimited authority.

It is curious how commonly men continue to hold in fact, doctrines which they have rejected in name—retaining the substance after they have abandoned the form. In Theology an illustration is supplied by Carlyle, who, in his student-days, giving up, as he thought, the creed of his fathers, rejected its shell only, and kept the contents—was proved