Page:The early history of the property of married women.djvu/20

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proposition, "all men are equal," was spread over much of the world by Roman legislation. The empire of the Romans, for one reason alone, must be placed in a totally different class from the Oriental despotisms, ancient and modern, and even from the famous Athenian Empire. All these last were tax-taking empires, which exercised little or no interference in the customs of village communities or tribes. But the Roman Empire, while it was a tax-taking, was also a legislating empire. It crushed out local customs, and substituted institutions of its own. Through its legislation alone it effected so great an interruption in the history of a large part of mankind, nor has it had any parallel except—and the comparison is very imperfect—the modern British Empire in India. There is no reason to suppose that philosophical theory had any serious influence on the jurisprudence of the Hindoos. I speak with reserve on the subject, but I believe that none of the remarkable philosophical theories which the genius of the race produced are founded on a conception of the individual as distinct from that of the group in which he is born. From those of them with which I happen to be acquainted, I should say that their characteristics are of exactly the reverse order, and that they have their nearest counterpart in certain philosophical systems of our own day, under which the individual seems lost in some such conception as that of Humanity. What, then, was the influence (for some influence there certainly was) which, operating on the minds of the Brahminical jurists, led them to assign to the individual rights distinct from those which would have belonged to him through mere membership in the family group? I conceive that it was the influence of religion. Wherever among any part of Hindoo society there prevailed the conviction of responsibility after death—whether that responsibility was to be enforced by direct rewards and punishments, or through the stages of the metempsychosis—the conception of the individual, who was to suffer separately and enjoy separately, was necessarily realised with extreme distinctness.

The portions of the race strongly affected by religious belief of this kind were exactly those for which the Brahminical jurists legislated, and at first they probably legislated for these alone. But with the notion of responsibility after death the notion of expiation was always associated. Building upon this last notion, the Brahminical commentators gradually transformed the whole