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state.* But more consistent than they, he carried these opinions to their legitimate conclusion, and endeavoured to bring back society to the position he admired. If virtue, he said, exist in this barbaric life, and since we see that in our own it is not to be found, why do we not endeavour to attain that more virtuous state ?
The evils of civilized life he faithfully and acutely pointed out, and exposed many truths which the vanity of a self-styled scientific world refused to receive. He asserted, and with great truth, that much which men call knowledge, much of what they seek after and esteem, is wholly useless; that much is absolutely mischievous, consisting either of a mere idle recollection of useless facts or words, or of sophistical reasonings, useful only as a means to justify and create vicious habits. Socrates before him had said nearly the same thing, and his assertions were received in the same way. In the language of Cicero,—" Socrates mihi videtur primus a rebus occultis, et ab ipsa natura involutis, in quibus omnes ante eum philosophi occupati fuerunt, avocavisse philosophiam, et ad vitam communem adduxisse, ut de virtutibus et vitiis, omninoque de bonis rebus et malis quæreret ; cælestia autem vel procul esse a nostra cognitione censeret, vel, si maxime cognita essent, nihil tamen ad bene vivendum.”+ To Rousseau who lived among the dissolute aristocracy of France, it was evident, that the knowledge they had acquired had been turned to mischievous purposes: That they learned only to justify vice, and to be profligate without shame and without remorse. He saw that they were without the virtues which their fathers were supposed to have possessed ; and he ascribed this altered state to the knowledge which they had acquired. Confining his view to this one fact, and to this one class, he hastily drew a conclusion inimical to art and science generally. He saw rightly that the vices of his time were incompatible with a rustic state ; he therefore eagerly turned his wishes towards the
“ Procopius," says Gibbon, “ does ample and willing justice to the merit of To. tila. The Roman historians from Sallust and Tacitus were happy to forget the vices of their countrymen, in the contemplation of barbaric virtue.” (Decline and Fall, c. 43, vol. vii. p. 358.) Rousseau himself says in his discourse, in answer to the Academy of Dijon—" Let us compare with this description, viz. civilized states, that of the manners of a small number of people, who, preserved from this contagion of vain knowledge, have, by their virtue, formed their own happiness, and served as a model to other nations, such were the first Persians, a singular nation, amongst whom virtue was taught as science is now, who subjugated Asia with so much facility, and who alone have had the glory of having their institutions deemed a romance of philosophy. Such were the Scythians, of whom we have received eulogies so magnificent. Such were the Germans ; in describing whose virtue, simplicity and innocence, an historian, tired of tracing the crimes of an opulent, instructed, and voluptuous people, has soothed and refreshed his spirit. Such was Rome in the time of her poverty and ignorance. Such has been in our days that rustic nation, so admired for a courage which no adversity could conquer, for a fidelity which example even could not cor. rupt.” He speaks of his own people. Goldsmith viewed Switzerland with the eye of a philosopher. See the Traveller, the lines commencing
" My soul, turn from them : turn we to survey,
Where rougher climes a nobler race display." + Academ. 1. i. c. 18. See the remaining portion of the chapter. The second School of the Academy said much the same thing—See Cic. de Nat. Deorum. “ If a perfectly just man were to appear among you,” said Socrates, “ you would crucify him." Rousseau found that truth cannot be always spoken with impunity.
The reader will find Rousseau's opinions respecting false knowledge in some mea. sure explained in the tenth letter of “ La Nouvelle Helvise."
attainment of that state. But this could not be attained so long as art and science were cultivated as they then were. “ Let us then desert those studies,” he exclaimed, “ which prevent the happy consummation I desire.”
One evil attendant on knowledge, as he saw it, and which he alone pointed out, requires the deepest attention; one so great, that, were there no alternative between the state which Rousseau witnessed, and that rustic life he sought for, we should feel inclined to adopt his con. clusion, and be the enemies of science also. Science was then the monopoly of a few. It was an instrument used to oppress, to mislead, and corrupt the remaining portion of the people. “ It is one of the great inconveniences of the cultivation of Letters,” he says, “ that, for some few that they enlighten, they corrupt a whole nation.” It is quite evident, that a degraded peasant under a French noble, was not so happy, so virtuous, nor so enlightened a being as a savage. A few men, at his time, were possessed of knowledge ; but, if this knowledge only enabled them to keep more certainly in subjugation the rest of their fellowcreatures, then was it a curse, and not a blessing. It is worse than idle to appeal to the great works of those days—to point to the bridges, the palaces, the roads, the pictures, the triumphal arches, the fine manufactures, the astonishing dominion of man over nature, that were then wit.. nessed. These things, then, improved not the condition of the people. That fine velvets were fabricated; that silks enveloped the limbs of the rich; that Racine had composed his unrivalled dramas; that much good stone had been reared into an ugly edifice, and called the Tuileries ; that Le Brun spoiled much canvass, and no inconsiderable quantity of good colour; that Louis the XIV. figured in stone, in various parts of the capi. tal, now as Apollo, now as a Roman Emperor ; that fine verses were common, and quantity of philosophy talked ; that all these things should be, was no alleviation of the people's misery. But, that they had ceased to possess the rugged pleasures of a savage life; that, instead of wandering at will, and indulging in the enjoyment of unrestrained freedom ; that, instead of being bold, hardy, and independent savages, they had become slaves, poor and wretched, without one redeeming quality to set against their misery ; this was an evil not compensated by any good which civi. lization had hitherto produced. No one who knows any thing of savage life will say, it is a life of happiness, either physically or mentally. On this point Rousseau was egregiously in error. * But no one, on the other hand, who has compared the state of a wretched peasant with that of a savage, would, one moment, hesitate in preferring the latter. If, then, knowledge only led (which it does not) to the enlightenment of a few, and this degradation of the remaining portions of mankind, it would deserve the abuse which Rousseau has heaped on it. His objections were, however, not answered. The evils he signalized existed; and they were not compensated by any good which the defenders of civilization adduced in opposition. He said, you are vicious: the ruling society was
He fancied, for example, that savages were free from rheumatic disorders. The truth, however, is, (and personal investigation has satisfied us of the fact) that rheumatic disorders is one of the greatest physical evils the savage suffers. Rheumatism and asthma are universally prevalent among savages. Jefferson, be it remembered, however, who had many opportunities of judging, declared, that he was unable to determine whether the civilized life he enjoyed, or the wild life of the American Indians were the most happy.
vicious. He said, You have lost what virtues you had, through your knowledge, and you have nothing good in their place : this, to a certain extent, was true. You have subjugated the people-degraded them to a state of horrid ignorance, brutality, and wretchedness. This, alas ! could not be denied. You have made them miserable without making yourselves happy. This, also, could not be disputed. What have you done to recompense the people for this ? You enact good plays and bad' operas; you have a corps of persons to put themselves into all sorts of extravagant contortions, which you call dancing ; you have books to read, paintings to look at, large houses to live in; you ride about in coaches, where your forefathers walked ; * you dress in fine clothes, and become unable to bear the inclemency of the weather; you have an extravagant king and an extravagant court ; you sleep by day, and sit up during the night; and this you call civilization. This is the production of the arts and sciences. I admit, that the arts and sciences have been carried to a higher point, perhaps, than in any preceding age ; but I deny that this is any proof of the superiority of this age over any other.”
The only answer to these statements was never given. That answer would have been—1st, the shewing that knowledge and civilization, as it is termed, could be extended over the whole people, and be made their safeguard rather than their enemy ; 2d, the proving that the pleasures which men enjoy in a state of high intellectual cultivation are more numerous, continuous, and vivid, than those which fall to their lot in a savage or uncultivated state. That these propositions are true, could, we think, be easily established. This, however, by no means disproves the assertions of Rousseau, nor would it shew that the evils he pointed out did not exist as consequences from the causes which he signalized. Almost all moral changes are attended with certain portions of evil. The mode of defending the change is not falsely to declare that no evil follows; but, allowing what is true, to shew that the benefits resulting from the change will more than counterbalance the mischief. So in the case of the passage from ignorance to knowledge, much evil followed from the unequal manner in which knowledge was acquired. Moreover, much of the knowledge which men acquired was but half knowledge ; and thus, though their acquirements were greater, their conclusions were often erroneous. I
There is a class of philosophers who fancy that the well-being of a people is marked by the amount of wealth which the whole people possesses ; and as large accumulations of property can seldom be made without great security, they are accustomed to believe times of excite
The reader who is desirous of learning what changes were then supposed to have taken place in the character and manners of the French people, need only consult Mably sur l'Histoire de France, I. vii. c. 2.
+ It may also be observed that, however desirable Rousseau or any one might deem this uncivilized condition, we cannot return to it. To reason men into barbarism is impossible.
I This is by no means an uncommon case. Conclusions which serve for premises in reasoning result often from a mere consideration of evidence : evidence pro and con. This evidence, though not complete, may yet be obtained in such relative proportion, that the right judgment may be formed ; say, for example, in favour of the pro side of a question. The inquirer seeking farther, however, obtains evidence on the other side. He is in fact more enlightened, he knows more, but his conclusion will not be the same. His conclusion in fact will be erroneous.
ment and turbulence times of misery. Rousseau, who saw that wealth under any circumstances was but a means of happiness, that happiness was a mental state, resulting in various conditions from very various circumstances, clearly perceived the error of this assertion. Here, however, he was not content with the truth, or he was confused by the very fallacy he opposed. He observes, in a note to the ninth chapter of his Contrat Social, “when the tracasseries (we have no word exactly equivalent) of the great agitated the kingdom of France, and the coadjutor of Paris (Retz) carried a poniard in his pocket when he attended the sittings of the Parliament, this did not hinder the French people from being numerous, and living happily in comfort, honesty, and freedom. Thus heretofore Greece flourished in the midst of the most cruel wars ; blood flowed in torrents, and yet the whole country was covered by people. It seems, says Machiavelli, that in the midst of murders, proscriptions, and civil wars, our republic becomes from that very state more powerful ; the virtue of her citizens, their manners and their in. dependence, having more influence in strengthening than all her evils in weakening her. A little agitation gives energy to men's minds; and that which truly increases the happiness of our race is less peace than freedom.” The truth that lies almost hidden in this vague and general statement, is of the utmost possible importance. But before it can be practically applied, a definite and full knowledge of what it really implies must previously be obtained.
It is quite evident, that, although a nation may, relatively to other nations, be wealthy, large masses of its population may yet be in a state of deplorable misery.* Thus, the riches of a whole people is not a sure sign of a people's happiness and prosperity. Moreover, as prosperity and wealth result from the energetic action of a people, mere perfect security is not absolutely necessary, even to the accumulation of wealth. Action is dependent on mental states; and, it has often happened, that the mental state, best fitted to produce extreme energy and continuousness of action, has been produced in circumstances of comparative turbulence and commotion; and this state of mind will, if analyzed, be found most conducive to the happiness of the individual. It consists (to describe it in general terms) in a peculiar boldness or self-confidence of disposition; and a capacity for moral rather than mere physical pleasures. If the moral pleasures desired be such as result from the admi. ration of others, rather than those which arise from the mental cultiva. tion of the individual himself, then extreme activity will manifested in the accumulation of wealth, and in obtaining power. The insecurity resulting from war and commotion will be counterbalanced by vehement desire and sanguine hope. Perfect security, we daily see not to be requisite to excite the keenest desire to accumulate, and steady perseverance in so doing. In the present time, in our own country, we perceive a desire to be wealthy, and a constant struggle to that end seldom equalled in the world's annals; and yet there is a large defalcation from the whole proceeds of the producer, by means of demands made by Go. vernment. So, in turbulent times, although much may be, in various ways, taken from the industrious merchant and artisan, still what remains may be sufficient to reward his labours, and induce him steadily
* This was actually the case in France during the time of Rousseau, as it is of our country at present.
to pursue his active course. If we suppose this defalcation to be sufficiently large to prevent very great accumulation, inducing a necessity for steady exertion, and forcing the person toiling to seek his chief pleasures in intellectual sources, we, in fact, suppose the situation of an intellectual man, of moderate means obtained by industry, in our own times and country; in other words, we suppose the situation, which, by universal consent, is allowed to be the most fitted for happiness of any we know.
But, according to the practical maxim of Rousseau above-mentioned, if it be wished that men should adopt the right course, their duties must not be placed in opposition to their interests. Before we can hope, therefore, to induce any large number of men to be content with, and seek the situation here described, there must be a feeling established, throughout society, of the wisdom of such a proceeding. At present, although men acknowledge that the most happy state is the one above described, they are accustomed to show much greater deference to him who has accumulated vast riches, than to him who, by regulating his desires, and cultivating his intellectual powers, as shown himself a wise man. The millionaire, possessed of no more intellect than an ox, will, throughout this our enlightened country, obtain more real respect than the most instrueted man in the community ; and his opinion, even in the determination of the most intricate affairs of state, will be of greater weight. But, if this be the case, how can we hope that men generally will forego this estimation, and at once lower their desires to the wise standard ? The first step in improvement is to wish for the good will and applause of our fellows. When we have acquired a high degree of moral and mental force, we may be satisfied with self-approbation ; but this higher state can seldom be acquired, but by commencing with the former. How, then, shall this false standard of estimation be overturned ? How shall men be induced to train themselves to this wiser condition ? They must be trained, by early habits, to other classes of pleasure than those which arise from wealth ; and their minds and bodies must be so framed, that all those multitudinous appliances, which constitute what is termed civilization, shall not be necessary to their comfort or wel. fare.
The most common effect of the regulations of society on the character of the individual, is to generate in him a helpless dependence on his fel. lows. His physical wants are supplied by the united aid of many thou. sands, who divide the labour requisite to produce what is required ; and although they thus acquire great skill in the narrow circle of their operations, they seldom are able to produce any one thing that can be immediately applied to our uses. Production is wonderfully increased by this: but the dependence of every man on every man is, by the same means, completely insured. This is one case ; and, in itself, the single instance is highly beneficial ; but, if dependence be made to extend much beyond this point,-if it break down all confidence in one's-self,—if it make us utterly dependent for our pleasures, as well as the satisfaction of our wants, on our fellows, then has the thraldom of society stretched far beyond the limit required. The most powerful tendency of social regulations, however, is to this end; and if great and continuous exertion be not made to counteract it, the result dreaded will inevitably occur. A general feebleness of mind will be created; all habits of original thought destroyed, and all boldness of action utterly precluded. Listless luxuri. ous ease will be the highest enjoyment, even among those who possess