Thursday, 29 September 2016

DESPOTISM.

—But even were the sentiment which induces the many to submit to one a noble sentiment, even were the relation of autocrat and slave a morally wholesome one, and even were it possible to find the fittest man to be despot, we should still contend that such a form of government is bad. We should not contend this simply on the ground that self-government is a valuable educator, though, had we space, we might say much to show that it is better for a people to be imperfectly governed by themselves than to be perfectly governed by another. But we should take the ground that no human being, however wise and good, is fit to be sole ruler over all the doings of a vast and involved society; and that with the best intentions such an one is very likely to produce the most terrible mischiefs, which would else have been impossible. In illustration of this position, we will take the case of all others the most favourable to those who would give supreme power to the best. We will instance the man taken by Mr Carlyle as the model hero—Cromwell.
Doubtless there was much in the manners of the times when Puritanism arose to justify its disgust. Doubtless the vices, vanities, and follies bequeathed by an effete Catholicism still struggling for existence were bad enough to create a reactionary asceticism. It is in the order of nature, however, that men's habits and pleasures are not to be changed suddenly. For any permanent effect to be produced, it must be produced slowly. Better tastes, higher aspirations, must be grown up to; not enforced from without. Disaster is sure to result from the withdrawal of lower gratifications before higher ones have taken their place; for gratification of some kind is a condition to healthful existence. Whatever ascetic morality, or rather immorality, may say, pleasures and pains are the incentives and restraints by which nature keeps her progeny from destruction. No contemptuous title of "pig-philosophy" will alter the eternal fact, that misery is a highway to death; while happiness is added life, and the giver of life. But indignant Puritanism could not see this truth, and with the usual extravagance of fanaticism sought to abolish pleasure in general. Getting into power, it put down not only questionable amusements, but all others along with them And for these repressions, Cromwell, either as enacting or maintaining them, was responsible. What, now, was the result of this attempt to dragoon men into virtue ? What came when the strong man, who thought he was thus "helping God to mend all," died ? There came a dreadful reaction, there came one of the most degraded periods of our history. Into the newly-garnished house entered "seven other spirits more wicked than the first." For generations the English character was lowered vice was gloried in, virtue was ridiculed; dramatists made marriage the stock subject of laughter; profaneness and obscenity flourished ; high aspirations ceased ; the whole age was corrupt. Not until George III. reigned was there a better standard of living. And for this century of demoralization we have, in a great measure, to thank Cromwell. Is it, then, so clear that the domination of one man, righteous though he may be, is a blessing? Is it not apt to be a curse ?—Westminster Review.
Adelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904), Saturday 14 August 1858, page 2

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