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merely to preface our Journal with a brief outline of the religious, political, and philosophical views of its editors. A dozen volumes at least, if not more, would be necessary to the complete, or adequate, discussion of the great themes, or topics, broached in that prefatory article, or introduction to THE SOUTHERN REVIEW.
That article, indeed, contains merely the germs of great thoughts respecting the conditions and the laws of human progress. Each and every one of those germs must be developed and illuminated, by the discussions of philosophy, by the illustrations of history, and by the divine lights of religion, ere any thing bearing even a remote approximation to a complete view of the Education of the World, can result from our labors. It is our design, in the present paper, to develope and illuminate, by the means above mentioned, one of the germs of the article in question.
But why discuss, or consider, The Great Error of the Eighteenth Century? Is that error any thing to us? It is, indeed, by that error that the South now lies crushed and bleeding at every pore, and that the North is smitten with blindness as to the things which make for her peace, her prosperity, her greatness, and her glory. That error, then, concerns us more — infinitely
than our shops, or trades, or professions, concern us. No plague, indeed, comes more directly home to our business and bosoms', than does the error in question. Already has it visited us in the terrible shapes of war, pestilence, and famine; and in like forms of desolation and death will it visit us again and again, unless it be exorcised from the mind of America, and cast from us.
Let us, then, examine this error, and see how it desolates the world. It is thus stated, in the paper on The Education of the World: 'In the second volume of his work, [Guizot's History of Civilization], he refers to what he calls “ the dominant idea of the last century", namely, “that governments and institutions make the people.” That notion was, indeed, one of the great errors of France (as well as of America] during the last century.' (p. 11.) The men of 1789 had, as M. De Tocqueville says, ' a robust faith in man's perfectibility and power ; they were
eager for his glory, and trustful in his virtue.' (p. 13.) So great, indeed, was their faith in man's perfectibility, and power, and virtue, and intelligence, if only emancipated from the shackles of false legislation, that they had no doubt,' as De Tocqueville says, that they were appointed to transform society and regenerate the human race'. (p. 13.) Such was The Great Error of the Eighteenth Century. It was the hope of that age; it is the scourge of this. It filled the two great nations then, America and France, with intoxicating, maddening schemes of reform; it has since covered them with scenes of desolation and despair. Let us, then, proceed to dissect, anatomize, and examine this monstrous, world-devouring error, in the combined lights of history, philosophy, and religion.
We call this the Error of the last Century, not because it was peculiar to that age or era, but because it then reached its maximum, and revealed its malignity. It may be reasonably doubted', says Bishop Thirlwell, in his History of Greece, whether the history of the world furnishes any instance of a political creation such as that ascribed to Minos or Lycurgus.' A belief in the reality of such creations, he says, has arisen from 'the false notion of the omnipotence of legislators, which has been always prevalent among philosophers, but has never been confirmed by experience. Though always prevalent among men, this false notion had never reached the highest pitch of insanity, till it was embraced by the ardent and enthusiastic philosophers of the eighteenth century. They believed, indeed, that the world might easily be regenerated, and restored to perfect order and beauty, by the omnipotence of legislation alone. Legislation was, in the estimation of those illuminati, the universal specific for social ills, the panacea in politics, the one and allsufficient remedy for the intellectual and moral diseases incident to the nature of man. Alas ! how little they knew respecting the nature, the source, or the inveteracy of such disorders !
“Without rhetorical exaggeration,' says Hegel, 'a simply truthful combination of the miseries that have overwhelmed the noblest of nations and polities, and the finest examples of private virtue, forms a picture of the most fearful aspect, and excites emotions of the profoundest and most hopeless sadness, counter
balanced by no consolatory result. We endure in beholding it a mental torture, and at last draw back from the intolerable disgust with which these sorrowful reflections threaten us, into the more agreeable environment of our individual life; the present formed by our private aims and interest. In short, we retreat into the selfishness that stands on the quiet shore, and thence enjoy in safety the distant spectacle of “wrecks confusedly hurled." Regarding history as the slaughter-bench at which the happiness of peoples, the wisdom of States, and the virtue of individuals, have been victimized'; they turn from the insufferable horrors of the hopeless spectacle, and meanly seek their own private ends and ease. No such emotions, however, afflicted the legislators of 1789; who, in spite of the world's awful history, insanely believed that they were appointed to regenerate the human race,' and to glorify the hitherto debased and sad estate of man. Why should they mourn, indeed, who had short and easy methods to render the future as bright and beautiful, as the past had been dark and dreadful? On the contrary, why should they not rejoice, as they did, with an exceeding great joy, at the contemplation of the glorious work before them?
We shun, and we despise, both extremes. Both the course of those cowardly, selfish souls, who forsake the vessel of humanity in despair, in quest of their own private, personal enjoyment; and of those exalted heroes of reform, who expect to regenerate the world, and restore it to its pristine glory and perfection. Having learned to say, even amid the deepest darkness of the world, “The Lord God omnipotent reigneth, let the whole world rejoice'; we neither desert His banner, nor erect a hostile one of
If, however, we would not sail under false colors, or bear down on the rocks that have wrecked former polities and states, it behooves us to see to our course and bearing. It behooves us to consider the dangers by which we are surrounded, as well as the real grounds of our hope. It behooves us, above all things, to be honest with ourselves, and humble before the Most High; shunning all those manifold delusions and lies which, however pleasant and flattering to human pride, only conduct individuals and states into the whirlpools of destruction.
1 History of Philosophy, p. 22.
The first question, then, relates to the cause of danger, or the source of the great Error of the Eighteenth Century. The physician is guided, not so much by the nature, as by the cause of the disease he aims to cure.
In vain will he combat the disease, whatever may be its nature, if its cause be left in active operation. The very greatest blunder he can make, indeed, is to mistake the cause, or the source, of the disease he seeks to remedy. Nor is it otherwise with the disorders of the body politic. Especially is it all-important to grasp and comprehend, first of all, the real cause of social disorders and calamities, if we would cure them. It is, then, the first duty of the statesman and the legislator to ascertain the real cause and source of the disorders by which society is so often convulsed, and the brightest hopes of mankind overcast with clouds and darkness. Yet has this first duty, perhaps, been more sadly neglected than any other, by the so-called rulers of the world. Hence it is, that their remedies are so frequently misconceived; that the conditions of human progress are ignored; and that political quackery, in all its forms, does such infinite mischief, even when it designs to do most good.
The cause in question is not far from any one of us. The word is on our lips, and the thing is in our hearts. But the human heart, so prone to look on itself with complacency, ascribes the disorders of the world to any thing, or to any cause, rather than to itself. Hence, if we would be truly wise, we must shun this inexhaustible fountain of self-delusion; nay, if we would not be incurably blind, we must reverse the usual style of thought, and sternly bar the inner sanctuary of the soul against the flood of self-flattering lies by which it is generally defiled and laid waste. We must, in short, ascribe the evils and disorders of society, not to external causes or conditions merely, but to the nature of man himself. That is, to the nature of man, not as he came from God, but as he now exists in the world around us. For in all the universe of God, as it sprang fresh from the plastic land of his power, there was not the least impress or overshadowing of evil. All was perfection and beauty and joy. Peace reigned within, and Paradise bloomed without. But the Father of Lies, having turned philanthropist, cheated
our kind with a scheme of equality, and brought down its primeval glory to the dust.
'Forth-reaching to the fruit, she plucked, she ate.
That all was lost.' Woe betide the nation, whether guided by philosophers or fools, that proceeds as if this were a dream of the poet, or a fable of the heathen mythology! It is, indeed, the saddest and realest fact in all man's history. But if it be a fact, as most assuredly it is, then it can not but be fraught with the most tremendous consequences to society and the world. Hence to speculate, as so many do, and especially as did the legislators of the last century, about the regeneration of the human race', without the recognition of this great fundamental fact, is to dream merely, and to reform madly. It is, in truth, to ignore the great Cause of causes, by which the whole history of man has been so deeply colored, and his destiny so fearfully deranged and debased. It is, in one word, to overlook the great disturbing force, which has sported with the schemes and falsified the predictions of the sanguine projectors of all ages. If philosophers, and philanthropists, and reformers, and statesmen, and legislators, had not disregarded this great disturbing force, this great Causa causans of social disorders; then had the world been delivered from an infinite legion of wild and visionary schemes for the regeneration of the human race,' which have only terminated in the ruin of states. History, with all her unuttered and unutterable woes, rises up in solemn and everlasting protest against the madness of all such infidel delusions.
Precisely such, as we shall now proceed to show, was the root of the great error of the philosophers and legislators of the eighteenth century. The two great schools or sects, namely, the economists and philosophers of France, by whom the Revolution of 1789 was introduced, unanimously denied the fall of man, and poured scorn and contempt on the divine method for his restoration. Yet each of these sects, (not to say each individual of it,) had a scheme of its own 'to transform society and regenerate the human race'. Starting from the common error, that