The American Republic
Origin of Government - Continued
III. THE tendency of the last century was to individualism; that of the present is to socialism. The theory of Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Jefferson, though not formally abandoned, and still held by many, has latterly been much modified, if not wholly transformed. Sovereignty, it is now maintained, is inherent in the people; not individually, indeed, but collectively, or the people as society. The constitution is held not to be simply a compact or agreement entered into by the people as individuals creating civil society and government, but a law ordained by the sovereign people, prescribing the constitution of the state and defining its rights and powers.
This transformation, which is rather going on than completed, is, under one aspect at least, a progress, or rather a return to the sounder principles of antiquity. Under it government ceases to be a mere agency, which must obtain the assassin’s consent to be hung before it can rightfully hang him, and becomes authority, which is one and imperative. The people taken collectively are society, and society is a living organism, not a mere aggregation of individuals. It does not, of course, exist without individuals, but it is something more than individuals, and has rights not derived from them, and which are paramount to theirs. There is more truth, and truth of a higher order, in this than in the theory of the social compact. Individuals, to a certain extent, derive their life from God through society, and so far they depend on her, and they are hers; she owns them, and has the right to do as she will with them. On this theory the state emanates from society, and is supreme. It coincides with the ancient Greek and Roman theory, as expressed by Cicero, already cited. Man is born in society and remains there, and it may be regarded as the source of ancient Greek and Roman patriotism, which still commands the admiration of the civilized world. The state with Greece and Rome was a living reality, and loyalty a religion. The Romans held Rome to be a divinity, gave her statues and altars, and offered her divine worship. This was superstition, no doubt, but it had in it an element of truth. To every true philosopher there is something divine in the state, and truth in all theories. Society stands nearer to God, and participates more immediately of the Divine essence, and the state is a more lively image of God than the individual. It was man, the generic and reproductive man, not the isolated individual, that was created in the image and likeness of his Maker. “And God created man in his own image; in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”
This theory is usually called the democratic theory, and it enlists in its support the instincts, the intelligence, the living forces, and active tendencies of the age. Kings, kaisers, and hierarchies are powerless before it, and war against it in vain. The most they can do is to restrain its excesses, or to guard against its abuses. Its advocates, in returning to it, sometimes revive in its name the old pagan superstition. Not a few of the European democrats recognize in the earth, in heaven, or in hell, no power superior to the people, and say not only people-king, but people-God. They say absolutely, without any qualification, the voice of the people is the voice of God, and make their will the supreme law, not only in politics, but in religion, philosophy, morals, science, and the arts. The people not only found the state, but also the church. They inspire or reveal the truth, ordain or prohibit worships, judge of doctrines, and decide cases of conscience. Maz-zini said, when at the head of the Roman Republic in 1848, the question of religion must be remitted to the judgment of the people. Yet this theory is the dominant theory of the age, and is in all civilized nations advancing with apparently irresistible force.
But this theory has its difficulties. Who are the collective people that have the rights of society, or, who are the sovereign people? The word people is vague, and in itself determines nothing. It may include a larger or a smaller number; it may mean the political people, or it may mean simply population; it may mean peasants, artisans, shopkeepers, traders, merchants, as distinguished from the nobility; hired laborers or workmen as distinguished from their employer, or slaves as distinguished from their master or owner. In which of these senses is the word to be taken when it is said, “The people are sovereign?” The people are the population or inhabitants of one and the same country. That is something. But who or what determines the country? Is the country the whole territory of the globe? That will not be said, especially since the dispersion of mankind and their division into separate nations. Is the territory indefinite or undefined? Then indefinite or undefined are its inhabitants, or the people invested with the rights of society. Is it defined and its boundaries fixed? Who has done it? The people. But who are the people? We are as wise as we were at starting. The logicians say that the definition of idem per idem, or the same by the same, is simply no definition at all.
The people are the nation, undoubtedly, if you mean by the people the sovereign people. But who are the people constituting the nation? The sovereign people? This is only to revolve in a vicious circle. The nation is the tribe or the people living under the same regimen, and born of the same ancestor, or sprung from the same ancestor or progenitor. But where find a nation in this the primitive sense of the word? Migration, conquest, and intermarriage, have so broken up and intermingled the primitive races, that it is more than doubtful if a single nation, tribe, or family of unmixed blood now exists on the face of the earth. A Frenchman, Italian, Spaniard, German, or Englishman, may have the blood of a hundred different races coursing in his veins. The nation is the people inhabiting the same country, and united under one and the same government; it is further answered. The nation, then, is not purely personal, but also territorial. Then, again, the question comes up, who or what determines the territory? The government? But not before it is constituted, and it cannot be constituted till its territorial limits are determined. The tribe doubtless occupies territory, but is not fixed to it, and derives no jurisdiction from it, and therefore is not territorial. But a nation, in the modern or civilized sense, is fixed to the territory, and derives from it its jurisdiction, or sovereignty; and, therefore, till the territory is determined, the nation is not and cannot be determined.
The question is not an idle question. It is one of great practical importance; for, till it is settled, we can neither determine who are the sovereign people, nor who are united under one and the same government. Laws have no extra-territorial force, and the officer who should attempt to enforce the national laws beyond the national territory would be a trespasser. If the limits are undetermined, the government is not territorial, and can claim as within its jurisdiction only those who choose to acknowledge its authority. The importance of the question has been recently brought home to the American people by the secession of eleven or more States from the Union. Were these States a part of the American nation, or were they not? Was the war which followed secession, and which cost so many lives and so much treasure, a civil war or a foreign war? Were the secessionists traitors and rebels to their sovereign, or were they patriots fighting for the liberty and independence of their country and the right of self-government? All on both sides agreed that the nation is sovereign; the dispute was as to the existence of the nation itself, and the extent of its jurisdiction. Doubtless, when a nation has a generally recognized existence as an historical fact, most of the difficulties in determining who are the sovereign people can be got over; but the question here concerns.the institution of government, and determining who constitute society and have the right to meet in person, or by their delegates in convention, to institute it. This question, so important, and at times so difficult, the theory of the origin of government in the people collectively, or the nation, does not solve, or furnish any means of solving.
But suppose this difficulty surmounted, there is still another, and a very grave one, to overcome. The theory assumes that the people collectively, “in their own native right and might,” are sovereign. According to it the people are ultimate, and free to do whatever they please. This sacrifices individual freedom. The origin of government in a compact entered into by individuals, each with all and all with each, sacrificed the rights of society, and assumed each individual to be in himself an independent sovereignty. If logically carried out, there could be no such crime as treason, there could be no state, and no public authority. This new theory transfers to society the sovereignty which that asserted for the individual, and asserts social despotism, or the absolutism of the state. It asserts with sufficient energy public authority, or the right of the people to govern; but it leaves no space for individual rights, which society must recognize, respect, and protect. This was the grand defect of the ancient GrÊco-Roman civilization. The historian explores in vain the records of the old Greek and Roman republics for any recognition of the rights of individuals not held as privileges or concessions from the state. Society recognized no limit to her authority, and the state claimed over individuals all the authority of the patriarch over his household, the chief over his tribe, or the absolute monarch over his subjects. The direct and indirect influence of the body of freemen admitted to a voice in public affairs, in determining the resolutions and action of the state, no doubt tempered in practice to some extent the authority of the state, and prevented acts of gross oppression; but in theory the state was absolute, and the people individually were placed at the mercy of the people collectively, or, rather, the majority of the collective people.
Under ancient republicanism, there were rights of the state and rights of the citizen, but no rights of man, held independently of society, and not derived from God through the state. The recognition of these rights by modern society is due to Christianity: some say to the barbarians, who overthrew the Roman empire; but this last opinion is not well founded, The barbarian chiefs and nobles had no doubt a lively sense of personal freedom and independence, but for themselves only. They had no conception of personal freedom as a general or universal right, and men never obtain universal principles by generalizing particulars. They may give a general truth a particular application, but not a particular truth – understood to be a particular truth – a general or universal application. They are too good logicians for that. The barbarian individual freedom and personal independence was never generalized into the doctrine of the rights of man, any more than the freedom of the master has been generalized into the right of his slaves to be free. The doctrine of individual freedom before the state is due to the Christian religion, which asserts the dignity and worth of every human soul, the accountability to God of each man for himself, and lays it down as law for every one that God is to be obeyed rather than men. The church practically denied the absolutism of the state, and asserted for every man rights not held from the state, in converting the empire to Christianity, in defiance of the state authority, and the imperial edicts punishing with death the profession of the Christian faith. In this she practically, as well as theoretically, overthrew state absolutism, and infused into modern society the doctrine that every individual, even the lowest and meanest, has rights which the state neither confers nor can abrogate; and it will only be by extinguishing in modern society the Christian faith, and obliterating all traces of Christian civilization, that state absolutism can be revived with more than a partial and temporary success.
The doctrine of individual liberty may be abused, and so explained as to deny the rights of society, and to become pure individualism; but no political system that runs to the opposite extreme, and absorbs the individual in the state, stands the least chance of any general or permanent success till Christianity is extinguished. Yet the assertion of principles which logically imply state absolutism is not entirely harmless, even in Christian countries. Error is never harmless, and only truth can give a solid foundation on which to build. Individualism and socialism are each opposed to the other, and each has only a partial truth. The state founded on either cannot stand, and society will only alternate between the two extremes. To-day it is torn by a revolution in favor of socialism; to-morrow it will be torn by another in favor of individualism, and without effecting any real progress by either revolution. Real progress can be secured only by recognizing and building on the truth, not as it exists in our opinions or in our theories, but as it exists in the world of reality, and independent of our opinions.
Now, social despotism or state absolutism is not based on truth or reality. Society has certain rights over individuals, for she is a medium of their communion with God, or through which they derive life from God, the primal source of all life; but she is not the only medium of man’s life. Man, as was said in the beginning, lives by communion with God, and he communes with God in the creative act and the Incarnation, through his kind, and through nature. This threefold communion gives rise to three institutions – religion or the church, society or the state, and property. The life that man derives from God through religion and property, is not derived from him through society, and consequently so much of his life he holds independently of society; and this constitutes his rights as a man as distinguished from his rights as a citizen. In relation to society, as not held from God through her, these are termed bis natural rights, which she must hold inviolable, and government protect for every one, whatever his complexion or his social position. These rights – the rights of conscience and the rights of property, with all their necessary implications – are limitations of the rights of society, and the individual has the right to plead them against the state. Society does not confer them, and it cannot take them away, for they are at least as sacred and as fundamental as her own.
But even this limitation of popular sovereignty is not all. The people can be sovereign only in the sense in which they exist and act. The people are not God, whatever some theorists may pretend – are not independent, self- existent, and self-sufficing. They are as dependent collectively as individually, and therefore can exist and act only as second cause, never as first cause. They can, then, even in the limited sphere of their sovereignty, be sovereign only in a secondary sense, never absolute sovereign in their own independent light. They are sovereign only to the extent to which they impart life to the individual members of society, and only in the sense in which she imparts it, or is its cause. She is not its first cause or creator, and is the medial cause or medium through which they derive it from God, not its efficient cause or primary source. Society derives her own life from God, and exists and acts only as dependent on him. Then she is sovereign over individuals only as dependent on God. Her dominion is then not original and absolute, but secondary and derivative.
This third theory does not err in assuming that the people collectively are more than the people individually, or in denying society to be a mere aggregation of individuals with no life, and no rights but what it derives from them; nor even in asserting that the people in the sense of society are sovereign, but in asserting that they are sovereign in their own native or underived right and might. Society has not in herself the absolute right to govern, because she has not the absolute dominion either of herself or her members. God gave to man dominion over the irrational creation, for he made irrational creatures for rnan; but he never gave him either individually or collectively the dominion over the rational creation. The theory that the people are absolutely sovereign in their own independent right and might, as some zealous democrats explain it, asserts the fundamental principle of despotism, and all despotism is false, for it identifies the creature with the Creator. No creature is creator, or has the rights of creator, and consequently no one in his own right is or can be sovereign. This third theory, therefore, is untenable.
IV. A still more recent class of philosophers, if philosophers they may be called, reject the origin of government in the people individually or collectively. Satisfied that it has never been instituted by a voluntary and deliberate act of the people, and confounding government as a fact with government as authority, maintain that government is a spontaneous development of nature. Nature develops it as the liver secretes bile, as the bee constructs her cell, or the beaver builds his dam. Nature, working by her own laws and inherent energy, develops society, and society develops government. That is all the secret. Questions as to the origin of government or its rights, beyond the simple positive fact, belong to the theological or metaphysical stage of the development of nature, but are left behind when the race has passed beyond that stage, and has reached the epoch of positive science, in which all, except the positive fact, is held to be unreal and non-existent. Government, like every thing else in the universe, is simply a positive development of nature. Science explains the laws and conditions of the development, but disdains to ask for its origin or ground in any order that transcends the changes of the world of space and time.
These philosophers profess to eschew all theory, and yet they only oppose theory to theory. The assertion that reality for the human mind is restricted to the positive facts of the sensible order, is purely theoretic, and is any thing but a positive fact. Principles are as really objects of science as facts, and it is only in the light of principles that facts themselves are intelligible. If the human mind had no science of reality that transcends the sensible order, or the positive fact, it could have no science at all. As things exist only in their principles or causes, so can they be known only in their principles and causes; for things can be known only as they are, or as they really exist. The science that pretends to deduce principles from particular facts, or to rise from the fact by way of reasoning to an order that transcends facts, and in which facts have their origin, is undoubtedly chimerical, and as against that the positivists are unquestionably right. But to maintain that man has no intelligence of any thing beyond the fact, no intuition or intellectual apprehension of its principle or cause, is equally chimerical. The human mind cannot have all science, but it has real science as far as it goes, and real science is the knowledge of things as they are, not as they are not. Sensible facts are not intelligible by themselves, because they do not exist by themselves; and if the human mind could not penetrate beyond the individual fact, beyond the mimetic to the methexic, or transcendental principle, copied or imitated by the individual fact, it could never know the fact itself. The error of modern philosophers, or philosopherlings, is in supposing the principle is deduced or inferred from the fact, and in denying that the human mind has direct and immediate intuition of it.
Something that transcends the sensible order there must be, or there could be no development; and if we had no science of it, we could never assert that development is development, or scientifically explain the laws and conditions of development. Development is explication, and supposes a germ which precedes it, and is not itself a development; and development, however far it may be carried, can never do more than realize the possibilities of the germ. Development is not creation, and cannot supply its own germ. That at least must be given by the Creator, for from nothing nothing can be developed. If authority has not its germ in nature, it cannot be developed from nature spontaneously or otherwise. All government has a governing will; and without a will that commands, there is no government; and nature has in her spontaneous developments no will, for she has no personality. Reason itself, as distinguished from will, only presents the end and the means, but does not govern; it prescribes a rule, but cannot ordain a law. An imperative will, the will of a superior who has the right to command what reason dictates or approves, is essential to government; and that will is not developed from nature, because it has no germ in nature. So something above and beyond nature must be asserted, or government itself cannot be asserted, even as a development Nature is no more self-sufficing than are the people, or than is the individual man.
No doubt there is a natural law, which is law in the proper sense of the word law; but this is a positive law under which nature is placed by a sovereign above herself, and is never to be confounded with those laws of nature so-called, according to which she is productive as second cause, or produces her effects, which are not properly laws at all. Fire burns, water flows, rain falls, birds fly, fishes swim, food nourishes, poisons kill, one substance has a chemical affinity for another, the needle points to the pole, by a natural law, it is said; that is, the effects are produced by an inherent and uniform natural force. Laws in this sense are simply physical forces, and are nature herself. The natural law, in an ethical sense, is not a physical law, is not a natural force, but a law imposed by the Creator on all moral creatures, that is, all creatures endowed with reason and free- will, and is called natural because promulgated in natural reason, or the reason common and essential to all moral creatures. This is the moral law. It is what the French call le droit naturel, natural right, and, as the theologians teach us, is the transcript of the eternal law, the eternal will or reason of God. It is the foundation of all law, and all acts of a state that contravene it are, as St. Augustine maintains, violences rather than laws. The moral law is no development of nature, for it is above nature, and is imposed on nature. The only development there is about it is in our understanding of it.
There is, of course, development in nature, for nature considered as creation has been created in germ, and is completed only in successive developments. Hence the origin of space and time. There would have been no space if there had been no external creation, and no time if the creation had been completed externally at once, as it was in relation to the Creator. Ideal space is simply the ability of God to externize his creative act, and actual space is the relation of coexistence in the things created; ideal time is the ability of God to create existences with the capacity of being completed by successive developments, and actual time is the relation of these in the order of succession, and when the existence is completed or consummated development ceases, and time is no more. In relation to himself the Creator’s works are complete from the first, and hence with him. there is no time, for there is no succession, But in relation to itself creation is incomplete, and there is room for development, which may be continued till the whole possibility of creation is actualized. Here is the foundation of what is true in the modern doctrine of progress. Man is progressive, because the possibilities of his nature are successively unfolded and actualized.
Development is a fact, and its laws and conditions may be scientifically ascertained and defined. All generation is development, as is all growth, physical, moral, or intellectual. But every thing is developed in its own order, and after its kind. The Darwinian theory of the development of species is not sustained by science. The development starts from the germ, and in the germ is given the law or principle of the development. From the acorn is developed the oak, never the pine or the linden. Every kind generates its kind, never another. But no development is, strictly speaking, spontaneous, or the result alone of the inherent energy or force of the germ developed.
There is not only a solidarity of race, but in some sense of all races, or species; all created things are bound to their Creator, and to one another. One and the same law or principle of life pervades all creation, binding the universe together in a unity that copies or imitates the unity of the Creator. No creature is isolated from the rest, or absolutely independent of others. All are parts of one stupendous whole, and each depends on the whole, and the whole on each, and each on each. All creatures are members of one body, and members one of another. The germ of the oak is in the acorn, but the acorn left to itself alone can never grow into the oak, any more than a body at rest can place itself in motion. Lay the acorn away in your closet, where it is absolutely deprived of air, heat, and moisture, and in vain will you watch for its germination. Germinate it cannot without some external influence, or communion, so to speak, with the elements from which it derives its sustenance and support.
There can be no absolutely spontaneous development. All things are doubtless active, for nothing exists except in so far as it is an active force of some sort; but only God himself alone suffices for his own activity. All created things are dependent, have not their being in themselves, and are real only as they participate, through the creative act, of the Divine being. The germ can no more be developed than it could exist without God, and no more develop itself than it could create itself. What is called the law of development is in the germ; but that law or force can operate only in conjunction with another force or other forces. All development, as all growth, is by accretion or assimilation. The assimilating force is, if you will, in the germ, but the matter assimilated comes and must come from abroad. Every herdsman knows it, and knows that to rear his stock he must supply them with appropriate food; every husbandman knows it, and knows that to raise a crop of corn, he must plant the seed in a soil duly prepared, and which will supply the gases needed for its germination, growth, flowering, boiling, and ripening. In all created things, in all things not complete in themselves, in all save God, in whom there is no development possible, for He is, as say the schoolmen, most pure act, in whom there is no unactualized possibility, the same law holds good. Development is always the resultant of two factors, the one the thing itself, the other some external force co- operating with it, exciting it, and aiding it to act.
Hence the prÊmotio physica of the Thomists, and the prÊvenient and adjuvant grace of the theologians, without which no one can begin the Christian life, and which must needs be supernatural when the end is supernatural The principle of life in all orders is the same, and human activity no more suffices for itself in one order than in another.
Here is the reason why the savage tribe never rises to a civilized state without communion in some form with a people already civilised, and why there is no moral or intellectual development and progress without education and instruction, consequently without instructors and educators. Hence the value of tradition; and hence, as the first man could not instruct himself, Christian theologians, with a deeper philosophy than is dreamed of by the sciolists of the age, maintain that God himself was man’s first teacher, or that he created Adam a full-grown man, with all his faculties developed, complete, and in full activity. Hence, too, the heathen mythologies, which always contain some elements of truth, however they may distort, mutilate, or travesty them, make the gods the first teachers of the human race, and ascribe to their instruction even the most simple and ordinary arts of every-day life.
The gods teach men to plough, to plant, to reap, to work in iron, to erect a shelter from the storm, and to build a fire to warm them and to cook their food. The common sense, as well as the common traditions of mankind, refuses to accept the doctrine that men are developed without foreign aid, or progressive without divine assistance. Nature of herself can no more develop government than it can language. There can be no language without society, and no society without language. There can be no government without society, and no society without government of some sort.
But even if nature could spontaneously develop herself, she could never develop an institution that has the right to govern, for she has not herself that light. Nature is not God, has not created us, therefore has not the right of property in us. She is not and cannot be our sovereign. We belong not to her, nor does she belong to herself, for she is herself creature, and belongs to her Creator. Not being in herself sovereign, she cannot develop the right to govern, nor can she develop government as a fact, to say nothing of its right, for government, whether we speak of it as fact or as authority, is distinct from that which is governed; but natural developments are nature, and indistinguishable from her. The governor and the governed, the restrainer and the restrained, can never as such be identical. Self- government, taken strictly, is a contradiction in terms. When an individual is said to govern himself, he is never understood to govern himself in the sense in which he is governed. He by his reason and will governs or restrains his appetites and passions. It is man as spirit governing man as flesh, the spiritual mind governing the carnal mind.
Natural developments cannot in all cases be even allowed to take their own course without injury to nature herself. “Follow nature” is an unsafe maxim, if it means, leave nature to develop herself as she will, and follow thy natural inclinations. Nature is good, but inclinations are frequently bad. All our appetites and passions are given us for good, for a purpose useful and necessary to individual and social life, but they become morbid and injurious if indulged without restraint. Each has its special object, and naturally seeks it exclusively, and thus generates discord and war in the individual, which immediately find expression in society, and also in the state, if the state be a simple natural development. The Christian maxim, Deny thyself, is far better than the Epicurean maxim, Enjoy thyself, for there is no real enjoyment without self-denial. There is deep philosophy in Christian asceticism, as the Positivists themselves are aware, and even insist But Christian asceticism aims not to destroy nature, as voluptuaries pretend, but to regulate, direct, and restrain its abnormal developments for its own good. It forces nature in her developments to submit to a law which is not in her, but above her. The Positivists pretend that this asceticism is itself a natural development, but that cannot be a natural development which directs, controls, and restrains natural development.
The Positivists confound nature at one time with the law of nature, and at another the law of nature with nature herself, and take what is called the natural law to be a natural development. Here is their mistake, as it is the mistake of all who accept naturalistic theories. Society, no doubt, is authorized by the law of nature to institute and maintain government. But the law of nature is not a natural development, nor is it in nature, or any part of nature. It is not a natural force which operates in nature, and which is the developing principle of nature, Do they say reason is natural, and the law of nature is only reason? This is not precisely the fact. The natural law is law proper, and is reason only in the sense that reason includes both intellect and will, and nobody can pretend that nature in her spontaneous developments acts from intelligence and volition. Reason, as the faculty of knowing, is subjective and natural; but in the sense in which it is coincident with the natural law, it is neither subjective nor natural, but objective and divine, and is God affirming himself and promulgating his law to his creature, man. It is, at least, an immediate participation of the divine light, by which He reveals himself and His will to the human understanding, and is not natural, but supernatural, in the sense that God himself is supernatural. This is wherefore reason is law, and every man is bound to submit or conform to reason.
That legitimate governments are instituted under the natural law is frankly conceded, but this is by no means the concession of government as a natural development. The reason and will of which the natural law is the expression are the reason and will of God. The natural law is the divine law as much as the revealed law itself, and equally obligatory. It is not a natural force developing itself in nature, like the law of generation, for instance, and therefore proceeding from God as first cause, but it proceeds from God as final cause, and is, therefore, theological, and strictly a moral law, founding moral rights and duties. Of course, all morality and all legitimate government rest on this law, or, if you will, originate in it. But not therefore in nature, but in the Author of nature. The authority is not the authority of nature, but of Him who holds nature in the hollow of His hand.
V. In the seventeenth century a class of political writers who very well understood that no creature, no man, no number of men, not even nature herself, can be inherently sovereign, defended the opinion that governments are founded, constituted, and clothed with their authority by the direct and express appointment of God himself. They denied that rulers hold their power from the nation; that, however oppressive may be their rule, that they are justiciable by any human tribunal, or that power, except by the direct judgment of God, is amissible. Their doctrine is known in history as the doctrine of “the divine right of kings, and passive obedience,” All power, says St. Paul, is from God, and the powers that be are ordained of God, and to resist them is to resist the ordination of God. They must he obeyed for conscience' sake.
It would, perhaps, be rash to say that this doctrine had never been broached before the seventeenth century, but it received in that century, and chiefly in England, its fullest and most systematic developments. It was patronized by the Anglican divines, asserted by James I. of England, and lost the Stuarts the crown of three kingdoms. It crossed the Channel, into France, where it found a few hesitating and stammering defenders among Catholics, under Louis XIV., but it has never been very generally held, though it has had able and zealous supporters. In England it was opposed by all the Presbyterians, Puritans, Independents, and Republicans, and was forgotten or abandoned by the Anglican divines themselves in the Revolution of 1688, that expelled James II. and crowned William and Mary. It was ably refuted by the Jesuit Suarez in his reply to a Remonstrance for the Divine Right of Kings by the James I.; and a Spanish monk who had asserted it in Madrid, under Philip II., was compelled by the Inquisition to retract it publicly in the place where he had asserted it. All republicans reject it, and the Church has never sanctioned it. The Sovereign Pontiffs have claimed and exercised the right to deprive princes of their principality, and to absolve their subjects from the oath of fidelity. Whether the Popes rightly claimed and exercised that power is not now the question; but their having claimed and exercised it proves that the Church does not admit the inamissibility of power and passive obedience; for the action of the Pope was judicial, not legislative. The Pope has never claimed the right to depose a prince till by his own act he has, under the moral law or the constitution of his state, forfeited his power, nor to absolve subjects from their allegiance till their oath, according to its true intent and meaning, has ceased to bind, If the Church has always asserted with the Apostle there is no power but from God – non est potestas nisi a Deo – she has always through her doctors maintained that it is a trust to be exercised for the public good, and is forfeited when persistently exercised in a contrary sense. St. Augustine, St. Thomas, and Suarez all maintain that unjust laws are violences rather than laws, and do not oblige, except in charity or prudence, and that the republic may change its magistrates, and even its constitution, if it sees proper to do so.
That God, as universal Creator, is Sovereign Lord and proprietor of all created things or existences, visible or invisible, is certain; for the maker has the absolute right to the thing made; it is his, and he may do with it as he will. As he is sole creator, he alone hath dominion; and as he is absolute creator, he has absolute dominion over all the things which he has made. The guaranty against oppression is his own essential nature, is in the plenitude of his own being, which is the plenitude of wisdom and goodness. He cannot contradict himself, be other than he is, or act otherwise than according to his own essential nature. As he is, in his own eternal and immutable essence, supreme reason and supreme good, his dominion must always in its exercise be supremely good and supremely reasonable, therefore supremely just and equitable. From him certainly is all power; he is unquestionably King of kings, and Lord of lords. By him kings reign and magistrates decree just things. He may, at his will, set up or pull down kings, rear or overwhelm empires, foster the infant colony, and make desolate the populous city. All this is unquestionably true, and a simple dictate of reason common to all men. But in what sense is it true? Is it true in a supernatural sense? Or is it true only in the sense that it is true that by him we breathe, perform any or all of our natural functions, and in him live, and move, and have our being?
Viewed in their first cause, all things are the immediate creation of God, and are supernatural, and from the point of view of the first cause the Scriptures usually speak, for the great purpose and paramount object of the sacred writers, as of religion itself, is to make prominent the fact that God is universal creator, and supreme governor, and therefore the first and final cause of all things. But God creates second causes, or substantial existences, capable themselves of acting and producing effects in a secondary sense, and hence he is said to be causa causarum, cause of causes. What is done by these second causes or creatures is done eminently by him, for they exist only by his creative act, and produce only by virtue of his active presence, or effective concurrence. What he does through them or through their agency is done by him, not immediately, but mediately, and is said to be done naturally, as what he does immediately is said to be done supernaturally. Natural is what God does through second causes, which he creates; supernatural is that which he does by himself alone, without their intervention or agency. Sovereignty, or the right to govern, is in him, and he may at his will delegate it to men either mediately or immediately, by a direct and express appointment, or mediately through nature. In the absence of all facts proving its delegation direct and express, it must be assumed to be mediate, through second causes. The natural is always to be presumed, and the supernatural is to be admitted only on conclusive proof.
The people of Israel had a supernatural vocation, and they received their law, embracing their religious and civil constitution and their ritual directly from God at the hand of Moses, and various individuals from time to time appear to have been specially called to be their judges, rulers, or kings. Saul was so called, and so was David. David and his line appear, also, to have been called not only to supplant Saul and his line, but to have been supernaturally invested with the kingdom forever; but it does not appear that the royal power with which David and his line were invested was inamissible. They lost it in the Babylonish captivity, and never afterwards recovered it. The Asmonean princes were of another line, and when our Lord came the sceptre was in the hands of Herod, an Idumean or Edomite. The promise made to David and his house is generally held by Christian commentators to have received its fulfilment in the everlasting spiritual royalty of the Messiah, sprung through Mary from David’s line.
The Christian Church is supernaturally constituted and supernaturally governed, but the persons selected to exercise powers supernaturally defined, from the Sovereign Pontiff down to the humblest parish priest are selected and inducted into office through human agency. The Gentiles very generally claimed to have received their laws from the gods, but it does not appear, save in exceptional cases, that they claimed that their princes were designated and held their powers by the direct and express appointment of the god. Save in the case of the Jews, and that of the Church, there is no evidence that any particular government exists or ever has existed by direct or express appointment, or otherwise than by the action of the Creator through second causes, or what is called his ordinary providence. Except David and his line, there is no evidence of the express grant by the Divine Sovereign to any individual or family, class or caste of the government of any nation or country. Even those Christian princes who professed to reign “by the grace of God,” never claimed that they received their principalities from God otherwise than through his ordinary providence, and meant by it little more than an acknowledgment of their dependence on him, their obligation to use their power according to his law, and their accountability to him for the use they make of it.
The doctrine is not favorable to human liberty, for it recognizes no rights of man in face of civil society. It consecrates tyranny, and makes God the accomplice of the tyrant, if we suppose all governments have actually existed by his express appointment It puts the king in the place of God, and requires us to worship in him the immediate representative of the Divine Being. Power is irresponsible and inamissible, and however it may be abused, or however corrupt and oppressive may be its exercise, there is no human redress. Resistance to power is resistance to God. There is nothing for the people but passive obedience and unreserved submission. The doctrine, in fact, denies all human government, and allows the people no voice in the management of their own affairs, and gives no place for human activity. It stands opposed to all republicanism, and makes power an hereditary and indefeasible right, not a trust which he who holds it may forfeit, and of which he may be deprived if he abuses it.