Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

“ focial capacity,” in the same book. I might allege also, that the part a member of the commonwealth shall take in political contentions, the vote he shall give, the counsels he shall approve, the support he shall afford, or the opposition he shall make, to any system of public measures, is as much a question of personal duty, as much concerns the conscience of the individual who deliberates, as the determination of any doubt which relates to the conduct of private life; that consequently political philosophy is, properly speaking, a continuation of moral philosophy; or rather indeed, a part of it, supposing moral philosophy to have for its aim the information of the human conscience in every deliberation that is likely to come before it. I might avail myself of these excuses, if I wanted them; but the vindication upon which I rely is the following. In stating the principle of morals, the reader will observe, that I have employed some industry in explaining the theory, and shew. ing the necessity of general rules ; without the full and constant consideration of which, I am persuaded that no system of moral philosophy can be satisfactory or consistent. This foundation being laid, or rather, this habit being formed, the discussion of political subjects, to which, more than to almost any other, general rules are applicable, became clear and easy. Whereas, had these topics been assigned to a distinct work, it would have been necessary to have repeated the same rudiments, to have established over again the same principles as those which we had already exemplified, and rendered familiar to the reader, in the former parts of this. In a word, if there appear to any one too great a diversity, or too wide a distance between the subjects treated of in the course of the present volume, let him be reminded, that the doctrine of general rules pervades and connects the whole.

It may not be improper, however, to ad. monish the reader, that, under the name of

politics,

politics, he is not to look for those occasional controversies, which the occurrences of the present day, or any temporary situation of public affairs may excite; and most of which, if not beneath the dignity, it is beside the purpose of a philosophical institution to advert to. He will perceive that the several disquisitions are framed with a reference to the condition of this country, and of this government : but it seemed to me to belong to the design of a work like the following, not so much to discuss each altercated point with the particularity of a political pamphlet upon the subject, as to deliver those universal principles, and to exhibit, as well as I was able, that mode and train of reasoning in politics, by the due application of which every man might be enabled to attain to just conclusions of his own.

I am not ignorant of an objection that has been advanced against all abstract speculations concerning the origin, principle, or

limitation

limitation of civil authority ; namely, that

such speculations possess little or no influence · upon the conduct either of the state or of the subject, of the governors or the governed; nor are attended with any useful consequences to either: that in times of tranquillity they are not wanted; in times of confusion they are never heard. This representation however, in my opinion, is not just. Times of tumult, it is true, are not the times to learn ; but the choice men make of their side and party, in the most critical occasions of the commonwealth, may nevertheless depend upon the lessons they have received, the books they have read, and the opinions they have imbibed, in seafons of leisure and quietness. Some judicious persons, who were present at Geneva during the troubles which lately convulsed that city, thought they perceived in the contentions there carrying on, the operation of that political theory, which the writings of Rousseau, and the unbounded esteem in

which these writings are held by his countrymen, had diffused amongst the people. Throughout the political disputes that have within these few years taken place in Great Britain, in her sister kingdom, and in her foreign dependencies, it was imposlible not to observe, in the language of party, in the resolutions of popular meetings, in debate, in conversation, in the general strain of those fugitive and diurnal addresses to the public, which such occasions call forth, the prevalency of those ideas of civil authority which are displayed in the works of Mr. Locke. The credit of that great name, the courage and liberality of his principles, the skill and clearness with which his arguments are proposed, no less than the weight of the arguments themselves, have given a reputation and currency to his opinions, of which, I am persuaded, in any unsettled state of public affairs, the influence would be felt. As this is not a place for examining the truth or tendency of these doctrines, I would not

• be

« AnteriorContinuar »