Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

safety or the conduct of government, is enough to render men unfit to act together in public stations. But upon what argument, or upon what experience, is this assertion founded? I perceive no reason why men of different religious persuasions may not sit upon the same bench, deliberate in the same council, or fight in the same ranks, as well as men of various or opposite opinions upon any controverted topic of natural philosophy, history, or ethics.

There are two cases in which test-laws are wont to be applied, and in which, if in any, they may be defended. One is, where two or more religions are contending for establishment, and where there appears no way of putting an end to the contest, but by giving to one religion such a decided superiority in the legislature and government of the country, as to secure it against danger from any other. I own that I should assent to this precaution with many scruples. If the dissenters from the establishment become a majority of the people, the establishment itself ought to be altered or qualified. If there exist amongst the different sects of the country such a parity of numbers, interest, and power, as to render the preference of one sect to the rest; and the choice of that sect, a matter of hazardous success, and of doubtful election, some plan similar to that which is meditated in North America, and which we have described in a preceding part of the present chapter, though encumbered with great difficulties, may perhaps suit better with this divided state of public opinion, than any constitution of a national church whatever. In all other situations, the establishment will be strong enough to maintain itself. However, if a test be applicable with justice upon this principle at all, it ought to be applied in regal governments to the chief magistrate himself, whose power might otherwise overthrow or change the established religion of the country, in opposition to the will and sentiments of the people.

The second case of exclusion, and in which, I think, the measure is more easily vindicated, is that of a country in which some disaffection to the subsisting government happens to be connected with certain religious distinctions. The state undoubtedly has a right to refuse its power and its confidence to those who seek its destruction.Wherefore, if the generality of any religious sect entertain dispositions hostile to the constitution, and if government have no other way of knowing its enemies than by the religion which they profess, the professors of that religion may justly be excluded from offices of trust and authority. But even here it should be observed, that it is not against the religion that government shuts its doors, but against those political principles, which, however independent they may be of any article of religious faith, the members of that communion are found in fact to hold. Nor would the legislator make religious tenets the test of men's inclinations towards the state, if he could discover any other that was equally certain and notorious. Thus, if the members of the Romish church, for the most part, adhere to the interests, or maintain the right, of a foreign pretender to the crown of these kingdoms; and if there be no way of distinguishing those who do from those who do not retain such dangerous prejudices; government is well warranted in fencing out the whole sect from situations of trust and power. But even in this example, it is not to popery that the laws object, but to popery as the mark of jacobitism; an equivocal indeed and fallacious mark, but the best, and perhaps the only one that can be devised. But then it should be remembered, that as the connexion between popery and jacobitism, which is the sole cause of suspicion, and the sole justification of those severe and jealous laws which have been enacted against the professors of that religion, was accidental in its origin, so probably it will be temporary in its duration; and that these restrictions ought not to continue one day

longer than some visible danger renders them necessary to the preservation of public tranquillity.

After all, it may be asked, Why should not the legislator direct his test against the political principles themselves which he wishes to exclude, rather than encounter them through the medium of religious tenets, the only crime and the only danger of which consists in their presumed alliance with the former? Why, for example, should a man be required to renouncé transubstantiation, before he be admitted to an office in the state, when it might seem to be sufficient that he abjure the pretender? There are but two answers that can be given to the objection which this question contains : first, that it is not opinions which the laws fear so much as inclinations; and that political inclinations are not so easily detected by the affirmation or denial of any abstract proposition in politics, as by the discovery of the religious creed with which they are wont to be united ;—secondly, that when men renounce their religion, they commonly quit all connexion with the members of the church which they have left; that church no longer expecting assistance or friendship from them; whereas particular persons might insinuate themselves into offices of trust and authority, by subscribing political assertions, and yet retain their predilection for the interests of the religious sect to which they continued to belong. By which means, government would sometimes find, though it could not accuse the individual whom it had received into its service of disaffection to the civil establishment, yet that, through him, it had communicated the aid and influence of a powerful station to a party who were hostile to the constitution. These answers, however, we propose rather than defend. The measure certainly cannot be defended at all, except where the suspected union between certain obnoxious principles in politics, and certain tenets in religion, is nearly universal ; in which case, it makes little difference to the subscriber, whether the test be religious or political, and the state is somewhat better secured by the one than the other.

The result of our examination of those general tendencies, by which every interference of civil government in matters of religion ought to be tried, is this: “ That a comprehensive national religion, guarded by a few articles of peace and conformity, together with a legal provision for the clergy of that religion; and with a complete toleration of all dissenters from the established church, without any other limitation or exception than what arises from the conjunction of dangerous political dispositions with certain religious tenets ; appears to be, not only the most just and liberal, but the wisest and safest system which a state can adopt; inasmuch as it unites the several perfections which a religious constitution ought to aim atliberty of conscience, with means of instruction; the progress of truth, with the peace of society; the right of private judgment, with the care of the public safety.”

CHAP. XI. OF POPULATION AND PROVISION; AND OF AGRICUL

TURE AND COMMERCE, AS SUBSERVIENT THERETO. The final view of all rational politics is to produce the greatest quantity of happiness in a given tract of country. The riches, strength, and glory of nations— the topics which history celebrates, and which alone almost engage the praises and possess the admiration of mankind-have no value farther than as they contribute to this end. When they interfere with it, they are evils, and not the less real for the splendour that surrounds them.

Secondly, Although we speak of communities as of sentient beings; although we ascribe to them happiness and misery, desires, interests, and passions ; nothing really exists or feels but individuals. The

E E

happiness of a people is made up of the happiness of single persons; and the quantity of happiness can only be augmented by increasing the number of the percipients, or the pleasure of their perceptions.

Thirdly, Notwithstanding that diversity of condition, especially different degrees of plenty, freedom, and security, greatly vary the quantity of happiness enjoyed by the same number of individuals; and notwithstanding that extreine cases may be found, of human beings so galled by the rigours of slavery that the increase of numbers is only the amplification of misery; yet within certain limits, and within those limits to which civil life is diversified under the temperate governments that obtain in Europe, it may be affirmed, I think, with certainty, that the quantity of happiness produced in any given district so far depends upon the number of inhabitants, that, in comparing adjoining periods in the same country, the collective happiness will be nearly in the exact proportion of the numbers; that is, twice the number of inhabitants will produce double the quantity of happiness: in distant periods, and different countries, under great changes or great dissimilitude of civil condition, although the proportion of enjoyment may fall much short of that of the numbers, yet still any considerable excess of numbers will usually carry with it a preponderation of happiness; that, at least, it may and : ought to be assumed in all political deliberations, that a larger portion of happiness is enjoyed amongst ten persons, possessing the means of healthy subsistence, than can be produced by five persons, under every advantage of power, affluence, and luxury.

From these principles it follows, that the quantity of happiness in a given district, although it is possible it may be increased, the number of inhabitants remaining the same, is chiefly and most naturally affected by alteration of the numbers : that, consequently, the decay of population is the greatest evil that a state can suffer; and the improvement of it the object which

« AnteriorContinuar »