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YALE LITERARY MAGAZINE.
Wol. ii. NO V E M BER, 1836. NO. 2.
THE PRINCIPLE OF DEMOCTRACY.
To provide an inviolate shrine for liberty, has been the grand problem of the political philosopher from the earliest dawn of civilization. At different periods of the world, and in different stages of human advancement, it has been entrusted to the omnipotence of princes, to the wisdom of venerable age, or to the hearts of the multitude. But in every case the shrine has been desecrated, and history reveals that every government which human ingenuity has devised for the security of freedom, has been eventually destroyed or perverted by one of its two great enemies—the tyranny of the few, or the anarchy of the many.
The first springs from a perversion of those delegated powers which are implied in our idea of a government;-the last from a perversion of the spirit of liberty. The rise and triumph of the first of these principles—a history of the progress of governments first organized with merely adequate powers, from the salutary use to the abuse of them, from the protection to the oppression of their subjects, from monarchy to despotism, might be an interesting subject of inquiry. It might delight philosophy, to mark the successive pride and arrogance of the governing—the elected chief—the king, the despot—the vicegerent of God;—the old man, the senator, the hereditary counselor, the absolute aristocrat. It might humble the pride of human nature to trace the successive submission and servility of the governed, the freeman, the vassal, the serf, the slave, but to dwell on the rise and triumph of the spirit of liberty, as planted in the very constitution of the human mind, as embodied in the principle of democracy, as developed by a thousand providential causes, as the second savior of the human family, is a topic of thought congenial to the highest and noblest faculties of man. It alleviates our sorrow over the past misery and present condition of our race. It points us to crumbling battlements, to Chillon, Ol
WOL. II. 6
mutz, the Inquisition, the Bastile, and encourages us never to despair
* See Robertson's “View of the State of Europe.” + Robertson, p. 312. Russell's “Modern Europe,” vol. i. p. 39.
divided the continent among a small number of families, who alone possessed and transmitted from sire to son the only pure inheritable blood, the aristocratic prerogative of thought, and an indefeasible right to thrones and dignities. Every channel was closed against the admission of the enslaved vulgar to honor and influence. The exalted faculties which might swell beneath the chains of the serf; the thoughts which would “startle nations,” could not flow to enlighten and relieve society. At such a period a new order arose; an order which opened an avenue between the cabin of the slave and the palace of the lord. Such was the priesthood of Christianity. It might draw its recruits from the lowest ranks of the populace, but its cardinals controlled the cabinets of princes, and the “sandaled foot.” reposed on the necks of emperors. Such was the first triumph of the principle of natural equality over the arbitrary distinctions of society S But although the influence of this innovation was decided, it was nevertheless limited in its extent. It made no invasion on the laws of inheritance and the supremacy of rank; it did not humble the arrogance of the baron, and though it mitigated the despair, it hardly encouraged the hopes of the serf. A despotism which had paralyzed society, must be encountered by a mightier agent. Some convulsion was needed, which should shake the very nerves and fibres of the system, and arouse it from this lethargy of despotism, and throw into circulation its stagnant enterprise, scatter hoarded wealth, and break up immemorial habits. Such a convulsion was the Crusades: they drew from the cloister its talents, the bloated and sensual noble from his banquet, the peasant from his degraded and desperate contentment, and by appealing to the hopes, fears, pride, ambition or enthusiasm of all, they called into exercise the active principles of man's nature, quickened the energies of society, and taught its divided and repellent orders their mutual dependence and reciprocal usefulness. From the vigor and activity which sprung from this re-juvenescence of Europe, the principle of democracy derived a new and constant impulse. But it was chiefly advanced by two new auxiliaries which the Crusades brought to its aid—the power of wealth—the omnipotence of knowledge. These two causes, more than all others, diminished the ascendency of birth, opened other avenues to respectability and influence, and breathed a spirit into the enslaved commonalty.
The power of wealth.-While the supply of their necessities, or the gratification of sense, bounded the desires of the nobles, they might have for ever remained contented with the supplies their extortions exacted ; their wishes would never have bowed to their wants; their pride to their poverty, and the franchises of Europe, until this day might have been oppressed by that power which is invincible, from its superiority to want. The lower orders might have still been ignorant of the influence of commerce, industry and enterprise, in deciding the fortune of individuals and the destiny of empires.