The American Republic

The American Republic


but the great body of the people of all nations have an invincible repugnance to abandon what they know for what they know not.They are, to a great extent, the slaves of their own vis inertiae, and will not make the necessary exertion to change their existing mode of life, even for a better.Interest itself is powerless before their indolence, prejudice, habits, and usages.Never were philosophers more ignorant of human nature than they, so numerous in the last century, who imagined that men can be always moved by a sense of interest, and that enlightened self-interest, L'interet bien entendu, suffices to found and sustain the state.No reform, no change in the constitution of government or of society, whatever the advantages it may promise, can be successful, if introduced, unless it has its root or germ in the past.Man is never a creator; he can only develop and continue, because he is himself a creature, and only a second cause.The children of Israel, when they encountered the privations of the wilderness that lay between them and the promised land flowing with milk and honey, fainted in spirit, and begged Moses to lead them back to Egypt, and permit them to return to slavery.

In the alleged state of nature, as the philosophers describe it, there is no germ of civilization, and the transition to civil society would not be a development, but a complete rupture with the past, and an entire new creation.When it is with the greatest difficulty that necessary reforms are introduced in old and highly civilized nations and when it can seldom be done at all without terrible political and social convulsions, how can we suppose men without society, and knowing nothing of it, can deliberately, and, as it were, with "malice aforethought," found society? Without government, and destitute alike of habits of obedience and habits of command, how can they initiate, establish, and sustain government? To suppose it, would be to suppose that men in a state of nature, without culture, without science, without any of the arts, even the most simple and necessary, are infinitely superior to the men formed under the most advanced civilization.Was Rousseau right in asserting civilization as a fall, as a deterioration of the race?

But suppose the state of nature, even suppose that men, by some miracle or other, can get out of it and found civil society, the origin of government as authority in compact is not yet established.According to the theory, the rights of civil society are derived from the rights of the individuals who form or enter into the compact.But individuals cannot give what they have not, and no individual has in himself the right to govern another.By the law of nature all men have equal rights, are equals, and equals have no authority one over another.Nor has an individual the sovereign right even to himself, or the right to dispose of himself as he pleases.Man is not God, independent, self-existing and self-sufficing.He is dependent, and dependent not only on his Maker, but on his fellow-men, on society, and even on nature, or the material world.That on which he depends in the measure in which be depends on it, contributes to his existence, to his life, and to his well-being, and has, by virtue of its contribution, a right in him and to him; and hence it is that nothing is more painful to the proud spirit than to receive a favor that lays him under an obligation to another.The right of that on which man depends, and by communion with which he lives, limits his own right over himself.

Man does not depend exclusively on society, for it is not his only medium of communion with God, and therefore its right to him is neither absolute nor unlimited; but still be depends on it, lives in it, and cannot live without it.It has, then, certain lights over him, and he cannot enter into any compact, league, or alliance that society does not authorize, or at least permit.

These rights of society override his rights to himself, and he can neither surrender them nor delegate them.Other rights, as the rights of religion and property, which are held directly from God and nature, and which are independent of society, are included in what are called the natural rights of man; and these rights cannot be surrendered in forming civil society, for they are rights of man only before civil society, and therefore not his to cede, and because they are precisely the rights that government is bound to respect and protect.The compact, then, cannot be formed as pretended, for the only rights individuals could delegate or surrender to society to constitute the sum of the rights of government are hers already, and those which are not hers are those which cannot be delegated or surrendered, and in the free and full enjoyment of which, it is the duty, the chief end of government to protect each and every individual.

The convention not only is not a fact, but individuals have no authority without society, to meet in convention, and enter into the alleged compact, because they are not independent, sovereign individuals.But pass over this: suppose the convention, suppose the compact, it must still be conceded that it binds and can bind only those who voluntarily and deliberately enter into it.This is conceded by Mr.Jefferson and the American Congress of l, in the assertion that government derives its "just powers from the consent of the governed." This consent, as the matter is one of life and death, must be free, deliberate, formal, explicit, not simply an assumed, implied, or constructive consent.It must be given personally, and not by one for another without his express authority.

Orestes Augustus Brownson