Studies in the History of Political Philosophy before and after Rousseau - Vol. 2

Studies in the History of Political Philosophy before and after Rousseau - Vol. 2

Studies in the History of Political Philosophy before and after Rousseau - Vol. 2

Studies in the History of Political Philosophy before and after Rousseau - Vol. 2

Excerpt

In politics, as in religion, the Reformation opened a new page of history. It was a revolution not merely in the chain of outward events, but also -- and for our purpose still more -- of the thought, the ideas, the theories which lay behind them. Once allow the appeal from authority to private judgement in matters of faith, and it is impossible, as the Reformers were soon to discover, to disallow it in matters of government. Once admit Luther and Calvin, and it is impossible to shut the door against Milton and Cromwell, against Locke and the Revolutionists of 1688. The form which the principle of private judgement naturally takes in politics is the right of the governed to appoint their governors, with the corresponding right of deposing them as soon as they cease to be acceptable. Hence the theory of 'the original contract' between King and People, between governor and governed, a theory which took shape in the last quarter of the sixteenth century; which gradually enlarged itself, so as to include a still more primitive, a still more fundamental contract -- that between the individuals who unite in the given instance to form a given community; and which, so enlarged, became avowedly in the hands of Locke what it had always been by implication, a theory of individual rights. This theory -- perhaps the most popular theory ever propounded -- held the field, practically unquestioned, for at least two centuries after its first appearance. It received its death-blow partly from the Utilitarians; partly, though he himself was but half aware of what he was doing, from the hand of Rousseau.

The former of these assaults was, for the moment, the more deadly of the two; in this country, at any rate, the Utilitarians carried all before them. Priding themselves on getting rid of all mystical conceptions -- all that could not, in the last resort, be reduced to desire for pleasure -- they rejected rights, they repudiated . . .

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