« PreviousContinue »
infidelity. Hume led the way, and has been followed by many English, French and German philosophers. The main object of these licentious writers is, to establish the point that gain is godliness; that utility is virtue; that whatever ultimately promotes happiness is right; or to use their own favorite exer pression, that “the end sanctifies the means." * Their acute and sophistical reasoning is directly calculated to bewilder and corrupt the minds of those minute philosophers who wish to go out of the common road of thinking, and free themselves from all religious and moral obligation.
There is another set of men, who do more by their tongues than divines and moralists oan do by their pens, to corrupt thes sentiments of the populace. These are seducers, who employ all their eloquence in displaying the utility of virtue, and the happy effects of universal philanthropy. They endeavor to make every one believe that virtue solely consists in utility; that it is his duty to do all in his power to revolutionize the world, to promote the perfectibility of men, and to bring on a state of perfect liberty and equality, as fast as possible. Such seducers are travelling all over the world, and are often to be found in this country, using all their art and subtilty to deceive and beguile the unwary and unguarded.
While so many men of different characters, professions and designs, unite their influence to spread the same plausible and palatable sentiment, there is certainly great danger that multitudes will, either designedly or undesignedly, renounce the pure opinions in which they have been educated, and embrace this first principle of infidelity. For,
3. There is a strong propensity in human nature to believe any other scheme of moral and religious sentiments, than that which is according to godliness. Men naturally love happiness, and as naturally hate holiness. If it be plausibly and confidently asserted that gain is godliness, or utility virtue, according to the fashionable system of morality, those who are lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God will greedily imbibe the sentiment. This is more agreeable to the natural heart than any other doctrine that can be inculcated. And when it comes recommended by divines, by politicians, and by professed moral philosophers, as well as by more artful seducers, who is not exposed to fall into the agreeable delusion? Error always finds a friend in a corrupt heart, and men are more apt to believe according to the feelings of the heart, than according to the dictates of the understanding. On this account they are
See Robinson's Proofs of a Conspiracy, and Barruel's History of Jacobinism, through the whole.
continually exposed to reject the truth, and embrace an error which strikes at the foundation of all moral, religious and polit. ical obligation.
1. If the people in this country are exposed to embrace the absurd notion that virtue consists in utility, then there is great danger of their renouncing all religion, and becoming avowed infidels. Those who believe that “gain is godliness," or that virtue consists in utility, can easily and fairly reason themselves into the grossest infidelity. Upon this principle, there can be no necessity nor even propriety of any revelation from heaven. This Godwin means to make appear through his whole treatise on political justice. And his reasoning in some places is not only plausible, but just and conclusive. He argues thus : If virtue consists in utility, then every man ought to judge for himself what action or course of conduct will promote the greatest good, without being laid under any human or divine restraint. Hence he sets aside what he calls a popular principle. “A comprehensive maxim which has been laid down upon the subject of duty is,' that we should love our neighbor as ourselves.' But this maxim, though possessing considerable merit as a popular principle, is not modelled with the strictness of philosophical accuracy.” That is, the second great commandment in the divine law is not consistent with a higher and better principle, that virtue consists in utility. He goes on afterwards to deny the propriety of men's being subjected to any rule of duty besides their own sense of rectitude. He says, “ To a rational being there can be but one rule of conduct, justice — and one mode of ascertaining that rule - the exercise of his understanding." This is a full denial of all revelation, and those who once believe the doctrine that virtue consists in utility, will naturally draw the same conclusion from it. It is an infidel sentiment, and directly leads to infidelity. It lately spread through a large nation, where it turned them into infidels, and subverted all their religious orders and institutions. If it should prevail in this country, it will undoubtedly produce the same deplorable effects here that it did in France, and deprive the nation in general of that glorious gospel which they have so long enjoyed. The present prospect is alarming. Various causes are concurring to spread this first principle of infidelity among us.
It is inculcated in the most sophistical and pleasing manner in books of divinity, of morality, of history and politics. These publications are circulated among all classes of people, at great expense and with peculiar art and industry. They are read openly by the bold and profligate, and in private by the young and timid. The same sentiment which these dangerous writings contain and diffuse, is greatly propagated by those secret societies which have lately increased beyond all example. They highly applaud and recommend universal philanthropy, and draw multiiudes into the brotherhood, by this pleasing principle. The leaven also has begun to spread and operate among many in the learned professions, who throw
in all their weight and influence to carry on the delusion. While these various causes are coöperating with increasing force, to proselyte the nation to the first principle of infidelity, is there not great danger of its eradicating from their minds those sound principles of piety and morality in which they have been better educated than any other people on earth? It is undoubtedly true that this absurd and ensnaring doctrine is spreading as fast among us, as ever it did in any part of Europe. It was about fifty years in coming to maturity and producing its full effects in France. And in less than that time, if the eyes of people here be not opened, and their fears alarmed, they may lose all their religious principles and privileges, and sink down into the darkness and horrors of infidelity.
2. If our nation are exposed to embrace the absurd and pernicious doctrine that virtue consists in utility, then they are in great danger of losing all their civil as well as religious institutions. The same licentious principle which strikes at the foundation of all religion and morality, equally tends to subvert all good government. It is impossible to bind men by civil authority, after they have lost all sense of religious and moral obligation. The same doctrine that leads a people into infidelity, so far tends to throw them into anarchy and confusion. This the disorganizers in France knew, and therefore the first step they took to subvert their civil government was to propagate the doctrine which had a direct tendency to destroy all religion and morality. If the absurd sentiment we have been considering should lead the American people into infidelity, it will in that way indirectly serve to weaken and overturn our government. But this is not all; for it has a direct as well as indirect tendency to destroy all civil order and authority. It operates as directly and forcibly against all human, as against all divine laws. "This Godwin makes appear, by reasoning fairly upon it, and applying it to the fundamental principles of all civil government.
He infers from it that promises and oaths of allegiance are not binding upon mankind. Hear his reasoning: “ When I enter into an engagement, I engage for that which is in its own
nature conducive to human happiness, or which is not so. Can my engagement always render that which was before injurious, agreeable to, and that which was beneficial, the opposite of duty ? Previously to my entering into a promise, there was something which I ought to promise, and something which I ought not. Previously to my entering into a promise, all modes of action were not indifferent. Nay, the very opposite to this is true. Every conceivable mode of action has its appropriate tendency and shade of tendency to benefit, or to mischief, and consequently its appropriate claim to be performed or avoided. Thus clearly does it appear that promises and compacts are not the foundation of morality.” He adds, “promises are absolutely considered an evil, and stand in opposition to the genuine and wholesome exercise of an intellectual nature." As to oaths of allegiance, he says, “ When a promise or an oath is imposed upon me superfluously, as is always the case with promises of allegiance; or when I am compelled to make it by the operation of a penalty, the treatment I suffer is atrociously unjust, and of consequence the breach of such a promise is peculiarly susceptible of apology. A promise of allegiance is a declaration that I approve the existing constitution of things, and, so far as it is binding, an engagement that I will continue to support that constitution. But I shall support it for as long a time and in as great a degree as I approve of it, without needing the intervention of a promise. It will be my duty not to undertake its destruction by precipitate and unpromising means, for a much greater reason than can be deduced from any promise I have made. An engagement for any thing farther than this, is both immoral and absurd; it is an engagement to a nonentity, a constitution; a promise that I will abstain from doing that which I believe to be beneficial to my fellow-citizens." Upon treaties he observes : “ Treaties of alliance are in all cases wrong; in the first place, because all absolute promises are wrong, and neither individuals nor bodies of men ought to preclude themselves from the benefit of future improvement and deliberation."
Another inference he draws from his absurd notion of virtue is, that all human laws are unjust and tyrannical. He demands, " Who is it that has authority to make laws ? What are the characteristics of that man or body of men, in whom the tremendous faculty is invested, of prescribing to the rest of the community what they are to perform and what avoid ? The answer to these questions is exceedingly simple: Legislation, as it has been usually understood, is not an affair of human competence." Again he asserts: “Law tends, no less than creeds, catechisms and tests, to fix the human mind in a stagnant
condition, and to substitute a principle-of permanence, in the room of that unceasing perfectibility which is the only salubrious element of mind.
Arguing from the same principle, he denies that there ought to be any such thing as punishment in human society, because it cannot conduce to general utility. “ Thus it appears," says he, “whether we enter philosophically into the principle of human action or merely analyse the ideas of rectitude and justice which have the universal consent of mankind, that, accurately speaking, there is no such thing as desert. It cannot be just that we should inflict suffering on any man, except so far as it tends to good. Hence it follows, that the strict acceptation of the word punishment by no means accords with any sound principles of reasoning.”
He carries his disorganizing principle still farther, and infers from it, that all civil government ought to be totally annihilated. He says, " The language of reason on this subject is–Give us equality and justice, but no constițution. Suffer us to follow without restraint the dictates of our own judgment, and to change our forms of social order as fast as we improve in understanding and knowledge.” He anticipates such a state of things, and exults in the glorious prospect.
66 With what delight must every well informed friend of mankind look forward to the auspicious period, the dissolution of political government, of that brute engine, which has been the perennial cause of the vices of mankind, and which, as has abundantly appeared in the progress of the present work, has mischiefs of various sorts incorporated with its substance, and no otherwise to be removed than by its utter annihilation!”
Thus Godwin himself illustrates the natural tendency of his disorganizing principle, and clearly shows that its practical operation is to strip all promises, oaths, and treaties of their morab obligation, and all human laws and institutions of their civil sanctions. It is the most disorganizing principle in nature, and cannot fail to ruin any people who embrace it.
Its present appearance and prevalence among us is extremely threatening. And unless it can be checked and restrained in its progress, it will prepare the whole nation to burst all the bands of morality, religion and government, and involve us in anarchy and destruction.
3. We learn from what has been said, why those who believe that virtue consists in utility are so much given to change.
It is the natural tendency of this loose and absurd sentiment to produce this effect in all who govern their conduct by it. For, according to this principle, there is no immutable rule of right, but every man is left to act just as he happens to think best, in