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This fruitful principle of liberty, which is only the principle of reason, and which must not be confounded with caprice, was sure to be transported sooner or later into the region of moral philosophy.
A century passes, and Rousseau with vigour lays down this principle as the groundwork of morality. Instead of seeking, like the Scottish school, the principle of good outside the individual, in utilitarianism, Rousseau found it in himself,- in the moral conscience. “I do not draw the rules which I prescribe to myself,” says he to the Savoyard vicar, from the principles of high philosophy, but I find them written by nature in ineffaceable characters at the bottom of my heart. I have only to consult myself on what I wish to do: all that I feel to be good is good, all that I feel to be bad is bad: the best of all casuists is the conscience. Conscience is the voice of the soul, the passions are the voice of the body. Conscience cannot be deceived; it is the true guide of man-it is an innate principle of justice and virtue, upon which, in spite of our maxims, we measure our actions and those of others as good or bad, and it is to this principle that I give the name of conscience.” 1
Thus Rousseau completed the reaction inaugurated by Descartes against Scholasticism. He committed the judgment of the actions of men to the individual sense, disengaged from all the subtleties of a false science; he maintained a tradition which, beginning with Leonardo da Vinci through the Reformation, and carried on by Descartes, was to complete its course in the French Revolution.
From morals to politics is an easy passage. One would have supposed that Rousseau, having sought the principle of morality within, would have discovered there also the
1 Emile, lib. iv.
principle of right. But he did not do so. In his famous Contrat Social, he subjected individual right to the sovereignty of number, constituted, it is true, by the will of all. The social man possesses rights only that he may abdicate them!
But the National Assembly did that which Rousseau had misdone. To its constitution it prefixed its famous declaration of “The Rights of Man.” Before the French Revolution, the governing power had its obligations, but the governed were without rights.
The principle of individual right recognised, the condemnation of the ancient order of things followed. Undoubtedly that famous declaration does not contain a complete doctrine; but if the Constituent Assembly did not rise to the idea of duties as the correlative of rights, the reason is that a scientific system cannot be produced by an assembly. But it did its work. It introduced into the world of facts what hitherto had not left the domains of pure speculation.
To sum up in few words the substance of this chapter. Liberty is necessary for the development of individuality.
Liberty is the faculty of exercising freely man's inalienable rights.
Before Christ came those rights were not recognised, the only right known being authority, founded on force.
By the Incarnation man's rights are based on dogma, and their exercise is a religious necessity.
The liberty to exercise them had been disallowed throughout the Middle Ages by the growth in Christendom of a theocracy, and through the union of Church and State.
The emancipation of liberty begun with the preaching of the Gospel, but interrupted during the Middle Ages, was recommenced in the sixteenth century, and has been continued ever since.
The development of the principle of individualism, or in other words of liberty, has passed through five stages : 1. Leonardo da Vinci made the individual judgment the
appreciator of scientific facts. 2. Luther made that same judgment the criterium of
religious, i.e. of sentimental, dogmas. 3. Descartes made private judgment the basis of philo
sophic certainty. 4. Rousseau founded morality on the individual con
science. 5. The French Revolution established politics on indi
vidual right. Thus the work which ought to have been done by the Church has been begun, and is in progress, outside of her.
That work flows logically from the Incarnation, as logically as do the religious and moral dogmas of Christianity; if the movement has been abrupt and often disastrous in its consequences, the reason is to be found in its having been wrought apart from the Church, that is, through a negative, instead of a co-ordinative process.