Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB
[merged small][ocr errors]

tion which, as hath been shown above, it is the business of the state to relieve and remunerate, in the preference to every other. No measure of such extensive concern appears to me so practicable, nor any single alteration so beneficial, as the conversion of tithes into corn-rents. This commutation, I am convinced, might be so adjusted, as to secure to the tithe-holder a complete and perpetual equivalent for his interest, and to leave to industry its full operation, and entire reward.

CHAP. XII.

Of war, and of military establishments.

BECAUSE the Christian Scriptures describe wars as what they are, as crimes or judgments, some have been led to believe that it is unlawful for a Christian to bear arms. But it should be remembered, that it may be necessary for individuals to unite their force, and for this end to resign themselves to the direction of a common will; and yet, it may be true that that will is often actuated by criminal motives, and often determined to destructive purposes. Hence, although the origin of wars ascribed, in Scripture, to the operation of lawless and malignant passions ;* and though war itself be enumerated among the sorest calamities with which a land can be visited, the profession of a soldier is no where forbidden or condemned. When the soldiers demanded of John the Baptist what they should do, he said unto them, "Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely, and be content with your wages." In which answer we do not find that, in order to prepare themselves for the reception of the kingdom of God, it was required of soldiers to relinquish their profession, but only that they should beware of the vices of which that profession was accused. The precept which follows," Be content with your wages," supposed them to continue in their situation. It was of a Roman centurion that Christ pronounced that memorable eulogy, "I have not found so great faith,

James iv. 1.

† Luke iii. 14.

no, not in Israel."* The first Gentile convert who was received into the Christian church, and to whom the gospel was imparted by the immediate and especial direction of Heaven, held the same station and in the history of this transaction we discover not the smallest intimation, that Cornelius, upon becoming a Christian, quitted the service of the Roman legion: that his profession was objected to, or his continuance in it considered as in any wise inconsistent with his new character.

In applying the principles of morality to the affairs of nations, th difficulty which meets us arises from hence, "that the particular consequence sometimes appears to exceed the value of the general rule." In this circumstance is founded the only distinction that exists between the case of independent states, and of independent individuals. In the transactions of private persons, no advantage that results from the breach of a general law of justice, can compensate to the public for the violation of the law; in the concerns of empire, this may sometimes be doubted. Thus, that the faith of promises ought to be maintained, as far as is lawful, and as far as was intended by the parties, whatever inconveniency either of them may suffer by his fidelity, in the intercourse of private life, is seldom disputed; because it is evident to almost every man who reflects upon the subject, that the common happiness gains more by the preservation of the rule, than it could do by the removal of the incon veniency. But when the adherence to a public treaty would enslave a whole people: would block up seas, rivers, or harbours; depopulate cities; condemn fertile regions to eternal desolations; cut off a country from its sources of provision, or deprive it of those commercial advantages to which its climate, produce, or situation, naturally entitle it: the magnitude of the particular evil induces us to call in question the obligation of the general rule. Moral Philosophy furnishes no precise solution to these doubts. She cannot pronounce that any rule of morality is so rigid as to bend to no exceptions; nor, on the other hand, can she comprise these exceptions within any previous description. She

* Luke vii. 9.

† Acts x. 1.

[ocr errors]

confesses that the obligation of every law depends upon its ultimate utility; that, this utility having a finite and determinite value, situations may be feigned, and consequently may possibly arise, in which the general tendency is outweighed by the enormity of the particular mischief: but she recalls, at the same time, to the consideration of the inquirer, the almost inestimable importance, as of the other general rules of relative justice, so especially of national and personal fidelity; the unseen, if not unbounded, extent of the mischief which must follow from the want of it; the danger of leaving it to the sufferer to decide upon the comparison of particular and general consequences; and the still greater danger of such decisions being drawn into future precedents. If treaties, for instance, be no longer binding than whilst they are convenient, or until the inconveniency ascend to a certain point (which point must be fixed by the judgment, or rather by the feelings, of the complaining party;) or if such an opinion, after being authorized by a few examples, come at length to prevail; one and almost the only method of averting or closing the calamities of war, of either preventing or putting a stop to the destruction of mankind, is lost to the world for ever. We do not say that no evil can exceed this, nor any possible advantage compensate it; but we say that a loss, which affects all, will scarcely be made up to the common stock of human happiness by any benefit that can be procured to a single nation, which, however respectable when compared with any other single nation, bears an inconsiderable proportion to the whole. These, however, are the principles upon which the calculation is to be formed. It is enough, in this place, to remark the cause which produces the hesitation that we sometimes feel, in applying rules of personal probity to the conduct of nations.

As between individuals it is found impossible to ascertain every duty by an immediate reference to public utility, not only because such reference is oftentimes too remote for the direction of private consciences, but because a multitude of cases arise in which it is indifferent to the general interest by what rule men act, though it be absolutely neces

[ocr errors]

sary that they act by some constant and known rule or other and as, for these reasons, certain positive constitutions are wont to be established in every society, which, when established, become as obligatory as the original principles of natural justice themselves; so, likewise, it is between independent communities. Together with those maxims of universal equity which are common to states and to individuals, and by which the rights and conduct of the one as well as the other ought to be adjusted, when they fall within the scope and application of such maxims; there exists also amongst Sovereigns a system of artificial jurisprudence, under the name of the law of nations. In this code are found the rules which determine the right to vacant or newly-discovered countries; those which relate to the protection of fugitives, the privileges of ambassadors, the condition and duties of neutrality, the immunities of neutral ships, ports, and coasts, the distance from shore to which these immunities extend, the distinction between free and contraband goods, and a variety of subjects of the same kind. Concerning which examples, and indeed the principal part of what is called the jus gentium, it may be observed, that the rules derive their moral force (by which I mean the regard that ought to be paid to them by the consciences of sovereigns,) not from their internal reasonableness or justice, for many of them are perfectly arbitrary, nor yet from the authority by which they were established, for the greater part have grown insensibly into usage, without any public compact, formal acknowledg ment, or even known original; but simply from the fact of their being established, and the general duty of conforming to established rules upon questions, and between parties, where nothing but positive regulations can prevent disputes, and where disputes are followed by such destructive consequences.The first of the instances which we have just now enumerated, may be selected for the illustration of this remark. The nations of Europe consider the sovereignty of newly-discovered countries as belonging to the prince or state whose subject makes the discovery; and, in pursuance of this rule, it is usual for a navigator, who falls upon an unknown

shore, to take possession of it, in the name of his sovereign at home, by erecting his standard, or displaying his flag, upon a desert coast. Now nothing can be more fanciful, or less substantiated by any considerations of reason or justice, than the right which such discovery, or the transient occupation and idle ceremony that accompany it, confer upon the country of the discoverer. Nor can any stipulation be produced, by which the rest of the world have bound themselves to submit to this pretension. Yet when we reflect that the claims to newly-discovered countries can hardly be settled, between the different nations which frequent them, without some positive rule or other; that such claims, if left unsettled, would prove sources of ruinous and fatal contentions; that the rule already proposed, however arbitrary, possesses one principal quality of a rule-determination and certainty; above all, that it is acquiesced in, and that no one has power to substitute another, however he might contrive a better, in its place: when we reflect upon these properties of the rule, or rather upon these consequences of rejecting its authority, we are led to ascribe to it the virtue and obligation of a precept of natural justice, because we perceive in it that which is the foundation of justice itself-public importance and utility. And a prince who should dispute this rule, for the want of regularity in its formation, or of intelligible justice in its principle, and by such disputes should disturb the tranquillity of nations, and at the same time lay the foundation of future disturbances, would be little less criminal than he who breaks the public peace by a violation of engagements to which he had himself consented, or by an attack upon those national rights which are founded immediately in the law of nature, and in the first perceptions of equity. The same thing may be repeated of the rules which the law of nations prescribes in the other instances that were mentioned, namely, that the obscurity of their origin, or the arbitrariness of their principle, subtracts nothing from the respect that is due to them, when once established.

« AnteriorContinua »