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The Contemporary Review, Volume 36, September 1879

The final remedy for misgovernment


because he has not appreciated

this truth that Comte so decidedly breaks with the democratic spirit of modern times, and seeks to set up an aristocracy in the State and a monarchy in the Church. Yet the spirit of the age is, after all, too strong for him, and while he refuses to the governed any regular and legitimate way of reacting upon the powers that govern them, he recognizes that the _ultima ratio_, the final remedy for misgovernment, lies in their irregular and illegitimate action. As regards the State, he declares that "the right of insurrection is the ultimate resource with which no society should allow itself to dispense."[40] And as regards the Church he says that if "the High Priest of Humanity, supported by the body of the clergy, should go wrong, then the only remedy left would be the refusal of co-operation, a remedy which can never fail, as the priesthood rests solely on conscience and opinion, and succumbs, therefore, to their adverse sentence." The civil government, in fact, can bring the spiritual power to a dead-lock, by "suspending its stipend, for in cases of serious error, popular subscriptions would not replace it, unless on the supposition of a fanaticism scarcely compatible with the Positive faith, where there is enthusiasm for the doctrines, rather than for the teachers."[41] Comte also desiderates among the proletariate a strong reactive influence of public opinion, by which the officers, both of Church and State, are to be kept to their work. But if this is desirable, why should
the proletariate have no regular means of making their will felt? An "organic" theory of the constitution of society must surely provide every real force with a legitimate form of expression; if a social theory embodies the idea of revolution in it, it is self-condemned.

Comte's social ideal is in many respects a close reproduction of the mediaeval system, with its _regime dispersif_ of feudalism in secular politics, and its concentration of Papal authority in the Church. For him, the growth of national States to their present dimensions, and, on the other hand, the increasing division of labour in the realm of thought, are equally steps in the wrong direction. Still more strongly, if possible, does he reprobate that interference of the State with spiritual matters, such as the education of the people and its religious life, which has been the natural consequence of the failure of the mediaeval Church to maintain its old authority. Notwithstanding his worship of humanity, the idea of a "parliament of man, a federation of the world," by which all the powers of mankind should be united for the attainment of the highest material and spiritual good, has no attraction for him. To reduce the State to the dimensions of a commune, and to confine it to the care of purely material interests, is his first political proposal. France, England, and Spain (and we may now add Germany and Italy) are, in his view, "factitious aggregates without solid justification," and they will only become "free and durable States," when they are broken up into fragments, each with a population of two or three millions, and a territory not exceeding that of Belgium or Tuscany. The "West" will thus be divided into seventy republics, and the earth into five hundred, and the main work of the patriciate will be to direct and regulate the industrial life of the community; each member of the banker triumvirate, who are to be at the head of the State, having one of the great industrial departments under his special superintendence. On the other hand the unity of humanity is to be represented solely by the spiritual power, in whose hands is to be left the whole work of extending science, teaching the people, and exercising a moral censorship over all Governments and individuals. And while this spiritual power is, for practical purposes, to be strictly organized on the model of the mediaeval Church, it is also, like that Church, to remain, for scientific purposes, inorganic. In other words, it is to admit no scientific division of labour, but every one, like a mediaeval doctor, is to profess all science, adding to this the priestly office, which, with Comte, includes both the cure of souls and of bodies.


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