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The Contemporary Review, Volume 36, September 1879

When government ceases to be despotic


To

criticize the details of this scheme seems to be unnecessary after what has been already said. It is not to be denied that the division of Church and State in the Middle Age was a most important and even necessary condition of progress. Christianity could never have been impressed upon the minds of men, if its concrete application and development had been too rapid. The essential condition of such development was that men should not concern themselves too prematurely with it. For the consequences of a moral and religious principle cannot be reached by direct logical deductions; it is like a living germ, in which, by no analysis or dissection, you can discover the lineaments of the future plant. To know what it really is, or involves, you must plant it in the minds of men, and let it grow. Hence the mediaeval Church was strong in its weakness, and it was its very victories over the temporal power that were its greatest danger. It became corrupt and lost its hold upon the minds of men, just when it seemed to have established its right to an absolute supremacy. Comte, following De Maistre, attaches great importance to the position of the Popes as arbiters between the Sovereigns and nations of mediaeval Europe. But he forgets that, in claiming and maintaining this position the Popes were distinctly ceasing to be a spiritual power, if it be the function of a spiritual power to inculcate principles rather than to use them to solve present difficulties. A power interfering in this way
with the immediate struggle of interests, could not but be invaded by the passions they excite, and it was the more certain to be corrupted by these passions, because it conceived them to be evil, and pretended altogether to renounce them. The mediaeval authority of the Church might have its value, as an anticipation of the peaceful federation of the nations under one supreme Government, but it was at the same time the first step towards the erasing of the distinction between the temporal and the spiritual power.

The truth seems to be that the distinction, of secular and spiritual powers, except in the sense already indicated, is essentially irrational, and that the attempt to realise it in practice must involve, as it did involve in the Middle Ages, a continual internecine struggle. To set up two regularly constituted powers face to face with each other, one claiming man's allegiance in the name of his spiritual, and the other in the name of his temporal, interests, is to organize anarchy. So long as man's body and soul are inseparable, it will be impossible to divide the world between Caesar and God; for in one point of view all is Caesar's, and in another all is God's. In the Middle Ages the conflict of two despotisms was necessary to the growth of freedom; but, when government ceases to be despotic, the need for such division of power passes away. The relative separation between the speculative and the practical classes--between the scientific and moral teachers of mankind, on the one hand, and the statesmen or administrators who have to discover what immediate changes in the organization of life have become necessary, on the other--is a division of labour which can surely be attained without breaking up the unity of the social body. It is not desirable that the philosopher, or priest, or man of science, should be king--and we may even acknowledge that if he were king he would probably


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