The Promise of American Life eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 523 pages of information about The Promise of American Life.

The rulers of the continental states in the eighteenth century explained and excused every important action they took by what was called “La Raison d’Etat”—­that is, by reasons connected with the public safety which justified absolute authority and extreme measures.  But as a matter of fact this absolute authority, instead of being confined in its exercise to matters in which the public safety was really concerned, was wasted and compromised chiefly for the benefit of a trivial domestic policy and a merely dynastic foreign policy.  At home the exercise of absolute authority was not limited to matters and occasions which really raised questions of public safety.  In their foreign policies the majority of the states had little idea of the necessary and desirable limits of their own aggressive power.  Those limits were imposed from without; and when several states could combine in support of an act of international piracy, as in the case of the partition of Poland, Europe could not be said to have any effective system of public law.  The partition of Poland, which France could and should have prevented, was at once a convincing exposure of the miserable international position to which France had been reduced by the Bourbons, and the best possible testimony to the final moral bankruptcy of the political system of the eighteenth century.



In 1789 the bombshell of the French Revolution exploded under this fabric of semi-national and semi-despotic, but wholly royalist and aristocratic, European political system.  For the first time in the history of European nations a national organization and tradition was confronted by a radical democratic purpose and faith.  The two ideas have been face to face ever since; and European history thereafter may, in its broadest aspect, be considered as an attempt to establish a fruitful relation between them.  In the beginning it looked as if democracy would, so far as it prevailed, be wholly destructive of national institutions and the existing international organization.  The insurgent democrats sought to ignore and to eradicate the very substance of French national achievement.  They began by abolishing all social and economic privileges and by framing a new polity based in general upon the English idea of a limited monarchy, partial popular representation, and equal civil rights; but, carried along by the momentum of their ideas and incensed by the disloyalty of the king and his advisers and the threat of invasion they ended by abolishing royalty, establishing universal suffrage and declaring war upon every embodiment, whether at home or abroad, of the older order.  The revolutionary French democracy proclaimed a creed, not merely subversive of all monarchical and aristocratic institutions, but inimical to the substance and the spirit of nationality.  Indeed it did not perceive any essential distinction between

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The Promise of American Life from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.