The Ancient Regime eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 548 pages of information about The Ancient Regime.

CHAPTER III.  COMBINATION OF THE TWO ELEMENTS.

I. Birth of A doctrine, A revelation.

The doctrine, its pretensions, and its character. — A new authority for Reason in the regulation of human affairs. — Government thus far traditional.

Out of the scientific acquisitions thus set forth, elaborated by the spirit we have just described, is born a doctrine, seemingly a revelation, and which, under this title, was to claim the government of human affairs.  On the approach of 1789 it is generally admitted that man is living in “a century of light,” in “the age of Reason;” that, previously, the human species was in its infancy and that now it has attained to its “majority.”  Truth, finally, is made manifest and, for the first time, its reign on earth is apparent.  The right is supreme because it is truth itself.  It must direct all things because through its nature it is universal.  The philosophy of the eighteenth century, in these two articles of faith, resembles a religion, the Puritanism of the seventeenth century, and Islam in the seventh century.  We see the same outburst of faith, hope and enthusiasm, the same spirit of propaganda and of dominion, the same rigidity and intolerance, the same ambition to recast man and to remodel human life according to a preconceived type.  The new doctrine is also to have its scholars, its dogmas, its popular catechism, its fanatics, its inquisitors and its martyrs.  It is to speak as loudly as those preceding it, as a legitimate authority to which dictatorship belongs by right of birth, and against which rebellion is criminal or insane.  It differs, however, from the preceding religions in this respect, that instead of imposing itself in the name of God, it imposes itself in the name of Reason.

The authority, indeed, was a new one.  Up to this time, in the control of human actions and opinions, Reason had played but a small and subordinate part.  Both the motive and its direction were obtained elsewhere; faith and obedience were an inheritance; a man was a Christian and a subject because he was born Christian and subject. —­ Surrounding the nascent philosophy and the Reason which enters upon its great investigation, is a system of recognized laws, an established power, a reigning religion; all the stones of this structure hold together and each story is supported by a preceding story.  But what does the common cement consist of, and where is the basic foundation? —­ Who sanctions all these civil regulations which control marriages, testaments, inheritances, contracts, property and persons, these fanciful and often contradictory regulations?  In the first place immemorial custom, varying according to the province, according to the title to the soil, according to the quality and condition of the person; and next, the will of the king who caused the custom to be inscribed and who sanctioned it. —­

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The Ancient Regime from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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