The Ancient Regime eBook

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

and, as in the worst community force always, in some respects, is at the service of right, so, in the worst religion, the extravagant dogma always in some fashion proclaims a supreme architect. —­ Religions and communities, accordingly, disintegrated under the investigating process, disclose at the bottom of the crucible, some residue of truth, others a residue of justice, a small but precious balance, a sort of gold ingot of preserved tradition, purified by Reason, and which little by little, freed from its alloys, elaborated and devoted to all usage, must solely provide the substance of religion and all threads of the social warp.

V. THE DREAM OF A RETURN TO NATURE.

The second stage, a return to nature. — Diderot, d’Holbach and the materialists. — Theory of animated matter and spontaneous organization. — The moral of animal instinct and self-interest properly understood.

Here begins the second philosophic expedition.  It consists of two armies:  the first composed of the encyclopedists, some of them skeptics like d’Alembert, others pantheists like Diderot and Lamarck, the second open atheists and materialists like d’Holbach, Lamettrie and Helvétius, and later Condorcet, Lalande and Volney, all different and independent of each other, but unanimous in regarding tradition as the common enemy.  As a result of prolonged hostilities the parties become increasingly exasperated and feel a desire to be master of everything, to push the adversary to the wall, to drive him out of all his positions.  They refuse to admit that Reason and tradition can occupy and defend the same citadel together; as soon as one enters the other must depart; henceforth one prejudice is established against another prejudice. —­ In fact, Voltaire, “the patriarch, does not desire to abandon his redeeming and avenging God;"[13] let us tolerate in him this remnant of superstition on account of his great services; let us nevertheless examine this phantom in man which he regards with infantile vision.  We admit it into our minds through faith, and faith is always suspicious.  It is forged by ignorance, fear, and imagination, which are all deceptive powers.  At first it was simply the fetish of savages; in vain have we striven to purify and aggrandize it; its origin is always apparent; its history is that of a hereditary dream which, arising in a rude and doting brain, prolongs itself from generation to generation, and still lasts in the healthy and cultivated brain.  Voltaire wanted that this dream should be true because, otherwise, he could not explain the admirable order of the world.  Since a watch suggests a watchmaker he had firstly to prove that the world is a watch and, then see if the half-finished arrangement, such as it is and which we have observed, could not better be explained by a simpler theory, more in conformity with experience, that of eternal matter in which motion is eternal.  Mobile and

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The Ancient Regime from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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