There is the power of moods, each setting at naught all but its own tissue of facts and beliefs. There is the power of complexions, obviously modifying the dispositions and sentiments. The beliefs and unbeliefs appear to be structural; and, as soon as each man attains the poise and vivacity which allow the whole machinery to play, he will not need extreme examples, but will rapidly alternate all opinions in his own life. Our life is March weather, savage and serene in one hour. We go forth austere, dedicated, believing in the iron links of Destiny, and will not turn on our heel to save our life; but a book, or a bust, or only the sound of a name, shoots a spark through the nerves, and we suddenly believe in will: my finger-ring shall be the seal of Solomon: fate is for imbeciles: all is possible to the resolved mind. Presently, a new experience gives a new turn to our thoughts: common sense resumes its tyranny: we say, “Well, the army, after all, is the gate to fame, manners, and poetry: and, look you,—on the whole, selfishness plants best, prunes best, makes the best commerce, and the best citizen.” Are the opinions of a man on right and wrong, on fate and causation, at the mercy of a broken sleep or an indigestion? Is his belief in God and Duty no deeper than a stomach evidence? And what guaranty for the permanence of his opinions? I like not the French celerity,—a new church and state once a week.—This is the second negation; and I shall let it pass for what it will. As far as it asserts rotation of states of mind, I suppose it suggests its own remedy, namely, in the record of larger periods. What is the mean of many states; of all the states? Does the general voice of ages affirm any principle, or is no community of sentiment discoverable in distant times and places? And when it shows the power of self-interest, I accept that as a part of the divine law, and must reconcile it with aspiration the best I can.
Because we shall be free, does it follow that we shall cease to act? Because we shall not receive our motive power from the law, does it follow that we shall be devoid of motive power? Because the law will confine itself to guaranteeing us the free exercise of our faculties, does it follow that our faculties will be paralyzed? Because the law will not impose upon us forms of religion, modes of association, methods of education, rules for labor, regulations of trade, or plans for charity, does it follow that we shall forthwith plunge into atheism, isolation, ignorance, poverty, and selfishness? Does it follow that we shall no longer be able to recognize the power and goodness of God, to associate with one another, to aid one another, to love and succour our unfortunate brethren, to study the secrets of Nature, and to aspire to perfect ourselves?
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And, in all sincerity, can anything more be asked of the law? Can the law, having force as a necessary sanction, be reasonably employed for anything else than safeguarding the rights of everyone? I question whether the law may be extended beyond this domain without turning it, and consequently without turning force, against human rights. And as this is the most disastrous, the most illogical social disturbance imaginable, we must recognize clearly that the true solution, so much sought after, of the social problem is comprised in these simple words:
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But forasmuch as the strength or weakness of a fortress is always measured by the estimate and counterpoise of the forces that attack it—for a man might reasonably enough despise two culverins, that would be a madman to abide a battery of thirty pieces of cannon—where also the greatness of the prince who is master of the field, his reputation, and the respect that is due unto him, are also put into the balance, there is danger that the balance be pressed too much in that direction. And it may happen that a man is possessed with so great an opinion of himself and his power, that thinking it unreasonable any place should dare to shut its gates against him, he puts all to the sword where he meets with any opposition, whilst his fortune continues; as is plain in the fierce and arrogant forms of summoning towns and denouncing war, savoring so much of barbarian pride and insolence, in use amongst the Oriental princes, and which their successors to this day do yet retain and practise. And in that part of the world where the Portuguese subdued the Indians, they found some states where it was a universal and inviolable law amongst them that every enemy overcome by the king in person, or by his lieutenant, was out of composition, both of ransom and mercy.