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The tendency of religious scepticism to produce political confusion was discovered by the penetrating genius of a Burke. He endeavoured to turn sceptics to sound thinking, by shewing that, if false philosophy became general, it would ultimately destroy their rank, consequence, and property. In his ironical attack upon artificial society, he purposely employs the common-place mode of unfair reasoning. He argues from incidental abuses against the several forms of political society.* Though he intentionally draws a wrong
* Godwin, in one of the first chapters of his Political Justice,' in exhibiting what he calls the history of political society, does little more than copy the ironical arguments of Burke as serious; and endeavours to prove that those oba jections, which the powerful irony of Burke demonstrates to be trivial, are unanswerable. In speaking of the frequency of war, and enumerating the instances in ancient and and modern times, he nearly repeats the very words of Burke.
War, bloodshed, and desolation; despotism, and most of the evils incident to man, Godwin seriously imputes to political scciety; and they might, he affirms, have been avoided, had men never formed political societies, but existed in what • he calls a state of nature; a state never realized in the history of man, and concerning which, consequently, we cannot reason, having neither facts nor principles.
conclusion from his statement of existing abuses, the statement itself is very eloquent, and not much overcharged. Pretending to prove that, because wars often take place between political societies, political society itself is bad, he draws a very striking and glowing picture of the horrors of war, and enters into a particular detail of the butcheries arising from the enmities of men. He gives a summary of the effects of the proceedings of Sesostris, Semiramis, and other conquerors, Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Grecian, and Roman ; the northern swarm, the Saracens, Tartars, and those of more modern times, in the bloodshed and devastation that they have caused. “ From (says he) the earliest dawnings of policy to this day, the invention of men has been sharpening and improving the mystery of murder, from the rude essays of clubs and stones, to the present perfection of gunnery, cannoneering, bombarding, mining, and all other species of artificial, learned, and refined cruelty, in which we are now so expert, and which
make a principal part of what politicians have taught us to believe is our principal glory.” He ironically imputes the evils he has detailed to political society, ‘alledging that, if men were not so associated, it would have been impossible to find numbers sufficient for such slaughters agreed in the same bloody purpose, “ How far then nature would have carried us, we may judge by the examples of those animals who still follow her laws, and even of those to whom she has given dispositions more fierce, and arms more terrible, than ever she intended we should use. It is an incontestible truth, that there is more havock made in one year, by men, of men, than has been made by all the lions, tygers, panthers, ounces, leopards, hyenas, rhinoceroses, elephants, bears, and wolves, upon their several species since the beginning of the world, though these agree ill enough with each other."
He goes over the various forms of political society, mentioning their defects; in perfect
imitation of sceptical philosophy, pulling them down, and building no other systems in their place. So complete is the irony, that to many, not acquainted with such disquisitions, he would appear to be seriously inveighing against established government. Some modern democrats might suppose that he was supporting the doctrines of one of their apostles. The following passage, among many others, very happily imitates the declamation of anarchists. “ But with respect to you, ye legislators, ye civilizers of mankind, ye Orpheuses, Moseses, Minoses, So. lons, Theseuses, Lycurguses, Numas -with respect to you, be it spoken, your regulations have done more mischief in cold blood, than all the rage of the fiercest animals, in their greatest terrors or furies, has ever done, or ever could do." These opinions so much resemble those of disorganizing speculators, that many parts of the Vindication of Natural Society against Artificial Societies, if taken seriously, as some readers might take it, would appear intended to prove speculatively what the Vindication of the Rights of
Nature, in opposition to the Usurpation of Establishment,* RECOMMENDS TO PRACTICE.
The Vindication of Natural Society displays at once the extent of the author's knowledge, in the historical statements; the versatility of his genius, in the happy imitation of Bolingbroke; and the force of his sagacity, in perceiving, though hitherto unguided by experience, the tendency of scepticism to dissolve the bands of society. This essay is evidently the production of a mind of no ordinary portion of talents, but of talents not yet quite arrived at their zenith.
His first acknowledged literary work did not meet with so great success as its ingenuity deserved. Like the paradoxes of the Vicar of Wakefield's son, it neither excited much praise nor blame: like Hume's first ef
* The reader may, perhaps, not remember this treatise. It was one of the ranting, ignorant, impudent effusions of Thelwall, in which he states that "Socrates was a democratic lecturer, and Edmund Burke a scribler."