Principles of Freedom Part 9




The discussion of freedom leads inevitably to the discussion of an appeal to arms. If proving the truth and justice of a people's claim were sufficient there would be little tyranny in the world, but a tyrannical power is deaf to the appeal of truth--it cannot be moved by argument, and must be met by force. The discussion of the ethics of revolt is, then, inevitable.


The ubiquitous pseudo-practical man, petulant and critical, will at once arise: "What is the use of discussing arms in Ireland? If anyone wanted to fight it would be impossible, and no one wants to fight. What prevents ye going out to begin?" Such peevish criticism is anything but practical, and one may ignore it; but it suggests the many who would earnestly wish to settle our long war with a swift, conclusive fight, yet who feel it no longer practical. Keeping to the practical issue, we must bear in mind a few things. Though Ireland has often fought at odds, and could do so again, it is not just now a question of Ireland poorly equipped standing up to England invincible. England will never again have such an easy battle. The point now to emphasise is this--by remaining pa.s.sive and letting ourselves drift we drift into the conflict that involves England. We must fight for her or get clear of her. There can be no neutrality while bound to her; so a military policy is an eminently practical question. Moreover, it is an urgent one: to stand in with England in any danger that threatens her will be at least as dangerous as a bold bid to break away from her. One thing above all, conditions have changed in a startling manner; England is threatened within as without; there are labour complications of all kinds of which no one can foresee the end, while as a result of another complication we find the Prime Minister of England going about as carefully protected as the Czar of Russia.[Footnote: The militant suffragette agitation.]

The unrest of the times is apt to be even bewildering. England is not alone in her troubles--all the great Powers are likewise; and it is at least as likely for any one of them to be paralysed by an internal war as to be prepared to wage an external one. This stands put clearly--we cannot go away from the turmoil and sit down undisturbed; we must stand in and fight for our own hand or the hand of someone else. Let us prepare and stand for our own. However it be, no one can deny that in all the present upheavals it is at least practical to discuss the ethics of revolt.


We can count on a minority who will see wisdom in such a discussion; it must be our aim to make the discussion effective. We must be patient as well as resolute. We are apt to get impatient and by hasty denunciation drive off many who are wavering and may be won. These are held back, perhaps, by some scruple or nervousness, and by a fine breath of the truth and a natural discipline may yet be made our truest soldiers.

Emerson, in his address at the dedication of the Soldiers' Monument, Concord, made touching reference in some such in the American Civil War.

He told of one youth he knew who feared he was a coward, and yet accustomed himself to danger, by forcing himself to go and meet it. "He enlisted in New York," says Emerson, "went out to the field, and died early." And his comment for us should be eloquent. "It is from this temperament of sensibility that great heroes have been formed." The pains we are at to make men physically fit we must take likewise to make them mentally fit. We are minutely careful in physical training, drill regulations and the rest, which is right, for thus we turn a mob into an army and helplessness into strength. Let us be minutely careful, too, with the untried minds--timid, anxious, sensitive in matters of conscience; like him Emerson spoke of, they may be found yet in the foremost fighting line, but we must have patience in pleading with them.

Here above all must we keep our balance, must we come down with sympathy to every particular. It is surely evident that it is essential to give the care we lavish on the body with equal fulness to the mind.


At the heart of the question we will be met by the religious objection to revolt. Here all scruples, timidity, wavering, will concentrate; and here is our chief difficulty to face. The right to war is invariably allowed to independent states. The right to rebel, even with just cause, is not by any means invariably allowed to subject nations. It has been and is denied to us in Ireland. We must answer objectors line by line, leading them, where it serves, step by step to our conclusions; but this is not to make freedom a mere matter of logic--it is something more.

When it comes to war we shall frequently give, not our promises, but our conclusions. This much must be allowed, however, that, as far as logic will carry, our position must be perfectly sound; yet, be it borne in mind, our cause reaches above mere reasoning--mere logic does not enshrine the mysterious touch of fire that is our life. So, when we argue with opponents we undertake to give them as good as or better than they can give, but we stake our cause on the something that is more. On this ground I argue not in general on the right of war, but in particular on the right of revolt; not how it may touch other people elsewhere ignoring how it touches us here in Ireland. A large treatise could be written on the general question, but to avoid seeming academic I will confine myself as far as possible to the side that is our concern. For obvious reasons I propose to speak as to how it affects Catholics, and let them and others know what some Catholic writers of authority have said on the matter. One thing has to be carefully made clear. It is seen in the following quotation from an eminent Catholic authority writing in Ireland in the middle of the last century, Dr.

Murray, of Maynooth: "The Church has issued no definition whatever on the question--has left it open. Many theologians have written on it; the great majority, however (so far as I have been able to examine them), pa.s.s it over in silence." (_Essays chiefly Theological_, vol. 4). This has to be kept in mind. Theologians have written, some on one side and some on the other, but the Church has left it open. I need not labour the point why it is useful to quote Catholic authorities in particular, since in Ireland an army representative of the people would be largely Catholic, and much former difficulty arose from Catholics in Ireland meeting with opposition from some Catholic authorities. It may be seen the position is delicate as well as difficult, and in writing a preliminary note one point should be emphasised. We must not evade a difficulty because it is delicate and dangerous, and we must not temporise. In a physical contest on the field of battle it is allowable to use tactics and strategy, to retreat as well as advance, to have recourse to a ruse as well as open attack; but _in matters of principle there can be no tactics, there is one straightforward course to follow, and that course must be found and followed without swerving to the end_.




When we stand up to question false authority we should first make our footing firm by showing we understand true authority and uphold it. Let us be clear then as to the meaning of the word law. It may be defined; an ordinance of reason, the aim of which is the public good and promulgated by the ruling power. Let us cite a few authorities. "A human law bears the character of law so far as it is in conformity with right reason; and in that point of view it is manifestly derived from the Eternal Law." (_Aquinas Ethicus,_ Vol. 1, p. 276.) Writing of laws that are unjust either in respect to end, author or form, St. Thomas says: "Such proceedings are rather acts of violence than laws; because St.

Augustine says: 'A law that is not just goes for no law at all.'"

(_Aquinas Ethicus_, Vol. 1, p. 292.) "The fundamental idea of all law,"

writes Balmez, "is that it be in accordance with reason, that it be an emanation from reason, an application of reason to society" (_European Civilisation_, Chap. 53). In the same chapter Balmez quotes St. Thomas with approval: "The kingdom is not made for the king, but the king for the kingdom"; and he goes on to the natural inference: "That all governments have been established for the good of society, and that this alone should be the compa.s.s to guide those who are in command, whatever be the form of government." It is likewise the view of Mill, in _Representative Government_, that the well-being of the governed is the sole object of government. It was the view of Plato before the Christian era: his ideal city should be established, "that the whole City might be in the happiest condition." (_The Republic_, Book 4.) Calderwood writes: "Political Government can be legitimately constructed only on condition of the acknowledgment of natural obligations and rights as inviolable."

(_Handbook of Modern Philosophy, Applied Ethics_, Sec. 4.) Here all schools and all times are in agreement. Till these conditions are fulfilled for us we are at war. When an independent and genuine Irish Government is established we shall yield it a full and hearty allegiance: the law shall then be in repute. We do not stand now to deny the idea of authority, but to say that the wrong people are in authority, the wrong flag is over us.


"We must overthrow the arguments that might be employed against us by the advocates of blind submission to any power that happens to be established," writes Balmez, on resistance to _De Facto_ Governments.

(_European Civilisation_, Chap. 55.) We could not be more explicit than the famous Spanish theologian. To such arguments let the following stand out from his long and emphatic reply:--"Illegitimate authority is no authority at all; the idea of power involves the idea of right, without which it is mere physical power, that is force." He writes further: "The conqueror, who, by mere force of arms, has subdued a nation, does not thereby acquire a right to its possession; the government, which by gross iniquities has despoiled entire of citizens, exacted undue contributions, abolished legitimate rights, cannot justify its acts by the simple fact of its having sufficient strength to execute these iniquities." There is much that is equally clear and definite. What extravagant things can be said on the other side by people in high places we know too well. Balmez in the same book and chapter gives an excellent example and an excellent reply: "Don Felix Amat, Archbishop of Palmyra, in the posthumous work ent.i.tled _Idea of the Church Militant_, makes use of these words: 'Jesus Christ, by His plain and expressive answer, _Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's_, has sufficiently established that the mere fact of a government's existence is sufficient for enforcing the obedience of subjects to it....' His work was forbidden at Rome," is Balmez' expressive comment, and he continues, "and whatever may have been the motives for such a prohibition, we may rest a.s.sured that, in the case of a book advocating such doctrines, every man who is jealous of his rights might acquiesce in the decree of the Sacred Congregation." So much for _De Facto_ Government. It is usurpation; by being consummated it does not become legitimate. When its decrees are not resisted, it does not mean we accept them in principle--nor can we even pretend to accept them--but that the hour to resist has not yet come. It is the strategy of war.


We stand on the ground that the English Government in Ireland is founded in usurpation and as such deny its authority. But if it be argued, a.s.suming it as Ireland's case, that a usurped authority, gradually acquiesced in by the people, ultimately becomes the same as legitimate, the reply is still clear. For ourselves we meet the a.s.sumption with a simple denial, appealing to Irish History for evidence that we never acquiesced in the English Usurpation. But to those who are not satisfied with this simple denial, we can point out that even an authority, originally founded legitimately, may be resisted when abusing its power to the ruin of the Commonwealth. We still stand on the ground that the English government is founded in usurpation, but we can dispose of all objections by proving the extremer case. This is the case Dr. Murray, already quoted, discusses. "The question," he writes, "is about resistance to an established and legitimate government which abuses its power." (_Essays, Chiefly Theological_, Vol. 4.) He continues: "The common opinion of a large number of our theologians, then, is that it is lawful to resist by force, and if necessary to depose, the sovereign ruler or rulers, in the extreme--the very extreme--case wherein the following conditions are found united:

"1. The tyranny must be excessive--intolerable.

"2. The tyranny must be manifest, manifest to men of good sense and right feeling.

"3. The evils inflicted by the tyrant must be greater than those which would ensue from resisting and deposing him.

"4. There must be no other available way of getting rid of the tyranny except by recurring to the extreme course.

"5. There must be a moral certainty of success.

"6. The revolution must be one conducted or approved by the community at large ... the refusal of a small party in the State to join with the overwhelming ma.s.s of their countrymen would not render the resistance of the latter unlawful." (_Essays, Chiefly Theological_; see also Rickaby, _Moral Philosophy_, Chap. 8, Sec. 7.)

Some of these conditions are drawn out at much length by Dr. Murray. I give what is outstanding. How easily they could fit Irish conditions must strike anyone. I think it might fairly be said that our leaders generally would, if asked to lay down conditions for a rising, have framed some more stringent than these. It might be said, in truth, of some of them that they seem to wait for more than a moral certainty of success, an absolute certainty, that can never be looked for in war.


When a government through its own iniquity ceases to exist, we must, to establish a new government on a true and just basis, go back to the origin of Civil Authority. No one argues now for the Divine Right of Kings, but in studying the old controversy we get light on the subject of government that is of all time. To the conception that kings held their power immediately from G.o.d, "Suarez boldly opposed the thesis of the initial sovereignty of the people; from whose consent, therefore, all civil authority immediately sprang. So also, in opposition to Melanchthon's theory of governmental omnipotence, Suarez _a fortiori_ admitted the right of the people to depose those princes who would have shown themselves unworthy of the trust reposed in them." (De Wulf, _History of Medieval Philosophy,_ Third Edition, p. 495.) Suarez'

refutation of the Anglican theory, described by Hallam as clear, brief, and dispa.s.sionate, has won general admiration. Hallam quotes him to the discredit of the English divines: "For this power, by its very nature, belongs to no one man but to a mult.i.tude of men. This is a certain conclusion, being common to all our authorities, as we find by St.

Thomas, by the Civil laws, and by the great canonists and casuists; all of whom agree that the prince has that power of law-giving which the people have given him. And the reason is evident, since all men are born equal, and consequently no one has a political jurisdiction over another, nor any dominion; nor can we give any reason from the nature of the thing why one man should govern another rather than the contrary."

(Hallam--_Literature of Europe_, Vol. 3, Chap. 4.) Dr. Murray, in the essay already quoted, speaks of Sir James Mackintosh as the ablest Protestant writer who refuted the Anglican theory, which Mackintosh speaks of as "The extravagance of thus representing obedience as the only duty without an exception." Dr. Murray concludes his own essay on _Resistance to the Supreme Civil Power_ by a long pa.s.sage from Mackintosh, the weight and wisdom of which he praises. The greater part of the pa.s.sage is devoted to the difficulties even of success and emphasising the terrible evils of failure. In what has already been written here I have been at pains rather to lay bare all possible evils than to hide them. But when revolt has become necessary and inevitable, then the conclusion of the pa.s.sage Dr. Murray quotes should be endorsed by all: "An insurrection rendered necessary by oppression, and warranted by a reasonable probability of a happy termination, is an act of public virtue, always environed with so much peril as to merit admiration."

Yes, and given the happy termination, the right and responsibility of establishing a new government rest with the body of the people.


We come, then, to this conclusion, that government is just only when rightfully established and for the public good; that usurpation not only may but ought to be resisted; that an authority originally legitimate once it becomes habitually tyrannical may be resisted and deposed; and that when from abuse or tyranny a particular government ceases to exist, we have to re-establish a true one. It is sometimes carelessly said, "Liberty comes from anarchy," but this is a very dangerous doctrine. It would be nearer truth to say from anarchy inevitably comes tyranny. Men receive a despot to quell a mob. But when a people, determined and disciplined, resolve to have neither despotism nor anarchy but freedom, then they act in the light of the Natural Law. It is well put in the doctrine of St. Thomas, as given by Turner in his _History of Philosophy_ (Chap. 38): "The redress to which the subjects of a tyrant have a just right must be sought, not by an individual, but by an authority temporarily const.i.tuted by the people and acting according to law." Yes, and when wild and foolish people talk hysterically of our defiance of all authority, let us calmly show we best understand the basis of Authority--which is Truth, and most highly reverence its presiding spirit--which is Liberty.

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