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GUERNSEY & JERSEY MAGAZINE.
DESTRUCTIVES AND CONSERVATIVES.
FALLACIES of language are among the most formidable enemies to the progress of truth. For since language is the medium, by which ideas are communicated from one man to another, it is essential, to avoid uncertainty and dispute in argumentation, that the same definite meaning should be invariably attached to the same expression. Controversialists, who neglect this precaution, are frequently hurried beyond the bounds of sound reasoning, and after arguing with warmth upon what they imagine to be a difference of vast importance, they discover, upon cool reflection, that they have been engaged in a mere verbal dispute. Words are but the representatives of ideas, as bank notes are the representatives of wealth ; both are simply signs, and not the things signified : so that forgery may be committed in language, as well as in commerce.
It is the glory and boast of those who pursue mathematical science, that the study of it gives rise to none of those angry and interminable disputes which flow out of the discussion of politics, or the investigation of morals. Demonstration is the very essence of mathematics, and, as the accuracy or falsehood of every proposition is determined by fixed and acknowledged data, no theory or system, however plausible, can hope to receive encouragement, unless supported by solid and substantial argument. The science is in no respect speculative; it addresses itself to the judgment, not to the passions; it admits of no conjectures or surmises ; on the contrary, all is certainty and fact. “An oval is never mistaken for a circle, nor an hyperbola for an ellipsis. The isoceles and scalenum are distinguished by boundaries, more exact than vice or virtue, right or wrong.
Mr. Locke, however, maintained, that morality was ás capable of demonstration as mathematics, and he was of opinion that the obscurity which prevailed in the discussion of it, was to be attributed solely to the abuse and imperfections of language. Towards the conclu
* Hume's Essays.
Vol. I.-No, 4.
sion of the ninth chapter of the third book on the Human Understanding, he thus expresses himself :
“I must confess, that when I first began this discourse on the understanding, and a good while after, I had not the least thought that any consideration of words was at all necessary to it. But when, having passed over the origin and composition of our ideas, I began to examine the extent and certainty of our knowledge, I found it had so near a connexion with words, that unless their force and manner of signification were first well observed, there could be very little said clearly and pertinently concerning knowledge, which, being conversant about truth, had constantly to do with propositions, and though it terminated in things, yet it was for the most part so much by the intervention of words, that they seemed scarce separable from our general knowledge—at least, they interpose themselves so much between our understandings and the truth, which it would contemplate and apprehend, that, like the medium, through which visible objects pass, their obscurity and disorder does not seldom cast a mist before our eyes, and impose upon our understanding. If we consider in the fallacies men put upon themselves, as well as upon others, and the mistakes in men's disputes and notions, how great a part is owing to words, and their uncertain and mistaken signification, we shall have reason to think this is no small obstacle in the way to knowledge, which, I conclude, we are the more carefully to be warned of, because it has so far from being taken notice of, as an inconveniency, that the arts of improving it have been made the business of men's study, and obtained the reputation of subtlety and learning. But I am apt to imagine, that, were the imperfections of language, as the instrument of knowledge, more thoroughly weighed, a great many of the controversies which make such a noise in the world, would of themselves cease, and the way to knowledge, and perhaps peace too, lie a great deal opener than it now does."
After a few more general remarks on the vagueness of language, Mr. Locke proceeds in the following manner :-“Men having been accustomed from their cradles to learn words, which are easily got and retained, before they knew or had framed the compler ideas, to which they were annexed, or which were found to be in the things they were thought to stand for, usually continued to do so all their lives, and without taking the pains necessary to settle in their minds determined ideas, they use their words for such unsteady and confused notions as they have, contenting themselves with the same words which other people use, as if their very sound necessarily carried with it constantly the same meaning. This, though men make a shift with in the ordinary occurrences of life, wher they find it necessary to be understood, and therefore they make signs till they are so ; yet this insignificancy in their words, when they come to reason, either concerning their tenets or their interests, manifestly fills their discourse with abundance of empty unintelligible noise and jargon,
especially in moral matters, where the words, for the most part, standing for arbitrary and numerous collections of ideas not regularly and permanently united in nature, their bare sounds are often only thought on, or, at least, very obscure and uncertain notions are annexed to them. Men take the words they find in use among their neighbours, and that they may not seem ignorant of what they stand for, use them confidently, without much troubling their heads about a certain fixed meaning ; whereby, besides the ease of it, they obtain this advantage, that, as in such discourses they are seldom in the right, so they are as seldom to be convinced that they were in the wrong; it being all one to go about to draw those men out of their mistakes, who have no settled notions, as to dispossess a vagrant of his habitation, who has no settled abode."
The experience of every individual furnishes daily proofs of the justness of these remarks. “What is orthodoxy," enquired a young lady of Bishop Warburton. “Orthodoxy,” answered the prelate, “is my doxy; and heterodoxy is another man's doxy." Yet how much blood has that word spilt ; how many dungeons has it crowded with captives ; how many families has it involved in misery! What opposite notions have been attached to the word luxury. The ascetic bigot considers it to denote sin and vice; the political economist, to imply usefulness and virtue. What words are more vague in their signification than “gentleman" and "respectability.” Nothing, indeed, would be easier than to multiply examples of the uncertainty of language.
After Earl Grey had purified the House of Commons of the boroughmongers, the old watchwords of party, whig and tory, were almost totally superseded by the new terms of destructive and conservative. The modern phraseology is, beyond a doubt, much more expressive than the ancient : indeed, a whig was usually defined to be a tory out of place; but there can be no mistake about the operative meaning of the appellatives, destructive and conservative. The only question is, which of the two parties is most aptly characterized by these new terms ? We all know that the oligarchy and the old boroughmongers affect to monopolize all the public virtue of the country, and now claim for themselves the title of conservatives ; but it may be well to examine the value of their pretensions.
During the long period that this party was in power, they strenuously resisted every measure invoked by humanity or demanded by justice. They voted against the emancipation of the negro : they refused to admit the Roman Catholics within the pale of the constitution : they spurned the petitions of the dissenters, and maintained in full vigour the test and corporation acts : and to crown their political offences, they not only opposed the slightest reform in the representative system, but their leader declared insúltingly to the whole public, that the wit of man could contrive nothing so constitutionally perfect, as the principle of rotten bo
roughs. These facts are matter of history: they will never be forgotten, but will rise up in judgment against the hypocritical impostors who dare to brand their opponents with the epithet of destructives.
The laws and institutions of all countries, being the work of men, necessarily partake of the imperfection of humanity, and therefore constantly require revision. The whig or radical party acknowledge this principle, and are determined to carry it out into full practical effect. They desire to march with the spirit of the age, and accommodate all political institutions to the altered condition of society. They know that if a nation becomes stationary, it will soon retrograde; consequently, they are solicitous to aid the onward movement of civilization by reforming flagrant abuses, and unloosening the chains of usage and prejudice. Surely, then, the whigs and radicals are the true and genuine conservative party, and their opponents the true and genuine destructive party.
The old boroughmongering faction thought, that they had made a grand hit, when their journalists coined the word “conservative.” They knew it would tell among the timid, the imbecile, and the ignorant. If the liberals proposed to strengthen the church by abolishing pluralities, commuting tithes, or equalizing the distribution of the ecclesiastical revenues, they were rabidly denounced as destructives, and enemies to religion. If the liberals proposed to lower the duties on foreign corn, then of course they intended to destroy the working farmer ; for, be it observed, this impudent sophism was conservative of the grinding rents of the oligarchy. If the liberals demanded a revision of the pension list, then were they denounced as destroyers of vested interests. If the liberals asked for some modification of the criminal code, or of the law of debtor and creditor, or for such change in the system of legal proceedings, as would render justice speedy and cheap of attainment, then indeed they were about to destroy the very pillars of the constitution. By such mean arts and base calumny have the successors of Earl Grey been assailed, and they have had their effect in some few county elections, where the ignorant and unreflecting voters have been deluded by a fallacy of language ; but these momentary triumphs, in isolated spots, are no indications of the sterling and manly good sense of the enlightened and educated people of England.
If we substitute ideas for words, and sense for sound, we ascertain that a conservative is a weak, timid, well-meaning, but rather imbecile creature, who fears changes because his penetration is too contracted to see consequences, and who has not courage to redress a known evil. A genuine tory is he, who perfectly sees the result, and very correctly anticipates from reform, that his own reign of power and plunder will be cut short; and, that he will be allowed no longer to fatten upon the public ; therefore, under the assumed name of conservative, which, he hopes, will serve as a disguise, the genuine tory opposes reform. The
former character describes that section of society, who, if they had the sway, would put a stop to all improvement in education, science, and government; because, such improvements would be changes and innovations, and because their imbecility would not be able to determine the consequences of such changes. The latter character describes those who would, if they had the power, destroy the liberty of the press, and reduce every inhabitant of the United Kingdom to the level of a Russian serf.
The motto of toryism and conservatism is “Stand still :" the motto of whiggism and radicalism is “Move forward.” The one party act on the stationary system : the other party adopt the progressively advancing system. The former resist the spirit of the age : the latter act in accordance with its dictates. Is it not then palpably evident that the measures of the whigs are the real conservative measures, and that the policy of the tories is the real destructive policy? By conceding the just claims of the people, the whigs have averted a revolution : whereas, had the tories remained in power, after the memorable eulogium pronounced by the Duke of Wellington on rotten boroughs, a political convulsion was inevitable. The principles of toryism are essentially exclusive and friendly to monopoly: those principles cannot co-exist with encreasing education : had a struggle ensued, the bayonet would have met the mind and intellect of the people in the field, and brute force must ultimately have succumbed to knowledge. To the very verge of this dire conflict, the tories had goaded an exasperated people ; from this imminent danger the clear sense of the king rescued the nation, by discarding from his councils the tory faction, and confiding the helm of government to Earl Grey, whose memory will be reverenced by generations yet unborn among the proudest and dearest recollections of national liberty.
We have endeavoured in preceding numbers of this Magazine to establish, in a plain and popular form, the fundamental principles of government, insisting that they all flow out of natural law. If the opinions we have put forward be correct, then political science can be reduced into a system, and be freed from the fallacies of language. What does it signify, whether you call a man a cavalier, or a roundhead : whig, or a tory -a conservative or a destructive ?-provided you affix a precise meaning to this political nomenclature. What the people are interested in, are sound and substantial acts, not empty words; and if the measures of a statesman produce the greatest happiness of the greatest number, he alone is worthy of public confidence, no matter in what cognomen he rejoices. There is, however, a fashion in language : a person who bears the name of Smith or Tayler is not esteemed so highly by the vulgar, as he who is called Fitzroy or Cavendish. On this point, the gullibility of the English is truly wonderful: the shadow alone attracts and rivets attention ;—the substance is utterly neglected. You have only to say that the church is in danger, and the poor dupes anticipate the destruction of