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Introduction to the National Series

Brownson’s Quarterly Review, January, 1864

Art. I.—Introduction to the National Series.

With this number we commence a new series of our Review. Henceforth the Review is to be national and secular, devoted to philosophy, science, politics, literature, and the general interests of civilization, especially American civilization. It ceases to be a theological Review, and though it will defend religion, and prove itself in the principles which govern it truly Christian, it will defend the special interests of the Catholic Church only as they are implied in the freedom of conscience and the religious and civil liberty of the citizen. The Editor has not changed his faith, or abated in his zeal for the Communion to which he has been warmly attached for the last twenty years, and whose doctrine and discipline he has labored as well as he could to explain and defend ; but, for reasons satisfactory to himself, he withdraws his Review from the field of theological discussion and sectarian controversy, and restricts it for the future to those great public questions and general interests of Christian civilization, which can be fully discussed without trenching upon any ground debated between Catholics and Protestants.

Christianity, as we have been taught it, embraces at once man's relations to his Creator and his relations to his fellow-men, or religion and society, and is therefore catholic in the strict and proper sense of the word. Man's social relations grow out of his relations to his Maker, and the principles on which all real civilization depends are derived from the religious order, and are inseparable from them. It is therefore never a matter of indifference, even under the point of view of civilization, what is or is not a nation's religious faith. But not every man is bound to devote himself specially to the work of settling that faith. Not every man is bound to cultivate every field that needs cultivating, and each one is at liberty to confine himself to the cultivation of his own field. We are bound to seek, and to embrace when found, the true religion for ourselves, but we are not as laymen obliged to make ourselves theological professors, or religious missionaries. Adhering firmly to what he conscientiously believes to be Christian truth, and scrupulously observing in his own life all its requirements, the layman is free to leave its public discussion and defence4 to the ministers of religion, and to confine himself to the faithful discharge of his secular duties. The civic virtues are as sacred and as obligatory as the ascetic virtues, and, indeed, no man who neglects his duties to society can perform his duties to God, for he who loves God must love his neighbor also ; and " he who says he loves God and hateth his brother is a liar, and the truth is not in him." In the Christian order which proceeds from the God-man, the human and the divine are distinguishable, indeed, but never separable.

Catholics have in this country equal rights with all other citizens, and therefore the same civic duties. Neither their Catholicity nor the fact of their being only a small minority absolves them from any civic duty, or justifies them in regarding themselves as aliens, or the country as their enemy. They are not our enemies, who, though differing from us widely in religion, yet allow and secure to us equal rights as citizens with themselves ; and it would be no compliment to our religion to show that we have no affection for a country unless we ourselves alone can govern it, and govern it in our capacity as Catholics. To us as Catholics belongs, indeed, neither the country nor its government ; but in our capacity as American citizens we have equal rights with others, and we should defend as citizens for non-Catholics the freedom which they defend for us, and feel that as citizens they and we stand on the same footing—one people, one body, one community, having the same rights and the same duties. The great questions raised by the national crisis through which we are passing cannot be solved by us in our capacity as Catholics, but are to be solved by the American people at large, in their capacity as American citizens ; and if we refuse our co-operation with them, or stand aloof from them because they are not in all respects of our religion, we not only fail in our civic duties, but prove false to that very religious liberty without which we had never had a foothold in this country. Surely it is not a matter of indifference before God, or in relation to the eternal world, whether we embrace the true religion or the false ; but he wTho will not allow before the state or civil society the same freedom for what he conscientiously believes to be a heterodox confession that he demands for what he conscientiously believes to be the orthodox communion, has not yet mastered the simplest rudiments of either civil or religious liberty. In this country all religions, not contra honos mores, are equal before the civil authority and equally under its protection, and the liberty of truth is secured by conceding equal liberty to error. The State with us is assumed to be incompetent in spirituals, and before it there are no religious differences. As American citizens we are neither Catholics nor Protestants, and none of us, in our capacity as citizens, have any right to act or to insist on our being treated as either Catholic or Protestant, Presbyterian or Methodist, Baptist or Episcopalian.

Now, laymen as we are, and having no cure of souls and no special religious vocation, we are under no obligation, civil or religious, to write or publish any thing in exposition or defence of our Church, or against any other. Nothing obliges us to continue a Catholic publicist, and we think we can best serve our country in this her hour of trial by confining ourselves, as writer or editor, to such subjects as will not require us to disturb the theological convictions or wound the religious susceptibilities of any class of American citizens. Our whole heart and soul are wrapped up in the national cause, and we are not willing to be distracted from it by controversies, which, however important in themselves, have no immediate bearing on our present and most pressing duties to American civilization. Such controversies, also, could serve only to separate us from the great body of our countrymen, and circumscribe the little influence we might, perhaps, exert in giving a proper solution to the great national questions now before the American public. We believe our most pressing duties as a publicist are now our civic duties, and these duties we can faithfully discharge only by uniting and acting as a loyal citizen in concert with the great body of our countrymen, the majority of whom are either hostile or indifferent to our religious communion. Catholics, in their capacity as Catholics, can do little for the country in the present emergency, and nothing except in their capacity as American citizens; in which capacity religious differences disappear, and no distinction obtains, but that of loyal and disloyal citizens. We believe, therefore, that as a loyal citizen, it is not only our right, but our duty, if we publish a Review at all, to make it a real American Review, devoted to the common interests of American civilization, irrespective of the religious differences that may obtain amongst Americans.

We believe such a Review as we propose to make ours hereafter, even in hands as feeble as ours, may meet a want in American periodical literature, and be of some service to the national cause. The majority of our countrymen have no good-will to our religion, but we do not believe they lack confidence in us personally, as an honest man, or as a loyal citizen. We are too old and too infirm to serve our country as a soldier in the field, and we can serve it at all only with our pen. We 'do not believe our countrymen will repel us, and greet us with a non tali auxilio. We cannot see the flower of youth, our own sons among them, rushing to the battle-field to lay down their lives for the land we love so well, without wishing to give them a word of encouragement, or uniting with our countrymen in expressing a nation's admiration of their heroism, or trying to do something to save their noble and generous sacrifices from having been in vain. The Pen has its power, and may win important victories which the Sword cannot. We believe even in our humble way we can do something for our country, and we do not believe our countrymen will refuse us the opportunity of doing so.

The military suppression of the great Rebellion against American nationality and American civilization is as yet by no means completed, and the civil suppression, after the military is completed, will prove neither less important nor less difficult. * We were, at the breaking out of the Rebellion, hardly less deficient in political science and real statesmanship than we were in military organization and experience. It is the fate of every popular government to be always unprepared for emergencies? and to be obliged to concert its measures for averting dangers after they have come. The mass of our people are loyal and patriotic, as the war has proved, and is every day proving; but we abound in politicians, not scientific statesmen, and upon all the great questions which the present troubles have raised the men we look up to as leaders have only vague, confused, and contradictory views. Even Judges of Courts, Members of Congress, Governors of States, seem to be in doubt whether the United States is a Nation, or only a Congress of Sovereign States, bound together temporarily for certain specified purposes. There is a great doubt among them as to the real constitution of the American state, or whether there is or is not an American state; what are the powers of the Federal government, what is the source whence it derives those powers which it confessedly has; whence the Federal Constitution derives its authority as the supreme law of the land; what is the War Power under it, and in whose hands it is lodged. Few among the ablest of our politicians seem to comprehend the real constitution of American Society, and the real nature of our complex system of government. Questions like these have become, in the present state of our affairs, practical questions of the most vital importance, and need a scientific solution, which few among us are prepared to give.

There are tendencies amongst us to be fostered, and tendencies to be checked, if we would retain and realize the Idea of American Civilization. We need to understand, as we have not always done, the distinction between the political people, or the people as the state, acting under and through political organization, and the people as inhabitants or population of the national territory ; and while we refuse to foster the tendency to a wild and lawless democracy, so manifest among European Democrats and American citizens of European birth or education, and which is only a tendency to the despotism of the many substituted for that of the few or the many, we need to be on our guard against that distrust of the people and popular forms of government which the Rebellion, and the difficulties met with in the conduct of the War for its suppression, are generating in many minds hitherto over-confident in the capacity of democracy to go alone. We must guard sedulously against concluding, because our experience proves that popular forms of government cannot go alone, that they cannot go at all. We need to be brought back from the insane dream of absolute democracy, which imposes no restraint on popular will, popular caprice, or popular passion, to a fuller understanding of legality or constitutional government, and to bear in mind that all government of mere will, whether the will of the one, the few, or the many, is essentially despotic, and that all free government is a government of law—that is, of reason and will combined. The constitution of the American state is admirable, the work of Providence rather than of human wisdom and sagacity, and needs no revision ; but the theories by which it has been interpreted, and which our politicians substitute in the popular mind for the constitution itself, need a thorough revision and important modifications, if wre would not in our practice wholly lose sight of the American Idea. Perhaps a thorough and impartial examination of our national constitution, from the point of view of the philosophical statesman, instead of the point of view of the petty attorney, will prove that the United States is really a nation, is really a polity, a State, not a congeries of sovereign states ; and be found to contain all the elements of powder necessary to satisfy those who want a strong government, and all the elements of liberty, needed to satisfy those who have a horror of monarchical or oligarchical despotism.  We propose, in the progress of our New Series, to discuss these points more fully than we have heretofore done, and we hope before a larger public, and if possible to do something to dissipate these doubts, and to arrive at a just understanding of the Constitution of the American state.

In Politics our Review, as heretofore, will be neither exclusively conservative, nor exclusively radical. Our philosophy is synthetic, and therefore dialectic. Conservatism seeks to retain the past, radicalism seeks to secure the future. Exclusive conservatism would cut off the nation from all future development, and confine it to what has been, which were simply national death. A nation lives only as it continues and develops its idea, which is its reason of being and its principle of life. The radical rejects the past, tramples on the graves of his ancestors, denies that he has had ancestors, scorns historical and vested rights, breaks the continuity of the nation's life, and seeks development without leaving any thing to be developed. Both the radical and the conservative are destructives. Both break the continuity of the national life; the one in favor of the past, the other in favor of the future. Where there is no progress there is no life. Progress is never a new creation, but is always in the continuous explication and realization of the national idea, or essential principle of the national existence. This principle or idea is the national soul; and when lost, either in seeking to retain what has been, or in gaining what is not, the nation is dead, as dead as the human body when the soul has fled, and is a dead, not a living nation. The law of all life, whether we speak of a particular nation or of humanity, is the law of continuity and growth. The germs of the future are always deposited by the past, and life and progress consist in developing and maturing them in the actual life of the nation. Life is in progress, and progress is the continuous development, transformation, and realization of what was contained in germ in the past. In this law conservatism and radicalism are reconciled, brought into dialectic relation, and made one.

The American Idea, or the essential as well as differential principle of American civilization, is liberty, or the rights of man, but not the rights or liberty of the Atheistic man, or man without a Creator, a Superior, a Moral Governor; therefore not liberty without authority, or rights without duties ; but liberty with authority, and authority with liberty. To deny either liberty or law is equally to deny the American Idea, and to war against the vital principle of American civilization. The false conservatives of the day err not in seeking to preserve in its purity and integrity the American Idea, but in seeking, under sanction of that Idea, to preserve abuses, anomalies, or institutions and usages repugnant to it. They are principally conservative just now in the respect that they would preserve that greatest American anomaly, Negro Slavery. But they are really destructives, because there is an innate incompatibility between slavery and the American Idea, and because they seek to preserve it at the expense of the national unity, and the continuity and development of the national life. Slavery is a violence, and contradicts alike the principle of liberty with authority and authority with liberty. Liberty with authority means that liberty is not license, but liberty regulated by law; and authority with liberty means that authority is not absolute, but must govern in accordance with liberty, or without lesion to natural justice or violence to the natural rights of man, and is bound to recognize, respect and protect them, which in permitting slavery it does not do, since slavery is the total denial of those rights. It is the greatest of all outrages upon natural justice.

That the American Idea in its developments should sooner or later come in conflict with slavery, and demand its elimination from American society, was inevitable ; for that Idea is not the rights of a race, a caste, a class, but the rights of man. Either the work of national development and progress must be brought to a c/ose, which were national death, or slavery must be eliminated. To seek to preserve it is to war against the American Idea, the fundamental and living principle of the American state and American civilization. The Slaveholding States have understood this, and therefore have seceded, rejected the American Idea, and attempted to found a new, separate, and independent nation, based on slavery as its corner-stone; that is, on the rights of a race, not on the rights of man. They had no alternative, if resolved on perpetuating Negro slavery ; for the American Idea is incompatible with slavery, an.d, unless renounced, wTould sooner or later abolish it in the New "World, as the Christian Idea had abolished it in the Old World, since, in fact, the American Idea is only the Christian Idea in the order of civilization.

To seek to develop and realize the American Idea, to clear away anomalies, to promote national progress, to confirm and advance American civilization, is not, as our Northern sympathizers with Southern Rebellion pretend, a destructive radicalism, but both the civic and the Christian duty of the American citizen, unless attempted in a disorderly way, in violation of the great principle of that civilization itself, which, as we have seen, is freedom with law, and law with freedom. The so-called Conservatives, who are intent on retaining slavery, are in reality destructives, and so are those Abolition leaders, if such there are, who would abolish slavery by unconstitutional means, or in contravention of constitutional provisions; the former by asserting law without liberty or respect to natural right, and the latter by asserting liberty without law, or due respect for vested rights. But they who, without rejecting the obligations of law or undermining authority, insist on the abolition of slavery and the recognition of the equal natural rights of all men, black or white, red, yellow, or copper-colored, of mixed or unmixed blood, are real conservatives, for they seek to preserve in its integrity the American Idea, for the future as well as for the past; they are, also, radicals in the good sense of the word, for they accept the legitimate development of the American Idea, and seek to make it a living idea, and the American nation a living, not a dead nation.

That the Abolitionists, such as William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, and others associated with them, in their zeal against slavery, forgot the Constitution and the sacred-ness of law, and were willing to destroy slavery at the expense of the American state, is possible, and has always been our conviction, and hence we have uniformly opposed them. But after all, something may be pardoned to the excesses of liberty, and it is better to err on the side of freedom than on the side of slavery. Possibly, too, what we regard as the one-sidedness of the Abolitionists was necessary to arouse the American people, engrossed as they were with material interests and the worship of Mammon, to a sense of the great crime of Negro slavery. An error on one side can sometimes be corrected only by an equal error on the other, as we see in the use of infinitesimals by the mathematician. It is possible that the Abolitionists have rendered even by their exaggerations a greater service to American civilization than we have given them credit for. The bold, earnest men who take the lead in any great movement, and struggle manfully for it against the wealth, fashion, public opinion of the day, seldom get credit for the good they do, and the world rarely suspects how much it is indebted to them. The Abolitionists have been so long decried as fanatics, incendiaries, &c, that, though we reap the harvest they sowed in tears, we find it difficult to do them justice, and to award them the honor they may have merited.

However the American people may have regarded or may still regard the Abolitionists, nothing is more certain than that they to-day instinctively regard as deficient in loyalty, as false to the American Idea, every citizen of a non-slave-holding State who still struggles against the abolition of slavery, or who does not see and admit that its abolition is essential to national unity, and the existence and progress of American civilization. There are, unquestionably, loyal men in the ranks of the Democratic party, who in the recent elections voted for its candidates, because not convinced of the disloyalty of their leaders; but nobody believes in the loyalty of the Northern man wTho repeats the old cries against Abolitionists, and denounces the anti-slavery policy finally adopted by the Administration. Every true-hearted American feels the American Idea as an elemental force of his nature, and that slavery must go, or the American Republic cease to exist. They who feel not so have no American soul, are men who have loosely adopted the American Idea, not men in whom it was born, and whose inmost life it informs.

Entertaining the firm conviction that either slavery or the nation must perish, that all attempts at compromise between the two inherently antagonistic forces will prove unavailing, and result only in disaster, or greater or less injury to the national cause, our Review, without being technically Abolitionist, will defend, as the means of ending the present national crisis, the most decided anti-slavery policy the Administration may see proper to adopt, and the more decided it is, the better, and the more heartily shall we defend it; and we shall steadily oppose the restoration of any seceded State to its former status in the Union as a slaveholding State, or without a Constitution prohibiting slavery forever within its territory, and abrogating all laws and usages which authorize it. We are in favor, as a political necessity, as well as an act of justice, of the universal and immediate abolition of slavery by Congress, which has under the war power, unless we have misread the laws of nations, the right to demand indemnity for the past and security for the future; and as security for the future it cannot only emancipate the slaves, but abolish slavery throughout the Union and the whole national territory. We are, now our hands are in and the Rebellion has given us the right and the opportunity, for making thorough work with slavery, and would finish it, so that it shall never reappear to interrupt or embarrass the onward march of American civilization.

Our Review, however, is not intended to be strictly confined to one subject, or to one class of subjects. It will study to have the usual variety of English and American Quarterly Reviews. Philosophy, politics, and general literature are, as they always have been, within its scope. It will be open to all subjects of general interest that do not involve discussions of doctrinal differences between the different creeds and confessions into which Christendom is at present divided. Books and literary works sent us will be reviewed according to their literary, intellectual, and scientific merits, not from the stand-point of theological dogma. In this respect the works of Catholic authors and non-Catholic authors will be treated alike. It is never designed that a Quarterly Review of any pretension should be a mere party publication. In politics we cannot, however, be neutral, and while we shall always claim the right to criticise with temper and moderation sich measures of the Government as we do not believe wise or just, well-timed or expedient, we shall support, even more firmly and unreservedly than we have heretofore done, the Administration, and the great loyal party now in power and conducting the war for the maintenance of the national unity and the integrity of the national territory. We shall maintain national sovereignty, bat oppose consolidation; eschew the doctrine that the States are severally sovereign, and assert States\ Eights. We are opposed to revolutions both at home and abroad, and believe that all real progress is to be effected by orderly development and growth, or realization by each nation of its own fundamental idea or essential national principle. We believe in both natural and acquired rights, and demand of Government the protection of both. We believe in religious liberty, and concede in the civil and political order the same freedom to 6ther Christian Communions that we claim for our own. But we hold that American civilization is Christian civilization, and therefore excludes all civilizations repugnant to it. We do not construe religious liberty to mean that we must protect or even tolerate manners and customs which that civilization abhors, and which would be pronounced immoral and criminal, if practised by Christians, whether Catholic or Protestant. Polygamy, for instance, is contrary to the universal sense of Christendom, and if Turks and Mormons choose to live amongst us, they must in their practice dispense with a plurality of wives. A Mormon or a Turk may believe what he pleases, but if either insists practically on having more than one wife at a time, he is punishable as a criminal. We are a Christian nation, and pertain to Christendom, and unless we choose to secede from Christendom, we must sustain Christian civilization.

Such is our new Programme. It differs very little from what has always been our Programme, aside from theology, which is simply dropped. We are not introducing ourselves to the public for the first time, and our views on most points which we shall hereafter discuss have already been published. We have grown old as a publicist, and we simply wish to be permitted to devote the brief remainder of our days, and such experience as we may have acquired, to our native land, and to the interests of American civilization. We love our country, and have faith in her future. We believe that the American people have a great destiny. We are not blincfeto their faults, we know their weaknesses, and we have freely criticised their short-comings; but wTe have been struck by their calm attitude in the present Civil War. They are carrying on one of the most formidable wars of modern times, and yet they are hardly moved in the loyal States from the routine of their ordinary life; they seem to make no effort, to feel no uneasiness, and to have not the slightest apprehension as to the result. At first we thought it stupidity, now we think it sublimity. It is the secret consciousness of a great destiny, of which they are incapable of doubting. They can carry on the War without any disarrangement, with serenity and repose. All greatness is calm, quiet, serene. It is only weakness that makes an effort. The ancients represented their gods asleep, and spread over their countenances an air of ineffable repose. So seem the American people, not as individuals, but as a body, and far more worthy of wrorship than the deified Eoma of the old Qui rites. What may not be expected from such a people ? We own ourselves proud of being one of them, and of having the right to say, "I am an American Citizen."

We cannot tell what may happen, but we believe in our country's destiny, and no military disasters can make us doubt it. Our fathers' God is with us, and, however he may chasten us, he will not abandon us till we wholly abandon ourselves. Our only earthly ambition remaining is to be permitted to contribute our mite towards settling the great questions this Rebellion has raised, in a sense accordant with the grand idea of American Civilization. But however that may be, one thing is certain—the fate of our country depends on no one man, and we can lose any man we have and find another to take his place, either in the field or the cabinet. Can such a nation fail ?