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The Double Garden
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IT seems that gradually all is tending with one accord to prove that the last truths are at the extreme points of thoughts which man has hitherto refused to explore. This may be stated with regard to both moral and positive science; nor is there any reason against adding to these the science of politics, which is only a prolongation of moral science.
For centuries, mankind has, in a measure, lived in a half-way house. A thousand prejudices and, above all, the enormous prejudices of religion hid from it the summits of its reason and of its feelings. Now that the greater number of the artificial mountains that rose between its eyes and the real horizon of its mind have, in a marked manner, subsided, it takes stock at once of itself, of its position in the midst of the worlds and of the aim which it wishes to attain. It is beginning to understand that all that does not go as far as the logical conclusions of its intelligence is but a useless game by the way-side. It says to itself that it will have to cover to-morrow the road which it did not travel to-day and that, in the meantime, by thus wasting its time between every stage, it has nothing to gain but a little delusive peace.
It is written in our nature that we are extreme beings; that is our force and the cause of our progress. We necessarily and instinctively fly to the utmost limits of our being. We do not feel ourselves to live and we are unable to organize a life that shall satisfy us, except upon the confines of our possibilities. Thanks to that self-enlightening instinct, there is a more and more unanimous tendency to stop no longer at intermediate solutions, to avoid henceforth all half-way experiments or at least to hurry through them as rapidly as possible.
This does not mean that our tendency towards extremes is enough to guide us to definite certainties. There are always two extremes between which we have to choose; and it is often difficult to decide which is the starting-point and which the final goal. In morals, for instance, we have to choose between absolute egotism or altruism and in politics between the best-organized government that it is possible to imagine, directing and protecting the smallest acts of our life, or the absence of all government. The two questions are still insoluble. Nevertheless, we are free to believe that absolute altruism is more extreme and nearer to our end than absolute egotism, in the same way as anarchy is more extreme and nearer to the perfection of our kind than the most minutely and irreproachably organized government, such as, for instance, one might imagine to prevail at the last limits of integral socialism. We are free to believe this, because absolute altruism and anarchy are the extreme forms that demand the most perfect man. Now it is towards perfect man that we must turn our gaze; for it is in that direction that we must hope that mankind is moving. Experience still shows that we risk less by keeping our eyes before us than by keeping them behind us, less by looking too high than by not looking high enough. All that we have obtained so far has been announced and, so to speak, called forth by those who were accused of looking too high. It is wise, therefore, when in doubt, to attach one's self to the extreme that implies the most perfect, the most noble and the most generous form of mankind. Thus it was that this reply could be given to one who asked whether it were well to grant to men, in spite of their present imperfections, the most complete possible liberty:
"Yes, it is the duty of all whose thoughts go before the inconscient mass to destroy all that trammels the liberty of men, as if all men deserved to be free, even though we know that they will not deserve to be so until long after their deliverance. The harmonious use of liberty is acquired only by a long misuse of its benefits. By proceeding at the first to the most distant and highest ideal we have the greatest chance of afterwards discovering the best."
And what is true of liberty is also true of the other rights of man.
In order to apply this principle to universal suffrage, let us recall the political evolution of modern nations. It follows a uniform and inflexible curve. One by one, these nations escape from tyranny. A more or less aristocratic or plutocratic government, elected by a restricted suffrage, replaces the autocrat. This government, in its turn, makes way, or is almost everywhere on the point of making way for the government of all by universal suffrage. Where will the latter end ? Will it bring us back to tyranny? Will it turn into a graduated suffrage? Will it become a sort of mandarinate, the government of a chosen few, or an organized anarchy? We can not yet tell, no nation having hitherto gone beyond the phase of the suffrage of all.
Almost everywhere, in obedience to the now so active law that carries us to extremes, men are hurrying along at full speed the sooner to reach what appears to be the last political ideal of the nations, universal suffrage. Since this ideal still completely masks the better ideal that probably lies hidden behind it and since it does not appear what it perhaps is, a provisional solution, it will, until we have exhausted all the illusions which it contains, hold the gaze and wishes of humanity. It is the necessary goal, good or bad, towards which the nations are advancing. It is indispensable to the instinctive justice of the mass that the evolution should be accomplished. Anything that trammels it is but an ephemeral obstacle. Anything that pretends to improve that ideal before it has been attained drives it back towards the error of the past. Like every universal and imperious ideal, like every ideal formed in the depth of anonymous life, it has first of all the right to see itself realized. If, after its realization, it should become apparent that the ideal does not fulfil its promise, it will then be meet that we should think of perfecting or replacing it. In the meantime, this fact is inscribed in the instinct of the mass, as indestructibly as in bronze, that all nations have the natural right to pass through this phase of the political evolution of the human polyplet and, each in its turn, each in its own language, with its particular virtues and faults, to interrogate the possibilities of happiness which it brings.
That is why, full of the duty of living, this ideal is most justly jealous, intolerant and unreasonable. Like every youthful organism, it violently eliminates all that can impair the purity of its blood. It is possible that the elements borrowed from monarchy and aristocracy which men endeavour to introduce into its adolescent veins are excellent in themselves; but they are injurious to it because they inoculate it with the ill of which it has first to be cured. Before the government of all can be made wiser, more limpid and more harmonious by the admixture of other systems, it must have purified itself by its own fermentation. After it has rid itself of every trace, of every memory of the past, after it has reigned in the certainty and integrity of its force, then will be the time to invite it to choose in the past that which concerns its future. It will take of this according to its natural appetite, which, like the natural appetite of every living being, knows with a sure knowledge what is indispensable to the mystery of life.
The nations are right therefore in provisionally rejecting that which is, perhaps, better than universal suffrage. It is possible that the crowd will eventually admit that the more highly intelligent discern and govern the common weal better than the others. It will then grant them a lawful preponderance. For the moment, it does not give them a thought. It has not had time to learn to know itself. It has not had time to exhaust experiments which appear absurd, but which are necessary because they clear the place in which the last truths without doubt lie hidden.
It is with nations as with individuals: that which tells is what they learn by themselves, at their own cost; and their mistakes form the heritage of the future. It serves no purpose to say to a man in his childhood or in his youth:
"Do not lie, do not deceive, cause no suffering."
Those precepts of wisdom, which are at the same time precepts of happiness, do not impress him, do not feed his thoughts, do not become beneficent realities until after the moment when life has revealed them to him as new and magnificent truths which no one ever suspected. In the same way, it is useless to repeat to a nation that is seeking out its destiny:
"Do not believe that the multitude is right, that a lie stated by a hundred mouths ceases to be a lie, that an error proclaimed by a band of blind men becomes a truth which nature will sanction. Do not believe, either, that, by setting yourselves to the number of ten thousand who do not know against one who knows, you will come to know anything, or that you will compel the humblest of the eternal laws to follow you, to abandon him who recognized it.
No, the law will remain in its place, with the wise man who discovered it, and so much the worse for you if you go away without accepting it! You will one day come across it on your road, and all that you have done while you thought that you were avoiding it will turn and rise up against you."
Such words as these, addressed to the crowd, are very true; but it is no less true that all this becomes efficacious only after it has been experienced and lived through. In those problems in which all life's enigmas converge, the crowd which is wrong is almost always justified as against the wise man who is right. It refuses to believe him on his word. It feels dimly that behind the most evident abstract truths there are numberless living truths which no brain can foresee, for they need time, reality and men's passions to develop their work. That is why, whatever warning we may give it, whatever prediction we may make to it, the crowd insists before all that the experiment shall be tried. Can we say that, in cases where the crowd has obtained the experiment, it was wrong to insist upon it?
A special study would be needed to examine all that universal suffrage has added to the general intelligence, to the civic conscience, dignity and solidarity of the nations that have practised it; but, even if it had done no more than to create, as in America and France, that sense of real equality which is there breathed as a more human and purer atmosphere and which seems new and almost prodigious to those who come from elsewhere, that in itself would be a boon that would cause its gravest errors to be forgiven. In any case, it is the best preparation for that which must inevitably come.
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