We continue with the fourth installment of our serialization of Orestes Brownson's essay.
Why Only Religion Can Sustain Liberty
[In yesterday's installment Brownson contended that the preservation of democratic liberty requires a force that enables men to become sufficiently virtuous and intelligent as to deny their own passions, ambitions, and prejudices on behalf of the common good. In this segment, Brownson examines -- and rejects -- the secular proposals for creating such a powerful and virtuous influence.]The press makes readers, but does little to make virtuous and intelligent readers. The newspaper press is, for the most part, under the control of men of very ordinary abilities, lax principles, and limited acquirements. It echoes and exaggerates popular errors, and does little or nothing to create a sound public opinion. Your popular literature caters to popular taste, passions, prejudices, ignorance, and errors; it is by no means above the average degree of virtue and intelligence which already obtains, and can do nothing to create a higher standard of virtue or tone of thought. On what, then, are we to rely?
"On Education," answer Frances Wright, Abner Kneeland, Horace Mann, and the educationists generally. But we must remember that we must have virtue and intelligence. Virtue without intelligence will only fit the mass to be duped by the artful and designing; and intelligence without virtue only makes one the abler and more successful villain. Education must be of the right sort, if it is to answer our purpose; for a bad education is worse than none. The Mahometans are great sticklers for education, and, if we recollect aright, it is laid down in the Koran, that every believer must at least be taught to read; but we do not find their education does much to advance them in virtue and intelligence. Education, moreover, demands educators, and educators of the right sort. Where are these to be obtained? Who is to select them, judge of their qualifications, sustain or dismiss them? The people? Then you place education in the same category with democracy. You make the people through their representatives the educators. Whether they educate mediately or immediately, they can impart only what they have and are. Consequently, with them for educators, we can, by means even of universal education, get no increase of virtue and intelligence to bear on the government. They people may educate, but where is that which takes care that they educate in a proper manner? Here is the very difficulty we began by pointing out; but who or what is to take care of the people, who need taking care of quite as much as either education or government? -- for, rightly considered, neither government nor education has any other legitimate end than to take care of the people.
We know of but one solution of the difficulty, and that is to be RELIGION. There is no foundation for virtue but in religion, and it is only religion that can command the degree of popular virtue and intelligence requisite to insure to popular government the right direction and a wise and just administration. A people without religion, however successful they may be in throwing off old institutions, or in introducing new ones, have no power to secure the free, orderly, and wholesome working of any institutions. For the people can bring to the support of institutions only the degree of virtue and intelligence they have; and we need not stop to prove that an infidel people can have very little either of virtue or intelligence, since, in this professedly Christian country, this will and must be conceded us. We shall, therefore, assume, without stopping to defend our assumption, that religion is the power or influence we need to take care of the people, and secure the degree of virtue and intelligence necessary to sustain popular liberty. We say, then, if democracy commits the government to the people to be taken care of, religion is to take care that they take proper care of the government, rightly direct and wisely administer it.
Tomorrow, Part V: How Protestantism Is Inferior to Catholicity as a Guarantor of Virtue