Having stated the case for resistance, it will serve us to consider some objections. Many inquiring minds may be made happy by a clear view of the doctrine, till some clever opponent holds them up with remarks on prudence, possibly sensible, or remarks on revolutionists, most probably wild, with, perhaps, the authority of a great name, or unfailing refuge in the concrete. It is curious that while often noticed how men, trying to evade a concrete issue, take refuge in the abstract, it is not noticed that men, trying to avoid acknowledging the truth of some principle, take refuge in the concrete. A living and pressing difficulty, though transient, looms larger than any historical fact or coming danger. Seeing this, we may restore confidence to a baffled mind, by helping it to distinguish the contingent from the permanent. Thus, by disposing of objections, we make our ground secure.
To the name of prudence the most imprudent people frequently appeal. Those whose one effort is to evade difficulties, who to cover their weakness plead patience, would be well advised to consider how men passionately in earnest, enraged by these evasions, pour their scorn on patience as a thing to shun. The plea does not succeed; it only for the moment damages the prestige of a great name. Patience is not a virtue of the weak but of the strong. An objector says: “Of course, all this is right in the abstract, but consider the frightful abuses in practice,” and some apt replies spring to mind. Dr. Murray, writing on “Mental Reservation,” in his Essays, chiefly Theological, speaks thus: “But it is no objection to any principle of morals to say that unscrupulous men will abuse it, or that, if publicly preached to such and such an audience or in such and such circumstances, it will lead to mischief.” This is admirable, to which the objector can only give some helpless repetitions. With Balmez, we reply: “But in recommending prudence to the people let us not disguise it under false doctrines—let us beware of calming the exasperation of misfortune by circulating errors subversive of all governments, of all society.” (European Civilisation, Chap. 55.) Of men who shrink from investigating such questions, Balmez wrote: “I may be permitted to observe that their prudence is quite thrown away, that their foresight and precaution are of no avail. Whether they investigate these questions or not, they are investigated, agitated and decided, in a manner that we must deplore.” (Ibid. Chap. 54.) Take with this Turner on France under the old régime and the many and serious grievances of the people: “The Church, whose duty it was to inculcate justice and forbearance, was identified, in the minds of the people, with the Monarchy which they feared and detested.” (History of Philosophy, Chap. 59.) The moral is that when injustice and evil are rampant, let us have no palliation, no weakness disguising itself as a virtue. What we cannot at once resist, we can always repudiate. To ignore these things is the worst form of imprudence—an imprudence which we, for our part at least, take the occasion here heartily to disclaim.
There is so much ill-considered use of the word revolutionist, we should bear in mind it is a strictly relative term. If the freedom of a people is overthrown by treachery and violence, and oppression practised on their once thriving land, that is a revolution, and a bad revolution. If, with tyranny enthroned and a land wasting under oppression, the people rise and by their native courage, resource and patience re-establish in their original independence a just government, that is a revolution, and a good revolution. The revolutionist is to be judged by his motives, methods and ends; and, when found true, his insurrection, in the words of Mackintosh, is “an act of public virtue.” It is the restoration of, Truth to its place of honour among men.
Balmez mentions Bossuet as apparently one who denies the right here maintained; and we may with profit read some things Bossuet has said in another context, yet which touches closely what is our concern. Writing of Les Empires, thus Bossuet: “Les révolutions des empires sont réglées par la providence, et servent à humilier les princes.” This is hardly calculated to deter us from a bid for freedom; and if we go on to read what he has written further under this heading, we get testimony to the hardihood and love of freedom and country that distinguished early Greece and Rome in language of eloquence that might inflame any people to liberty. Of undegenerate Greece, free and invincible: “Mais ce que la Grece avait de plus grand était une politique ferme et prévoyante, qui savait abandonner, hasarder et défendre, ce qu’il fallait; et, ce qui est plus grand encore, un courage que l’amour de la liberté et celui de la patrie rendaient invincible.” Of undegenerate Rome, her liberty: “La liberté leur était donc un trésor qu’ils préferoient à toutes les richesses de l’univers.” Again: “La maxime fondamentale de la république était de regarder la liberté comme une chose inséparable du nom Roman.” And her constancy: “Voila de fruit glorieux de la patience Romaine. Des peuples qui s’enhardissaient et se fortifiaient par leurs malheurs avaient bien raison de croire qu’on sauvait tout pourvu qu’on ne perdit pas l’esperance.” And again: “Parmi eux, dans les états les plus tristes, jamais les faibles conseils n’ont été seulement écoutés.” The reading of such a fine tribute to the glory of ancient liberties is not likely to diminish our desire for freedom; rather, to add to the natural stimulus found in our own splendid traditions, the further stimulus of this thought that must whisper to us: “Persevere and conquer, and to-morrow our finest opponent will be our finest panegyrist when the battle has been fought and won.”
In conclusion, in the concrete this simple fact will suffice: we have established immutable principles; the concrete circumstances are contingent and vary. It is admirably put in the following passage: “The historical and sociological sciences, so carefully cultivated in modern times, have proved to evidence that social conditions vary with the epoch and the country, that they are the resultant of quite a number of fluctuating influences, and that, accordingly, the science of Natural Right should not merely establish immutable principles bearing on the moral end of man, but should likewise deal with the contingent circumstances accompanying the application of those principles.” (De Wulf, Scholasticism, Old and New, Part 2, Chap. 2, Sec. 33.) Yes, and if we apply principles to-morrow, it is not with the conditions of to-day we must deal, but “with the contingent circumstances accompanying the application of those principles.” Let that be emphasised. The conditions of twenty years ago are vastly changed to-day; and how altered the conditions of to-morrow can be, how astonishing can be the change in the short span of twenty years, let this fact prove. Ireland in ’48 was prostrate after a successful starvation and an unsuccessful rising—to all appearances this time hopelessly crushed; yet within twenty years another rising was planned that shook English government in Ireland to its foundations. Let us bear in mind this further from De Wulf: “Sociology, understood in the wider and larger sense, is transforming the methods of the science of Natural Right.” In view of that transformation he is wise who looks to to-morrow. What De Wulf concludes we may well endorse, when he asks us to take facts as they are brought to light and study “each question on its merits, in the light of these facts and not merely in its present setting but as presented in the pages of history.” It can be fairly said of those who have always stood for the separation of Ireland from the British Empire, that they alone have always appealed to historical evidence, have always regarded the conditions of the moment as transient, have always discussed possible future contingencies. The men who temporised were always hypnotised by the conditions of the hour. But in the life-story of a nation stretching over thousands of years, the British occupation is a contingent circumstance, and the immutable principle is the Liberty of the Irish People.