Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
Display paragraphs in this book containing:
First Pub. Date
New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
Pub. Date
Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
195 of 1105



CAUSE AND EFFECT IN POLITICS. Nothing seems more natural and, at first sight, easier, than to refer facts, if not always to their true, at least to their probable and apparent cause. And still we see men, at every instant, bringing two circumstances, two facts, into connection, and making one follow from the other without inquiring whether it is materially or morally possible that the one should issue or result from the other. This error often goes so far as to confound cause and effect. Have laws their origin in customs, or customs their origin in laws? Is it the government that corrupts the nation; or is the government itself an emanation of the nation, made in its image? Here are questions, and they might be multiplied, which will be answered well or ill according as men are able or not to distinguish cause from effect.


—It is evident that the answer to such questions is no mere trifle; but that attention should be directed to the effects of our own actions, individual or national, is of still greater importance. A well known precept tells us to foresee the consequences of our own acts. All admit the necessity of this, and still it is neglected in many cases.


—How often are men satisfied with saying, "I shall do this," or "we shall do that," without carrying their thought beyond. "I shall do this," or "I shall do that," is very quickly said; but the purpose can not generally be carried out except when man is face to face simply with dead nature, with clay and stone. In such case the resistance may be easily calculated, and a man may say: "I shall do this;" for he can overcome stone and clay and iron. But when opposed to men we are not so sure of success. Other men are almost always our equals, and as often our superiors as our inferiors. And we should ask: What would others do if we should act against them in this or that manner? What would be the effect of our action? We should never for a single moment lose sight of the fact, that each one of our acts is a cause.


—We are greatly afraid of preaching in the wilderness. Nations will continue to close their ports to foreign goods, and yet will be astonished (just as if it were not a natural effect of the cause) that other countries should do the same to theirs. The French will shout, death to the English! and then find it wicked that the English should cry, down with the French! Men try to weaken their neighbors and then grow angry because these neighbors in turn try to weaken them. We demand liberty for ourselves and are still unable to understand that our fellow citizens should have it also; we find it natural to enjoy liberty ourselves, and take it away from those who think differently from us. We might multiply examples if we wished to depart from generalities applicable to all countries for the purpose of citing special determinate facts. But why do this? Would men thereby become more accustomed to put themselves mentally in the place of others? Would they see the beam in their own eye more clearly, or give a stricter application to the golden rule of doing unto others only that which they would that others should do to them? In a word, would men look at causes more seriously and better foresee effects?

M. B.

195 of 1105

Return to top