In the past few decades American institutions have struggled with the temptations of politics. Professions and academic disciplines that once possessed a life and structure of their own have steadily succumbed, in some cases almost entirely, to the belief that nothing matters beyond politically desirable results, however achieved.
The nobles charities, the best fruits of learning, the richest discoveries, the best institutions of law and justice, every greatest thing the world has seen, represents, more or less directly, the fruitfulness and creativeness of religion.
It is characteristic of our age to endeavour to replace virtues by technology. That is to say, wherever possible we strive to use methods of physical or social engineering to achieve goals which our ancestors thought attainable only by the training of character. Thus we try so far as possible to make contraception take the place of chastity, and anesthetics to take the place of fortitude; we replace resignation by insurance policies and munificence by the Welfare state. It would be idle romanticism to deny that such techniques and institutions are often less painful and more efficient methods of achieving the goods and preventing the evils which unaided virtue once sought to achieve and avoid. But it would be an equal and opposite folly to hope that the take-over of virtue by technology may one day be complete.
Enthusiasm begets enthusiasm, eloquence produces conviction for the moment; but it is only by truth to Nature and the everlasting institutions of mankind that those abiding influences are won that enlarge from generation to generation.
Laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times.
Political institutions are a superstructure resting on an economic foundation.
The institutions of a country depend in great measure on the nature of its soil and situation. Many of the wants of man are awakened or supplied by these circumstances. To these wants, manners, laws, and religion must shape and accommodate themselves. The division of land, and the rights attached to it, alter with the soil; the laws relating to its produce, with its fertility. The manners of its inhabitants are in various ways modified by its position. The religion of a miner is not the same as the faith of a shepherd, nor is the character of the ploughman so war-like as that of the hunter. The observant legislator follows the direction of all these various circumstances. the knowledge of the natural advantages or defects of a country thus form an essential part of political science and history.
There is no country in the world in which everything can be provided for by the laws, or in which political institutions can prove a substitute for common sense and public morality.
Democratic institutions awaken and foster a passion for equality which they can never entirely satisfy.
Cities have their indispensable purposes, and their charms, not the least of which is that you can be alone in a crowd. But that kind of living alone is an acquired taste, and not for the weak or unfortunate. they are apt to learn that no city’s institutions can provide protective supports like those of an extended family or real community.
Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the ark of the covenant, too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human, and suppose what they did to be beyond amendment… I am certainly not an advocate for frequent and untried changes in laws and constitutions. I think moderate imperfections had better be borne with; because, when once known, we accommodate ourselves to them, and find practical means of correcting their ill effects. But I know also that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.