David Hume, hero of the Enlightenment, father of skepticism, linchpin of democracy and human rights and freedoms, Happy 300th Birthday!
Sir Roger has some understanding of how Hume felt when he said this: “Here am I who have written on all sorts of subjects calculated to excite hostility, moral, political, and religious, and yet I have no enemies — except, indeed, all the Whigs, all the Tories, and all the Christians.”
Although the great Hume had many antecessors and successors his work in its clarity, rigour and accessibility was crucial to the flourishing of the Scottish Enlightenment and therefore to the rights and freedoms, to the political and social foundations – and so to the democracy – that we enjoy today. Our system is not obvious and it is not “natural”. It is better than any other so far tested and it could disappear in a moment if we take our eye off it, if we do not cherish it and care for it and fight for it. As they say in another context, “the price of freedom is eternal vigilance”.
Nothing appears more surprising to those, who consider human affairs with a philosophical eye, than the easiness with which the many are governed by the few; and the implicit submission, with which men resign their own sentiments and passions to those of their rulers.
In fact, the price of freedom is internal vigilance. There are those who dream of its collapse – not only those who want a caliphate but also those who wish to arrogate power to themselves, those who arrogantly believe they have greater wisdom and greater value than others, those who feel entitled to rule.
It is seldom, that liberty of any kind is lost all at once. Slavery has so frightful an aspect to men accustomed to freedom, that it must steal upon them by degrees, and must disguise itself in a thousand shapes, in order to be received. But, if the liberty of the press ever be lost, it must be lost at once. The general laws against sedition and libelling are at present as strong as they possibly can be made. Nothing can impose a farther restraint, but either the clapping an Imprimatur upon the press, or the giving to the court very large discretionary powers to punish whatever displeases them. But these concessions would be such a bare-faced violation of liberty, that they will probably be the last efforts of a despotic government.
And those (some in one of our mainstream political parties) who dream of a latterday christian theocracy.
It is these people, invariably committed christians and most often “practising catholics”, whom you will hear increasingly – and chillingly – talking about the “failure of the Enlightenment” and the “failed experiment of democracy”.
Hume, prophetically, has something to say about them as well.
In all ages of the world, priests have been enemies to liberty; and it is certain, that this steady conduct of theirs must have been founded on fixed reasons of interest and ambition. Liberty of thinking, and of expressing our thoughts, is always fatal to priestly power, and to those pious frauds, on which it is commonly founded; and, by an infallible connexion, which prevails among all kinds of liberty, this privilege can never be enjoyed, at least has never yet been enjoyed, but in a free government.
Survey most nations and most ages. Examine the religious principles, which have, in fact, prevailed in the world. You will scarcely be persuaded, that they are any thing but sick men’s dreams: Or perhaps will regard them more as the playsome whimsies of monkies in human shape, than the serious, positive, dogmatical asseverations of a being, who dignifies himself with the name of rational.
Hear the verbal protestations of all men: Nothing so certain as their religious tenets. Examine their lives: You will scarcely think that they repose the smallest confidence in them.
And so Sir Roger recommends the following on David Hume’s 300th birthday:
Generally speaking, the errors in religion are dangerous; those in philosophy only ridiculous…A wise man, therefore, proportions his belief to the evidence.
If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: For it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.
Happy Birthday, and thank you, David Hume!
Posted: 7 May, 2011 in Aussie Citizenship, Australian Politics, Australian Values, Culture, Economics, Education, History, Life, Literature, mystery, Nature, politics and government, Religion, Science, US Politics, values.
Tags: Australian democracy, Australian democratic values, Australian political values, Australian Politics, Australian religion, Australian religious values, authority, David Hume, democracy, emotion, Enlightenment, epistemology, evidence, evidence-based, Feelings, freedom, government, human, human values, humanity, Hume, metaphysics, moral values, morals, opinion, philosopher, philosophy, political values, politics, Religion, religion and politics, religious politics, religious values, rights, scepticism, Scottish Enlightenment, skepticism, suffrage, understanding