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An essay by Thomas De Quincey

Moral Effects Of Revolutions

Title:     Moral Effects Of Revolutions
Author: Thomas De Quincey [More Titles by De Quincey]

(May, 1822.)

In revolutionary times, as when a civil war prevails in a country, men are much worse, as moral beings, than in quiet and untroubled states of peace. So much is matter of history. The English, under Charles II., after twenty years' agitation and civil tumults; the Romans after Sylla and Marius, and the still more bloody proscriptions of the Triumvirates; the French, after the Wars of the League and the storms of the Revolution--were much changed for the worse, and exhibited strange relaxations of the moral principle. But why? What is the philosophy of the case? Some will think it sufficiently explained by the necessity of witnessing so much bloodshed--the hearths and the very graves of their fathers polluted by the slaughter of their countrymen--the _acharnement_ which characterises civil contests (as always the quarrels of friends are the fiercest)--and the license of wrong which is bred by war and the majesties of armies. Doubtless this is part of the explanation. But is this all? Mr. Coleridge has referred to this subject in _The friend_; but, to the best of my remembrance, only noticing it as a fact. Fichte, the celebrated German philosopher, has given us his view of it (_Idea of War_); and it is so ingenious, that it deserves mention. It is this--'Times of revolution force men's minds inwards: hence they are led amongst other things to meditate on morals with reference to their own conduct. But to subtilise too much upon this subject must always be ruinous to morality, with all understandings that are not very powerful, _i. e._ with the majority, because it terminates naturally in a body of maxims a specious and covert self-interest. Whereas, when men meditate less, they are apt to act more from natural feeling, in which the natural goodness of the heart often interferes to neutralise or even to overbalance its errors.'

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Thomas De Quincey's essay: Moral Effects Of Revolutions