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Ireland was now not only well governed, but prosperous and improving. Surely the troubles of the British nation about Ireland were now at an end. The disaffection which they flattered themselves had been cured, suddenly shows itself more intense, more violent, more unscrupulous, and more universal than ever. The population is divided between those who wish success to Fenianism, and those who, though disapproving its means and perhaps its ends, sympathize in its embittered feelings.

Repressed by force in Ireland itself, the rebellion visits us in our own homes, scattering death among those who have given no provocation but that of being English-born. So deadly is the hatred, that it will run all risks merely to do us harm, with little or no prospect of any consequent good to itself.

Our rulers are helpless to deal with this new outburst of enmity, because they are unable to see that anything on their part has given cause for it. They are brought face to face with a spirit which will as little tolerate what we think our good government as our bad, and they have not been trained to manage problems of that difficulty. But though their statesmanship is at fault, their conscience is at ease, because the rebellion, they think, is not one of grievance or suffering; it is a rebellion for an idea—the idea of nationality.

Alas for the self-complacent ignorance of irresponsible rulers, be they monarchs, classes, or nations! If there is anything sadder than the calamity itself, it is the unmistakeable sincerity and good faith with which numbers of Englishmen confess themselves incapable of comprehending it. They know not that the disaffection which neither has nor needs any other motive than aversion to the rulers, is the climax to a long growth of disaffection arising from causes that might have been removed.

What seems to them the causelessness of the Irish repugnance to our rule, is the proof that they have almost let pass the last opportunity they are ever likely to have of setting it right. They have allowed what once was indignation against particular wrongs, to harden into a passionate determination to be no longer ruled on any terms by those to whom they ascribe all their evils. Rebellions are never really unconquerable until they have become rebellions for an idea. Revolt against practical ill-usage may be quelled by concessions; but wait till all practical grievances have merged in the demand for independence, and there is no knowing that any concession, short of independence, will appease the quarrel.

But what, it will be asked, is the provocation that England is giving to Ireland, now that she has left off crushing her commerce and persecuting her religion?

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What harm to Ireland does England intend, or knowingly inflict? What good, that she knows how to give her, would she not willingly bestow?

Unhappily, her offence is precisely that she does not know; and is so well contented with not knowing, that Irishmen who are not hostile to her are coming to believe that she will not and cannot learn. The English people ought to ask themselves, seriously and without prejudice, what it is that gives sober men this opinion of them; and endeavour to remove it, or humbly confess that it is true, and fulfil the only duty which remains performable by them on that supposition, that of withdrawing from the attempt.

More than a generation has elapsed since we renounced the desire to govern Ireland for the English: if at that epoch we had begun to know how to govern her for herself, the two nations would by this time have been one. But we neither knew, nor knew that we did not know. We had got a set of institutions of our own, which we thought suited us—whose imperfections we were, at any rate, used to: we, or our ruling classes, thought, that there could be no boon to any country equal to that of impartingathesea institutions to her, and as none of their benefits were any longer withheld from Ireland.

Ireland, it seemed, could have nothing more to desire. What was not too bad for us, must be good enough for Ireland, or if not. Ireland or the nature of things was alone in fault. It is always a most difficult task which a people assumes when it attempts to govern, either in the way of incorporation or as a dependency, another people very unlike itself.

But whoever reflects on the constitution of society in these two countries, with any sufficient knowledge of the states of society which exist elsewhere, will be driven, however unwillingly, to the conclusion, that there is probably no other nation of the civilized world, which, if the task of governing Ireland had happened to devolve on it, would not have shown itself more capable of that work than England has hitherto done. The reasons are these: First, there is no other civilized nation which is so conceited of its own institutions, and of all its modes of public action, as England is; and secondly, there is no other civilized nation which is so far apart from Ireland in the character of its history, or so unlike it in the whole constitution of its social economy; and none, therefore, which if it applies to Ireland the modes of thinking and maxims of government which have grown up within itself, is so certain to go wrong.

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The first indeed of our disqualifications, our conceit of ourselves, is certainly diminishing. Our governing classes are now quite accustomed to be told that the institutions which they thought must suit all mankind since they suited us, require far greater alteration than they dream of to be fit even for ourselves. When they were told this, they have long been in the habit of answering, that whatever defects these institutions may have in theory, they are suited to the opinions, the feelings, and the historical antecedents of the English people.

But mark how little they really mean by this vindication. If suitability to the opinions, feelings, and historical antecedents of those who live under them is the best recommendation of institutions, it ought to have been remembered, that the opinions, feelings, and historical antecedents of the Irish people are totally different from, and in many respects contrary to those of the English; and that things which in England find their chief justification in their being liked, cannot admit of the same justification in a country where they are detested.

But the reason which recommends institutions to their own supporters, and that which is used to stop the mouths of opponents, are far from being always one and the same.


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Let us take as an example, that one of our institutions which has the most direct connexion with the worst practical grievances of Ireland; absolute property in land, the land being engrossed by a comparatively small number of families. I am not going to discuss this institution, or to express, on the present occasion, any opinion about its abstract merits.

Let these, if we will, be transcendant—let it be the best and highest form of agricultural and social economy, for anything I mean to say to the contrary. But I do say that this is not self-evident. It is not one of the truths which shine so brilliantly by their own light, that they are assented to by every sane man the moment he understands the words in which they are conveyed.

On the contrary, what present themselves the most obviously at the first aspect of this institution are the objections to it. That a man should have absolute control over what his own labour and skill have created, and even over what he has received by gift or bequest from those who created it, is recommended by reasons of a very obvious character, and does not shock any natural feeling. Moveable property can be produced in indefinite quantity, and he who disposes as he likes of anything which, it can fairly be argued, would not have existed but for him, does no wrong to any one.

Such appropriation, when there is not enough left for all, is at the first aspect, an usurpation on the rights of other people. And though it is manifestly just that he who sows should be allowed to reap, this justice, which is the true moral foundation of property in land, avails little in favour of proprietors who reap but do not sow, and who assume the right of ejecting those who do.

When the general condition of the land of a country is such as this, its title to the submission and attachment of those whom it seems to disinherit, is by no means obvious. It is a state of things which has great need of extrinsic recommendations. It requires to be rooted in the traditions and oldest recollections of the people; the landed families must be identified with the religion of the country, with its nationality, with its ancient rulers, leaders, defenders, teachers, and other objects of gratitude and veneration, or at least of ungrudging obedience.

These conditions have been found, in some considerable measure, or at all events, nothing contrary to them has been found, for many centuries, in England. All that is most opposite to them has at all times existed in Ireland. The traditions and recollections of native Irish society are wholly the contrary way. Before the Conquest, the Irish people knew nothing of absolute property in land. The land virtually belonged to the entire sept; the chief was little more than the managing member of the association. The feudal idea, which views all rights as emanating from a head landlord, came in with the conquest, was associated with foreign dominion, and has never to this day been recognised by the moral sentiments of the people.

Originally the offspring not of industry but of spoliation, the right has not been allowed to purify itself by protracted possession, but has passed from the original spoliators to others by a series of fresh spoliations, so as to be always connected with the latest and most odious oppressions of foreign invaders.

In the moral feelings of the Irish people, the right to hold the land goes, as it did in the beginning, with the right to till it. There are parts of Europe, such as East Prussia, where the land is chiefly owned in large estates, but where almost every landowner farms his own land. In Ireland, until a recent period, any one who knew the country might almost have counted those who did anything for their estate but consume its produce.

The landlords were a mere burthen on the land. The whole rental of the country was wasted in maintaining, often in reckless extravagance, people who were not nearly as useful to the hive as the drones are, and were entitled to less respect. Let any Englishman put himself in the position of an Irish peasant, and ask himself whether, if the case were his own, the landed property of the country would have any sacredness to his feelings.

Even the Whiteboy and the Rockite, in their outrages against the landlord, fought for, not against, the sacredness of what was property in their eyes; for it is not the right of the rent-receiver, but the right of the cultivator, with which the idea of property is connected in the Irish popular mind.


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These facts being notorious, and the feelings engendered by them being, in part at least, perfectly reasonable in the eyes of every civilized people in the world except England, it is a characteristic specimen of the practical good sense by which England is supposed to be distinguished, that she should persist to this hour in forcing upon a people with such feelings, and such antecedents, her own idea of absolute property in land.

If those who created English manufactures, commerce, navigation, and dominion, to say nothing of English literature and science, had gone to work in this style—had shown this amount of judgment in the adaptation of means to ends—England would at the present time have been in something like the condition of the Papal territory, or of Spain. Thus much as to the harmony of certain English institutions with the feelings and prepossessions of the Irish people, which, according to the received doctrine of our historical Conservatives, is the first point to be considered in either retaining old institutions or introducing new.

But now, apart from the question of acceptability to Ireland, let us consider whether our own laws and usages, at least in relation to land, are the model we should even desire to follow in governing Ireland; whether the circumstances of the two countries are sufficiently similar, to warrant the belief, that things which may work well, or may not be fatally destructive to prosperity, in England, will be useful or innocuous, even if voluntarily accepted by the people of the neighbouring island. What are the main features in the social economy of Ireland?

First, it is a country wholly agricultural. The entire population, with some not very important exceptions, cultivates the soil, or depends for its subsistence on cultivation. In this respect, if all the countries of Europe except Russia were arranged in a scale, Ireland would be at one extremity of the scale, England and Scotland at the other. In Great Britain, not more than a third of the population subsists by agriculture. In most countries of the Continent a great majority do so, though in no country but Russia so great a majority as in Ireland.

Ireland, therefore, in this essential particular, bears more resemblance to almost any other country in Europe than she does to Great Britain.

When the agricultural population are but a fraction of the entire people; when the commercial and manufacturing development of the country leaves a large opening for the children of the agriculturists to seek and find subsistence elsewhere than on the soil; a bad tenure of land, though always mischievous, can in some measure be borne with. But when a people have no means of sustenance but the land, the conditions on which the land can be occupied, and support derived from it, are all in all. Now, under an apparent resemblance, those conditions are radically different in Ireland and in England.

In England the land is rented and cultivated by capitalist farmers; in Ireland, except in the grazing districts, principally by manual labourers, or small farmers in nearly the same condition in life. The multitude of other differences which flow from this one difference, it would be too prolix to detail. There are many other countries in which the land is owned principally in large masses, and farmed in great part by manual labourers. But I doubt if there be now any other part of Europe where, as a general rule, these farm-labourers are entirely without a permanent interest in the soil.

The serfs certainly were not; they could not be turned out of their holdings. It is only in parts of Belgium that it is a frequent practice for small farmers to hold from large proprietors, with no other legal protection than the stipulations of a short lease: but their truly admirable industry owes its vigour to the fact that small landed properties are always to be had for money, at prices which they can hope to save. They, moreover, live in the midst of a large and thriving manufacturing industry, which takes off the hands that might otherwise compete unduly for the soil.

So long as they remain in the country of their birth, their support must be drawn from a source for the permanence of which they have no guarantee, and the failure of which leaves them nothing to depend on but the poor-house. In one circumstance alone England and Ireland are alike: the cultivated area of both countries is owned in large estates by a small class of great landlords.

In the opinion of great landlords, and of the admirers of the state of society which produces them, this is enough: the interest and the wisdom of the landlords may be implicitly relied on for making everybody comfortable. Great landlords can do as they like with their estates, on this side of St. But in the first place, English landlords do not let their land to a labourer, but to a capitalist farmer, who is able to take care of his own interest. The capitalist has not to choose between the possession of a farm and destitution; the labourer has. This element subverts the whole basis on which the letting of farms, as a business transaction, and the foundation of a national economy, requires to rest.

The capitalist farmer will beware of offering a rent that will leave him no profit; the peasant farmer will promise any amount of rent, whether he can pay it or not. England, moreover, not being a purely agricultural, but a commercial country, even great landlords learn to look at the management of estates in a somewhat commercial spirit, and can see their own advantage where the love of political influence does not binterfereb in making it the interest of the tenant to improve the land; or, if they can afford to do so, will often improve it for him.