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THE ENGLISH IN IRELAND
WHEN two countries, or sections of countries, stand geographically so related to one another that their union under a common government will conduce to the advantage of one of them, such countries will continue separate as long only as there is equality of force between them, or as long as the country which desires to preserve its independence possesses a power of resistance so vigorous that the effort to overcome is too exhausting to be permanently maintained.
A natural right to liberty, irrespective of the ability to defend it, exists in nations as much as and no more than it exists in individuals. Had nature meant us to live uncontrolled by any will but our own,
we should have been so constructed that the pleasures of one would not interfere with the pleasures of another, or that each of us would discharge by instinct those duties which the welfare of the community requires from all. In a world in which we are made to depend so largely for our well-being on the conduct of our neighbours, and yet are created infinitely unequal in ability and worthiness of character, the superior part has a natural right to govern; the inferior part has a natural right to be governed; and a rude but adequate test of superiority and inferiority is provided in the relative strength of the different orders of human beings.
Among wild beasts and savages might constitutes right. Among reasonable beings right is for ever tending to create might. Inferiority of numbers is compensated by superior cohesiveness, intelligence, and daring. The better sort of men submit willingly to be governed by those who are nobler and wiser than themselves; organization creates superiority of force; and the ignorant and the selfish may be and are justly compelled for their own advantage to obey a rule which rescues them from their natural weak
There neither is nor can be an inherent privilege in any person or set of persons to live unworthily at their own wills, when they can be led or driven into more honourable courses; and the rights of man—if such rights there be—are not to liberty, but to wise direction and control.
Individuals cannot be independent, or society cannot exist. With individuals the contention is not for freedom absolutely, but for an extension of the limits within which their freedom must be restrained. The independence of nations is
spoken of sometimes as if it rested on another foundation—as if each separate race or community had a divine titledeed to dispose of its own fortunes, and develop its tendencies in such direction as seems good to itself. But the assumption breaks down before the enquiry, What constitutes a nation ? And the right of a people to self-government consists and can consist in nothing but their power to defend themselves. No other definition is possible. Are geographical boundaries, is a distinct frontier, made the essential? Mountain chains, rivers, or seas form, no doubt, the normal dividing lines between nation and nation, because they are elements of strength, and material obstacles to invasion. But as the absence of a defined frontier cannot take away a right to liberty where there is strength to maintain it, a mountain barrier conveys no prerogative against a power which is powerful enough to overleap that barrier, nor the ocean against those whose larger skill and courage can convert the ocean into a highway.
As little can a claim to freedom be made coincident with race or language. When the ties of kindred and of speech have force enough to bind together a powerful community, such a community may be able to defend its independence. If it fail, the pretension in itself has no claim on the consideration of the rest of mankind. Distinctions of such a kind are merely fanciful and capricious. All societies of men are, in the nature of things, forced into relations with other societies of
They exchange obligations, confer benefits, or inflict injuries on each other. They are natural friends or natural rivals; and so agree to unite, or else find themselves in collision, when the weaker must give way.
The individual has to sacrifice his in
BOOK dependence to his family, the family to the tribe;
the tribe merges itself in some larger community;
As among the
Necessity and common danger drive families into alliance for self-defence; the smaller circles of independence lose themselves in ampler areas; and those who refuse to conform to the new authority are either required to take themselves elsewhere, or, if they remain and persist in disobedience, may be treated as criminals.
A tribe, if local circumstances are favourable, may defend its freedom against a more powerful neighbour, so long as the independence of such a tribe is a lesser evil than the cost of its subjugation; but an independence so protracted is rarely other than a misfortune. On the whole, and as a rule, superior strength is the equivalent of superior merit; and when a weaker people are induced or forced to part with their separate existence, and are not treated as subjects, but are admitted freely to share the privileges of the nation in which they are absorbed, they forfeit nothing which they need care to lose, and rather gain than suffer by the exchange. It is possible that a nobler people may, through force of circumstances, or great