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The Progress of Liberty in Europe page 2

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Western Europe was now free and self-governing. The long and painful transition from government by a few individuals to government by the people was accomplished. Sixty years ago Europe was an aggregate of despotic powers, disposing at their own pleasure of the lives and property of their subjects, maintaining by systematic neglect the convenient ignorance which renders misgovernment easy and safe. To-day the men of western Europe govern themselves. Popular suffrage, more or less closely approaching universal, chooses the governing power, and by methods more or less effective dictates its policy. One hundred and eighty million Europeans have risen from a degraded and ever dissatisfied vassalage to the rank of free and self-governing men; and one of their earliest concerns has been to provide the means of universal education. The East has not taken her place in this mighty progress. Russia - only a semi-European power - retains her despotism, and relegates to a still distant future the revolution by which she must rise to an equality with her sister states.

Human history is a record of progress - a record of accumulating knowledge and increasing wisdom, of continual advancement from a lower to a higher platform of intelligence and well-being. Each generation passes on to the next the treasures which it inherited, beneficially modified by its own experience, enlarged by the fruits of all the victories which itself has gained. The rate of this progress, as the eye of man deciphers it, is irregular and even fitful. Now it seems to pause, and the years seem to repeat themselves unalterably. Now it bursts forth in sudden ameliorations, in the violent overthrow of evils which had been quietly endured for generations. But the stagnation is only apparent. All the while there is a silent accumulation of forces whose gathered power will, in Heaven's own time, reveal itself to the terror and the joy of man.

The nineteenth century has witnessed progress rapid beyond all precedent, for it has witnessed the overthrow of the barriers which prevented progress. Never since the stream of human development received into its sluggish currents the mighty impulse communicated by the Christian religion has the condition of man experienced ameliorations so vast. Despotism thwarts and frustrates the forces by which providence has provided for the progress of man; liberty secures for these forces their natural scope and exercise. The nineteenth century has witnessed the fall of despotism and the establishment of liberty in the most influential nations of the world. It has vindicated for all succeeding ages the right of man to his own unimpeded development. It has not seen the redressing of all wrongs; nor indeed is that to be hoped for, because in the ever-shifting conditions of man's life the right of one century becomes frequently the wrong of the next. But it has seen all that the most ardent reformer can desire - the removal of artificial obstacles placed in the path of human progress by the selfishness and ignorance of the strong. The growth of man's well-being, rescued from the mischievous tampering of self-willed princes, is left now to the beneficent regulation of great providential laws.

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