Socrates knew that he was very much hated by many persons; that if condemned it would be owing to the malice and the slander of the multitude. Democracy does not mean any ceasing of the responsibility of the educated and the intelligent, but is only a new opportunity for them, a new call upon them to spread their light and intelligence among the people. It is the ideal destiny of every human being to rule himself; this truth is the moral basis of democracy : but the rule of one's self must be in accordance with the thought of the highest and the best.
As little are the sanctions of the higher law to be found in the Bible. It would be idle to speak of this among serious-minded persons, were not a contrary opinion so commonly expressed in the community. "We should do right because the Bible commands us,"how often do we hear this expression among Christian people ! I read only the other day of a teacher in one of our theological seminaries, who said he thought that conscience could not vary from the Bible, the consciousness of right being, as he declared, derived from the Bible. Yet if this practical atheism, this absence of living moral conviction, masking itself under the guise of reverence for a book, if this is in the teaching of the leaders of our churches, what have we reason to believe is the mental condition of the people themselves ? The Bible belongs to the sacred literature of the world; but it does so belong, because it reflects the moral ideals and aspirations of man, not because it has created them. There are other Bibles than that containing the Hebrew and Christian scriptures : every line that utters a thought of the good and the just is a sacred line; and out of the heart of man, out of his prophetic soul, dreaming on things to come, will yet come grander Bibles and more sacred literatures than any the past has known.
1 Iliad, ii. 204.
More charity must we have for the view that the authority of the right is in some way connected with God. God is sometimes only a name for the invisible right that is within and over us. When Socrates says, " Athenians, I love and cherish you, but I shall obey the gods rather than you;" 1 when Peter and the apostles answered the high-priest and his council, " We must obey God rather than men ; "2 when Wendell Phillips took his stand with the right, as " that absolute essence of things which lives in the sight of the Eternal and Infinite ;"3 when Antigone set the unwritten, immovable laws of the gods 4 above the proclamation of the king of Thebes, and paid the last honors to her brother's corpse despite that proclamation, they, each and all, had essentially in mind the highest thought in man, and they felt that it was there to rule, that they were to brave anything rather than be untrue to it. " God" is often, I suppose, simply a name for that supreme sanctity which is in every man's breast, would he but become aware of it. Socrates says, "Wherever any one stations himself because he thinks it right to be there, or is stationed by his commander, there I think he ought to remain and face danger, taking into account neither death nor anything else in comparison with disgrace." 1 The right, indeed, binds him; it holds him as by a charm to the spot where he is. The obligation to stay there is ultimate; we can only say it exists in the reason and nature of things. And if by the term " God " was meant simply the reason and nature of things, it might perhaps be freely used; but the word means something else to most persons. If one should speak of the reason and nature of things to many, they would not understand him ; if, instead, he should use the word " God," they would think they did. But in truth they might not understand him any better in the one case than in the other, for they would think that he meant by " God " what they mean by it; and as they use the term it is, perhaps, to him Aberglaube (extra-belief). To them the Deity is a person; and what perhaps was once a metaphor, a figure of speech, borrowed from the shining sky above, they have hardened into a dogma; and they think that the laws of morality are laws because he commands them, and we are to obey them out of reverence for him. But, in truth, if the Deity is something thus additional to morality, if he is a person giving commands in the literal sense, he gives no authority to his commands, but rather they give authority to him. No human or divine will can make anything right that is not of itself right. If this were possible, it would follow that if that will commanded what was wrong, it would cease to be wrong; and hence there would be a total subversion of moral distinctions. The noblest Christian theologians have held to a right independent of the will of God, and made their best claims for a worship of the divine will in that it perfectly accords with that right. Robert Browning says, "... justice, good, and truth were still Divine, if, by some demon's will, Hatred and wrong had been proclaimed Law through the worlds, and right misnamed."1
1 Apology, § 29. 2 Acts, v. 29.
3 Speeches, p. 272. 4 Antigone, 455.
1 Apology, § 28.
If this is true, the last answer to the question as to the sources of the authority of the higher law fails as truly as the first. In fact, there is no answer; there are no sources for that supreme authority. We cannot go beyond the law of right; God is not more ultimate; human reason is but that in us which perceives it. It indeed has no origin ; its source is not in the heavens or the earth; it is a final, irrevocable, uncreated law, I might say, the everlasting adamant on which the moral universe is built. It is the same as the old Stoic philosophers called the law of Nature, contrasting, as it did, in so many ways with the law of nations; the same as the Roman lawyers thought of as an ideal after which to re-fashion the great mass of traditional Roman law. It is the same as that which in the eyes of our forefathers gave the basis for the natural and inalienable rights of man. It is the same as prompted the exclamation of Sophocles, " Oh that my lot might lead me in the path of holy innocence of thought and deed, the path which august laws ordain, laws which in the highest heaven had their birth, neither did the race of mortal man beget them, nor shall oblivion ever put them to sleep; the power of God is mighty in them, and groweth not old ! " 1 It is the same as that of which Cicero said that we can take nothing from it, change nothing, abrogate nothing; that neither the Senate nor the people have a right to free us from it. It is the same as Rousseau had in mind when he said that the eternal laws of Nature and of order are still in being, and supply the place of positive laws in the eye of the man of discernment;2 as Voltaire, when he said that the sentiment of justice is so natural, so universally felt by mankind, that it seems to be independent of all law, all party, all religion. The higher law is that indeed which gives mankind its goal; it is the foundation of States ; it is the basis for all the worth and dignity of human life.
1 Christmas Eve, xvii.