« Hieroglyphicks of the Egyptians | ‘Lost Articles’ | The Lake of Alba »

Religious Government, when Despotic, Impolitical

RELIGION has sometimes occasioned the ruin of a whole nation, by sacrifices to the inhumanity and imprudence of its zeal. I shall particularly notice the expulsion of the Moriscoes from Spain. It is the most considerable event of the reign of Philip III. a monarch who possessed no talents for government. As a subject he might have been respectable;—he was despicable as a king. The public defects of such men conceal their personal merits.

The pious principles of this monarch induced him, while Spain was in its most flourishing state, to expel the Moriscoes; that is, those Jews and Mahometans, who, having received baptism, and publicly professing Christianity, secretly practised their Judaical and Mahometan ceremonies. The pretext which was invented to banish them, and to seize on their riches, was, that they had projected to cut the throats of all the ancient Christians on Good Friday, in the year 1610. This improbable story was sufficient to try, to convict, and to punish. Father Bleda assures us, in his “Chronicle of the Moors, Valentia, 1618, fo.” that there were chased from their native residence no less than five hundred thousand persons, while others say eight hundred thousand!

This project had been long cherished by the good catholics, but Philip the Second (as religious, but more politic than his son) would never consent to this expulsion; always saying in council, Hallad otro medio, que esse es implaticable, Find out some other way, for this is impracticable. Philip the Third experienced fully the good sense of this observation. Poverty succeeded to abundance; and Spain, which was before well peopled, and richly cultivated, became a frightful desert. A Spanish writer, who was at once a good catholic, and a good politician, observes on the expulsion, El hecho no pudo ser mejor, ni el consejo peor, He could not have done a better action, nor have taken a worse advice.

Similar grievances are to be traced in other nations. The spirit which chased the Morisicoes from Spain, expelled the Huguenots from France. It produced the crusades; and it has repeatedly spilt the richest blood in England. The politician will acknowledge that a tolerating kingdom is amply repaid; a religious government is ever cursed with poverty and persecution. Spain and Portugal, and most of the petty states of Italy, are existing examples of the truth of this observation.

In “A Dissertation on the Governments, Manners and Spirit of Asia,” written by the late ingenious Mr. Logan, this philosophic speculator has made the following profound observation.

“In our inquiry into the savage state, we investigated the natural forms of government, which are antecedent to positive institutions; and traced the causes which give some men in society the ascendant over others. These we referred to age, eloquence, valour and religion. Where age gives the title to govern, an aristocracy will take place; eloquence is the great engine of command in republics; valour gives form to monarchies; religion establishes despotism.
“In Asia the altar has always been joined to the throne, and a kind of theocracy has taken place. A government founded on religion is always despotic; the legislator is regarded as the messenger of heaven; and he attains dominion over the mind; the most effectual engine of slavery that has ever been contrived.”