An Essay on the History of Civil Society, Eighth Edition
Adam Ferguson, L.L.D.

Part 5 out of 6

confined to the strict interpretation of law. [Footnote: Memoirs of

We easily learn to contract our opinions of what men may, in consistence
with public order, be safely permitted to do. The agitations of a republic,
and the license of its members, strike the subjects of monarchy with
aversion and disgust. The freedom with which the European is left to
traverse the streets and the fields, would appear to a Chinese a sure
prelude to confusion and anarchy. "Can men behold their superior and not
tremble? Can they converse without a precise and written ceremonial? What
hopes of peace, if, the streets are not barricaded at an hour? What wild
disorder, if men are permitted in any thing to do what they please?"

If the precautions which men thus take against each other, be necessary to
repress their crimes, and do not arise from a corrupt ambition, or from
cruel jealousy in their rulers, the proceeding itself must be applauded, as
the best remedy of which the vices of men will admit. The viper must be
held at a distance, and the tyger chained. But if a rigorous policy,
applied to enslave, not to restrain from crimes, has an actual tendency to
corrupt the manners, and to extinguish the spirit of nations; if its
severities be applied to terminate the agitations of a free people, not to
remedy their corruptions; if forms be often applauded as salutary, because
they tend merely to silence the voice of mankind, or be condemned as
pernicious, because they allow this voice to be heard; we may expect that
many of the boasted improvements of civil society, will be mere devices to
lay the political spirit at rest, and will chain up the active virtues more
than the restless disorders of men.

If to any people it be the avowed object of policy in all its internal
refinements, to secure only the person and the property of the subject,
without any regard to his political character, the constitution indeed may
be free, but its members may likewise become unworthy of the freedom they
possess, and unfit to preserve it. The effects of such a constitution may
be to immerse all orders of men in their separate pursuits of pleasure,
which they may on this supposition enjoy with little disturbance; or of
gain, which they may preserve without any attention to the commonwealth.

If this be the end of political struggles, the design, when executed, in
securing to the individual his estate, and the means of subsistence, may
put an end to the exercise of those very virtues that were required in
conducting its execution. A man who, in concert with his fellow subjects,
contends with usurpation in defence of his estate or his person, may in
that very struggle have found an exertion of great generosity, and of a
vigorous spirit; but he who, under political establishments, supposed to be
fully confirmed, betakes him, because he is safe, to the mere enjoyment of
fortune, has in fact turned to a source of corruption the advantages which
the virtues of the other procured. Individuals, in certain ages, derive
their protection chiefly from the strength of the party to which they
adhere; but in tithes of corruption they flatter themselves; that they may
continue to derive from the public that safety which, in former ages, they
must have owed to their own vigilance and spirit, to the warm attachment of
their friends, and to the exercise of every talent which could render them
respected, feared, or beloved. In one period, therefore, mere circumstances
serve to excite the spirit, and to preserve the manners of men; in another,
great wisdom and zeal for the good of mankind on the part of their leaders,
are required for the same purposes.

Rome, it may be thought, did not die of a lethargy, nor perish by the
remission of her political ardours at home. Her distemper appeared of a
nature more violent and acute. Yet if the virtues of Cato and of Brutus
found an exercise in the dying hour of the republic, the neutrality, and
the cautious retirement of Atticus, found its security in the same
tempestuous season; and the great body of the people lay undisturbed below
the current of a storm, by which the superior ranks of men were destroyed.
In the minds of the people the sense of a public was defaced; and even the
animosity of faction had subsided: they only could share in the commotion,
who were the soldiers of a legion, or the partisans of a leader. But this
state fell not into obscurity for want of eminent men. If at the time of
which we speak, we look only for a few names distinguished in the history
of mankind, there is no period at which the list was more numerous. But
those names became distinguished in the contest for dominion, not in the
exercise of equal rights: the people was corrupted; so great an empire
stood in need of a master.

Republican governments, in general, are in hazard of ruin from the
ascendant of particular factions, and from the mutinous spirit of a
populace, who, being corrupted, are no longer fit to share in the
administration of state. But under other establishments, where liberty may
be more successfully attained if men are corrupted, the national vigour
declines from the abuse of that very security which is procured by the
supposed perfection of public order.

A distribution of power and office; an execution of law, by which mutual
encroachments and molestations are brought to an end; by which the person
and the property are, without friends, without cabal, without obligation,
perfectly secured to individuals, does honour to the genius of a nation;
and could not have been fully established, without those exertions of
understanding and integrity, those trials of a resolute and vigorous
spirit, which adorn the annals of a people, and leave to future ages a
subject of just admiration and applause. But if we suppose that the end is
attained, and that men no longer act, in the enjoyment of liberty from
liberal sentiments, or with a view to the preservation of public manners;
if individuals think themselves secure without any attention or effort of
their own; this boasted advantage may be found only to give them an
opportunity of enjoying, at leisure, the conveniencies and necessaries of
life; or, in the language of Cato, teach them to value their houses, their
villas, their statues, and their pictures, at a higher rate than they do
the republic. They may be found to grow tired in secret of a free
constitution, of which they never cease to boast in their conversation, and
which they always neglect in their conduct.

The dangers to liberty are not the subject of our present consideration;
but they can never be greater from any cause than they are from the
supposed remissness of a people, to whose personal vigour every
constitution, as it owed its establishment, so must continue to owe its
preservation. Nor is this blessing ever less secure than it is in the
possession of men who think that they enjoy it in safety, and who therefore
consider the public only as it presents to their avarice a number of
lucrative employments; for the sake of which, they may sacrifice those very
rights which render themselves objects of management or of consideration.

From the tendency of these reflections, then, it should appear, that a
national spirit is frequently transient, not on account of any incurable
distemper in the nature of mankind, but on account of their voluntary
neglects and corruptions. This spirit subsisted solely, perhaps, in the
execution of a few projects, entered into for the acquisition of territory
or wealth; it comes, like a useless weapon, to be laid aside after its end
is attained.

Ordinary establishments terminate in a relaxation of vigour, and are
ineffectual to the preservation of states; because they lead mankind to
rely on their arts, instead of their virtues; and to mistake for an
improvement of human nature, a mere accession of accommodation, or of
riches. [Footnote:
Adeo in quae laboramus sola crevimus
Divitias luxuriamque.
Liv. lib. vii. c. 25.] Institutions that fortify the mind, inspire courage,
and promote national felicity, can never tend to national ruin.

Is it not possible, amidst our admiration of arts, to find some place for
these? Let statesmen, who are intrusted with the government of nations,
reply for themselves. It is their business to shew, whether they climb into
stations of eminence, merely to display a passion of interest, which they
had better indulge in obscurity; and whether they have capacity to
understand the happiness of a people, the conduct of whose affairs they are
so willing to undertake.



Men frequently, while they are engaged in what is accounted the most
selfish of all pursuits, the improvement of fortune, then most neglect
themselves; and while they reason for their country, forget the
considerations that most deserve their attention. Numbers, riches, and the
other resources of war, are highly important: but nations consist of men;
and a nation consisting of degenerate and cowardly men, is weak; a nation
consisting of vigorous, public spirited, and resolute men, is strong. The
resources of war, where other advantages are equal, may decide a contest;
but the resources of war, in hands that cannot employ them, are of no

Virtue is a necessary constituent of national strength: capacity, and a
vigorous understanding, are no less necessary to sustain the fortune of
states. Both are improved by discipline, and by the exercises in which men
are engaged. We despise, or we pity the lot of mankind, while they lived
under uncertain establishments, and were obliged to sustain in the same
person, the character of the senator, the statesman, and the soldier.
Commercial nations discover, that any one of these characters is sufficient
in one person; and that the ends of each, when disjoined, are more easily
accomplished. The first, however, were circumstances under which nations
advanced and prospered; the second were those in which the spirit relaxed,
and the nation went to decay.

We may, with good reason, congratulate our species on their having escaped
from a state of barbarous disorder and violence, into a state of domestic
peace and regular policy; when they have sheathed the dagger, and disarmed
the animosities of civil contention; when the weapons with which they
contend are the reasonings of the wise, and the tongue of the eloquent. But
we cannot, mean time, help to regret, that they should ever proceed, in
search of perfection, to place every branch of administration behind the
counter, and come to employ, instead of the statesman and warrior, the mere
clerk and accountant.

By carrying this system to its height, men are educated, who could copy for
Caesar his military instructions, or even execute a part of his plans; but
none who could act in all the different scenes for which the leader himself
must be qualified, in the state and in the field, in times of order or of
tumult, in times of division or of unanimity; none who could animate the
council when deliberating on domestic affairs, or when alarmed by attacks
from abroad.

The policy of China is the most perfect model of an arrangement at which
the ordinary refinements of government are aimed; and the inhabitants of
that empire possess, in the highest degree, those arts on which vulgar
minds make the felicity and greatness of nations to depend. The state has
acquired, in a measure unequalled in the history of mankind, numbers of
men, and the other resources of war. They have done what we are very apt to
admire: they have brought national affairs to the level of the meanest
capacity; they have broke them into parts, and thrown them into separate
departments; they have clothed every proceeding with splendid ceremonies,
and majestical forms; and where the reverence of forms cannot repress
disorder, a rigorous and severe police, armed with every species of
corporal punishment, is applied to the purpose. The whip, and the cudgel,
are held up to all orders of men; they are at once employed, and they are
dreaded, by every magistrate. A mandarine is whipped, for having ordered a
pickpocket to receive too few or too many blows.

Every department of state is made the object of a separate profession, and
every candidate for office must have passed through a regular education;
and, as in the graduations of the university, must have obtained by his
proficiency, or his standing, the degree to which he aspires. The tribunals
of state, of war, and of the revenue, as well as of literature, are
conducted by graduates in their different studies; but while learning is
the great road to preferment, it terminates in being able to read, and to
write; and the great object of government consists in raising, and in
consuming the fruits of the earth. With all these resources, and this
learned preparation, which is made to turn these resources to use, the
state is in reality weak; has repeatedly given the example which we seek to
explain; and among the doctors of war or of policy, among the millions who
are set apart for the military profession, can find none of its members who
are fit to stand forth in the dangers of their country, or to form a
defence against the repeated inroads of an enemy reputed to be artless and

It is difficult to tell how long the decay of states might be suspended, by
the cultivation of arts on which their real felicity and strength depend;
by cultivating in the higher ranks those talents for the council and the
field, which cannot, without great disadvantage, be separated; and in the
body of a people, that zeal for their country, and that military character,
which enable them to take a share in defending its rights.

Times may come, when every proprietor must defend his own possessions, and
every free people maintain their own independence. We may imagine, that,
against such an extremity, an army of hired troops is a sufficient
precaution; but their own troops are the very enemy against which a people
is sometimes obliged to fight. We may flatter ourselves, that extremities
of this sort, in any particular case, are remote; but we cannot, in
reasoning on the general fortunes of mankind, avoid putting the case, and
referring to the examples in which it has happened. It has happened in
every instance where the polished have fallen a prey to the rude, and where
the pacific inhabitant has been reduced to subjection by military force.

If the defence and government of a people be made to depend on a few, who
make the conduct of state or of war their profession; whether these be
foreigners or natives; whether they be called away of a sudden, like the
Roman legion from Britain; whether they turn against their employers, like
the army of Carthage; or be overpowered and dispersed by a stroke of
fortune; the multitude of a cowardly and undisciplined people must, upon
such an emergence; receive a foreign or a domestic enemy, as they would a
plague or an earthquake, with hopeless amazement and terror, and by their
numbers, only swell the triumphs, and enrich the spoil of a conqueror.

Statesmen and leaders of armies, accustomed to the mere observance of
forms, are disconcerted by a suspension of customary rules; and on slight
grounds despair of their country. They were qualified only to go the rounds
of a particular track; and when forced from their stations, are in reality
unable to act with men. They only took part in formalities, of which they
understood not the tendency; and together with the modes of procedure, even
the very state itself, in their apprehension, has ceased to exist. The
numbers, possessions, and resources of a great people, only serve, in their
view, to constitute a scene of hopeless confusion and terror.

In rude ages, under the appellations of _a community, a people_, or
_a nation_, was understood a number of men; and the state, while its
members remained, was accounted entire. The Scythians, while they fled
before Darius, mocked at his childish attempt; Athens survived the
devastations of Xerxes; and Rome, in its rude state, those of the Gauls.
With polished and mercantile states, the case is sometimes reversed. The
nation is a territory, cultivated and improved by its owners; destroy the
possession, even while the master remains, the state is undone.

The weakness and effeminacy of which polished nations are sometimes
accused, has its place probably in the mind alone. The strength of animals,
and that of man in particular, depends on his feeding; and the kind of
labour to which he is used. Wholesome food, and hard labour, the portion of
many in every polished and commercial nation, secure to the public a number
of men endued with bodily strength, and inured to hardship and toil.

Even delicate living, and good accommodation, are not found to enervate the
body. The armies of Europe have been obliged to make the experiment; and
the children of opulent families, bred in effeminacy, or nursed with tender
care, have been made to contend with the savage. By imitating his arts,
they have learned, like him, to traverse the forest; and, in every season,
to subsist in the desert. They have, perhaps, recovered a lesson, which it
has cost civilized nations many ages to unlearn, that the fortune of a man
is entire while he remains possessed of himself.

It may be thought, however, that few of the celebrated nations of
antiquity, whose fate has given rise to so much reflection on the
vicissitudes of human affairs, had made any great progress in those
enervating arts we have mentioned; or made those arrangements from which
the danger in question could be supposed to arise. The Greeks, in
particular, at the time they received the Macedonian yoke, had certainly
not carried the commercial arts to so great a height as is common with the
most flourishing and prosperous nations of Europe. They had still retained
the form of independent republics; the people were generally admitted to a
share in the government; and not being able to hire armies, they were
obliged, by necessity, to bear a part in the defence of their country. By
their frequent wars and domestic commotions, they were accustomed to
danger, and were familiar with alarming situations; they were accordingly
still accounted the best soldiers and the best statesmen of the known
world. The younger Cyrus promised himself the empire of Asia by means of
their aid; and after his fall, a body of ten thousand, although bereft of
their leaders, baffled, in their retreat, all the military force of the
Persian empire. The victor of Asia did not think himself prepared for that
conquest, till he had formed an army from the subdued republics of Greece.

It is, however, true, that in the age of Philip, the military and political
spirit of those nations appears to have been considerably impaired, and to
have suffered, perhaps, from the variety of interests and pursuits, as well
as of pleasures, with which their members came to be occupied; they even
made a kind of separation between the civil and military character.
Phocion, we are told by Plutarch, having observed that the leading men of
his time followed different courses, that some applied themselves to civil,
others to military affairs, determined rather to follow the examples of
Themistocles, Aristides, and Pericles, the leaders of a former age, who
were equally prepared for either.

We find in the orations of Demosthenes, a perpetual reference to this state
of manners. We find him exhorting the Athenians not only to declare war,
but to arm themselves for the execution of their own military plans. We
find that there was an order of military men, who easily passed from the
service of one state to that of another; and who, when they were neglected
from home, turned away to enterprises on their own account. There were not,
perhaps, better warriors in any former age; but those warriors were not
attached to any state; and the settled inhabitants of every city thought
themselves disqualified for military service. The discipline of armies was
perhaps improved; but the vigour of nations was gone to decay. When Philip,
or Alexander, defeated the Grecian armies, which were chiefly composed of
soldiers of fortune, they found an easy conquest with the other
inhabitants; and when the latter, afterwards supported by those soldiers,
invaded the Persian empire, he seems to have left little martial spirit
behind him; and by removing the military men, to have taken precaution
enough, in his absence, to secure his dominion over this mutinous and
refractory people.

The subdivision of arts and professions, in, certain examples, tends to
improve the practice of them, and to promote their ends. By having
separated the arts of the clothier and the tanner, we are the better
supplied with shoes and with cloth. But to separate the arts which form the
citizen and the statesman, the arts of policy and war, is an attempt to
dismember the human character, and to destroy those very arts we mean to
improve. By this separation, we in effect deprive a free people of what is
necessary to their safety; or we prepare a defence against invasions from
abroad, which gives a prospect of usurpation, and threatens the
establishment of military government at home.

We may be surprised to find the beginning of certain military instructions
at Rome, referred to a time no earlier than that of the Cimbric war. It was
then, we are told by Valerius Maximus, that Roman soldiers were made to
learn from gladiators the use of a sword: and the antagonists of Pyrrhus
and of Hannibal were, by the account of this writer, still in need of
instruction in the first rudiments of their trade. They had already, by the
order and choice of their encampments, impressed the Grecian invader with
awe and respect; they had already, not by their victories, but by their
national vigour and firmness, under repeated defeats, induced him to sue
for peace. But the haughty Roman, perhaps, knew the advantage of order and
of union, without having been broke to the inferior arts of the mercenary
soldier; and had the courage to face the enemies of his country, without
having practised the use of his weapon under the fear of being whipped. He
could ill be persuaded that a time might come, when refined and intelligent
nations would make the art of war to consist in a few technical forms; that
citizens and soldiers might come to be distinguished as much as women and
men; that the citizen would become possessed of a property which he would
not be able, or required, to defend; that the soldier would be appointed to
keep for another what he would be taught to desire, and what he alone would
be enabled to seize and to keep for himself; that, in short, one set of men
were to have an interest in the preservation of civil establishments,
without the power to defend them; that the other were to have this power,
without either the inclination or the interest.

This people, however, by degrees came to put their military force on the
very footing to which this description alludes. Marius made a capital
change in the manner of levying soldiers at Rome: he filled his legions
with the mean and the indigent, who depended on military pay for
subsistence; he created a force which rested on mere discipline alone, and
the skill of the gladiator; he taught his troops to employ their swords
against the constitution of their country, and set the example of a
practice which was soon adopted and improved by his successors.

The Romans only meant by their armies to encroach on the freedom of other
nations, while they preserved their own. They forgot, that in assembling
soldiers of fortune, and in suffering any leader to be master of a
disciplined army, they actually resigned their political rights, and
suffered a master to arise for the state. This people, in short, whose
ruling passion was depredation and conquest, perished by the recoil of an
engine which they themselves had erected against mankind.

The boasted refinements, then, of the polished age, are not divested of
danger. They open a door, perhaps, to disaster, as wide and accessible as
any of those they have shut. If they build walls and ramparts, they
enervate the minds of those who are placed to defend them; if they form
disciplined armies, they reduce the military spirit of entire nations; and
by placing the sword where they have given a distaste to civil
establishments, they prepare for mankind the government of force.

It is happy for the nations of Europe, that the disparity between the
soldier and the pacific citizen can never be so great as it became among
the Greeks and the Romans. In the use of modern arms, the novice is made to
learn, and to practise with ease, all that the veteran knows; and if to
teach him were a matter of real difficulty, happy are they who are not
deterred by such difficulties, and who can discover the arts which tend to
fortify and preserve, not to enervate and ruin their country.



The strength of nations consists in the wealth, the numbers, and the
character of their people. The history of their progress from a state of
rudeness, is, for the most part, a detail of the struggles they have
maintained, and of the arts they have practised, to strengthen, or to
secure themselves. Their conquests, their population, and their commerce,
their civil and military arrangements, their skill in the construction of
weapons, and in the methods of attack and defence; the very distribution of
tasks, whether in private business or in public affairs, either tend to
bestow, or promise to employ with advantage the constituents of a national
force, and the resources of war.

If we suppose that, together with these advantages, the military character
of a people remains, or is improved, it must follow, that what is gained in
civilization, is a real increase of strength; and that the ruin of nations
could never take its rise from themselves. Where states have stopped short
in their progress, or have actually gone to decay, we may suspect, that
however disposed to advance, they have found a limit, beyond which they
could not proceed; or from a remission of the national spirit, and a
weakness of character, were unable to make the most of their resources, and
natural advantages. On this supposition, from being stationary, they may
begin to relapse, and by a retrograde motion in a succession of ages,
arrive at a state of greater weakness, than that which they quitted in the
beginning of their progress; and with the appearance of better arts, and
superior conduct, expose themselves to become a prey to barbarians, whom,
in the attainment, or the height of their glory, they had easily baffled or

Whatever may be the natural wealth of a people, or whatever may be the
limits beyond which they cannot improve on their stock, it is probable,
that no nation has ever reached those limits, or has been able to postpone
its misfortunes, and the effects of misconduct, until its fund of
materials, and the fertility of its soil, were exhausted, or the numbers of
its people were greatly reduced. The same errors in policy, and weakness of
manners, which prevent the proper use of resources, likewise check their
increase, or improvement. The wealth of the state consists in the fortune
of its members. The actual revenue of the state is that share of every
private fortune, which the public has been accustomed to demand for
national purposes. This revenue cannot be always proportioned to what may
be supposed redundant in the private estate, but to what is, in some
measure, thought so by the owner; and to what he may be made to spare,
without intrenching on his manner of living, and without suspending his
projects of expense, or of commerce. It should appear, therefore, that any
immoderate increase of private expense is a prelude to national weakness:
government, even while each of its subjects consumes a princely estate, may
be straitened in point of revenue, and the paradox be explained by example,
that the public is poor while its members are rich.

We are frequently led into error by mistaking money for riches; we think
that a people cannot be impoverished by a waste of money which is spent
among themselves. The fact is, that men are impoverished only in two ways;
either by having their gains suspended, or by having their substance
consumed; and money expended at home, being circulated, and not consumed,
cannot, any more than the exchange of a tally, or a counter, among a
certain number of hands, tend to diminish the wealth of the company among
whom it is handed about. But while money circulates at home, the
necessaries of life, which are the real constituents of wealth, may be idly
consumed; the industry which might be employed to increase the stock of a
people, may be suspended, or turned to abuse.

Great armies, maintained either at home or abroad, without any national
object, are so many mouths unnecessarily opened to waste the stores of the
public, and so many hands withheld from the arts by which its profits are
made. Unsuccessful enterprises are so many ventures thrown away, and losses
sustained, proportioned to the capital employed in the service. The
Helvetii, in order to invade the Roman province of Gaul, burnt their
habitations, dropt their instruments of husbandry, and consumed in one year
the savings of many. The enterprise failed of success, and the nation was

States have endeavoured, in some instances, by pawning their credit,
instead of employing their capital, to disguise the hazards they ran. They
have found, in the loans they raised, a casual resource, which encouraged
their enterprises. They have seemed, by their manner of erecting
transferable funds, to leave the capital for purposes of trade, in the
hands of the subject, while it is actually expended by the government. They
have, by these means, proceeded to the execution of great national
projects, without suspending private industry, and have left future ages to
answer, in part, for debts contracted with a view to future emolument. So
far the expedient is plausible, and appears to be just. The growing burden
too, is thus gradually laid; and if a nation be to sink in some future age,
every minister hopes it may still keep afloat in his own. But the measure,
for this very reason, is, with all its advantages, extremely dangerous, in
the hands of a precipitant and ambitious administration, regarding only the
present occasion, and imagining a state to be inexhaustible, while a
capital can be borrowed, and the interest be paid.

We are told of a nation who, during a certain period, rivalled the glories
of the ancient world, threw off the dominion of a master armed against them
with the powers of a great kingdom, broke the yoke with which they had been
oppressed, and almost within the course of a century raised, by their
industry and national vigour, a new and formidable power, which struck the
former potentates of Europe with awe and suspense, and turned the badges of
poverty with which they set out, into the ensigns of war and dominion. This
end was attained by the great efforts of a spirit awakened by oppression,
by a successful pursuit of national wealth, and by a rapid anticipation of
future revenue. But this illustrious state is supposed not only, in the
language of a former section, to have pre-occupied the business; they have
sequestered the inheritance of many ages to come.

Great national expense, however, does not imply the necessity of any
national suffering. While revenue is applied with success to obtain some
valuable end, the profits of every adventure, being more than sufficient to
repay its costs, the public should gain, and its resources should continue
to multiply. But an expense, whether sustained at home or abroad, whether a
waste of the present, or an anticipation of future, revenue, if it bring no
proper return, is to be reckoned among the causes of national ruin.


* * * * *



* * * * *



If the fortune of nations, and their tendency to aggrandizement, or to
ruin, were to be estimated by merely balancing, on the principles of the
last section, articles of profit and loss, every argument in politics would
rest on a comparison of national expense with national gain; on a
comparison of the numbers who consume, with those who produce or amass the
necessaries of life. The columns of the industrious, and the idle, would
include all orders of men; and the state itself, being allowed as many
magistrates, politicians, and warriors, as were barely sufficient for its
defence and its government, should place, on the side of its loss, every
name that is supernumerary on the civil or the military list; all those
orders of men, who, by the possession of fortune, subsist on the gains of
others, and by the nicety of their choice, require a great expense of time
and of labour, to supply their consumption; all those who are idly employed
in the train of persons of rank; all those who are engaged in the
professions of law, physic, or divinity, together with all the learned who
do not, by their studies, promote or improve the practice of some lucrative
trade. The value of every person, in short, should be computed from his
labour; and that of labour itself, from its tendency to procure and amass
the means of subsistence. The arts employed on mere superfluities should be
prohibited, except when their produce could be exchanged with foreign
nations, for commodities that might be employed to maintain useful men for
the public.

These appear to be the rules by which a miser would examine the state of
his own affairs, or those of his country; but schemes of perfect corruption
are at least as impracticable as schemes of perfect virtue. Men are not
universally misers; they will not be satisfied with the pleasure of
hoarding; they must be suffered to enjoy their wealth, in order that they
may take the trouble of becoming rich. Property, in the common course of
human affairs, is unequally divided: we are therefore obliged to suffer the
wealthy to squander, that the poor may subsist: we are obliged to tolerate
certain orders of men, who are above the necessity of labour, in order
that, in their condition, there may be an object of ambition, and a rank to
which the busy aspire. We are not only obliged to admit numbers, who, in
strict economy, may be reckoned superfluous, on the civil, the military,
and the political list; but because we are men, and prefer the occupation,
improvement, and felicity of our nature, to its mere existence, we must
even wish, that as many members as possible, of every community, may be
admitted to a share of its defence and its government.

Men, in fact, while they pursue in society different objects, or separate
views, procure a wide distribution of power, and by a species of chance,
arrive at a posture for civil engagements, more favourable to human nature
than what human wisdom could ever calmly devise.

If the strength of a nation, in the mean-time, consists in the men on whom
it may rely, and who are fortunately or wisely combined for its
preservation, it follows, that manners are as important as either numbers
or wealth; and that corruption is to be accounted a principal cause of the
national declension and ruin.

Whoever perceives what are the qualities of man in his excellence, may
easily, by that standard, distinguish his defects or corruptions. If an
intelligent, a courageous, and an affectionate mind, constitutes the
perfection of his nature, remarkable failings in any of those particulars
must proportionally sink or debase his character.

We have observed, that it is the happiness of the individual to make a
right choice of his conduct; that this choice will lead him to lose in
society the sense of a personal interest; and, in the consideration of what
is due to the whole, to stifle those anxieties which relate to himself as a

The natural disposition of man to humanity, and the warmth of his temper,
may raise his character to this fortunate pitch. His elevation, in a great
measure, depends on the form of his society; but he can, without incurring
the charge of corruption, accommodate himself to great variations in the
constitutions of government. The same integrity, and vigorous spirit,
which, in democratical states, renders him tenacious of his equality, may,
under aristocracy or monarchy, lead him to maintain the subordinations
established. He may entertain, towards the different ranks of men with whom
he is yoked in the state, maxims of respect and of candour: he may, in the
choice of his actions, follow a principle of justice and of honour, which
the considerations of safety, preferment, or profit, cannot efface.

From our complaints of national depravity, it should, notwithstanding,
appear, that whole bodies of men are sometimes infected with an epidemical
weakness of the head, or corruption of heart, by which they become unfit
for the stations they occupy, and threaten the states they compose, however
flourishing, with a prospect of decay, and of ruin.

A change of national manners for the worse, may arise from a discontinuance
of the scenes in which the talents of men were happily cultivated, and
brought into exercise; or from a change in the prevailing opinions relating
to the constituents of honour or of happiness. When mere riches, or court
favour, are supposed to constitute rank; the mind is misled from the
consideration of qualities on which it ought to rely. Magnanimity, courage,
and the love of mankind, are sacrificed to avarice and vanity; or
suppressed under a sense of dependence. The individual considers his
community so far only as it can be rendered subservient to his personal
advancement or profit: he states himself in competition with his fellow
creatures; and, urged by the passions of emulation, of fear and jealousy,
of envy and malice, he follows the maxims of an animal destined to preserve
his separate existence, and to indulge his caprice or his appetite, at the
expense of his species.

On this corrupt foundation, men become either rapacious, deceitful, and
violent, ready to trespass on the rights of others; or servile, mercenary,
and base, prepared to relinquish their own. Talents, capacity, and force of
mind, possessed by a person of the first description, serve to plunge him
the deeper in misery, and to sharpen the agony of cruel passions; which
lead him to wreak on his fellow creatures the torments that prey on
himself. To a person of the second, imagination, and reason itself, only
serve to point out false objects of fear and desire, and to multiply the
subjects of disappointment and of momentary joy. In either case, and
whether we suppose that corrupt men are urged by covetousness, or betrayed
by fear, and without specifying the crimes which from either disposition
they are prepared to commit, we may safely affirm, with Socrates, "That
every master should pray he may not meet with such a slave; and every such
person, being unfit for liberty, should implore that he may meet with a
merciful master."

Man, under this measure of corruption, although he may be bought for a
slave by those who know how to turn his faculties and his labour to profit;
and although, when kept under proper restraints, his neighbourhood may be
convenient or useful; yet is certainly unfit to act on the footing of a
liberal combination or concert with his fellow creatures: his mind is not
addicted to friendship or confidence; he is not willing to act for the
preservation of others, nor deserves that any other should hazard his own
safety for his.

The actual character of mankind, mean time, in the worst as well as the
best condition, is undoubtedly mixed: and nations of the best description
are greatly obliged for their preservation, not only to the good
disposition of their members, but likewise to those political institutions,
by which the violent are restrained from the commission of crimes, and the
cowardly, or the selfish, are made to contribute their part to the public
defence or prosperity. By means of such institutions, and the wise
precautions of government, nations are enabled to subsist, and even to
prosper, under very different degrees of corruption, or of public

So long as the majority of a people are supposed to act on maxims of
probity, the example of the good, and even the caution of the bad, give a
general appearance of integrity, and of innocence. Where men are to one
another objects of affection and of confidence, where they are generally
disposed not to offend, government may be remiss; and every person may be
treated as innocent, till he is found to be guilty. As the subject, in this
case, does not hear of the crimes, so he need not be told of the
punishments inflicted on persons of a different character. But where the
manners of a people are considerably changed for the worse, every subject
must stand on his guard, and government itself must act on suitable maxims
of fear and distrust. The individual, no longer fit to be indulged in his
pretensions to personal consideration, independence, or freedom, each of
which he would turn to abuse, must be taught, by external force, and from
motives of fear, to counterfeit those effects of innocence, and of duty, to
which he is not disposed: he must be referred to the whip, or the gibbet,
for arguments in support of a caution, which the state now requires him to
assume, on a supposition that he is insensible to the motives which
recommend the practice of virtue.

The rules of despotism are made for the government of corrupted men. They
were indeed followed on some remarkable occasions, even under the Roman
commonwealth; and the bloody axe, to terrify the citizen from his crimes,
and to repel the casual and temporary irruptions of vice, was repeatedly
committed to the arbitrary will of the dictator. They were finally
established on the ruins of the republic itself, when either the people
became too corrupted for freedom, or when the magistrate became too
corrupted to resign his dictatorial power. This species of government comes
naturally in the termination of a continued and growing corruption; but
has, no doubt, in some instances, come too soon, and has sacrificed remains
of virtue, that deserved a better fate, to the jealousy of tyrants, who
were in haste to augment their power. This method of government cannot, in
such cases, fail to introduce that measure of corruption, against whose
external effects it is desired as a remedy. When fear is suggested as the
only motive to duty, every art becomes rapacious or base. And this
medicine, if applied to a healthy body, is sure to create the distemper;
which in other cases it is destined to cure.

This is the manner of government into which the covetous, and the arrogant,
to satiate their unhappy desires, would hurry their fellow creatures: it is
a manner of government to which the timorous and the servile submit at
discretion; and when these characters of the rapacious and the timid divide
mankind, even the virtues of Antoninus or Trajan can do no more than apply,
with candour and with vigour, the whip and the sword; and endeavour, by the
hopes of reward, or the fear of punishment, to find a speedy and a
temporary cure for the crimes, or the imbecilities of men.

Other states may be more or less corrupted: this has corruption for its
basis. Here justice may sometimes direct the arm of the despotical
sovereign; but the name of justice is most commonly employed to signify the
interest or the caprice of a reigning power. Human society, susceptible of
such a variety of forms, here finds the simplest of all. The toils and
possessions of many are destined to assuage the passions of one or a few;
and the only parties that remain among, mankind, are the oppressor who
demands, and the oppressed who dare not refuse.

Nations, while they were entitled to a milder fate, as in the case of the
Greeks, repeatedly conquered, have been reduced to this condition by
military force. They have reached it too in the maturity of their own
depravations; when, like the Romans, returned from the conquest, and loaded
with the spoils of the world, they give loose to faction, and to crimes too
bold and too frequent for the correction of ordinary government; and when
the sword of justice, dropping with blood, and perpetually required to
suppress accumulating disorders on every side, could no longer await the
delays and precautions of an administration fettered by laws. [Footnote:
Sallust. Bell. Catalinarium.]

It is, however, well known from the history of mankind, that corruption of
this, or of any other degree, is not peculiar to nations in their decline,
or in the result of signal prosperity, and great advances in the arts of
commerce. The bands of society, indeed, in small and infant establishments,
are generally strong; and their subjects, either by an ardent devotion to
to their own tribe, or a vehement animosity against enemies, and by a
vigorous courage founded on both, are well qualified to urge, or to
sustain, the fortune of a growing community. But the savage and the
barbarian have given, notwithstanding, in the case of entire nations, some
examples of a weak and timorous character. [Footnote: The barbarous nations
of Siberia, in general, are servile and timid.] They have, in more
instances, fallen into that species of corruption which we have already
described in treating of barbarous nations; they have made rapine their
trade, not merely as a species of warfare, or with a view to enrich their
community, but to possess, in property, what they learned to prefer even to
the ties of affection or of blood.

In the lowest state of commercial arts, the passions for wealth, and for
dominion, have exhibited scenes of oppression or servility, which the most
finished corruption of the arrogant, the cowardly, and the mercenary,
founded on the desire of procuring, or the fear of losing, a fortune, could
not exceed. In such cases, the vices of men, unrestrained by forms, and
unawed by police, are suffered to riot at large, and to produce their
entire effects. Parties accordingly unite, or separate, on the maxims of a
gang of robbers; they sacrifice to interest the tenderest affections of
human nature. The parent supplies the market for slaves, even by the sale
of his own children; the cottage ceases to be a sanctuary for the weak and
the defenceless stranger; and the rights of hospitality, often so sacred
among nations in their primitive state, come to be violated, like every
other tie of humanity, without fear or remorse. [Footnote: Chardin's
travels through Mingrelia into Persia.]

Nations which, in later periods of their history, became eminent for civil
wisdom and justice, had, perhaps, in a former age, paroxysms of lawless
disorder, to which this description might in part be applied. The very
policy by which they arrived at their degree of national felicity, was
devised as a remedy for outrageous abuse. The establishment of order was
dated from the commission of rapes and murders; indignation, and private
revenge, were the principles on which nations proceeded to the expulsion of
tyrants, to the emancipation of mankind, and the full explanation of their
political rights.

Defects of government and of law may be, in some cases, considered as a
symptom of innocence and of virtue. But where power is already established,
where the strong are unwilling to suffer restraint, or the weak unable to
find a protection, the defects of law are marks of the most perfect

Among rude nations, government is often defective; both because men are not
yet acquainted with all the evils for which polished nations have
endeavoured to find a redress; and because, even where evils of the most
flagrant nature have long afflicted the peace of society, they have not yet
been able to apply the cure. In the progress of civilization, new
distempers break forth, and new remedies are applied: but the remedy is
not always applied the moment the distemper appears; and laws, though
suggested by the commission of crimes, are not the symptom of a recent
corruption, but of a desire to find a remedy that may cure, perhaps, some
inveterate evil which has long afflicted the state.

There are corruptions, however, under which men still possess the vigour
and the resolution to correct themselves. Such are the violence and the
outrage which accompany the collision of fierce and daring spirits,
occupied in the struggles which sometimes precede the dawn of civil and
commercial improvements. In such cases, men have frequently discovered a
remedy for evils, of which their own misguided impetuosity, and superior
force of mind, were the principal causes. But if to a depraved disposition,
we suppose to be joined a weakness of spirit; if to an admiration and
desire of riches, be joined an aversion to danger or business; if those
orders of men whose valour is required by the public, cease to be brave; if
the members of society in general have not those personal qualities which
are required to fill the stations of equality, or of honour, to which they
are invited by the forms of the state; they must sink to a depth from which
their imbecility, even more than their depraved inclinations, may prevent
their rise.



We are far from being agreed on the application of the term _luxury_,
or on that degree of its meaning which is consistent with national
prosperity, or with the moral rectitude of our nature. It is sometimes
employed to signify a manner of life which we think necessary to
civilization, and even to happiness. It is, in our panegyric of polished
ages, the parent of arts, the support of commerce, and the minister of
national greatness, and of opulence. It is, in our censure of degenerate
manners, the source of corruption, and the presage of national declension
and ruin. It is admired, and it is blamed; it is treated as ornamental and
useful, and it is proscribed as a vice.

With all this diversity in our judgments, we are generally uniform in
employing the term to signify that complicated apparatus which mankind
devise for the ease and convenience of life. Their buildings, furniture,
equipage, clothing, train of domestics, refinement of the table, and, in
general, all that assemblage which is rather intended to please the fancy,
than to obviate real wants, and which is rather ornamental than useful.

When we are disposed, therefore, under the appellation of _luxury_, to rank
the enjoyment of these things among the vices, we either tacitly refer to
the habits of sensuality, debauchery, prodigality, vanity, and arrogance,
with which the possession of high fortune is sometimes attended; or we
apprehend a certain measure of what is necessary to human life, beyond
which all enjoyments are supposed to be excessive and vicious. When, on
the contrary, luxury is made an article of national lustre and felicity, we
only think of it as an innocent consequence of the unequal distribution of
wealth, and as a method by which different ranks are rendered mutually
dependent, and mutually useful. The poor are made to practise arts, and
the rich to reward them. The public itself is made a gainer by what seems
to waste its stock, and it receives a perpetual increase of wealth, from
the influence of those growing appetites, and delicate tastes, which seem
to menace consumption and ruin.

It is certain, that we must either, together with the commercial arts,
suffer their fruits to be enjoyed, and even in some measure admired; or,
like the Spartans, prohibit the art itself, while we are afraid of its
consequences, or while we think that the conveniencies it brings exceed
what nature requires. But we may propose to stop the advancement of arts at
any stage of their progress, and still incur the censure of luxury from
those who are not advanced so far. The housebuilder and the carpenter at
Sparta were limited to the use of the axe and the saw; but a Spartan
cottage might have passed for a palace in Thrace: and if the dispute were
to turn on the knowledge of what is physically necessary to the
preservation of human life, as the standard of what is morally lawful, the
faculties of physic, as well as of morality, would probably divide on the
subject, and leave every individual, as at present, to find some rule for
himself. The casuist, for the most part, considers the practice of his own
age and condition as a standard for mankind. If in one age or condition he
condemn the use of a coach, in another he would have no less censured the
wearing of shoes; and the very person who exclaims against the first, would
probably not have spared the second, if it had not been already familiar in
ages before his own. A censor born in a cottage, and accustomed to sleep
upon straw, does not propose that men should return to the woods and the
caves for shelter; he admits the reasonableness and the utility of what is
already familiar; and apprehends an excess and corruption, only in the
newest refinement of the rising generation.

The clergy of Europe have preached successively against every new fashion,
and every innovation in dress. The modes of youth are a subject of censure
to the old; and modes of the last age, in their turn, a matter of ridicule
to the flippant, and the young. Of this there is not always a better
account to be given, than that the old are disposed to be severe, and the
young to be merry.

The argument against many of the conveniencies of life, drawn from the mere
consideration of their not being necessary, was equally proper in the mouth
of the savage, who dissuaded from the first applications of industry, as it
is in that of the moralist, who insists on the vanity of the last. "Our
ancestors," he might say, "found their dwelling under this rock; they
gathered their food in the forest; they allayed their thirst from the
fountain; and they were clothed in the spoils of the beast they had slain.
Why should we indulge a false delicacy, or require from the earth fruits
which she is not accustomed to yield? The bow of our father is already too
strong for our arms; and the wild beast begins to lord it in the woods."

Thus the moralist may have found, in the proceedings of every age, those
topics of blame, from which he is so much disposed to arraign the manners
of his own; and our embarrassment on the subject is, perhaps, but a part of
that general perplexity which we undergo, in trying to define moral
characters by external circumstances, which may, or may not, be attended
with faults in the mind and the heart. One man finds a vice in the wearing
of linen; another does not, unless the fabric be fine: and if, meantime, it
be true, that a person may be dressed in manufacture either coarse or fine;
that he may sleep in the fields, or lodge in a palace; tread upon carpet,
or plant his foot on the ground; while the mind either retains, or has lost
its penetration, and its vigour, and the heart its affection to mankind, it
is vain, under any such circumstance, to seek for the distinctions of
virtue and vice, or to tax the polished citizen with weakness for any part
of his equipage, or for his wearing a fur, in which, perhaps, some savage
was dressed before him. Vanity is not distinguished by any peculiar species
of dress. It is betrayed by the Indian in the fantastic assortments of his
plumes, his shells, his party coloured furs, and in the time he bestows at
the glass and the toilet. Its projects in the woods and in the town are
the same: in the one, it seeks, with the visage bedaubed, and with teeth
artificially stained, for that admiration, which it courts in the other
with a gilded equipage, and liveries of state.

Polished nations, in their progress, often come to surpass the rude in
moderation, and severity of manners. "The Greeks," says Thucydides, "not
long ago, like barbarians, wore golden spangles in the hair, and went armed
in times of peace." Simplicity of dress in this people, became a mark of
politeness: and the mere materials with which the body is nourished or
clothed, are probably of little consequence to any people. We must look for
the characters of men in the qualities of the mind, not in the species of
their food, or in the mode of their apparel. What are now the ornaments of
the grave and severe; what is owned to be a real conveniency, were once the
fopperies of youth, or were devised to please the effeminate. The new
fashion, indeed, is often the mark of the coxcomb; but we frequently change
our fashions without multiplying coxcombs, or increasing the measures of
our vanity and folly.

Are the apprehensions of the severe, therefore, in every age, equally
groundless and unreasonable? Are we never to dread any error in the article
of a refinement bestowed on the means of subsistence, or the conveniencies
of life? The fact is, that men are perpetually exposed to the commission of
error in this article, not merely where they are accustomed to high
measures of accommodation, or to any particular species of food, but
wherever these objects, in general, may come to be preferred to their
character, to their country, or to mankind; they actually commit such
error, wherever they admire paltry distinctions or frivolous advantages;
wherever they shrink from small inconveniencies, and are incapable of
discharging their duty with vigour. The use of morality on this subject, is
not to limit men to any particular species of lodging, diet, or clothes;
but to prevent their considering these conveniencies as the principal
objects of human life. And if we are asked, where the pursuit of trifling
accommodations should stop, in order that a man may devote himself entirely
to the higher engagements of life? we may answer, that it should stop where
it is. This was the rule followed at Sparta: the object of the rule was, to
preserve the heart entire for the public, and to occupy men in cultivating
their own nature, not in accumulating wealth, and external conveniencies.
It was not expected otherwise, that the axe or the saw should be attended
with greater political advantage, than the plane and the chisel. When Cato
walked the streets of Rome without his robe, and without shoes, he did so,
most probably, in contempt of what his countrymen were so prone to admire;
not in hopes of finding a virtue in one species of dress, or a vice in

Luxury, therefore, considered as a predilection in favour of the objects of
vanity, and the costly materials of pleasure, is ruinous to the human
character; considered as the mere use of accommodations and conveniencies
which the age has procured, rather depends on the progress which the
mechanical arts have made, and on the degree in which the fortunes of men
are unequally parcelled, than on the dispositions of particular men either
to vice or to virtue.

Different measures of luxury are, however, variously suited to different
constitutions of government. The advancement of arts supposes an unequal
distribution of fortune; and the means of distinction they bring, serve to
render the separation of ranks more sensible. Luxury is, upon this account,
apart from all its moral effects, adverse to the form of democratical
government; and, in any state of society, can be safely admitted in that
degree only in which the members of a community are supposed of unequal
rank, and constitute public order by the relations of superior and vassal.
High degrees of it appear salutary, and even necessary, in monarchical and
mixed governments; where, besides the encouragement to arts and commerce,
it serves to give lustre to those hereditary or constitutional dignities
which have a place of importance in the political system. Whether even here
luxury leads to abuse peculiar to ages of high refinement and opulence, we
shall proceed to consider in the following sections.



Luxury and corruption are frequently coupled together, and even pass for
synonymous terms. But, in order to avoid any dispute about words, by the
first we may understand that accumulation of wealth, and that refinement on
the ways of enjoying it, which are the objects of industry, or the fruits
of mechanic and commercial arts: and by the second a real weakness, or
depravity of the human character, which may accompany any state of those
arts, and be found under any external circumstances or condition
whatsoever. It remains to inquire, what are the corruptions incident to
polished nations, arrived at certain measures of luxury, and possessed of
certain advantages, in which they are generally supposed to excel?

We need not have recourse to a parallel between the manners of entire
nations, in the extremes of civilization and rudeness, in order to be
satisfied, that the vices of men are not proportioned to their fortunes; or
that the habits of avarice, or of sensuality, are not founded on any
certain measures of wealth, or determinate kind of enjoyment. Where the
situations of particular men are varied as much by their personal stations,
as they can be by the state of national refinements, the same passions for
interest, or pleasure, prevail in every condition. They arise from
temperament, or an acquired admiration of property; not from any particular
manner of life in which the parties are engaged, nor from any particular
species of property which may have occupied their cares and their wishes.

Temperance and moderation are, at least, as frequent among those whom we
call the superior, as they are among the lower classes of men; and however
we may affix the character of sobriety to mere cheapness of diet, and other
accommodations with which any particular age, or rank of men, appear to be
contented, it is well known, that costly materials are not necessary to
constitute a debauch, nor profligacy less frequent under the thatched roof,
than under the lofty ceiling. Men grow equally familiar with different
conditions, receive equal pleasure, and are equally allured to sensuality
in the palace and in the cave. Their acquiring in either, habits of
intemperance or sloth, depends on the remission of other pursuits, and on
the distaste of the mind to other engagements. If the affections of the
heart be awake, and the passions of love, admiration, or anger, be kindled,
the costly furniture of the palace, as well as the homely accommodations of
the cottage, are neglected: and men, when roused, reject their repose; or,
when fatigued, embrace it alike on the silken bed, or on the couch of

We are not, however, from hence to conclude, that luxury, with all its
concomitant circumstances, which either serve to favour its increase, or
which, in the arrangements of civil society, follow it as consequences, can
have no effect to the disadvantage of national manners. If that respite
from public dangers and troubles which gives a leisure for the practice of
commercial arts, be continued, or increased, into a disuse of national
efforts; if the individual, not called to unite with his country, be left
to pursue his private advantage; we may find him become effeminate,
mercenary, and sensual; not because pleasures and profits are become more
alluring, but because he has fewer calls to attend to other objects; and
because he has more encouragement to study his personal advantages, and
pursue his separate interests.

If the disparities of rank and fortune, which are necessary to the pursuit
or enjoyment of luxury, introduce false grounds of precedency and
estimation; if, on the mere considerations of being rich or poor, one order
of men are, in their own apprehension, elevated, another debased; if one be
criminally proud, another meanly dejected; and every rank in its place,
like the tyrant, who thinks that nations are made for himself, be disposed
to assume on the rights of mankind: although, upon the comparison, the
higher order may be least corrupted; or from education, and a sense of
personal dignity, have most good qualities remaining; yet the one becoming
mercenary and servile; the other imperious and arrogant; both regardless of
justice and of merit; the whole mass is corrupted, and the manners of a
society changed for the worse, in proportion as its members cease to act on
principles of equality, independence, or freedom.

Upon this view, and considering the merits of men in the abstract, a mere
change from the habits of a republic to those of a monarchy; from the love
of equality, to the sense of a subordination founded on birth, titles, and
fortune, is a species of corruption to mankind. But this degree of
corruption is still consistent with the safety and prosperity of some
nations; it admits of a vigorous courage, by which the rights of
individuals, and of kingdoms, may be long preserved.

Under the form of monarchy, while yet in its vigour, superior fortune is,
indeed, one mark by which the different orders of men are distinguished;
but there are some other ingredients, without which wealth is not admitted
as a foundation of precedency, and in favour of which it is often despised,
and lavished away. Such are birth and titles, the reputation of courage,
courtly manners, and a certain elevation of mind. If we suppose that these
distinctions are forgotten, and nobility itself only to be known by the
sumptuous retinue which money alone may procure; and by a lavish expense,
which the more recent fortunes can generally best sustain; luxury must then
be allowed to corrupt the monarchical as much as the republican state, and
to introduce a fatal dissolution of manners, under which men of every
condition, although they are eager to acquire, or to display their wealth,
have no remains of real ambition. They have neither the elevation of
nobles, nor the fidelity of subjects; they have changed into effeminate
vanity, that sense of honour which gave rules to the personal courage; and
into a servile baseness that loyalty, which bound each in his place to his
immediate superior, and the whole to the throne.

Nations are most exposed to corruption from this quarter, when the
mechanical arts, being greatly advanced, furnish numberless articles to be
applied in ornament to the person, in furniture, entertainment, or
equipage; when such articles as the rich alone can procure are admired; and
when consideration, precedence, and rank, are accordingly made to depend on

In a more rude state of the arts, although wealth be unequally divided, the
opulent can amass only the simple means of subsistence: they can only fill
the granary, and furnish the stall; reap from more extended fields, and
drive their herds over a larger pasture. To enjoy their magnificence, they
must live in a crowd; and to secure their possessions, they must be
surrounded with friends that espouse their quarrels. Their honours, as well
as their safety, consist in the numbers who attend them; and their personal
distinctions are taken from their liberality, and supposed elevation of
mind. In this manner, the possession of riches serves only to make the
owner assume a character of magnanimity, to become the guardian of numbers,
or the public object of respect and affection. But when the bulky
constituents of wealth, and of rustic magnificence, can be exchanged for
refinements; and when the produce of the soil may be turned into equipage,
and mere decoration; when the combination of many is no longer required for
personal safety; the master may become the sole consumer of his own estate:
he may refer the use of every subject to himself; he may employ the
materials of generosity to feed a personal vanity, or to indulge a sickly
and effeminate fancy, which has learned to enumerate the trappings of
weakness or folly among the necessaries of life.

The Persian satrape, we are told, when he saw the king of Sparta at the
place of their conference stretched on the grass with his soldiers, blushed
at the provision he made for the accommodation of his own person; he
ordered the furs and the carpets to be withdrawn; he felt his own
inferiority; and recollected, that he was to treat with a man, not to vie
with a pageant in costly attire and magnificence.

When, amid circumstances that make no trial of the virtues or talents of
men, we have been accustomed to the air of superiority which people of
fortune derive from their retinue, we are apt to lose every sense of
distinction arising from merit, or even from abilities. We rate our fellow
citizens by the figure they are able to make; by their buildings, their
dress, their equipage, and the train of their followers. All these
circumstances make a part in our estimate of what is excellent; and if the
master himself is known to be a pageant in the midst of his fortune, we
nevertheless pay our court to his station, and look up with an envious,
servile, or dejected mind, to what is, in itself, scarcely fit to amuse
children; though, when it is worn as a badge of distinction, it inflames
the ambition of those we call the great, and strikes the multitude with awe
and respect.

We judge of entire nations by the productions of a few mechanical arts, and
think we are talking of men, while we are boasting of their estates, their
dress, and their palaces. The sense in which we apply the terms,
_great_, and _noble, high rank_, and _high life_, show that we have,
on such occasions, transferred the idea of perfection from the character
to the equipage; and that excellence itself is, in our esteem, a
mere pageant, adorned at a great expense by the labours of many workmen.

To those who overlook the subtile transitions of the imagination, it might
appear, since wealth can do no more than furnish the means of subsistence,
and purchase animal pleasures, that covetousness, and venality itself,
should keep pace with our fears of want, or with our appetite for sensual
enjoyments; and that where the appetite is satiated, and the fear of want
is removed, the mind should be at ease on the subject of fortune. But they
are not the mere pleasures that riches procure, nor the choice of viands
which cover the board of the wealthy, that inflame the passions of the
covetous and the mercenary. Nature is easily satisfied in all her
enjoyments. It is an opinion of eminence, connected with fortune; it is a
sense of debasement attending on poverty, which renders us blind to every
advantage, but that of the rich; and insensible to every disgrace, but that
of the poor. It is this unhappy apprehension, that occasionally prepares us
for the desertion of every duty, for a submission to every indignity, and
for the commission of every crime that can be accomplished in safety.

Aurengzebe was not more renowned for sobriety in his private station, and
in the conduct of a supposed dissimulation, by which he aspired to
sovereign power, than he continued to be, even on the throne of Indostan.
Simple, abstinent, and severe in his diet, and other pleasures, he still
led the life of a hermit, and occupied his time with a seemingly painful
application to the affairs of a great empire. [Footnote: Gemelli Careri.]
He quitted a station in which, if pleasure had been his object, he might
have indulged his sensuality without reserve; he made his way to a scene of
disquietude and care; he aimed at the summit of human greatness, in the
possession of imperial fortune, not at the gratifications of animal
appetite, or the enjoyment of ease. Superior to sensual pleasure, as well
as to the feelings of nature, he dethroned his father, and he murdered his
brothers, that he might roll on a carriage incrusted with diamond and
pearl; that his elephants, his camels, and his horses, on the march, might
form a line extending many leagues; might present a glittering harness to
the sun; and loaded with treasure, usher to the view of an abject and
admiring crowd that awful majesty, in whose presence they were to strike
the forehead on the ground, and be overwhelmed with the sense of his
greatness, and with that of their own debasement.

As these are the objects which prompt the desire of dominion, and excite
the ambitious to aim at the mastery of their fellow creatures; so they
inspire the ordinary race of men with a sense of infirmity and meanness,
that prepares them to suffer indignities, and to become the property of
persons, whom they consider as of a rank and a nature so much superior to
their own. The chains of perpetual slavery, accordingly, appear to be
riveted in the east, no less by the pageantry which is made to accompany
the possession of power, than they are by the fears of the sword, and the
terrors of a military execution. In the west, as well as the east, we are
willing to bow to the splendid equipage, and stand at an awful distance
from the pomp of a princely estate. We too may be terrified by the frowns,
or won by the smiles, of those whose favour is riches and honour, and whose
displeasure is poverty and neglect. We too may overlook the honours of the
human soul, from an admiration of the pageantries that accompany fortune.
The procession of elephants harnessed with gold might dazzle into slaves,
the people who derive corruption and weakness from the effect of their own
arts and contrivances, as well as those who inherit servility from their
ancestors, and are enfeebled by their natural temperament, and the
enervating charms of their soil and their climate.

It appears, therefore, that although the mere use of materials which
constitute luxury, may be distinguished from actual vice; yet nations under
a high state of the commercial arts, are exposed to corruption, by their
admitting wealth, unsupported by personal elevation and virtue, as the
great foundation of distinction, and by having their attention turned on
the side of interest, as the road to consideration and honour.

With this effect, luxury may serve to corrupt democratical states, by
introducing a species of monarchical subordination, without that sense of
high birth and hereditary honours which render the boundaries of rank fixed
and determinate, and which teach men to act in their stations with force
and propriety. It may prove the occasion of political corruption, even in
monarchical governments, by drawing respect towards mere wealth; by casting
a shade on the lustre of personal qualities, or family distinctions; and by
infecting all orders of men, with equal venality, servility, and cowardice.


The Same Subject Continued.

The increasing regard with which men appear, in the progress of commercial
arts, to study their profit, or the delicacy with which they refine on
their pleasures; even industry itself, or the habit of application to a
tedious employment, in which no honours are won, may, perhaps, be
considered as indications of a growing attention to interest, or of
effeminacy, contracted in the enjoyment of ease and conveniency. Every
successive art, by which the individual is taught to improve on his
fortune, is, in reality, an addition to his private engagements, and a new
avocation of his mind from the public.

Corruption, however, does not arise from the abuse of commercial arts
alone; it requires the aid of political situation; and is not produced by
the objects that occupy a sordid and a mercenary spirit, without the aid of
circumstances that enable men to indulge in safety any mean disposition
they have acquired.

Providence has fitted mankind for the higher engagements which they are
sometimes obliged to fulfil; and it is in the midst of such engagements
that they are most likely to acquire or to preserve their virtues. The
habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties, not
in enjoying the repose of a pacific station; penetration and wisdom are the
fruits of experience, not the lessons of retirement and leisure; ardour and
generosity are the qualities of a mind roused and animated in the conduct
of scenes that engage the heart, not the gifts of reflection or knowledge.
The mere intermission of national and political efforts is,
notwithstanding, sometimes mistaken for public good; and there is no
mistake more likely to foster the vices, or to flatter the weakness, of
feeble and interested men.

If the ordinary arts of policy, or rather if a growing indifference to
objects of a public nature, should prevail, and, under any free
constitution, put an end to those disputes of party, and silence that noise
of dissention which generally accompany the exercise of freedom, we may
venture to prognosticate corruption to the national manners, as well as
remissness to the national spirit. The period is come, when no engagement,
remaining on the part of the public, private interest, and animal pleasure,
become the sovereign objects of care. When men, being relieved from the
pressure of great occasions, bestow their attention on trifles; and having
carried what they are pleased to call _sensibility_ and _delicacy_, on
the subject of ease or molestation, as far as real weakness or folly can
go, have recourse to affectation, in order to enhance the pretended
demands, and accumulate the anxieties, of a sickly fancy, and enfeebled

In this condition, mankind generally flatter their own imbecility under the
name of _politeness_. They are persuaded, that the celebrated ardour,
generosity, and fortitude of former ages bordered on frenzy, or were the
mere effects of necessity, on men who had not the means of enjoying their
ease, or their pleasure. They congratulate themselves on having escaped the
storm which required the exercise of such arduous virtues; and with that
vanity which accompanies the human race in their meanest condition, they
boast of a scene of affectation, of languor, or of folly, as the standard
of human felicity, and as furnishing the properest exercise of a rational

It is none of the least menacing symptoms of an age prone to degeneracy,
that the minds of men become perplexed in the discernment of merit, as much
as the spirit becomes enfeebled in conduct, and the heart misled in the
choice of its objects: The care of mere fortune is supposed to constitute
wisdom; retirement from public affairs, and real indifference to mankind,
receive the applauses of moderation, and of virtue.

Great fortitude, and elevation of mind, have not always, indeed, been
employed in the attainment of valuable ends; but they are always
respectable, and they are always necessary when we would act for the good
of mankind, in any of the more arduous stations of life. While, therefore,
we blame their misapplication, we should beware of depreciating their
value. Men of a severe and sententious morality have not always
sufficiently observed this caution; nor have they been duly aware of the
corruptions they flattered, by the satire they employed against what is
aspiring and prominent in the character of the human soul.

It might have been expected, that, in an age of hopeless debasement, the
talents of Demosthenes and Tully, even the ill governed magnanimity of a
Macedonian, or the daring enterprise of a Carthaginian leader, might have
escaped the acrimony of a satirist, [Footnote: Juvenal's tenth satire] who
had so many objects of correction in his view, and who possessed the arts
of declamation in so high a degree.

I, demens, et saevos curre per Alpes,
Ut pueris placeas, et declamatio fias,

is part of the illiberal censure which is thrown by this poet on the person
and action of a leader, who, by his courage and conduct, in the very
service to which the satire referred, had well nigh saved his country from
the ruin with which it was at last at last overwhelmed.

Heroes are much the same, the point's agreed,
From Macedonia's madman to the Swede,

is a distich, in which another poet of beautiful talents has attempted to
depreciate a name, to which, probably, few of his readers are found to

If men must go wrong, there is a choice of their errors, as well as of
their virtues. Ambition, the love of personal eminence, and the desire of
fame, although they sometimes lead to the commission of crimes, yet always
engage men in pursuits that require to be supported by some of the greatest
qualities of the human soul; and if eminence is the principal object of
pursuit, there is at least a probability, that those qualities may be
studied on which a real elevation of mind is raised. But when public alarms
have ceased, and contempt of glory is recommended as an article of wisdom,
the sordid habits, and mercenary dispositions, to which, under a general
indifference to national objects, the members of a polished or commercial
state are exposed, must prove at once the most effectual suppression of
every liberal sentiment, and the most fatal reverse of all those principles
from which communities derive their strength and their hopes of

It is noble to possess happiness and independence, either in retirement, or
in public life. The characteristic of the happy, is to acquit themselves
well in every condition; in the court, or in the village; in the senate, or
in the private retreat. But if they affect any particular station, it is
surely that in which their actions may be rendered most extensively useful.
Our considering mere retirement, therefore, as a symptom of moderation and
of virtue, is either a remnant of that system, under which monks and
anchorets, in former ages, have been canonized; or proceeds from a habit of
thinking, which appears equally fraught with moral corruption, from our
considering public life as a scene for the gratification of mere vanity,
avarice, and ambition; never as furnishing the best opportunity for a just
and a happy engagement of the mind and the heart.

Emulation, and the desire of power, are but sorry motives to public
conduct; but if they have been, in any case, the principal inducements from
which men have taken part in the service of their country, any diminution
of their prevalence or force is a real corruption of national manners; and
the pretended moderation assumed by the higher orders of men, has a fatal
effect in the state. The disinterested love of the public is a principle,
without which some constitutions of government cannot subsist: but when we
consider how seldom this has appeared a reigning passion, we have little
reason to impute the prosperity or preservation of nations, in every case,
to its influence.

It is sufficient, perhaps, under one form of government, that men should be
fond of their independence; that they should be ready to oppose usurpation,
and to repel personal indignities: under another, it is sufficient, that
they should be tenacious of their rank, and of their honours; and instead
of a zeal for the public, entertain a vigilant jealousy of the rights which
pertain to themselves. When numbers of men retain a certain degree of
elevation and fortitude, they are qualified to give a mutual check to their
several errors, and are able to act in that variety of situations which the
different constitutions of government have prepared for their members: but,
under the disadvantages of a feeble spirit, however directed, and however
informed, no national constitution is safe; nor can any degree of
enlargement, to which a state has arrived, secure its political welfare.

In states where property, distinction, and pleasure, are thrown out as
baits to the imagination, and incentives to passion, the public seems to
rely for the preservation of its political life, on the degree of emulation
and jealousy with which parties mutually oppose and restrain each other.
The desires of preferment and profit in the breast of the citizen, are the
motives from which he excited to enter on public affairs, and are the
considerations which direct his political conduct. The suppression,
therefore, of ambition, of party animosity, and of public envy, is
probably, in every such case, not a reformation, but a symptom of weakness,
and a prelude to more sordid pursuits, and ruinous amusements.

On the eve of such a revolution in manners, the higher ranks, in every
mixed or monarchical government, have need to take care of themselves. Men
of business, and of industry, in the inferior stations of life, retain
their occupations, and are secured, by a kind of necessity, in the
possession of those habits on which they rely for their quiet; and for the
moderate enjoyments of life. But the higher orders of men, if they
relinquish the state, if they cease to possess that courage and elevation
of mind, and to exercise those talents which are employed in its defence
and in its government, are, in reality, by the seeming advantages of their
station, become the refuse of that society of which they once were the
ornament; and from being the most respectable, and the most happy, of its
members, are become the most wretched and corrupt. In their approach to
this condition, and in the absence of every manly occupation, they feel a
dissatisfaction and languor which they cannot explain: they pine in the
midst of apparent enjoyment; or, by the variety and caprice of their
different pursuits and amusements, exhibit a state of agitation, which,
like the disquiet of sickness, is not a proof of enjoyment or pleasure, but
of suffering and pain. The care of his buildings, his equipage, or his
table, is chosen by one; literary amusement, or some frivolous study, by
another. The sports of the country, and the diversions of the town; the
gaming table, [Footnote: These different occupations differ from each
other, in respect to their dignity and their innocence; but none of them
are the schools from which men are brought to sustain the tottering fortune
of nations; they are equally avocations from what ought to be the principal
pursuit of man, the good of mankind.] dogs, horses, and wine, are employed
to fill up the blank of a listless and unprofitable life. They speak of
human pursuits, as if the whole difficulty were to find something to do;
they fix on some frivolous occupation, as if there was nothing that
deserved to be done: they consider what tends to the good of their fellow
creatures, as a disadvantage to themselves: they fly from every scene in
which any efforts of vigour are required, or in which they might be allured
to perform any service to their country. We misapply our compassion in
pitying the poor; it were much more justly applied to the rich, who become
the first victims of that wretched insignificance, into which the members
of every corrupted state, by the tendency of their weaknesses and their
vices, are in haste to plunge themselves.

It is in this condition, that the sensual invent all those refinements on
pleasure, and devise those incentives to a satiated appetite, which tend
to foster the corruptions of a dissolute age. The effects of brutal
appetite, and the mere debauch, are more flagrant, and more violent,
perhaps, in rude ages, than they are in the later periods of commerce and
luxury: but that perpetual habit of searching for animal pleasure where it
is not to be found, in the gratifications of an appetite that is cloyed,
and among the ruins of an animal constitution, is not more fatal to the
virtues of the soul, than it is even to the enjoyment of sloth, or of
pleasure; it is not a more certain avocation from public affairs, or a
surer prelude to national decay, than it is a disappointment to our hopes
of private felicity.

In these reflections, it has been the object not to ascertain a precise
measure to which corruption has risen in any of the nations that have
attained to eminence, or that have gone to decay; but to describe that
remissness of spirit, that weakness of soul, that state of national
debility, which is likely to end in political slavery; an evil which
remains to be considered as the last object of caution, and beyond which
there is no subject of disquisition, in the perishing fortunes of nations.



Liberty, in one sense, appears to be the portion of polished nations alone.
The savage is personally free, because he lives unrestrained, and acts with
the members of his tribe on terms of equality. The barbarian is frequently
independent, from a continuance of the same circumstances, or because he
has courage and a sword. But good policy alone can provide for the regular
administration of justice, or constitute a force in the state, which is
ready on every occasion to defend the rights of its members.

It has been found, that, except in a few singular cases, the commercial and
political arts have advanced together. These arts have been in modern
Europe so interwoven, that we cannot determine which were prior in the
order of time, or derived most advantage from the mutual influences with
which they act and react on each other. It has been observed, that in some
nations, the spirit of commerce, intent on securing its profits, has led
the way to political wisdom. A people, possessed of wealth, and become
jealous of their properties, have formed the project of emancipation, and
have proceeded, under favour of an importance recently gained, still
farther to enlarge their pretensions, and to dispute the prerogatives which
their sovereign had been in use to employ. But it is in vain that we expect
in one age, from the possession of wealth, the fruit which it is said to
have borne in a former. Great accessions of fortune, when recent, when
accompanied with frugality, and a sense of independence, may render the
owner confident in his strength, and ready to spurn at oppression. The
purse which is open, not to personal expense, or to the indulgence of
vanity, but to support the interests of a faction, to gratify the higher
passions of party, render the wealthy citizen formidable to those who
pretend to dominion; but it does not follow, that in a time of corruption,
equal, or greater, measures of wealth, should operate to the same effect.

On the contrary, when wealth is accumulated only in the hands of the miser,
and runs to waste from those of the prodigal; when heirs of family find
themselves straitened and poor in the midst of affluence; when the cravings
of luxury silence even the voice of party and faction; when the hopes of
meriting the rewards of compliance, or the fear of losing what is held at
discretion, keep men in a state of suspense and anxiety; when fortune, in
short, instead of being considered as the instrument of a vigorous spirit,
becomes the idol of a covetous or a profuse, of a rapacious or a timorous
mind, the foundation on which freedom was built may serve to support a
tyranny; and what, in one age, raised the pretensions, and fostered the
confidence of the subject, may, in another, incline him to servility, and
furnish the price to be paid for his prostitutions. Even those who, in a
vigorous age, gave the example of wealth, in the hands of the people,
becoming an occasion of freedom, may, in times of degeneracy, verify
likewise the maxim of Tacitus, that the admiration of riches leads to
despotical government. [Footnote: Est apud illos et opibus honos;
eoque unus imperitat, nullis jam exceptionibus, non precario jure
parendi. Nec arms ut apud ceteros Germanos in promiscuo, sed clausa
sub custode et quidem servo, &c. TACITUS _de Mor. Ger._ c.44.]

Men who have tasted of freedom, and who have felt their personal rights,
are not easily taught to bear with encroachments on either, and cannot,
without some preparation, come to submit to oppression. They may receive
this unhappy preparation under different forms of government, from
different hands, and arrive at the same end by different ways. They
follow one direction in republics, another in monarchies and in
mixed governments. But wherever the state has, by means that do not
preserve the virtue of the subject, effectually guarded his safety;
remissness, and neglect of the public, are likely to follow; and polished
nations of every description, appear to encounter a danger, on this
quarter, proportioned to the degree in, which they have, during any
continuance, enjoyed the uninterrupted possession of peace and prosperity.

Liberty results, we say, from the government of laws; and we are apt to
consider statutes, not merely as the resolutions and maxims of a people
determined to be free, not as the writings by which their rights are kept
on record; but as a power erected to guard them, and as a barrier which the
caprice of man cannot transgress.

When a basha, in Asia, pretends to decide every controversy by the rules of
natural equity, we allow that he is possessed of discretionary powers. When
a judge in Europe is left to decide, according to his own interpretation of
written laws, is he in any sense more restrained than the former? Have the
multiplied words of a statute an influence over the conscience and the
heart, more powerful than that of reason and nature? Does the party, in any
judicial proceeding, enjoy a less degree of safety, when his rights are
discussed, on the foundation of a rule that is open to the understandings
of mankind, than when they are referred to an intricate system, which it
has become the object of a separate profession to study and to explain?

If forms of proceeding, written statutes, or other constituents of law,
cease to be enforced by the very spirit from which they arose; they serve
only to cover, not to restrain, the iniquities of power: they are possibly
respected even by the corrupt magistrate, when they favour his purpose; but
they are contemned or evaded, when they stand in his way: and the influence
of laws, where they have any real effect in the preservation of liberty, is
not any magic power descending from shelves that are loaded with books, but
is, in reality, the influence of men resolved to be free; of men who,
having adjusted in writing the terms on which they are to live with the
state, and with their fellow subjects, are determined, by their vigilance
and spirit, to make these terms be fulfilled.

We are taught, under every form of government, to apprehend usurpations,
from the abuse, or from the extension of the executive power. In pure
monarchies, this power is commonly hereditary, and made to descend in a
determinate line. In elective monarchies, it is held for life. In
republics, it is exercised during a limited time. Where men, or families,
are called by election to the possession of temporary dignities, it is more
the object of ambition to perpetuate, than to extend their powers. In
hereditary monarchies, the sovereignty is already perpetual; and the aim of
every ambitious prince is to enlarge his prerogative. Republics, and, in
times of commotion, communities of every form, are exposed to hazard, not
from those only who are formally raised to places of, trust, but from every
person whatsoever, who is incited by ambition, and who is supported by

It is no advantage to a prince, or other magistrate, to enjoy more power
than is consistent with the good of mankind; nor is it of any benefit to a
man to be unjust: but these maxims are a feeble security against the
passions and follies of men. Those who are intrusted with power in any
degree, are disposed, from a mere dislike of constraint, to remove
opposition. Not only the monarch who wears a hereditary crown, but the
magistrate who holds his office for a limited time, grows fond of his
dignity. The, very minister, who depends for his place on the momentary
will of his prince, and whose personal interests are, in every respect,
those of a subject, still has the weakness to take an interest in the
growth of prerogative, and to reckon as gain to himself the encroachments
he has made on the rights of a people, with whom he himself and his family
are soon to be numbered.

Even with the best intentions towards mankind, we are inclined to think
that their welfare depends, not on the felicity of their own inclinations,
or the happy employment of their own talents, but on their ready compliance
with what we have devised for their good. Accordingly, the greatest virtue
of which any sovereign has hitherto shown an example, is not a desire of
cherishing in his people the spirit of freedom and of independence, but
what is in itself sufficiently rare and highly meritorious, a steady regard
to the distribution of justice in matters of property, a disposition to
protect and to oblige, to redress the grievances, and to promote the
interest of his subjects. It was from a reference to these objects, that
Titus computed the value of his time, and judged of its application. But
the sword, which in this beneficent hand was drawn to protect the subject,
and to procure a speedy and effectual distribution of justice, was likewise
sufficient, in the hands of a tyrant, to shed the blood of the innocent,
and to cancel the rights of men. The temporary proceedings of humanity,
though they suspended the exercise of oppression, did not break the
national chains: the prince was even the better enabled to procure that
species of good which he studied; because there was no freedom remaining,
and because there was nowhere a force to dispute his decrees, or to
interrupt their execution.

Was it in vain that Antoninus became acquainted with the characters of
Thrasea, Helvidius, Cato, Dion, and Brutus? Was it in vain, that he
learned to understand the form of a free community, raised on the basis of
equality and justice; or of a monarchy, under which the liberties of the
subject were held the most sacred object of administration?[Footnote: M.
Antoninus, lib. I.] Did he mistake the means of procuring to mankind what
he points out as a blessing? Or did the absolute power with which he was
furnished, in a mighty empire, only disable him from executing what his
mind had perceived as a national good? In such a case, it were vain to
flatter the monarch or his people. The first cannot bestow liberty without
raising a spirit, which may, on occasion, stand in opposition to his own
designs; nor the latter receive this blessing, while they own that it is
in the right of a master to give or to withhold it. The claim of justice
is firm and peremptory. We receive favours with a sense of obligation and
kindness; but we would enforce our rights, and the spirit of freedom in
this exertion cannot take the tone of supplication or of thankfulness,
without betraying itself. "You have intreated Octavius," says Brutus to
Cicero, "that he would spare those who stand foremost among the citizens
of Rome. What if he will not? Must we perish? Yes; rather than owe our
safety to him."

Liberty is a right which every individual must be ready to vindicate for
himself, and which he who pretends to bestow as a favour, has by that very
act in reality denied. Even political establishments, though they appear to
be independent of the will and arbitration of men, cannot be relied on for
the preservation of freedom; they may nourish, but should not supersede
that firm and resolute spirit, with which the liberal mind is always
prepared to resist indignities, and to refer its safety to itself.

Were a nation, therefore, given to be moulded by a sovereign, as the clay
is put into the hands of the potter, this project of bestowing liberty on a
people who are actually servile, is, perhaps, of all others the most
difficult, and requires most to be executed in silence, and with the
deepest reserve. Men are qualified to receive this blessing only in
proportion as they are made to apprehend their own rights; and are made to
respect the just pretensions of mankind; in proportion as they are willing
to sustain, in their own persons, the burden of government, and of national
defence; and are willing to prefer the engagements of a liberal mind to the
enjoyment of sloth, or the delusive hopes of a safety purchased by
submission and fear.

I speak with respect, and, if I may be allowed the expression, even with
indulgence, to those who are intrusted with high prerogatives in the
political system of nations. It is, indeed, seldom their fault that states
are enslaved. What should be expected from them, but that being actuated by
human desires, they should be averse to disappointment, or even to delay;
and in the ardour with which they pursue their object, that they should
break through the barriers that would stop their career? If millions recede
before single men, and senates are passive, as if composed of members who
had no opinion or sense of their own; on whose side have the defences of
freedom given way, or to whom shall we impute their fall? To the subject,
who has deserted his station; or to the sovereign, who has only remained in
his own, and who, if the collateral or subordinate members of government
shall cease to question his power, must continue to govern without

It is well known, that constitutions framed for the preservation of
liberty, must consist of many parts; and that senates, popular assemblies,
courts of justice, magistrates of different orders, must combine to balance
each other, while they exercise, sustain, or check the executive power. If
any part is struck out, the fabric must totter, or fall; if any member is
remiss, the others must encroach. In assemblies constituted by men of
different talents, habits, and apprehensions, it were something more than
human that could make them agree in every point of importance; having
different opinions and views, it were want of integrity to abstain from
disputes: our very praise of unanimity, therefore, is to be considered as a
danger to liberty. We wish for it at the hazard of taking in its place the
remissness of men grown indifferent to the public; the venality of those
who have sold the rights of their country; or the servility of others, who
give implicit obedience to a leader, by whom their minds are subdued. The
love of the public, and respect to its laws, are the points in which
mankind are bound to agree; but if, in matters of controversy, the sense of
any individual or party is invariably pursued, the cause of freedom is
already betrayed.

He whose office it is to govern a supine or an abject people, cannot, for a
moment, cease to extend his powers. Every execution of law, every movement
of the state, every civil and military operation, in which his power is
exerted, must serve to confirm his authority, and present him to the view
of the public as the sole object of consideration, fear, and respect. Those
very establishments which were devised, in one age, to limit or to direct
the exercise of an executive power, will serve, in another, to remove
obstructions, and to smooth its way; they will point out the channels in
which it may run, without giving offence, or without exciting alarms, and
the very councils which were instituted to check its encroachments, will,
in a time of corruption, furnish an aid to its usurpations.

The passion for independence, and the love of dominion, frequently arise
from a common source: there is, in both, an aversion to control; and he
who, in one situation, cannot brook a superior, may, in another, dislike to
be joined with an equal.

What the prince, under a pure or limited monarchy, is, by the constitution
of his country, the leader of a faction would willingly become in
republican governments. If he attains to this envied condition, his own
inclination, or the tendency of human affairs, seem to open before him the
career of a royal ambition: but the circumstances in which he is destined
to act, are very different from those of a king. He encounters with men who
are unused to disparity; he is obliged, for his own security, to hold the
dagger continually unsheathed. When he hopes to be safe, he possibly means
to be just; but is hurried, from the first moment of his usurpation, into
every exercise of despotical power. The heir of a crown has no such quarrel
to maintain with his subjects: his situation is flattering; and the heart
must be uncommonly bad that does not glow with affection to a people, who
are at once his admirers, his support, and the ornaments of this reign. In
him, perhaps, there is no explicit design of trespassing on the rights of
his subjects; but the forms intended to preserve their freedom are not, on
this account, always safe in his hands.

Slavery has been imposed upon mankind in the wantonness of a depraved
ambition, and tyrannical cruelties have been committed in the gloomy hours
of jealousy and terror; yet these demons are not necessary to the creation,
or to the support of an arbitrary power. Although no policy was ever more
successful than that of the Roman republic in maintaining a national
fortune; yet subjects, as well as their princes, frequently imagine that
freedom is a clog on the proceedings of government: they imagine, that
despotical power is best fitted to procure despatch and secrecy in the
execution of public councils; to maintain what they are pleased to call
_political order_, [Footnote: Our notion of order in civil society
being taken from the analogy of subjects inanimate and dead, is frequently
false; we consider commotion and action as contrary to its nature; we think
that obedience, secrecy, and the silent passing of affairs through the
hands of a few, are its real constituents. The good order of stones in a
wall, is their being properly fixed in the places for which they are hewn;
were they to stir, the building must fall: but the good order of men in
society, is their being placed where they are properly qualified to act.
The first is a fabric made of dead and inanimate parts, the second is made
of living and active members. When we seek in society for the order of mere
inaction and tranquillity, we forget the nature of our subject, and find
the order of slaves, not that of freemen.] and to give a speedy redress of
complaints. They even sometimes acknowledge, that if a succession of good
princes could be found, despotical government is best calculated for the
happiness of mankind. While they reason thus, they cannot blame a
sovereign, who, in the confidence that he is to employ his power for good
purposes, endeavours to extend its limits; and, in his own apprehension,
strives only to shake off the restraints which stand in the way of reason,
and which prevent the effect of his friendly intentions.

Thus prepared for usurpation, let him, at the head of a free state, employ
the force with which he is armed, to crush the seeds of apparent disorder
in every corner of his dominions; let him effectually curb the spirit of
dissention and variance among his people; let him remove the interruptions
to government, arising from the refractory humours and the private
interests of his subjects: let him collect the force of the state against
its enemies, by availing himself of all it can furnish in the way of
taxation and personal service: it is extremely probable that, even under
the direction of wishes for the good of mankind, he may break through every
barrier of liberty, and establish a despotism, while he flatters himself
that he only follows the dictates of sense and propriety.

When we suppose government to have bestowed a degree of tranquillity which
we sometimes hope to reap from it, as the best of its fruits, and public
affairs to proceed, in the several departments of legislation and
execution, with the least possible interruption to commerce and lucrative
arts; such a state, like that of China, by throwing affairs into separate
offices, where conduct consists in detail, and in the observance of forms,
by superseding all the exertions of a great or a liberal mind, is more akin
to despotism than we are apt to imagine.

Whether oppression, injustice, and cruelty, are the only evils which attend
on despotical government, may be considered apart. In the mean time it is
sufficient to observe, that liberty is never in greater danger than it is
when we measure national felicity by the blessings which a prince may
bestow, or by the mere tranquillity which may attend on equitable
administration. The sovereign may dazzle with his heroic qualities; he may
protect his subjects in the enjoyment of every animal advantage or
pleasure: but the benefits arising from liberty are of a different sort;
they are not the fruits of a virtue, and of a goodness, which operate in
the breast of one man, but the communication of virtue itself to many; and
such a distribution of functions in civil society, as gives to numbers the
exercises and occupations which pertain to their nature.

The best constitutions of government are attended with inconvenience; and
the exercise of liberty may, on many occasions, give rise to complaints.
When we are intent on reforming abuses, the abuses of freedom may lead us
to encroach on the subject from which they are supposed to arise. Despotism
itself has certain advantages, or at least, in times of civility and
moderation, may proceed with so little offence, as to give no public alarm.
These circumstances may lead mankind, in the very spirit of reformation, or
by mere inattention, to apply or to admit of dangerous innovations in the
state of their policy.

Slavery, however, is not always introduced by mistake; it is sometimes
imposed in the spirit of violence and rapine. Princes become corrupt as
well as their people; and whatever may have been the origin of despotical
government, its pretensions, when fully declared, give rise between the
sovereign and his subjects to a contest which force alone can decide. These
pretensions have a dangerous aspect to the person, the property, or the
life of every subject; they alarm every passion in the human breast; they
disturb the supine; they deprive the venal of his hire; they declare war on
the corrupt as well as the virtuous; they are tamely admitted only by the
coward; but even to him must be supported by a force that can work on his
fears. This force the conqueror brings from abroad; and the domestic
usurper endeavours to find in his faction at home.

When a people is accustomed to arms, it is, difficult for a part to subdue
the whole; or before the establishment of disciplined armies, it is
difficult for any usurper to govern the many by the help of a few. These
difficulties, however, the policy of civilized and commercial nations has
sometimes removed; and by forming a distinction between civil and military
professions, by committing the keeping and the enjoyment of liberty to
different hands, has prepared the way for the dangerous alliance of faction
with military power, in opposition to mere political forms and the rights
of mankind.

A people who are disarmed in compliance with this fatal refinement, have
rested their safety on the pleadings of reason and of justice at the
tribunal of ambition and of force. In such an extremity laws are quoted and
senators are assembled in vain. They who compose a legislature, or who
occupy the civil departments of state, may deliberate on the messages they
receive from the camp or the court; but if the bearer, like the centurion
who brought the petition of Octavius to the Roman senate, shew the hilt of
his sword, [Footnote: Sueton.] they find that petitions are become
commands, and that they themselves are become the pageants, not the
repositories of sovereign power.

The reflections of this section may be unequally applied to nations of
unequal extent. Small communities, however corrupted, are not prepared for
despotical government; their members, crowded together and contiguous to
the seats of power, never forget their relation to the public; they pry,
with habits of familiarity and freedom, into the pretensions of those who
would rule; and where the love of equality, and the sense of justice, have
failed, they act on motives of faction, emulation, and envy. The exiled
Tarquin had his adherents at Rome; but if by their means he had recovered
his station, it is probable that, in the exercise of his royalty, he must
have entered on a new scene of contention with the very party that restored
him to power.

In proportion as territory is extended, its parts lose their relative
importance to the whole. Its inhabitants cease to perceive their connection
with the state, and are seldom united in the execution of any national, or
even any factious designs. Distance from the seats of administration, and
indifference to the persons who contend for preferment, teach the majority
to consider themselves as the subjects of a sovereignty, not as the members
of a political body. It is even remarkable, that enlargement of territory,
by rendering the individual of less consequence to the public, and less
able to intrude with his counsel, actually tends to reduce national affairs
within a narrower compass, as well as to diminish the numbers who are
consulted in legislation, or in other matters of government.

The disorders to which a great empire is exposed, require speedy
prevention, vigilance, and quick execution. Distant provinces must be kept
in subjection by military force; and the dictatorial powers, which, in free
states, are sometimes raised to quell insurrections, or to oppose other
occasional evils, appear, under a certain extent of dominion, at all times
equally necessary to suspend the dissolution of a body, whose parts were
assembled, and must be cemented, by measures forcible, decisive, and
secret. Among the circumstances, therefore, which, in the event of national
prosperity, and in the result of commercial arts, lead to the establishment
of despotism, there is none, perhaps, that arrives at this termination with
so sure an aim, as the perpetual enlargement of territory. In every state,
the freedom of its members depends on the balance and adjustment of its
interior parts; and the existence of any such freedom among mankind,
depends on the balance of nations. In the progress of conquest, those who
are subdued are said to have lost their liberties; but from the history of
mankind, to conquer, or to be conquered, has appeared, in effect, the same.



Mankind, when they degenerate, and tend to their ruin, as well as when they
improve, and gain real advantages, frequently proceed by slow, and almost
insensible steps. If, during ages of activity and vigour, they fill up the
measure of national greatness to a height which no human wisdom could at a
distance foresee; they actually incur, in ages of relaxation and weakness,
many evils which their fears did not suggest, and which, perhaps, they had
thought far removed by the tide of success and prosperity.

We have already observed, that where men are remiss or corrupted, the
virtue of their leaders, or the good intention of their magistrates, will
not always secure them in the possession of political freedom. Implicit
submission to any leader, or the uncontrolled exercise of any power, even
when it is intended to operate for the good of mankind, may frequently end
in the subversion of legal establishments. This fatal revolution, by
whatever means it is accomplished, terminates in military government; and
this, though the simplest of all governments, is rendered complete by
degrees. In the first period of its exercise over men who have acted as
members of a free community, it can have only laid the foundation, not
completed the fabric, of a despotical policy. The usurper who has
possessed, with an army, the centre of a great empire, sees around him,
perhaps, the shattered remains of a former constitution; he may hear the
murmurs of a reluctant and unwilling submission; he may even see danger in
the aspect of many, from whose hands he may have wrested the sword, but
whose minds he has not subdued, nor reconciled to his power.

The sense of personal rights, or the pretension to privilege and honours,
which remain among certain orders of men, are so many bars in the way of a
recent usurpation. If they are not suffered to decay with age, and to wear
away in the progress of a growing corruption, they must be broken with
violence, and the entrance to every new accession of power must be stained
with blood. The effect, even in this case, is frequently tardy. The Roman
spirit, we know, was not entirely extinguished under a succession of
masters, and under a repeated application of bloodshed and poison. The
noble and respectable family still aspired to its original honours; the
history of the republic, the writings of former times, the monuments of
illustrious men, and the lessons of philosophy fraught with heroic
conceptions, continued to nourish the soul in retirement, and formed those
eminent characters, whose elevation, and whose fate, are, perhaps, the most
affecting subjects of human story. Though unable to oppose the general bent
to servility, they became, on account of their supposed inclinations,
objects of distrust and aversion, and were made to pay with their blood,
the price of a sentiment which they fostered in silence, and which glowed
only in the heart.

While despotism proceeds in its progress, by what principle is the
sovereign conducted in the choice of measures that tend to establish his
government? By a mistaken apprehension of his own good, sometimes even that
of his people, and by the desire which he feels on every particular
occasion, to remove the obstructions which impede the execution of his
will. When he has fixed a resolution, whoever reasons or remonstrates
against it is an enemy; when his mind is elated, whoever pretends to
eminence, and is disposed to act for himself, is a rival. He would leave no
dignity in the state, but what is dependent on himself; no active power,
but what carries the expression of his momentary pleasure. [Footnote:
Insurgere paulatim munia senatus, magistratuum, legum in se trahere.]
Guided by a perception as unerring as that of instinct, he never fails to
select the proper objects of his antipathy or of his favour. The aspect of
independence repels him; that of servility attracts. The tendency of his
administration is to quiet every restless spirit, and to assume every
function of government to himself. [Footnote: It is ridiculous to hear men
of a restless ambition, who would be the only actors in every scene,
sometimes complain of a refractory spirit in mankind: as if the same
disposition, from which they desire to usurp every office, did not incline
every other person to reason and to act at least for himself.] When the
power is adequate to the end, it operates as much in the hands of those who
do not perceive the termination, as it does in the hands of others by whom
it is best understood: the mandates of either, when just, should not be
disputed; when erroneous or wrong, they are supported by force.

You must die, was the answer of Octavius to every suit from a people that
implored his mercy. It was the sentence which some of his successors
pronounced against every citizen that was eminent for his birth or his
virtues. But are the evils of despotism confined to the cruel and
sanguinary methods, by which a recent dominion over a refractory and a
turbulent people is established or maintained? And is death the greatest
calamity which can afflict mankind under an establishment by which they are
divested of all their rights? They are, indeed, frequently suffered to
live; but distrust and jealousy, the sense of personal meanness, and the
anxieties which arise from the care of a wretched interest, are made to
possess the soul; every citizen is reduced to a slave; and every charm by
which the community engaged its members, has ceased to exist. Obedience is
the only duty that remains, and this is exacted by force. If, under such an
establishment, it be necessary to witness scenes of debasement and horror,
at the hazard of catching the infection, death becomes a relief; and the
libation which Thrasea was made to pour from his arteries, is to be
considered as a proper sacrifice of gratitude to Jove the Deliverer.
[Footnote: Porrectisque utriusque brachii venis, postquam cruorem effudit,
humum super spargens, proprius vocato Quaestore, _Libemus_, inquit,
_Jovi Liberatori_. Specta juvenis; et omen quidem Dii prohibeant;
ceterum in ea tempora natus es, quibus firmare animum deceat constantibus
exemplis. _Tacit. Ann. lib._ 16.]

Oppression and cruelty are not always necessary to despotical government;
and even when present, are but a part of its evils. It is founded on
corruption, and on the suppression of all the civil and the political
virtues; it requires its subjects to act from motives of fear; it would
assuage the passions of a few men at the expense of mankind; and would
erect the peace of society itself on the ruins of that freedom and
confidence from which alone the enjoyment, the force, and the elevation of
the human mind, are found to arise.

During the existence of any free constitution, and whilst every individual
possessed his rank and his privilege, or had his apprehension of personal
rights, the members of every community were, to one another, objects of
consideration and of respect; every point to be carried in civil society
required the exercise of talents, of wisdom, persuasion, and vigour, as
well as of power. But it is the highest refinement of a despotical
government, to rule by simple commands, and to exclude every art but that
of compulsion. Under the influence of this policy, therefore, the occasions
which employed and cultivated the understandings of men, which awakened
their sentiments, and kindled their imaginations, are gradually removed;
and the progress by which mankind attained to the honours of their nature,
in being engaged to act in society upon a liberal footing, was not more
uniform, or less interrupted, than that by which they degenerate in this
unhappy condition.

When we hear of the silence which reigns in the seraglio, we are made to
believe, that speech itself is become unnecessary; and that the signs of
the mute are sufficient to carry the most important mandates of government.
No arts, indeed, are required to maintain an ascendant where terror alone
is opposed to force, where the powers of the sovereign are delegated entire
to every subordinate officer: nor can any station bestow a liberality of
mind in a scene of silence and dejection, where every breast is possessed
with jealousy and caution, and where no object, but animal pleasure,
remains to balance the sufferings of the sovereign himself, or those of his

In other states, the talents of men are sometimes improved by the exercises
which belong to an eminent station; but here the master himself is probably
the rudest and least cultivated animal of the herd; he is inferior to the
slave whom he raises from a servile office to the first places of trust or
of dignity in his court. The primitive simplicity which formed ties of
familiarity and affection betwixt the sovereign and the keeper of his
herds, [Footnote: See Odyssey.] appears, in the absence of all affections,
to be restored, or to be counterfeited amidst the ignorance and brutality
which equally characterize all orders of men, or rather which level the
ranks, and destroy the distinction of persons in a despotical court.

Caprice and passion are the rules of government with the prince. Every
delegate of power is left to act by the same direction; to strike when he
is provoked; to favour when he is pleased. In what relates to revenue,
jurisdiction, or police, every governor of a province acts like a leader in
an enemy's country; comes armed with the terrors of fire and sword; and
instead of a tax, levies a contribution by force he ruins or spares as
either may serve his purpose. When the clamours of the oppressed, or the
reputation of a treasure amassed at the expense of a province, have reached
the ears of the sovereign, the extortioner is indeed made to purchase
impunity by imparting a share, or by forfeiting the whole of his spoil; but
no reparation is made to the injured; nay, the crimes of the minister are
first employed to plunder the people, and afterwards punished to fill the
coffers of the sovereign.

In this total discontinuance of every art that relates to just government
and national policy, it is remarkable, that even the trade of the soldier
is itself great neglected. Distrust and jealousy, on the part of the


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