Sir Robert Filmer

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Patriarcha, or the Natural Power of Kings

Chapter II. It is Unnatural for the People to Govern or Choose Governors

1. By conferring these proofs and reasons, drawn from the authority of the Scripture, it appears little less than a paradox which Bellarmine and others affirm of the freedom of the multitude, to choose what rulers they please.

Had the patriarchs their power given them by their own children? Bellarmine does not say it, but the contrary. If then the fatherhood enjoyed this authority for so many ages by the law of nature, when was it lost, or when forfeited, or how is it devolved to the liberty of the multitude?

Because the Scripture is not favourable to the liberty of the people, therefore many fly to natural reason, and to the authority of Aristotle. I must crave liberty to examine or explain the opinion of this great philosopher; but briefly, I find this sentence in the third of his Politics, chap. 16: dokei de tisin oude kata fusiu einai to kurion ena pantwn einai twn politwn, opou sunesthken ex omoiwn h poliV. It seems to some not to be natural for one man to be lord of all the citizens, since a city consists of equals. D. Lambine, in his Latin interpretation of this text, hath omitted the translation of this word tisiu, by this means he maketh that to be the opinion of Aristotle, which Aristotle allegeth to be the opinion but of some. This negligence, or wilful escape, of Lambine, in not translating a word so material, hath been an occasion to deceive many who, looking no further than this Latin translation, have concluded, and made the world now of late believe, that Aristotle here maintains a natural equality of men; and not only our English translator of Aristotle’s Politics is, in this place, misled by following Lambine, but even the learned Monsieur Duvall, in his Synopsis, bears them company; and yet this version of Lambine’s is esteemed the best, and printed at Paris, with Causabon’s corrected Greek copy, though in the rendering of this place the elder translations have been more faithful; and he that shall compare the Greek text with the Latin shall find that Causabon had just cause in his preface to Aristotle’s works to complain that the best translations of Aristotle did need correction. To prove that in these words, which seem to favour the equality of mankind, Aristotle doth not speak according to his own judgment, but recites only the opinion of others, we find him clearly deliver his own opinion that the power of government did originally arise from the right of fatherhood, which cannot possibly consist with that natural equality which men dream of; for in the first of his Politics he agrees exactly with the Scripture, and lays this foundation of government:

The first society made of many houses is a village, which seems most naturally to be a colony of families or foster-brethren of children and children’s children. And, therefore, at the beginning, cities were under the government of kings, for the eldest in every house is king. And so for kindred sake it is in colonies.

And in the fourth of his Politics, chap. 2, he gives the title of the first and divinest sort of government to the institution of kings, by defining tyranny to be a digression from the first and divinest.

Whosoever weights advisedly these passages will find little hope of natural reason in Aristotle to prove the natural liberty of the multitude. Also before him the divine Plato concludes a commonweal to be nothing else but a large family. I know for this position Aristotle quarrels with his master, but most unjustly; for therein he contradicts his own principles, for they both agree to fetch the original of civil government from the prime government. No doubt but Moses’ history of the creation guided these two philosophers in finding out of this lineal subjection deduced from the laws of the first parents, according to that rule of St. Chrysostom: “God made all mankind of one man, that he might teach the world to be governed by a king, and not by a multitude."

The ignorance of the Creation occasioned several errors amongst the heathen philosophers, Polybius, though otherwise a most profound philosopher and judicious historian, yet here he stumbles; for in searching out the original of civil societies, he conceited that multitudes of men after a deluge, a famine, or a pestilence, met together like herds of cattle without any dependency, until the strongest bodies . and boldest minds got the mastery of their fellows, “even as it is,” saith he, “among bulls, bears, and cocks."

And Aristotle himself, forgetting his first doctrine, tells us the first heroical kings were chosen by the people for their deserving well of the multitude, either by teaching them some new arts, or by warring for them, or by gathering them together, or by dividing land amongst them; also Aristotle had another fancy that those men who prove wise of mind were by nature intended to be lords and govern; and those which were strong of body were ordained to obey, and to be servants. But this is a dangerous and uncertain rule, and not without some folly; for if a man prove both wise and strong, what will Aristotle have done with him? As he was wise, he could be no servant, and as he had strength, he could not be a master; besides, to speak like a philosopher, nature intends all things to be perfect both in wit and strength. The folly or imbecility proceeds from some error in generation or education; for nature aims at perfection in all her works. 2. Suarez, the Jesuit, riseth up against the royal authority of Adam, in defence of the freedom and liberty of the people, and thus argues:

By right of creation Adam had only economical power, but not political. He had a power over his wife, and a fatherly power over his sons, whilst they were not made free. He might also, in process of time, have servants and a complete family, and in that family he might have complete economical power. But after that families began to be multiplied, and men to be separated and become the heads of several families, they had the same power over their families. But political power did not begin until families began to be gathered together into one perfect community; wherefore, as the community did not begin by the creation of Adam, nor by his will alone, but of all them which did agree in this community, so we cannot say that Adam naturally had political primacy in that community; for that cannot be gathered by any natural principles, because by the force of the law of nature alone it is not due unto any progenitor to be also king of his posterity. And if this be not gathered out of the principles of nature, we cannot say God by a special gift or providence gave him this power, for there is no revelation of this, nor testimony of Scripture — Hitherto Suarez.

Whereas he makes Adam to have a “fatherly power” over his sons, and yet shuts up this power within one family, he seems either to imagine that all Adam’s children lived within one house and under one roof with their father, or else, as soon as any of his children lived out of his house, they ceased to be subject and did thereby become free. For my part I cannot believe that Adam, although he were sole monarch of the world, had any such spacious palace as might contain any such considerable part of his children. It is likelier that some mean cottage or tent did serve him to keep his court in. It were hard he should lose part of his authority because his children lay not within the wails of his house. But if Suarez will allow all Adam’s children to be of his family, howsoever they were separate in dwellings, if their habitations were either contiguous or at such distance as might easily receive his fatherly commands; and that all that were under his commands were of his family, although they had many children or servants married, having themselves also children, then I see no reason but that we may call Adam’s family a commonwealth, except we will wrangle about words, for Adam, living nine hundred and thirty years, and seeing seven or eight descents from himself, he might live to command of his children and their posterity a multitude far bigger than many commonwealths and kingdoms.

3. I know the politicians and civil lawyers do not agree well about the definition of a family, and Bodin[1] doth seem in one place to confine it to a house; yet in his definition he doth enlarge his meaning to all persons under the obedience of one and the same head of the family, and he approves better of the propriety of the Hebrew word for a family which is derived from a word that signifies a head, a prince, or lord, than the Greek word for a family which is derived from oikoiV, which signifies a house. Nor doth Aristotle confine a family to one house, but esteems it to be made of those that daily converse together; whereas, before him, Charondas called a family homosypioi, those that feed together out of one common pannier. And Epimenides the Cretian terms a family komocapnoi, those that sit by a common fire or smoke. But let Suarez understand what he please by Adam’s family, if he will but confess, as he needs must, that Adam and the patriarchs had absolute power of life and death, of peace and war, and the like, within their houses or families, he must give us leave, at least, to call them kings of their houses or families; and if they be so by the law of nature, what liberty will be left to their children to dispose of?

Aristotle gives the lie to Plato and those that say political and economical societies are all one and do not differ specie, but only multitudine and paucitate, as if there were no difference betwixt a great house and a little city. All the argument I find he brings against them is this:

The community of man and wife differs from the community of master and servant, because they have several ends. The intention of nature, by conjunction of male and female, is generation; but the scope of master and servant is preservation, so that a wife and a servant are by nature distinguished, because nature does not work like the cutlers of Delphos, for she makes but one thing for one use. If we allow this argument to be sound, nothing doth follow but only this: that conjugal and despotical communities do differ. But it is no consequence that therefore economical and political societies do the like; for though it prove a family to consist of two distinct communities, yet it follows not that a family and a commonwealth are distinct, because, as well in the commonweal as in the families, both these communities are found.[2]

And as this argument comes not home to our point, so it is not able to prove that title which it shows for; for if it should be granted — which yet is false — that generation and preservation differ about the individuum, yet they agree in the general, and serve both for the conservation of mankind; even as several servants differ in the particular ends or offices, as one to brew and another to bake, yet they agree in the general preservation of the family. Besides, Aristotle confesses that amongst the barbarians — as he calls all them that are not Grecians — a wife and a servant are the same, because by nature no barbarian is fit to govern. It is fit the Grecians should rule over the barbarians; for by nature a servant and a barbarian is all one. Their family consists only of an ox for a man-servant and a wife for a maid; so they are fit only to rule their wives and their beasts. Lastly, Aristotle, if it had pleased him, might have remembered that nature doth not always make one thing but for one use. He knows the tongue serves both to speak and to taste.

4. But to leave Aristotle and return to Suarez. He saith that Adam had fatherly power over his sons whilst they were not made free. Here I could wish that the Jesuit had taught us how and when sons become free; I know no means by the law of nature. It is the favour, I think, of the parents only, who when their children are of age and discretion to ease their parents of part of their fatherly care, are then content to remit some part of their fatherly authority. Therefore the custom of some countries doth in some cases enfranchise the children of inferior parents, but many nations have no such custom, but, on the contrary, have strict laws for the obedience of children. The judicial law of Moses giveth full power to the father to stone his disobedient son so it be done in presence of a magistrate, and yet it did not belong to the magistrate to inquire and examine the justness of the cause, but it was so decreed lest the father should in his anger suddenly or secretly kill his son.

Also by the laws of the Persians and of the people of the Upper Asia and of the Gauls, and by the laws of the West Indies, the parents have power of life and death over their children.

The Romans, even in their most popular estate, had this law in force, and this power of parents was ratified and amplified by the laws of the Twelve Tables, to the enabling of parents to sell their children two or three times over. By the help of the fatherly power Rome long flourished, and oftentimes was freed from great dangers. The fathers have drawn out of the very assemblies their own sons when, being tribunes, they have published laws tending to sedition.

Memorable is the example of Cassius, who threw his son headlong out of the Consistory publishing the law Agraria for the division of lands in the behoof of the people, and afterwards, by his own private judgment, put him to death by throwing him down from the Tarpeian Rock, the magistrates and people standing thereat amazed and not daring to resist his fatherly authority, although they would with all their hearts have had that law for the division of land — by which it appears it was lawful for the father to dispose of the life of his child contrary to the will of the magistrates or people. The Romans also had a law that what the children got was not their own but their father’s, although Solon made a law which acquitted the son from nourishing of his father if his father had taught him no trade whereby to get his living.

Suarez proceeds, and tells us that in process of time Adam had complete economical power. I know not what this complete economical power is, nor how or what it doth really and essentially differ from political. If Adam did or might exercise the same jurisdiction which a king doth now in a commonwealth, then the kinds of power are not distinct, and though they may receive an accidental difference by the amplitude or extent of the bounds of the one beyond the other, yet since the like difference is also found in political estates, it follows that economical and political power differ no otherwise than a little commonweal differs from a great one. Next, saith Suarez, community did not begin at the creation of Adam. It is true, because he had nobody to communicate with; yet community did presently follow his creation, and that by his will alone, for it was in his power only who was lord of all to appoint what his sons should have in proper and what in common; so that propriety and community of goods did follow originally from him, and it is the duty of a father to provide as well for the common good of his children as the particular.

Lastly, Suarez concludes that by the law of nature alone it is not due unto any progenitor to be also king of his posterity. This assertion is confuted point-blank by Bellarmine, who expressly affirmeth that the first parents ought to have been princes of their posterity. And until Suarez bring some reason for what he saith, I shall trust more to Bellarmine’s proofs than to his denials.

5. But let us condescend a while to the opinion of Bellarmine and Suarez, and all those who place supreme power in the whole people, and ask them if their meaning be that there is but one and the same power in all the people of the world, so that no power can be granted except all the men upon the earth meet and agree to choose a governor.

An answer is here given by Suarez, that it is scarce possible nor yet expedient that all men in the world should be gathered together into one community. It is likelier that either never or for a very short time that this power was in this manner in the whole multitude of men collected, but a little after the creation men began to be divided into several commonwealths, and this distinct power was in each of them.

This answer of “scarce possible nor yet expedient” — it is likelier begets a new doubt how this distinct power conies to each particular community when God gave it to the whole multitude only, and not to any particular assembly of men. Can they show or prove that ever the whole multitude met and divided this power which God gave them in gross by breaking into parcels and by appointing a distinct power to each several commonwealth? Without such a compact I cannot see — according to their own principles — how there can be any election of a magistrate by any commonwealth, but by a mere usurpation upon the privilege of the whole world. If any think that particular multitudes at their own discretion had power to divide themselves into several commonwealths, those that think so have neither reason nor proof for so thinking, and thereby a gap is opened for every petty factious multitude to raise a new commonwealth, and to make more commonweals than there be families in the world. But let this also be yielded them, that in each particular commonwealth there is a distinct power in the multitude. Was a general meeting of a whole kingdom ever known for the election of a prince? Is there any example of it ever found in the whole world? To conceit such a thing is to imagine little less than an impossibility, and so by consequence no one form of government or king was ever established according to this supposed law of nature.

6. It may be answered by some that if either the greatest part of a kingdom, or if a smaller part only by themselves, and all the rest by proxy, or if the part not concurring in election do after, by a tacit assent, ratify the act of others, that in all these cases it may be said to be the work of the whole multitude.

As to the acts of the major part of a multitude, it is true that by politic human constitutions it is oft ordained that the voices of the most shall overrule the rest; and such ordinances bind, because where men are assembled by a human power, that power that doth assemble them can also limit and direct the manner of the execution of that power, and by such derivative power, made known by law or custom, either the greater part, or two thirds, or three parts of five, or the like, have power to oversway the liberty of their opposites. But in assemblies that take their authority from the law of nature, it cannot be so; for what freedom or liberty is due to any man by the law of nature no inferior power can alter, limit or diminish; no one man nor a multitude can give away the natural right of another. The law of nature is unchangeable, and howsoever one man may hinder another in the use or exercise of his natural right, yet thereby no man loseth the right of itself; for the right and the use of the right may be distinguished, as right and possession are oft distinct. Therefore, unless it can be proved by the law of nature that the major or some other part have power to overrule the rest of the multitude, it must follow that the acts of multitudes not entire are not binding to all but only to such as consent unto them.

7. As to the point of proxy, it cannot be shown or proved that all those that have been absent from popular elections did ever give their voices to some of their fellows. I ask but one example out of the history of the whole world: let the commonweal be but named wherever the multitude or so much as the greatest part of it consented, either by voice or by procuration, to the election of a prince. The ambition sometimes of one man, sometimes of many, or the faction of a city or citizens, or the mutiny of an army, hath set up or put down princes; but they have never tarried for this pretended order by proceeding of the whole multitude.

Lastly, if the silent acceptation of a governor by part of the people be an argument of their concurring in the election of him, by the same reason the tacit assent of the whole commonwealth may be maintained; from whence it follows that every prince that conies to a crown, either by succession, conquest, or usurpation, may be said to be elected by the people, which inference is too ridiculous; for in such cases the people are so far from the liberty of specification that they want even that of contradiction.

8. But it is in vain to argue against the liberty of the people in the election of kings, as long as men are persuaded that examples of it are to be found in Scripture. It is fit, therefore, to discover the grounds of this error. It is plain by an evident text that it is one thing to choose a king, and another thing to set up a king over the people; this latter power the children of Israel had, but not the former. This distinction is found most evident in Deut. xvii. 15, where the law of God saith: “Him shalt thou set king over thee whom the Lord shall choose” so God must eligere, and the people only do constituere. Mr. Hooker, in his eighth Book of Ecclesiastical Policy, clearly expounds this distinction; the words are worthy the citing:

Heaps of Scripture are alleged concerning the solemn coronation or inauguration of Saul, David, Solomon, and others, by nobles, ancients, and the people of the commonwealth of Israel; as if these solemnities were a kind of deed, whereby the right of dominion is given, which strange, untrue, and unnatural conceits are set abroad by seedmen of rebellion, only to animate unquiet spirits, and to feed them with possibilities of aspiring unto the thrones, if they can win the hearts of the people, whatsoever hereditary title any other before them may have. I say these unjust and insolent positions I would not mention were it not thereby to make the countenance of truth more orient. For unless we will openly proclaim defiance unto all law, equity, and reason, we must — for there is no other remedy — acknowledge that in kingdoms hereditary, birthright giveth right unto sovereign dominion, and the death of the predecessor putteth the successor by blood in seisin. Those public solemnities before-mentioned do either serve for an open testification of the inheritor’s right, or belong to the form of inducing of him into possession of that thing he hath right unto.

This is Mr. Hooker’s judgment of the Israelites’ power to set a king over themselves. No doubt but if the people of Israel had had power to choose their king, they would never have made choice of Joas, a child but of seven years old, nor of Manasses, a boy of twelve; since, as Solomon saith, “Woe to the land whose king is a child.” Nor is it probable they would have elected Josias, but a very child and a son to so wicked and idolatrous a father, as that his own servants murdered him; and yet all the people set up this young Josias, and slew the conspirators of the death of Ammon, his father, which justice of the people God rewarded by making this Josias the most religious king that ever that nation enjoyed.

9. Because it is affirmed that the people have power to choose as well what form of government as what governors they please, of which mind is Bellarmine in those places we cited at first. Therefore it is necessary to examine the strength of what is said in defence of popular commonweals against this natural form of kingdoms which I maintained. Here I must first put the Cardinal in mind of what he affirms in cold blood in other places, where he saith: “God, when he made all mankind of one man, did seem openly to signify that he rather approved the government of one man than of many.” Again, God showed his opinion when he endued, not only men, but all creatures with a natural propensity to monarchy; neither can it be doubted but a natural propensity is to be referred to God, who is author of nature. And again, in a third place, what form of government God confirmed by his authority may be gathered by that commonweal which he instituted amongst the Hebrews, which was not aristocratical, as Calvin saith, but plainly monarchical.

10. Now, if God, as Bellarmine saith, hath taught us by natural instinct, signified to us by the Creation, and confirmed by His own example, the excellency of monarchy, why should Bellarmine or we doubt but that it is natural? Do we not find that in every family the government of one alone is most natural? God did always govern his own people by monarchy only. The patriarchs, dukes, judges, and kings were all monarchs. There is not in all the Scripture mention or approbation of any other form of government. At the time when Scripture saith: “There was no king in Israel, but that every man did that which was right in his own eyes”, even then the Israelites were under the kingly government of the fathers of particular families; for, in the consultation after the Benjamitical war for providing wives for the Benjamites, we find the elders of the congregation bear only sway (Judges xxi. 16). To them also were complaints to be made, as appears by verse 22. And though mention be made of all the children of Israel, all the congregation, and all the people, yet by the term of “all” the Scripture means only all the fathers, and not all the whole multitude, as the text plainly expounds itself in 2 Chron. i. 2, where Solomon speaks unto all Israel, to the captains, the judges, and to every governor, the chief of the fathers, so the elders of Israel are expounded to be the chief of the fathers of the children of Israel (1 Kings viii. 12; 2 Chron, vs. 2).

At that time also, when the people of Israel begged a king of Samuel, they were governed by kingly power. God, out of a special love and care to the house of Israel, did choose to be their King Himself, and did govern them at that time by His Viceroy Samuel and his sons, and therefore God tells Samuel: “They have not rejected thee but Me, that I should not reign over them.” It seems they did not like a king by deputation but desired one by succession like all the nations. All nations belike had kings then, and those by inheritance, not by election; for we do not find the Israelites prayed that they themselves might choose their own king. They dream of no such liberty, and yet they were the elders of Israel gathered together. If other nations had elected their own kings, no doubt but they would have been as desirous to have imitated other nations as well in the electing as in the having of a king.

Aristotle, in his book of Politics, when he conies to compare the several kinds of government, he is very reserved in discoursing what form he thinks best: he disputes subtilely to and fro of many points, and judiciously of many errors, but concludes nothing himself. In all those books I find little commendation of monarchy. It was his hap to live in those times when the Grecians abounded with several commonwealths, who had then learning enough to make them seditious. Yet in his Ethics, he hath so much good manners as to confess in right down words that “Monarchy is the best form of government, and a popular estate the worst.” And though he be not so free in his politics, yet the necessity of truth hath here and there extorted from him that which amounts no less to the dignity of monarchy; he confesseth it to be, first, the natural and the divinest form of government; and that the gods themselves did live under a monarchy. What can a heathen say more?

Indeed, the world for a long time knew no other sort of government but only monarchy. The best order, the greatest strength, the most stability, and easiest government are to be found all in monarchy, and in no other form of government. The new platforms of commonweals were first hatched in a corner of the world, amongst a few cities of Greece, which have been imitated by very few other places. Those very cities were first, for many years, governed by kings, until wantonness, ambition, or faction of the people, made them attempt new kinds of regimen; all which mutations proved most bloody and miserable to the authors of them — happy in nothing but that they continued but a small time.

11. A little to manifest the imperfection of popular government, let us but examine the most flourishing democracy that the world hath ever known — I mean that of Rome. First, for the durability: at the most it lasted but four hundred and eighty years; for so long it was from the expulsion of Tarquin to Julius Caesar, whereas both the Assyrian monarchy lasted without interruption at the least twelve hundred years, and the empire of the East continued one thousand four hundred and ninety-five years.

Secondly, For the order of it, during these four hundred and eighty years, there was not any one settled form of government in Rome; for after they had once lost the natural power of kings, they could not find upon what form of government to rest. Their fickleness is an evidence that they found things amiss in every change. At the first they chose two annual consuls instead of kings. Secondly, those did not please them long, but they must have tribunes of the people to defend their liberty. Thirdly, they leave tribunes and consuls, and choose them ten men to make them laws. Fourthly, they call for consuls and tribunes again, sometimes they choose dictators, which were temporary kings, and sometimes military tribunes, who had consular power. All these shiftings caused such notable alteration in the government, as it passeth historians to find out any perfect form of regimen in so much confusion; one while the Senate made laws, another while the people. The dissensions which were daily between the Nobles and the Commons bred those memorable seditions about usury, about marriages, and about magistracy. Also the Grecian, the Apulian, and the Drusian seditions filled the market places, the temples, and the Capitol itself, with blood of the citizens; the Social War was plainly civil; the wars of the slaves, and the other of the fencers; the civil wars of Marius and Sylla, of Cataline, of Cæsar, and Pompey the Triumvirate, of Augustus, Lepidus, and Antonius — all these shed an ocean of blood within Italy and the streets of Rome.

Thirdly, For their government, let it be allowed that for some part of this time it was popular, yet it was popular as to the city of Rome only, and not as to the dominions or the whole empire of Rome; for no democracy can extend further than to one city. It is impossible to govern a kingdom, much less many kingdoms, by the whole people or by the greatest part of them.

12. But you will say, yet the Roman empire grew all up under this kind of popular government, and the city became mistress of the world. It is not so; for Rome began her empire under kings, and did perfect it under emperors; it did only increase under that popularity. Her greatest exaltation was under Trajan, as her longest peace had been under Augustus. Even at those times when the Roman victories abroad did amaze the world, then the tragical slaughter of citizens at home deserved commiseration from their vanquished enemies. What though in that age of her popularity she bred many admired captains and commanders — each of which was able to lead an army, though many of them were but ill requited by the people — yet all of them were not able to support her in times of danger; but she was forced in her greatest troubles to create a dictator, who was a king for a time, thereby giving this honourable testimony of monarchy that the last refuge in perils of states is to fly to regal authority. And though Rome’s popular estate for a while was miraculously upheld in glory by a greater prudence than her own, yet in a short time, after manifold alterations, she was ruined by her own hands: suis et ipsa Roma viribus mil; for the arms she had prepared to conquer other nations were turned upon herself, and civil contentions at last settled the government again into a monarchy.

13. The vulgar opinion is that the first cause why the democratical government was brought in was to curb the tyranny of monarchies. But the falsehood of this doth best appear by the first flourishing popular estate of Athens, which was founded, not because of the vices of their last king, but that his virtuous deserts were such as the people thought no man worthy enough to succeed him — a pretty wanton quarrel to monarchy! For when their king Codrus understood by the oracle that his country could not be saved unless the king were slain in the battle, he in disguise entered his enemy’s camp and provoked a common soldier to make him a sacrifice for his own kingdom, and with his death ended the royal government; for after him was never any more kings of Athens. As Athens thus for love of her Codrus changed the government, so Rome, on the contrary, out of hatred to her Tarquin did the like. And though these two famous commonweals did for contrary causes abolish monarchy, yet they both agreed in this, that neither of them thought it fit to change their state into a democracy; but the one chose archontes, and the other consuls, to be their governors; both which did most resemble kings, and continued until the people, by lessening the authority of these their magistrates, did by degrees and stealth bring in their popular government. And I verily believe never any democratical state showed itself at first fairly to the world by any elective entrance, but they all secretly crept in by the back-door of sedition and faction.

14. If we will listen to the judgment of those who should best know the nature of popular government, we shall find no reason for good men to desire or choose it. Xenophon, that brave scholar and soldier, disallowed the Athenian commonweal for that they followed that form of government wherein the wicked are always in greatest credit, and virtuous men kept under. They expelled Aristides the Just; Themistocles died in banishment; Miltiades in prison; Phocion, the most virtuous and just man of his age, though he had been chosen forty-five times to be their general, yet he was put to death with all his friends, kindred, and servants, by the fury of the people, without sentence, accusation, or any cause at all. Nor were the people of Rome much more favourable to their worthies. They banished Rutilius, Metellus, Coriolanus, the two Scipios, and Tully. The worst men sped best; for as Xenophon saith of Athens, so Rome was a sanctuary for all turbulent, discontented, and seditious spirits. The impunity of wicked men was such that upon pain of death it was forbidden all magistrates to condemn to death or banish any citizen, or to deprive him of his liberty, or so much as to whip him, for what offence soever he had committed, either against the gods or men.

The Athenians sold justice as they did other merchandise, which made Plato call a popular estate a fair, where everything is to be sold. The officers, when they entered upon their charge, would brag they went to a golden harvest. The corruption of Rome was such that Marius and Pompey durst carry bushels of silver into the assemblies to purchase the voices of the people. Many citizens under their grave gowns came armed into their public meetings, as if they went to war. Often contrary factions fell to blows, sometimes with stones, and sometimes with swords. The blood hath been sucked up in the market places with sponges; the river Tiber hath been filled with the dead bodies of the citizens, and the common privies stuffed full with them.

If any man think these disorders in popular states were but casual, or such as might happen under any kind of government, he must know that such mischiefs are unavoidable and of necessity do follow all democratical regimens; and the reason is given, because the nature of all people is to desire liberty without restraint, which cannot be but where the wicked bear rule; and if the people should be so indiscreet as to advance virtuous men, they lose their power; for that good men would favour none but the good, which are always the fewer in number, and the wicked and vicious — which is still the greatest part of the people — should be excluded from all preferment, and in the end, by little and little, wise men should seize upon the state and take it from the people.

I know not how to give a better character of the people than can be gathered from such authors as lived amongst or near the popular states. Thucydides, Xenophon, Livy, Tacitus, Cicero, and Sallust have set them out in their colours. I will borrow some of their sentences:

There is nothing more uncertain than the people; their opinions are as variable and sudden as tempests; there is neither truth nor judgment in them; they are not led by wisdom to judge of anything, but by violence and rashness; nor put they any difference between things true and false. After the manner of cattle, they follow the herd that goes before; they have a custom always to favour the worst and the weakest; they are most prone to suspicions, and use to condemn men for guilty upon any false suggestion; they are apt to believe all news, especially if it be sorrowful; and, like Fame, they make it more in the believing; when there is no author, they fear those evils which themselves have feigned; they are most desirous of new stirs and changes, and are enemies to quiet and rest; whatsoever is giddy or headstrong, they account manlike and courageous; but whatsoever is modest or provident seems sluggish; each man hath a care of his particular, and thinks basely of the common good; they look upon approaching mischiefs as they do upon thunder, only every man wisheth it may not touch his own person; it is the nature of them, they must serve basely or domineer proudly; for they know no mean.

Thus do they paint to the life this beast with many heads. Let me give you the cipher of their form of government: as it is begot by sedition, so it is nourished by arms; it can never stand without wars, either with an enemy abroad or with friends at home. The only means to preserve it is to have some powerful enemies near who may serve instead of a king to govern it, that so, though they have not a king amongst them, yet they may have as good as a king over them; for the common danger of an enemy keeps them in better unity than the laws they make themselves.

15. Many have exercised their wits in paralleling the inconveniences of regal and popular government; but if we will trust experience before speculations philosophical, it cannot be denied but this one mischief of sedition, which necessarily waits upon all popularity, weighs down all the inconveniences that can be found in monarchy, though they were never so many. It is said, “Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life” and a man will give his riches for the ransom of his life. The way then to examine what proportion the mischiefs of sedition and tyranny have one to another is to inquire in what kind of government most subjects have lost their lives. Let Rome, which is magnified for her popularity, and vilified for the tyrannical monsters, the emperors, furnish us with examples. Consider whether the cruelty of all the tyrannical emperors that ever ruled in this city did ever spill a quarter of the blood that was poured out in the last hundred years of her glorious commonwealth. The murders by Tiberius, Domitian, and Commodus, put all together, cannot match that civil tragedy which was acted in that one sedition between Marius and Sylla, nay, even by Sylla’s part alone — not to mention the acts of Marius — were fourscore and ten senators put to death, fifteen consuls, two thousand and six hundred gentlemen, and a hundred thousand others.

This was the height of the Roman liberty; any man might be killed that would — a favour not fit to be granted under a royal government. The miseries of those licentious times are briefly touched by Plutarch in these words:

Sylla fell to shedding of blood, and filled all Rome with infinite and unspeakable murders. This was not only done in Rome, but in all the cities of Italy throughout there was no temple of any god whatsoever, no altar in anybody’s house, no liberty of hospital, no father’s house, which was not embrued with blood and horrible murders; the husbands were slain in the wives’ arms, and the children in the mothers’ laps; and yet they that were slain for private malice were nothing in respect of those that were murdered only for their goods.... He openly sold their goods by the crier, sitting so proudly in his chair of state, that it grieved the people more to see their goods packed up by them to whom he gave or disposed them than to see them taken away. Sometimes he would give a whole country, or the whole revenues of certain cities, unto women for their beauties, or to pleasant jesters, minstrels, or wicked slaves made free. And to some he would give other men’s wives by force, and make them be married against their wills.

Now let Tacitus and Suetonius be searched, and see if all their cruel emperors can match this popular villany in such an universal slaughter of citizens, or civil butchery. God only was able to match him, and over-matched him, by fitting him with a most remarkable death, just answerable to his life; for as he had been the death of many thousands of his countrymen, so as many thousands of his own kindred in the flesh were the death of him, for he died of an impostume which corrupted his flesh in such sort that it turned all to lice. He had many about him to shift him continually night and day; yet the lice they wiped from him were nothing to them that multiplied upon him; there was neither apparel, linen, baths, washings, nor meat itself, but was presently filled with swarms of this vile vermin. I cite not this to extenuate the bloody acts of any tyrannical princes, nor will I plead in defence of their cruelties; only in the comparative I maintain the mischiefs to a state to be less universal under a tyrant king; for the cruelty of such tyrants extends ordinarily no further than to some particular men that offend him, and not to the whole kingdom. It is truly said by his late Majesty King James: A king can never be so notoriously vicious but he will generally favour justice, and maintain some order, except in the particulars wherein his inordinate lust carries him away. Even cruel Domitian, Dionysius, the tyrant, and many others are commended by historians for great observers of justice. A natural reason is to be rendered for it. It is the multitude of people and the abundance of their riches which are the only strength and glory of every prince. The bodies of his subjects do him service in war, and their goods supply his present wants; therefore, if not out of affection to his people, yet out of natural love to himself, every tyrant desires to preserve the lives and protect the goods of his subjects, which cannot be done but by justice, and if it be not done, the prince’s loss is the greatest; on the contrary, in a popular state every man knows the public good doth not depend wholly on his care, but the commonwealth may well enough be governed by others though he tend only his private benefit, he never takes the public to be his own business. Thus, as in a family, where one office is to be done by many servants, one looks upon another, and every one leaves the business for his fellow until it is quite neglected by all; nor are they much to be blamed for their negligence, since it is an even wager their ignorance is as great. For magistrates among the people, being for the most part annual, do always lay down their office before they understand it; so that a prince of a duller understanding, by use and experience, must needs excel them. Again, there is no tyrant so barbarously wicked but his own reason and sense will tell him that though he be a god, yet he must die like a man; and that there is not the meanest of his subjects but may find a means to revenge himself of the injustice that is offered him. Hence it is that great tyrants live continually in base fears, as did Dionysius the elder; Tiberius, Caligula, and Nero are noted by Suetonius to have been frightened with panic fears. But it is not so where wrong is done to any particular person by a multitude. He knows not who hurt him, or who to complain of, or to whom to address himself for reparation. Any man may boldly exercise his malice and cruelty in all popular assemblies. There is no tyranny to be compared to the tyranny of a multitude.

16. What though the government of the people be a thing not to be endured, much less defended, yet many men please themselves with an opinion that though the people may not govern, yet they may partake and join with a king in the government, and so make a state mixed of popular and regal power, which they take to be the best-tempered and equallest form of government. But the vanity of this fancy is too evident, it is a mere impossibility or contradiction; for if a king but once admit the people to be his companions, he leaves to be a king, and the state becomes a democracy; at least, he is but a titular and no real king that hath not the sovereignty to himself; for the having of this alone, and nothing but this, makes a king to be a king. As for that show of popularity which is found in such kingdoms as have general assemblies for consultation about making public laws, it must be remembered that such meetings do not share or divide the sovereignty with the prince, but do only deliberate and advise their supreme head, who still reserves the absolute power in himself: for if in such assemblies the king, the nobility, and people have equal shares in the sovereignty, then the king hath but one voice, the nobility likewise one, and the people one, and then any two of these voices should have power to overrule the third; thus the nobility and commons together should have power to make a law to bind the king, which was never yet seen in any kingdom, but if it could, the state must needs be popular and not regal.

17. If it be unnatural for the multitude to choose their governors, or to govern or to partake in the government, what can be thought of that damnable conclusion which is made by too many that the multitude may correct or depose their prince if need be? Surely the unnaturalness and injustice of this position cannot sufficiently be expressed; for admit that a king make a contract or paction with his people, either originally in his ancestors or personally at his coronation — for both these pactions some dream of but cannot offer any proof for either — yet by no law of any nation can a contract be thought broken, except that first a lawful trial be had by the ordinary judge of the breakers thereof, or else every man may be both party and judge in his own case, which is absurd once to be thought, for then it will lie in the hands of the headless multitude when they please to cast off the yoke of government — that God hath laid upon them — to judge and punish him, by whom they should be judged and punished themselves. Aristotle can tell us what judges the multitude are in their own case, pleistoi fauloi kritai peri twn oikeiwu. The judgment of the multitude in disposing of the sovereignty may be seen in the Roman history, where we may find many good emperors murdered by the people, and many bad elected by them. Nero, Heliogabalus, Otho, Vitellius, and such other monsters of nature, were the minions of the multitude and set up by them. Pertinax, Alexander, Severus, Gordianus, Gallus, Emilianus, Quintilius, Aurelianus, Tacitus, Probus, and Numerianus, all of them good emperors in the judgment of all historians, yet murdered by the multitude.

18. Whereas many out of an imaginary fear pretend the power of the people to be necessary for the repressing of the insolences of tyrants; wherein they propound a remedy far worse than the disease, neither is the disease indeed so frequent as they would have us think. Let us be judged by the history even of our own nation. We have enjoyed a succession of kings from the Conquest now for above six hundred years — a time far longer than ever yet any popular State could continue — we reckon to the number of twenty-six of these princes since the Norman race, and yet not one of these is taxed by our historians for tyrannical government. It is true, two of these kings have been deposed by the people and barbarously murdered, but neither of them for tyranny; for, as a learned historian of our age saith: “Edward II and Richard II were not insupportable either in their nature or rule, and yet the people, more upon wantonness than for any want, did take an unbridled course against them.” Edward II by many of our historians is reported to be of a good and virtuous nature, and not unlearned; they impute his defects rather to fortune than either to counsel or carriage of his affairs. The deposition of him was a violent fury, led by a wife both cruel and unchaste, and can with no better countenance of right be justified than may his lamentable both indignities and death itself. Likewise the deposition of King Richard II was a tempestuous rage, neither led or restrained by any rules of reason or of state. Examine his actions without a distempered judgment, and you will not condemn him to be exceeding either insufficient or evil; weigh the imputations that were objected against him, and you shall find nothing either of any truth or of great moment. Hollingshed writeth:

That he was most unthankfully used by his subjects; for, although, through the frailty of his youth he demeaned himself more dissolutely than was agreeable to the royalty of his estate, yet in no king’s days were the commons in greater wealth, the nobility more honoured, and the clergy less wronged, who, notwithstanding, in the evil-guided strength of their will, took head against him, to their own headlong destruction afterwards, partly during the reign of Henry, his next successor, whose greatest achievements were against his own people in executing those who conspired with him against King Richard. But more especially in succeeding times when, upon occasion of this disorder, more English blood was spent than was in all the foreign wars together which have been since the Conquest.

Twice hath this kingdom been miserably wasted with civil war, but neither of them occasioned by the tyranny of any prince. The cause of the Barons’ wars is by good historians attributed to the stubbornness of the nobility, as the bloody variance of the houses of York and Lancaster, and the late rebellion sprang from the wantonness of the people. These three unnatural wars have dishonoured our nation amongst strangers, so that in the censures of kingdoms the King of Spain is said to be the king of men, because of his subjects’ willing obedience; the King of France king of asses, because of their infinite taxes and impositions; but the King of England is said to be the king of devils, because of his subjects’ often insurrections against and depositions of their princes.

[1] [John Bodin (1530-1596) was a politique, and one of a group of Catholic Frenchmen who believed that the unity and welfare of the state should not be sacrificed on behalf of the church. He is most famous for his Six Livres de la République (1577) in which he expounded the doctrine of monarchical sovereignty and developed the first major systematic treatment of politics since Aristotle.]

[2] Aristotle, Politics, Bk. i. chap. 2.

First published 1680.

This publication dated 18-08-2006.

Contributed by Robert Clark.