Jean Bodin: Six Books of the Commonwealth: Book 6

BOOK VI

The Census and the Censorship[1] [CHAPTER I]

... WE must now discuss the remaining term in our definition of the commonwealth, namely what are those things which are of common interest. The common interest is secured by the administration of the revenue, the domain, rents, revenues, taxes, or imposts and other such charges necessary for the maintenance of the commonwealth. We must therefore first consider the census.

Rightly understood the word census means simply an assessment of each individual's belongings. If we are going to discuss the revenue, we must first enquire into the census, for of all the magistrates in a commonwealth, none are more indispensable than those responsible for it. If the necessity of their function is evident, even more so is its utility, both in establishing the number and quality of persons, and the amount and character of each individual's possessions, but also as a means of disciplining and reprimanding the subject. It astonishes me that so excellent an institution, at once so necessary and useful to the commonwealth, should have been allowed to lapse, seeing that in ancient times all Greek and Latin communities knew it... They spoke of it as a divine institution, and one which preserved the greatness of the Roman Empire, so long as the office retained its prestige. ...

The first advantage to be derived from taking a census relates to the ordering of persons. If one knows the number, age, and status of all one's subjects, one can judge how many can be called upon for military service and how many must be left at home, how many can be despatched abroad to found colonies and how many employed in forced labour upon public works such as fortifications. One can also estimate the supply of food necessary for the needs of the inhabitants of each town, especially useful when one has to provision a town against a siege. None of these things can be done well if one has no idea of the number and distribution of the population. ...

But one of the most important good consequences of numbering the people is that one can find out the standing and the calling of each individual, and how he earns his living. This makes it possible to get rid of those parasites which prey upon the commonwealth, to banish idlers and vagabonds, the robbers and ruffians of all sorts that live among good citizens like wolves among the sheep. One can find them out, and track them down wherever they are.

A declaration of property is as necessary as a census of individuals... Such a survey was made throughout the Roman Empire in order that the burdens which each ought to bear could be fairly assessed. Such a measure is even more necessary now when there are so many more charges than the ancients ever knew. It is of the first importance that every subject should be required to make a return of his property and his revenues. This was done in Provence in 1471. It immediately became clear that one third of the population bore all the burdens of the other two thirds ... Such enquiries reveal the frauds and favours of the tax collectors and assessors, whose duty it is to secure an equal distribution of imposts.

The periodic reformation of abuses was one of the best and most excellent measures that was ever introduced into any commonwealth, and the one which most contributed to the preservation of the Roman Empire. The censors were always elected from among the most upright men to be found in the whole commonwealth, and they endeavoured to the utmost of their powers to inculcate in the subject true sentiments of honour and virtue. They carried out this duty every five years, after they had put the finances in order and farmed out the domain. If at any time they omitted the censorship, as occasionally happened during a long war, one can see at a glance how the morals of the people declined, and the commonwealth fell sick, like a body denied its customary purgations. ...

They concerned themselves always only with those abuses which did not come before the courts. The magistrates and the people took cognizance of murders, parricides, robberies, assaults, and such like crimes, punishable by the laws. But someone might ask whether it is not sufficient only to punish the crimes and misdemeanours forbidden by law. I would answer however that the law only punishes those misdeeds which trouble the public peace, but the most evil men often enough escape the penalties of the law, like strong animals brushing aside spiders' webs. What man is so mistaken as to measure honour and virtue solely by the rules of the law? It is sufficiently obvious that the most detestable vices that poison the whole body politic cannot be punished in the courts. Perfidy, one of the most abominable of vices is never punishable by law. But the censors, said Cicero, were more anxious to punish perjury than anything else. Again, drunkenness, gambling, fornication, and lust can be indulged in without check from the law. Who can remedy this state of things but the censor? One sees also how most commonwealths are afflicted with vagabonds, idlers, and ruffians who corrupt good citizens by their deeds and their example. There is no means of getting rid of such vermin save by the censor.

There is however a more particular reason which makes the censorship more necessary today than ever it was before. In ancient times each head of a family had high, middle, and low justice; as father over his children, as master over his slaves he had sovereign power, so to speak, over life and death, without appeal. The husband had such authority over his wife in four respects, as we have shown in its proper place. But now that this condition of things no longer obtains, what justice can one expect from the impiety of children towards their parents; from the ill-regulated relations of married people, or contempt for masters? How often do we see daughters sold or dishonoured by their own parents, so that often enough they prefer to be cast off than to be married to the husband chosen for them? There is no possible remedy save in the establishment of a censorship.

I am not here concerned with the question of reverence towards God, which should be the first and principal care of every family and every commonwealth. This has always been the concern of popes, bishops, and ministers of religion, to whom magistrates ought always to give every assistance. For though the law of God commands that everyone should attend divine worship at least at the three great festivals of the year, one finds a great number who never do so at all. This neglect of religion encourages the insidious growth of the detestable sect of atheists. They have nothing but blasphemies on their lips, and despise all laws equally, whether human or divine. From this state of affairs follows an infinity of crimes such as murder, parricide, treason, perjury, adultery, and incest. For one cannot expect princes and magistrates to succeed in making those of their subjects who trample all religion underfoot amenable to their own laws. This is a matter for ministers and censors, who can appeal to divine laws where human laws have lost their force. As Lactantius said 'those actions which fear of the laws prevent are acts of violence, not sins. The laws can punish crimes but cannot stir the conscience'.

One sees how much the education of young people is neglected nowadays, though it should be one of the principal concerns of every commonwealth. The young are tender plants, and must be raised with great care. But what should be a matter of public policy is now left to each individual's private discretion, and each does as he chooses, one one thing and one another... All these things should depend on the care and attention of censors, whose first concern should be to provide for the education of the young, and teachers for this purpose. ...

But censors should not be given any powers of jurisdiction, for their activities should not be encumbered by legal proceedings. The Roman censor had no jurisdiction, but a word, a look, a stroke of the pen from him inspired a more lively dread than all the sentences and penalties of the magistrates. ...

It is not my intention to discuss the justification of ecclesiastical jurisdiction. But such as it is, there is a danger of it disappearing and with it the Church's power of censure, as a result of its excessive use. Such censure used always to be remarkably effective. The Druids of old, who were sovereign judges and high priests in Gaul, excommunicated kings and princes who would not obey their injuctions. Among Christians ecclesiastical censure has maintained discipline and good morals for many centuries. Tyrants have been made to tremble before it, and kings and princes have been brought to reason. Their crowns have been struck from off their heads and their sceptres out of their hands. Kings have been constrained to make peace or war, to reform their way of living, or amend their laws. History is full of such occasions. The outstanding instances are the censuring of Theodosius by St. Ambrose, and of Lothar by Nicholas I, and the excommunication of Louis VII of France by Innocent. ...

Priests, bishops, and popes have always claimed the censorship of morals and religion, as a matter not pertaining to judges and magistrates, except by way of executing sentence. But elders and overseers have exercised the same prerogative in many places, a very necessary concession where there are no censors, both for regulating the morals of the people and superintending them diligently, and to support the authority of pastors, bishops, and ministers, for they cannot be too highly honoured and respected for the dignity and responsibility of their office. God in His wisdom so provided, appointing ministers, and giving the prerogative of honour over all the rest to the tribe of Levi, and among the Levites, to the house of Aaron who were all priests, giving them the tithe of all cattle, harvests, and inheritances, together with many honours and privileges. By an article of the divine law, the man who disobeyed the High Priest was adjudged worthy of death.

Those who wish to diminish the estate of bishops, ministers, and overseers, and deprive them of their powers of ecclesiastical censure, their possessions and their privileges, to trample them underfoot, dishonour God, and destroy all religion. This important question was in part the reason why the chief minister of Lausanne left the town, for the governing bodies of the confederate states would not submit to the censorship of the elders. One must in that case institute special censors. The governing body of Geneva has however reserved this prerogative to bishops, ministers, and elders. They have corporate rights, and can, in their consistory, censure morals. They have no jurisdiction, or power of compulsion, or of execution, either themselves or in the persons of the public officials. But in case of disobedience they excommunicate. This involves the most serious consequences, for the excommunicate, after a certain lapse of time, is liable to a criminal prosecution before the magistrates, by the Inquisitor of the faith. There is the same system in the Catholic Church, but proceedings are not there so expeditious. ...

I leave it to wiser heads then mine to decide whether one should divide temporal censorship in matters touching morals and other matters remarked on, from ecclesiastical censorship, or to unite the two. But it is better to let bishops and ministers exercise both than to deprive them of such powers altogether, and so deny the commonwealth that which is most necessary to its welfare. One sees commonwealths that have such an institution nourish in laws and morals. Licence, usury, excesses of all sorts are prevented; blasphemers, ruffians, idlers, expelled. One cannot question that commonwealths that employ these measures of censure are lasting, and fortified by all the virtues. But once the censure is neglected, laws, virtue, and religion are despised, as happened in Rome a short time before the Empire collapsed in ruins. ...

The Revenues [CHAPTER II]

... THERE are, generally speaking, seven sources of revenues which include all the possible sources that one can well imagine. The first is the public domain, the second the profits of conquests, the third gifts from friends, the fourth tribute from allies, the fifth the profits of trading ventures, the sixth customs on exports and imports, and the seventh taxes on the subject. The first, which is the domain, appears to be the most defensible and the most reliable of all sources of income. We read that all ancient kings and legislators who founded commonwealths or planted colonies, besides public buildings such as roads, temples, and theatres, assigned certain lands to the commonwealth which belonged to all in general, and these they called common lands. Other lands were farmed or leased to private individuals for a term of years, or in perpetuity, and the rents of these lands were paid into the treasury for the discharge of the expenses of the commonwealth. We read, for instance, that Romulus, founder of Rome and the Roman Republic, divided the whole territory into three parts, assigning one third for the upkeep of the Church, a second as the public domain, and the rest was divided among private individuals. ...

In order that princes should not be constrained to burden their subjects with imposts, or devise excuses for confiscating their possessions, all kings and people have taken it for a universal and unchallengeable rule that the public domain should be sacred, inviolable, and inalienable, either through contract or prescription. Kings therefore even in this kingdom, issuing letters patent for the recovery of domain, declare that on their accession to the throne they took an oath never to alienate the domain. If it has been alienated, even according to the proper legal forms, and in perpetuity, it nevertheless remains susceptible of recovery, so that prescription of one hundred years, which normally constitutes a title to possession, does not hold for the domain. Edicts, judgements, and ordinances on the subject are sufficiently familiar in this kingdom, not only directed against private citizens, but even against Princes of the Blood who have been deprived of domainal lands after a hundred years' prescription. This is not a rule peculiar to this kingdom, but is a custom binding on the Kings of Spain, Poland, and England, for they also are required to take an oath against alienating the domain. The rule is also observed in aristocracies and popular states ... It is therefore never permissible for sovereign princes to misappropriate the revenues from the domain. They have not the right of usufruct, but simply of administration, and they must, once the expenses of maintaining the commonwealth and their own estate are met, reserve the rest for some public necessity ...

It is to be observed however that the conservation of the domain is much better secured in a monarchy than in an aristocracy or a popular state. There the magistrates and collectors of taxes are only concerned to convert what belongs to the public to their own private advantage, and each thinks only either of gratifying his friends, or of winning popular favour at the public expense. ...

The second means of replenishing the treasury is by the profits of foreign conquests ... When William the Conqueror subjugated the realm of England, he declared the whole country in general, and the estates of each particular person forfeit to him by the conventions of war, and he treated the English simply as his tenants. The Romans were more civilized and farseeing in this respect, for they despatched colonists for whose benefit a proportion only of the land was confiscated. In this way they got rid of the indigent, disorderly, and idle elements among their own people, and at the same time planted settlements among the conquered people. Subsequent intermarriage bred mutual trust, so that the conquered came to submit to Rome willingly. The world was thus populated with colonies of Romans to the enhancing of their reputation for justice, wisdom, and power. Nowadays most victorious princes establish garrisons of professional soldiers, who think only of pillaging and so exasperate the subject population into revolt. If Roman examples had been followed when the French conquered Naples and Milan, these cities would still be obeying our kings. ...

The third means of increasing the revenues is by gifts, furnished by friends or subjects. There is not much to be said about this, for it is not a certain source of income. Few princes offer such gifts, and still fewer receive them without returning some equivalent... As to gifts offered by subjects, such as the Romans called oblations, one very seldom hears of them these days, for so-called free gifts are for the most part compulsive. ...

The fourth resource is the pension received from an ally. These are paid in time of peace as well as war to secure defence or protection against enemies, or aid and assistance of any sort at need, according to the terms of the treaty ... By the terms of the treaties of alliance between the King of France and the Swiss, the king gave to each Canton a pension of one thousand livres to secure peace with them, and a pension of two thousand livres for their active co-operation, besides extraordinary payments. He also undertook to pay the expenses in war, and the salaries of those who entered his household, or acted as his bodyguard. By these terms it was clear that the Swiss were the king's pensioners. ...

The fifth expedient is for the prince or the signory to engage in commerce ... Everyone knows how for the last century, ever since the discovery of the gold mines and other riches of Guinea, and of the spices of Calicut and the East twelve years later, the Kings of Portugal have engaged in trade with such success that they have made themselves masters of the best harbours of Africa, occupied the island of Ormuz in the teeth of the opposition of the Shah of Persia, and subjected a great part of Morocco and Guinea ... But of all forms of traffic in which a prince can engage, the sale of honours, offices, and benefices is the most pernicious and sordid, as I have already said. ...

The augmentation of the revenue by charging the merchants who import and export commodities is one of the oldest and commonest customs of commonwealths. It is founded in equity, for it is reasonable that the man who wants to make his profit out of the subjects of another should pay some duty to the prince or the people, as the case may be... One should go upon the principle of increasing the export duties, payable by foreigners, on things they cannot well do without, for this both increases the revenues, and helps the subject. The customs on raw materials imported from abroad should be lowered, and that on manufactured articles increased, and their import from abroad, or the export from this country of such raw materials as iron, hides, steel, wool, linen thread, raw silk, and such like should be prohibited altogether. In this way the subject makes his profit on the manufactured article, and the prince on the customs. Such a prohibition was imposed in 1563 by Philip II of Spain, as an act of retaliation against a similar measure of the Queen of England three years earlier. ...

The last method of raising revenue is to tax the subject. One should never have recourse to it till all other measures have failed, and only then because urgent necessity compels one to make some provision for the commonwealth. In such a case, seeing that the security and defence of each private citizen depends on the preservation of the common good, each individual must be prepared to assist in the matter. In such a crisis, taxes and impositions are most just, for nothing is more just than that which is necessary, as a Roman senator once observed. Nevertheless, in order to secure that an extraordinary tax, imposed in time of war, should not be continued in peace time, it is better to impose it in the form of a forced loan. Moreover the money comes in more readily when the payer hopes both to receive his money back again sometime, and to enjoy the distinction of having made a contribution ... Louis IX was the first to levy a general tax, as President Le Maître has shown. The President did not add however that it took the form of an extraordinary subsidy in time of war, justified by necessity, and never became part of the ordinary revenues. On the contrary, St. Louis in his testament addressed Philip, his elder son and successor in these words: 'Be devout in the service of God; be merciful and charitable at heart to the poor, and comfort them with your assistance; keep the good laws of your kingdom; do not levy taxes or impositions on your subjects, unless urgent and evident necessity forces you to it, and for some just cause, but not arbitrarily. If you do otherwise, you will not have the reputation of a king, but of a tyrant. ... '

It was declared by the estates of this realm, in the presence of King Philip of Valois in the year 1338, that he could not levy any tax on his people without their consent ... This rule has always been observed, and is also a well established custom in Spain, England, and Germany. At the Estates of Tours, assembled in the time of Charles VIII, Philippe de Comines declared that there was nowhere a prince who had power to levy taxes on his subjects, nor could he acquire such a right by prescription, without their consent. ...

If anyone asks what form taxes should take which are to redound to the honour of God, and the profit of the commonwealth, to the satisfaction of men of substance, and the relief of the poor, I suggest that they should be levied on those commodities which corrupt the subject. Taxes should be raised on luxuries and ornaments of all sorts, perfumes, cloth of gold and silver, silk, lace, fine tissues, gold and silver enamel. They should also be charged on all unnecessary articles of clothing, and on scarlet, crimson, and cochineal dyes and so forth. One should not prohibit the sale of these articles. Men are so made by nature that they find nothing more attractive than that which is strictly forbidden. The more superfluities are denied to them, the more earnestly are they desired, especially by giddy and unstable natures. It is better to make such things so expensive by heavy taxes that only the very rich and indulgent can afford them. ...

There is also the problem of the right use of the public revenues. The upkeep of the king's household should first be provided for.

That secured, and the army and the officers of the crown paid regularly, all poor subjects will benefit. If funds then permit, part should be employed in constructing fortifications in strategic positions on the frontiers, making roads, building bridges, chartering ships, erecting public buildings, founding colleges of learning and of honour. This work of upkeep is not only necessary, but it redounds to the profit of the whole commonwealth. Crafts and craftsmen are encouraged, and the necessities of the poor relieved. Moreover the unpopularity of taxation is mitigated when the ruler sees to it that the money he takes from his subjects is used for the benefit of all in general, and each in particular. ...

A Comparison of the three Legitimate Types of Commonwealth, Popular, Aristocratic, and Monarchical, concluding in favour of Monarchy [CHAPTER IV][2]

WE have now discussed the commonwealth fairly fully from all points of view. It remains to draw our conclusions, that is to say to consider the advantages and disadvantages of each type, and then pronounce on the best. This can only properly be done after one has discussed all aspects of the commonwealth, both general and particular ... Tyranny in a prince is evil, but it is even worse where many rule. As Cicero says, there is no more remorseless tyranny than that of the people. All the same it is a condition of things to be preferred to anarchy, where there is no form of a commonwealth whatsoever, and where none can command, and none are obliged to obey. Let us avoid such evil conditions as these, and consider which is the best of the three legitimate forms of commonwealth, that is to say a popular state, an aristocracy, or a royal monarchy. In order to make my conclusions quite clear, I shall first set out the arguments for and against each type.

In the first place it can be argued that the popular state is the most to be esteemed since it aims at an indifferent and equal rule of law, without favour or exception of persons. In such a state civil constitutions are brought into conformity with the laws of nature. In equalizing men it follows the order of nature, under which riches, estates, and honours are not attributed to one more than to another. Similarly, in a popular state all enjoy equality in respect of goods, honours, and legal rights, without any being privileged or entitled to prerogatives... For instance, when Lycurgus converted the monarchy into a popular state, he burnt all records of debts, forbad the use of gold or silver, and divided the land into equal lots. It gave him great satisfaction to see an equal harvest gathered in from each holding. By such means the two most ruinous plagues of the commonwealth, the avarice of some and the arrogance of others, were avoided. By such means also he got rid of all thefts and robberies, disorders, libels, parties and factions, for such cannot develop where all are equal, and no one has the advantage over another. Again, if friendship is the necessary foundation of human society, and if equality is a condition of friendship, since there is no equality except in a popular state, it follows that this is the best form of the commonwealth, and ought to be preferred to all others. In it is to be found natural liberty, and equal justice for all, without fear of tyranny, cruelty or oppression, and the charms of a social intercourse open to all alike, which would seem to secure to men that felicity that nature intended for them. But there is an even stronger argument to prove that the popular state is the best, most worthy and most perfect form, and that is that democracies have generally produced the men who have most excelled in arms and in justice, the greatest orators, jurists, and craftsmen. In other commonwealths, factions among the ruling class, or the king's jealous regard for his own honour and glory, have discouraged subjects from attempting anything outstanding. And finally, it would seem that a popular state alone bears the true mark of a commonwealth. In it everyone partakes in the common good, having a share in the common property, the spoils of war, public honours, and conquered territory, whereas in an aristocracy a handful of the upper class, in a monarchy a single person, appear to convert what should be enjoyed in common to their private advantage. Briefly, if what is most to be hoped for in the commonwealth is that magistrates should be subject to the laws, and the subjects to the magistrates, this seems best secured in a popular state where the law is lady and mistress of all.

These are the principal arguments in favour of the popular state. They appear conclusive, but in effect are no better than spiders' webs, glittering, subtle, and fine-drawn, but of no strength. In the first place, there has never been a commonwealth in which it has been found possible to preserve equality of property and of honours. With regard to honours, such equality is contrary to the laws of nature, for by nature some are wiser and more inventive than others, some formed to govern and others to obey, some wise and discreet others foolish and obstinate, some with the ascendancy of spirit necessary to guide and command others, some endowed only with the physical strength to execute orders. As to natural liberty, which is so much cried up in the popular state, if such a condition were realized anywhere, it would preclude the existence of any magistrates, laws, or form of state, since such presuppose inequalities. As for the common good, it is quite clear that there is no form of commonwealth where it is less regarded than in a popular state. ...

All those who have discussed the subject are agreed that the end of all commonwealths is the encouragement of honour and virtue. But a popular state is hostile to men of reputation. The preservation of a popular state, according to Xenophon, depends on the promotion of the most vicious, and least worthy, to all honours and offices. If the people are so ill-advised as to bestow honourable charges and dignities on upright and virtuous men, they lose their ascendancy. Honest men advance others like themselves, and such people only ever form a small handful of the community. The bad and the vicious, who are the great majority, are denied advancement, and gradually deprived and superseded by just and upright judges. In this way the best men come to control the state, and take it out of the hands of the people. For this reason, said Xenophon, the Athenians always gave audience to the most evil, knowing full well that they would say those things which were welcome and useful to the wicked men who made up the majority of the people. 'This is why', he said 'I blame the Athenians, for having chosen the worst form of commonwealth there is, but having chosen it, I commend them for conducting their affairs the way they did, that is to say for resisting, persecuting, and banishing the noble, the wise, and the virtuous, and for advancing the impudent, vicious, and evil. For the vice', he said, 'which you denounce so severely is the very foundation of the popular state.' As for justice, he thought that they cared nothing for it. They were only anxious to secure the profits of selling to the highest bidder, and to find means of ruining the rich, the noble, and the incorruptible. Such men they harassed without any justification, because of the hatred they felt for a type quite contrary to their own natural temperament. For this reason a popular state is always the refuge of all disorderly spirits, rebels, traitors, outcasts, who encourage and help the lower orders to ruin the great. The laws they hold in no esteem, for in Athens the will of the people was law. Such was Xenophon's judgement on the Athenian republic, which was the best-ordered of any popular state of its times, and he did not see how it could be in the least changed if the people were to be continued in authority ... Those who praise the Roman Republic to the skies should remember the disorders and evil commotions to which it was a prey. ...

Someone may quote against me the case of the Swiss republics. There you have admirable popular states which have nourished for upwards of three hundred years. They have not only rid themselves of tyrants, but helped to free their neighbours too. But I think the reason is first that a popular form of government is suited to the temperament of the inhabitants, as I said before, and second, that the most restless and intractable go abroad and take service with foreign princes. Those that remain at home are the more peaceable and manageable, and have little desire to concern themselves with politics. ...

The ability to command cannot be made equal, as the citizens of popular states desire, for we all know that some have no more judgement than brute beasts, while in others the illumination of divine reason is such that they seem angels rather than men. Yet those who want to make all things equal want to give sovereign authority over men's lives, honour, and property, to the stupid, ignorant, and passionate, as well as to the prudent and experienced. In popular assemblies votes are counted, not weighed, and the number of fools, sinners, and dolts is a thousand times that of honest men. ...

I have said all this to bring out the disadvantages of the popular state, and to induce a little reason in those who would incite subjects against their natural prince, in the illusory hope of enjoying liberty under a popular government. But unless its government is in the hands of wise and virtuous men, a popular government is the worst tyranny there is.

Let us now see whether aristocracy is better than the others, as some think. If we adopt the principle that the mean between two undesirable extremes is the best, it follows that if such extremes are to be avoided, the mean is aristocracy, where neither one nor all have sovereign power, but a small number ... There is another argument of equal weight in favour of aristocracy, and that is that the right of sovereign command ought, by the light of natural reason to go to those most worthy of it. But worth must be identified with virtue, nobility, or riches, or all three. Whether one thinks it should be any one of these, or a combination of all three, the result is still an aristocracy. For the well-born, the rich, the wise, the worthy are always the minority among the citizens, wherever you go. Natural reason would thus seem to indicate that an aristocracy where a group of citizens, and that a minority, govern, is the best. More properly speaking it is the state in which only the most worthy are admitted as rulers. One can even argue that this means that government should be in the hands of the wealthy, since they are most concerned for the preservation of the commonwealth. They are interested because they undertake much heavier burdens than the poor, who having nothing to lose by it, back out of responsibility at will. For this reason Q. Flaminius bestowed sovereign power on the richest towns in Thessaly because, as he said, they had most interest in preserving the state. Moreover it would seem that aristocracy is necessarily the best state, for in either a popular state or a monarchy, though in appearance sovereignty belongs either to the people or the king, in effect they are compelled to leave government in the hands of the senate or the privy council which deliberate, and often enough determine, all important affairs of state. In fact, all types are in reality aristocratic. If the people or the king is so ill-advised as to govern in any other way than through the advice of a wise council, ruin must inevitably follow.

Nevertheless all these reasons do not seem to me to add up to a sufficient total. The golden mean that everyone is looking for is not secured by a numerical calculation, but in the sphere of morals means the rule of reason, as all the philosophers agree ... The same disadvantages that we have noticed in the case of popular states characterize aristocracies, as a result of the multiplication of rulers. The greater the number of those that rule, the more opportunities are there for faction, the more difficult it is to arrive at any agreement, and the more irresponsible are the decisions taken. In consequence the aristocracies which have been the most lasting and the most stable have been those that have been ruled by the fewest in number. The thirty in Sparta, and the twenty or so in Pharsalia long maintained their authority. Others have not been so lasting ... It is very difficult for a handful of rulers to preserve their authority over a whole people who have no share in the honours of office, especially as the ruling class generally despise the populace, and the poor feel a deadly hatred of the rich. On the least disagreement between members of the ruling class — inevitable if they are naturally enterprising and aggressive — the most factious and ambitious go over to the people, and subvert the aristocratic form of the government. This has been the most frequent cause of the ruin of seigneuries such as those of Genoa, Siena, Florence ... In the state of fear in which they live, the ruling class do not dare to train their subjects to arms. They cannot go to war without being in danger of losing their authority should they lose a single battle. They cannot secure themselves against their enemies, and live in perpetual dread of defeat. A popular state is not exposed to such dangers, since everyone has a share in power. Therefore an aristocracy is in danger not only from foreign enemies, but also from their own subjects whom they must satisfy, or hold down by force. It is extremely difficult to satisfy them without admitting them to the estates, and impossible to concede honourable charges to them without converting the aristocracy into a popular state. As for holding them down by force, it offers no security, even when it can be done. It means inspiring fear and mistrust in those whom one should win over by services and patronage, otherwise the most insignificant foreign attack against the state, or the least disagreement within the ruling class, means that the people take up arms in the hope of shaking off their yoke. For this reason, in order to preserve their aristocratic form of state, the Venetians threw open certain minor offices to the people, intermarried with them, created a state debt to give them a vested interest in the regime, and totally disarmed them. ...

It is obvious then that the principal foundation of an aristocracy is the preservation of concord within the ranks of the ruling class. If they can maintain their solidarity, they can maintain their government much better than can the people. But if they allow factions to develop, there is no form of government more difficult to maintain, for the reasons I have given, especially if it is a military aristocracy, for nothing is more contrary to the temper of such than the preservation of peace. It is not to be wondered at that the aristocracies of Venice, Ragusa, and Lucca have endured for so many centuries, for they renounced all armed enterprises, and occupied themselves exclusively with commerce and banking. ...

There remains monarchy to be considered. All great men have preferred it to any other form. Nevertheless it is beset by many dangers, for even when the succession of a new king means a change from a bad king to a good, or from a good king to a better, there is necessarily a change in the seat of sovereignty, and such a change is critical in all kinds of commonwealth. It is a matter of common experience that when a new prince succeeds, all sorts of new plans, new laws, new officials, new friends, new enemies, new customs, new social habits spring up. Most princes are pleased to introduce novelties of all sorts, just to get themselves talked about. This often entails the most serious consequences, not only for their individual subjects, but for the whole body of the commonwealth. Even when a prince is the wisest of men, and does not behave in this manner, the alliances and peace settlements made by his predecessor are dissolved by his death. That being so, neighbouring princes take up arms, and the stronger attacks, or dictates terms to the weaker. This cannot happen to the undying sovereigns of popular and aristocratic states, for they can make perpetual alliances ... The other drawback to monarchy is the danger of civil war between aspirants to the crown, especially where it is elective. This has often brought ruin on the state. Even when the crown is hereditary there is no little danger when there is a dispute between claimants of the same degree of relationship. Assassinations follow, and divisions among the subjects, and often the legitimate heir is expelled by the man with the worse title. We have had only too many examples of this before our eyes. Even when the succession is not in question, if the king is under age there are conflicts about the regency, either between the Queen Mother and Princes of the Blood, or among the Princes themselves. When God intended to punish the sins of the people, he threatened them with women and children as rulers ... Even if a people enjoys the greatest blessing it can hope for — and this seldom happens — and the prince on his accession is of mature years and experienced in affairs, nevertheless the enjoyment of sovereign power too often has the unhappy effect of making fools of wise men, cowards of brave ones, wicked men of honest. There have been too many instances for any examples to be necessary. ...

Such are the dangers inherent in the monarchical form of government. They are great enough. But they are not so great as those which threaten an aristocracy, and even less than those that threaten popular states. Most of these dangers are avoided when the monarchy passes by hereditary succession, as we shall show in its proper place. Sedition, faction, civil war are a perpetual threat to all types of commonwealth, and the struggle for power in aristocracies and popular states is frequently much more bitter than in a monarchy. In a monarchy conflict over office and over political power only breaks out openly on the death of the prince, and then not very often.

The principal mark of a commonwealth, that is to say the existence of a sovereign power, can hardly be established except in a monarchy. There can only be one sovereign in the commonwealth. If there are two, three or more, not one of them is sovereign, since none of them can either impose a law on his companions or submit to one at their instance. Though one can imagine a collective sovereign power, vested in a ruling class, or a whole people, there is no true subject nor true protector if there is not some head of the state in whom sovereign power is vested, who can unite all the rest. A simple magistrate, not endowed with sovereign authority, cannot perform this function. Moreover if the ruling class, or the people are, as often happens, divided, the dispute can only be settled by force, and by one taking up arms against another. Even when the majority is agreed, it can easily happen with a people that the minority have considerable resources, and choose a leader whom they force upon the majority, and so carry all before them. We have plenty of evidence of the difficulties that arise in aristocracies and popular states when there is a divergence of opinion and diverse views taken by the magistrates. Some want peace, some war; some want this law, some another; some this president, some that, some alliance with the King of France, others with the King of Spain ... Again, in a popular or aristocratic state numbers always carry the day. But the wise and virtuous are only a small minority in any community, so that for the most part the more reasonable and discrete are compelled to give way to the majority, at the dictation of some impudent tribune or envious demagogue. But the sovereign monarch can seek the support of the smaller and wiser part, and choose expert advisers, experienced in affairs of state. In popular and aristocratic states, wise and foolish alike have to be admitted to the estates and to the councils.

It is impossible for a people or an aristocracy themselves to issue sovereign commands, or give effect to any project which requires a single person to undertake it, such as the command of an army and such like matters. They have to appoint magistrates or commissaires to this end, and these have neither the sovereign power, the authority, nor the majesty of a king. Whatever powers they have in virtue of their sovereignty, when popular or aristocratic states find themselves engaged in a perilous war either with a foreign enemy, or with one another, or in difficulty in bringing some overmighty subject to justice, in securing public order in times of calamity, in instituting magistrates, or undertaking any other weighty matter, they set up a dictator as sovereign ruler. They thereby recognize that monarchy is the sacred anchor on which of necessity, all must in the last instance rely. ...

There are many who make the mistake of thinking that an aristocracy is the best kind of state because many heads better than one in all matters requiring judgement, experience, and good counsel. But there is a great difference between counsel and command. It is better to take the opinion of many than of one in all matters of counsel, for it is said that many understand better than one. But for taking a decision and issuing an order, one is always better than many. He can think over the advice that each has given and then reach a decision without being challenged. Many cannot achieve this so easily. Moreover ambition is unavoidable where there are several rulers sharing power equally, and there are always some who would rather see the commonwealth ruined than recognize that another was wiser than they. Others recognize it well enough, but pride, and fear for their reputation, prevents them from changing their opinions. In fact it is necessary that there should be a sovereign prince with power to make decisions upon the advice of his council. It is impossible that the commonwealth, which is one body, should have many heads, as the Emperor Tiberius pointed out to the Senate.

It is said that new princes run after novelties. If it is true that some, in order to make their power felt, published new laws with and without reason, this evil is much more characteristic of popular and aristocratic states. Magistrates who are in the place of kings in such commonwealths, but have only a very short term of office, are consumed with anxiety lest their year of authority should pass by without anything having been accomplished for which they could be well or ill spoken of. More laws were published in Rome and Athens than all the rest of the world put together. From jealousy of their predecessors magistrates continually undid their work, and always to get credit for themselves, and to steal honour from their compatriots at the expense of the commonwealth. In order to circumvent such dangerous and insatiate ambition, in popular and aristocratic states the name of the magistrate proposing it should not be prefixed to a law, as was the practice in Rome and Athens. This was the cause of such an excess of law-making.

It is not true to say that alliances and treaties of peace perish with the prince who made them. This does not always happen, for the terms may include a clause relating expressly to the life-time of the prince, and for a certain number of years after his death. In the treaties between the Kings of France and the Confederates it is always laid down that the alliance shall continue for the lifetime of the prince and for five years after his death. Moreover as we have already said, it is better that alliances should not be perpetual. For this reason even aristocracies and popular states frequently limit their alliances to a certain term of years. ...

There is no need to insist further that monarchy is the best form, seeing that the family, which is the true image of the commonwealth has only one head, as we have shown. All the laws of nature point towards monarchy, whether we regard the microcosm of the body, all of whose members are subject to a single head on which depend will, motion, and feeling, or whether we regard the macrocosm of the world, subject to the one Almighty God. If we look at the heavens we see only one sun. We see that even gregarious animals never submit to many leaders, however good they may be ... Moreover we may observe that all the peoples of this world since the most ancient times adopted the monarchical form of commonwealth by the light of natural reason. One hears nothing of aristocracies, much less of popular states among the Assyrians, Medes, Persians, Egyptians, Indians, Parthians, Macedonians, Celts, Gauls, Scythians, Arabs, Turks, Muscovites, Tartars, Poles, Danes, Spaniards, English, Africans, and inhabitants of Persia. Even the ancient inhabitants of Greece and Italy were ruled by kings alone until they were corrupted and degraded by ambition. It is a matter of wonder that the popular state of the Romans and the aristocracies of Sparta and Venice have endured for so long as four hundred years. There is reason to wonder how it came about that two or three republics among a hundred others managed to survive for several centuries, seeing that their form is contrary to the course and order of nature. But no one is surprised to see many great and powerful monarchies maintain themselves in all their glory for a thousand or twelve hundred years, for they are ordered according to the laws of nature. ...

It seems to me that for these reasons, and for others that one need not go in to, it is clear that of the three types of commonwealth monarchy is the most excellent. Among those that are not so well regulated, democracy is the most perverted. The true monarchical state, like a strong and healthy body, can easily maintain itself. But the popular state and the aristocracy are weak and subject to many ills, and must be supported by strict diet and discipline. It is not however always in the power of even wise men, and those practised in affairs of state, either to choose the best or avoid the worst ... The statesmen, the philosophers, theologians, and historians who have praised monarchy above every other form of state, have not done so to flatter the prince, but to secure the safety and happiness of the subject. But if the authority of the monarch is to be limited, and subjected to the popular estates or to the senate, sovereignty has no sure foundations, and the result is a confused form of popular state, or a wretched condition of anarchy which is the worst possible condition of any commonwealth. These matters should be weighed carefully, and the deceptive arguments of those who would persuade subjects to subordinate the king to their own pleasure, and impose laws on him, should be exposed as leading to the ruin not only of the monarchy, but of the subject. ...

The lot of the subject of a powerful king ruling a wide domain is a happy one if he makes any attempt to rule justly. Aristocracy is better suited to a small state, but is always preferable to a weak tyranny. There are eighteen aristocratic or popular republics in the Swiss Confederation, without counting the Grisons, though the distance from Geneva to Constance is only two hundred and forty thousand paces, and that from the Alps to the Jura, one hundred and sixty thousand paces. A good deal of this area is besides barren rock. Yet their inhabitants have lived happily enough for a very long time. But if such a people begin to covet the territories of their neighbours, they risk losing their own. On the other hand the more extensive a monarchy, the more nourishing it is, and the better assured are its people of peace and contentment. If it breaks up into democracies and aristocracies, or into a number of petty tyrannies, its people fall a prey either to tyranny, or civil disorders, or perpetual struggles with their neighbours. ...

That in a Royal Monarchy Succession should not be by Election nor in the Female Line, but by Hereditary Succession in the Male Line... [CHAPTER V]

IT is not sufficient to say that a royal monarchy is better than cither democracy or aristocracy if one does not add that the monarchy should devolve undivided, and by right of inheritance, on the next male heir. Just as monarchy is to be preferred to any other form of commonwealth, among monarchies those that pass by right of inheritance to the next heir in the male line are more ordered and stable than those that pass by election ... However it is not only simple people and those who have little understanding of politics, but even those who are experienced in such matters, who are led astray by considering all the advantages, and ignoring all the many absurdities and difficulties that arise from some particular line of action. Even Aristotle thought that kings should be elected, and stigmatized as barbarians all those peoples who are ruled by hereditary kings. ...

But all elective monarchies are constantly menaced by the danger of a relapse into anarchy on the death of each king. The state is left without a ruler or regular government, and is in imminent danger of destruction, just as a ship without a master is liable to be wrecked by the first wind that blows. During such an interregnum, thieves and murderers are encouraged to rob and kill as they please, having little fear of punishment. This is the usual state of affairs, for instance, on the death of a Pope ... As to the civil wars of the Romans, and in more recent times of the Germans, incidental to the elections to the Empire, their histories are full of nothing else. Anyone may read therein the hideous story of looted cities, and of whole provinces pillaged and ravaged by one side or the other.

There is another disadvantage, and that is the danger that the public domain will be converted to private ownership. This has happened to the temporalities of the Holy See, and to the Empire. Elected rulers, knowing they cannot pass on their position to their sons, endow them from the public resources by gifts or sales ... Charles IV not being able to find the hundred thousand crowns promised to each Elector, sold them imperial rights to procure the election of his son as Emperor, the same who was shortly after dethroned by those same Electors.

There is another factor to be considered. A man of mean extraction, suddenly advanced to the first rank of honour, thinks himself a god on earth. As the wise Hebrew remarked, no ruler is more unendurable than the slave turned master. Moreover the love of a father for his son is so strong that he would subvert heaven and earth, if he could, if he might thereby leave the crown to his son.

But these are not the most serious difficulties. In the choice of a prince, the election must fall either on a foreigner or a native. In an elective monarchy each aspires to the crown, and among so many equals serious factions cannot be avoided, and these divide the whole population into mutually hostile camps. Even if the candidates are not equal in ability, or in resources, they consider themselves to be so, and are reluctant to obey one of themselves. Tacitus says that the ruling class in Armenia would not choose a native king, and in Poland recently the senate disqualified all natives of the country from competing, as I learned from Baron Horbort, one of the thirteen ambassadors from Poland[3]... As for foreign princes, they always endeavour, as far as they are able, to subvert the laws, customs, and religion of the country. For this reason God forbad His people to choose an alien ruler. Wherever there is an election, and the way is open to a number of competitors, if recourse is had to force, it is always the most unscrupulous and cunning, or the boldest who is willing to risk everything for the chance of success, who prevails. If by any chance an honest man is elected, his life is in perpetual danger from each of his powerful rivals. During the three hundred and sixty years that the crown in Germany has been elective, eight or nine Emperors have been killed or poisoned, as was William of Holland, Rudolf, Albert, Henry VII, Frederick II, Louis of Bavaria, and Charles IV, not counting those who have been shamefully ousted from the imperial throne. ...

Therefore even if it were possible that good and virtuous princes were invariably elected, the difficulty of securing this, and the dangers that threaten on all sides, should be sufficient to deter men from allowing monarchy to become elective, so long as it is possible to observe a rule of succession ... Any law of succession however will not do equally well. It must be that of primogeniture in the male line, the right of the first born son to bear his father's name, to the succession. The order of nature requires that the eldest should come next after his father, and the rest follow each in order. The eldest is therefore to be preferred to the others. One may regard this as a law of nature, and it has been commonly observed among practically all peoples. ...

I have said that the crown ought to descend in the male line, seeing that gynecocracy is directly contrary to the laws of nature. Nature has endowed men with strength, foresight, pugnacity, authority, but has deprived women of these qualities. Moreover the law of God explicitly enjoins that the woman should be subject, not only in matters concerning law and government, but within each particular family. The most terrible of maledictions uttered against the enemy was that they might have women to rule over them. Even the civil law forbids to women all charges and offices proper to men, such as judging, pleading, and such-like acts. This is not only because of their lack of prudence, but also because vigorous action is contrary to the sex, and to the natural modesty and reserve of women. ...

But dangerous as elections to the crown are, for the reasons we have already given, should there be a failure of heirs male, this expedient is to be preferred to the succession of women, for that means outright gynecocracy in defiance of natural law. Should the sovereign princess marry, as she must do to secure the succession, she must marry either a subject or a foreigner. If a subject, it is a great abasement for a princess to marry one other servants, seeing that the greatest sovereign princes in the world have found all sorts of difficulties follow marriage to a subject. There is besides the risk of the envy and jealousy of great and powerful nobles, in the contempt they always feel for men of inferior station, if she insists on marrying the man of her preference ... On the other hand no foreign prince who tries to rule over an alien people can be secure of his life unless he lives behind fortifications, and goes about strictly guarded. But if he thus has control of the armed forces he can control the state, and in order then to make himself the more secure, he is tempted to advance his own compatriots. This is a thing which no nation in the world will endure. We have a thousand examples, among them that of William of Sicily. In 1268 the people of Naples were so enraged that a Frenchman should be promoted to the office of chancellor that they conspired to kill, and in fact did kill every Frenchmen in either Naples or Sicily. If the foreigners are not the stronger party, they get their throats cut on the slightest provocation by patriots. ...

If natural law is violated by gynecocracy, so are the civil law and the law of nations, and to an even greater degree. By them the woman is required to follow her husband though he have neither lands nor possessions. In this opinion canonists, doctors of civil law, and theologians are all agreed. The woman is bound in obedience to her husband, her dowry is his by right, as are likewise all properties accruing to her ... Nevertheless under the marriage treaty between Philip of Castile and Mary, Queen of England, contrary principles were laid down, although many are of opinion that when a foreigner marries a queen, the rights and revenues of the kingdom belong to him, although the kingdom, and sovereign authority over it inheres in the queen ... Such are the inconveniences and absurdities attendant on gynecocracy. ...

The most excellent conclusion possible to this whole work is a discussion of justice, since such is the foundation of all commonwealths. It is of such importance that Plato called his book on the Republic a discussion of right or justice. It is to be observed that he spoke as a philosopher rather than as a legislator or a jurist.

Concerning Distributive, Commutative, and Harmonic justice, and their Relation to the Aristocratic, Popular and Monarchical States [CHAPTER VI]

THE nearer a kingdom approaches to realizing harmonic justice, the nearer it is to perfection. By justice I mean the proper distribution of rewards and punishments, and of those advantages due to each individual as a matter of right. This distribution must be based partly on the principle of equality and partly on that of similarity, which properly conjoined issue in harmonic justice[4] ... But neither the Greeks, the Romans, nor anyone since has considered it either in relation to the administration of the law, or the government of the commonwealth. Yet it is the most perfect form of justice, and proper to a royal monarchy, governed in part through popular, in part through aristocratic institutions. ...

Geometric or distributive proportion is based on the principle of similarity, arithmetic or commutative proportion on the principle of equality. Harmonic is a fusion of the two which nevertheless does not resemble either ... Government by distributive proportion unites like to like. This is illustrated by the marriage laws of the Twelve Tables, under which nobles were required to marry nobles, commoners, commoners. This rule is still strictly followed in Ragusa. By this principle princes should only marry princesses, wealthy men rich wives, poor men poor ones, and slaves slaves. If however marriages were arranged by casting lots, a slave might marry a king. Poor and humble people would not ask anything better, for they want to make things more equal. But these two principles of government both involve many disadvantages, for by the one the poor are oppressed, and by the other the nobles slighted. The harmonic principle however unites the two. Still keeping to the example of the marriage laws, one would not insist that noblemen of four quarterings should only marry those of a like descent, as is still the case in some places in Germany... It is better if the rich burgess marries a poor noblewoman, or a poor gentleman a rich commoner, the man with some grace of mind a wife with some grace of body. This is to be preferred to marriages between people quite alike in all respects. We see the same thing in business, for the most successful partnerships are those between a rich sleeping partner and a poor man of ability to run the business. There is both equality and similarity between them. Equality in that each has some contribution to make, similarity in that each lacks some indispensable attribute. ...

An egalitarian order, based on the principle of commutative justice, is natural to popular states. It is agreed that estates, honours, offices, benefices, booty, and confiscated lands ought to be equally divided, and that when laws are to be made, officers appointed, or a matter of life and death determined, everyone is called upon to take part, the most foolish and irresponsible having exactly the same importance and influence as the wisest... In popular states everything is decided by lot, and regulated by fixed and invariable laws, not susceptible of any equitable interpretation, nor admitting any privilege or exception of persons, so that nobles are liable to the same punishments as commoners, fines imposed on the rich are the same as those imposed on the poor, and the same rewards are bestowed upon the able and the feeble, upon the commander of an army and the private soldier.

On the other hand aristocracies are regulated by the principle of distributive justice ... and it is agreed that the execution of the law ought to be adapted to the circumstances of each case. It is however impossible that a so-called law can really be regarded as such if it is indefinitely flexible. A law is not properly speaking a law if it is as malleable as wax, and the man who should obey it can mould it as he wills. In order therefore to avoid on the one hand the unmitigated rigidity of the commutative principle, and the variability and uncertainty of the distributive on the other, one needs to find a third principle which is not so rigid that it cannot be modified if circumstances require it. One must, in fact, aim at the principle of harmonic justice, which combines harmoniously law, equity, the execution of the law, and the function of the magistrate, both in the administration of justice, and in the governance of the state. In the series 4, 6, 8,12, there is the same ratio between 4 and 6 as there is between 8 and 12, and also between 4 and 8 as there is between 6 and 12. Similarly there is the same relation between law and equity as there is between the execution of the law and the function of the magistrate, and also between law and its execution as there is between equity and the function of the magistrate....

If we apply this to the commonwealth, whether sovereign power is vested in a prince, the nobles, or the entire people, and the state be a monarchy, an aristocracy or a popular state, if it is governed without law and all is left to the discretion of the magistrates to distribute pains and penalties according to the importance and status of each individual, such a state could be neither stable nor durable, even though it had a fair appearance because all was managed without fraud or favour, a thing impossible in itself. There would be no bond of union between the great and the humble, and therefore no harmony between them. There is even less stability where a principle of strict equality is observed, and all matters are regulated by immutable laws, without any means of equitable adjustment to suit the requirements of time, place, and persons. Just as two simple substances, qualitatively extreme opposites, may be each in themselves lethal, yet combined and tempered the one by the other produce a health-giving medicine, so the two opposed principles of commutative and distributive justice are in themselves destructive of commonwealths, but combined as harmonic justice supply the means of their preservation.

Aristotle was therefore wrong in maintaining that that state was happy which was governed by so good a ruler that he was never swayed by prejudice or passion, for in such a case, he said, there would be no need of laws. But laws are not for those who exercise sovereign power, as we have already shown. They are intended in the first place as a guide to magistrates, who are frequently so bunded by passion, by intrigues, or by ignorance, that they have no conception at all of the beauty of justice. Even were they very angels, incapable of any fault, the subject still has need of the law to illumine a path for him amid the dark promptings of his heart. Wicked men need it to prevent them excusing their misdeeds on the grounds of real or pretended ignorance. Again, if for no other reason, the law is required to fix punishments, for knowledge of what is the appropriate punishment is not rooted in conscience as is knowledge of what are those actions forbidden by natural law....

The first occasion of men making laws was when primitive monarchies were converted to popular states, as happened in Athens in the time of Dracon and Solon, and in Sparta when Lycurgus broke the power of the two kings. The common people demanded equality with the rich and the noble, and this could only be achieved through equalizing laws. The rich on the other hand insisted on their privileges. Because the burden of maintaining the commonwealth fell on them, they considered that the rich should be advanced in proportion to the size of their estates and the importance of their charges. Therefore the Tribune Terentius Arsa proposed a law to the people requiring the magistrates for the future to be guided in their actions by certain fixed rules. The nobles opposed the measure, which to them spelt ruin, and would have preferred to restore the monarchy. The matter was disputed for six years, but in the end the commons defeated the nobles. The Twelve Tables were therefore published, including a provision that no privilege was to be granted anyone, on pain of death, at least without the consent of the popular assembly. Under these laws the magistrates were required to govern by strict rules which did not permit of any exercise of discretion, or appeal to equity....

It is important to notice however that the word equity can be used diversely. Equity in a ruler is the power to declare or to correct the law. In a magistrate it is the power of applying it by relaxing its rigour or stiffening its leniency when there is need, and by supplying its defects where its provisions are inadequate to a given case ... In this respect the most humble judges have the same kind of discretion as the most exalted, but neither of them can do what a sovereign court can, that is to say reverse a judgement on appeal, or exempt an accused person entirely from paying the penalty under the law. They can only act within their terms of reference ... But to speak truly, law without equity is like a body without a soul, seeing that the law can only lay down general rules, while equity is dependent on the circumstances of particular cases, which are infinitely variable. The law must be accommodated to these circumstances, whether it is a matter of the administration of justice or affairs of state, if awkward or absurd consequences are to be avoided. The magistrates however must not bend the law so much as to break it, even if it is a severe law, when its intention is unambiguous ... As an ancient doctor once said, it does not pertain to the magistrates to judge of the law, but to judge according to the law. If he does otherwise, he is by common agreement unworthy of his office ... The magistrate is under the law, and equity should be in his soul, whereby it is his duty to supply its defects, and elucidate its principles, for the right interpretation of law is the very essence of law. ...

In nearly all the customs and ordinances of this realm, fines are of fixed amounts ... and embody a clause 'it is forbidden to our judges to modify this penalty'. If the convicted person has not the wherewithal to discharge the fine imposed for his default or fraud, by a general rule common to all peoples, he must then suffer corporal punishment. To this it may be objected that it is unjust to condemn a poor man to a fine of say sixty livres on some frivolous charge, and require no greater sum from a rich man. By the principle of distributive justice, if a poor man whose total assets only amounted to one hundred livres was sentenced to a fine of sixty livres, the rich man who has one hundred thousand livres ought to pay sixty thousand livres, since sixty bears the same proportion to a hundred, as sixty thousand to a hundred thousand. The consequence is that in the one case the principle of distributive justice deprives the rich of their privileges, and in the other the principle of commutative justice can be used by the rich as a means of ruining the poor under the cloak of justice. For this reason our ordinances permit a judge to levy an extraordinary fine where the circumstances warrant it, in addition to the ordinary amount fixed by law. This comes very near the principle of harmonic justice. What further is required is that the ordinances should allow judges, or at least supreme courts also to abate a fine, having regard to the resources of the poor and ignorant, as in fact is always done by the high court of Rouen ... But he who would be guided by the principle of strict distributive justice, and make the punishment exactly fit both the crime and the criminal must give up the attempt to formulate laws for this purpose, for the variety of persons, acts, times, and places is infinite, and cannot be comprehended within the scope of any general rule. On the other hand a strict equality of penalties on the principle of commutative justice is unjust. ...

However although a popular state is characterized by equal laws on the principle of commutative justice, whereas an aristocracy preserves the principle of distributive justice, each must borrow something from the other if they are to be preserved, and so approximate to harmonic justice. Otherwise, were an aristocracy to exclude the common people from the estates, and from all honours and offices, denying them any share in the spoils of war or conquered territories, the common people, however much they might be strangers to arms, would revolt and bring a revolution in the government as soon as an opportunity offered. This may be seen in the Signory of Venice, which is an aristocracy if ever there was one, and governs itself in accordance with aristocratic principles, reserving all high honours and dignities, benefices, and magistracies to Venetian gentlemen, and only giving subordinate offices to which no power is attached to commoners, following therein the principle of distributive justice, much to the great, little to the humble. Nevertheless, in order to keep the common people content, they open to them the office of Chancellor which is one of the highest and most honourable, besides being a perpetual office. To this they add the Secretaryships of State, also very important and honourable offices. Furthermore the least offence committed by a Venetian gentleman against any inhabitant of the city is strictly punished, and indeed, there is a general ease and liberty for all which is more suggestive of a popular than an aristocratic state. Magistrates are appointed by a mixed system of election and lot, the one characteristic of aristocracies, the other of popular states. In short, the two types of institutions are so well combined that it is clear that though an aristocracy, it is the fact that it is regulated according to the principles of harmonic justice that has made this republic so admirable and so nourishing. ...

The monarchical state is necessarily founded upon the principles of harmonic justice, and if it is governed royally, that is to say harmoniously, it is the best, the most happy, and the most perfect type of state there is. I do not include despotic monarchy where the king, as the natural lord of his subjects, governs them as his slaves, disposing of their persons and their goods as he thinks fit. Still less do I include tyrannies where the king, not being the natural lord of his subjects, usurps an improper authority over their persons and their possessions, reducing them to slavery, and worst of all, making them the objects of his cruelty. I am speaking of legitimate monarchy, whether elective, hereditary, or founded in a conquest voluntarily submitted to, where the king's relations to his subjects is that of a father to his children, for he does justice among them.

A king can however, in the first place, govern his kingdom as if it were a popular state, on egalitarian principles, throwing open all public office whatsoever to all his subjects indifferently, without distinguishing merit, or suitability, by the means of filling offices, either by casting lots, or by a strict system of rotation. There are however few or none such monarchies. Or the king can govern his kingdom aristocratically, distributing honours and honourable charges, rewards and penalties in proportion to the nobility of some, and the wealth of others, but excluding poor commoners, without regard to their merits, but singling out only those with birth or wealth.

Though both these systems are bad, the latter is much the more tolerable since it approaches nearest to an harmonious system. For the king, in order to protect his authority from the envy of the common people, inclines to the nobility, whose quality more nearly approaches his own than that of the commoners, with whom he is not on terms of social intercourse, for he cannot very well so far abate his dignity as to be on terms of familiarity with them. He would have to do this if he were to open honours and honourable charges to them. Such a government however is as damaging to the noblesse and the king as it is to the commons, for they both necessarily live in fear of the discontented masses, who must always heavily outnumber the rich and the nobly born. If they take to arms they are the stronger party, and can rise against the king, expel the nobility, and defy his authority, as happened with the Swiss, and many commonwealths in the ancient world. The explanation is obvious. The common people were not bound by any tie either to the king or to the nobility. ...

A wise king ought therefore to govern his kingdom harmoniously, subtly combining nobles and commons, rich and poor with such skill as always to preserve some advantage for the noble over the commoner. For it is right that the gentleman who is as practised in arms and in law as a commoner should be preferred to him in matters of justice and of war, or that the rich man, equal in all other respects to the poor one should be preferred in those offices which carry with them greater honour than profit. Both will then be content, for the rich man only looks for honour, but the poor man for profit... There is no way of combining great and small, nobleman and commoner, rich and poor, save by giving estates, dignities, and benefices to those who deserve them. But deserts are various. If responsible and honourable charges were only given to the virtuous the commonwealth would always be in a state of confusion, seeing that such men are always few in number, and easily overcome by the rest. But in associating upright men now with nobles, now with rich citizens, even though these last may be quite devoid of virtue, they are nattered to be associated with those who possess it, while they in their turn are gratified to find themselves advanced to some honourable employment. Thus on the one hand the nobility are satisfied that birth is respected in the distribution of honours, on the other the commons are deeply gratified and feel themselves generally honoured. In fact they are so honoured when the son of a poor physician can become the Chancellor of a great kingdom, or the son of a poor soldier High Constable, as happened in the case of Michel de l'Hôpital and Bertrand du Guesclin among many others, whose virtues alone led to their promotion to the very highest offices. But all classes see with impatience the most unworthy promoted to the most responsible positions, though it is occasionally necessary to give some offices to incapable and unworthy persons, provided it is done so sparingly that their ignorance or vice cannot do any great harm in the position they hold. It is not sufficient to entrust finance to the most trustworthy, war to the most valiant, justice to the most upright, censure to the most incorruptible, work to the strongest, government to the wisest, religion to the most devout, as the principle of distributive justice requires, though this in fact cannot be achieved because of the scarcity of good men. To ensure a general harmony one must combine those who can supply one another's shortcomings. Otherwise there will be no harmony than if one sounded separately notes sweet in themselves, but only capable of producing a consonance when struck together. In doing this the prince reconciles his subjects to one another, and all alike to himself. ...

The prince exalted above all his subjects, whose majesty does not admit of any division, represents the principle of unity, from which all the rest derive their force and cohesion. Below him are the three estates, which have always been disposed in the same way in all well-ordered commonwealths. The estate of the clergy is placed first because of its dignity in ministering to religion. It includes both nobles and commoners. Next comes the military estate, which also includes nobles and commoners. Last there is the third estate of scholars, merchants, craftsmen, and peasants. Each of these three estates should have a share in public offices, benefices, jurisdictions, and honourable charges, each according to the merits and qualities of persons. Thus an admirable harmony will subsist between the subjects themselves, and the subjects and their prince ... Aristocratic and popular states also nourish and maintain a government. But they are not so well united and knit together as if they had a prince. He unites all parts and relates them one to another ... One can regard the three estates as characterized by prudence, courage, and temperance respectively. These three virtues complement each other, and that of the king, who supplies the rational and contemplative element. Such a form of commonwealth is harmonious and therefore admirable, for the union of its members depends on unity under a single ruler, on whom the effectiveness of all the rest depends. A sovereign prince is therefore indispensable, for it is his power which informs all the members of the commonwealth. ...


1. The heading of the chapter is simply LA CENSURE. Bodin uses the term for both census and censorship, following the union of these two functions in a single magistrate in Rome.

2. Chapter III deals with the establishment of a pure standard coinage, and is an abstract of his tract on currency already referred to (see note, p. 47).

3. In August 1573 a magnificent Polish embassy arrived in Paris to conduct the Duke of Anjou back to Poland, following his election to the throne in the preceding May. Bodin was a member of the deputation that met the embassy at Metz.

4. As a Platonist Bodin thought that moral as well as physical relationships could be expressed mathematically. So, commutative justice, or the principle of equality, is like an arithmetical progression — 3, 9, 15, 21 — arising from the addition of a constant number. Distributive justice, or the principle of similarity, is like a geometrical progression — 3, 9, 27, 81 — made by multiplication in a constant ratio. The only way of combining these diverse kinds of proportion is in a harmonic progression — 3, 4, 6, 8, 12 — in which alternate terms are in a constant ratio, but consecutive terms linked by a number alternately added and multiplied. This he thought provided a scheme of subtle and complex relationships more expressive of right order in the commonwealth than either of the other two, which only allow of one uniform relationship. For clarity, the mathematical formulae have been translated into their political equivalents throughout the chapter.


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