OF THE RIGHT OF SUPREME AUTHORITIES.
every dominion the state is said to be Civil; but the entire body subject
to a dominion is called a Commonwealth, and the general business of the
dominion, subject to the direction of him that holds it, has the name of
Affairs of State. Next we call men Citizens, as far as they enjoy by the
civil law all the advantages of the commonwealth, and Subjects, as far as
they are bound to obey its ordinances or laws. Lastly, we have already
said that, of the civil state, there are three kinds — democracy,
aristocracy, and monarchy (Chap. II. Sec. 17).
Now, before I begin to treat of each kind separately, I will first deduce
all the properties of the civil state in general. And of these, first of
all comes to be considered the supreme right of the commonwealth, or the
right of the supreme authorities.
2. From Chap. II. Sec. 15,
it is clear that the right of the supreme authorities is nothing else than
simple natural right, limited, indeed, by the power, not of every
individual, but of the multitude, which is guided, as it were, by one mind
— that is, as each individual in the state of nature, so the body and
mind of a dominion have as much right as they have power. And thus each
single citizen or subject has the less right, the more the commonwealth
exceeds him in power (Chap. II. Sec.16),
and each citizen consequently does and has nothing, but what he may by the
general decree of the commonwealth defend.
3. If the commonwealth grant to any man the right,
and therewith the authority (for else it is but a gift of words, Chap. II.
Sec. 12), to live after his own mind, by
that very act it abandons its own right, and transfers the same to him, to
whom it has given such authority. But if it has given this authority to
two or more, I mean authority to live each after his own mind, by that
very act it has divided the dominion, and if, lastly, it has given this
same authority to every citizen, it has thereby destroyed itself, and
there remains no more a commonwealth, but everything returns to the state
of nature; all of which is very manifest from what goes before. And thus
it follows, that it can by no means be conceived, that every citizen
should by the ordinance of the commonwealth live after his own mind, and
accordingly this natural right of being one's own judge ceases in the
civil state. I say expressly "by the ordinance of the commonwealth,"
for, if we weigh the matter aright, the natural right of every man does
not cease in the civil state. For man, alike in the natural and in the
civil state, acts according to the laws of his own nature, and consults
his own interest. Man, I say, in each state is led by fear or hope to do
or leave undone this or that; but the main difference between the two
states is this, that in the civil state all fear the same things, and all
have the same ground of security, and manner of life; and this certainly
does not do away with the individual's faculty of judgment. For he that is
minded to obey all the commonwealth's orders, whether through fear of its
power or through love of quiet, certainly consults after his own heart his
own safety and interest.
4. Moreover, we cannot even conceive, that every
citizen should be allowed to interpret the commonwealth's decrees or laws.
For were every citizen allowed this, he would thereby be his own judge,
because each would easily be able to give a colour of right to his own
deeds, which by the last section is absurd.
5. We see then, that every citizen depends not on
himself, but on the commonwealth, all whose commands he is bound to
execute, and has no right to decide, what is equitable or iniquitous, just
or unjust. But, on the contrary, as the body of the dominion should, so to
speak, be guided by one mind, and consequently the will of the
commonwealth must be taken to be the will of all; what the state decides
to be just and good must be held to be so decided by every individual. And
so, however iniquitous the subject may think the commonwealth's decisions,
he is none the less bound to execute them.
6. But (it may be objected) is it not contrary to the
dictate of reason to subject one's self wholly to the judgment of another,
and consequently, is not the civil state repugnant to reason? Whence it
would follow, that the civil state is irrational, and could only be
created by men destitute of reason, not at all by such as are led by it.
But since reason teaches nothing contrary to nature, sound reason cannot
therefore dictate, that every one should remain independent, so long as
men are liable to passions (Chap. II. Sec. 15),
that is, reason pronounces against such independence (Chap. I. Sec.
5). Besides, reason altogether teaches to
seek peace, and peace cannot be maintained, unless the commonwealth's
general laws be kept unbroken. And so, the more a man is guided by reason,
that is (Chap. II. Sec. 11), the more he
is free, the more constantly he will keep the laws of the commonwealth,
and execute the commands of the supreme authority, whose subject he is.
Furthermore, the civil state is naturally ordained to remove general fear,
and prevent general sufferings, and therefore pursues above everything the
very end, after which everyone, who is led by reason, strives, but in the
natural state strives vainly (Chap. II. Sec. 15).
Wherefore, if a man, who is led by reason, has sometimes to do by the
commonwealth's order what he knows to be repugnant to reason, that harm is
far compensated by the good, which he derives from the existence of a
civil state. For it is reason's own law, to choose the less of two evils;
and accordingly we may conclude, that no one is acting against the dictate
of his own reason, so far as he does what by the law of the commonwealth
is to be done. And this anyone will more easily grant us, after we have
explained, how far the power and consequently the right of the
7. For, first of all, it must be considered, that, as
in the state of nature the man who is led by reason is most powerful and
most independent, so too that commonwealth will be most powerful and most
independent, which is founded and guided by reason. For the right of the
commonwealth is determined by the power of the multitude, which is led, as
it were, by one mind. But this unity of mind can in no wise be conceived,
unless the commonwealth pursues chiefly the very end, which sound reason
teaches is to the interest of all men.
8. In the second place it comes to be considered,
that subjects are so far dependent not on themselves, but on the
commonwealth, as they fear its power or threats, or as they love the civil
state (Chap. II. Sect. 10). Whence it
follows, that such things, as no one can be induced to do by rewards or
threats, do not fall within the rights of the commonwealth. For instance,
by reason of his faculty of judgment, it is in no man's power to believe.
For by what rewards or threats can a man be brought to believe, that the
whole is not greater than its part, or that God does not exist, or that
that is an infinite being, which he sees to be finite, or generally
anything contrary to his sense or thought? So, too, by what rewards or
threats can a man be brought to love one, whom he hates, or to hate one,
whom he loves? And to this head must likewise be referred such things as
are so abhorrent to human nature, that it regards them as actually worse
than any evil, as that a man should be witness against himself, or torture
himself, or kill his parents, or not strive to avoid death, and the like,
to which no one can be induced by rewards or threats. But if we still
choose to say, that the commonwealth has the right or authority to order
such things, we can conceive of it in no other sense, than that in which
one might say, that a man has the right to be mad or delirious. For what
but a delirious fancy would such a right be, as could bind no one? And
here I am speaking expressly of such things as cannot be subject to the
right of a commonwealth and are abhorrent to human nature in general. For
the fact, that a fool or madman can by no rewards or threats be induced to
execute orders, or that this or that person, because he is attached to
this or that religion, judges the laws of a dominion worse than any
possible evil, in no wise makes void the laws of the commonwealth, since
by them most of the citizens are restrained. And so, as those who are
without fear or hope are so far independent (Chap. II. Sec.
10), they are, therefore, enemies of the
dominion (Chap. II. Sec. 14), and may
lawfully be coerced by force.
9. Thirdly and lastly, it comes to be considered,
that those things are not so much within the commonwealth's right, which
cause indignation in the majority. For it is certain, that by the guidance
of nature men conspire together, either through common fear, or with the
desire to avenge some common hurt; and as the right of the commonwealth is
determined by the common power of the multitude, it is certain that the
power and right of the commonwealth are so far diminished, as it gives
occasion for many to conspire together. There are certainly some subjects
of fear for a commonwealth, and as every separate citizen or in the state
of nature every man, so a commonwealth is the less independent, the
greater reason it has to fear. So much for the right of supreme
authorities over subjects. Now before I treat of the right of the said
authorities as against others, we had better resolve a question commonly
mooted about religion.
10. For it may be objected to us, Do not the civil
state, and the obedience of subjects, such as we have shown is required in
the civil state, do away with religion, whereby we are bound to worship
God? But if we consider the matter, as it really is, we shall find nothing
that can suggest a scruple. For the mind, so far as it makes use of
reason, is dependent, not on the supreme authorities, but on itself (Chap.
II. Sec. 11). And so the true knowledge
and the love of God cannot be subject to the dominion of any, nor yet can
charity towards one's neighbour (Sec. 8). And if we
further reflect, that the highest exercise of charity is that which aims
at keeping peace and joining in unity, we shall not doubt that he does his
duty, who helps everyone, so far as the commonwealth's laws, that is so
far as unity and quiet allow. As for external rites, it is certain, that
they can do no good or harm at all in respect of the true knowledge of
God, and the love which necessarily results from it; and so they ought not
to be held of such importance, that it should be thought worth while on
their account to disturb public peace and quiet. Moreover it is certain,
that I am not a champion of religion by the law of nature, that is (Chap.
II. Sec. 3), by the divine decree. For I
have no authority, as once the disciples of Christ had, to cast out
unclean spirits and work miracles; which authority is yet so necessary to
the propagating of religion in places where it is forbidden, that without
it one not only, as they say, wastes one's time1
and trouble, but causes besides very many inconveniences, whereof all ages
have seen most mournful examples. Everyone therefore, wherever he may be,
can worship God with true religion, and mind his own business, which is
the duty of a private man. But the care of propagating religion should be
left to God, or the supreme authorities, upon whom alone falls the charge
of affairs of state. But I return to my subject.
11. After explaining the right of supreme authorities
over citizens and the duty of subjects, it remains to consider the right
of such authorities against the world at large, which is now easily
intelligible from what has been said. For since (Sec. 2)
the right of the supreme authorities is nothing else but simple natural
right, it follows that two dominions stand towards each other in the same
relation as do two men in the state of nature, with this exception, that a
commonwealth can provide against being oppressed by another; which a man
in the state of nature cannot do, seeing that he is overcome daily by
sleep, often by disease or mental infirmity, and in the end by old age,
and is besides liable to other inconveniences, from which a commonwealth
can secure itself.
12. A commonwealth then is so far independent, as it
can plan and provide against oppression by another (Chap. II. Secs.
and so far dependent on another commonwealth, as it fears that other's
power, or is hindered by it from executing its own wishes, or lastly, as
it needs its help for its own preservation or increase (Chap. II. Secs.
For we cannot at all doubt, that if two commonwealths are willing to offer
each other mutual help, both together are more powerful, and therefore
have more right, than either alone (Chap. II. Sec.
13. But this will be more clearly intelligible, if we
reflect, that two commonwealths are naturally enemies. For men in the
state of nature are enemies (Chap. II. Sec. 14).
Those, then, who stand outside a commonwealth, and retain their natural
rights, continue enemies. Accordingly, if one commonwealth wishes to make
war on another and employ extreme measures to make that other dependent on
itself, it may lawfully make the attempt, since it needs but the bare will
of the commonwealth for war to be waged. But concerning peace it can
decide nothing, save with the concurrence of another commonwealth's will.
Whence it follows, that laws of war regard every commonwealth by itself,
but laws of peace regard not one, but at the least two commonwealths,
which are therefore called "contracting powers."
14. This "contract" remains so long unmoved
as the motive for entering into it, that is, fear of hurt or hope of gain,
subsists. But take away from either commonwealth this hope or fear, and it
is left independent (Chap. II. Sec. 10),
and the link, whereby the commonwealths were mutually bound, breaks of
itself. And therefore every commonwealth has the right to break its
contract, whenever it chooses, and cannot be said to act treacherously or
perfidiously in breaking its word, as soon as the motive of hope or fear
is removed. For every contracting party was on equal terms in this
respect, that whichever could first free itself of fear should be
independent, and make use of its independence after its own mind; and,
besides, no one makes a contract respecting the future, but on the
hypothesis of certain precedent circumstances. But when these
circumstances change, the reason of policy applicable to the whole
position changes with them; and therefore every one of the contracting
commonwealths retains the right of consulting its own interest, and
consequently endeavours, as far as possible, to be free from fear and
thereby independent, and to prevent another from coming out of the
contract with greater power. If then a commonwealth complains that it has
been deceived, it cannot properly blame the bad faith of another
contracting commonwealth, but only its own folly in having entrusted its
own welfare to another party, that was independent, and had for its
highest law the welfare of its own dominion.
15. To commonwealths, which have contracted a treaty
of peace, it belongs to decide the questions, which may be mooted about
the terms or rules of peace, whereby they have mutually bound themselves,
inasmuch as laws of peace regard not one commonwealth, but the
commonwealths which contract taken together (Sec. 18).
But if they cannot agree together about the conditions, they by that very
fact return to a state of war.
16. The more commonwealths there are, that have
contracted a joint treaty of peace, the less each of them by itself is an
object of fear to the remainder, or the less it has the authority to make
war. But it is so much the more bound to observe the conditions of peace;
that is (Sec. 13), the less independent, and the more
bound to accommodate itself to the general will of the contracting
17. But the good faith, inculcated by sound reason
and religion, is not hereby made void; for neither reason nor Scripture
teaches one to keep one's word in every case. For if I have promised a
man, for instance, to keep safe a sum of money he has secretly deposited
with me, I am not bound to keep my word, from the time that I know or
believe the deposit to have been stolen, but I shall act more rightly in
endeavouring to restore it to its owners. So likewise, if the supreme
authority has promised another to do something, which subsequently
occasion or reason shows or seems to show is contrary to the welfare of
its subjects, it is surely bound to break its word. As then Scripture only
teaches us to keep our word in general, and leaves to every individual's
judgment the special cases of exception, it teaches nothing repugnant to
what we have just proved.
18. But that I may not have so often to break the
thread of my discourse, and to resolve hereafter similar objections, I
would have it known that all this demonstration of mine proceeds from the
necessity of human nature, considered in what light you will — I
mean, from the universal effort of all men after self-preservation, an
effort inherent in all men, whether learned or unlearned. And therefore,
however one considers men are led, whether by passion or by reason, it
will be the same thing; for the demonstration, as we have said, is of
1. Literally, "oil and trouble "
— a common proverbial expression in Latin.
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