My dear Sir,
THE whole chapter is very much to the purpose, but the following paragraphs more particularly so. According to some authors, there are but three sorts of governments, viz. monarchy or principality, aristocracy, and democracy; and that those who intend to erect a new state, must have recourse to some one of these which he likes best. Others, and with more judgment, as many think, say there are six sorts; three of which are very bad, and the other three good in themselves, but liable to be so corrupted that they may become the worst. The three good sorts have been just now mentioned: the other three proceed from these; and every one of them bears such a resemblance to that on which it respectively depends, that the transition from one to the other is short and easy; for monarchy often degenerates into tyranny, aristocracy into oligarchy, and democracy into licentious anarchy and confusion: so that whoever sets up any one of the former three sorts of government, may assure himself it will not be of any long duration; for no precaution will be sufficient to prevent its falling into the other that is analogous to it, on account of the affinity which there seems to be in this case betwixt virtue and vice, perfection and imperfection.
This variety of governments among mankind appears to have been the effect of chance: for in the beginning of the world, the inhabitants being few, they sometimes lived separate from each other, like beasts; but afterwards, as they multiplied, they began to unite for their mutual defence, and put themselves under the protection of such as were most eminent amongst them for courage and strength, whom they engaged to obey and acknowledge as their chiefs. Hence arose the distinction betwixt honest and dishonest, just and unjust: for when any one injured his benefactor, his ingratitude excited a sort of fellow-feeling and indignation in others, as well as kindness and respect for those that behaved differently; and, as they considered that they might: some time or other, perhaps, be treated in the same manner themselves, if proper measures were not taken to prevent it, they thought fit to make laws for the reward of good men, and the punishment of offenders. This first gave rise to justice in the world; and from this consideration it came to pass, in process of time, that, in the election of a new chief, they had not so much regard to courage and bodily strength, as to wisdom and integrity: but afterwards, as this kind of government became gradually hereditary instead of elective, the heirs of these chieftains soon began to degenerate from the virtue of their ancestors, and to behave themselves as if they thought the main duty of a prince consisted in surpassing all other men in luxury, extravagance, effeminacy, and every fort of voluptuousness; by which, in a while, they first grew odious to their subjects, and then so jealous for themselves, that they were forced to dis-tress and cut off others for their own security, and at last to become downright tyrants. This first occasioned combinations and conspiracies for the destruction of princes; not amongst the weak and pusillanimous part of their subjects, but among such as, being more eminent for their generosity, magnanimity, riches, and birth, could not endure any longer to submit to these pitiful and oppressive governments.
The multitude, therefore; swayed by the authority of the nobles, rose in arms against their prince; and being freed from his yoke, transferred their allegiance to their deliverers, who, being thoroughly disgusted at. monarchy, changed the form of government, and took it into their own hands: after which they conducted both themselves and the state according to the plan they had formed, preferring the common good to any particular advantage; and behaving, in private as well as public affairs, with assiduity and moderation; whilst the remembrance of their past sufferings continued fresh upon their minds. But this authority afterwards devolving upon their sons, who had not seen these changes, nor experienced the miseries of tyranny, they began to grow so dissatisfied with that sort of civil equality, that they cast off all restraint, and giving themselves up to rapine, ambition, and lust, soon changed the government again from aristocracy into an oligarchy. Their administration, however, becoming as insupportable, in a while, as the tyranny of the other had formerly been, the people naturally began to look out for some deliverer; and, having fixed upon a leader, they put themselves under his banners, and established oligarchy. But when they had done this, and came to reflect upon the oppressions they sustained under a tyrant, they resolved never to be again governed by any one man, and therefore agreed to set up a popular government; which was constituted in such a manner, that the chief authority was not vested either in a prince or in a junto of the nobility.
Now, as all new establishments are held in some degree of reverence and veneration at first, this form subsisted for some time; though no longer than those people lived, who had been the founders of it: for, after their death, their descendants degenerated into licentiousness, and such a contempt for all authority and distinction, that, every man living after his own caprice, there was nothing to be seen but confusion and violence: so that, either by the advice of some good and respectable man, or compelled by the absolute necessity of providing a remedy for these disorders and enormities, they at last determined once more to submit to the dominion of one: from which state they fell again in time, through the same gradations, and from the abovementioned causes, into misrule and licentiousness. Such is the rotation to which all states are subject; nevertheless they cannot often revert to the same kind of government, because it is not possible that they should so long exist as to undergo many of these mutations: for it frequently happens, that when a state is labouring under such convulsions, and is destitute both of strength and counsel, it falls a prey so some other neighbouring community or nation that is better governed; otherwise it might pass through the several abovementioned revolutions again and again to infinity.
All these sorts of government then, in my opinion, are infirm and insecure; the three former from the usual shortness of their duration, and the three latter from the malignity of their own principles. The wisest legislators, therefore, being aware of these defects, never established any one of them in particular, but contrived another that partakes of them all, consisting of a prince, lords, and commons, which they looked upon as more firm and stable, because every one of these members would be a check upon the other; and of those legislators, Lycurgus certainly merits the highest praise, who constituted an establishment of this kind at Sparta, which lasted above eight hundred years, to his own great honour, as well as the tranquillity of the citizens.
Very different was the fate of the government established by Solon at Athens, which, being a simple democracy only, was of so short continuance, that it gave way so the tyranny of Pisistratus, before the death of the legislator: and though, indeed, the heirs of that tyrant were expelled about forty years after, and the Athenians not only recovered their liberty, but re-established Solon's laws and plan of government, yet they did not maintain it above one hundred years, not withstanding they made several new regulations to restrain the insolence of the nobles, and the licentiousness of the commons; the necessity of which Solon had not foreseen; so that for want of tempering his democracy with a share of aristocracy, and princely power, it was of short duration in comparison of the constitution of Sparta.
But to return to Rome. Though that city had not a Lycurgus to model its constitution at first, in such a manner as might preserve its liberty for a long course of time; yet so many were the accidents which happened in the contests betwixt the patricians and plebeians, that chance effected, what the lawgiver had not provided for: so that if it was not perfect at the beginning, it became so after a while; for though the first laws were deficient, yet they were neither incapable of amendment, nor repugnant to its future perfection; since not only Romulus, but all the rest of the kings that succeeded him, made several good alterations in them, and such as were well calculated for the support of liberty. But, as it was their intention to found a monarchy, and not a republic; when that city had shaken off the yoke of a tyrant, there seemed to be many provisions still wanting for the further maintenance of its freedom. And notwithstanding tyranny was at last eradicated, by the ways and means abovementioned, yet those who had chiefly contributed to it, created two consuls to supply the place of royalty; by which it came to pass, that the name alone, and not the authority, of princes was extinguished: so that the supreme power being lodged only in the consuls and senate, the government consisted of no more than two of the three estates, which we have spoken of before, that is, of royalty and aristocracy: it remained, therefore, still necessary to admit the people into some share of the government: and the patricians growing so insolent in time (as I shall shew hereafter), that the plebeians could no longer endure it, the latter took arms, and obliged them to relinquish part of their authority, lest they should lose the whole: on the other hand, the consuls and senators still retained so much power in the commonwealth, as enabled them to support their rank and dignity with honour. This struggle gave birth to certain officers, called tribunes of the people; after the creation of whom, that state became more firm and compact, every one of the three degrees abovementioned having its proper share in the government; and so propitious was fortune to it, that although it was changed from a monarchy into an aristocracy, and afterwards into a democracy, by the steps and for the reasons already assigned, yet the royal power was never entirely abolished and given to the patricians, nor that of the patricians wholly to the plebeians: on the contrary, the authority of the three estates being duly proportioned and mixed together, gave it the highest degree of perfection that any commonwealth is capable of attaining to; and this was owing in a great measure, if not altogether, to the dissentions that happened betwixt the patricians and plebeians, as shall be shewn more at large in the following chapters.
SOME small numbers of men, living within the precincts of one city, have, as it were, cast into a common stock, the right which they had of governing themselves and children, and, by common consent, joining in one body, exercised such power over every single person as seemed beneficial to the whole; and this men call perfect democracy. Others chose rather to be governed by a select number of such as most excelled in wisdom and virtue; and this, according to the signification of the word, was called aristocracy. When one man excelled all others, the government was put into his hands, under the name of monarchy. But the wisest, best, and by far the greatest part of mankind, rejecting these simple species, did form governments mixed or composed of the three, as shall be proved hereafter, which commonly received their respective denomination from the part that prevailed, and did receive praise or blame, as they were well or ill proportioned.
Sidney, p. 138. § 16. The best governments of the world have been composed of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy.
As for democracy, I believe it can suit only with the convenience of a small town, accompanied with such circumstances as are seldom found. But this no way obliges men to run into the other extreme, in as much as the variety of forms, between mere democracy and absolute monarchy, is almost infinite. And if I should undertake to say, there never was a good government in the world, that did not consist of the three simple species of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, I think I may make it good. This at the least is certain, that the government of the Hebrews, instituted by God, had a judge, the great Sanhedrim, and general assemblies of the people. Sparta had two kings, a senate of twenty-eight chosen men, and the like assemblies. All the Dorian cities had a chief magistrate, a senate, and occasional assemblies. The cities of Ionia, Athens and others, had an Archon, the Areopagitas, &c. and all judgments concerning matters of the greatest importance, as well as the election of magistrates, were referred to the people. Rome, in the beginning, had a king and a senate, while the election of kings, and judgments upon appeals, remained in the people; afterwards, consuls representing kings, and vested with equal power, a more numerous senate, and more frequent meetings of the people. Venice has at this day, a duke, the senate of the pregadi, and the great assembly of the nobility, which is the whole city; the rest of the inhabitants being only incolæ, not cives; and those of the other cities or countries are their subjects, and do not participate in the government.
Genoa is governed in like manner; Lucca not unlike to them. Germany is at this day governed by an emperor, the princes or great lords in their several precincts; the cities by their own magistrates; and by general diets, in which the whole power of the nation resides, and where the emperor, princes, nobility, and cities have their places in person, or by their deputies. All the northern nations which, upon the dissolution of the Roman empire, possessed the best provinces that had composed it, were under that form, which is usually called the Gothick polity. They had king, lords, commons, diets, assemblies of estates, cortes, and parliaments, in which the sovereign powers of those nations did reside, and by which they were exercised. The like was practised in Hungary, Bohemia, Sweden, Denmark, Poland: and, if things are changed in some of those places within these few years, they must give better proofs of having gained by the change, than are yet seen in the world, before I think myself obliged to change my opinion.
Some nations, not liking the name of king, have given such a power as kings enjoyed in other places to one or more magistrates, either limited to a certain time, or left to be perpetual, as best pleased themselves: others, approving the name, made the dignity purely elective. Some have in their elections principally regarded one family as long as it lasted: others considered nothing but the fitness of the person, and reserved to themselves a liberty of taking where they pleased. Some have permitted the crown to be hereditary as to its ordinary course; but restrained the power, and instituted officers to inspect the proceedings of kings, and to take care that the laws were not violated. Of this sort were the Ephori of Sparta, the Maires du Palais, and afterwards the constable of France, the justiciar in Arragon, the reichshofmeeter in Denmark, the high steward in England; and in all places, such assemblies as are beforementioned under several names, who had the power of the whole nation, &c.
Sidney, p. 147. § 18. It is conferred, that a pure democracy can never be good, unless for a small town, &c.
Sidney, p. 160. § 19. As to popular government in the strictest sense, that is, pure democracy, where the people in themselves, and by themselves, perform all that belongs to government, I know of no such thing; and, if it be in the world, have nothing to say for it.
Sidney, p. 161. If it be said, that those governments, in which the democratical part governs most, do more frequently err in the choice of men, or the means of preserving that purity of manners which is required for the well-being of a people, than those wherein aristocracy prevails, I confess it, and that in Rome and Athens, the best and wisest men did for the most part incline to aristocracy. Xenophon, Plato, Aristotle, Thucydides, Livy, Tacitus, Cicero, and others, were of this sort. But if our author there seek patrons for his absolute monarchy, he will find none but Phalaris, Agathocles, Dionysius, Catiline, Cechegus, Lentulus, with the corrupted crew of mercenary rascals who did, or endeavoured to set them up: these are they, quibus ex honesto nulla est spes: they abhor the dominion of the law, because it curbs their vices, and make themselves subservient to the lusts of a man who may nourish them.
Sidney, p. 165. § 21. Being no way concerned in the defence of democracy, &c. I may leave our knight, like Don Quixote, fighting against the phantasms of his own brain, and saying what he pleases against such governments as never were, unless in such a place as St. Marino, near Siniglaglia in Italy, where a hundred clowns govern a barbarous rock that no man invades, and relates nothing to our question. The republic of St. Marino, next to that of Millingen in Switzerland, is the smallest republic in Europe. The limits of it extend no farther than the base of the mountain on which it is seated. Its insignificance is its security. No neighbouring prince ever thought it worth his while to destroy the independency of such a Beehive. See Blainville's Travels, vol. ii. p. 227. Addison's Remarks on several parts of Italy.
Sidney, p. 258. However, more ignorance cannot be expressed, than by giving the name of democracy to those governments that are composed of the three simple species, as we have proved that all the good ones have ever been: for, in a strict sense, it can only suit with those, where the people retain to themselves the administration of the supreme power; and more largely, when the popular part, as in Athens, greatly overbalances the other two, and the denomination is taken from the prevailing part.
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