James Harrington (1656)
JANOTTI, the most excellent describer of the Commonwealth of Venice, divides the whole series of government into two times or periods: the one ending with the liberty of Rome, which was the course or empire, as I may call it, of ancient prudence, first discovered to mankind by God himself in the fabric of the commonwealth of Israel, and afterward picked out of his footsteps in nature, and unanimously followed by the Greeks and Romans; the other beginning with the arms of Caesar, which, extinguishing liberty, were the transition of ancient into modern prudence, introduced by those inundations of Huns, Goths, Vandals, Lombards, Saxons, which, breaking the Roman Empire, deformed the whole face of the world with those ill-features of government, which at this time are become far worse in these western parts, except Venice, which, escaping the hands of the barbarians by virtue of its impregnable situation, has had its eye fixed upon ancient prudence, and is attained to a perfection even beyond the copy.
Relation being had to these two times, government (to define it de jure, or according to ancient prudence) is an art whereby a civil society of men is instituted and preserved upon the foundation of common right or interest; or, to follow Aristotle and Livy, it is the empire of laws, and not of men.
And government (to define it de facto, or according to modern prudence) is an art whereby some man, or some few men, subject a city or a nation, and rule it according to his or their private interest; which, because the laws in such cases are made according to the interest of a man, or of some few families, may be said to be the empire of men, and not of laws.
The former kind is that which Machiavel (whose books are neglected) is the only politician that has gone about to retrieve; and that Leviathan (who would have his book imposed upon the universities) goes about to destroy. For “it is,” says he, “another error of Aristotle’s politics that in a well-ordered commonwealth, not men should govern, but the laws. What man that has his natural senses, though he can neither write nor read, does not find himself governed by them he fears, and believes can kill or hurt him when he obeys not? or, who believes that the law can hurt him, which is but words and paper, without the hands and swords of men?” I confess that the magistrate upon his bench is that to the law which a gunner upon his platform is to his cannon. Nevertheless, I should not dare to argue with a man of any ingenuity after this manner. A whole army, though they can neither write nor read, are not afraid of a platform, which they know is but earth or stone; nor of a cannon, which, without a hand to give fire to it, is but cold iron; therefore a whole army is afraid of one man. But of this kind is the ratiocination of Leviathan, as I shall show in divers places that come in my way, throughout his whole politics, or worse; as where he says, “of Aristotle and of Cicero, of the Greeks, and of the Romans, who lived under popular States, that they derived those rights, not from the principles of nature, but transcribed them into their books out of the practice of their own commonwealths, as grammarians describe the rules of language out of poets.” Which is as if a man should tell famous Harvey that he transcribed his circulation of the blood, not out of the principles of nature, but out of the anatomy of this or that body.
To go on therefore with his preliminary discourse, I shall divide it, according to the two definitions of government relating to Janotti’s two times, in two parts: the first, treating of the principles of government in general, and according to the ancients; the second, treating of the late governments of Oceana in particular, and in that of modern prudence.
Government, according to the ancients, and their learned disciple Machiavel, the only politician of later ages, is of three kinds: the government of one man, or of the better sort, or of the whole people; which, by their more learned names, are called monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy. These they hold, through their proneness to degenerate, to be all evil. For whereas they that govern should govern according to reason, if they govern according to passion they do that which they should not do. Wherefore, as reason and passion are two things, so government by reason is one thing, and the corruption of government by passion is another thing, but not always another government: as a body that is alive is one thing, and a body that is dead is another thing, but not always another creature, though the corruption of one comes at length to be the generation of another. The corruption then of monarchy is called tyranny; that of aristocracy, oligarchy and that of democracy, anarchy. But legislators, having found these three governments at the best to be naught, have invented another, consisting of a mixture of them all, which only is good. This is the doctrine of the ancients.
But Leviathan is positive that they are all deceived, and that there is no other government in nature than one of the three; as also that the flesh of them cannot stink, the names of their corruptions being but the names of men’s fancies, which will be understood when we are shown which of them was Senatus Populusque Romanus.
To go my own way, and yet to follow the ancients, the principles of government are twofold: internal, or the goods of the mind; and external, or the goods of fortune. The goods of the mind are natural or acquired virtues, as wisdom, prudence, and courage, etc. The goods of fortune are riches. There be goods also of the body, as health, beauty, strength; but these are not to be brought into account upon this score, because if a man or an army acquires victory or empire, it is more from their discipline, arms, and courage than from their natural health, beauty, or strength, in regard that a people conquered may have more of natural strength, beauty, and health, and yet find little remedy. The principles of government then are in the goods of the mind, or in the goods of fortune. To the goods of the mind answers authority; to the goods of fortune, power or empire. Wherefore Leviathan, though he be right where he says that "riches are power,” is mistaken where he says that “prudence, or the reputation of prudence, is power;” for the learning or prudence of a man is no more power than the learning or prudence of a book or author, which is properly authority. A learned writer may have authority though he has no power; and a foolish magistrate may have power, though he has otherwise no esteem or authority. The difference of these two is observed by Livy in Evander, of whom he says that he governed rather by the authority of others than by his own power.
To begin with riches, in regard that men are hung upon these, not of choice as upon the other, but of necessity and by the teeth; forasmuch as he who wants bread is his servant that will feed him, if a man thus feeds a whole people, they are under his empire.
Empire is of two kinds, domestic and national, or foreign and provincial.
Domestic empire is founded upon dominion. Dominion is property, real or personal; that is to say, in lands, or in money and goods.
Lands, or the parts and parcels of a territory, are held by the proprietor or proprietors, lord or lords of it, in some proportion; and such (except it be in a city that has little or no land, and whose revenue is in trade) as is the proportion or balance of dominion or property in land, such is the nature of the empire.
If one man be sole landlord of a territory, or overbalance the people, for example, three parts in four, he is grand seignior; for so the Turk is called from his property, and his empire is absolute monarchy.
If the few or a nobility, or a nobility with the clergy, be landlords, or overbalance the people to the like proportion, it makes the Gothic balance (to be shown at large in the second part of this discourse), and the empire is mixed monarchy, as that of Spain, Poland, and late of Oceana.
And if the whole people be landlords, or hold the lands so divided among them that no one man, or number of men, within the compass of the few or aristocracy, overbalance them, the empire (without the interposition of force) is a commonwealth.
If force be interposed in any of these three cases, it must either frame the government to the foundation, or the foundation to the government; or holding the government not according to the balance, it is not natural, but violent; and therefore if it be at the devotion of a prince, it is tyranny; if at the devotion of the few, oligarchy; or if in the power of the people, anarchy: Each of which confusions, the balance standing otherwise, is but of short continuance, because against the nature of the balance, which, not destroyed, destroys that which opposes it.
But there be certain other confusions, which, being rooted in the balance, are of longer continuance, and of worse consequence; as, first, where a nobility holds half the property, or about that proportion, and the people the other half; in which case, without altering the balance there is no remedy but the one must eat out the other, as the people did the nobility in Athens, and the nobility the people in Rome. Secondly, when a prince holds about half the dominion, and the people the other half (which was the case of the Roman emperors, planted partly upon their military colonies and partly upon the Senate and the people), the government becomes a very shambles, both of the princes and the people. Somewhat of this nature are certain governments at this day, which are said to subsist by confusion. In this case, to fix the balance is to entail misery; but in the three former, not to fix it is to lose the government. Wherefore it being unlawful in Turkey that any should possess land but the Grand Seignior, the balance is fixed by the law, and that empire firm. Nor, though the kings often sell was the throne of Oceana known to shake, until the statute of alienations broke the pillars, by giving way to the nobility to sell their estates. While Lacedaemon held to the division of land made by Lycurgus, it was immovable; but, breaking that, could stand no longer. This kind of law fixing the balance in lands is called agrarian, and was first introduced by God himself, who divided the land of Canaan to his people by lots, and is of such virtue that wherever it has held, that government has not altered, except by consent; as in that unparalleled example of the people of Israel, when being in liberty they would needs choose a king. But without an agrarian law, government, whether monarchical, aristocratical, or popular, has no long lease.
As for dominion, personal or in money, it may now and then stir up a Melius or a Manlius, which, if the Commonwealth be not provided with some kind of dictatorian power, may be dangerous, though it has been seldom or never successful; because to property producing empire, it is required that it should have some certain root or foothold, which, except in land, it cannot have, being otherwise as it were upon the wing.
Nevertheless, in such cities as subsist mostly by trade, and have little or no land, as Holland and Genoa, the balance of treasure may be equal to that of land in the cases mentioned.
But Leviathan, though he seems to skew at antiquity, following his furious master Carneades, has caught hold of the public sword, to which he reduces all manner and matter of government; as, where he affirms this opinion (that any monarch receives his power by covenant; that is to say, upon conditions)” to proceed from the not understanding this easy truth, that covenants being but words and breath, have no power to oblige, contain, constrain, or protect any man, but what they have from the public sword.” But as he said of the law, that without this sword it is but paper, so he might have thought of this sword, that without a hand it is but cold iron. The hand which holds this sword is the militia of a nation; and the militia of a nation is either an army in the field, or ready for the field upon occasion. But an army is a beast that has a great belly, and must be fed: wherefore this will come to what pastures you have, and what pastures you have will come to the balance of property, without which the public sword is but a name or mere spitfrog. Wherefore, to set that which Leviathan says of arms and of contracts a little straighter, he that can graze this beast with the great belly, as the Turk does his Timariots, may well deride him that imagines he received his power by covenant, or is obliged to any such toy. It being in this case only that covenants are but words and breath. But if the property of the nobility, stocked with their tenants and retainers, be the pasture of that beast, the ox knows his master’s crib; and it is impossible for a king in such a constitution to reign otherwise than by covenant; or if he break it, it is words that come to blows.
“But,” says he, “when an assembly of men is made sovereign, then no man imagines any such covenant to have part in the institution.” But what was that by Publicola of appeal to the people, or that whereby the people had their tribunes? “Fie,” says he, “nobody is so dull as to say that the people of Rome made a covenant with the Romans, to hold the sovereignty on such or such conditions, which, not performed, the Romans might depose the Roman people.” In which there be several remarkable things; for he holds the Commonwealth of Rome to have consisted of one assembly, whereas it consisted of the Senate and the people; that they were not upon covenant, whereas every law enacted by them was a covenant between them; that the one assembly was made sovereign, whereas the people, who only were sovereign, were such from the beginning, as appears by the ancient style of their covenants or laws ” “The Senate has resolved, the people have decreed,” that a council being made sovereign, cannot be made such upon conditions, whereas the Decemvirs being a council that was made sovereign, was made such upon conditions; that all conditions or covenants making a sovereign being made, are void; whence it must follow that, the Decemviri being made, were ever after the lawful government of Rome, and that it was unlawful for the Commonwealth of Rome to depose the Decemvirs; as also that Cicero, if he wrote otherwise out of his commonwealth, did not write out of nature. But to come to others that see more of this balance.
You have Aristotle full of it in divers places, especially where he says, that “immoderate wealth, as where one man or the few have greater possessions than the equality or the frame of the commonwealth will bear, is an occasion of sedition, which ends for the greater part in monarchy and that for this cause the ostracism has been received in divers places, as in Argos and Athens. But that it were better to prevent the growth in the beginning, than, when it has got head, to seek the remedy of such an evil.”
Machiavel has missed it very narrowly and more dangerously for not fully perceiving that if a commonwealth be galled by the gentry it is by their overbalance, he speaks of the gentry as hostile to popular governments, and of popular governments as hostile to the gentry; and makes us believe that the people in such are so enraged against them, that where they meet a gentleman they kill him: which can never be proved by any one example, unless in civil war, seeing that even in Switzerland the gentry are not only safe, but in honor. But the balance, as I have laid it down, though unseen by Machiavel, is that which interprets him, and that which he confirms by his judgment in many others as well as in this place, where he concludes, “That he who will go about to make a commonwealth where there be many gentlemen, unless he first destroys them, undertakes an impossibility. And that he who goes about to introduce monarchy where the condition of the people is equal, shall never bring it to pass, unless he cull out such of them as are the most turbulent and ambitious, and make them gentlemen or noblemen, not in name but in effect; that is, by enriching them with lands, castles, and treasures, that may gain them power among the rest, and bring in the rest to dependence upon themselves, to the end that, they maintaining their ambition by the prince, the prince may maintain his power by them.”
Wherefore, as in this place I agree with Machiavel, that a nobility or gentry, overbalancing a popular government, is the utter bane and destruction of it; so I shall show in another, that a nobility or gentry, in a popular government, not overbalancing it, is the very life and soul of it.
By what has been said, it should seem that we may lay aside further disputes of the public sword, or of the right of the militia; which, be the government what it will, or let it change how it can, is inseparable from the overbalance in dominion: nor, if otherwise stated by the law or custom (as in the Commonwealth of Rome, where the people having the sword, the nobility came to have the overbalance), avails it to any other end than destruction. For as a building swaying from the foundation must fall, so it fares with the law swaying from reason, and the militia from the balance of dominion. And thus much for the balance of national or domestic empire, which is in dominion.
The balance of foreign or provincial empire is of a contrary nature. A man may as well say that it is unlawful for him who has made a fair and honest purchase to have tenants, as for a government that has made a just progress and enlargement of itself to have provinces. But how a province may be justly acquired appertains to another place. In this I am to show no more than how or upon what kind of balance it is to be held; in order whereto I shall first show upon what kind of balance it is not to be held. It has been said, that national or independent empire, of what kind soever, is to be exercised by them that have the proper balance of dominion in the nation; wherefore provincial or dependent empire is not to be exercised by them that have the balance of dominion in the province, because that would bring the government from provincial and dependent, to national and independent. Absolute monarchy, as that of the Turks, neither plants its people at home nor abroad, otherwise than as tenants for life or at will; wherefore its national and provincial government is all one. But in governments that admit the citizen or subject to dominion in lands, the richest are they that share most of the power at home; whereas the richest among the provincials, though native subjects, or citizens that have been transplanted, are least admitted to the government abroad; for men, like flowers or roots being transplanted, take after the soil wherein they grow. Wherefore the Commonwealth of Rome, by planting colonies of its citizens within the bounds of Italy, took the best way of propagating itself, and naturalizing the country; whereas if it had planted such colonies without the bounds of Italy it would have alienated the citizens, and given a root to liberty abroad, that might have sprung up foreign or savage, and hostile to her: wherefore it never made any such dispersion of itself and its strength, till it was under the yoke of the Emperors, who, disburdening themselves of the people, as having less apprehension of what they could do abroad than at home, took a contrary course.
The Mamelukes (which, till any man show me the contrary, I shall presume to have been a commonwealth consisting of an army, whereof the common soldier was the people, the commissioned officer the Senate, and the general the prince) were foreigners, and by nation Circassians, that governed Egypt; wherefore these never durst plant themselves upon dominion, which growing naturally up into the national interest, must have dissolved the foreign yoke in that province.
The like in some sort may be said of Venice, the government whereof is usually mistaken; for Venice, though it does not take in the people, never excluded them. This commonwealth, the orders whereof are the most democratical or popular of all others, in regard of the exquisite rotation of the Senate, at the first institution took in the whole people; they that now live under the government without participation of it, are such as have since either voluntarily chosen so to do, or were subdued by arms. Wherefore the subject of Venice is governed by provinces, and the balance of dominion not standing, as has been said, with provincial government; as the Mamelukes durst not cast their government upon this balance in their provinces, lest the national interest should have rooted out the foreign, so neither dare the Venetians take in their subjects upon this balance, lest the foreign interest should root out the national (which is that of the 3,000 now governing), and by diffusing the commonwealth throughout her territories, lose the advantage of her situation, by which in great part it subsists. And such also is the government of the Spaniard in the Indies, to which he deputes natives of his own country, not admitting the creoles to the government of those provinces, though descended from Spaniards.
But if a prince or a commonwealth may hold a territory that is foreign in this, it may be asked why he may not hold one that is native in the like manner? To which I answer, because he can hold a foreign by a native territory, but not a native by a foreign; and as hitherto I have shown what is not the provincial balance, so by this answer it may appear what it is, namely, the overbalance of a native territory to a foreign; for as one country balances itself by the distribution of property according to the proportion of the same, so one country overbalances another by advantage of divers kinds. For example, the Commonwealth of Rome overbalanced her provinces by the vigor of a more excellent government opposed to a crazier. Or by a more exquisite militia opposed to one inferior in courage or discipline. The like was that of the Mamelukes, being a hardy people, to the Egyptians, that were a soft one. And the balance of situation is in this kind of wonderful effect; seeing the King of Denmark, being none of the most potent princes, is able at the Sound to take toll of the greatest; and as this King, by the advantage of the land, can make the sea tributary, so Venice, by the advantage of the sea, in whose arms she is impregnable, can make the land to feed her gulf. For the colonies in the Indies, they are yet babes that cannot live without sucking the breasts of their mother cities, but such as I mistake if when they come of age they do not wean themselves; which causes me to wonder at princes that delight to be exhausted in that way. And so much for the principles of power, whether national or provincial, domestic or foreign; being such as are external, and founded in the goods of fortune.
I come to the principles of authority, which are internal, and founded upon the goods of the mind. These the legislator that can unite in his government with those of fortune, comes nearest to the work of God, whose government consists of heaven and earth; which was said by Plato, though in different words, as, when princes should be philosophers, or philosophers princes, the world would be happy. And says Solomon: “There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, which proceeds from the ruler (enimvero neque nobilem, neque ingenuum, nec libertinum quidem armis praeponere, regia utilitas est). Folly is set in great dignity, and the rich (either in virtue and wisdom, in the goods of the mind, or those of fortune upon that balance which gives them a sense of the national interest) sit in low places. I have seen servants upon horses, and princes walking as servants upon the earth.” Sad complaints, that the principles of power and of authority, the goods of the mind and of fortune, do not meet and twine in the wreath or crown of empire! Wherefore, if we have anything of piety or of prudence, let us raise ourselves out of the mire of private interest to the contemplation of virtue, and put a hand to the removal of “this evil from under the sun;” this evil against which no government that is not secured can be good; this evil from which the government that is secure must be perfect. Solomon tells us that the cause of it is from the ruler, from those principles of power, which, balanced upon earthly trash, exclude the heavenly treasures of virtue, and that influence of it upon government which is authority. We have wandered the earth to find out the balance of power; but to find out that of authority we must ascend, as I said, nearer heaven, or to the image of God, which is the soul of man.
The soul of man (whose life or motion is perpetual contemplation or thought) is the mistress of two potent rivals, the one reason, the other passion, that are in continual suit; and, according as she gives up her will to these or either of them, is the felicity or misery which man partakes in this mortal life.
For, as whatever was passion in the contemplation of a man, being brought forth by his will into action, is vice and the bondage of sin; so whatever was reason in the contemplation of a man, being brought forth by his will into action, is virtue and the freedom of soul.
Again, as those actions of a man that were sin acquire to himself repentance or shame, and affect others with scorn or pity, so those actions of a man that are virtue acquire to himself honor, and upon others authority.
Now government is no other than the soul of a nation or city: wherefore that which was reason in the debate of a commonwealth being brought forth by the result, must be virtue; and forasmuch as the soul of a city or nation is the sovereign power, her virtue must be law. But the government whose law is virtue, and whose virtue is law, is the same whose empire is authority, and whose authority is empire.
Again, if the liberty of a man consists in the empire of his reason, the absence whereof would betray him to the bondage of his passions, then the liberty of a commonwealth consists in the empire of her laws, the absence whereof would betray her to the lust of tyrants. And these I conceive to be the principles upon which Aristotle and Livy (injuriously accused by Leviathan for not writing out of nature) have grounded their assertion, “that a commonwealth is an empire of laws and not of men.” But they must not carry it so. “For,” says he, “the liberty whereof there is so frequent and honorable mention in the histories and philosophy of the ancient Greeks and Romans, and the writings and discourses of those that from them have received all their learning in the politics, is not the liberty of particular men, but the liberty of the commonwealth.” He might as well have said that the estates of particular men in a commonwealth are not the riches of particular men, but the riches of the commonwealth; for equality of estates causes equality of power, and equality of power is the liberty, not only of the commonwealth, but of every man.
But sure a man would never be thus irreverent with the greatest authors, and positive against all antiquity without some certain demonstration of truth ” and what is it? Why, “there is written on the turrets of the city of Lucca in great characters at this day the word LIBERTAS; yet no man can thence infer that a particular man has more liberty or immunity from the service of the commonwealth there than in Constantinople. Whether a commonwealth be monarchical or popular the freedom is the same.” The mountain has brought forth, and we have a little equivocation! For to say that a Lucchese has no more liberty or immunIty from the laws of Lucca than a Turk has from those of Constantinople; and to say that a Lucchese has no more liberty or immunity by the laws of Lucca, than a Turk has by those of Constantinople, are pretty different speeches. The first may be said of all governments alike; the second scarce of any two; much less of these, seeing it is known that, whereas the greatest Bashaw is a tenant, as well of his head as of his estate, at the will of his lord, the meanest Lucchese that has land is a freeholder of both, and not to be controlled but by the law, and that framed by every private man to no other end (or they may thank themselves) than to protect the liberty of every private man, which by that means comes to be the liberty of the commonwealth.
But seeing they that make the laws in commonwealths are but men, the main question seems to be, how a commonwealth comes to be an empire of laws, and not of men? or how the debate or result of a commonwealth is so sure to be according to reason; seeing they who debate, and they who resolve, be but men? “And as often as reason is against a man, so often will a man be against reason.”
This is thought to be a shrewd saying, but will do no harm; for be it so that reason is nothing but interest, there be divers interests, and so divers reasons.
As first, there is private reason, which is the interest of a private man.
Secondly, there is reason of state, which is the interest (or error, as was said by Solomon) of the ruler or rulers, that is to say, of the prince, of the nobility, or of the people.
Thirdly there is that reason, which is the interest of mankind, or of the whole. “Now if we see even in those natural agents that want sense, that as in themselves they have a law which directs them in the means whereby they tend to their own perfection, so likewise that another law there is, which touches them as they are sociable parts united into one body, a law which binds them each to serve to others’ good, and all to prefer the good of the whole, before whatsoever their own particular; as when stones, or heavy things, forsake their ordinary wont or centre, and fly upward, as if they heard themselves commanded to let go the good they privately wish, and to relieve the present distress of nature in common.” There is a common right, law of nature, or interest of the whole, which is more excellent, and so acknowledged to be by the agents themselves, than the right or interest of the parts only. “Wherefore, though it may be truly said that the creatures are naturally carried forth to their proper utility or profit, that ought not to be taken in too general a sense; seeing divers of them abstain from their own profit, either in regard of those of the same kind, or at least of their young.”
Mankind then must either be less just than the creature, or acknowledge also his common interest to be common right. And if reason be nothing else but interest, and the interest of mankind be the right interest, then the reason of mankind must be right reason. Now compute well; for if the interest of popular government come the nearest to the interest of mankind, then the reason of popular government must come the nearest to right reason.
But it may be said that the difficulty remains yet; for be the interest of popular government right reason, a man does not look upon reason as it is right or wrong in itself, but as it makes for him or against him. Wherefore, unless you can show such orders of a government as, like those of God in nature, shall be able to constrain this or that creature to shake off that inclination which is more peculiar to it, and take up that which regards the common good or interest, all this is to no more end than to persuade every man in a popular government not to carve himself of that which he desires most, but to be mannerly at the public table, and give the best from himself to decency and the common interest. But that such orders may be established as may, nay must, give the upper hand in all cases to common right or interest, notwithstanding the nearness of that which sticks to every man in private, and this in a way of equal certainty and facility, is known even to girls, being no other than those that are of common practice with them in divers cases. For example, two of them have a cake yet undivided, which was given between them: that each of them therefore might have that which is due, “Divide,” says one to the other, “and I will choose; or let me divide, and you shall choose.” If this be but once agreed upon, it is enough; for the divident, dividing unequally, loses, in regard that the other takes the better half. Wherefore she divides equally, and so both have right. “Oh, the depth of the wisdom of God.” And yet “by the mouths of babes and sucklings has He set forth His strength;” that which great philosophers are disputing upon in vain is brought to light by two harmless girls, even the whole mystery of a commonwealth, which lies only in dividing and choosing. Nor has God (if his works in nature be understood) left so much to mankind to dispute upon as who shall divide and who choose, but distributed them forever into two orders, whereof the one has the natural right of dividing, and the other of choosing.
For example: A commonwealth is but a civil society of men: let us take any number of men (as twenty) and immediately make a commonwealth. Twenty men (if they be not all idiots, perhaps if they be) can never come so together but there will be such a difference in them that about a third will be wiser, or at least less foolish than all the rest; these upon acquaintance, though it be but small, will be discovered, and, as stags that have the largest heads, lead the herd; for while the six, discoursing and arguing one with another, show the eminence of their parts, the fourteen discover things that they never thought on; or are cleared in divers truths which had formerly perplexed them. Wherefore, in matter of common concernment, difficulty, or danger, they hang upon their lips, as children upon their fathers; and the influence thus acquired by the six, the eminence of whose parts are found to be a stay and comfort to the fourteen, is the authority of the fathers. Wherefore this can be no other than a natural aristocracy diffused by God throughout the whole body of mankind to this end and purpose; and therefore such as the people have not only a natural but a positive obligation to make use of as their guides; as where the people of Israel are commanded to “take wise men, and understanding, and known among their tribes, to be made rulers over them.” The six then approved of, as in the present case, are the senate, not by hereditary right, or in regard of the greatness of their estates only, which would tend to such power as might force or draw the people, but by election for their excellent parts, which tends to the advancement of the influence of their virtue or authority that leads the people. Wherefore the office of the senate is not to be commanders, but counsellors, of the people; and that which is proper to counsellors is first to debate, and afterward to give advice in the business whereupon they have debated, whence the decrees of the senate are never laws, nor so called; and these being maturely framed, it is their duty to propose in the case to the people. Wherefore the senate is no more than the debate of the commonwealth. But to debate is to discern or put a difference between things that, being alike, are not the same; or it is separating and weighing this reason against that, and that reason against this, which is dividing.
The senate then having divided, who shall choose? Ask the girls: for if she that divided must have chosen also, it had been little worse for the other in case she had not divided at all, but kept the whole cake to herself, in regard that being to choose, too, she divided accordingly. Wherefore if the senate have any further power than to divide, the commonwealth can never be equal. But in a commonwealth consisting of a single council, there is no other to choose than that which divided; whence it is, that such a council fails not to scramble ” that is, to be factious, there being no other dividing of the cake in that case but among themselves.
Nor is there any remedy but to have another council to choose. The wisdom of the few may be the light of mankind; but the interest of the few is not the profit of mankind nor of a commonwealth. Wherefore, seeing we have granted interest to be reason, they must not choose lest it put out their light. But as the council dividing consists of the wisdom of the commonwealth, so the assembly or council choosing should consist of the interest of the commonwealth: as the wisdom of the commonwealth is in the aristocracy, so the interest of the commonwealth is in the whole body of the people. And whereas this, in case the commonwealth consist of a whole nation, is too unwieldy a body to be assembled, this council is to consist of such a representative as may be equal, and so constituted, as can never contract any other interest than that of the whole people; the manner whereof, being such as is best shown by exemplification, I remit to the model. But in the present case, the six dividing, and the fourteen choosing, must of necessity take in the whole interest of the twenty.
Dividing and choosing, in the language of a commonwealth, is debating and resolving; and whatsoever, upon debate of the senate, is proposed to the people, and resolved by them, is enacted by the authority of the fathers, and by the power of the people, which concurring, make a law.
But the law being made, says Leviathan, “is but words and paper without the hands and swords of men;” wherefore as these two orders of a commonwealth, namely, the senate and the people, are legislative, so of necessity there must be a third to be executive of the laws made, and this is the magistracy. In which order, with the rest being wrought up by art, the commonwealth consists of "the senate proposing, the people resolving, and the magistracy executing,” whereby partaking of the aristocracy as in the senate, of the democracy as in the people, and of monarchy as in the magistracy, it is complete. Now there being no other commonwealth but this in art or nature, it is no wonder if Machiavel has shown us that the ancients held this only to be good; but it seems strange to me that they should hold that there could be any other, for if there be such a thing as pure monarchy, yet that there should be such a one as pure aristocracy or pure democracy is not in my understanding. But the magistracy, both in number and function, is different in different commonwealths. Nevertheless there is one condition of it that must be the same in every one, or it dissolves the commonwealth where it is wanting. And this is no less than that, as the hand of the magistrate is the executive power of the law, so the head of the magistrate is answerable to the people, that his execution be according to the law; by which Leviathan may see that the hand or sword that executes the law is in it and not above it.
Now whether I have rightly transcribed these principles of a commonwealth out of nature, I shall appeal to God and to the world ” to God in the fabric of the Commonwealth of Israel, and to the world in the universal series of ancient prudence. But in regard the same commonwealths will be opened at large in the Council of legislators, I shall touch them for the present but slightly, beginning with that of Israel.
The Commonwealth of Israel consisted of the Senate, the people, and the magistracy.
The people by their first division, which was genealogical, were contained under their thirteen tribes, houses, or families; whereof the first-born in each was prince of his tribe, and had the leading of it: the tribe of Levi only, being set apart to serve at the altar, had no other prince but the high-priest. In their second division they were divided locally by their agrarian, or the distribution of the land of Canaan to them by lot, the tithe of all remaining to Levi; whence, according to their local division, the tribes are reckoned but twelve.
The assemblies of the people thus divided were methodically gathered by trumpets to the congregation: which was, it should seem, of two sorts. For if it were called with one trumpet only, the princes of the tribes and the elders only assembled; but if it were called with two, the whole people gathered themselves to the congregation, for so it is rendered by the English; but in the Greek it is called Ecclesia, or the Church of God, and by the Talmudist the great "Synagogue.” The word Ecclesia was also anciently and properly used for the civil congregations, or assemblies of the people in Athens, Lacedaemon, and Ephesus, where it is so called in Scripture, though it be otherwise rendered by the translators, not much as I conceive to their commendation, seeing by that means they have lost us a good lesson, the apostles borrowing that name for their spiritual congregations, to the end that we might see they intended the government of the church to be democratical or popular, as is also plain in the rest of their constitutions.
The church or congregation of the people of Israel assembled in a military manner, and had the result of the commonwealth, or the power of confirming all their laws, though proposed even by God himself; as where they make him king, and where they reject or depose him as civil magistrate, and elect Saul. It is manifest that he gives no such example to a legislator in a popular government as to deny or evade the power of the people, which were a contradiction; but though he deservedly blames the ingratitude of the people in that action, he commands Samuel, being next under himself supreme magistrate, “to hearken to their voice” (for where the suffrage of the people goes for nothing, it is no commonwealth), and comforts him, saying, “They have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me that I should not reign over them.” But to reject him that he should not reign over them, was as civil magistrate to depose him. The power therefore which the people had to depose even God himself as he was civil magistrate, leaves little doubt but that they had power to have rejected any of those laws confirmed by them throughout the Scripture, which, to omit the several parcels, are generally contained under two heads: those that were made by covenant with the people in the land of Moab, and those which were made by covenant with the people in Horeb; which two, I think, amount to the whole body of the Israelitish laws.
But if all and every one of the laws of Israel being proposed by God, were no otherwise enacted than by covenant with the people, then that only which was resolved by the people of Israel was their law; and so the result of that commonwealth was in the people. Nor had the people the result only in matter of law, but the power in some cases of judicature; as also the right of levying war, cognizance in matter of religion, and the election of their magistrates, as the judge or dictator, the king, the prince: which functions were exercised by the Synagoga magna, or Congregation of Israel, not always in one manner, for sometimes they were performed by the suffrage of the people, viva voce, sometimes by the lot only, and at others by the ballot, or by a mixture of the lot with the suffrage, as in the case of Eldad and Medad, which I shall open with the Senate.
The Senate of Israel, called in the old Testament the Seventy Elders, and in the New the Sanhedrim (which word is usually translated “the Council"), was appointed by God, and consisted of seventy elders besides Moses, which were at first elected by the people, but in what manner is rather intimated than shown. Nevertheless, because I cannot otherwise understand the passage concerning Eldad and Medad, of whom it is said “that they were of them that were written, but went not up to the tabernacle,” then with the Talmudists I conceive that Eldad and Medad had the suffrage of the tribes, and so were written as competitors for magistracy; but coming afterward to the lot, failed of it, and therefore went not up to the tabernacle, or place of confirmation by God, or to the session-house of the Senate, with the Seventy upon whom the lot fell to be senators; for the session-house of the Sanhedrim was first in the court of the tabernacle, and afterward in that of the Temple, where it came to be called the stone chamber or pavement. If this were the ballot of Israel, that of Venice is the same transposed; for in Venice the competitor is chosen as it were by the lot, in regard that the electors are so made, and the magistrate is chosen by the “suffrage of the great Council or assembly of the people.” But the Sanhedrim of Israel being thus constituted, Moses, for his time, and after him his successor sat in the midst of it as prince or archon, and at his left hand the orator or father of the Senate; the rest, or the bench, coming round with either horn like a crescent, had a scribe attending upon the tip of it.
This Senate, in regard the legislator of Israel was infallible, and the laws given by God such as were not fit to be altered by men, is much different in the exercise of their power from all other senates, except that of the Areopagus in Athens, which also was little more than a supreme judicatory, for it will hardly, as I conceive, be found that the Sanhedrim proposed to the people till the return of the children of Israel out of captivity under Esdras, at which time there was a new law made -namely, for a kind of excommunication, or rather banishment, which had never been before in Israel. Nevertheless it is not to be thought that the Sanhedrim had not always that right, which from the time of Esdras is more frequently exercised, of proposing to the people, but that they forebore it in regard of the fulness and infallibility of the law already made, whereby it was needless. Wherefore the function of this Council, which is very rare in a senate, was executive, and consisted in the administration of the law made; and whereas the Council itself is often understood in Scripture by the priest and the Levite, there is no more in that save only that the priests and the Levites, who otherwise had no power at all, being in the younger years of this commonwealth, those that were best studied in the laws were the most frequently elected into the Sanhedrim. For the courts, consisting of three-and-twenty elders sitting in the gates of every city, and the triumvirates of judges constituted almost in every village, which were parts of the executive magistracy subordinate to the Sanhedrim, I shall take them at better leisure, and in the larger discourse; but these being that part of this commonwealth which was instituted by Moses upon the advice of Jethro the priest of Midian (as I conceive a heathen), are to me a sufficient warrant even from God himself, who confirmed them, to make further use of human prudence, wherever I find it bearing a testimony to itself, whether in heathen commonwealths or others; and the rather, because so it is, that we who have the holy Scriptures, and in them the original of a commonwealth, made by the same hand that made the world, are either altogether blind or negligent of it; while the heathens have all written theirs, as if they had had no other copy; as, to be more brief in the present account of that which you shall have more at large hereafter:
Athens consisted of the Senate of the Bean proposing, of the Church or Assembly of the people resolving, and too often debating, which was the ruin of it; as also of the Senate of the Areopagus, the nine archons, with divers other magistrates, executing.
Lacedaemon consisted of the Senate proposing, of the Church or congregation of the people resolving only, and never debating, which was the long life of it; and of the two kings, the court of the ephors, with divers other magistrates, executing.
Carthage consisted of the Senate proposing and sometimes resolving too, of the people resolving and sometimes debating too, for which fault she was reprehended by Aristotle; and she had her suffetes, and her hundred men, with other magistrates, executing.
Rome consisted of the Senate proposing, the concio or people resolving, and too often debating, which caused her storms; as also of the consuls, censors, aediles, tribunes, praetors, quaestors, and other magistrates, executing.
Venice consists of the Senate, or pregati, proposing, and sometimes resolving too, of the great Council or Assembly of the people, in whom the result is constitutively; as also of the doge, the signory, the censors, the dieci, the quazancies, and other magistrates, executing.
The proceeding of the Commonwealths of Switzerland and Holland is of a like nature, though after a more obscure manner; for the sovereignties, whether cantons, provinces, or cities, which are the people, send their deputies, commissioned and instructed by themselves (wherein they reserve the result in their own power), to the provincial or general convention, or Senate, where the deputies debate, but have no other power of result than what was conferred upon them by the people, or is further conferred by the same upon further occasion. And for the executive part they have magistrates or judges in every canton, province, or city, besides those which are more public, and relate to the league, as for adjusting controversies between one canton, province, or city and another, or the like between such persons as are not of the same canton, province, or city.
But that we may observe a little further how the heathen politicians have written, not only out of nature, but as it were out of Scripture: as in the Commonwealth of Israel, God is said to have been king, so the commonwealth where the law is king, is said by Aristotle to be “the kingdom of God.” And where by the lusts or passions of men a power is set above that of the law deriving from reason, which is the dictate of God, God in that sense is rejected or deposed that he should not reign over them, as he was in Israel. And yet Leviathan will have it that “by reading of these Greek and Latin [he might as well in this sense have said Hebrew] authors, young men, and all others that are unprovided of the antidote of solid reason, receiving a strong and delightful impression of the great exploits of war achieved by the conductors of their armies, receive withal a pleasing idea of all they have done besides, and imagine their great prosperity not to have proceeded from the emulation of particular men, but from the virtue of their popular form of government, not considering the frequent seditions and civil wars produced by the imperfection of their polity.” Where, first, the blame he lays to the heathen authors, is in his sense laid to the Scripture; and whereas he holds them to be young men, or men of no antidote that are of like opinions, it should seem that Machiavel, the sole retriever of this ancient prudence, is to his solid reason a beardless boy that has newly read Livy. And how solid his reason is, may appear where he grants the great prosperity of ancient commonwealths, which is to give up the controversy. For such an effect must have some adequate cause, which to evade he insinuates that it was nothing else but the emulation of particular men, as if so great an emulation could have been generated without as great virtue, so great virtue without the best education, and best education without the best law, or the best laws any otherwise than by the excellency of their polity.
But if some of these commonwealths, as being less perfect in their polity than others, have been more seditious, it is not more an argument of the infirmity of this or that commonwealth in particular, than of the excellency of that kind of polity in general, which if they, that have not altogether reached, have nevertheless had greater prosperity, what would befall them that should reach?
In answer to which question let me invite Leviathan, who of all other governments gives the advantage to monarchy for perfection, to a better disquisition of it by these three assertions.
The first, that the perfection of government lies upon such a libration in the frame of it, that no man or men in or under it can have the interest, or, having the interest, can have the power to disturb it with sedition.
The second, that monarchy, reaching the perfection of the kind, reaches not to the perfection of government, but must have some dangerous flaw in it.
The third, that popular government, reaching the perfection of the kind, reaches the perfection of government, and has no flaw in it.
The first assertion requires no proof.
For the proof of the second, monarchy, as has been shown, is of two kinds: the one by arms, the other by a nobility and there is no other kind in art or nature; for if there have ‘been anciently some governments called kingdoms, as one of the Goths in Spain, and another of the Vandals in Africa, where the King ruled without a nobility and by a council of the people only it is expressly said by the authors that mention them that the, kings were but the captains, and that the people not only gave them laws, but deposed them as often as they pleased. Nor is it possible in reason that it should be otherwise in like cases; wherefore these were either no monarchies, or had greater flaws in them than any other.
But for a monarchy by arms, as that of the Turk (which, of all models that ever were, comes up to the perfection of the kind), it is not in the wit or power of man to cure it of this dangerous flaw, that the Janizaries have frequent interest and perpetual power to raise sedition, and to tear the magistrate, even the prince himself, in pieces. Therefore the monarchy of Turkey is no perfect government.
And for a monarchy by nobility, as of late in Oceana (which of all other models, before the declination of it, came up to the perfection in that kind), it was not in the power or wit of man to cure it of that dangerous flaw; that the nobility had frequent interest and perpetual power by their retainers and tenants to raise sedition; and (whereas the Janizaries occasion this kind of calamity no sooner than they make an end of it) to levy a lasting war, to the vast effusion of blood, and that even upon occasions wherein the people, but for their dependence upon their lords, had no concernment, as in the feud of the Red and White. The like has been frequent in Spain, France, Germany, and other monarchies of this kind; wherefore monarchy by a nobility is no perfect government.
For the proof of the third assertion: Leviathan yields it to me, that there is no other commonwealth but monarchical or popular; wherefore if no monarchy be a perfect government, then either there is no perfect government, or it must be popular, for which kind of constitution I have something more to say than Leviathan has said or ever will be able to say for monarchy. As,
First, that it is the government that was never conquered by any monarch, from the beginning of the world to this day, for if the commonwealths of Greece came under the yoke of the Kings of Macedon, they were first broken by themselves.
Secondly, that it is the government that has frequently led mighty monarchs in triumph.
Thirdly, that it is the government, which, if it has been seditious, it has not been so from any imperfection in the kind, but in the particular constitution; which, wherever the like has happened, must have been unequal.
Fourthly, that it is the government, which, if it has been anything near equal, was never seditious; or let him show me what sedition has happened in Lacedaemon or Venice.
Fifthly, that it is the government, which, attaining to perfect equality, has such a libration in the frame of it, that no man living can show which way any man or men, in or under it, can contract any such interest or power as should be able to disturb the commonwealth with sedition, wherefore an equal commonwealth is that only which is without flaw and contains in it the full perfection of government. But to return.
By what has been shown in reason and experience, it may appear, that though commonwealths in general be governments of the senate proposing, the people resolving, and the magistracy executing, yet some are not so good at these orders as others, through some impediment or defect in the frame, balance, or capacity of them, according to which they are of divers kinds.
The first division of them is into such as are single, as Israel, Athens, Lacedaemon, etc.; and such as are by leagues, as those of the Achaeans, AEtolians, Lycians, Switz, and Hollanders.
The second (being Machiavel’s) is into such as are for preservation, as Lacedaemon and Venice, and such as are for increase, as Athens and Rome; in which I can see no more than that the former takes in no more citizens than are necessary for defence, and the latter so many as are capable of increase.
The third division (unseen hitherto) is into equal and Unequal, and this is the main point, especially as to domestic peace and tranquillity; for to make a commonwealth unequal, is to divide it into parties, which sets them at perpetual variance, the one party endeavoring to preserve their eminence and inequality and the other to attain to equality; whence the people of Rome derived their perpetual strife with the nobility and Senate. But in an equal commonwealth there can be no more strife than there can be overbalance in equal weights; wherefore the Commonwealth of Venice, being that which of all others is the most equal in the constitution, is that wherein there never happened any strife between the Senate and the people.
An equal commonwealth is such a one as is equal both in the balance or foundation, and in the superstructure; that is to say, in her agrarian law and in her rotation.
An equal agrarian is a perpetual law, establishing and preserving the balance of dominion by such a distribution, that no one man or number of men, within the compass of the few or aristocracy, can come to overpower the whole people by their possessions in lands.
As the agrarian answers to the foundation, so does rotation to the superstructures.
Equal rotation is equal vicissitude in government, or succession to magistracy conferred for such convenient terms, enjoying equal vacations, as take in the whole body by parts, succeeding others, through the free election or suffrage of the people.
The contrary, whereunto is prolongation of magistracy, which, trashing the wheel of rotation, destroys the life or natural motion of a commonwealth.
The election or suffrage of the people is most free, where it is made or given in such a manner that it can neither oblige nor disoblige another, nor through fear of an enemy, or bashfulness toward a friend, impair a man’s liberty.
Wherefore, says Cicero, the tablet or ballot of the people of Rome (who gave their votes by throwing tablets or little pieces of wood secretly into urns marked for the negative or affirmative) was a welcome constitution to the people, as that which, not impairing the assurance of their brows, increased the freedom of their judgment. I have not stood upon a more particular description of this ballot, because that of Venice exemplified in the model is of all others the most perfect.
An equal commonwealth (by that which has been said) is a government established upon an equal agrarian, arising into the superstructures or three orders, the Senate debating and proposing, the people resolving, and the magistracy executing, by an equal rotation through the suffrage of the people given by the ballot. For though rotation may be without the ballot, and the ballot without rotation, yet the ballot not only as to the ensuing model includes both, but is by far the most equal way; for which cause under the name of the ballot I shall hereafter understand both that and rotation too.
Now having reasoned the principles of an equal commonwealth, I should come to give an instance of such a one in experience, if I could find it; but if this work be of any value, it lies in that it is the first example of a commonwealth that is perfectly equal. For Venice, though it comes the nearest, yet is a commonwealth for preservation; and such a one, considering the paucity of citizens taken in, and the number not taken in, is externally unequal; and though every commonwealth that holds provinces must in that regard be such, yet not to that degree. Nevertheless, Venice internally, and for her capacity, is by far the most equal, though it has not, in my judgment, arrived at the full perfection of equality; both because her laws supplying the defect of an agrarian are not so clear nor effectual at the foundation, nor her superstructures, by the virtue of her ballot or rotation, exactly librated; in regard that through the paucity of her citizens her greater magistracies are continually wheeled through a few hands, as is confessed by Janotti, where he says, that if a gentleman comes once to be Savio di terra ferma, it seldom happens that he fails from thenceforward to be adorned with some one of the greater magistracies, as Savi di mare, Savi di terra ferma, Savi Grandi, counsellors, those of the decemvirate or dictatorian council, the aurogatori, or censors, which require no vacation or interval. Wherefore if this in Venice, or that in Lacedaemon, where the kings were hereditary, and the Senators (though elected by the people) for life, cause no inequality (which is hard to be conceived) in a commonwealth for preservation, or such a one as consists of a few citizens; yet is it manifest that it would cause a very great one in a commonwealth for increase, or consisting of the many, which, by engrossing the magistracies in a few hands, would be obstructed in their rotation.
But there be who say (and think it a strong objection) that, let a commonwealth be as equal as you can imagine, two or three men when all is done will govern it; and there is that in it which, notwithstanding the pretended sufficiency of a popular State, amounts to a plain confession of the imbecility of that policy, and of the prerogative of monarchy; forasmuch as popular governments in difficult cases have had recourse to dictatorian power, as in Rome.
To which I answer, that as truth is a spark to which objections are like bellows, so in this respect our commonwealth shines; for the eminence acquired by suffrage of the people in a commonwealth, especially if it be popular and equal, can be ascended by no other steps than the universal acknowledgment of virtue: and where men excel in virtue, the commonwealth is stupid and unjust, if accordingly they do not excel in authority. Wherefore this is both the advantage of virtue, which has her due encouragement, and of the commonwealth, which has her due services. These are the philosophers which Plato would have to be princes, the princes which Solomon would have to be mounted, and their steeds are those of authority, not empire; or, if they be buckled to the chariot of empire, as that of the dictatorian power, like the chariot of the sun, it is glorious for terms and vacations or intervals. And as a commonwealth is a government of laws and not of men, so is this the principality of virtue, and not of man; if that fail or set in one, it rises in another who is created his immediate successor. And this takes away that vanity from under the sun, which is an error proceeding more or less from all other rulers under heaven but an equal commonwealth.
These things considered, it will be convenient in this place to speak a word to such as go about to insinuate to the nobility or gentry a fear of the people, or to the people a fear of the nobility or gentry; as if their interests were destructive to each other. When indeed an army may as well consist of soldiers without officers, or of officers without soldiers, as a commonwealth, especially such a one as is capable of greatness, of a people without a gentry, or of a gentry without a people. Wherefore this, though not always so intended, as may appear by Machiavel, who else would be guilty, is a pernicious error. There is something first in the making of a commonwealth, then in the governing of it, and last of all in the leading of its armies, which, though there be great divines, great lawyers, great men in all professions, seems to be peculiar only to the genius of a gentleman.
For so it is in the universal series of story, that if any man has founded a commonwealth, he was first a gentleman. Moses had his education by the daughter of Pharaoh; Theseus and Solon, of noble birth, were held by the Athenians worthy to be kings; Lycurgus was of the royal blood; Romulus and Numa princes; Brutus and Publicola patricians; the Gracchi, that lost their lives for the people of Rome and the restitution of that commonwealth, were the sons of a father adored with two triumphs, and of Cornelia the daughter of Scipio, who being demanded in marriage by King Ptolemy, disdained to become the Queen of Egypt. And the most renowned Olphaus Megaletor, sole legislator, as you will see anon, of the Commonwealth of Oceana, was derived from a noble family; nor will it be any occasion of scruple in this case, that Leviathan affirms the politics to be no ancienter than his book “De Cive.” Such also as have got any fame in the civil government of a commonwealth, or by the leading of its armies, have been gentlemen; for so in all other respects were those plebeian magistrates elected by the people of Rome, being of known descents and of equal virtues, except only that they were excluded from the name by the usurpation of the patricians. Holland, through this defect at home, has borrowed princes for generals, and gentlemen of divers nations for commanders: and the Switzers, if they have any defect in this kind, rather lend their people to the colors of other princes, than make that noble use of them at home which should assert the liberty of mankind. For where there is not a nobility to hearten the people, they are slothful, regardless of the world, and of the public interest of liberty, as even those of Rome had been without their gentry: wherefore let the people embrace the gentry in peace, as the light of their eyes; and in war, as the trophy of their arms; and if Cornelia disdained to be Queen of Egypt, if a Roman consul looked down from his tribunal upon the greatest king, let the nobility love and cherish the people that afford them a throne so much higher in a commonwealth, in the acknowledgment of their virtue, than the crowns of monarchs.
But if the equality of a commonwealth consist in the equality first of the agrarian, and next of the rotation, then the inequality of a commonwealth must consist in the absence or inequality of the agrarian, or of the rotation, or of both.
Israel and Lacedaemon, which commonwealths (as the people of this, in Josephus, claims kindred of that) have great resemblance, were each of them equal in their agrarian, and unequal in their rotation, especially Israel, where the Sanhedrim, or Senate, first elected by the people, as appears by the words of Moses, took upon them ever after, without any precept of God, to substitute their successors by ordination; which having been there of civil use, as excommunication, community of goods, and other customs of the Essenes, who were many of them converted, came afterward to be introduced into the Christian Church. And the election of the judge, suffes, or dictator, was irregular, both for the occasion, the term, and the vacation of that magistracy. As you find in the book of Judges, where it is often repeated, that in those days there was no king in Israel ” that is, no judge; and in the first of Samuel, where Eli judged Israel forty years, and Samuel, all his life. In Lacedaemon the election of the Senate being by suffrage of the people, though for life, was not altogether so unequal, yet the hereditary right of kings, were it not for the agrarian, had ruined her.
Athens and Rome were unequal as to their agrarian, that of Athens being infirm, and this of Rome none at all; for if it were more anciently carried it was never observed. Whence, by the time of Tiberius Gracchus, the nobility had almost eaten the people quite out of their lands, which they held in the occupation of tenants and servants, whereupon the remedy being too late, and too vehemently applied, that commonwealth was ruined.
These also were unequal in their rotation, but in a contrary manner. Athens, in regard that the Senate (chosen at once by lot, not by suffrage, and changed every year, not in part, but in the whole) consisted not of the natural aristocracy, nor sitting long enough to understand or to be perfect in their office, had no sufficient authority to restrain the people from that perpetual turbulence in the end, which was their ruin, notwithstanding the efforts of Nicias, who did all a man could do to help it. But as Athens, by the headiness of the people, so Rome fell by the ambition of the nobility, through the want of an equal rotation; which, if the people had got into the Senate, and timely into the magistracies (whereof the former was always usurped by the patricians, and the latter for the most part) they had both carried and held their agrarian, and that had rendered that commonwealth immovable.
But let a commonwealth be equal or unequal, it must consist, as has been shown by reason and all experience, of the three general orders; that is to say, of the Senate debating and proposing, of the people resolving, and of the magistracy executing. Wherefore I can never wonder enough at Leviathan, who, without any reason or example, will have it that a commonwealth consists of a single person, or of a single assembly; nor can I sufficiently pity those "thousand gentlemen, whose minds, which otherwise would have wavered, he has framed (as is affirmed by himself) in to a conscientious obedience (for so he is pleased to call it) of such a government.”
But to finish this part of the discourse, which I intend for as complete an epitome of ancient prudence, and in that of the whole art of politics, as I am able to frame in so short a time:
The two first orders, that is to say, the Senate and the people, are legislative, whereunto answers that part of this science which by politicians is entitled “of laws;” and the third order is executive, to which answers that part of the same science which is styled “of the frame and course of courts or judicatories.” A word to each of these will be necessary.
And first for laws: they are either ecclesiastical or civil, such as concern religion or government.
Laws, ecclesiastical, or such as concern religion, according to the universal course of ancient prudence, are in the power of the magistrate; but, according to the common practice of modern prudence, since the papacy, torn out of his hands.
But, as a government pretending to liberty, and yet suppressing liberty of conscience (which, because religion not according to a man’s conscience can to him be none at all, is the main) must be a contradiction, so a man that, pleading for the liberty of private conscience, refuses liberty to the national conscience, must be absurd.
A commonwealth is nothing else but the national conscience. And if the conviction of a man’s private conscience produces his private religion, the conviction of the national conscience must produce a national religion. Whether this be well reasoned, as also whether these two may stand together, will best be shown by the examples of the ancient commonwealths taken in their order.
In that of Israel the government of the national religion appertained not to the priests and Levites, otherwise than as they happened to be of the Sanhedrim, or Senate, to which they had no right at all but by election. It is in this capacity therefore that the people are commanded, under pain of death, “to hearken to them, and to do according to the sentence of the law which they should teach;” but in Israel the law ecclesiastical and civil was the same, therefore the Sanhedrim, having the power of one, had the power of both. But as the national religion appertained to the jurisdiction of the Sanhedrim, so the liberty of conscience appertained, from the same date, and by the same right, to the prophets and their disciples; as where it is said, “I will raise up a prophet; and whoever will not hearken to my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him.” The words relate to prophetic right, which was above all the orders of this commonwealth; whence Elijah not only refused to obey the King, but destroyed his messengers with fire. And whereas it was not lawful by the national religion to sacrifice in any other place than the Temple, a prophet was his own temple, and might sacrifice where he would, as Elijah did in Mount Carmel. By this right John the Baptist and our Saviour, to whom it more particularly related, had their disciples, and taught the people, whence is derived our present right of gathered congregations; wherefore the Christian religion grew up according to the orders of the Commonwealth of Israel, and not against them. Nor was liberty of conscience infringed by this government, till the civil liberty of the same was lost, as under Herod, Pilate, and Tiberius, a three-piled tyranny.
To proceed, Athens preserved her religion, by the testimony of Paul, with great superstition: if Alcibiades, that atheistical fellow had not showed them a pair of heels, they had shaven off his head for shaving their Mercuries, and making their gods look ridiculously upon them without beards. Nevertheless, if Paul reasoned with them, they loved news, for which he was the more welcome; and if he converted Dionysius the Areopagite, that is, one of the senators, there followed neither any hurt to him, nor loss of honor to Dionysius. And for Rome, if Cicero, in his most excellent book “De Natura Deorum,” overthrew the national religion of that commonwealth, he was never the further from being consul. But there is a meanness and poorness in modern prudence, not only to the damage of civil government, but of religion itself; for to make a man in matter of religion, which admits not of sensible demonstration (jurare in verba magistri), engage to believe no otherwise than is believed by my lord bishop, or Goodman Presbyter is a pedantism that has made the sword to be a rod in the hands of schoolmasters; by which means, whereas the Christian religion is the furthest of any from countenancing war, there never was a war of religion but since Christianity, for which we are beholden to the Pope; for the Pope not giving liberty of conscience to princes and commonwealths, they cannot give that to their subjects which they have not themselves, whence both princes and subjects, either through his instigation or their own disputes, have introduced that execrable custom, never known in the world before, of fighting for religion, and denying the magistrate to have any jurisdiction concerning it, whereas the magistrate’s losing the power of religion loses the liberty of conscience, which in that case has nothing to protect it. But if the people be otherwise taught, it concerns them to look about them, and to distinguish between the shrieking of the lapwing and the voice of the turtle.
To come to civil laws. If they stand one way and the balance another, it is the case of a government which of necessity must be new modelled; wherefore your lawyers, advising you upon the like occasions to fit your government to their laws, are no more to be regarded than your tailor if he should desire you to fit your body to his doublet. There is also danger in the plausible pretence of reforming the law, except the government be first good, in which case it is a good tree, and (trouble not yourselves overmuch) brings not forth evil fruit; otherwise, if the tree be evil, you can never reform the fruit, or if a root that is naught bring forth fruit of this kind that seems to be good, take the more heed, for it is the ranker poison. It was nowise probable, if Augustus had not made excellent laws, that the bowels of Rome could have come to be so miserably eaten out by the tyranny of Tiberius and his successors. The best rule as to your laws in general is that they be few. Rome, by the testimony of Cicero, Was best governed under those of the twelve tables; and by that of Tacitus, Plurimoe leges, corruptissima respublica. You will be told that where the laws be few they leave much to arbitrary power.; but where they be many, they leave more, the laws in this case, according to Justinian and the best lawyers, being as litigious as the suitors. Solon made few, Lycurgus fewer, laws; and commonwealths have the fewest at this day of all other governments.
Now to conclude this part with a word de judiciis, or of the constitution or course of courts; it is a discourse not otherwise capable of being well managed but by particular examples, both the constitution and course of courts being divers in different governments, but best beyond compare in Venice, where they regard not so much the arbitrary power of their courts as the constitution of them, whereby that arbitrary power being altogether unable to retard or do hurt to business, produces and must produce the quickest despatch, and the most righteous dictates of justice that are perhaps in human nature. The manner I shall not stand in this place to describe, because it is exemplified at large in the judicature of the people of Oceana. And thus much of ancient prudence, and the first branch of this preliminary discourse.