Without the virtue of Patriotism, neither Duelius, Regulus, nor Metellus, had delivered Rome by their courage, from the terror of Carthage—nor had the two Scipios, when the fire of the second Punic War was kindled, quenched it in their blood—nor when it revived in greater force, would Fabius have enervated it—nor would Marcellus have reduced it—nor when it was repulsed from the gates of our own city, would Scipio have confined it within the walls of our enemies. (Note I.)
Cato, at first a new and unknown man, whom all we who aspire to the same honours consider as our exemplar in the practice of virtue, was undoubtedly free to enjoy his repose at Tusculum, a most salubrious, and convenient retreat. But this great hero, (whom some, forsooth, suspect of madness) though no necessity compelled him, preferred casting himself into the tempestuous waves of politics, even in extreme old age, to living so luxuriously in that tranquillity and relaxation. I omit innumerable men who have devoted themselves to the protection of our Commonwealth; and those whose lives are within the memory of the present generation, I will not mention them, lest any one should complain that I had invidiously forgotten himself or his family. This only I insist on—so great is the necessity of this patriotism which nature has implanted in man, so great is the ambition to defend the safety of our country, that its energy has continually overcome all the blandishments of pleasure and repose.
Nor is it sufficient to possess this virtue as an art, unless we reduce it to practice. An art, indeed, though not exercised, may still be retained in knowledge; but all virtue consists in its proper use and action. Now the noblest use of virtue is the government of the Commonwealth, and the realization of all those patriotic theories which are discussed in the schools. For nothing is spoken by philosophers, so far as they speak wisely, which has not been discovered and confirmed by those who established the laws of states. For whence comes piety, or whence religion, or whence the law of nations, and the civil law?—whence comes justice, faith, equity?—whence modesty, continence, the horror of baseness, the emulation of praise and renown?—whence fortitude in labours and perils? doubtless, from those, who instilled some of these moral principles by education, and confirmed others by manners, and sanctioned others by laws.
It is reported of Xenocrates, one of the sublimest philosophers, when some one asked him what his disciples learned, that he replied, “they do that of their own accord, which they might be compelled to do by law.” That citizen, therefore, who obliges all to those virtuous actions, by the authority of laws and penalties, to which the philosophers can scarcely persuade a few by the force of their eloquence, is certainly to be preferred to the sagest of the doctors, who spend their lives in discussions. Which of their exquisite orations is so admirable, as a well constituted government, public justice, and popular good manners? Without question, so far as magnificent and imperious cities (to quote Ennius) excel castles and villages; so, I imagine, those who regulate their cities by their counsel and authority, those who are expert in all public business, surpass other men in useful knowledge. And since we are so strongly urged to augment the prosperity of the human race, let us endeavour by our counsels and exertions to render man’s life safer and wealthier. And since we are incited to this blessing, by the spur of nature herself, let us prosecute this glorious enterprize, always so dear to the best men, nor listen for a moment to the seductions of those who sound a retreat so loudly, that they sometimes call back the aspirants who have made considerable advancement.
These reasons, so certain and so evident, are opposed by those, who, on the other side object,—the labours that must necessarily be sustained in maintaining the Commonwealth. These form but a slight impediment to the vigilant and industrious, and a contemptible obstacle not only in these grand affairs, but also in common studies, offices, and employments. They add, the peril of life, that base fear of death, which has ever been opposed by brave men, to whom it appears far more miserable to waste away in inglorious old age, than to embrace an occasion of gallantly sacrificing their lives to their country, which must otherwise be sacrificed to natural decay.
On this point, however, our antagonists esteem themselves copious and eloquent, when they collect all the calamities of heroic men, and the injuries inflicted on them by ungrateful states. Here they bring forward examples borrowed from the Greeks. They tell us that Miltiades, the vanquisher and exterminator of the Persians, with those unrecovered wounds which he had received in his renowned victory, only preserved his life from the weapons of his enemies to be cast into chains by the Athenian citizens. They cite Themistocles, expelled and proscribed by the country he had rescued, who could not find shelter in the Grecian ports he had defended; and was obliged to fly to the bosom of the barbarous power he had defeated. There is, indeed, no deficiency of examples to illustrate the levity and cruelty of the Athenians to their noblest citizens, — examples which originating and multiplying among them, are said at different times to have abounded in our own august empire. Such were the exile of Camillus, the disgrace of Ahala, the unpopularity of Nasica, the expulsion of Lænas, the condemnation of Opimius, the flight of Metellus, the cruel destruction of Marius, the massacre of our chieftains, and the many atrocious crimes which followed. — My own history is by no means free from such calamities, and I imagine, that when they recollect, that by my counsel and perils they were preserved in life and liberty, they will more deeply and tenderly bewail my misfortunes. But I cannot tell why those who sail over the seas for the sake of knowledge and experience, should wonder at seeing still greater hazards braved in the service of the Commonwealth.
Since, on my quitting the consulship, I affirmed in the assembly of the Roman people, who reechoed my words, that I had saved the Commonwealth, I console myself with this remembrance, for all my cares, troubles, and injuries. Indeed, my dismission had more of honour than misfortune, and more of glory than disaster; and I derive greater pleasure from the regrets of good men than sorrow from the exultation of the reprobate. But if it had happened otherwise, why should I complain? Nothing befel me unforseen, or more painful than I expected, as a return for my illustrious actions. I was one, who on occasion, could derive more profit from leisure than most men, on account of the diversified sweetness of my studies, in which I have lived from boyhood. And if any public calamity had happened, I might have borne no more than an equal share in the misfortune. Yet I hesitated not to oppose myself almost alone to the tempests and torrents of sedition, for the sake of preserving the state; and by my own danger, to secure the safety of my fellow–countrymen. For our country did not beget and educate us gratuitously, or without the expectation of receiving our support. She does not afford us so many blessings for nothing, and supply us with a secure refuge for useless idleness and self–indulgence; but rather that she may turn to her own advantage the nobler portion of our genius, heart, and counsel; and give us back for our private service, only what she can spare from her public interests.
Those apologies, therefore, which undertake to furnish us with an easy excuse for living in selfish inactivity, are certainly not worth hearing. They tell us that to meddle with public affairs and popular demagogues, incapable of all goodness, with whom it is disgraceful to mix; and to struggle with the passions of the insensate multitude, is a most miserable and hazardous life. On which account, no wise man will take the reins, since he cannot restrain the insane and unregulated movements of the lower orders. Nor is it acting like a gentleman (say they) thus to contend with antagonists so unwashed and so unrefined (impuris atque immanibus adversariis) or subject yourself to the lashings of contumely, of which the wisest will always have most to bear. As if to virtuous, brave, and magnanimous men, there could be a juster reason for seeking the government than this, that we should not be subjected to scoundrels, nor suffer the commonwealth to be distracted by them, lest we should discover, too late, when we desire to save her, that we are without the power.
But this restriction who can approve, which would interdict the wise man from taking any share in the government, at least if the necessity of circumstances does not compel him to it? Surely no greater necessity can happen to any man than happened to me. In this, how could I have acted if I had not been a Consul? And how could I have been a Consul, unless I had maintained that course of life, even from childhood, which raised me from the order of knights, in which I was born, to the very highest station. You cannot produce extempore, and just when you please, the power of corroborating a commonwealth, whatever be its dangers, unless you have attained the position which enables you to act effectively. And what most surprises me in the discourses of our philosophers, is to hear the same men who confess themselves incapable of steering the vessel of the state in smooth seas, (which indeed they never learnt, and never cared to know,) profess themselves ready to assume the helm amid the fiercest tempests. It is a subject on which they like to talk in an elevated style, and to indulge in a large share of boasting, but they never inquired, nor can they explain the means which conduce to the establishment and the stability of states; and they look on this practical science as foreign to the meditations of sages and philosophers, and leave it to those men, who have made it their especial study. Is it reasonable for men who are so totally devoid of experience, to promise their assistance to the state, when they shall be compelled to it by necessity, while unequal to a much easier task, they know not how to govern, when the state is free from all such perils. Indeed, admitting that the wise man loves not to thrust himself as a matter of choice into the administration of public affairs, but that, if circumstances oblige him to it, he will not refuse the office; yet I think this science of civil legislation should in nowise be neglected by the philosopher, that all those resources may be ready to his hand, which he knows not how soon he may be called on to use.
I have spoken thus at large, for this reason, because this work is a discussion which I have prosecuted on the government of the state; and in order to render it useful, I had first of all to refute this pusillanimous hesitation to negociate public affairs. If there be any, therefore, who are too much influenced by the authority of the philosophers, let them principally attend to those whose glory and wisdom are greatest among learned men. These, I affirm, though they have not personally governed the state, are worthy of our consideration, because by their investigations and writings, they exercised a kind of political magistracy. As to those whom the Greeks entitle “the seven sages,” I find them almost all conversant with public business. Nor indeed is there anything in which human virtue can more closely resemble the divine powers, than by establishing new states, or in preserving those already established.
In these affairs, since it has been our good fortune to achieve something worthy of memorial in the government of our country, and to acquire some facility of explaining the powers and resources of politics, we can treat of this subject with the weight of personal experience, and the habit of instruction and illustration. Whereas before us many skilful in the theory, have not been able to illustrate it by practice; and many practical statesmen have been unfamiliar with the arts of literary exposition. It is not at all our intention to establish a new and self–invented system of government. I wish only to revive the discussion of the most illustrious men of their age in our commonwealth, which you and I, in our youth, when at Smyrna, heard mentioned by Rutilius, who reported to us a conference of many days, in which in my opinion, there was nothing omitted that could throw light on political affairs.
In the year of the consulship of Tuditanus and Aquilius, Scipio Africanus, the son of Paulus Æmilius, formed the project of spending the Latin holidays in his gardens, where his most intimate friends had promised him frequent visits during this season of relaxation. In the morning of the first holiday, his nephew, Quintus Tubero, made his appearance. When Scipio had greeted him heartily, and embraced him,—“How is it my dear Tubero (said he) that I see you so early? These holidays must afford you a capital opportunity of pursuing your favourite studies.” “Ah! (replied Tubero) I can study my books at any time, for they are always disengaged; but it is a great privilege, my Scipio, to find you at leisure, especially in this restless period of public affairs.” “To speak truth (replied Scipio) I am rather relaxing from business than from study.” “Nay, (said Tubero) you must try to relax from your studies too; here are several of us, as we have appointed, all ready, if it suits your convenience, to spend our vacation as sociably as possible.” I am very willing to consent (answered Scipio), and we may be able to compare notes respecting the several topics that interest us.”
“Be it so (said Tubero); and since you invite me to discussion, and present the opportunity, let us first examine, before our friends arrive, what can be the nature of the parhelion, or double sun, which was mentioned in the senate. Those that affirm they witnessed this prodigy, are neither few nor unrespectable, so that there is more reason for investigation than incredulity.” (Note II.)
“Ah! (said Scipio) I wish we had our friend Panœtius with us, who, in the researches of his speculative genius, is beyond measure delighted with these celestial miracles. As for my opinion, Tubero, for I always tell you just what I think, I hardly agree in these subjects with our friend aforesaid, since respecting things of which we can scarcely form a conjecture, he is as positive as if he had seen them with his own eyes, and felt them with his own hands. And I cannot but the more admire the wisdom of Socrates, who disposed of all anxiety respecting things of this kind, and who affirmed that these inquiries concerning the secrets of nature, were either above the efforts of human reason, or of little consequence to human life.”
“But, my Africanus, (replied Tubero) of what credit is this tradition which states that Socrates rejected all these physical investigations, and confined his whole attention to men and manners? In this respect, what better authority can we cite than Plato’s? And in many passages of his works, Socrates speaks in a very different manner, and even in his discussions respecting morals, and virtues, and politics, he endeavours to interweave, after the fashion of Pythagoras, the doctrines of arithmetic, geometry, and harmonic proportions.”
“That is true, replied Scipio; but you are aware, I believe, that Plato, after the death of Socrates, was induced to visit Egypt, by his love of science, and next Italy and Sicily, by his desire of understanding the Pythagorean dogmas; that he conversed much with Archytas of Tarentum, and Timæus of Locris; that he collected the works of Philolaus; and that finding in these places the renown of Pythagoras flourishing, he addicted himself exceedingly to these Pythagoreans and their studies; yet as he loved Socrates with his whole heart, and wished to attribute all great discoveries to him, he interwove the Socratic elegance and subtlety of eloquence, with somewhat of the obscurity of Pythagoras, and the gravity of his diversified arts.”
When Scipio had spoken thus, he saw Furius approaching, and saluting him, and embracing him most affectionately, he gave him a seat at his side. He then observed Rutilius, the worthy reporter of the conference to us, and when he had saluted him, he placed him by the side of Tubero. “Pray do not let us disturb you (said Furius), I am afraid our entrance has interrupted your conversation.” “By no means (said Scipio), for you are yourself a studious truth–searcher in the subjects on which Tubero was making some inquiries; and our friend Rutilius, at the siege of Numantia, used to converse with me on the same questions.” “What then was the subject of your discussion (said Philus).” “We were talking (said Scipio) of the double suns that recently appeared, and I wish, my Philus, to hear what you think of them.”
Just as he was speaking, a boy announced that Lælius was coming to call on him, and that he had already left his house. Scipio, putting on his sandals and robes, immediately quitted his seat, and had hardly passed the portico, when he met Lælius, and welcomed him and those that accompanied him. They were Spurius, Mummius, an intimate friend of Scipio; C. Fannius, and Quintus Scavola, sons–in–law of Lælius, two very intelligent young men, twenty–five years of age.
When he had saluted them all, he returned through the portico, placing Lælius in the middle, for there was in their friendship a law of reciprocal courtesy. In the camp, Lælius paid Scipio almost divine honours, on account of his African conquests; and in private life, Scipio reverenced Lælius, even as a father, in regard of his advanced age.
After they had exchanged a few words, as they walked up and down, Scipio, to whom their visit was extremely agreeable, wished to assemble them in a sunny corner of the gardens, for the weather was still rather wintry. When they had agreed to this, there came in another friend, a learned and gentlemanly man, beloved by all of them, M. Manilius. After being most warmly welcomed by Scipio and the rest, he seated himself next to Lælius.
Then Philus commencing the conversation,—“It does not appear to me (said he) that the presence of our new guests, need alter the subject of our discussion, but should only induce us to treat it more philosophically, and in a manner more worthy of our increased audience.” “What do you allude to?” said Lælius. “What was the discussion we broke in upon?” “Scipio was asking me (replied Philus), what I thought of the parhelion, or mock sun, whose recent apparition was so strongly attested.”
—An interesting question, no doubt, my Philus; but have we sufficiently examined the affairs of our own Commonwealth and our own families, that we begin to investigate these celestial mysteries?
—Do you think, then, that our friends are not concerned in the events that happen in that vast home, which is not included in walls of human fabrication, but which embraces the entire universe—a home which the gods share with us, as the common country of all intelligent beings? We cannot be ignorant of these things, without renouncing many great practical truths which result from them, and which bear directly on the welfare of our race. And here I can speak for myself, as well as for you, Lælius, and all men of intellect, ambitious of wisdom, that the knowledge and consideration of these grand mysteries of nature are unspeakably delightful.
—I have no objection to the discussion, especially as it is holiday time with us. Cannot we have the pleasure of hearing you resume it, or are we come too late?
—We have hardly yet commenced the discussion, and the question remains entire and unbroken; and I shall have the greatest pleasure, my Lælius, in handing over the argument to you.
—No, I had much rather hear you, unless, indeed, Manilius thinks himself able to compromise the suit between the two suns, that they may possess heaven as joint sovereigns, without intruding on each others’ empire.
—Ah, Lælius, I am afraid you will never cease to ridicule a science in which I once thought myself skilful; and without which no one can distinguish his own from another’s. But to return to the point.—Let us now hear Philus, who seems to me to have started a greater question than any of those that have engaged either Mucius or myself.
—I can offer you, I fear, no new light, for I have made no fresh discoveries in the question at issue. But I will tell you what I have heard from Sulpicius Gallus, who was a man of profound learning, as you are aware. Listening one day to the recital of a similar prodigy, in the house of Marcellus, who had been his colleague in the consulship; he asked to see a celestial globe, which Marcellus’s grandfather had saved after the capture of Syracuse, from this magnificent and opulent city, without bringing home any other memorial of so great a victory. I had often heard this celestial globe or sphere mentioned on account of the great fame of Archimedes. Its appearance, however, did not seem to me particularly striking. There is another, more elegant in form, and more generally known, moulded by the same Archimedes, and deposited by the same Marcellus, in the Temple of Virtue at Rome. But as soon as Gallus had began to explain, by his sublime science, the composition of this machine, I felt that the Sicilian geometrician must have possessed a genius superior to any thing we usually conceive to belong to our nature. Gallus assured us, that the solid and compact globe, was a very ancient invention, and that the first model of it had been presented by Thales of Miletus. That afterwards Eudoxus of Cnidus, a disciple of Plato, had traced on its surface the stars that appear in the sky, and that many years subsequent, borrowing from Eudoxus this beautiful design and representation, Aratus had illustrated them in his verses, not by any science of astronomy, but the ornament of poetic description. He added, that the figure of the sphere, which displayed the motions of the sun and moon, and the five planets, or wandering stars, could not be represented by the primitive solid globe. And that in this, the invention of Archimedes was admirable, because he had calculated how a single revolution should maintain unequal and diversified progressions in dissimilar motions (quod excogitasset quemadmodum in dissimillis motibus, inæquales et varios cursus servaret una conversio.) In fact, when Gallus moved this sphere or planetarium, we observed the moon distanced the sun as many degrees by a turn of the wheel in the machine, as she does in so many days in the heavens. From whence it resulted, that the progress of the sun was marked as in the heavens, and that the moon touched the point where she is obscured by the earth’s shadow at the instant the sun appears above the horizon. (Note III.)
—I had myself a great affection for this Gallus, and I know he stood very high in the estimation of my father Paulus. I recollect in my early youth, when my father, as consul, commanded in Macedonia, and we were in the camp, our army was seized with a pious terror, because that suddenly, in a clear night, the bright and full moon became eclipsed. Gallus, who was then our lieutenant, the year before that in which he was declared consul, hesitated not, next morning, to state in the camp that it was no prodigy, and that the phenomenon which had then appeared would always appear at certain periods, when the sun was so placed that he could not affect the moon with his light.
—Did he succeed in conveying his philosophic doctrine to the rude soldiery? Did he venture to say as much to men so uninstructed, and so fierce?
—He did,—and with great credit too; for his opinion was no result of insolent ostentation, nor was his declaration unbecoming the dignity of so learned a man,—indeed, he achieved a very noble action in thus freeing his countrymen from the terrors of an idle superstition. They relate in a similar way, that in the great war, in which the Athenians and Lacedæmonians contended with such violent resentment, the famous Pericles, the first man of his country, in credit, eloquence, and political genius, observing the Athenians overwhelmed with an excessive alarm, during an eclipse of the sun, which cast a universal shadow, told them what he had learned in the school of Anaxagoras, that these phenomena necessarily happened at precise and regular periods when the body of the moon was interposed between the sun and the earth, and that if they happened not before every new moon, it was because they could only happen when the new moons fell at certain specific periods. Having evinced this truth by his reasonings, he freed the people from their alarms. At that period, indeed, the doctrine was new and unfamiliar, respecting the eclipse of the sun by the interposition of the moon. They say that Thales of Miletus, was the first to discover it. Afterwards our Ennius appears to have been acquainted with the same theory, for he wrote in the 350th year of Rome’s foundation, that in the nones of June, Soli luna obstitit et nox—“the sun was covered by the moon and night.” The calculations of astronomic art have attained such perfection, indeed, in this respect, that from that day, thus described to us by Ennius, and the pontifical registers, the anterior eclipses of the sun have been computed as far back as the nones of July in the reign of Romulus, when that eclipse took place, in whose portentous obscurity, it was affirmed that Virtue bore Romulus to heaven, in spite of the perishable nature, which urged him to the common fate of humanity.
—Don’t you think then, Scipio, that this astronomic science, which every day proves so useful, is worthy of being taught in our schools?
—No doubt. This study may furnish philosophers with sublime ideas. So sublime indeed, that to him who penetrates this starry empire of the gods, the affairs of man may seem almost despicable. Can the things of time appear durable to him who estimates the nature of eternity? What earthly glory can interest him who is aware of the insignificance of the planet we call ours, even in its whole extent, and especially in the portion which men inhabit! and when we consider that almost imperceptible point which we ourselves occupy, unknown to the majority of nations, can we hope that our name and reputation can be widely circulated? And then our estates and edifices, our cattle, and the enormous treasures of our gold and silver, can they be esteemed or denominated as desirable goods by him, who observes their perishable profit, and their contemptible use and their uncertain domination, often falling into the possession of the very worst men? We should then esteem none so happy as the man, who, not by the law of the Romans, but by the privilege of philosophers, could enjoy all things as his own; not by any civil bond, but by the common right of nature, which denies that property can really be possessed by any but him who understands its true nature and service—the man who reckons our dictatorships and consulships rather in the rank of necessary offices than desirable employments, and thinks they must be endured rather as acquittances of our debt to our country, than sought for the sake of glory and emolument—the man, in short, who can assume to himself the sentence which Cato tells us, my ancestor Africanus loved to repeat, “that he was never so busy as when he did nothing, and never less solitary than when alone.”
Who can believe that Dionysius, when after a thousand efforts he ravished from his fellow citizens their liberty, had performed a nobler work than Archimedes, when, without pretence or apparent exertion, he manufactured the planetarium we were just describing. Surely those are more solitary, who, in the midst of a croud, find no one with whom they can converse congenially, than those, who, without witnesses, hold communion with themselves, and enter into the secret counsels of the sagest philosophers, while they delight themselves in their writings and discoveries. Who can be esteemed richer than the man who wants nothing which nature requires, or more powerful than he who attains all she desiderates; or happier than he who is free from all mental perturbation; or more secure in future than he who carries all his property in himself which is thus secured from shipwreck? And what power, what magistracy, what royalty can be preferred to a wisdom, which, looking down on all terrestrial objects as low and transitory things, incessantly directs its attention to eternal and immutable verities, and which is persuaded that though others are called men, none are really so but those who have cultivated the appropriate acts of humanity?
In this sense an expression of Plato, or some other philosopher, appears to me exceedingly elegant. A tempest having driven his ship on an unknown country and a desolate shore, during the alarms with which their ignorance of the region inspired his companions, he observed (they say) geometrical figures traced in the sand, on which he immediately told them to be of good cheer, for he had observed the indications of Man. A conjecture he deduced, not from the cultivation of the soil, but from the symbols of science. For this reason, Tubero, learning and learned men, and these your favourite studies, have always particularly pleased me.
—I cannot venture, Scipio, to reply to your arguments, or to maintain the discussion either against you, Philus, or Manilius. We had a friend in Tubero’s family, who in these respects may serve him as a model.
“Sextus so wise, and ever on his guard.”
Wise and cautious indeed he was, as Ennius justly describes him—not that he searched for what he could never find, but because he knew how to answer those who prayed for deliverance from cares and difficulties. It is he who, reasoning against the astronomical studies of Gallus, frequently repeated these words of Achilles in the Iphigenia.
- “They note the astrologic signs of heaven,
- Whene’er the goats or scorpions of great Jove,
- Or other monstrous names of brutal forms
- Rise in the Zodiac; but not one regards
- The sensible facts of earth, on which we tread,
- While gazing on these starry prodigies.”
He used, however, to say (and I have often listened to him with pleasure) that we should avoid extreme opinions on this as on every other subject; and that for his part he thought that Zethus, in the piece of Pacuvius, was too inimical to learning. He much preferred the Neoptolemus of Ennius, who professes himself desirous of philosophizing, provided it be in moderation, so as to leave us tolerably free for practical affairs. Though the studies of the Greeks have so many charms for you, there are others, perhaps, nobler and more extensive, which we may be better able to apply to the service of real life, and even to political affairs. As to these abstract sciences, their utility, if they possess any, lies principally in exciting and stimulating the abilities of youth, so that they more easily acquire more important accomplishments.
—I do not mean to question your principle, Lælius; but pray, what do you call more important studies?
—I will tell you, frankly, though perhaps you will think lightly of my opinion, since you appeared so eager in interrogating Scipio respecting the celestial phenomena; and I happen to think that those things which are every day before our eyes, are more particularly deserving of our attention. Why should the child of Paulus Æmilius, the nephew of Æmilius, the descendant of such a noble family, and so glorious a Republic, inquire how there could be two suns in heaven, and not inquire how there can be two senates in one Commonwealth, and as it were, two distinct peoples? For you see the death of Tiberius Gracchus, and the whole system of his tribuneship divided one people into two parties. The slanderers and the enemies of Scipio, encouraged by P. Crassus and Appius Claudius, maintained, after the death of these two chiefs, a division of nearly half the senate, under the influence of Metellus and Mucius. Nor would they permit the man who alone could be of service to help us out of our difficulties during the movement of the Latins and their allies towards rebellion, violating all our treaties in the presence of factious triumvirs, and creating every day some fresh intrigue, to the disturbance of the worthier and wealthier citizens. This is the reason, young men, if you will listen to me, why you should regard this new sun with less alarm; for, whether it does exist, or whether it does not exist, it is as you see, quite harmless to us. As to the manner of its existence, we can know little or nothing; and even if we obtained the most perfect understanding of it, this knowledge would make us but little wiser or happier. But whether there should exist a united people and a united senate, this is a question within the compass of our powers. Now it is not an imaginary but a real trouble, if this political union exists not—and that it does not we are aware; and we see that if it can be effected, our lives will be both better and happier. (Senatum vero, et populum ut unum habeamus, et fieri potest; et permolestum est nisi fit; et secus esse scimus, et videmus si id effectum sit, et melius nos esse victuros et beatius.)
—What, then, do you consider, my Lælius, should be our best arguments, in endeavouring to bring about the object of your wishes?
—Those sciences and arts which teach us how we may be most useful to the state; for it is, methinks, the most glorious benefit of wisdom, and the noblest testimony of virtue, to achieve the triumphs of patriotism. Let us, therefore, consecrate these holidays to conversations which may be profitable to the Commonwealth, and beg Scipio to explain to us what in his estimation appears to be the best form of government. (Optimum statum civitatis.) Then let us pass on to other points, the knowledge of which may lead us to sound political views, and unfold the causes of the dangers which now threaten us.
When Philus, Manilius, and Mummius had all expressed their approbation of this idea, Lælius added—“I have ventured to open our discussion in this way, because it is but just that on state politics the first governor of the state should speak before the rest; and besides, I recollect that you, Scipio, were formerly in the habit of conversing with Panætius and Polybius, two Greeks, exceedingly learned in these political questions, and that you can collect and expound what the best condition of that government is which our ancestors have handed down to us. If you, therefore, familiar as you are with this subject, will explain to us your views respecting the policy of the state (I speak for my friends as well as myself), we shall feel exceedingly obliged to you.
—I must acknowledge that there is no subject of meditation to which my mind naturally turns with more ardour and intensity, than this which Lælius has proposed to us. And indeed since, in every profession, every artist who would distinguish himself, studies and toils to gain perfection in his art, I whose main business, according to the example of my father and my ancestors, is the advancement and right administration of government, would not be more indolent than common mechanics, and this must be the case, if I bestowed on this noblest of sciences less attention and labour than they devote to their vulgar craftships. In this science of politics, however, I am not quite satisfied with the decisions which the greatest and wisest men of Greece have left us; nor, on the other hand, do I venture to prefer my own opinions to theirs. Therefore, I must request you not to consider me either entirely ignorant of the Grecian literature, nor yet disposed, especially in political questions, to yield it the pre–eminence over our own; rather regard me as a true–born Roman, not illiberally instructed by the diligence of my noble ancestry, kindled with the desire of knowledge, even from my boyhood, yet more familiar with domestic precepts and practices than the literature of books.
—I believe, my Scipio, that few excel you in natural genius, and that you are surpassed by none in the practical experience of national government. We are also acquainted with the extensive course of your studies; and if, as you say, you have given so much attention to this science and art of politics, we cannot be too much obliged to Lælius for introducing the subject; and I trust that your ideas on the management of public affairs will be far more useful and available than any thing the Greeks have written for us.
—You are drawing a most critical attention upon my discourse, and that expectation of something admirable, which is sometimes rather oppressive to a man who is required to discuss grave subjects so little capable of ornament.
—Whatever be the difficulty, my Scipio, you will be sure to conquer it, since you have formed such a habit of victory. You, of all men, need fear no deficiency of eloquence, when you speak on the affairs of our Commonwealth.
—I will do what you wish, as far as I can; and I shall enter into the discussion under favour of that rule, which should be used by all in disputations of this kind, if they wish to avoid being misunderstood. When men have agreed respecting the proper name of the matter under discussion, it should be stated what that name exactly means, and what it legitimately includes. Thus our minds become fixed on the precise point of definition, and embrace the whole subject of investigation. It is impossible, without understanding the nature of the question at issue, to comprehend its scope and its diversified bearings. Since then, our investigations relate to the Commonwealth, we must first examine what this name properly signifies.
Lælius made a sign of approbation, and Scipio continued. I shall not adopt (said he) in so clear and simple a matter that system of discussion which goes back to first origins. This, indeed, is the ordinary practice of our philosophers, who, after they have informed us of the primitive institution and relation of the two sexes, pass on to the first birth and formation of the first family, describing as they proceed the essences and the modes of every noun–substantive they employ. Speaking to cultivated men who have acted with the greatest glory in the Commonwealth, both in peace and war, I will not suppose that the subject under discussion can be made clearer by my explanation. Nor have I entered on it with any design of examining its minuter points, like a pedagogue, nor will I promise you in the following discourse not to omit many insignificant particulars.
—For my part, I am impatient for the exact kind of disquisition you promise us.
—Well then,—A commonwealth is a constitution of the entire people.—The people, however, is not every association of men, however congregated, but the association of the entire number, bound together by the compact of justice, and the communication of utility. The first cause of this association is not so much the weakness of man, as the spirit of association which naturally belongs to him—For the human race, is not a race of isolated individuals, wandering and solitary; but it is so constituted for sociality, that even in the affluence of all things, and without any need of reciprocal assistance, it spontaneously seeks society.
It is necessary to pre–suppose these original germs of sociality, since we cannot discover any primal convention or compact, which gave rise to constitutional patriotism, any more than the other virtues. These unions, formed by the principle I have mentioned, established their head quarters in certain central positions, for the convenience of the whole population, and having fortified them by natural and artificial means, they called this collection of houses, a city or town, distinguished by temples and public courts. Every people, therefore, which consists, as I have said, of the association of the entire multitude;—every city, which consists of an assemblage of the people,—and every Commonwealth, which embraces every member of these associations, must be regulated by a certain authority, in order to be permanent.
This intelligent authority should always refer itself to that grand first principle which constituted the Commonwealth. It must be deposited in the hands of one monarch; be entrusted to the administration of certain delegated rulers; or be undertaken by the whole multitude. When the direction of all depends on one monarch, we call this individual a king, and this form of political constitution, a kingdom. When it is in the power of privileged delegates, the state is said to be ruled by an aristocracy; and when the people are all in all, they call it a democracy, or popular constitution. If the tie of social affection, which originally united men in political associations for the sake of public interest, maintains its force, each of these forms of government is, I will not say perfect, nor, in my opinion, essentially good, but tolerable and susceptible of preference. For whether it be a just and wise king, or a selection of the most eminent citizens, or even the mixed populace; (though this is the least commendable) either may, saving the interference of crime and cupidity, form a constitution sufficiently secure.
In a monarchy, the other members of the state are often too much deprived of public counsel and jurisdiction; and under the rule of an aristocracy, the multitude can hardly possess its due share of liberty, since it is allowed no public deliberation or influence. And when all things are carried by a democracy, although it be just and moderate, its very equality is a culpable levelling, since it allows no gradations of dignity. Therefore, if Cyrus, that most righteous and wise king of the Persians, was our own monarch, I should insist on the interest of the people (properly so called)—for this is the same as the public welfare, and this, methinks, cannot be very effectually promoted, when all things depend on the beck and nod of one individual. And though at present the people of Marseilles, our clients, are governed with the greatest justice by some of the principal aristocrats, there is always in this condition of the people a certain appearance of servitude; and when the Athenians, at a certain period, having demolished their Areopagus or senate, conducted all public affairs by the acts and decrees of the democracy, their state no longer containing a distinguished gradation of dignities, lost its fairest ornament.
I have reasoned thus on the three forms of government, not looking on them in their disorganized and confused conditions, but in their proper and regular administration. These three particular forms, however, contained in themselves from the first, the faults and defects I have mentioned, but they have still more dangerous vices, for there is not one of these three forms of government, which has not a precipitous and slippery passage down to some proximate abuse. For after that king, whom I have called most admirable, or if you please most endurable—after the amiable Cyrus, we behold the barbarous Phalaris, that model of tyranny, to which the monarchical authority is easily abused by a facile and natural inclination. Alongside of the wise aristocracy of Marseilles, we might exhibit the oligarchical faction of the thirty despots, which once existed at Athens. And among the same Athenians, we can shew you, that when unlimited power was cast into the hands of the people, it inflamed the fury of the multitude, and aggravated that universal licence which ruined their state.
The worst condition of things sometimes results from a confusion of those factious tyrannies, into which kings, aristocrats, and democrats, are apt to degenerate. For thus, from these diverse elements, there occasionally arises a new kind of government. And wonderful indeed are the concatenations and periodical returns in natural constitutions of such revolutions and vicissitudes. It is the part of the wise politican to investigate these with the closest attention. But to calculate their approach, and to join to this foresight the skill which moderates the course of events, and retains in a steady hand the reins of that authority which safely conducts the people through all the dangers to which they expose themselves, is the work of the most illustrious citizen, or a man of almost divine genius.
There is a fourth kind of government, therefore, which, in my opinion is preferable to all these; it is that mixed and moderated government, which is composed of the three particular forms I have before noticed. (Itaque quartum quoddam genus reipublicæ maxime probandum esse sentio, quod est ex his, quæ prima dixi, moderatum et permixtum tribus.)
—I am not ignorant, Scipio, that such is your preference, for I have often heard you say so. But I do not the less desire, since we may not be able to attain this mixed government, if it is not giving you too much trouble, to hear your opinion as to the comparative value of the three particular forms of political constitutions.
—Why, as to that, the value of each form of government must be measured, partly by its own nature, partly by the will of the power which sways it. The advocates of democracy tell us, that no other constitution than that in which the people exercise sovereign power, can be the abode of liberty, which is certainly a most desirable blessing. Now that cannot be liberty, which is not equally established for all. And how can there be this character of equality, say they, under that monarchy where slavery is open and undisguised, or even in those constitutions in which the people seem free, but actually are so in words only? They give their suffrages indeed, they delegate authorities, they dispose of magistracies; but yet they only grant those things which, nolens volens, they are obliged to grant; things that are not really in their free power, and which it is vain to expect from them. For they are not themselves admitted to the government, to the exercise of public authority, or to offices of magistrates, which are permitted to those only of ancient families and large fortunes. But in a democratical constitution, where all is free, as among the Rhodians and Athenians, every citizen may compass every thing.
According to these advocates of democracy, no sooner is one man, or several, elevated by wealth and power, which produce pomp and pride, than the idle and the timid give way, and bow down to the arrogance of riches. They add, on the contrary, that if the people knew how to maintain its rights, nothing could be more glorious and prosperous than democracy. They themselves would be the sovereign dispensers of laws, judgments, war, peace, public treaties, and finally, the fortune and life of each individual citizen; and this condition of things is the only one which, in their opinion, can be called a Commonwealth, that is to say, a constitution of the people. It is by this principle that, according to them, a people sometimes vindicates its liberty from the domination of kings and nobles, for kings are not requisite to free peoples, nor the power and wealth of aristocracies. They deny, moreover, that it is fair to reject this general constitution of freemen, on account of the vices of the unbridled populace. They say that if this democracy be united, and directs all its efforts to the safety and freedom of the community, nothing can be stronger or more durable. They assert that this necessary union is easily obtained in a republic so constituted as to promote the same interest for all; while the conflicting interests that prevail in other constitutions, inevitably produce factions. Thus, say they, when the senate had the ascendency, the republic had no stability; and when kings possess the power, this blessing is still more rare, as Ennius expresses it—
“In kingdoms there’s no faith, and little love.”
Now, since the law is the bond of civil society, and the justice of the law equal, by what rule can the association of citizens be held together, if it be not by the equal condition of the citizens? If the fortunes of men cannot be reduced to this equality — if genius cannot be equally the property of all — rights at least should be equal, among those who are citizens of the same republic. For what is a republic, but an association of rights?
As to the other political constitutions, these democratical advocates do not think they are worthy of being distinguished by the names they bear. For why, say they, should we apply the name of king, the title of Jupiter the Beneficent, to a man ambitious of sole authority and power, lording it over a degraded multitude. No, let us rather call him a tyrant, for a tyrant is sometimes as merciful as a king is sometimes oppressive. The whole question for the people to consider is, whether they shall serve an indulgent master, or a cruel one, if serve some one they must. How could Sparta, at the period of the boasted superiority of her political institution, obtain just and virtuous kings, when they necessarily received an hereditary monarch, good, bad, or indifferent, because he happened to be of the blood royal. As to aristocrats, Who will endure, say they, that men should distinguish themselves by such a title, and that not by the voice of the people, but by their own votes? Who indeed shall judge, who is the aristocrat, or best authority either in learning, sciences, or arts?
These democratical pleaders do not understand the nature or importance of a well–constituted aristocracy. If the state chooses its ruler by haphazard, it will be as easily upset as a vessel, if you chose a pilot by lots from the passengers. If a people is free, it will choose those on whom it can rely, not by the accident of a die, but by the conviction of experience; and if it desires its own preservation, it will always choose the noblest. It is in the counsel of the aristocracy that the safety of the state consists, especially as nature has not only appointed that these superior men should excel the weaker sort in high virtue and courage, but has inspired the people also with the desire of obedience towards these, their natural lords. But they say this aristocratical state is destroyed by the depraved opinions of men, who through ignorance of virtue, (which, as it belongs to few, can be discerned and appreciated by few,) imagine that rich and powerful men, because they are nobly born, are necessarily the best. When, through this popular error, the power, not the virtue of certain men, has taken possession of the state, these men obstinately retain the title of nobles though they want the essence of nobility. For riches, fame, and power, without wisdom, and a just method of regulating ourselves and commanding others, are full of discredit and insolent arrogance; nor is there any kind of government more deformed than that in which the wealthiest are regarded as the noblest.
But (say the advocates of kings and monarchies) when virtue governs the Commonwealth what can be more glorious? When he who commands the rest is himself enslaved by no lust or passion—when he himself exhibits all the merits to which he incites and educates the citizens—such a man imposes no law on the people which he does not himself observe, but he presents his life as a living law to his fellow–countrymen. If a single individual could thus suffice for all, there would be no need of more; and if the community could find a chief ruler thus worthy of all their suffrages, none would require delegated authorities.
The difficulty of conducting politics, transferred the government from a king into the hands of noblemen. The error and temerity of the people likewise transferred it from the hands of the many into those of the few. Thus, between the weakness of the monarch, and the rashness of the multitude, the aristocrats have occupied the middle place, than which nothing can be better arranged; and while they superintend the public interest, the people necessarily enjoy the greatest possible prosperity, being free from all care and anxiety, having entrusted their security to others, who ought sedulously to defend it, and not allow the people to suspect that their advantages are neglected by their rulers.
As to that equality of rights which democracies so loudly boast of, it can never be maintained; for the people themselves, so dissolute and so unbridled, are always inclined to flatter a number of demagogues; and there is in them a very great partiality for certain men and dignities, so that their pretended equality becomes most unfair and iniquitous. For if the same honour is rendered to the most noble and the most infamous, the equity they eulogize becomes most inequitable,—an evil which can never happen in those states which are governed by aristocracies. These reasonings, my Lælius, and some others of the same kind, are usually brought forward by those that so highly extol this form of political constitution.
—But you have not told us, Scipio, which of these three forms of government you yourself most approve.
—It is vain to ask me which of the three I most approve, for there is not one of them which I approve at all by itself, since, as I told you, I prefer that government which is mixed and composed of all these forms, to any one of them taken separately. But if I must confine myself to one of these particular forms simply and exclusively, I must confess I prefer the royal or monarchical, and extol it as the first and best. In this, which I here choose to call the primitive form of government, I find the title of father attached to that of king, to express that he watches over the citizens as over his children, and endeavours rather to preserve them in freedom than reduce them to slavery. Hence the little and the weak are in a manner sustained by this protecting superintendence of a monarch so great and so beneficent. But here we meet the noblemen who profess that they can do all this in much better style, for they say there is much more wisdom in many than in one, and at least as much faith and equity. And, last of all, come the people, who cry with a loud voice, that they will render obedience neither to the one nor the few; that even to brute beasts nothing is so dear as liberty; and that whether they serve kings or nobles, men are deprived of it. Thus, the kings attract us by affection, the nobles by talent, the people by liberty; and in the comparison it is hard to choose the best.
—I think so too, but yet it is impossible to despatch the other branches of the question, if you leave this primary point undetermined.
—We must then, I suppose, imitate Aratus, who, when he prepared himself to treat of great things, thought himself in duty bound to begin with Jupiter.
—Wherefore Jupiter? and what has our discourse to do with the poem of Aratus?
—Why it serves to teach us that we cannot better commence our investigations than by invoking Him, whom, with one voice, both learned and unlearned extol as the king universal of gods and mortals.
—Why do you notice this so earnestly?
—Because it bears directly on our present political discussion. If the legislators of states have thus enforced, for the benefit of society, the belief that there exists a Universal Monarch in heaven, at whose nod, (as Homer expresses) all Olympus trembles—and who is both king and father of all creatures—you may observe how great is this authority, and how multitudinous the witnesses which attest that nations have unanimously recognized, by the decrees of their chiefs, that nothing is better than a king, since all the gods consent to be governed by a monarchical deity. And lest we should suspect that this opinion rests on the error of the ignorant, and should be classed among the fables, let us hear those universal testimonies of erudite men, who have seen with their eyes those things which we can hardly attain by report.
—What men do you mean?
—Those who, by the investigation of nature, have arrived at the opinion that the whole universe is animated by a single Mind. But if you please, my Lælius, I will bring forward those evidences, which are neither too ancient, nor too far–fetched.
—These are the ones I want.
—You are aware, that scarcely four centuries have elapsed, since our own city Rome lost her kings.
—You are correct, it is scarcely four centuries.
—Well then, what are four centuries in the age of a state or city—is it a long duration?
—It hardly amounts to the age of maturity.
—You say truly, and yet not four centuries have elapsed since there was a king in Rome.
—Aye, but that was Tarquinius Superbus, the infamous.
—But who was his predecessor?
—He was Servius Tullius, who was admirably just, and, indeed, we must bestow the same praise on all his predecessors, even to our founder Romulus, who reigned about six centuries ago.
—Even he is not very ancient.
—No, he reigned, when Greece was already ageing.
—Agreed. But was not Romulus, think you, a king of a barbarous people?
—Why, as to that, if we were to follow the example of the Greeks, who say that all peoples are either Grecianized or barbarous, we must confess that he was a king of barbarians; but if this name belongs rather to manners than to languages, I believe the Greeks were just as barbarous as the Romans.
—The testimony, however, we most require in the present argument, is rather that of enlightened minds than popular prejudices; and if intelligent men, at a period so little remote, desired the government of kings, you will confess I have found authorities that are neither antiquated, rude, nor insignificant.
—I see, Scipio, that you have no lack of authorities; but with me, as with every fair judge, authorities are worth less than arguments.
—Then, Lælius, I shall make use of an argument derived from yourself and your own experience.
—What experience do you allude to?
—The experience you prove when you happen to feel angry with any one.
—That happens rather oftener than I could wish.
—Well, then, when you are angry, do you permit your anger to triumph over your judgment?
—No, by Hercules! I imitate that Archytas of Tarentum, who, when he came to his villa, and found all its arrangements were contrary to his orders, he said to his steward—“Ah, you unlucky scoundrel, I would flog you to death, if it was not that I am in a rage with you.”
—Capital—thus Archytas regarded unreasonable anger as a kind of sedition and rebellion of nature, which he sought to appease by reflection. And so, if we examine avarice, the ambition of power and glory, or the lusts of concupiscence and licentiousness, we shall find a certain conscience in the mind of man, which, like a king sways by the force of counsel all the inferior faculties and propensities; and this, in truth, is the noblest portion of our nature, for when conscience reigns, it allows no resting place to lust, violence, or temerity.
—You have spoken the truth.
—Well then, does a mind thus governed and regulated, meet your approbation?
—More than any thing upon earth.
—Then you do not approve that the evil passions, which are innumerable, should expel conscience, and that lusts and animal propensities should assume the ascendency over us?
—For my part, I can conceive nothing more wretched than a mind thus degraded, and the man animated by a soul so licentious.
—You desire, then, that all the faculties of the mind should submit to a ruling power, and that conscience should reign over them all?
—Certainly, that is my wish.
—How then can you doubt that the monarchical form of government is superior to the aristocratic and the democratic, since the immediate consequence of throwing the affairs of state into many hands, is the want of one presiding authority? for if power is not united, it soon comes to nothing—(intelligi jam licet, nullum fore quod præsit imperium, quod quidem nisi unum sit, esse nullum protest).
—But, which would you prefer, the one or the many, if justice were equally found in the plurality?
—Since I see, my Lælius, that the authorities I have adduced have no great influence on you, I must continue to employ you yourself as my witness in proof of what I say.
—In what way are you going to make me again support your argument?
—Why thus.—I recollect when we were lately at Fermiæ, that you told your servants repeatedly not to obey the orders of more than one master.
—To be sure, my own steward.
—And at Rome, do you commit your affairs to the hands of many?
—No, I trust them to myself alone.
—What, in your whole establishment, is there no other master but yourself?
—Then I think you must grant me that as respects the state, the government of monarchs, provided they are just, is superior to any other.
—You have conducted me to this conclusion, and I entertain pretty nearly the same opinion.
—You would still further agree with me, my Lælius, if, omitting the common observation, that one pilot is better fitted to steer a ship, and one physician to treat an invalid, than many could be, I should come at once to more illustrious examples.
—What examples do you mean?
—Don’t you observe that it was the cruelty and pride of Tarquin, a single individual, only, that made the title of king unpopular among the Romans?
—Yes, I acknowledge that.
—You are also aware, as I shall demonstrate in the course of our discussion, that the people, on expulsion of their King Tarquin, was transported by a wonderful excess of liberalism. Then, unjust banishments, the pillage of many estates, annual consulships, public authorities overawed by mobs, popular appeals in all cases imaginable; then the secession of the lower orders; and lastly, those proceedings which tended to place all powers in the hands of the populace.
—I must confess this is all too true.
—All these things happened during the periods of peace and tranquillity, for licence is wont to prevail when there is little to fear, as in a calm navigation, or a trifling disease. But as we observe, the voyager and the invalid implore the aid of some one competent director, as soon as the sea grows stormy, and the disease alarming, so our nation in peace and security, commanded, threatened, annulled, repealed, and insulted their magistrates, but in war obeyed them as strictly as they had done their kings, for public safety is after all rather more valuable than popular licence. In the most serious war, we should also notice, our Romans seemed to rally back to their monarchical notions, for they resolved that the entire command should be deposited in the hands of some single chief, without being divided and mutilated by the rival authority of a colleague. In fact, the very name of this chief indicates the absolute character of his power. For though the appellation of Dictator is evidently derived from the ipse dixit, or decision of the consul, yet do we still observe him, my Lælius, in our sacred books entitled “Magister Populi,” the master of the people.
—This is certainly the case.
—Our ancestors, therefore, acted wisely in extolling the inestimable value of a just king to the Commonwealth. For when the people is deprived of a just king, as Ennius says, after the death of one of the best of monarchs,
- “They hold his memory dear, and in the warmth
- Of their discourse, they cry—O Romulus!
- O prince divine, sprung from the might of Mars
- To be thy country’s guardian! O our Sire!
- Be our protector still, O heaven–begot!”
Our Romans, indeed, conceived no title too magnificent for their patriotic monarchs. Not heroes, nor lords alone, did they call those whom they lawfully obeyed; nor merely as kings did they proclaim them; but they pronounced them their country’s guardians, their fathers, and their gods. Nor indeed without cause, for they added—
“Thou Prince, hast brought us to the gates of light.”
And truly they believed that life and honour had arisen to them from the justice of the king they loved. The same good–will would doubtless have remained in their descendants, if the same virtues had been preserved on the throne, but as you see, by injustice, the monarchical government of our state fell into ruin.
—I see it indeed, and I long to know the history of these political revolutions in our own Commonwealth, and in many others.
—When I shall have explained my opinion respecting the form of government which I prefer, I shall be able to speak to you more accurately respecting the revolutions of states, though I think there is little danger of them in the mixed form of government which I recommend. With respect, however, to absolute monarchy, it presents an inherent and invincible tendency to revolution. No sooner does a king begin to be unjust, than this entire form of government is demolished, for the best absolute monarchy is close to tyranny, which is the worst of all governments. If this state falls into the hands of the nobles, it becomes an aristocracy, or the second of the three kinds of constitutions I have described. This consists of a council of the chief fathers consulting for the public benefit. Or if the people have expelled or demolished a tyrant, it may establish a democratic, or government of its wisest and ablest members, and sometimes flourish in its enterprizes, and endeavour to defend the policy it has constituted. But if ever the people should raise its forces against a just king, and rob him of his throne, or, as hath frequently happened, should taste the blood of its legitimate nobles, and subject the whole commonwealth to its own licence, you can imagine no flood or conflagration so terrible, or any whose violence is harder to appease, than this unbridled insolence of the populace.
Then we see realized that which Plato so vividly describes, if I could but express it in our language. It is by no means easy to do it justice in translation: however I will try. (Note IV.)
“When (says Plato) the insatiate jaws of the populace are fired with the thirst of liberalism, and urged on by evil ministers, they drain the cup, not of tempered liberty, but unmitigated licence; then their magistrates and chiefs, if they are not quite subservient and remiss, and do not largely promote the popular licentiousness, are pursued, incriminated, accused, and cried down under the title of despots and tyrants.” I dare say you recollect the passage.
—Yes, it is very familiar to me.
—Plato thus proceeds: “Then those who feel in duty bound to obey the chiefs of the state, are persecuted by the insensate populace, who call them voluntary slaves. But those in the magistracies who flatter the popular equality, and the demagogues who plead the levelling system, and endeavour to abolish all distinctions between nobles and commoners, these they stun with acclamations and overwhelm with honours. It inevitably happens in a commonwealth thus revolutionized, that liberalism superabounds in all directions, due authority is found wanting even in private families, and misrule seems to extend even to the animals that witness it. Then the father fears the son, and the son neglects the father. All modesty is banished; they become far too liberal for that. No difference is made between the citizen and the alien; the master dreads and cajoles his scholars, and they despise their masters. The conceited striplings assume the gravity of sages, and sages must stoop to the follies of children, lest they should be hated and oppressed. The very slaves hold themselves as high as their lords; wives boast the same rights as their husbands; dogs, horses, and asses, are emancipated in this outrageous excess of freedom, and run about so violently that they frighten the passengers from the road. At length this infinite licentiousness produces such a morbid self–sufficiency, such fastidious and effeminate sentiments get possession of the people, that when they observe even the slightest exertion of magisterial authority, they grow angry and seditious, and thus the laws are necessarily infringed, because there is no ruler that dares to execute them.”
—You have very accurately expressed the sentiments of Plato.
—Now to return to the argument of my discourse. It appears that this extreme license, which is the only liberty in the eyes of the vulgar, is according to Plato, the natural foster–mother of tyranny. For as the excessive power of an aristocracy occasions the destruction of the nobles, so this excessive liberalism of democracies induces the servility of the people, and betrays them into the hands of despots. Thus we find in the weather, the soil, and the animal constitution, the most favourable conditions are sometimes suddenly converted by their excess, into the most injurious. This fact is especially observable in political governments. This excessive liberty soon brings the people, collectively and individually, to an excessive servitude. For, as I said, this extreme liberty easily introduces the reign of tyranny, the severest of all unjust slaveries. In fact, from the midst of this indomitable and capricious populace, they elect some one as a leader in opposition to their afflicted and expelled nobles; some new chief, forsooth, audacious and impure, insolently prosecuting those of the best desert in the state, and ready to gratify the populace at his neighbour’s expence as well as his own. Then since the private condition is naturally exposed to fears and alarms, the people invest him with many powers, and these are continued in his hands. Such men, like Pisistratus of Athens, will soon find an excuse for surrounding themselves with body guards, and they will conclude by becoming tyrants over the very fools that raised them to dignity. If such despots perish by the vengence of the better citizens, as is generally the case, the constitution is re–established. If they fall by the hands of demagogues, they are succeeded by a faction, which is another species of tyranny. We observe the same revolution arising from the fair system of aristocracy, when corruption has betrayed the nobles from the path of rectitude. Thus the power is like a ball, which is flung from hand to hand; it passes from kings to tyrants, from tyrants to aristocracies, from them to democracies, and from these back again to tyrants and to factions; and thus the same kind of government is seldom long maintained.
Since these are the facts of experience, royalty is, in my opinion, very far preferable to the three other kinds of political constitutions. But it is itself inferior to that which is composed of an equal mixture of the three best forms of government, united, and modified by one another. I wish to establish in a Commonwealth, a royal and pre–eminent chief. Another portion of power should be deposited in the hands of the aristocracy, and certain things should be reserved to the judgment and wish of the multitude. This constitution, in the first place, possesses that great equality, without which men cannot long maintain their freedom,—then it offers a great stability, while the particular separate and isolated forms, easily fall into their contraries; so that a king is succeeded by a despot,—an aristocracy by a faction,—a democracy by a mob and a hubbub; and all these forms are frequently sacrificed to new revolutions. In this united and mixed constitution, however, which I take the liberty of recommending, similar disasters cannot happen without the greatest vices in public men. For there can be little to occasion revolution in a state, in which every person is firmly established in his appropriate rank, and there are but few modes of corruption into which he can fall.
But I fear, Lælius, and you, my amiable and learned friends, if I were to dwell any longer on this argument, that my words would seem rather like the lessons of a master, and not like the free conversation of a brother truth–searcher. I shall therefore pass on to those things which are familliar to all, and which I have long studied. And in these matters I believe, I feel, and I affirm, that of all governments, there is none which, either in its entire constitution, or the distribution of its parts, or in the discipline of its manners, is comparable to that which our fathers received from our earliest ancestors, and which they have handed down to us. And since you wish to hear from me a developement of this constitution with which you are all acquainted, I shall endeavour to explain its true character and excellence. Thus keeping my eye fixed on the model of our Roman Commonwealth, I shall endeavour to accommodate to it, all that I have to say on the best form of government. By treating the subject in this way, I think I shall be able to accomplish with most satisfaction the task which Lælius has imposed on me.
—It is a task most properly and peculiarly you own, my Scipio; for who can speak so well as you on the institutions of our ancestors, from the noblest of whom you are yourself descended? Or who can so well discuss the best state of our Commonwealth, as you, to whom it ows its preservation? Or who so well provide for the emerging fortunes of our country, as you, who having dispelled two mighty perils from our city, can look forward with hope to the future destinies of Rome?