Nature has treated man less like a mother than a step–dame. She has cast him into mortal life with a body naked, fragile, and infirm; and with a mind agitated by troubles, depressed by fears, broken by labours, and exposed to passions. In this mind, however, there lies hid, and as it were buried, a certain divine spark of genius and intellect; and the soul should impute much of its present infirmity to the dulness contracted from its earthly vehicle.
This intelligence, when it had taught men to utter the elementary and confused sounds of unpolished expression, articulated and distinguished them into their proper classes, and, as their appropriate signs, attached certain words to certain things, and thus associated by the beautiful bond of speech, the once divided races of men.
Thanks to this same intelligence, the inflections of the voice, which appeared infinite, by the discovery of a few alphabetic characters, are all designated and expressed. By these we maintain converse with our absent friends, and, using them as symbols of our ideas and monuments of past events. Then came the use of numbers—a thing so necessary to human life, and singularly immutable and eternal. This science first urged us to penetrate into heaven, and not in vain to investigate the motions of the stars, and the distribution of days and nights.
Then appeared the sages of philosophy, whose minds took a higher flight, and conceived and executed designs worthy of the gifts of the gods. Thus those who have left us sublime counsels on the conduct of human life, must be regarded as great men — for indeed they are so. Such were these sages, these masters of verity and virtue.
Among these we should especially honour the chief fathers of political wisdom, and the government of the people, as discovered by men familiar with all the acts of legislation, and as developed by philosophic truth–searchers in literary leisure. This political science often attains a wonderful perfection in first–rate minds, as we have not unfrequently seen, and elicits an incredible and almost divine virtue. And when to these high faculties of soul, received from nature, and expanded by social institutions, a politician adds learning and extensive information concerning things in general, like those illustrious personages who conduct the dialogue in the present treatise, none will refuse to confess the superiority of political sages over all others.
In fact, what can be more admirable than the study and practice of the grand affairs of state, united to a literary taste and a familiarity with the liberal arts! What can we imagine more perfect than a Scipio, a Lælius, or a Philus, who, combining all the glorious qualities of the greatest men, joined to the examples of our ancestors and the traditions of our countrymen, the foreign philosophy of Socrates!
Thus to study and attain these two grand desiderata, learning and experience, so as to build securely on the univeral consent of the philosophers of all nations, and the tried institutions of our native land, appears to me the very highest glory and honour. But if we cannot combine both, and are compelled to select one of these two paths of wisdom, though we may suppose the tranquil life spent in the research of literature and arts the most happy and delectable; yet, doubtless, the science of politics is more laudible and illustrious, for in this political field of exertion our greatest men have reaped their honours, like the invincible Curius—
“Whom neither gold nor iron could subdue.”
There exists this general difference between these two classes of great men, namely philosophers and politicians, that among the former, the development of the principles of nature is the subject of their study and eloquence; and among the latter, national laws and institutions form the principal topics of investigation.
In honour of our country we may assert that she has produced within herself a great number, I will not say, of sages, (since philosophy is so jealous of this name) but of men worthy of the highest celebrity, because by them the precepts and discoveries of the sages have been carried out into actual practice.
If you consider that there have existed and still exist, many great and glorious empires, and if you acknowledge that the noblest master–piece of genius in the world is the establishment of a durable state and commonwealth, reckoning but a single legislator for each empire, the number of these political legislators will appear very numerous. To be convinced of this, we have only to turn our eyes on Italy, Latium, the Sabines, the Volscians, the Samnites, the Etrurians, and then direct our attention to the Greeks, Assyrians, Persians, and Carthaginians.
Scipio and his friends having again assembled, Scipio spoke as follows: — In our last conversation I promised to prove that honesty is the best policy in all states and commonwealths whatsoever. But if I am to plead in favour of strict honesty and justice in all public affairs, no less than in private, I must request Philus, or some one else, to take up the advocacy of the other side; the truth will then become more manifest, from the collision of opposite arguments, as we see every day exemplified at the Bar.
—In good truth you have allotted me a marvellous creditable cause. So you wish me to plead for vice, do you?
—Perhaps you are afraid, lest in reproducing the ordinary objections made to justice in politics, you should seem to express your own sentiments. But this caution is ridiculous in you, my Philus; you, who are so universally respected as an almost unique example of the ancient probity and good faith; you, who are so familiar with the legal habit of disputing on both sides of a question, because you think this is the best way of getting at the truth. (Note I.)
—Very well; I obey you, and wilfully with my eyes open, I will undertake this dirty business. Since those who seek for gold do not flinch at the sight of the mud, we, who search for justice, which is far more precious than gold, must overcome all dainty scruples. I will therefore, make use of the antagonist arguments of a foreigner, and assume his character in using them. The pleas, therefore, now to be delivered by Philus are those once employed by the Greek Carneades, accustomed to express whatever served his turn. Let it be understood, therefore, that I by no means express my own sentiments, but those of Carneades, in order that you may refute this philosopher, who was wont to turn the best causes into joke, through the mere wantonness of wit.
When Philus had thus spoken, he took a general review of the leading arguments that Carneades had brought forward to prove that justice was neither eternal, immutable, nor universal. Having put these sophistical arguments into their most specious and plausible form, he thus continued his ingenious pleadings. (Note II.)
Aristotle has treated this question concerning justice, and filled four large volumes with it. As to Chrysippus, I expected nothing grand or magnificent in him, for, after his usual fashion, he examines everything rather by the signification of words, than the reality of things. But it was surely worthy of those heroes of philosophy to ennoble by their genius a virtue so eminently beneficent and liberal, which every where exalts the social interests above the selfish, and teaches to love others rather than ourselves. It was worthy of their genius, we say, to elevate this virtue to a divine throne, close to that of Wisdom. Certainly they wanted not the intention to accomplish this. What else could be the cause of their writing on the subject, or what could have been their design? Nor could they have wanted genius, in which they excelled all men. But the weakness of their cause was too great for their intention and their eloquence to make it popular. In fact, this justice on which we reason may be a civil right, but no natural one; for if it were natural and universal, then justice and injustice would be recognized similarly by all men, just as the elements of heat and cold, sweet and bitter.
Now if any one, carried in the chariot of winged serpents, of which the poet Pacuvius makes mention, could take his flight over all nations and cities, and accurately observe their proceedings, he would see that the sense of justice and right varies in different regions. In the first place he would behold among the unchangeable people of Egypt, which preserves in its archives the memory of so many ages and events, a bull adored as a deity, under the name of Apis, and a multitude of other monsters, and all kinds of animals admitted by the natives into the number of the gods.
The Persians, on the other hand, regard all these forms of idolatry as impious, and it is affirmed that the sole motive of Xerxes for commanding the conflagration of the Athenian temples, was the belief that it was a superstitious sacrilege to keep confined within narrow walls the gods, whose proper home was the entire universe. Afterwards Philip, in his hostile projects against the Persians, and Alexander, in his expedition, alleged this plea for war, that it was necessary to avenge the temples of Greece. And the Greeks thought proper never to rebuild these fanes, that this monument of the impiety of the Persians might always remain before the eyes of their posterity.
How many, such as the inhabitants of Taurica along the Euxine Sea—as the King of Egypt Busiris—as the Gauls and the Carthaginians—have thought it exceedingly pious and agreeable to the gods to sacrifice men. Besides these religious discrepancies, the rules of life are so contradictory that the Cretans and Ætolians regard robbery as honourable. And the Lacedæmonians say that their territory extends to all places which they can touch with a lance. The Athenians had a custom of swearing by a public proclamation, that all the lands which produced olives and corn were their own. The Gauls consider it a base employment to raise corn by agricultural labour, and go with arms in their hands, and mow down the harvests of neighbouring peoples. And our Romans, the most equitable of all nations, in order to raise the value of our vines and olives, do not permit the races beyond the Alps to cultivate either vineyards or oliveyards. In this respect, it is said, we act with prudence, but not with justice. You see then that wisdom and policy are not always the same as equity. Lycurgus, the inventor of a most admirable jurisprudence, and most wholesome laws, gave the lands of the rich to be cultivated by the common people, who were reduced to slavery.
If I were to describe the diverse kinds of laws, institutions, manners, and customs, not only as they vary in the numerous nations, but as they vary likewise in single cities, as Rome for example, I should prove that they have had a thousand revolutions. For instance, that eminent expositor of our laws who sits in the present company, I mean Malilius, if you were to consult him relative to the legacies and inheritances of women, he would tell you that the present law is quite different from that he was accustomed to plead in his youth, before the Voconian enactment came into force—an edict which was passed in favour of the interests of the men, but which is evidently full of injustice with regard to women. For why should a woman be disabled from inheriting property? Why can a vestal virgin become an heir, while her mother cannot? And why, admitting that it is necessary to set some limit to the wealth of women, should Crassus’ daughter, if she be his only child, inherit thousands without offending the law, while my daughter can only receive a small share in a bequest?
If this justice were natural, innate, and universal, all men would admit the same law and right, and the same men would not enact different laws at different times. If a just man and a virtuous man is bound to obey the laws, I ask what laws do you mean? Do you intend all the laws indifferently? Virtue does not permit this inconstancy in moral obligation—such a variation is not compatible with natural conscience. The laws are, therefore, based not on our sense of justice, but on our fear of punishment. There is, therefore, no natural justice, and hence it follows that men cannot be just by nature. (Note III.)
If you were to grant me, that variation indeed exists among the laws, but that men who are virtuous through natural conscience follow that which is really justice, and not a mere semblance and disguise, and that it is the distinguishing characteristic of the truly just and virtuous man to render every one his due rights; I should ask you this question, what then should we render to animals, and what are the rights of animals? For not only men of more moderate abilities, but even first–rate sages and philosophers, as Pythagoras and Empedocles, declare that all kinds of living creatures have a right to the same justice. They declare that inexpiable penalties impend over those who have done violence to any animal whatsoever. It is, therefore, a crime to injure an animal, and the perpetrator of such crime must bear his punishment. (Non enim mediocres viri, sed maximi et docti, Pythagoras et Empedocles, unam omnium animantium conditionem juris esse denuntiant. Clamantque inexpiabiles pœnas impendere iis, a quibus violatum sit animal. Scelus est igiter nocere bestiæ quod scelus qui velit, &c.)
When Alexander inquired of a pirate by what right he dared to infest the sea with his little brigantine: “By the same right (he replied) which is your warrant for conquering the world.” This pirate was, forsooth, something of a philosopher in his way, for worldly wisdom and prudence instructs by all means to increase our power, riches, and estates. This same Alexander, this mighty general, who extended his empire over all Asia, how could he, without violating the property of other men, acquire such universal dominion, enjoy so many pleasures, and reign without bound or limit.
Now if Justice, as you assert, commands us to have mercy upon all; to exercise universal philanthropy; to consult the interests of the whole human race; to give every one his due, and to injure no sacred, public, or foreign rights—how shall we reconcile this vast and all–embracing justice with worldly wisdom and policy, which teach us how to gain wealth, power, riches, honours provinces, and kingdoms from all classes, peoples, and nations?
However, as we are discussing the interests of the state, let us notice a few illustrious examples of justice and policy, presented by the history of our own Commonwealth. And since the question between justice and policy applies equally to private and public affairs, I will speak of the policy of the more public kind. I will not, however, mention other nations, but come at once to our own Roman people, whom Scipio in his discourse yesterday traced from the cradle, and whose empire now embraces the whole world. And concerning these Romans, I frankly enquire whether it was most by justice or policy that they have attained such unbounded domination?
Now we think that policy will be found to have been our leading principle, though our political characters have always endeavoured to dignify it by the name of justice. Thus all those who have usurped the right of life and death over the people are in fact tyrants; but they prefer being called by the title of king, which best belongs to Jupiter the Beneficent. When certain men, by favour of wealth, birth, or any other means, get possession of the entire government, it is a faction; but they choose to denominate themselves an aristocracy. If the people get the upper–hand, and rule every thing after its capricious will, they call it liberty, but it is in fact licence. And when every man is a guard upon his neighbour, and every class is a guard upon every other class, then because each demands the aid of the rest, a kind of compact is formed between the great folk and the little folk, from whence arises that mixed kind of government which Scipio has been commending. Thus Justice, according to these facts, is not the daughter of Nature or Conscience, but of Human Imbecility. When it becomes necessary to choose between these three predicaments, either to do wrong without retribution, or to do wrong with retribution, or to do no wrong at all, it is best to do wrong with impunity; next, neither to do wrong, nor to suffer for it; but nothing is more wretched than to struggle incessantly between the wrong we inflict and that we receive.
If we were to examine the conduct of states by the test of justice, as you propose, we should probably make this astounding discovery, that very few nations, if they restored what they have usurped, would possess any country at all,—with the exception, perhaps, of the Arcadians and Athenians, who, I presume, dreading that this great act of retribution might one day arrive, pretend that they were sprung from the earth like so many of our field mice.
—These arguments we may refute by the experience of those who are least sophistical in their discourse, and in this question have, therefore, the greater weight of authority. For when we enquire who is best entitled to the character of a good, simple, and open–hearted man, we have little need of captious casuists, quibblers, and slanderers. Your philosophers, then, assert that the wise man does not seek virtue because of the personal gratification which the practice of justice and beneficence procures him, but rather because the life of the good man is free from fear, care, solicitude, and peril; while on the other hand, the wicked always feel in their souls a certain suspicion, and always behold before their eyes images of judgment and punishment. They suppose, therefore, that no benefit can be gained by injustice, precious enough to counterbalance the constant pressure of remorse, and the haunting consciousness that retribution awaits the sinner and hangs over his devoted head.
Our philosophers, therefore, put a case which is worth reporting. Suppose, say they, two men,—the first is an excellent and admirable person, of high honour and remarkable integrity; the latter is distinguished by nothing but his vice and audacity. Suppose that their city has so mistaken their characters, as to imagine the good man a scandalous and impious imposter, and to esteem the wicked man, on the contrary, as a pattern of probity and fidelity. On account of this error of their fellow–citizens, the good man is arrested and tormented,—his hands are cut off, his eyes are plucked out,—he is condemned, bound, burnt, and exterminated, and to the last appears, in the best judgment of the people, the most miserable of men. On the other hand, the flagitious wretch is exalted, worshipped, loved by all, and honours, offices, riches, and emoluments, are all conferred on him, and he shall be reckoned by his fellow–citizens the best and worthiest of mortals, and in the highest degree worthy of all manner of prosperity. Yet for all this, who is so mad, as to doubt which of these two men he would rather be?
— I allow that you have quoted a strong case in your own favour, but still I assert that policy receives greater confirmation by the actual conduct and practice of men than your justice can boast of. It is so, both among individuals and among nations. What state is so absurd and ridiculous, as not to prefer unjust dominion to just subordination? I need not go far for examples. During my own consulship, when you were my fellow–counsellers, we consulted respecting the treaty of Numantia. No one was ignorant that Pompey had signed this treaty, and that Mancinus had done the same. Mancinus, a virtuous man, supported the proposition which I laid before the people, after the decree of the senate. Pompey, on the other side, opposed it vehemently. If modesty, probity, or faith had been regarded, Mancinus would have carried his point; but in reason, counsel and prudence, Pompey surpast him.
If a gentleman should have a faithless slave, or an unwholesome house, with whose defect he alone was acquainted, and he advertised them for sale, would he state the fact that his servant was infected with knavery, and his house with malaria, or would he conceal these objections from the buyer? If he stated those facts, he would be honest, no doubt, because he would deceive nobody; but still he would be thought a fool, because he would get either little or nothing for his property. By concealing these defects, on the other hand, he will be called a shrewd and discreet man; but he will be a rogue notwithstanding, because he deceives his neighbours. Again, let us suppose that a man meets another, who sells gold and silver, conceiving them to be copper or lead: shall he hold his peace, that he may make a capital bargain or correct the mistake, and purchase at a fair rate. He would evidently be a fool in the world’s opinion if he preferred the latter.
It is justice, beyond all question, neither to commit murder nor robbery. What then would your just man do, if in a case of shipwreck he saw a weaker man than himself get possession of a plank? Would he thrust him off, get hold of the timber himself, and escape by his exertions, especially as no human witness could be present in the mid–sea. If he acted like a wise man of the world, he would certainly do so; for to act in any other way would cost him his life. If on the other hand he prefers death to inflicting unjustifiable injury on his neighbour, he will be an eminently honourable and just man, but not the less a fool, because he saved another’s life at the expense of his own. Again, if in case of a defeat and rout, when the enemy were pressing in the rear, this just man should find a wounded comrade mounted on a horse, shall he respect his right, at the chance of being killed himself, or shall be fling him from the horse in order to preserve his own life from the pursuers? If he does so, he is a worldly wiseman, but not the less a scoundrel; if he does not, he is admirably just, but a great blockhead.
—I might reply at great length to these sophistical objections of Philus, if it were not, my Lælius, that all our friends are no less anxious than myself to hear you take a leading part in the present debate. You promised yesterday that you would plead at large on my side of the argument. If you cannot spare time for this, at any rate do not desert us,—we all ask it of you.
—This Carneades ought not to be even listened to by our young men. I think all the while I hear him, that he must be a very impure person; if he be not, as I would fain believe, his discourse is not less pernicious.
There is a true law, a right reason, conformable to nature, universal, unchangeable, eternal, whose commands urge us to duty, and whose prohibitions restrain us from evil. Whether it enjoins or forbids, the good respect its injunctions, and the wicked treat them with indifference. This law cannot be contradicted by any other law, and is not liable either to derogation or abrogation. Neither the senate nor the people can give us any dispensation for not obeying this universal law of justice. It needs no other expositor and interpreter than our own conscience. It is not one thing at Rome and another at Athens; one thing to–day and another to–morrow; but in all times and nations this universal law must for ever reign, eternal and imperishable. It is the sovereign master and emperor of all beings. God himself is its author,—its promulgator,—its enforcer. He who obeys it not, flies from himself, and does violence to the very nature of man. For his crime he must endure the severest penalties hereafter, even if he avoid the usual misfortunes of the present life.
The virtue which obeys this law, nobly aspires to glory, which is virtue’s sure and appropriate reward,—a prize she can accept without insolence, or forego without repining. When a man is inspired by virtue such as this, what bribes can you offer him, — what treasures, — what thrones, — what empires? He considers these but mortal goods, and esteems his own, divine. And if the ingratitude of the people, and the envy of his competitors, or the violence of powerful enemies, despoil his virtue of its earthly recompense, he still enjoys a thousand consolations in the approbation of conscience, and sustains himself by contemplating the beauty of moral rectitude.
This virtue, in order to be true, must be universal. Tiberius Gracchus continued faithful to his fellow–citizens, but he violated the rights and treaties guaranteed to our allies and the Latin peoples. If this habit of arbitrary violence extends and associates our authority, not with equity, but force, so that those who had voluntarily obeyed us, are only restrained by fear; then, although we, during our days, may escape the peril, yet am I solicitous respecting the safety of our posterity, and the immortality of the Commonwealth itself, which, doubtless, might become perpetual and invincible, if our people would maintain their ancient institutions and manners.—(Quæ si consuetudo ac licentia manare cæperit latius, imperiumque nostrum ad vim a jure traduxerit, ut qui adhuc voluntate nobis obediunt, terrore teneantur. Etsi nobis qui id ætatis sumus, evilgilatum fere est, tamen de posteris nostris, et de illa immortalitate Republicæ sollicitor, quæ poterat esse perpetua si patriis viveretur institutis et moribus).
When Lælius had ceased to speak, all those that were present expressed the extreme pleasure they found in his discourse. But Scipio, more affected than the rest, and ravished with the delight of sympathy, exclaimed:—You have pleaded, my Lælius, many causes with an eloquence superior to that of Servius Galba, our colleague, whom you used, during his life, to prefer to all others, even the Attic orators; and never did I hear you speak with more energy than to–day, while pleading the cause of justice.
This justice (continued Scipio) is the very foundation of lawful government in political constitutions. Can we call the state of Agrigentum a Commonwealth, where all men are oppressed by the cruelty of a single tyrant?—where there is no universal bond of right, nor social consent and fellowship, which should belong to every people, properly so named. It is the same in Syracuse,—that illustrious city which Timæus calls the greatest of the Grecian towns. It was indeed a most beautiful city; and its admirable citadel, its canals distributed through all its districts, its broad streets, its porticoes, its temples, and its walls, gave Syracuse the appearance of a most flourishing state. But while Dionysus its tyrant reigned there, nothing of all its wealth belonged to the people, and the people were nothing better than the slaves of an impious despot. Thus wherever I behold a tyrant, I know that the social constitution must be, not merely vicious and corrupt, as I stated yesterday, but in strict truth, no social constitution at all.
—You have spoken admirably, my Scipio, and I see the point of your observations.
—You grant, then, that a state which is entirely in the power of a faction, cannot justly be entitled a political community.
—That is evident to us all.
—You judge most correctly. For what was the state of Athens, when during the great Peloponessian war, she fell under the unjust domination of the thirty tyrants? The antique glory of that city, the imposing aspect of its edifices, its theatre, its gymnasium, its porticos, its temples, its citadel, the admirable sculptures of Phidias, and the magnificent harbour of Piræus, did they constitute it a commonwealth?
—Certainly not; because these did not constitute the real welfare of the community.
—And at Rome, when the decemviri ruled without appeal from their decisions in the third year of their power, had not liberty lost all its securities and all its blessings?
—Yes, the welfare of the community was no longer consulted, and the people soon roused themselves, and recovered their appropriate rights.
—I now come to the democratical form of government, in which a considerable difficulty presents itself, because all things are there said to lie at the disposition of the people, and are carried into execution just as they please. Here the populace inflict punishments at their pleasure, and act, and seize, and keep possession, and distribute property, without let or hindrance, Can you deny, my Lælius, that this is a fair definition of a democracy, where the people are all in all, and where the people constitute the state?
—There is no political constitution to which I more absolutely deny the name of a Commonwealth, than that in which all things lie in the power of the multitude (nullam quidem citius negaverim esse Rempublicam, quam quæ tota sit in multitudinis protestate). If a Commonwealth, which implies the welfare of the entire community, could not exist in Agrigentum, Syracuse, or Athens, when tyrants reigned over them,—if it could not exist in Rome, when under the oligarchy of the decemvirs,—neither do I see how this sacred name of Commonwealth can be applied to a democracy, and the sway of the mob.
In this statement, my Scipio, I build on your own admirable definition, that there can be no community, properly so called, unless it be regulated by a combination of rights. And by this definition it appears that a multitude of men may be just as tyrannical as a single despot; and indeed this is the most odious of all tyrannies, since no monster can be more barbarous than the mob, which assumes the name and mask of the people. Nor is it at all reasonable, since the laws place the property of madmen in the hands of their sane relations, that we should do the very reverse in politics, and throw the property of the sane into the hands of the mad multitude.
It is far more rational to assert that a wise and virtuous aristocratical government deserves the title of a Commonwealth, as it approaches to the nature of a kingdom.
—In my opinion, an aristocratical government, properly so called, is entitled to our just esteem. The unity of power often exposes a king to become a despot; but when an aristocracy, consisting of many virtuous men, exercise power, it is a most fortunate circumstance for any state. However this be, I much prefer royalty to democracy; and I think, my Scipio, you have something more to add with respect to this most vicious of all political governments.
—I am well acquainted, my Mummius, with your decided antipathy to the democratical system. And, although we may speak of it with rather more indulgence than you are accustomed to accord it, I must certainly agree with you, that of all the three particular forms of government, none is less commendable than democracy.
I do not agree with you, however, when you would imply that aristocracy is preferable to royalty. If you suppose that wisdom governs the state, is it not as well that this wisdom should reside in one monarch, as in many nobles?
But a sophistication of words and terms is apt to abuse our understanding in a discussion like the present. When we pronounce the word “aristocracy,” which, in Greek, signifies the government of the best men, imagination, leaning rather to philology than fact, can hardly conceive any thing more excellent—for what can be thought better than the best? When, on the other hand, the title, king, is mentioned, owing to the hallucination of our fancies, we Romans begin to imagine a tyrant, as if a king must be necessarily unjust. For my part, I always think of a just king, and not a shameless despot, when I examine the true nature of royal authority. To this name of king, do but attach the idea of a Romulus, a Numa, a Tullus, and perhaps you will be less severe to the monarchical form of constitution.
—Have you then no commendation at all for any kind of democratical government?
—Why, I think some democratical forms less objectionable than others; and by way of illustration, I will ask you what you thought of the government in the Isle of Rhodes, where we were lately together; did it appear to you a legitimate and rational constitution?
—It did, and not much liable to abuse.
—You say truly. But if you recollect, it was a very extraordinary experiment. All the inhabitants were alternately senators and citizens. Some months they spent in their senatorial functions, and some months they spent in their civil employments. In both they exercised judicial powers; and in the theatre and the court, the same men judged all causes, capital and not capital. So much for democracies.