Daily Archives: September 12, 2007

Item of the Day: Harrington’s Works (1700)

Full Title: The Oceana of James Harrington, and His Other Works; som wherof are now first publish’d from his own Manuscripts. The whole Collected, Methodiz’d, and Review’d, with An Exact Account of his Life prefix’d, By John Toland. London, Printed, and are to be sold by the Booksellers of London and Westminster. M.DCC.

The Grounds and Reasons of Monarchy.  The First Part.

I have often thought it strange, that among all the Governments, either past or present, the Monarchical should so far in Extent and Number excede the Popular, as that they could never yet com [sic] into comparison.  I could never be persuaded but it was more happy for a People to be dispos’d of by a number of Persons jointly interested and concern’d with them, than to be number’d as the Herd and Inheritance of One, to whose Lust and Madness they were absolutely subject; and that any Man of the weakest Reason and Generosity would not rather chuse for his Habitation that spot of Earth where there was access to Honor by Virtue, and no Worth could be excluded, rather than that where all Advancement should procede from the Will of one scarcely hearing and seeing with his own Organs, and gain’d for the most part by means leud and indirect: and all this in the end to amount to nothing else but a more spendid and dangerous Slavery.  To clear this Point, I consider’d how inscrutably Providence carrys on the turns and stops of all Governments, so that most People rather found than made them.  The Contributions of Men, som not fit to be Masters of their Liberty, som not capable, som not willing; the Ambition of settled Tyrants, who breaking their own Bonds have brought in violent Alterations; and lastly, civil Discord, have either corrupted or alter’d better Settlements.

But these are Observations rather than Arguments, and relate to Fact rather than Reason.  That which astonish’d me most was to see those of this Heroic and Learn’d Age, not only not rising to Thoughts of Liberty, but instead therof [sic] foolishly turning their Wits and Swords against themselves in the maintenance of them whose Slaves they are: and indeed they can be no weak Causes that produce so long and settled a Distemper; tho som of those I mention’d, if not most of them, are the true ones.

He knows nothing that knows not how superstitiously the generality of Mankind is given to retain Traditions, and how pertinacious they are in the maintenance of their first Prejudices, insomuch that a Discovery of more refin’d Reason is as insupportable to them, as the Sun is to an Ey newly brought out of Darkness.  Hence Opiniativeness (which is commonly proportion’d to their Ignorance) and a generous Obstinacy sometimes to Death and Ruin.  So that it tis no wonder if we see Gentlemen, whose Education inabled them only to use their senses and first Thoughts, so dazled with the Splendor of a Court, prepossest with the Affection of a Prince, or bewitch’d with som subdolous Favor, that they chuse rather any hazard the Inchantment should be dissolv’d.  Others, perhaps a degree above these, yet in respect to som Title stuck upon the Family (which has bin as fortunat a Mystery of Kingcraft as any other) or in reverence to som glorious former Atchievments (minding not that in all these cases the People are the only effective means, and the King only imaginary) think they should degenerate from Bravery in bringing on a Change.  Others are witheld by Sloth and Timorousness, either not daring, or unwilling to be happy; some looking no further than their privat Welfare, indifferent at the multiplication of public Evils; others (and these the worst of all) out of a pravity of Nature sacrificing to their Ambition and Avarice, and in order to that, following any Power, concurring with any Machinations, and supporting their Authors: while Princes themselves (train’d up in these Arts or receiving them by Tradition) know how to wind all their humors to their own advantage, now foisting the Divinity of their Titles into Pulpits, now amuzing the People with Pomp and Shews, now diverting their hot Spirits to som unprofitable foren War (making way to their accurs’d ends of Revenge or Glory, with the effusion of that Blood which should be as dear to them as their own) now stroking the People with som feeble but enforc’d Law, for which notwithstanding they will be paid (and ’tis observ’d, the most notorious Tyrants have taken this Course) now giving up the eminentest of their Ministers (which they part with as indifferently as thier Robes) to the Rage and Fury of the People; so that they are commanded and condemn’d by the same Mouth, and the credulous and ignorant, believing their King divinely set over them, sit still, and by degrees grow into Quiet and Admiration, especially if lul’d asleep with som small continuance of Peace (be it never so injust, unsound, or dangerous) as if the Body Politic could not languish of an internal Disease, tho its Complexion be fresh and chearful. 


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Filed under 1700's, Government, Political Philosophy, Posted by Matthew Williams