Item of the Day: Polybius, translated by Edward Spelman (1743)

Full Title: A Fragment Out of the Sixth Book of Polybius, Containing a Dissertation upon Government in general, particularly applied to That of the Romans, together with a Description of the several Powers of Consuls, Senate, and People of Rome. Translated from the Greek with Notes. To which is prefixed a Preface, wherein the System of Polybius is applied to the Government of England: And, to the above-mentioned Fragment concerning the Powers of the Senate, is annexed a Dissertation upon the Constitution of it. By a Gentleman. London: Printed by J. Tettenham, and sold by W. Meyer . . . , M.DCC.XLIII. [1743].

 

Of the several FORMS of GOVERNMENT: Of the Origin, and natural Transition of those Governments to one another: That the best Constitution is That, which is compounded of all of them; and that the Constitution of the Romans is such a one.

Concerning those Greek Commonwealths, which have often encreased in Power, and often, to their Ruine, experienced a contrary Turn of Fortune, it is an easy Matter both to relate past Transactions, and foretel those to come; there being no great Difficulty, either in recounting what one knows, or in publishing Conjectures of future Events, from those that are past. But concerning the Roman commonwealth, it is not at all easy, either to give an account of the present State of their Affairs, by Reason of the Variety of their Institutions; or to foretel what may happen to them, through the Ignorance of the peculiar Frame of their government, both publick and private, upon which such Conjectures must be founded. For which Reason, an uncommon Attention and Enquiry seem requisite, to form a clear Idea of the Points, in which the Roman Commonwealth differs from Those of Greece.

It is, I find, customary with those, who professedly treat this Subject, to establish three Sorts of Government; kindly Government, Aristocracy, and Democracy: Upon which, one may, I think, very properly ask them, whether they lay these down as the only Forms of Government, or, as the best: For, in both Cases, they seem to be in an Error; since it is manifest that the best Form of Government is That which is compounded of all three. This we not only find to be founded in Reason, but also in Experience; Lycurgus having set the Example of this Form of Goverment in the Institution of the Lacedaemonian Commonwealth. Besides, these three are not to be received as the only Forms; since we may have observed some monarchical and tyrannical Governments, which, though widely different from kingly Government, seem still to bear some Resemblance to it. For which Reason, all Monarchs agree in using their utmost Endeavours, however falsely, or abusively, to be styled Kings. We may have also observed still more Oligarchies, which seemed, in some Degree, to resemble Artistocracies, though the Difference between them has been extremely great. The same Thing may be said also of Democracy.

What I have advanced, will become evident from the following Considerations; for, every Monarchy is not presently to be called a kingly Government, but only That, which is the Gift of a willing People, and is founded on their Consent, rather than on Fear and Violence. Neither, is every Oligarchy to be looked upon as Aristocracy, but only That, which is administered by a select Number of those, who are most eminent for their Justice and Prudence. In the same Manner, that Government ought not to be looked upon as a Democracy, where the Multitude have a Power of doing whatever they desire and propose; but That only, in which it is an established Law and Custom to worship the Gods, to honour their Parents, to respect their Elders, and obey the Laws; when, in Assemblies so formed, every Thing is decided by the Majority, such a Government deserves the Name of a Democracy.

So that, six Kinds of Government must be allowed; three, which are generally established, and have been already mentioned; and three, that are allied to them, namely, Monarchy, Oligarchy and the Government of the Multitude. The first of these is instituted by Nature, without the Assistance of Art: The next is kingly Government, which is derived from the other by Art, and Improvement; when this degenerates into the Evil, that is allied to it, I mean, Tyranny, the Destruction of the Tyrant gives Birth to Aristocracy; which, degenerating also, according to the Nature of Things, into Oligarchy, the People, inflamed with Anger, revenge the Injustice of their Magistrates, and form a Democracy; from the Insolence of which, and their Contempt of the Laws, arises, in Time, the Government of the Multitude.

Whoever examines, with Attention, the natural Principles, the Birth, and Revolution of each of these Forms of Government, will be convinced of the Truth of what I have advanced: For he alone, who knows in what Manner each of them is produced, can form a Judgment of the Encrease, the Perfection, the Revolution, and the End of each; and when, by what Means, and to which of the former States they will return. I thought this Detail, in a particular Manner, applicable to the Roman Government, because the Establishment and Encrease of That was, from the Beginning, founded on Nature. . . .

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Filed under 1740's, Constitution, Eighteenth century, Government, Greek/Roman Translations, Political Philosophy, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, Roman Empire

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