Tuesday, 2 July 2013


THERE is a considerable unanimity among modern authors and politicians as to the best form of government. Macchiavelli (1513), whose name has been a synonymne for all that is tortuous, treacherous, and cruel, wrote "discourses on Livy." He was both a statesman and historian, and his writings abound in just, practical, and profound observations on the art of government. But his " Prince" is deeply stained with that laxity of political morality which was the vice of the age. Bodin (1576) was in favor of monarchical institutions, but his extraordinary reach of learning and reflection enabled him to accumulate much that was just and valuable, on the first principles of society and government. He gives no countenance to the notion of political, or social equality which afterwards became popular. He adverts to the vain attempts to apply it, and compares the result with what would happen "if a man were to mix barley, oats, wheat, millet, pulse, in one heap together; for in such case he would make each individual seed, and the whole heap together unprofitable and useless. He argues that an order is suitable and desirable in everything, so it is, especially in the state in which all orders and degrees should be united and connected the one with the other—the highest with the lowest, and the intermediate with the other two, and to establish any other arrangement is to do violence to the laws of nature; and such deviations " are like spiders webs, which are indeed subtle and beautifully made, and are capable of entangling small flies, but the stronger creatures easily break through them." Bellenden (1613) approved of the Roman constitution, and up to the period of our own revolution, the course of political speculation was pretty uniform and in favor of three estates. It was the source of those ideas of freedom and of just and equitable government for the public good which animated that generation of men to whom we are indebted for the bold and firm resistance they made to arbitary power, and for the germs of many of the most salutary reforms and ameliorations of recent times. Harrington and Algernon Sydney were dreamers in some respects rather than philosophers. The latter, however, asserts in accordance with the examples of all former times that "the best governments of the world have been composed of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy . .... . The English government was not ill constituted: the defects lately observed proceeding more from the change of manners and the corruption of the times." In describing the various franchises of the counties and towns he recognises the principle that they were conferred as a privilege, not claimed as at right. The greatest modern innovator was Locke (1688). His "Treatise on Civil Government " was written while the author was suffering unmerited exile in Holland to avoid the persecutions of an arbitary court. "It is thoroughly democratic," Hallam says, "that the influence of temporary circumstance on a mind a little too susceptible of passion and resentment had prevented that calm and patient examination of all the bearings of this extensive subject which true philosophy requires." From Locke's principles have sprung the great revolutions of the last and present age. The right of universal suffrage is unknown to the English constitution which rests on this basis, "that admission to the franchise is a privilege to be conferred by the governing power upon as many as it might be deemed most expedient under the circumstances to extend it to with a view to the general good."
 We conclude this topic at present with the following extract :— " No authority could be quoted in support of this assertion, which would carry more weight with it than that of the late Sir James Mackintosh, filled as he was with an ardent love of rational liberty, and gifted with 'the most Baconian mind since Bacon.' In his admirable 'Discourse on the Law of Nature and Nations,' after stigmatising those theories of government, such as that of Locke, resting upon ' supposed compacts,' which are altogether chimerical, which must be admitted to be 'false in fact, which, if they are considered as fictions, will be found to serve no purpose of just reasoning, and to be equally the foundation of a system of universal despotism in Hobbes, and of universal anarchy in Rousseau,'—he proceeds to say that, in the 'unmixed forms of government, as the right of legislation is vested in one order, it is obvious that the legislative power may shake off all the restraints which the laws have imposed on it. All such governments, therefore, tend towards despotism, and the securities which they admit against misgovernment are extremely feeble and precarious.'
 He then states what is, in his opinion, the best form of government. "The best security which human wisdom can devise seems to be the distribution of political authority among different individuals and bodies, with separate interests and separate characters, corresponding to the variety of classes of which civil society is composed, each interested to guard their own order from oppression by the rest; each also interested to prevent any of the others from seizing an exclusive, and therefore despotic power; and all having a common interest to co-operate in carrying on the ordinary and necessary administration of government.' Such are our own institutions;—affording to all, according to his own admirable definition of true liberty, ' protection against wrong both from their rulers and their fellows allowing all classes and conditions of men to be undisturbed in the exercise of of their natural powers; ' offering the freest opportunity for the full development of the powers and capacities of each. 'Such governments,' he adds, 'are, with justice, peculiarly and emphatically called free; and in ascribing that liberty to the skilful combination of mutual dependence and mutual check, I feel my own conviction greatly strengthened, by calling to mind, that in this opinion I agree with all the wise men who have ever deeply considered the principles of politics—with Aristotle, and Polybias, with Cicero and Tacitus, with Bacon and Machiavel, with Montesquieu and Hume.' To this he subjoins in a note—'To the weight of these great names let me add the opinion of two illustrious men of the present age, as both their opinions are combined by one of them in the following passage:— " He (Mr. Fox) always thought any of the simple unbalanced governments bad; —simple monarchy, simple aristocracy, simple democracy : he held them all imperfect or vicious; all were bad by themselves; the composition alone was good.' 'These had been always his principles, in which he agreed with his friend Mr. Burke.' "

 Launceston Examiner 25 November 1862,

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