Front Page Titles (by Subject) SKETCH II: General View of Government - Sketches of the History of Man, vol. 2
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SKETCH II: General View of Government - Henry Home, Lord Kames, Sketches of the History of Man, vol. 2 
Sketches of the History of Man Considerably enlarged by the last additions and corrections of the author, edited and with an Introduction by James A. Harris (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2007). 3 Vols. Vol. 2.
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General View of Government
The progress of government, accurately delineated, would produce a great volume: in the present work there is room but for a few hints. What are the qualities that fit men for society, is explained above; but writers are far from being unanimous about what fits them for government. All agree, that submission to our governors is a duty: but they appear to be at a loss upon what foundation to rest that duty; as if it were not evident, that, by our nature, we are fitted for government as well as for society (a) . If justice or veracity be essential to society, submission to government is no less so; and each of these equally is declared by the moral sense to be our duty. But, to qualify man for government, the duty of submission is not alone sufficient: diversity of temper, and of talents, are also necessary; and accordingly it is so ordered by Providence, that there are never wanting, in any society, men who are qualified to lead, as well as men who are disposed to follow. Where a number of people convene for any purpose, some will naturally assume authority without the formality of election, and the rest will as naturally submit. A regular government, founded on laws, was probably not thought of, till people had frequently suffered by vicious governors.*
During the infancy of national societies, government is extremely simple; and no less mild than simple. No individual is, by nature, entitled to exercise magisterial authority over his fellows; for no individual is born with any mark of pre-eminence to vouch that he has such a privilege. But nature teaches respect for men of age and experience: who accordingly take the lead in deliberating and advising, leaving execution to the young and vigorous.* War indeed cannot be carried on without a commander; but originally his authority was limited to actual war; and he returned home a private person, even when crowned with victory. The wants of men were originally so few and so easily satisfied, as seldom to occasion a controversy among members of the same tribe. And men, finding vent for their dissocial passions against other tribes, were fond to live peaceably at home. Introduction of money made an amazing change. Wealth, bestowed by fortune or procured by rapine, made an impression on the vulgar: different ranks were recognized: the rich became imperious, and the poor mutinous. Selfishness, prevailing over social affection, stirred up every man against his neighbour; and men, overlooking their natural enemies, gave vent to dissocial passions within their own tribe. It became necessary to strengthen the hands of the sovereign, for repressing passions inflamed by opulence, which tend to dissolution of society. This slight view fairly accounts for the gradual progress of government from the mildest form to the most despotic. The second part of the progress is more pleasing. Men long inured to the authority of government, acquire a habit of repressing their turbulent passions; and becoming by degrees regular and orderly, they are easily restrained from doing wrong.
In every nation originally democracy was the first form of government. Before ranks were distinguished, every single man was entitled to vote in matters of common concern. When a tribe becomes too nu-merous for making one body, or for being convened in one place, the management falls naturally to the elders of the people; who, after acquiring authority by custom, are termed the senate.1 At first, little more was thought of, but that to govern great numbers a senate is necessary: time unfolded the constitution of that body and its powers. With respect to the senate of old Rome in particular, even the mode of election was long ambulatory; and it is natural to believe that its powers were no less so; till length of time introduced regularity and order. From this form of government, the transition is easy to a limited monarchy. Absolute monarchy, contradictory to the liberty that all men should enjoy in every government, can never be established but by force. Government among all nations has made the progress above delineated. There are exceptions; but these have arisen from singular events.
To a nation accustomed to liberty and independence, arbitrary government is a sore disease. But awe and submission are also natural; and a life of dependence probably sits easy on those who are accustomed to it. Were it not so, Providence would be unkind, as the far greater part of men are dependent.2
During the infancy of a society, punishments must be mild; because government has no sufficient authority over the minds of men to enforce what are severe. But government in time acquires authority; and when its authority is firmly rooted in the minds of the people, punishments more rigorous can be made effectual; and such punishments are necessary among a people not yet well disciplined. When men at last become regular and orderly under a steady administration, punishments become less and less necessary, and the mildest are sufficient (a) . The Chinese government is extremely mild, and its punishments are in the same tone. A capital punishment is never inflicted, till the sentence be examined by a sovereign court, and approved by the Emperor. Thus government, after passing through all the intermediate degrees from extreme mildness to extreme severity, returns at last to its original temper of mildness and humanity.*
[(a) ]Principles of Equity, p. 177. edit. 2.
[* ]At first, when a certain regimen was one approved, it may be that all was permitted to the wisdom and discretion of those who were to rule; till, by experience, this was found very inconvenient, so as the thing devised for a remedy did increase the sore which it should have cured. They saw, “that, to live by one man’s will became the cause of all men’s misery.” This constrained them to come into laws, wherein all men might see their duty beforehand, and know the penalties of transgressing them; Hooker’s Eccl. Pol. l. 1. §10.
[* ]Such as are acquainted with no manners but what are modern, will be puzzled to account for the great veneration paid to old age in early times. Before writing was invented, old men were the repositories of knowledge, which they acquired by experience; and young men had no access to knowledge but from them. At the siege of Troy, Nestor, who had seen three generations, was the chief adviser and director of the Greeks. But, as books are now the most patent road to knowledge, to which the old and young have access, it may justly be said, that by the invention of writing and printing, old men have lost much of their pristine importance.
[1. ]The Latin senex means “old.”
[2. ]This and the previous paragraph added in 2nd edition.
[(a) ]Historical Law-tracts, tract 1.
[* ]An ingenious writer observes, that as our American settlements are now so prosperous, banishment to these settlements is scarce a punishment. He therefore proposes, that criminals be transported to Hudson’s bay, or to some other uncultivated country. My doubt is, that in proportion as manners improve, the severity of punishment ought to be mitigated. Perhaps, the transportation to any of our American colonies, though less dreadful than formerly, may however be now a sufficient punishment for theft, or other crime of no deeper dye.