- The Argument of Sidney’s Discourses
- Filmer’s Position On Political Power
- Sidney’s Response
- Sidney and Locke
- Sidney’s Legacy
- Sidney’s Life
- Editor’s Note
- Reading the Discourses
- The Text
- Modernization of the Text
- Discourses Concerning Government
- Chapter One
- Section 1: Introduction.
- Section 2: The Common Notions of Liberty Are Not From School Divines, But From Nature.
- Section 3: Implicit Faith Belongs to Fools, and Truth Is Comprehended By Examining Principles.
- Section 4: The Rights of Particular Nations Cannot Subsist, If General Principles Contrary to Them Are Received As True.
- Section 5: To Depend Upon the Will of a Man Is Slavery.
- Section 6: God Leaves to Man the Choice of Forms In Government; and Those Who Constitute One Form, May Abrogate It.
- Section 7: Abraham and the Patriarchs Were Not Kings.
- Section 8: Nimrod Was the First King, During the Life of Cush, Ham, Shem, and Noah.
- Section 9: The Power of a Father Belongs Only to a Father.
- Section 10: Such As Enter Into Society, Must In Some Degree Diminish Their Liberty.
- Section 11: No Man Comes to Command Many, Unless By Consent Or By Force.
- Section 12: The Pretended Paternal Right Is Divisible Or Indivisible: If Divisible, ’tis Extinguished; If Indivisible, Universal.
- Section 13: There Was No Shadow of a Paternal Kingdom Amongst the Hebrews, Nor Precept For It.
- Section 14: If the Paternal Right Had Included Dominion, and Was to Be Transferred to a Single Heir, It Must Perish If He Were Not Known; and Could Be Applied to No Other Person.
- [section 15] 1
- Section 16: The Ancients Chose Those to Be Kings, Who Excelled In the Virtues That Are Most Beneficial to Civil Societies.
- Section 17: God Having Given the Government of the World to No One Man, Nor Declared How It Should Be Divided, Left It to the Will of Man.
- Section 18: If a Right of Dominion Were Esteemed Hereditary According to the Law of Nature, a Multitude of Destructive and Inextricable Controversies Would Thereupon Arise.
- Section 19: Kings Cannot Confer the Right of Father Upon Princes, Nor Princes Upon Kings.
- Section 20: All Just Magistratical Power Is From the People.
- Chapter Two
- Section I: That ’tis Natural For Nations to Govern, Or to Chuse Governors; and That Virtue Only Gives a Natural Preference of One Man Above Another, Or Reason Why One Should Be Chosen Rather Than Another.
- Section 2: Every Man That Hath Children, Hath the Right of a Father, and Is Capable of Preferment In a Society Composed of Many.
- Section 3: Government Is Not Instituted For the Good of the Governor, But of the Governed; and Power Is Not an Advantage, But a Burden.
- Section 4: The Paternal Right Devolves To, and Is Inherited By All the Children.
- Section 5: Freemen Join Together and Frame Greater Or Lesser Societies, and Give Such Forms to Them As Best Please Themselves.
- Section 6: They Who Have a Right of Chusing a King, Have the Right of Making a King.
- Section 7: The Laws of Every Nation Are the Measure of Magistratical Power.
- Section 8: There Is No Natural Propensity In Man Or Beast to Monarchy.
- Section 9: The Government Instituted By God Over the Israelites Was Aristocratical.
- Section 10: Aristotle Was Not Simply For Monarchy Or Against Popular Government; But Approved Or Disapproved of Either According to Circumstances.
- Section 11: Liberty Produceth Virtue, Order and Stability: Slavery Is Accompanied With Vice, Weakness and Misery.
- Section 12: The Glory, Virtue, and Power of the Romans Began and Ended With Their Liberty.
- Section 13: There Is No Disorder Or Prejudice In Changing the Name Or Number of Magistrates, Whilst the Root and Principle of Their Power Continues Entire.
- Section 14: No Sedition Was Hurtful to Rome, Till Through Their Prosperity Some Men Gained a Power Above the Laws.
- Section 15: The Empire of Rome Perpetually Decay’d When It Fell Into the Hands of One Man.
- Section 16: The Best Governments of the World Have Been Composed of Monarchy, Aristocracy, and Democracy.
- Section 17: Good Governments Admit of Changes In the Superstructures, Whilst the Foundations Remain Unchangeable.
- Section 18: Xenophon In Blaming the Disorders of Democracies, Favours Aristocracies, Not Monarchies.
- Section 19: That Corruption and Venality Which Is Natural to Courts, Is Seldom Found In Popular Governments.
- Section 20: Man’s Natural Love to Liberty Is Temper’d By Reason, Which Originally Is His Nature.
- Section 21: Mixed and Popular Governments Preserve Peace, and Manage Wars, Better Than Absolute Monarchies.
- Section 22: Commonwealths Seek Peace Or War According to the Variety of Their Constitutions.
- Section 23: That Is the Best Government, Which Best Provides For War.
- Section 24: Popular Governments Are Less Subject to Civil Disorders Than Monarchies; Manage Them More Ably, and More Easily Recover Out of Them.
- Section 25: Courts Are More Subject to Venality and Corruption Than Popular Governments.
- Section 26: Civil Tumults and Wars Are Not the Greatest Evils That Befall Nations.
- Section 27: The Mischiefs and Cruelties Proceeding From Tyranny Are Greater Than Any That Can Come From Popular Or Mixed Governments.
- Section 28: Men Living Under Popular Or Mix’d Governments, Are More Careful of the Publick Good, Than In Absolute Monarchies.
- Section 29: There Is No Assurance That the Distempers of a State Shall Be Cured By the Wisdom of a Prince.
- Section 30: A Monarchy Cannot Be Well Regulated, Unless the Powers of the Monarch Are Limited By Law.
- Section 31: The Liberties of Nations Are From God and Nature, Not From Kings.
- Section 32: The Contracts Made Between Magistrates, and the Nations That Created Them, Were Real, Solemn, and Obligatory.
- Chapter Three
- Section 1: Kings Not Being Fathers of Their People, Nor Excelling All Others In Virtue, Can Have No Other Just Power Than What the Laws Give; Nor Any Title to the Privileges of the Lord’s Anointed.
- Section 2: The Kings of Israel and Judah Were Under a Law Not Safely to Be Transgress’d.
- Section 3: Samuel Did Not Describe to the Israelites the Glory of a Free Monarchy; But the Evils the People Should Suffer, That He Might Divert Them From Desiring a King.
- Section 4: No People Can Be Obliged to Suffer From Their Kings What They Have Not a Right to Do.
- Section 5: The Mischiefs Suffer’d From Wicked Kings Are Such As Render It Both Reasonable and Just For All Nations That Have Virtue and Power to Exert Both In Repelling Them.
- Section 6: ’tis Not Good For Such Nations As Will Have Kings, to Suffer Them to Be Glorious, Powerful, Or Abounding In Riches.
- Section 7: When the Israelites Asked For Such a King As the Nations About Them Had, They Asked For a Tyrant, Tho They Did Not Call Him So.
- Section 8: Under the Name of Tribute No More Is Understood Than What the Law of Each Nation Gives to the Supreme Magistrate For the Defraying of Publick Charges; to Which the Customs of the Romans, Or Sufferings of the Jews Have No Relation.
- Section 9: Our Own Laws Confirm to Us the Enjoyment of Our Native Rights.
- Section 10: The Words of St. Paul Enjoining Obedience to Higher Powers, Favour All Sorts of Governments No Less Than Monarchy.
- Section 11: That Which Is Not Just, Is Not Law; and That Which Is Not Law, Ought Not to Be Obeyed.
- Section 12: The Right and Power of a Magistrate Depends Upon His Institution, Not Upon His Name.
- Section 13: Laws Were Made to Direct and Instruct Magistrates, And, If They Will Not Be Directed, to Restrain Them.
- Section 14: Laws Are Not Made By Kings, Not Because They Are Busied In Greater Matters Than Doing Justice, But Because Nations Will Be Governed By Rule, and Not Arbitrarily.
- Section 15: A General Presumption That Kings Will Govern Well, Is Not a Sufficient Security to the People.
- Section 16: The Observation of the Laws of Nature Is Absurdly Expected From Tyrants, Who Set Themselves Up Against All Laws: and He That Subjects Kings to No Other Law Than What Is Common to Tyrants, Destroys Their Being.
- Section 17: Kings Cannot Be the Interpreters of the Oaths They Take.
- Section 18: The Next In Blood to Deceased Kings Cannot Generally Be Said to Be Kings Till They Are Crowned.
- Section 19: The Greatest Enemy of a Just Magistrate Is He Who Endeavours to Invalidate the Contract Between Him and the People, Or to Corrupt Their Manners.
- Section 20: Unjust Commands Are Not to Be Obey’d; and No Man Is Obliged to Suffer For Not Obeying Such As Are Against Law.
- Section 21: It Cannot Be For the Good of the People That the Magistrate Have a Power Above the Law: and He Is Not a Magistrate Who Has Not His Power By Law.
- Section 22: The Rigour of the Law Is to Be Temper’d By Men of Known Integrity and Judgment, and Not By the Prince Who May Be Ignorant Or Vicious.
- Section 23: Aristotle Proves, That No Man Is to Be Entrusted With an Absolute Power, By Shewing That No One Knows How to Execute It, But Such a Man As Is Not to Be Found.
- Section 24: The Power of Augustus Caesar Was Not Given, But Usurped.
- Section 25: The Regal Power Was Not the First In This Nation; Nor Necessarily to Be Continued, Tho It Had Been the First.
- Section 26: Tho the King May Be Entrusted With the Power of Chusing Judges, Yet That By Which They Act Is From the Law.
- Section 27: Magna Charta Was Not the Original, But a Declaration of the English Liberties. the King’s Power Is Not Restrained, But Created By That and Other Laws; and the Nation That Made Them Can Only Correct the Defects of Them.
- Section 28: The English Nation Has Always Been Governed By Itself Or Its Representatives.
- Section 29: The King Was Never Master of the Soil.
- Section 30: Henry the First Was King of England By As Good a Title As Any of His Predecessors Or Successors.
- Section 31: Free Nations Have a Right of Meeting, When and Where They Please, Unless They Deprive Themselves of It.
- Section 32: The Powers of Kings Are So Various According to the Constitutions of Several States, That No Consequence Can Be Drawn to the Prejudice Or Advantage of Any One, Merely From the Name.
- Section 33: The Liberty of a People Is the Gift of God and Nature.
- Section 34: No Veneration Paid, Or Honor Conferr’d Upon a Just and Lawful Magistrate, Can Diminish the Liberty of a Nation.
- Section 35: The Authority Given By Our Law to the Acts Performed By a King De Facto, Detract Nothing From the People’s Right of Creating Whom They Please.
- Section 36: The General Revolt of a Nation Cannot Be Called a Rebellion.
- Section 37: The English Government Was Not Ill Constituted, the Defects More Lately Observed Proceeding From the Change of Manners, and Corruption of the Times.
- Section 38: The Power of Calling and Dissolving Parliaments Is Not Simply In the King. the Variety of Customs In Chusing Parliament Men, and the Errors a People May Commit, Neither Prove That Kings Are Or Ought to Be Absolute.
- Section 39: Those Kings Only Are Heads of the People, Who Are Good, Wise, and Seek to Advance No Interest But That of the Publick.
- Section 40: Good Laws Prescribe Easy and Safe Remedies Against the Evils Proceeding From the Vices Or Infirmities of the Magistrate; and When They Fail, They Must Be Supplied.
- Section 41: The People For Whom and By Whom the Magistrate Is Created, Can Only Judge Whether Be Rightly Perform His Office Or Not.
- Section 42: The Person That Wears the Crown Cannot Determine the Affairs Which the Law Refers to the King.
- Section 43: Proclamations Are Not Laws.
- Section 44: No People That Is Not Free Can Substitute Delegates.
- Section 45: The Legislative Power Is Always Arbitrary, and Not to Be Trusted In the Hands of Any Who Are Not Bound to Obey the Laws They Make.
- Section 46: The Coercive Power of the Law Proceeds From the Authority of Parliament.
Reading the Discourses
Second, Sidney rarely gives his complete account of a theme or topic in one place. Instead, he repeats himself often, on each occasion giving a brief and partial version of the argument. Thus his understanding of, say, equality has to be culled from the many occasions on which he touches the subject.
Readers who do not have time or energy for the whole book may wish to look at these sections, which contain the meat of Sidney’s argument:
Chapter One, sections 1, 3, 5, 10, 13, 16, 20.
Chapter Two, sections 1, 4, 8, 9, first eight paragraphs of 11, 13, 16, 19, 20, 22, 23, 26, 28, 32.
Chapter Three, last three paragraphs of section 7, and sections 10, 11, 14, 15, 16, 19, 23, 25, 28, 33, 36, 37, 38, 41, 45.
Although Sidney did not live to finish the Discourses, the book as we have it appears to be a nearly complete draft; all but the final chapter of Filmer’s Patriarcha are covered. Shortly before his arrest in 1683 he told a friend that it was “not like to be finished in a long time.” He may have planned a thorough revision, removing repetitions and tightening a long, sometimes rambling argument. He said he had no “other thoughts concerning it, than when I had finished and examined it, if I was satisfied with it, to show it to some prudent friends, and then either to publish it, keep, or burn it, as they should advise.”
The text of this edition is based on the first edition of 1698, published fifteen years after Sidney’s death by John Toland, whose editor’s note reports that the manuscript was “put into the hands of a person of eminent quality and integrity by the author himself,” and from that person Toland, presumably, got it. Toland’s was the only edition of the Discourses that claimed to be based on the original manuscript. The later editions appear to be founded on his. Accordingly, the 1698 text seems to be the closest we have to what Sidney wrote, and that is what is printed here.
The same cannot be said for Toland’s edition of Edmund Ludlow’s autobiography, which Blair Worden pronounces “radically unfaithful.” However, Worden gives “two grounds for reassurance” that Toland’s Sidney is reasonably faithful to the original:
We may conclude that the 1698 edition is fairly close to what Sidney actually wrote.
The present edition departs from the 1698 text in one place. At the end of Chapter Two we print the excerpt from the Discourses that was read at Sidney’s trial. Worden explains:
The passage printed at the end of Chapter Two is taken from the 1684 trial record, The Arraignment, Tryal, & Condemnation of Algernon Sidney, Esq; for High-Treason.
MODERNIZATION OF THE TEXT
Our intention has been to print an edition of the Discourses that is accurate yet easily accessible to today’s readers. To this end it has been modernized in several minor respects.
Capitalization in the 1698 Discourses is generally consistent with surviving manuscripts of letters in Sidney’s own hand. By today’s standards it looks haphazard. The section titles, which Sidney wrote as complete sentences, were not capitalized differently from the body of the text. In the body of the text we have changed capitalization to conform to today’s usage, but we have set the section titles with their original capitalization.
Italics in the 1698 edition were used for proper names, foreign language phrases, and terms under discussion, such as aristocracy. Quotations and paraphrases from other works were also generally given in italics. In Sidney’s surviving letters proper names are not underlined. Therefore we have retained all italics except for proper names. (A few of Sidney’s quotations were placed, inconsistently, in quotation marks. We did not change these.) We did not add italics except when proper names within italic quotations and book titles had been set in Roman type.
Spelling. Sidney’s irregular spelling in his letters was typical of his day. The same words, including names, were sometimes spelled differently even within the same sentence. The 1698 editor, it appears, regularized Sidney’s spelling, but according to standards no longer in use today. Spelling in this edition was determined as follows:
Except for King Lewis of France, we modernized proper names: Hobbs became Hobbes, King Ralph became Rudolph, in a radical instance. For Greek and Latin names we used the Oxford Classical Dictionary; for Biblical names, the King James Bible. For British and other names we followed accepted modern usage, with an occasional reliance upon spellings appearing in Webster’s Second International Dictionary. This prompted us to retain Sidney’s Britains, though Britons is preferred today. We let stand Switzers to refer to the Swiss.
A number of old, often familiar, spellings were retained: chuse, compleat, shew, publick (and other -ck endings), compell’d (and other contracted -ed endings, but rendred became rendered, and so on). Tho, without an apostrophe, seems quite contemporary, but it is Sidney’s, and we let it stand.
Other old spellings, although easy to guess at, are unfamiliar today and were modernized: bin is been, alledge is allege,sute is suit, and so on. Expresly, which could be taken for a contemporary typographical error, became expressly. And finally, we modernized constructions like no where and every thing, making them one word, according to today’s usage.
In the Latin, the -que endings that Sidney represented by -q; are spelled out.
Other changes. We retained Sidney’s use of the ampersand (&) in the text and in his notes. Obvious typographical errors were silently corrected. We changed Sidney’s (or Toland’s) punctuation in a very few instances where the sense was unclear. Sidney’s nouns in the possessive did not always have apostrophes; we have added them, so that mens affairs became men’s affairs. Sidney also used, and we retained, the old-fashioned possessive Brutus his sons where we would write Brutus’s sons. An occasional word has been added where Sidney or the first typesetter seems to have slipped. These are placed in brackets.
The notes that Sidney wrote were printed in the first edition either in the margins or as unnumbered footnotes. In our edition all his original notes are printed, without corrections, as unbracketed footnotes.
There are quite a few errors in Sidney’s notes, which are often too brief to track down easily. Many of his notes may have been written from memory. With the help of later editions, and with reference to the original texts, the notes have been supplemented with corrected versions wherever possible. But any and all such editorial additions, which appear in the footnotes, are printed within brackets.
For easily accessible authors, such as Livy, Tacitus, and Aristotle, passages have been cited in the notes according to standard book, chapter, and (sometimes) page divisions as they appear in most modern translations. For more obscure authors, additional information is given where known. In the first footnote reference to an author, a relatively full citation on the work is given if available. Later citations will be abbreviated. The index will help the reader locate full citations.
The bracketed footnotes also include translations, by the editor or his assistants, of Sidney’s foreign language quotations wherever Sidney has not provided a translation himself.
As is common in seventeenth-century writing, and as implied above, Sidney’s quotations are rarely exact, and they are often better described as paraphrases. Occasionally there are outright errors. Again, no attempt has been made to correct these.
Classical references, Biblical names, regal names, and contemporary names and events are not generally identified unless they are necessary to understand the text. Readers who want further help may consult standard reference works located in most libraries, such as the Oxford Classical Dictionary and the New Century Cyclopedia of Names.
For research assistance with the notes, translations, and proper names, I thank J. Jackson Barlow, Daniel McCarthy, and Michael Cusick. Grace West helped with the proofreading and the Latin. William C. Dennis and Charles H. Hamilton, two successive Directors of Publications at Liberty Fund, Inc., gave excellent editorial advice. Thanks also to The Heritage Foundation, where I was able to finish this book during my year there as Bradley Resident Scholar.
Finally, the generosity of the late Pierre F. Goodrich of Indianapolis, founder of Liberty Fund, has made possible the publication, in inexpensive and handsome volumes, of this and other classics in the history of thought on political liberty.