Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION 15: The Empire of Rome perpetually decay'd when it fell into the hands of one Man. - Discourses Concerning Government
SECTION 15: The Empire of Rome perpetually decay’d when it fell into the hands of one Man. - Algernon Sidney, Discourses Concerning Government 
Discourses Concerning Government, ed. Thomas G. West (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund 1996).
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- 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.
The Empire of Rome perpetually decay’d when it fell into the hands of one Man.
In pursuance of his design our author, with as much judgment as truth, denies that Rome became mistress of the world under the popular government: It is not so, says he, for Rome began her empire under kings, and did perfect it under emperors: It did only increase under that popularity: Her greatest exaltation was under Trajan, and longest peace under Augustus. For the illustration of which, I desire these few things may be consider’d.
- 1. That the first monarchy of Rome was not absolute: The kings were made by the people without regard to any man’s title, or other reason than the common good, chusing him that seemed most likely to procure it; setting up at the same time a senate consisting of a hundred of the most eminent men among them; and, after the reception of the Sabines into the city, adding as many more to them, and committing the principal part of the government to their care, retaining the power of making those laws to which the kings who reigned by their command were subject, and reserving to themselves the judgment of all great matters upon appeal. If any of their kings deserved to be called a monarch, according to Filmer’s definition, it was the last Tarquin; for he alone of all their kings reigned not jussu populi, but came in by treachery and murder. If he had continued, he had cured the people of all vices proceeding from wantonness; but his farthest conquest was of the small town of Gabii ten miles distant from Rome, which he effected by the fraud of his detestable son; and that being then the utmost limit of the Roman empire, must deserve to be called the world, or the empire of it was not gained by their kings.
- 2. The extent of conquests is not the only, nor the chief thing that ought to be consider’d in them; regard is to be had to the means whereby they are made, and the valour or force that was employ’d by the enemy. In these respects not only the overthrow of Carthage, and the conquests of Spain, but the victories gained against the Sabines, Latins, Tuscans, Samnites, and other valiant nations of Italy, who most obstinately defended their liberty, when the Romans had no forces but their own, shew more virtue, and deserve incomparably more praise, than the defeats of any nations whatsoever, when they were increased in number, riches, reputation and power, and had many other warlike people instructed in their discipline, and fighting under their ensigns. But I deny that the Romans did ever make any considerable acquisition after the loss of their liberty. They had already subdued all Italy, Greece, Macedon, the islands of the Mediterranean Sea, Thracia, Illyrium, Asia the Less, Pontus, Armenia, Syria, Egypt, Africa, Gaul and Spain. The forces of Germany were broken; a bridge laid over the Rhine, and all the countries on this side subdued. This was all that was ever gained by the valour of their own forces, and that could bring either honour or profit. But I know of no conquest made after that time, unless the name of conquest be given to Caligula’s expedition, when he said he had subdued the sea, in making an useless bridge from Puteoli to Baiae; or that of the other fool, who entered Rome in triumph, for having gathered shells on the sea-shore. Trajan’s expedition into the East, was rather a journey than a war: He rambled over the provinces that Augustus had abandoned as not worth keeping, and others that had nothing to defend them, but ill-armed and unwarlike barbarians: Upon the whole matter, he seems to have been led only by curiosity; and the vanity of looking upon them as conquests, appears in their being relinquish’d as soon as gained. Britain was easily taken from a naked and unskillful, tho a brave people; hardly kept, and shamefully lost. But tho the emperors had made greater wars than the commonwealth, vanquished nations of more valour and skill than their Italian neighbours, the Grecians or Carthaginians; subdued and slaughter’d those that in numbers and ferocity had exceeded the Cimbri, Gauls and Teutons, encountered captains more formidable than Pyrrhus and Hannibal, it might indeed increase the glory of him that should have done it, but could add nothing of honour or advantage to the Roman name: The nobility was extirpated long before, the people corrupted and enslaved, Italy lay desolate, so as a Roman was hardly to be found in a Roman army, which was generally composed of such, as fighting for themselves or their commander, never thought of anything less than the interest of Rome: And as it is impossible that what is so neglected and betray’d, should be durable, that empire which was acquired by the valour and conduct of the bravest and best disciplin’d people of the world, decay’d and perished in the hands of those absolute monarchs, who ought to have preserved it.
- 3. Peace is desirable by a state that is constituted for it, who contenting themselves with their own territories, have no desires of enlarging them: Or perhaps it might simply deserve praise, if mankind were so framed, that a people intending hurt to none, could preserve themselves; but the world being so far of another temper, that no nation can be safe without valour and strength, those governments only deserve to be commended, which by discipline and exercise increase both, and the Roman above all, that excelled in both. Peace therefore may be good in its season, and was so in Numa’s reign; yet two or three such kings would have encouraged some active neighbours to put an end to that aspiring city, before its territory had extended beyond Fidenae. But the discipline that best agreed with the temper and designs of a warlike people, being renew’d by his brave successors, the dangers were put on their enemies; and all of them, the last only excepted, persisting in the same way, did reasonably well perform their duty. When they were removed, and the affairs of the city depended no longer upon the temper or capacity of one man, the ends for which the city was constituted were vigorously pursued, and such magistrates annually chosen, as would not long continue in a universal peace, till they had gotten the empire to which they aspir’d, or were by ill fortune brought to such weakness, as to be no longer able to make war. Both of these happened in the so much magnified reign of Augustus. He found the empire so great, that all additions might rationally be rejected as useless or prejudicial; and Italy so exhausted, that wars could only be carried on by the strength of strangers: It was time to lie still when they had no power to act; and they might do it safely, whilst the reputation gained by former victories preserved them from foreign invasions. When Crassus, Pompey, and Caesar, who had torn the commonwealth into three monarchies, were kill’d, and the flower of the Roman nobility and people destroyed with them, or by them: When Cato’s virtue had prov’d too weak to support a falling state, and Brutus with Cassius had perished in their noble attempt to restore the liberty: When the best part of the senate had been exposed for a prey to the vultures and wolves of Thessaly, and one hundred and thirty of those who deserved the hatred of tyrants, and had escaped the fury of war, had been destroy’d by the proscriptions: When neither captains nor soldiers remained in the desolate city; when the tyrant abhorr’d and fear’d all those who had either reputation or virtue, and by the most subtle arts endeavoured so to corrupt or break the spirits of the remaining people, that they might not think of their former greatness, or the ways of recovering it, we ought not to wonder that they ceased from war. But such a peace is no more to be commended, than that which men have in the grave; as in the epitaph of the Marquess Trivultio seen at Milan, Qui nunquam quievit, quiescit, tace. This peace is in every wilderness: The Turks have established it in the empty provinces of Asia and Greece. Where there are no men, or if those men have no courage, there can be no war. Our ancestors the Britains observed, that the peace which in that age the Romans established in the provinces, consisted in the most wretched slavery and solitude: Miserrimam servitutem pacem appellant. And in another place, solitudinem faciunt, pacem vocant. This is the peace the Spaniards settled in their dominions of the West Indies, by the destruction of forty millions of souls. The countries were very quiet, when wild beasts only were left to fight in them, or a few miserable wretches, who had neither strength nor courage to resist their violence. This was the peace the Romans enjoyed under Augustus: A few of those who made themselves subservient to his pleasure, and ministers of the publick calamities, were put into a flourishing condition; but the rest pined, withered, and never recovered. If yet our author will have us to think the liberty and people of Rome obliged to Augustus, who procured such a peace for them, he ought to remember, that besides what they suffered in settling it, they paid dear for it even in the future; for Italy was thereby so weakened, as never to recover any strength or virtue to defend itself; but depending absolutely upon barbarous nations, or armies composed of them, was ravaged and torn in pieces by every invader.
- 4. That peace is only to be valued which is accompanied with justice; and those governments only deserve praise, who put the power into the hands of the best men. This was wholly wanting during the reigns of Augustus and his successors. The worst of men gained the sovereignty by alliance, fraud or violence, and advanced such as most resembled themselves. Augustus was worse in the beginning than in the latter end of his reign; but his bloody and impure successor, grew every day more wicked as long as he lived: Whilst he sat upon the rocks at Capri with his Chaldeans, he meditated nothing but lust or mischief, and had Sejanus and Macro always ready to execute his detestable designs. Caligula could find none equal to himself in all manner of villainies; but favour’d those most who were likest to him. Claudius his stupidity, drunkenness, and subjection to the fury of two impudent strumpets and manumised slaves, proved as hurtful to the empire, as the savage fury of his predecessor. Tho Nero was a monster that the world could not bear, yet the raging soldiers kill’d Galba, and gave the empire to Otho for no other reason, than that he had been the companion of his debauches, and of all men was thought most to resemble him: With them all evils came in like a flood; and their successors finding none so bad as themselves, but the favourites, whores and slaves that governed them, would suffer no virtue to grow up; and filled the city with a base, lewd, and miserable rabble, that cared for nothing beyond stage-plays and bread. Such a people could not be seditious; but Rome had been desolate, if they had not thus filled it. And tho this temper and condition of a people may please our author; yet it was an incurable wound to the state, and in consequence to the best part of the world.
When the city had been burnt by the Gauls, it was soon restored: The defeats of Ticinum, Trebia, Trasimene, and Cannae were repair’d with equal or greater victories: The war of the allies ended in their overthrow: The fury of the gladiators was extinguished with their blood: The commonwealth lost battles, but was never conquer’d in any war; and in the end triumphed over all that had contended with them. Whilst liberty continued, it was the nurse of virtue; and all the losses suffered in foreign or civil wars, were easily recovered: but when liberty was lost, valour and virtue was torn up by the roots, and the Roman power proceeding from it, perished.
I have not dwelt so long upon this point to expose the folly of our author, but to show that the above mention’d evils did proceed from a permanent cause, which will always produce the like effects; and histories testify, that it has done the same in all places. Carthage was rebuilt, after it had been destroy’d by Scipio, and continued to be a rich city for almost a thousand years, but produced no such men as Hamilcar, Hasdrubal and Hannibal: Cleomenes and Euclidas were the last that deserved to be called Spartans: Athens never had an eminent man, after it felt the weight of the Macedonian yoke; and Philopoemen was the last of the Achaeans. Tho the commonwealths of Italy in later ages, having too much applied themselves to the acquisition of money, and wanted that greatness of spirit which had reigned in their ancestors, yet they have not been without valour and virtue. That of Pisa was famous for power at sea, till the Genoese overthrew them. Florence had a brave nobility, and a stout people. Arezzo, Pistoia, Cortona, Siena, and other small towns of Tuscany, were not without strength, tho for the most part unhappily exercised in the factions of Ghibellines and Guelphs, Neri and Bianchi, that divided all Italy; but since the introduction of Filmer’s divine absolute monarchy, all power, virtue, reputation and strength, is utterly perished from among them, and no man dares to oppose the publick mischiefs. They usually decide private quarrels by assassination or poison; and in other respects they enjoy the happiness of that peace which is always found within empty walls and desolated countries: And if this be according to the laws of God and nature, it cannot be denied, that weakness, baseness, cowardice, destruction and desolation are so likewise. These are the blessings our well-natur’d author would confer upon us; but if they were to be esteemed so, I cannot tell why those that felt them, complained so much of them. Tacitus reciting what passed in his time, and somewhat before (for want of a Christian spirit) in the bitterness of his soul says, nec unquam atrocioribus populi Romani cladibus, magisque; justis indiciis probatum est, non esse curae deis securitatem nostram, esse ultionem. Some thought that no punishments could be justly deserved by a people that had so much favour’d virtue; others, that even the gods they ador’d, envied their felicity and glory; but all confess’d they were fallen from the highest pitch of human happiness into the lowest degree of infamy and misery: And our author being the first that ever found they had gained by the change, we are to attribute the discovery of so great a secret to the excellency of his wisdom. If, suspending my judgment in this point, till it be proved by better authority than his word, I in the meantime follow the opinion of those who think slavery doth naturally produce meanness of spirit, with its worst effect, flattery, which Tacitus calls foedum servitutis crimen; I must believe, that the impudence of carrying it to such a height, as to commend nothing in the most glorious liberty, that made the most virtuous people in the world, but the shortness of its continuance, and to prefer the tyranny of the basest of men, or worst of monsters, is peculiar to Filmer; and that their wickedness, which had never been equalled, is surpassed by him, who recommends as the ordinance of God, the principles that certainly produce them.
But, says our author, tho Rome was for a while miraculously upheld in glory by a greater prudence than its own, yet in a short time, after manifold alterations, she was ruined by her own hand. But ’tis absurd to say, that the overthrow of a government, which had nothing of good in it, can be a ruin; or that the glory in which it continued, had nothing of good in it; and most of all, that it could be ruin’d by no hands but its own, if that glory had not been gained, and immediately or instrumentally supported by such virtue and strength as is worthily to be preferr’d before all other temporal happiness, and does ever produce it. This shews that liars ought to have good memories. But passing over such foolish contradictions, I desire to know, how that prudence, greater than its own (which till I am better inform’d, I must think to be inseparably united to justice and goodness) came miraculously to support a government, which was not only evil in itself, as contrary to the laws of God and nature; but so perpetually bent against that monarchy, which he says is according to them, as to hate all monarchs, despite all that would live under them, destroy as many of them as came within their reach; and make a law by which any man was authorised to kill him, who should endeavour to set up this divine power among them. Moreover, no human prudence preserved the Roman glory but their own: the others directly set themselves to oppose it, and the most eminent fell under it. We know of no prudence surpassing the human, unless it be the divine: But the divine prudence did never miraculously exert itself, except to bear witness to the truth, and to give authority to those that announced it. If therefore the glory of this popular government was miraculously supported by a more than human prudence, it was good in itself; the miracles done in favour of it did testify it, and all that our author says against it is false and abominable.
If I lay aside the word miraculous, as put in by chance, ’twill be hard to know how God (who in the usual course of his providence guides all things by such a gentle and undiscerned power, that they seem to go on of themselves) should give such virtue to this popular government, and the magistrates bred up under it, that the greatest monarchs of the earth were as dust before them, unless there had been an excellency in their discipline, far surpassing that of their enemies; or how that can be called ill in its principle, and said to comprehend no good, which God did so gloriously support, and no man was ever able to resist. This cannot be better answer’d than by our author’s citation, suis & ipsa Roma viribus ruit; That city which had overthrown the greatest powers of the world must, in all appearance, have lasted forever, if their virtue and discipline had not decay’d, or their forces been turned against themselves. If our author therefore say true, the greatest good that ever befell the Romans, was the decay of their virtue and discipline; and the turning of their own arms against themselves, was not their ruin but their preservation.
When they had brought the warlike nations of Italy into subjection, or association; often repressed the fury of the Gauls, Cimbri and Teutons; overthrown the wealth, power and wit of Carthage supported by the skill, industry, and valour of Hannibal and his brave relations; almost extirpated the valiant Spaniards, who would no other way be subdued; defeated Philip, Perseus, Antiochus, Gentius, Syphax and Jugurtha; struck an awe into Ptolemy; avoided the snares and poisons of Mithridates; followed him in his flights, reveng’d his treacheries, and carried their victorious arms beyond his conquer’d kingdoms to the banks of Tigris: When neither the revolt of their Italian associates, nor the rebellion of their slaves led by Spartacus (who in skill seems to have been equal to Hannibal, and above him in courage) could put a stop to their victories: When Greece had been reduced to yield to a virtue rather than a power greater than their own, we may well say that government was supported by a more than human prudence, which led them through virtue to a height of glory, power and happiness, that till that day had been unknown to the world, and could never have been ruined, if by the decay of that virtue they had not turned their victorious arms against themselves. That city was a giant that could die by no other hand than his own; like Hercules poison’d and driven into madness, after he had destroy’d thieves, monsters and tyrants, and found nothing on the earth able to resist him. The wisest of men in ancient times, looking upon this as a point of more than human perfection, thought or feigned to think, that he was descended from the gods, and at his death received into their number, tho perhaps Filmer would prefer a weak, base and effeminate slave before him. The matter will not be much different, if we adhere to the foremention’d similitude of the athletick habit; for the danger proceeds only from the perfection of it, and he who dislikes it, must commend that weakness and vice which may perish, but can never be changed into anything worse than itself, as those that lie upon the ground can never fall. However this fall of the Romans, which our author, speaking truth against his will, calls their ruin, was into that which he recommends as the ordinance of God: Which is as much as to say, that they were ruin’d when they fell from their own unnatural inventions to follow the law of God and of nature; that luxury also through which they fell, was the product of their felicity; and that the nations that had been subdued by them, had no other way of avenging their defeats, than by alluring their masters to their own vices: This was the root of their civil wars. When that proud city found no more resistance, it grew wanton.
- Saevior armis
- Luxaria incubuit, victumque; ulciscitur orbem
Honest poverty became uneasy, when honours were given to ill-gotten riches. This was so monarchical, that a people infected with such a custom must needs fall by it. They who by vice had exhausted their fortunes, could repair them only by bringing their country under a government that would give impunity to rapine; and such as had not virtues to deserve advancement from the senate and people, would always endeavour to set up a man that would bestow the honours that were due to virtue, upon those who would be most abjectly subservient to his will and interests. When men’s minds are filled with this fury, they sacrifice the common good to the advancement of their private concernments. This was the temper of Catiline expressed by Sallust, luxuria principi gravis, paupertas vix à privato toleranda; and this put him upon that desperate extremity to say, incendium meum ruinâ extinguam. Others in the same manner being filled with the same rage, he could not want companions in his most villainous designs. ’Tis not long since a person of the highest quality, and no less famous for learning and wit, having observed the state of England, as it stood not many years ago, and that to which it has been reduc’d since the year sixty, as is thought very much by the advice and example of France, said, that they now were taking a most cruel vengeance upon us for all the overthrows received from our ancestors, by introducing their most damnable maxims, and teaching us the worst of their vices. ’Tis not for me to determine whether this judgment was rightly made or not; for I intend not to speak of our affairs: but all historians agreeing, that the change of the Roman government was wrought by such means as I have mentioned; and our author acknowledging that change to have been their ruin, as in truth it was, I may justly conclude, that the overthrow of that government could not have been a ruin to them, but good for them, unless it had been good; and that the power which did ruin it, and was set up in the room of it, cannot have been according to the laws of God or nature, for they confer only that which is good, and destroy nothing that is so; but must have been most contrary to that good which was overthrown by it.