Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION 20: Man's natural love to Liberty is temper'd by Reason, which originally is his Nature. - Discourses Concerning Government
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SECTION 20: Man’s natural love to Liberty is temper’d by Reason, which originally is his Nature. - Algernon Sidney, Discourses Concerning Government 
Discourses Concerning Government, ed. Thomas G. West (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund 1996).
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Man’s natural love to Liberty is temper’d by Reason, which originally is his Nature.
That our author’s book may appear to be a heap of incongruities and contradictions, ’tis not amiss to add to what has already been observed, that having asserted absolute monarchy to be the only natural government, he now says, that the nature of all people is to desire liberty without restraint.1 But if monarchy be that power which above all restrains liberty, and subjects all to the will of one; this is as much as to say, that all people naturally desire that which is against nature; and by a wonderful excess of extravagance and folly to assert contrary propositions, that on both sides are equally absurd and false. For as we have already proved that no government is imposed upon men by God or nature, ’tis no less evident, that man being a rational creature, nothing can be universally natural to him, that is not rational. But this liberty without restraint being inconsistent with any government, and the good which man naturally desires for himself, children and friends, we find no place in the world where the inhabitants do not enter into some kind of society or government to restrain it: and to say that all men desire liberty without restraint, and yet that all do restrain it, is ridiculous. The truth is, man is hereunto led by reason which is his nature. Everyone sees they cannot well live asunder, nor many together, without some rule to which all must submit. This submission is a restraint of liberty, but could be of no effect as to the good intended, unless it were general; nor general, unless it were natural. When all are born to the same freedom, some will not resign that which is their own, unless others do the like: This general consent of all to resign such a part of their liberty as seems to be for the good of all, is the voice of nature, and the act of men (according to natural reason) seeking their own good: And if all go not in the same way, according to the same form, ’tis an evident testimony that no one is directed by nature; but as a few or many may join together, and frame smaller or greater societies, so those societies may institute such an order or form of government as best pleases themselves; and if the ends of government are obtained, they all equally follow the voice of nature in constituting them.
Again, if man were by nature so tenacious of his liberty without restraint, he must be rationally so. The creation of absolute monarchies, which entirely extinguishes it, must necessarily be most contrary to it, tho the people were willing; for they thereby abjure their own nature. The usurpation of them can be no less than the most abominable and outrageous violation of the laws of nature that can be imagined: The laws of God must be in the like measure broken; and of all governments, democracy, in which every man’s liberty is least restrained, because every man hath an equal part, would certainly prove to be the most just, rational and natural; whereas our author represents it as a perpetual spring of disorder, confusion and vice. This consequence would be unavoidable, if he said true; but it being my fate often to differ from him, I hope to be excused if I do so in this also, and affirm, that nothing but the plain and certain dictates of reason can be generally applicable to all men as the law of their nature; and they who, according to the best of their understanding, provide for the good of themselves and their posterity, do all equally observe it. He that enquires more exactly into the matter may find, that reason enjoins every man not to arrogate to himself more than he allows to others, nor to retain that liberty which will prove hurtful to him; or to expect that others will suffer themselves to be restrain’d, whilst he, to their prejudice, remains in the exercise of that freedom which nature allows. He who would be exempted from this common rule, must shew for what reason he should be raised above his brethren; and if he do it not, he is an enemy to them. This is not popularity, but tyranny; and tyrants are said exuisse hominem,2 to throw off the nature of men, because they do unjustly and unreasonably assume to themselves that which agrees not with the frailty of human nature, and set up an interest in themselves contrary to that of their equals, which they ought to defend as their own. Such as favour them are like to them; and we know of no tyranny that was not set up by the worst, nor of any that have been destroy’d, unless by the best of men. The several tyrannies of Syracuse were introduced by Agathocles, Dionysius, Hieronymus, Hippocrates, Epicides, and others, by the help of lewd, dissolute mercenary villains; and overthrown by Timoleon, Dion, Theodorus and others, whose virtues will be remembered in all ages. These, and others like to them, never sought liberty without restraint, but such as was restrained by laws tending to the publick good; that all might concur in promoting it, and the unruly desires of those who affected power and honours which they did not deserve might be repressed.
The like was seen in Rome: When Brutus, Valerius, and other virtuous citizens had thrown out the lewd Tarquins, they trusted to their own innocence and reputation; and thinking them safe under the protection of the law, contented themselves with such honours as their countrymen thought they deserved. This would not satisfy the dissolute crew that us’d to be companions to the Tarquins. Sodales adolescentium Tarquiniorum assueti more regio vivere, eam tum aequato jure omnium licentiam quaerentes libertatem aliorum in suam vertisse servitutem conquerebantur. Regem hominem esse, à quo impetres ubi jus, ubi injuria opus sit. Esse gratiae locum, beneficio: & irasci & ignoscere posse. Leges rem surdam esse & inexorabilem, salubriorem inopi quam potenti: nihil laxamenti nec veniae habere, si modum excesseris: periculosum esse in tot humanis erroribus sola innocentia vivere.3 I cannot say that either of these sought a liberty without restraint; for the virtuous were willing to be restrained by the law, and the vicious to submit to the will of a man, to gain impunity in offending. But if our author say true, the licentious fury of these lewd young men, who endeavour’d to subvert the constitution of their country, to procure the impunity of their own crimes would have been more natural, that is more reasonable than the orderly proceedings of the most virtuous, who desir’d that the law might be the rule of their actions, which is most absurd.
The like vicious wretches have in all times endeavour’d to put the power into the hands of one man, who might protect them in their villainies, and advance them to exorbitant riches or undeserved honours; whilst the best men trusting in their innocence, and desiring no other riches or preferments, than what they were by their equals thought to deserve, were contented with a due liberty, under the protection of a just law: and I must transcribe the histories of the world, or at least so much of them as concerns the tyrannies that have been set up or cast down, if I should here insert all the proofs that might be given of it. But I shall come nearer to the point, which is not to compare democracy with monarchy, but a regular mixed government with such an absolute monarchy, as leaves all to the will of that man, woman, or child, who happens to be born in the reigning family, how ill soever they may be qualified. I desire those who are lovers of truth to consider, whether the wisest, best, and bravest of men, are not naturally led to be pleased with a government that protects them from receiving wrong, when they have not the least inclination to do any? Whether they who desire no unjust advantage above their brethren, will not always desire that a people or senate constituted as that of Rome, from the expulsion of Tarquin to the setting up of Caesar, should rather judge of their merit, than Tarquin, Caesar, or his successors? Or whether the lewd or corrupted Praetorian bands, with Macro, Sejanus, Tigellinus, and the like, commanding them, will not ever, like Brutus his sons, abhor the inexorable power of the laws, with the necessity of living only by their innocence, and favour the interest of princes like to those that advanced them? If this be not sufficient, they may be pleased a little to reflect upon the affairs of our own country, and seriously consider whether H-de, Cl-f-d, F-lm-th, Arl-ng-n and D-nby,4 could have pretended to the chief places, if the disposal of them had been in a free and well-regulated parliament? Whether they did most resemble Brutus, Publicola, and the rest of the Valerii, the Fabii, Quintii, Cornelii, &c. or Narcissus, Pallas, Icetus, Laco, Vinius, and the like? Whether all men, good and bad, do not favour that state of things, which favours them and such as they are?
Whether Cl-v-l-d, P-rtsm-th,5 and others of the same trade, have attained to the riches and honours they enjoy by services done to the commonwealth? And what places Chiffinch, F-x and Jenkins,6 could probably have attained, if our affairs had been regulated as good men desire? Whether the old arts of begging, stealing and bawding, or the new ones of informing and trepanning, thrive best under one man who may be weak or vicious, and is always subject to be circumvented by flatterers, or under the severe scrutinies of a senate or people? In a word, whether they who live by such arts, and know no other, do not always endeavour to advance the government under which they enjoy, or may hope to obtain the highest honours, and abhor that, in which they are exposed to all manner of scorn and punishment? Which being determined, it will easily appear why the worst men have ever been for absolute monarchy, and the best against it; and which of the two in so doing can be said to desire an unrestrained liberty of doing that which is evil.
[Patriarcha, ch. 15, p. 84; ch. 18, p. 89.]
[To have laid aside the man.]
T. Liv. l. 2. [“The companions of the young Tarquins, accustomed to live in regal fashion, sought that same license at the time when the rights of all were equal. They complained that the liberty of others had turned into their own servitude. A king, they said, was a man from whom you could request where a right, where a wrong, might be needed. There was a place for favors, for benefits: and he was able to grow angry and forgive. But laws are a deaf and severe thing, more wholesome to those in want than the powerful. They hold no respite or pardon if you are excessive in any way: it is dangerous to live among so many human errors relying on innocence alone.” Livy, History of Rome, bk. 2, ch. 3.]
[Laurence Hyde, Earl of Rochester; Sir Thomas Clifford; Henry Bennet, Earl of Arlington; and Sir Thomas Osborne, Earl of Danby, leading ministers under Charles II, were believed by many to be promoting absolute monarchy. Charles Berkeley, reputed dissolute by his contemporaries, was made Earl of Falmouth by his personal friend the king.]
[Barbara Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland, and Louise Renée de Kéroualle, Duchess of Portsmouth, were influential mistresses of Charles II.]
[William Chiffinch, page to Charles II, was famous for his low character, intrigues, and extravagant self-indulgence. Sir Stephen Fox amassed a fortune as commissioner of the treasury under Charles. Sir Leoline Jenkins had mediocre talent but profited in the king’s service.]