Front Page Titles (by Subject) APPENDIX 2: Millar's Preface to the First Edition - The Origin of the Distinction of Ranks
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APPENDIX 2: Millar’s Preface to the First Edition - John Millar, The Origin of the Distinction of Ranks 
The Origin of the Distinction of Ranks; or, An Inquiry into the Circumstances which give rise to Influence and Authority in the Different Members of Society, edited and with an Introduction by Aaron Garrett (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2006).
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Millar’s Preface to the First Edition
Millar drastically rewrote his introduction to the Ranks for the third edition. The introduction to the first edition is very much worth reading because it is one of the most compact and erudite descriptions ever written of the empiricist attitude in the human sciences. It is reproduced here with Millar’s original title of “Preface.”
Those who have examined the manners and customs of nations have had chiefly two objects in view. By observing the systems of law established in different parts of the world, and by remarking the consequences with which they are attended, men have endeavoured to reap advantage from the experience of others, and to make a selection of those institutions and modes of government which appear most worthy of being adopted.<ii>
To investigate the causes of different usages, hath also been esteemed an useful as well as an entertaining speculation. When we contemplate the amazing diversity in the manners of different countries, and even of the same country at different periods; when we survey the distinctions of national characters, and the singular customs that have prevailed; we are led to discover the various dispositions and sentiments with which man is endowed, the various powers and faculties which he is capable of exerting. When at the same time we consider how much the character of individuals is influenced by their education, their professions, and their peculiar circumstances, we are enabled, in some measure, to account for the behaviour of different nations. From the situation of a people in different ages and countries, they are presented with particular views of expediency; they form<iii> peculiar maxims, and are induced to cultivate and acquire a variety of talents and habits. Man is every where the same; and we must necessarily conclude, that the untutored Indian and the civilized European have acted upon the same principles.
Thus, by real experiments, not by abstracted metaphysical theories, human nature is unfolded; the general laws of our constitution are laid open; and history is rendered subservient to moral philosophy and jurisprudence. The manners and customs of people may be regarded as the most authentic record of their opinions, concerning what is right or wrong, what is praise-worthy or blamable, what is expedient or hurtful. In perusing such records, however, the utmost caution is necessary; and we must carefully attend to the circumstances in which they were<iv> framed, in order to ascertain the evidence which they afford, or to discern the conclusions that may be drawn from them. As the regulations of every country may have their peculiar advantages, so they are commonly tinctured with all the prejudices and erroneous judgments of the inhabitants. It is therefore by a comparison only of the ideas and the practice of different nations, that we can arrive at the knowledge of those rules of conduct, which, independent of all positive institutions, are consistent with propriety, and agreeable to the sense of justice.
When these enquiries are properly conducted, they have likewise a tendency to restrain that wanton spirit of innovation which men are apt to indulge in their political reasonings. To know the laws already established, to discern the causes from which they have arisen, and the<v> means by which they were introduced; this preliminary step is essentially requisite, in order to determine upon what occasions they ought to be altered or abolished. The institutions of a country, how imperfect soever and defective they may seem, are commonly suited to the state of the people by whom they have been embraced; and therefore in most cases, they are only susceptible of those general improvements, which proceed from a gradual reformation of the manners, and are accompanied with a correspondent change in the condition of society. In every system of law or government, the different parts have an intimate connection with each other. As it is dangerous to tamper with the machine, unless we are previously acquainted with the several wheels and springs of which it is composed, so there is reason to fear, that the violent alteration of any single part may<vi> destroy the regularity of its movements, and produce the utmost disorder and confusion.
The following observations are intended to illustrate the natural history of mankind in several important articles. This is attempted, by pointing out the more obvious and common improvements in the state of society, and by showing the influence of these upon the manners, the laws, and the government of a people.
In the first chapter the author has considered the ideas entertained in different ages, with respect to the rank and condition of the two sexes. From these, the chief regulations concerning marriage, and the rights of the husband and wife, are evidently derived.<vii>
He has endeavored, first of all, to show the effects of poverty and barbarism, with regard to the passions of sex, with regard to the general occupations of a people, and with regard to the degree of consideration which is paid to the women as members of society.
He has next proceeded to take notice of the refinements in the state of our passions, arising from the acquaintance of wealth; first in moveables, by the invention of pasturing cattle; and afterward in land, by the application of mankind to the cultivation of the earth.
In the third place, he has examined the alterations produced, in the condition of the fair sex, by the improvement of the more necessary arts and manufactures, and by the influence of civilization and regular government.<viii>
Lastly, he has attempted to delineate the changes, in this respect, introduced by the cultivation of the elegant arts, and by the progress of a people in opulence and luxury.
After the rights of the husband and wife, those that subsist between parents and their children come next to be examined. In the second chapter, some observations are made, concerning the authority which, in the rudest periods, a father is accustomed to exercise over his children. The limitations, upon the branch of jurisdiction, arising from the improvements of a later age, are afterwards considered.
Having reviewed the primitive government of a family, the author has proceeded, in the third chapter, to enquire into the state of a tribe or village, composed of several families; to point out the origin of a chief, who is raised to the head of their society;<ix> and the various branches of authority assumed by the early magistrate, according to the different species of property which the people have had an opportunity of acquiring.
By the union of several tribes, a larger society is formed, requiring a greater variety of regulations, for securing the rights of individuals, and for maintaining the publick tranquility. This makes the subject of the fourth chapter; which may be divided into two parts:
The first relates to the political constitution, derived from a simple confederacy among these independent communities. As in the different governments, produced by an association of this sort, we every where observe a great degree of uniformity; we may also discover certain peculiar circumstances, by which the constitution of some<x> states is particularly distinguished. One of the most remarkable of these is the establishment of the feudal law; which makes so great a figure in the history of Europe, and has been the subject of so much investigation and controversy. Concerning the origin of the feudal institutions, and concerning the time and manner in which they were introduced, the author has ventured to deliver an opinion, which has the appearance of reconciling the different facts, collected by antiquaries and lawyers in support of their various and opposite conjectures.
The second part of that chapter contains remarks upon the alterations in the police and government of a country, arising from the progress of its inhabitants, in manufactures and commerce, and in that refinement of manners which is the natural consequence of affluence and security.<xi>
The consideration of the distinctions of rank, among the free inhabitants of a country, is followed by an enquiry into the state of persons of inferior condition, who, in order to procure subsistence, are obliged to labour in the service of others, and who form the great body of the people. In prosecuting this enquiry, the author has first considered the state of servants, in the primitive ages of the world. He has next attempted to point out those variations in their condition, which have proceeded from the usual improvements of society, in law and government; and, lastly, to give an account of that singular revolution, by which the laws of Europe are, in this respect, so eminently distinguished.
Upon the whole it has been the author’s design to explain the causes of various manners and customs, rather than to enter<xii> into any formal discussion concerning the political advantages or disadvantages of which they have been productive; and it appeared unnecessary to give a separate detail of the laws of any one country, or to take notice of particular institutions, further than as they contributed to show the natural progress of human society.
[The final paragraph is identical with the final paragraph of the text of the fourth edition.]