Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION XXXII. On Political Ethics; their chief Object is to throw Power into the Hands of the worst Part of Mankind, and to render Government an Institution calculated to enrich and aggrandize a few, at the expense of the Liberty, Property, and Lives of - The Works of Vicesimus Knox, vol. 5
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SECTION XXXII. On Political Ethics; their chief Object is to throw Power into the Hands of the worst Part of Mankind, and to render Government an Institution calculated to enrich and aggrandize a few, at the expense of the Liberty, Property, and Lives of - Vicesimus Knox, The Works of Vicesimus Knox, vol. 5 
The Works of Vicesimus Knox, D.D. with a Biographical Preface. In Seven Volumes (London: J. Mawman, 1824). Vol. 5.
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On Political Ethics; their chief Object is to throw Power into the Hands of the worst Part of Mankind, and to render Government an Institution calculated to enrich and aggrandize a few, at the expense of the Liberty, Property, and Lives of the many.
In the schools of early discipline, where youth is usually initiated in the studies of humanity, men are taught to believe that virtue is founded on eternal truth, and that the distinctions of right and wrong are as clearly definable as those between the meridian sunshine and the midnight shade. They are told, from the highest authority, that happiness is to be found in rectitude of conduct; and that under all circumstances, whatever may be the consequence, nothing can justify the dereliction of integrity. The sacred scriptures, the ancient philosophers, parental authority, the laws of their country, and the proclamations of kings, all combine to convince them that morality is founded on the rock of truth, and that governments are sincere in their professions to encourage those who do well, and be a terror only to the evil.
Why was a national church instituted and supported at a great expense, but to enforce among the people the laws of God, as paramount to all human laws, and superseding the wretched devices of state policy? Government, by entering into a strict alliance with the church, certainly engages to support the doctrines of Christian morality; and it is no less impious in a king or a minister to promote or increase any public measures repugnant to Christian morality, than it would be in the bench of bishops.
When we enter our libraries, we find ourselves surrounded with authors, celebrated for ages by the most enlightened part of the world, who teach the immutability of truth, enforce the purest doctrines of morality, and endeavour to found the dignity and happiness of human nature on the basis of virtue.
But let us leave a moment the school, the church, the library, and enter a court and a cabinet. There Machiavelian ethics prevail; and all that has been previously inculcated appears like the takes of the nursery, calculated to amuse babes, and lull them in the lap of folly. The grand object of counsellors is to support and increase the power that appoints to splendid and profitable offices, with little regard to the improvement of human affairs, the alleviation of the evils of life, and the melioration of human nature. The restraints of moral honesty, or the scruples of religion, must seldom operate on public measures so as to impede the accomplishment of this primary and momentous purpose. A little varnish is indeed used, to hide the deformity of Machiavelism; but it is so very thin, and so easily distinguished from the native colour, that it contributes, among thinking men, to increase the detestation which it was intended to extenuate.
Thus, for instance, treaties between nations commence with a most solemn avowal of good faith, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Great and mighty nations, professing Christianity, maintaining a church, and united most intimately with the church, enter into agreements, under this awful sanction, and break them without the least reluctance, whenever a cabinet minister finds it in his inclination, or imagines it his interest to cause a rupture. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are little thought of; but the great object is to strike a blow with advantage, before the adverse nation is on its guard, and while it is relying on the treaty.
Another instance of political religion is conspicuous in the prevailing practice of rendering the emoluments of the church subservient to the minister, in securing him a majority, and facilitating what is called his principal duty, the management of the senate.
The Roman pontiffs, while in the rank of inferior clergy, and even of cardinals, have exhibited the appearance of great piety, and a religious regard to truth and justice; but when advanced to the triple mitre, and become, in fact, kings, they have usually become perfectly secular in their public conduct at home, and in their connections with surrounding nations, and have pleaded, in excuse, state necessity. But can any necessity arise to violate the eternal laws of truth and justice? Is religion a leaden rule, in the hands strong enough to bend it to their various purposes? Pope Julius the Second appears to have been one of the very worst princes that ever reigned. He delighted in war, while he professed to be the representative of the Prince of Peace. He was guilty of oppression and injustice; and while he pretended to be feeding the sheep of Christ, gave himself no other concern but how he might secure the fleece. Yet all his conduct was palliated, by the politicians around him, from the plea of state necessity. Morality and religion gave way to the system of political ethics; and he, who ought to have blessed mankind, and to have preached peace, became their oppressor, despot, and unrelenting murderer. I mention Julius only as a striking instance, and hundreds may be adduced, of the depraved system which rules cabinets, and which, for the gratification of the few, renders the many miserable. No Machiavels can ever justify, in the eyes of God, or of men uninfluenced by corruption, any politics, however subtle and able, which, for the sake of aggrandizing a nation, (an abstract idea,) much less of gratifying a court, render all the individuals of the nation so to be aggrandized, poor, wretched, insecure, and slavish.
Let us suppose a nation entering most eagerly, and without listening one moment to terms of accommodation, into a most dangerous war, professedly to exterminate the bad principles and morals of a neighbouring people, and to defend law, order, and religion. It is impossible to imagine but that a nation acting in this manner, and with this profession, must regulate all its own public conduct, especially in a war of this kind, according to the strictest law, order, and religion.
Will that nation oppose an armed neutrality, instituted to prevent the interruption of neutral commerce? Will she maintain her reputation for justice, if she should be the first and most violent in destroying this neutrality? Will she break the law of nations, by insulting ambassadors? Will she take up arms, and actually fight in defence of popery, after professing herself at the head of protestantism, and the opposer of all intolerant superstition? Will she, after declaring herself the friend of order, religion, and liberty, enter into alliances with and subsidize the plunderers and oppressors of Poland? Will she, pluming herself upon the love of order and religion, and detesting the cruelty of the nation with whom she is at war, suffer Asia to be pillaged, and its inhabitants to be slaughtered by her own sons; or encourage the Indians to attack her brethren in North America; or hire mercenaries of German princes to do the work of death, in a contest in which they have no immediate concern? Will she endeavour to starve a whole nation, with whom she is at war, not only the rulers and warriors, but infants, women, and old people, by preventing the importation of corn? Will she forge assignats? Will she continue the slave trade?
A conduct like this appears to be not only inconsistent with the pretended defence of law, order, and religion, but at once proceeding from the spirit of despotism, and promotive of it. It is certain that a man in private life, acting in this manner, would be thought a bad man, a man destitute of principle, and with whom it would be scarcely less dangerous to be on terms of professed friendship than of open enmity. But actions do not alter their nature with the paucity or multiplicity of the actors; and a nation may be guilty of perfidy, as atrocious and contemptible in its nature as an individual, and infinitely more mischievous. Certainly the advisers and abettors of such conduct do not take the most effectual means of recommending to mankind that monarchy which they wage war to reestablish. They are hurting the cause of kings in the minds of independent men and of posterity, while they blindly appear to themselves to be promoting it with the greatest energy.
Whatever may be urged by sophists or politicians, it is certain that the great eternal laws of truth and justice cannot be violated with impunity. The violation may answer some sordid and temporary purpose; but in the end, it must be injurious, if not fatal. Truth, like the sun in the heavens, is one. The clouds indeed are variegated; but then they are insubstantial, and of momentary existence. So is falsehood. It can assume any colour. But time causes the hues to fade; and truth bursts forth with new effulgence. We see despotism gradually with-drawing from the finest countries of Europe. It must depart, at last, from all, for it is opposed by reason and nature. They who endeavour to render it permanent, labour in vain; but at the same time, they may detain it a while, and cause, in the interval, misery and carnage.
Let us reject all Machiavelism, all political ethics, that contradict the acknowledged principles of truth and moral honesty. There can be no legitimate government which is not founded and supported by systems of conduct favourable to the happiness of human creatures,—the great mass of the people. Good government cannot be formed on the basis of falsehood and chicanery. Let the government of England ever stand on the square, solid, upright pedestals of truth and justice, and it must defy every shock, but the convulsion of the world's dissolution.