Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAP. I.: Whether Prudence be well distinguish'd into Antient and Modern. - The Oceana and Other Works
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CHAP. I.: Whether Prudence be well distinguish’d into Antient and Modern. - James Harrington, The Oceana and Other Works 
The Oceana and Other Works of James Harrington, with an Account of His Life by John Toland (London: Becket and Cadell, 1771).
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Whether Prudence be well distinguish’d into Antient and Modern.
THE considerer (where by antient prudence I understand the policy of a commonwealth, and by modern prudence that of king, lords, and commons, which introduc’d by the Goths and Vandals upon the ruin of the Roman empire, has since reign’d in these western countrys, till by the predominating of som one of the three parts, it be now almost universally extinguish’d) thinks it enough for the confutation of this distinction, to shew out of Thucydides that of monarchy to be a more antient policy than that of a commonwealth. Upon which occasion, I must begin here to discover that which, the further I go, will be the more manifest; namely, that there is a difference between quoting authors, and saying some part of them without book: this may be don by their words, but the former no otherwise than by keeping to their sense. Now the sense of Thucydides, as he is translated by Mr. Hobbs in the place alleg’d, is thus:Thu. R. 1. P. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9.The manner, says he, of living in the most antient times of Greece was thieving; the stronger going abroad under the conduct of their most puissant men, both to inrich themselves, and fetch home maintenance for the weak: for there was neither traffic, property of lands, nor constant abode, till M nosbuilt a navy, and expelling the malefactors out of the islands, planted colonys of his own, by which means they who inhabited the seacoasts, becoming more addicted to riches, grew more constant to their dwellings: of whom som, grown now rich, compass’d their towns about with walls For out of a desire of gain, the meaner sort underwent servitude with the mighty; and the mighty (thus overbalancing at home) with their wealth, brought the lesser citys (abroad) into subjection. Thus Pelops,tho he was a stranger, obtain’d such power in Peloponnesus, that the country was call’d after his name. Thus Atriusobtain’d the kingdom of Mycenæ: and thus kingdoms with honors limited came to be hereditary; and rising to power, proceeded afterwards to the war against Troy. After the war with Troy, tho with much ado, and in a long time Greece had constant rest (and land without doubt came to property) for shifting their seats no longer, at length they sent colonys abroad; the Athenians into Ionia with the islands, the Peloponnesians into Italy, Sicily, and other parts. The power of Greece thus improv’d, and the desire of mony withal, their revenues (in what? not in mony, if yet there was no usury: therefore except a man can shew that there was usury in land) being inlarg’d, in most of the citys there were erected tyrannys. Let us lay this place to the former, when out of a desire of gain the meaner sort underwent servitude with the mighty, it caus’d hereditary kingdoms with honors limited, as happen’d also with us since the time of the Goths and Vandals. But when the people came to property in land, and their revenues were inlarg’d, such as assum’d power over them, not according to the nature of their property or balance, were tyrants: well, and what remedy?Consid. p. 4. why, then it was, says the considerer, that the Grecians out of an extreme aversion to that which was the cause of their present sufferings slipt into popular government, not that uponcalm and mature debates they found it best, but that they might put themselves at the greatest distance (which spirit usually accompanys all reformations) from that with which they were grown into dislike.Book I. Wherby he agrees exactly with his author in making out the true force and nature of the balance, working even without deliberation, and whether men will or no. For the government that is natural and easy, being in no other direction than that of the respective balance, is not of choice but of necessity. The policy of king, lords and commons, was not so much from the prudence of our ancestors, as from their necessity. If three hundred men held at this day the like overbalance to the whole people, it was not in the power of prudence to institute any other than the same kind of government, thro the same necessity. Thus the meaner sort with Thucydidessubmitting to the mighty, it came to kingdoms with hereditary honors: but the people coming to be wealthy, call’d their kings, tho they knew not why, tyrants; nay, and using them accordingly, found out means, with as little deliberation it may be as a bull takes to toss a dog, or a hern to split a hawk (that is, rather, as at the long-run they will ever do in the like cases, by instinct, than prudence or debate) to throw down that, which by the mere information of sense they could no longer bear; and which being thrown down, they found themselves eas’d. But the question yet remains, and that is, forsooth, whether of these is to be call’d antient prudence. To this end, never man made a more unlucky choice than the considerer has don for himself of this author, who, in the very beginning of his book, speaking of the Peloponnesian war, or that between the commonwealths of Athens and Lacedemon, says, that the actions which preceded this, and those again that were more antient, tho the truth of them thro length of time cannot by any means be clearly discover’d; yet for any argument that (looking into times far past) he had yet lighted on to persuade him, he dos not think they have bin very great either for matter of war, or otherwise; that is, for matter of peace or government.Mr. Hobbs in the Magire. And lest this should not be plain enough, he calls the prudence of the three periods, observ’d by Mr. Hobbs,viz. that from the beginning of the Grecian memory to the Trojan war, that of the Trojan war it self, and that from thence to the present commonwealths and wars, wherof he treats, the imbecillity of antient times.Thu. b. 1. p. 3. Wherfore certainly this prevaricator, to give him his own fees, has less discretion than a common attorny, who will be sure to examin only those witnesses that seem to make for the cause in which he is entertain’d.Consid. p. 34. Seeing that which he affirms to be antient prudence is depos’d by his own witness to have bin the imbecillity of antient times, for which I could have so many more than I have leisure to examin, that, (to take only of the most authentic) as you have heard one Greec, I shall add no more than one Roman, and that is Florus in his prolog, where (computing the ages of the Romans, in the same manner as Thucydides did those of the Greecs) he affirms the time while he liv’d under their kings, to have bin their infancy; that from the consuls till they conquer’d Italy, their youth; that from hence to their emperors, their manly age; and the rest (with a complement or Salvo to Trajan his present lord) their dotage.
These things, tho originally all government amongst the Greecs and the Romans was regal, are no more than they who have not yet past their novitiat in story, might have known.Consid. p. 2, 3. Yet, says the considerer, it seems to be a defect of experience to think that the Greec and the Roman actions are only considerable in antiquity. But is it such a defect of experience to think them only considerable, as not to think them chiefly considerable in antiquity, or that the name of antient prudence dos not belong to that prudence which was chiefest in antiquity? True, says he, it is very frequent with such as have bin conversant with Greec and Roman authors, to be led by them into a belief that the rest of the world was a rude inconsiderable people, and, which is a term they very much delight in, altogether barbarous. This should be som fine gentleman that would have universitys pull’d down; for the office of a university is no more than to preserve so much of antiquity as may keep a nation from stinking, or being barbarous; which salt grew not in monarchys, but in commonwealths: or whence has the Christian world that religion and those laws which are now common, but from the Hebrews and Romans? or from whence have we arts but from these or the Greecs? that we have a doctor of divinity, or a master of arts, we may thank popular government; or with what languages, with what things are scholars conversant that are otherwise descended? will they so plead their own cause as to tell us it is possible there should be a nation at this day in the world without universitys, or universitys without Hebrew, Greec and Latin, and not be barbarous, that is to say, rude, unlearn’d, and inconsiderable? yes, this humour even among the Greecs and Romans themselves was a servil addiction to narrow principles, and a piece of very pedantical pride. What, man! the Greecs and the Romans that of all other would not serve, servil! their principles, their learning, with whose scraps we set up for batchelors, masters, and doctors of fine things, narrow! their inimitable eloquence a piece of very pedantical pride! the world can never make sense of this any otherwise than that since heads and fellows of colleges became the only Greecs and Romans, the Greecs and Romans are become servily addicted, of narrow principles, very pedants, and prouder of those things they do not understand, than the other were of those they did: for, say they, in this question, the examples of the Babylonians, Persians and Egyptians (not to omit the antient and like modern discoverys of the queen of the Amazons, and of the king of China) cannot without gross partiality be neglected. This is pretty; they who say nothing at all to the policy of these governments, accuse me, who have fully open’d it, of negligence. The Babylonian, Persian, and, for ought appears to the contrary, the Chinese policy, is summ’d up, and far excell’d by that at this day of Turky; and in opening this latter, I have open’d them all, so far from neglect, that I every where give the Turc his due, whose policy I assert to be the best of this kind, tho not of the best kind. But they will bear me down, and but with one argument, which I beseech you mark, that it is absolutely of the best kind; for say they, it is of a more absolute form (has more of the man and less of the law in it) than is to be met with in any kingdom of Europe.
I am amaz’d! this is that kind of government which to hold barbarous, was in the Greecs and Romans pedantical pride, but would be in us, who have not the same temtation of interest, downright folly. The interest of a people is not their guide but their temtation! we that hold our land divided among us, have not the same temtation of interest that had the servil Hebrews, Greecs and Romans; but the same that had the free people of Babylon, Persia and Egypt, where not the people but the prince was sole landlord! O the arts in which these men are masters! to follow the pedantical pride of Moses, Lycurgus, Solon, Romulus, were with us downright folly; but to follow humble and learned Mahomet or Ottoman, in whose only model the perfection of the Babylonian, Persian, Egyptian policy is consummated, is antient prudence! exquisit politicians! egregious divines, for the leading of a people into Egypt or Babylon! these things consider’d, whether antient prudence, as I have stated it, be downright folly, or as they have stated it, be not downright knavery, I appeal to any court of claims in the world, where the judges, I mean, have not more in their caps than in their heads, and in their sleeves than the scarlet. And wheras men love compendious works, if I gain my cause, the reader, for an answer to the Oxford book, needs look no further than this chapter. For if riches and freedom be the end of government; and these men propose nothing but slavery, beggery, and Turcism, what need more words?