Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAP. VIII.: Whether a Commonwealth coming up to the perfection of the kind, coms not up to the perfection of Government, and has no flaw in it. - The Oceana and Other Works
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CHAP. VIII.: Whether a Commonwealth coming up to the perfection of the kind, coms not up to the perfection of Government, and has no flaw in it. - 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 a Commonwealth coming up to the perfection of the kind, coms not up to the perfection of Government, and has no flaw in it.
WHAT a commonwealth coming up to the perfection of the kind is, I have shewn both by the definition of an equal commonwealth, and the exemplification of it in all the parts.
The definition is contain’d in the first of my preliminarys; which, because it is short, I shall repeat.
AN equal commonwealth is a government establish’d upon an equal agrarian, arising into the superstructures or three orders, the senat debating and proposing, the people resolving, and the magistracy executing, by an equal rotation, or interchangeable election, thro the suffrage of the people given by the ballot. The exemplification is the whole commonwealth of Oceana. Each of which by him, who, if his doctrin of pure and absolute monarchy be observ’d, can be no Englishman, is call’d an Irish Bog; as in som sense it is, seeing the prevaricator has set never a foot in it that will stand, nor has more to say, than that Where there is one ambitious poor man, or one vicious rich man, it is impossible there should be any such government as can be secure from sedition.Consid. p. 43.
Which, first, is rather to make all governments ineffectual, or to make all governments alike, than to object against any, seeing That there should not be one ambitious poor man, or one vicious rich man, is equally, if not more, improbable in a monarchy than in a commonwealth.
Secondly, That one man alone, whether he be rich or poor, should without a party be able to disturb a commonwealth with sedition, is an absurdity; nor is such a party, as may be able in som sort to disturb the peace by robbing upon the highway, or som such disorder, always able to disturb a government with sedition. Wherfore this feat goes not so much upon the ability of any one man, rich or poor, as the power of the party he is able to make; and this strength of the party gos upon the nature of the government, and the content or discontents thence deriving to the few, or the many. The discontents, whether of the few or the many, derive from that which is, or by them is thought to be som bar to their interest; and those interests which are the causes of sedition are three, the desire of liberty, the desire of power, and the desire of riches; nor be there any more: for where the people thro want of bread, thro violence offer’d to their women, or oppression, rise up against their governors, it relates to the desire of liberty; those also under the name of religion make not a fourth, but come to one of the three.
Now to speak in the first place of the many, and anon of the few; the people in an equal commonwealth have none of these three interests: not the desire of liberty, because the whole frame of an equal commonwealth is nothing else but such a method wherby the liberty of the people is secur’d to them: not of power, because the power which otherwise they could not exercise, is thus estated in them: nor of riches, because where the rich are so bounded by an agrarian that they cannot overbalance (and therfore neither oppress the people, nor exclude their industry or merit from attaining to the like estate, power, or honor) the whole people have the whole riches of the nation already equally divided among them; for that the riches of a commonwealth should not go according to the difference of mens industry, but be distributed by the poll, were inequal.Chap. VIII. Wherfore the people in an equal commonwealth having none of those interests which are the causes of sedition, can be subject to no such effect.
To affirm then with the Considerer, that the whole of this libration is reduc’d to the want of power to disturb the commonwealth, must needs be a mistake, seeing in the commonwealth propos’d the people have the power, but can have no such interest; and the people having no such interest, no party can have any such power, it being impossible that a party should com to overbalance the people, having their arms in their own hands. The whole matter being thus reduc’d to the want of power to disturb the government: this, according to his own argument, will appear to be the libration in which the power, wherof the governor is possest, so vastly exceeds the power remaining with those who are to obey (which in case of contest must be so small a party) that it would be desperately unreasonable for them to hope to maintain their cause. If the true method then of attaining to perfection in government be to make the governor absolute, and the people in an equal commonwealth be absolute, then there can be none in this government, that upon probable terms can dispute the power with the governor, and so this state by his own argument must be free from sedition. Thus far upon occasion of the ambitious poor man objected. I have spoken of the many; and in speaking of the many, implicitly of the few: for as in an equal commonwealth, for example in England during the peerage or aristocracy, the many depended upon or were included in the few; so in an equal commonwealth the few depend upon or are included in the many, as the senat of Venice depends upon, or is included in the great council, by which it is annually elected in the whole or in som part. So what was said in an equal commonwealth of the many or the poorer sort, is also said of the few or of the richer; who, thro the virtue of the agrarian, as in Oceana, or of other orders supplying the defect of an agrarian, as in Venice, not able to overbalance the people, can never have any power to disturb the commonwealth in case they had such an interest, nor can have any such interest in case they had such power. For example in Oceana, putting the case that the few were as powerful as it is possible they should be; that is, that the whole land was fallen into five thousand hands: the five thousand, excluding the people, could get no more riches by it, because they have the whole land already; no more liberty by it, because they were in perfect liberty before; nor any more power by it, because thro the equality of the balance, or of their estates, they can be no more by themselves than an equal commonwealth, and that they were already with the people: but would be much less, the power or commonwealth, in which there be five thousand equals, being not greater, but much less than the power or commonwealth wherin the whole people are equal; because the power or effect of a greater people is proportionably greater than the power or effect of a lesser people, and the few by this means would get no more than to be the lesser people. So the people being no bar to the riches, liberty, nor power of the five thousand, and the desire of liberty, riches, and power, being the only causes of sedition; there could arise no sedition in this commonwealth by reason of the nobility, who have no such interest if they had the power, nor have any such power if they had the interest, the people being equally possest of the government, of the arms, and far superior in number. In sum, an equal commonwealth consists but of one hereditary order, the people, which is by election divided into two orders, as the senat and the congregation in Lacedemon, or the senat and the great council in Venice; for the gentlemen of Venice, as has bin often said, are the people of Venice, the rest are subjects. And an inequal commonwealth consists of two hereditary orders, as the Patricians and Plebeians in Rome, wherof the former only had a hereditary capacity of the senat: whence it coms to pass that the senat and the people in an equal commonwealth having but one and the same interest, never were nor can be at variance; and that the senat and the people in an inequal commonwealth having two distinct interests, never did nor can agree. So an equal commonwealth cannot be seditious, and an inequal commonwealth can be no other than seditious.
If a man be resolv’d, as the Considerer is, to huddle these things together, there is no making any thing of this kind of policy; of which therfore it will be a folly to talk. For example, Lacedemon is either to be consider’d as not taking in the helots; and then in her self she was an equal commonwealth void of any sedition, or cause of it, how much soever she were troubl’d with the helots: so the objection made by him, of her troubles by the helots, is impertinently urg’d, to shew that she was a seditious commonwealth: or if he will needs have it, that she took in the helots, it is undeniable that she took them in inequally, and so was inequal; whence the troubles by the helots must needs be impertinently urg’d against an equal commonwealth.
Again, when I allege Venice from Piero Gradenigo, that is, for the space of about four hundred years from the present date, at which time the reformation, yet in force, began, as an example of an equal commonwealth; for him to instance in the times before, when tho the commonwealth, according to the intention, was as equal as now, yet being not bound by sufficient orders to give her self security of her native liberty, her dukes on the one side did what they pleas’d, and the inrag’d people on the other side banish’d, condemn’d to death, or murder’d them; who fees not the imposture? Indeed he blushes at it himself. Wherfore my assertion being not yet knock’d on the head, he promises to kill it better, first by the example of Lacedemon leaving out the helots, and next by that of Venice since the time ofPiero Gradenigo.
Consid. p. [Editor: illegible character]For the first you must know that once upon a time there was a quarrel between Cleomenes and Demaratus kings of Lacedemon about succession,Pausan. which was determin’d by the Ephori, that is, by a court of justice, and not by the sword;Lacon. the like happen’d in Leotychides the known bastard of Alcibiades, or so confest to be by his mother to divers of her maids.Plut. Alcib. Now this is a maxim in the politics, Where the differences of kings can go no further than a court of justice, there the government is seditious. Most ridiculous! Is there a stronger argument that such a government is not seditious? No matter, give him room; Much more fatal was the contest betweenCleonymusand his brotherAreusthe son ofAcrotatus,by whose warZaraxwas ruin’d, andPyrrhuscame into the game, who besieg’d the capital city: the reign ofAgisandCleomeneswas so full of turbulency, as would put a man out of breath to relate. Fair and softly: was not all this after Lysander, and the spoils of Athens had broken the agrarian, and so ruin’d Lacedemon? I affirm there can be no sedition in an equal commonwealth; and he to oppose me, shews that there was sedition in an inequal one; whether dos this affirm his assertion or mine?
But for better luck in Venice. This city by Mr.Harrington’s own confession is possest of several advantages. Yes, I say that the commonwealth of Venice, thus seated, is like a man in a citadel, who therby may be the safer from his enemys, but ne’er a whit the safer from diseases. What conclusion would you expect he should infer from hence? Why among these therfore there is good cause to reckon her immunity from seditions: dos not our logician repeat faithfully, and dispute honestly? Again, Sir, she is like a ship ready to be boarded by pirats, has the Turc on this frontier, the Pope on that, the king of Spain on another. As if this were an argument every government must not be void of sedition, seeing there is none except they be ilands, whose frontiers are not bounded by the territorys of other princes. Well, but since the last reglement (in English, reformation) in the time ofGradenigo, you have had three seditions in Venice, that of Marino Bocconi, that of Baiamonte Tiepolo, and that of Marino Falerio.
BODIN has bin long since beaten for this like a stockfish, and yet our author will be serving it up for a courtly dish. Bocconi would have kill’d the duke, but was hang’d before he could do it. Felton kill’d a duke that had greater power here than the other in Venice, and was hang’d afterwards, therefore England was a seditious government; for this must either be undeniable for Felton’s sake, or why must the other be so for Bocconi’s? Again, Falerio and his complices would have destroy’d the great council, but were hang’d before they could do it. Vaux and his accomplices would have blown up the parlament, but were hang’d before they could do it; therfore England was in this relation a seditious government, else why was Venice? There passes not a month but there dy rogues at Tyburn; is the government therfore seditious? or is this one regard in which it is not? Where all that so invade the government are by virtue of the same brought to that end, there the commonwealth, or the orders of it, are not the cause but the cure of sedition; and so these are undeniable arguments that Venice is not seditious, where, since the reformation, there has not been a cut finger upon this score, save only thro the conspiracy of Baiamonte, which indeed came to blows. Nor for this yet can Venice be call’d a seditious commonwealth. You find no man accusing Rome of sedition, in that she had a Manlius or a Melius that dangerously affected monarchy, because to these her orders, by which they suffer’d death, as soon apply’d the remedy. But Rome was a seditious commonwealth, because the perpetual feud that was between the senat and the people sprung out of her orders, and was that to which there was no remedy to apply. England was not a seditious government because it had a Vaux or a Felton, but because the power antiently of the nobility, and late of the people, was such by the orders of the same as might at any time occasion civil war. Put the case a slave or some desperat fellow has kill’d the great Turk, the government for that cannot be said to be seditious, but in this, that thro the very nature of the policy, the janizarys at any time may do as much, it is undeniably seditious. Baiamonte’s conspiracy he will not say was of this nature. It was not a disease in the bones of the commonwealth, but a thing that no sooner appeared, or broke out (tho it be true, there happen’d a little scratching first) than it fell off like a scab; such an accident might befal the best constitution, and Venice never had the like but once: if he could say as much of a monarchy, he gains no advantage; yet let him say it, and prove it, I give him all. I omit many falshoods and absurditys in the proceding of the prevaricator, as where he intimats the power of the dukes to have bin that wherby Venice gain’d I know not what, and yet to have bin that also by which Falerio had like to have spoil’d all: each of which, the duke of Venice having no power at all, is known to be false. Why should I stay to put you in mind that having affirm’d Venice to derive her immunity from intestin discord no otherwise than a ship that is ready to be boarded by pirats, he instances in such examples to the contrary, as took occasion by the hair of a foren scalp, while in those of Bocconi and Tiepolo the commonwealth by her wars with the Genoese and Ferrara, was put to her plunges, and in that of Falerio reduc’d to the last extremity? I shall only note, that if such sudden flashes as these may com under the name of sedition, he has done a fine office for monarchy, seeing no senat is so much expos’d to like blows as any prince.
Consid. p. 48.Well; but for all this it is confest that there may be such a thing as a seditious commonwealth, in that the feud between the senat and the people of Rome cou’d not be cur’d; what security, says he, will you give us, that the like may not happen in Oceana, or that the whole body of the people being intrusted with giving a vote, and keeping a sword, may not by way of council or arms, fall to such work as levelling the five thousand, or bringing the agrarian from two to one thousand pounds a year, or less, as they fancy.
To which I answer by a like question, what security will he give me that the people of any commonwealth shall not cast themselves into the sea? a prince may be mad, and do so, but the people are naturally incapable of such madness. If men will boast of their knowledge in principles, and yet talk of nothing but effects, why may not a man fly as well as a bird? But if causes may be regarded, let him once shew how the will, seeing it is not free, nor mov’d without som object, should move the people in such a manner; or for what, they having all the liberty and all the power that can be had, should it strive? well, that is soon don, for the land may come into the hands of five thousand, and so the booty may be great, and the resistance small. Good: the Romans being the wisest of all people, went no further towards the remedy of their grievances, than to strive for the introduction of an agrarian, in which they fainted too, even to the destruction of that government. Except these, none have bin so wise; and if there be any such thing familiar with the nature of the people, why appear’d it but once, and then vanish’d without effect? why did not the people for example under the late monarchy (when the dominion or freehold of the nation, by greater shares, was in a smaller party, and they had not only riches, but liberty and power too, to whet them on) ever so much as think of levelling three hundred men? for the nobility and clergy, in whom was the balance, were no more. If it be reply’d that the people were not arm’d; by whom did the barons make war with the kings? if they were not trusted with a vote; what was that of the house of commons? let dominion or freehold stand upon what balance you will, inequal or equal, from the beginning of the world you shall never find a people turning levellers. And as reason is experience in the root, so experience is reason in the branch, which might therfore be sufficient in the case. Nevertheless for clearer satisfaction in a point of such concernment, I shall endeavour to dig up and discover the root of this branch, or the reason of this experience. That which in beasts is instinct, wherof they can give no account, is in it self that wisdom of God wherby he provides for them; so it was with the people, they are not levellers, nor know they why, and yet it is, because to be levellers were to destroy themselves. For, seeing I must repeat, to repeat briefly; there is no territory of any extent and populousness where the revenue of industry is not twice as much as the dry rent. This has bin demonstrated in Oceana. The revenue of industry is in those that work, that is, the people: wherfore the revenue of the people, where their industry is not obstructed, is two-fold to that of the nobility, holding the whole territory in freehold. But where their industry is obstructed, their revenue is nothing. Civil war being of all other the greatest obstruction of industry, the people in taking arms must venture all they have, for that, which if they obtain they lose two for one; and if they obtain not, all for nothing. Wherfore a people never will, nor ever can; never did, nor ever shall take arms for levelling. But they are intrusted with a vote; and therfore taking away the lands of the five thousand, or diminishing the agrarian by way of counsil, they need not obstruct their industry: but, preserving the revenue of that, may bring themselves into the possession of the land too. This will they, this can they less do, because being in counsil they must propose somthing for the advantage of the commonwealth, or of themselves, as their end in such an action. But the land coming to be in the possession of five thousand, falls not into a number that is within the compass of the few, or such a one as can be princes, either in regard of their number, or of their estates; but to such a one as cannot consent to abolish the agrarian, because that were to consent to rob one another: nor can they have any party among them, or against their common interest, strong enough to force them, or to break it; which remaining, the five thousand neither are nor can be any more than a popular state, and the balance remains every whit as equal, as if the land were in never so many more hands. Wherfore the commonwealth being not to be better’d by this means, the people by counsil can never go about to level, nor diminish the agrarian for the good of the commonwealth. Nor can they undertake it for the inrichment of themselves, because the land of Oceana, as has bin demonstrated, being level’d or divided equally among the fathers of families only, coms not to above ten pounds a year to each of them, wheras every footman costs his master twenty pounds a year; and there is not a cottager having a cow upon the common, but with his own labour, at one shilling a day, gets twenty pounds a year; which, the land being level’d, were impossible, because there would be nobody able to set a labourer on work, or to keep a servant: wherfore neither would, nor could the people by counsil go about any such business. So there being no possible cause of disagreement between the few and the many, the senat and the people, there can be no such effect; whence this is the government, which being perfectly equal, has such a libration in the frame of it, that no man in or under it can contract such an interest or power, as should be able to disturb the commonwealth with sedition.Consid. p. 67. Yet after all this, the prevaricator will only tell Mr.Harrington (for to deny the conclusion is a fair way of disputing) that this libration is of the same nature with a perpetual motion in the mechanics. But let me tell him, that in the politics there is nothing mechanic, or like it. This is but an idiotism of som mathematician resembling his, who imagin’d the stream of a river to be like that of his spiggot.
The mathematician must not take God to be such a one as he is. Is that of the sun, of the stars, of a river, a perpetual motion? even so one generation gos and another coms.Galen de usu partium, l. 4.Nature, says Galen,has a tendency to make her creature immortal, if it were in the capacity of the matter on which she has to work; but the people never dys. This motion of theirs is from the hand of a perpetual mover, even God himself, in whom we live, and move, and have our being; and to this current the politician adds nothing but the banks, to which end, or none, the same God has also created human prudence. Wherfore there is not any thing that raises it self against God or right reason, if I say that it is in human prudence so to apply these banks, that they may stand as long as the river runs; or let this Considerer consider again, and tell me out of Scripture or reason, why not. Mathematicians, it is true, pretended to be the monopolists of demonstration; but speak ingenuously, have they, as to the politics, hitherto given any other demonstration, than that there is a difference between seeing, and making of spectacles? much more is that comparison of the politics, going upon certain and demonstrable principles, to astrologers and fortunetellers, who have none at all, vain and injurious. For as in relation to what David has said, and experience confirm’d, of the age of man, that it is threescore years and ten; I may say, that if a man lys bed-rid, or dys before threescore years and ten, of any natural infirmity or disease, it was not thro any imperfection of mankind, but of his particular constitution: so in relation to the principles and definition of an equal commonwealth yet unshaken, nay untouch’d by this prevaricator, I may safely affirm, that a commonwealth is a government, which if it has bin seditious, it has not been from any imperfection in the kind, but in the particular constitution, which where the like has happen’d, must have bin inequal. My retreat to these principles is call’d running into a bog; as if such as have no principles were not bogs, Informis limus, stygiæque paludes.