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Source: Editor's Introduction to Mandeville's The Fable
of the Bees or Private Vices, Publick Benefits, 2 vols. With a Commentary Critical, Historical,
and Explanatory by F.B. Kaye (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1988). Vol. 1.
HEREDITY had its full share in Mandeville’s genius. From the sixteenth century men of prominence had been common in his family—on his father’s side, city governors, scholars, and physicians (his father, Michael, his grandfather, and his great-grandfather had all been eminent physicians); his mother’s kinsmen, the Verhaars, were naval officers.
Bernard de Mandeville, or Bernard Mandeville, as he chose to call himself in later life, was baptized in Rotterdam, 20 November 1670. He attended the Erasmian School there until October 1685, when he matriculated at the University of Leyden. On this occasion he pronounced what he called, with a foreshadowing of the wit which was to make him famous, an oratiuncula, in which he stated his intention of devoting himself to the study of medicine. Nevertheless, he was registered the next year, 17 September, as a student in Philosophy. In 1689, on the twenty-third of March, he presented a dissertation under the mentorship of Burcherus de Volder, professor of Medicine and Philosophy. The subject-matter of this dissertation—Disputatio Philosophica de Brutorum Operationibus—suggests that Mandeville had continued for some time as a student in Philosophy. In 1690 Mandeville was still in residence, but the beadle’s lists for 1691 do not mention him, so that it is probable that he was away from Leyden during most of the college year of 1690 to 1691. This would explain his being once more entered in the Album Studiosorum Academiae in 1691, the nineteenth of March, on the thirtieth of which month he took the degree of Doctor of Medicine, apparently returning only for that purpose.
He then took up the practice of medicine as a specialist in nerve and stomach disorders, or, as he called them, the ‘hypochondriack and hysterick passions’ or ‘diseases’. His father had practised this very branch of medicine.
Soon after, Mandeville left his native country and, possibly after a tour of Europe, went to London ‘to learn the Language; in which having happen’d to take great delight, and in the mean time found the Country and the Manners of it agreeable to his Humour, he has now been many Years, and is like to end his days in England’. Thus he himself explained his change of country.
His decision to remain in England must have been confirmed on 1 February 169 8/9, when he married Ruth Elizabeth Laurence at St. Giles-in-the-Fields. By her he was to have at least two children—Michael and Penelope.
By 1703 he had achieved his wish of learning the language, for in that year he published the first extant of the English works which were to make him known to all the western world.
History now becomes paradoxical. Her file, which has not spared details of Mandeville’s youthful days of obscurity, records almost nothing of the years when he was one of the most celebrated men in the world. She notes a couple of his dwelling-places, lists his literary works, and records his death. That is almost all.
The will is endorsed, ‘Testator fuit põe Sti. Stephani Coleman street Lond et obijt 21 instan.’ The statement of probate 1 February by Michael Mandeville follows.
The affidavit (dated 31 January) to the genuineness of the will, preserved with it at Somerset House, was signed by John Brotherton (the publisher) and Daniel Wight.
But though record has been thus discreet, rumour has been more communicative. The brilliant free-thinking doctor was a kind of scarecrow to frighten ministers with, and the most damning whispers about him rustle through the pages of the eighteenth century:
‘… his own life was far from being correct … an indulger in gross sensuality. …’ ‘…. a man of very bad principles. …’ ‘On dit que c’étoit un homme qui vivoit comme il écrivoit. …’ ‘ … the Writer of the Fable of the Bees was neither a Saint in his Life, nor a Hermit in his Diet. …’
Gossip such as this has a certain spice lacking to that duller but more dependable information which may be culled from first-hand sources, and this is probably a reason why these second-hand speculations have hitherto bulked so large in all accounts of Mandeville’s life. The reader, however, who remembers the usual treatment given by gossip to writers supposed to hold irreligious principles will approach these indefinite statements with some scepticism, and may even wonder why there have not been preserved for us some really exciting scandals about Mandeville, for, as Lounsbury put it, ‘There is no mendacity more unscrupulous than that which sets out to calumniate those whom its utterers choose to deem the enemies of God’.
The nearest approach to such scandals was furnished by Sir John Hawkins, one of the most unamiable liars who ever lived. Sir John’s motto was decidedly not ‘de mortuis nil nisi bonum’, for he spent much of his life elaborating unpleasant fictions about dead geniuses. He libelled Dr. Johnson, and Boswell rages in a score of places against his ‘inaccuracy’ and ‘dark uncharitable’ assertions. Bishop Percy spoke of him as a detestable libeller; Sir Joshua Reynolds called him ‘mean’, ‘grovelling’, and ‘absolutely dishonest’, and Malone observed that he never knew any one who did not believe Hawkins a scoundrel. I mention the facts relating to Sir John Hawkins so that the reader may know in what attitude to approach the facts related by him.
Mandeville [he said], whose christian name was Bernard, was a native of Dort in Holland. He came to England young, and, as he says in some of his writings, was so pleased with the country, that he took up his residence in it, and made the language his study. He lived in obscure lodgings in London, and betook himself to the profession of physic, but was never able to acquire much practice. He was the author of the book above-mentioned [the Fable], as also of ‘Free Thoughts on Religion’, and ‘a Discourse on Hypochondriac Affections’, which Johnson would often commend; and wrote besides, sundry papers in the ‘ London Journal’, and other such publications, to favour the custom of drinking spirituous liquors, to which employment of his pen, it is supposed he was hired by the distillers. I once heard a London physician, who had married the daughter of one of that trade, mention him as a good sort of man, and one that he was acquainted with, and at the same time assert a fact, which I suppose he had learned from Mandeville, that the children of women addicted to dram-drinking, were never troubled with the rickets. He is said to have been coarse and overbearing in his manners where he durst be so; yet a great flatterer of some vulgar Dutch merchants, who allowed him a pension. This last information comes from a clerk of a city attorney, through whose hands the money passed.
In this string of statements—taken at the most unspecified second-hand and apparently an imaginative rendering of material originally in the Bibliothèque Britannique and of some reminiscences of Mandeville’s own works —there is scarcely an allegation which is not either highly improbable or capable of being directly disproved. If Mandeville wrote to increase the use of spirituous liquors, careful search through the contemporary journals has failed to reveal the fact. Such articles, indeed, would have been contrary to all his acknowledged opinions on the subject. In both the Fable of the Bees and the Treatise of the Hypochondriack and Hysterick Diseases, Mandeville dwelt vividly on the dangers of what he termed ‘this Liquid Poison’ (Fable i. 89). Concerning Mandeville’s supposed opinion about the children of dram-drinking mothers, it is worth noting the form in which Hawkins put it. A friend of Mandeville gave Hawkins a medical opinion, and without the slightest apparent reason Hawkins assumed that this friend, although himself a physician, must have learned the opinion from Mandeville. As to the ‘vulgar Dutch merchants’, if they ever existed they were probably John and Cornelius Backer. The ‘pension’, however, was in that case apparently no gratuitous endowment, but the South Sea Annuities which made up part of Mandeville’s income and which the Messrs. Backer held in trust for him.
The assertions of Hawkins as to Mandeville’s worldly station and professional success are of more interest, and we have, I believe, sufficient authentic evidence to determine the truth of these two matters, which are interdependent.
In the first place, it would be well to note a remark in Mandeville’s Treatise. Philopirio, who acts as his mouthpiece throughout the book, says for him, in answer to the observation of another character that Philopirio would not ‘get into great Business’: ‘I could never go through a Multiplicity of Business. … I am naturally slow, and could no more attend a dozen Patients in a Day, and think of them as I should do, than I could fly.’ In view of Hawkins’s general untrustworthiness and the fact that some of the information he retails is drawn from the Treatise, it is a fair prima facie assumption that the citation just given furnished the basis for Hawkins’s generalizations about Mandeville’s lack of worldly success. At any rate, there is positive evidence that Hawkins was romancing. Mandeville was one of the most successful authors and widely famed men of his day. His works were selling not only by editions but literally by dozens of editions. It is worthy of remark, too, that, in an age which specialized in personal abuse, none indictive attacks on Mandeville took what would have been an obvious course, had there been any grounds for it, of calling attention to his poverty. On the contrary, a contemporary opponent spoke of him as ‘well dress’d’ (Fable ii. 23). It is to be noted, furthermore, that Mandeville felt able to take the notice of his medical skill which appeared in the first edition of his Treatise out of the later one. Moréri’s Dictionnaire, also, which was far from holding a brief for him, mentioned that ‘il … passoit pour habile’. Positive evidence of Mandeville’s status is contained in a letter from him to Sir Hans Sloane, perhaps the leading physician of the day. This letter shows Mandeville in consultation with the famous court physician and on terms of easy familiarity with him. Mandeville, moreover, was a friend of the wealthy and powerful Lord Chancellor, the Earl of Macclesfield. The attachment between the Earl of Macclesfield and Mandeville has been noted a number of times, and a letter from Mandeville to the Chancellor indicates this relation to have been one of genuine intimacy. The friendship of the Earl would have amply insured Mandeville against poverty and neglect. Finally, Mandeville, when he died, managed to leave behind him a competency which, measured by the monetary standards of the day, was at least respectable. In view of all this, it is hardly possible that the world-famous author, the consultant of Sir Hans Sloane, and the friend of Lord Macclesfield was in anything resembling the circumstances in which Hawkins has painted him, and Hawkins may be generally discredited.
Letter Addressed to Lord Macclesfield
Stowe MS. 750, f. 429 (British Museum)
The ‘Lady Betty’ mentioned in this letter was Elizabeth Parker, Macclesfield’s daughter, who married William Heathcote of Hursley, Hampshire.
As a matter of fact, there is no authoritative firsthand evidence whatever as to Mandeville’s character and habits except what he himself has told us and the brief remark of one single contemporary. Through his spokesman Philopirio, in the Treatise, in answer to the observations of another character in the work, Misomedon, Mandeville thus speaks of himself:
… I hate a Crowd, and I hate to be in a Hurry. … I must own to you likewise, that I am a little selfish, and can’t help minding my own Enjoyments, and my own Diversion, and in short, my own Good, as well as the Good of others. I can, and do heartily admire at those publick-spirited People that can slave at an Employment from early in the Morning, ’till late at Night, and sacrifice every Inch of themselves to their Callings; but I could never have had the Power to imitate them: Not that I love to be idle; but I want to be employed to my own liking; and if a Man gives away to others two thirds of the Time he is awake, I think he deserves to have the rest for himself.
Pray, did you ever wish for a great Estate?
Often, and I should certainly have had one before now, if wishing could have procur’d it.
But I am sure, you never sought heartily after Riches.
I have always been frugal enough to have no Occasion for them.
I don’t believe you love Money.
Indeed I do.
I mean you have no Notion of the Worth of it, no real Esteem for it.
Yes I have; but I value it in the same manner as most People do their Health, which you know is seldom thought of but when it is wanted.
In another place Mandeville remarked, ‘I am a great Lover of Company. …’ This trait is noted also in the one other first-hand account we have—that of Benjamin Franklin, fortunately a sane witness. Dr. Lyons, wrote Franklin, ‘carried me to the Horns, a pale alehouse in ——— Lane, Cheapside, and introduced me to Dr. Mandeville, author of the “Fable of the Bees”, who had a club there, of which he was the soul, being a most facetious, entertaining companion’.
Mandeville died at Hackney, Sunday morning, 21 January 173⅔, in his sixty-third year, possibly of the prevalent influenza.
His works comprised the following writings:
I: AUTHENTIC WORKS
|Another edition, without date, placed by the British Museum in 1720.
|New editions 1724 (reissued 1731), 1742, 1757, and in 1713 (by title-page, 1714) under title of Mysteries of Virginity.
|The first edition had two issues in 1711 and one in 1715; the enlarged version, issued 1730 under title of A Treatise of the Hypochondriack and Hysterick Diseases, had two issues that year.
|First edition reissued 1721 and 1723; new edition (enlarged), 1729 and, possibly, 1733. French version (Pensées Libres), 1722, 1723, 1729, 1738; Dutch version, 1723; German version, 1726.
|Second edition, 1725, two editions in 1740, two without date, c. 1730–40. Numerous editions of the French translation (Vénus la Populaire), the first in 1727, the last in 1881.
|Second edition advertised in the Post Man for 4–7 Dec. 1714, under title of ‘Non-Resistance an useless Doctrine in Just Reigns’. The work is probably by Mandeville.
|Reprinted 1751 in Another Cordial for Low Spirits, which appeared as vol. 2 of A Cordial for Low Spirits … Tracts by Thomas Gordon … Second Edition (1751). The collection was reprinted in 1763.
|Bernardi à Mandeville de Medicina Oratio Scholastica. Rotterdam.
|Disputatio Philosophica de Brutorum Operationibus. Leyden.
|Disputatio Medica Inauguralis de Chylosi Vitiata. Leyden.
|Some Fables after the Easie and Familiar Method of Monsieur de la Fontaine.
|Æsop Dress’d or a Collection of Fables Writ in Familiar Verse.
|Typhon: or the Wars between the Gods and Giants: a Burlesque Poem in Imitation of the Comical Mons. Scarron.
|The Grumbling Hive: or, Knaves Turn’d Honest.
|The Virgin Unmask’d: or, Female Dialogues betwixt an Elderly Maiden Lady, and her Niece.1709
|A Treatise of the Hypochondriack and Hysterick Passions.1711
|Wishes to a Godson, with Other Miscellany Poems. By B. M.
|The Fable of the Bees.
|Free Thoughts on Religion, the Church, and National Happiness.1720
|A Modest Defence of Publick Stews.
|An Enquiry into the Causes of the Frequent Executions at Tyburn.
|Letter published in the British Journal for 24 April and 1 May 1725.
|The Fable of the Bees. Part II.
|An Enquiry into the Origin of Honour, and the Usefulness of Christianity in War.
|A Letter to Dion, Occasion’d by his Book Call’d Alciphron.
II: DOUBTFUL WORKS
|The Planter’s Charity.
|A Sermon Preach’d at Colchester, to the Dutch Congregation. … By the Reverend C. Schrevelius. … Translated into English by B. M. M.D.
|The Mischiefs that ought justly to be apprehended from a Whig-Government.
|Letter to the St. James’s Journal for 20 Apr. 1723.
|Letter to the St. James’s Journal for 11 May 1723.
|Remarks upon Two Late Presentments of the Grand-Jury … wherein are shewn, the Folly … of Mens Persecuting One Another for Difference of Opinion in Matters of Religion. … By John Wickliffe.
HISTORY OF THE TEXT
THE production of The Fable of the Bees consumed some twenty-four years. The germ from which it developed was a sixpenny quarto of twenty-six pages published anonymously on 2 April 1705. It was called The Grumbling Hive: or,Knaves Turn’d Honest. The piece took, for a pirated edition was soon printed, and ‘cry’d about the Streets in a Half-Penny Sheet’ of four pages.
The work now lay fallow for almost a decade, until, in 1714, it reappeared as part of an anonymous book called The Fable of the Bees: or, Private Vices, Publick Benefits, in which the original poem was followed by a prose commentary, explaining, in the form of An Enquiry into the Origin of Moral Virtue and twenty ‘Remarks’, divers of the opinions expressed in the poem. There was a second edition the same year. In 1723 another edition, entitled the second, was issued at five shillings, with the ‘Remarks’ much enlarged and two essays added—An Essay on Charity and Charity-Schools and A Search into the Nature of Society.
Now, for the first time, the work attracted real attention, and attacks upon it began to accumulate. The Grand Jury of Middlesex presented the book as a public nuisance, and what Mandeville called ‘an abusive Letter to Lord C.’ appeared in the London Journal for 27 July 1723. This caused Mandeville to publish, in the London Journal for 10 August 1723, a defence of his work against the ‘abusive Letter’ and the presentment. This defence he had reprinted upon sheets of a size such that they could easily be bound up with the 1723 edition, and he included this defence in all subsequent editions, together with a reprint of the letter to Lord C. and the Grand Jury’s presentment.
In 1724 appeared the so-called third edition, in which, besides including the defence, Mandeville made numerous stylistic changes and added two pages to the preface. The next edition, in 1725, was identical except for a number of slight verbal alterations, some of which are probably by Mandeville. The editions of 1728 and 1729 are unchanged except for small variations which are probably due to the compositor. Mandeville may have been responsible for a few verbal variations in the edition which followed in 1732.
The variations between the editions show Mandeville to have been a conscious stylist, carefully polishing.
While the various editions of Part I were pouring out, Mandeville was writing a second part to the Fable, made up of a preface and six dialogues, amplifying and defending his doctrines. He issued this in 1728 (by title-page 1729) under the title of The Fable of the Bees. Part II. By the Author of the First. It was published independently of the first part—by a different publisher, in fact. A second edition of Part II followed in 1730, and in 1733 came a third edition, called, on its title-page, ‘The Second Edition’.
After this, the two parts were published together. A two-volume edition was advertised in 1733. Another two-volume edition was published at Edinburgh in 1755, this same edition later appearing with a misleading title-page dated London, 1734. Still another two-volume edition issued from Edinburgh in 1772. In 1795 both parts appeared in a single volume, and this same edition was reisued in 1806. This was the last complete edition of the book. It had, however, a partial resurrection in 1811, when the poem of The Grumbling Hive was issued at Boston, Massachusetts, in a small pamphlet ‘printed for the People’.
Meanwhile, the work had been translated into foreign languages. In 1740 appeared a four-volume French translation attributed to J. Bertrand —a free one, in which the Rabelaisian element in Mandeville was toned down; and a new edition of this was issued in 1750. It is possible that there was still another French edition in 1760. German translations appeared in 1761, 1818, 1914, and, possibly, in 1817.
Such, in brief, was the textual history of the Fable of the Bees.
IT is difficult to know whether the reader who discovers Mandeville is most struck at first by the freshness of his style or by the vitality of his thought. If, however, the thought be the thing which impresses, it does so largely because couched in a style in which the most idiomatic and homely vigour is combined with sophisticated control of rhythm and tone—a style at once colloquial and rhetorical, retaining all the easy flow of familiar speech and yet with a constant oratorical note, and never failing to make even the most abstruse analysis so concrete as to strike beyond the intellect to the sympathies. No style of the age has retained more of the breath of life. It is more forceful and vivid than Addison’s, and, though it lacks Swift’s compression, it has more unction and more colour. Abounding in wit and humour, rich yet clear, equally adapted to speculation and to narrative, it offers a medium for popular philosophic prose lacking only in the quality of poetry.
Yet, paradoxically, the very power of Mandeville’s style has helped to make the Fable of the Bees a much misunderstood book. Mandeville put his unconventional point of view in such vigorous, downright, and uncompromising terms that he literally frightened a large proportion of his readers into misunderstanding him. The very title-page of his book—Private Vices, Publick Benefits—was enough to throw many good people into a kind of philosophical hysterics which left them no wit to grasp what he was driving at. Besides, despite the apparent clarity which Mandeville’s unusual articulateness allowed him to impart, his thought, since it dealt often with some of the profundities of ethical speculation, cannot be fully grasped unless related by the reader to a certain background of theory and observation.
A perspective can be gained from an analysis of a certain phase of contemporary thought—a phase well represented by the Deists. The Deists show on analysis a curious dual nature. On the one hand, they were a part of the great empirical movement that produced Bacon and Locke, and was to produce Hume. They believed in a world ordered by natural law, and in the inference of knowledge concerning this world by observation of its workings. In so far, therefore, they appealed, empirically, to experience. On the other hand, they had faith in a cosmogeny and an ethics of divine origin and of eternal and universal truth and applicability. According to this view, the search for truth was an attempt to discover the divine ordinances, and a true ethics the correct formulation of the will of God. The method by which the Deists contrived to believe at once both in the divine origin of truth and virtue, and in its basis in observation and experience, was by postulating the inevitable agreement of the will of God with the results of man’s rational speculation. To them, therefore, there was no conflict between reason and religion, private judgement and revelation.
But the forces which the Deists had managed temporarily to reconcile were capable of almost infinite mutual repulsion. On the one hand, as soon as men come to realize the contradictory nature of the data of experience and the irreconcilability of the appreciations of the experiencers, the appeal to experience may easily tend towards undermining faith in the absolute validity of our conceptions of truth and virtue. The appeal may lead, in other words, towards a belief in the relativity of all our views, a belief which, intensified, becomes philosophical anarchism, or a denial of the possibility of any final criteria whatever. On the other hand, the religious conception that the laws of nature are the will of God is essentially anti-relativistic, for laws of divine origin are true irrespective of the opinions of conflicting observers—are of universal and absolute validity.—Similarly, in ethics, the stress on experience leads naturally to some such relating of moral codes to human convenience as utilitarianism; whereas the belief that moral codes have a divine sanction transcending the test of experience tends, on the contrary, to a moral absolutism which, though it does not necessarily lead to, may not inconsistently foster asceticism. Thus deism coupled in one creed a conception capable of leading to the most extreme relativism with one holding the potentiality of the most rigorous and uncompromising absolutism.
The Deists, as we have seen, held these forces in equilibrium by assuming the identity of the dictates of reason and the will of God. And this was a general position for the rationalists of the age. But it was not the only method of handling the inevitable problem of the relation of individual inquiry and traditional religion. Another, and opposite, method was seen in that scepticism—especially prevalent in the Renaissance—of which Montaigne’s Apologie de Raimond Sebond was an example. The Sceptics argued that reason and religion were antithetical. Religion offers us absolute truth; but, they argued in detail, the human reason is incapable of reaching such final truth: its conclusions are never more than relative. Having elaborated thus far the conflict between reason and religion, the Sceptics then proceeded to resolve the discord. Since, they said, reason is impotent to give us truth, reason itself, by its very impotence, shows us the need of religion to furnish us the truths we cannot find elsewhere. Thus the Sceptics developed elaborately the potential antithesis between reason and religion while yet holding them in unstable equilibrium.
Of the two chief methods of dealing with this fundamental problem of the relation of private judgement and traditional religion it was the second which Mandeville’s great thought-ancestor chose as the main theme on which to write his variations. Pierre Bayle (1647–1706) spent his prolific genius demonstrating with gusto the essential disconcordance between revealed religion and any appeal to experience, contrasting all the absolutism inherent in the one with all the relativism latent in the other.
With Bayle the appeal to experience led to a relativism so extreme as to approach a thoroughgoing philosophical anarchism. ‘. . . I am sure’, he said, ‘that there are very few good Philosophers in our Age, but are convinced, that Nature is an impenetrable Abyss, and that its Springs are known to none, but to the Maker and Director of them.’ This scepticism as to the possibility to human endeavour of attaining absolute truth is general throughout his work. On the other hand, Bayle took pains to impress on his readers that religion demands precisely that finality which is unattainable from experience. Immediately after his statement that ‘Nature is an impenetrable Abyss’, he definitely stated that this doctrine is ‘dangerous to Religion; for it ought to be grounded upon Certainty. . . .’
But he was not satisfied with elaborating the conflict merely between reason and religion. Passing from the world of concepts to the world of actual conduct, he paralleled the opposition between reason and religion by the opposition of human nature in general to the demands of religion. Christianity, said Bayle, is ascetic, ordaining that we subdue our natural desires because they are due to the ‘Dominion of Original Sin, and … our corrupt Nature’. But humanity will not submit itself to such a discipline. Even if man could be made to sincerely profess Christianity, yet his nature would prevent his following his faith, for man does not act according to the principles he professes, but ‘almost always follows the reigning Passion of his Soul, the Biass of his Constitution, the Force of inveterate Habits, and his Taste and Tenderness for some Objects more than other’ (Miscellaneous Reflections i. 272). Small wonder, then, that Bayle should conclude that ‘the Principles of Religion are little pursued in the World . . .’ (Misc. Refl. i. 285).
Thus Bayle insisted on the incompatibility of religion not only with reason but with human nature in general. But Bayle did not on this account reject the religion he had thus opposed to humanity. He accepted it—at least outwardly—and with it, therefore, a code and an attitude with which his whole temper was out of harmony and which his normal manner of thinking discredited.
Bayle thus shows a paradoxical dualism in his scheme of things. He is an extreme relativist, yet he announces that the religion he professes demands finality; he reduces conduct, even the most beneficial, to the following of some dominant desire, yet he denounces desire as wicked. What he has shown true and good from a worldly point of view he condemns according to the other-worldly criterion. Now, in one way, there is nothing new about this. Long before Ecclesiastes, moralists were insisting that the good things of this world are vanity; that what is good from one point of view is wicked from a higher. Really, however, there is an essential difference between this and the attitude of Pierre Bayle. With the prophets, the paradox was that the things denounced should ever be thought good; with Bayle, that things so frankly true and useful should have to be looked upon as bad. Verbally, there may not seem much difference; philosophically, there could hardly be greater disparity between attitudes. In the latter case, the duality hid a fundamental worldliness which was eventually to crack the other-worldly moulds into which it was temporarily forced, as the incompatibility of the two elements was made more evident. The incongruity of the two attitudes held concurrently is clear in Bayle; but it is in Mandeville that it becomes most definite.
It was in 1714, in an atmosphere contradictorily charged with the fanatical agitation of religious prophets and strange sects prophesying Armageddon, with the rationalism of the Deists, and with an adumbrating scientific attitude, that Mandeville issued the sensational volume in which these contemporary contradictions were caught up and juxtaposed in brilliant and devastating paradox.
The book is introduced by a short, rhymed allegory of a bee-hive. Mandeville describes the dishonesty and selfishness in this hive. Merchants, lawyers, doctors, priests, judges, statesmen—all are vicious. And yet their wickedness is the stuff out of which is made the complicated social mechanism of a great state, where are seen
- Millions endeavouring to supply
- Each other’s Lust and Vanity … (Fable i. 18).
- Thus every Part was full of Vice,
- Yet the whole Mass a Paradise … (i. 24).
The bees, however, are not satisfied to have their viciousness mixed with their prosperity. All the cheats and hypocrites declaim about the state of their country’s morals and pray the gods for honesty. This raises the indignation of Jove, who unexpectedly grants the hive its wish.
- BUT, Oh ye Gods! What Consternation,
- How vast and sudden was th’ Alteration! (i. 28).
- As Pride and Luxury decrease,
- So by degrees they leave the Seas. …
- All Arts and Crafts neglected lie;
- Content, the Bane of Industry,
- Makes ’em admire their homely Store,
- And neither seek nor covet more (i. 34–5).
In this way, through the loss of their vices, the hive at the same time lost all its greatness.
Now comes the moral:
- THEN leave Complaints: Fools only strive
- To make a Great an Honest Hive.
- T’ enjoy the World’s Conveniencies,
- Be fam’d in War, yet live in Ease,
- Without great Vices, is a vain
- Eutopia seated in the Brain.
- Fraud, Luxury and Pride must live,
- While we the Benefits receive. …
- So Vice is beneficial found,
- When it’s by Justice lopt and bound;
- Nay, where the People would be great,
- As necessary to the State,
- As Hunger is to make ’em eat (i. 36–7).
Then, in the series of prose essays which follows, Mandeville elaborated the thesis of the poem on the bee-hive, that vice is the foundation of national prosperity and happiness. Now, by this he did not mean simply that all evil has a good side to it, and that this good outweighs the evil. His paradox turned, instead, on his definition of virtue. This definition was a reflection of two great contemporary currents of thought—the one ascetic, the other rationalistic. According to the first—a common theological position—virtue was a transcending of the demands of corrupt human nature, a conquest of self, to be achieved by divine grace. According to the second, virtue was conduct in accord with the dictates of sheer reason. Mandeville adopted both of these conceptions, and, amalgamating them, declared those acts alone to be virtuous ‘by which Man, contrary to the impulse of Nature, should endeavour the Benefit of others, or the Conquest of his own Passions out of a Rational Ambition of being good’ (i. 48–9). Thus, he combined an ascetic with a rationalistic creed. No contradiction was involved, for to Mandeville, in accord with much contemporary thought (see below, i. cxxii, n. 1), purely rational conduct was action in no wise dictated by emotion or natural impulse; and, therefore, both aspects of Mandeville’s definition equally proclaimed all conduct vicious which was not the result of a complete denial of one’s emotional nature—true virtue being unselfish and dispassionate.—This blend of asceticism and rationalism in Mandeville’s definition I shall hereafter refer to as ‘rigorism’.
Now, when Mandeville came to examine the world in the light of this formula, he could find no virtue: he discovered, search as he would, no actions—even the most beneficial—dictated entirely by reason and quite free from selfishness. The affairs of the world are not managed in obedience to any such transcendent view of morality. If all actions were to cease except those due to unselfishness, the pure idea of good, or the love of God, trade would end, the arts would be unnecessary, and the crafts be almost abandoned. All these things exist only to supply purely mundane wants, which, according to Mandeville’s analysis, are all at bottom selfish. From the standpoint, therefore, of his rigoristic formula, everything was vicious. It was, accordingly, merely an obvious deduction that, since all is vicious, even things beneficial to us arise from vicious causes, and private vices are public benefits.
The matter can also be put in this way. Mandeville decided upon the public results of private actions according to utilitarian standards. That which is useful, that which is productive of national prosperity and happiness, he called a benefit. But he judged the private actions themselves according to an anti-utilitarian scheme, whereby conduct was evaluated, not by its consequences, but by the motive which gave it rise. In this case, only such deeds were virtuous as sprang from motives which fulfilled the demands of rigorism; the actual effect of conduct on human happiness made no difference. Mandeville himself was aware of the presence in his book of this dual morality of consequence and motive: ‘… there is an Ambiguity in the Word Good which I would avoid; let us stick to that of Virtuous . . .’, he said (ii. 109). And throughout the Fable he has been rather careful to use the words virtuous or vicious when applying the rigoristic criterion to motive, and other words when applying the utilitarian criterion to conduct. The paradox that private vices are public benefits is merely a statement of the paradoxical mixing of moral criteria which runs through the book.
Mandeville, then, like Bayle, has elaborated the obvious incompatibility of the ascetic ideal of morality with any utilitarian standard of living, and of the rationalistic ideal of conduct with a true psychology. By juxtaposing the contrary standards he has achieved a reductio ad absurdum of one or the other. Many people would say, of course, that Mandeville had demonstrated the absurdity of the rigoristic creed. They would say, If it be vice by which the good of the world is achieved, by all means let us be vicious, for viciousness of this kind is not wickedness but virtue. Mandeville, however, again like Bayle, did not accept this aspect of the reduction to absurdity; he did not admit that the usefulness of vice abolishes its wickedness. ‘When I say that Societies cannot be rais’d to Wealth and Power, and the Top of Earthly Glory without Vices, I don’t think that by so saying I bid Men be Vicious . . .’ (i. 231). Neither, however, in spite of the passage just cited, did he accept the other aspect of the reduction; he did not say that, since national prosperity is based on viciousness, we should cease to endeavour to gain this prosperity and should live lives of self-mortification. Although he held this up as the ideal of conduct, he argued equally forcibly that this ideal is quite impossible of achievement. What he really advised is the abandonment of the attempt
- To make a Great an Honest Hive.
Since you will be wicked in any case, he said, whether your country is prosperous or not, you might as well be wicked and prosperous.
… if Virtue, Religion, and future Happiness were sought after by the Generality of Mankind …, it would certainly be best, that none but Men of good Lives, and known Ability, should have any Place in the Government whatever: But to expect that this ever should happen … is to betray great Ignorance in human Affairs. … The best of all then not being to be had, let us look out for the next best …’ (ii. 335).
So Mandeville outlined methods by which to achieve national happiness, but always with the proviso that all this happiness is wicked; that, if it were only possible, it would be better to abandon it. In this way, he managed to maintain with consistency that public benefits are and must be based on private vices.
Perhaps it may seem to some as if Mandeville must have been either a very dull or a very perverse man not to have seen that he had achieved a practical reductio ad absurdum of the rigoristic attitude and should therefore have abandoned a creed which he had found so irreconcilable with experience. To such as think this I point to the example of Bayle, who exhibited a similar phenomenon, and remind the reader that Mandeville’s rigorism was an adaptation of a contemporary point of view both popular and respected, a view-point not yet extinct. Long after Mandeville, for instance, a position as rigorous as that of the Fable of the Bees was taken by Kant, who, like Mandeville, refused the name of ‘moral’ to actions dictated by personal preference, reserving the name for conduct motivated by impersonal devotion to abstract principle. Indeed, some such rigorism whereby principle is made completely superior to circumstance is latent in the morality of almost everybody. The ordinary man who says that right is right regardless of the consequences is taking the rigoristic position that it is obedience to principle, and not results, which determines right, and it needs only a development of this attitude to make him also maintain that private vice may become public good. Place this average man in a position where if he does not tell a lie a great public calamity will come about. Now, in so far as he believes that right is independent of its consequences, he must believe that the lie would remain vicious in spite of all the good it would do the State. He must therefore in a sense believe that private vice (here, the lie) is a public benefit. In so far, indeed, as any one refuses to believe that, in morals, circumstances alter cases, he can be forced into Mandeville’s paradox.—I stress this particular matter for two reasons. The first is to vindicate Mandeville from the charge of obtuseness in the position which he took. The second is to show the still living interest of his thought.
But which of the two contrary attitudes whose simultaneous presence had produced the Mandevillian paradox was really the one sympathetic to Mandeville? Did he really feel that only those actions were good which were done in accord with the dictates of a transcendent morality, or did he believe that the natural desires, whose need to society he had shown, were good? Should we call him ascetic or utilitarian, worldly or unworldly? Was he basally rigoristic or what, for lack of an exact term, I shall call ‘empirical’, meaning thereby that combination of qualities here opposed to ‘rigorism’? The question is crucial: and I believe it can be answered positively. Mandeville was fundamentally an empiricist, and an intense one. He shrinks from what transcends human experience: ‘… all our knowledge comes à posteriori, it is imprudent to reason otherwise than from facts’, he says (ii. 261). He will admit Revelation, formally, but in such a way as to suggest that he does so only to avoid trouble with the authorities; and he then proceeds to negate the admission by denying the existence of even one instance of a man according his life with Revelation. Virtue? Honour? Charity? are not these of a transcendent sanctity? Certainly not, he would answer if thus asked; they have their roots in human nature and desire, and are as relative to the forces of nature as is the cultivation of a tulip. Those who best understand man, he believes, take him for what he is, ‘the most perfect of Animals’ (i. 44).
Mandeville’s adoption of the ascetic, other-worldly formula is entirely arbitrary. It is simply a final twist given to his thought after it has been worked out in harmony with the opposite or empiric viewpoint. It is a suit of clothes made for some one else which he has put on the living body of his thought. It is a kind of candle-snuffer with which he has covered the light of his real persuasion, and has no more of the real flame of his genius than a candle-snuffer of candle-flame. The rigoristic qualification—‘But all this of which I have shown the necessity is wrong’—is added to his thought as one adds a new twist to the ending of an already concluded story. Mandeville’s feeling is throughout anti-ascetic. He rejoices in destroying the ideals of those who imagine that there is in the world any real exemplification of the transcendent morality which he formally preaches. He is delighted to find that the rigoristic creed which he has adopted is an absolutely impracticable one. His real bias appears constantly. Of Cleomenes, who serves as his avowed spokesman (see ii. 21) in Part II of the Fable, he declares (ii. 18) that he has a ‘strong Aversion to Rigorists of all sorts’. And he states that, ‘As to Religion, the most knowing and polite Part of a Nation have every where the least of it …’ (i. 269 and 308). Furthermore, he betrays his fundamental antipathy to the rigorism he outwardly espouses, by associating it with something he has definitely repudiated—the doctrine of ‘passive obedience’ (see below, i. 233, n. 1).
His very adoption of rigorism is in a way a means of satisfying his dislike of it. The stress he places on the irreconcilability of this rigorism with all the manifestations of civilization indirectly gratifies his disrelish of the former, just as his insistence on the absurdity of the biblical miracles from a scientific point of view satisfies his repugnance to them in the very act of apparently embracing them (cf. below, ii. 21, n. 2). Thus a man unwillingly doing another a favour may console himself by dwelling on his self-abnegation. In addition, the very intensity of the rigorism which Mandeville adds to his thought is a means of discounting the rigorism. By making his ethical standards so exaggeratedly rigorous, he renders them impossible of observance, and therefore can and does discard them for the ordinary affairs of the world.
True rigorists and transcendentalists have always sensed the fundamental disharmony between Mandeville’s real tendencies and his arbitrary asceticism; they have known that the latter was artificial and have detested him. Mandeville lacks one essential of a true believer in the insufficiency of the purely human: he does not believe in the existence of a superior something in comparison with which humanity is insignificant. He is lacking in any religious feeling or idealism. His rejection of all absolute laws and knowledge, his insistence on the animal facts of life—these are not the result of any rigoristic distrust of nature as it is, but of such complete faith in it that he feels no need for any beliefs by which to attempt to lift himself above it. When he says (i. 231), ‘If I have shewn the way to worldly Greatness, I have always without Hesitation preferr’d the Road that leads to Virtue’, he is simply not to be believed.—Indeed, the empiric bias so pervades Mandeville’s book that it has been considered a deliberate satiric attempt to reduce the rigoristic attitude to absurdity.
The empiricism is so dominant and the rigorism so arbitrary in Mandeville’s thought that there is, in fact, an air of probability about this diagnosis. I do not, however, believe that Mandeville was attempting any conscious reductio ad absurdum of rigorism, whether or not he has achieved it. The rigoristic twist in his thought is too consistent for this supposition; it appears in all his major works, and seems to have become a part of his mind. The coupling of contradictory attitudes was, moreover, a prominent feature of the thought of the age and still produces quite undeliberately the Mandevillian paradox. In addition, it furnished Mandeville with a protection against the wrath of the orthodox: he could, at will, point to the orthodox side of his teachings—‘I have always without Hesitation preferr’d the Road that leads to Virtue’; and, since people tend honestly to believe what makes them most comfortable, he must have had a real incentive to maintain his rigorism as more than a mere pose. But the rigorism is certainly not in keeping with his natural tendencies. That is the important thing to remember.
Mandeville’s philosophy, indeed, forms a complete whole without the extraneous rigorism. The best way, then, to know him thoroughly is to understand the details of the ‘empirical’ aspect of his thought. Once we have found what, from this point of view, Mandeville thinks desirable, we have only to add the rigoristic qualification, ‘But all this is vice’, and we shall understand the Fable.
Discounting, then, the superficial rigorism, we may define Mandeville’s ethics as a combination of philosophical anarchism in theory with utilitarianism in practice. Theoretically, he admitted no final criterion for conduct whatever: ‘ … the hunting after this Pulchrum & Honestum is not much better than a Wild-Goose-Chace …’ (i. 331). There is no such thing as a summum bonum. All such principles of conduct as honour are chimeras (i. 198). The inevitable differences between men render it impossible that any definite agreement should ever be reached as to what is really desirable. Shall we say that the pleasurable or useful shall form our ideal? Why, one man’s meat is another man’s poison. From any different standpoint, ‘… a Man that hates Cheese must call me a Fool for loving blue Mold’ (i. 314). If it were argued that there is disagreement here because one of the two is mistaken as to what really constitutes pleasure, Mandeville would answer that the objection was entirely arbitrary. A man’s real pleasures are what he likes (i. 147–8); one cannot go behind this. One cannot, therefore, discover any really definite and final agreement between men as to what shall constitute a summum bonum or criterion according to which to plan a system of morality.
In the Works of Nature, Worth and Excellency are as uncertain [as the comparative value of paintings): and even in Humane Creatures what is beautiful in one Country is not so in another. How whimsical is the Florist in his Choice! Sometimes the Tulip, sometimes the Auricula, and at other times the Carnation shall engross his Esteem, and every Year a new Flower in his Judgment beats all the old ones. … The many ways of laying out a Garden Judiciously are almost Innumerable, and what is called Beautifulin them varies according to the different Tastes of Nations and Ages. In Grass Plats, Knots and Parterre’s a great diversity of Forms is generally agreeable; but a Round may be as pleasing to the Eye as a Square: … and the preeminence an Octagon has over an Hexagon is no greater in Figures, than at Hazard Eight has above Six among the Chances. … In Morals there is no greater Certainty (i. 327–30).
This radical philosophical anarchism, like the rigorism to which it formed so paradoxical a companion, was largely a reaction to contemporary rationalistic thought. In the one case as in the other, Mandeville was endeavouring to prove the impossibility of certain existing ideals. As he had confronted the current rigoristic standards with the demonstration that human nature rendered them unattainable, so he faced the current belief that the laws of right and wrong must be ‘eternal and immutable’ with the observation that, in point of fact, they are temporary and variable.
Nevertheless, Mandeville’s pyrrhonism was not by any means so extreme as it might at first seem. He has exaggerated his opinions. He himself, protesting against a too literal reading of some of his statements, says quite definitely (ii. 221–2) that
A Man of Sense, Learning and Experience, that has been well educated, will always find out the difference between Right and Wrong in things diametrically opposite; and there are certain Facts, which he will always condemn, and others which he will always approve of: … and not only Men of great Accomplishments, and such as have learn’d to think abstractly, but all Men of midling Capacities, that have been brought up in Society, will agree in this, in all Countries and in all Ages.
No one, in point of fact, could write a book in which practical suggestions were offered if he really thought in accord with the extreme anarchism outlined in the last paragraphs.
And, indeed, Mandeville seems, in practice, not even a mild anarchist, but a thoroughgoing utilitarian. As a matter of fact, he is both a philosophical anarchist and a utilitarian. There is not here the contradiction there may at first seem to be, for utilitarianism need not be the hard-and-fast setting up of some particular form of welfare as the goal of conduct, but may be simply the ideal of satisfying the various differing desires and needs of the world as much as possible. To say that welfare, or pleasure, or happiness should be the end of action does not mean the limiting of this welfare, pleasure, or happiness to one particular kind, but may allow the satisfaction of as many kinds as there are people. It offers no fatal opposition to pyrrhonism, then, for under it, as well as under pyrrhonism, a man could enjoy blue mould without forbidding his neighbour to eat truffles. Indeed, anarchism in the realm of theory accords very well with utilitarianism in the world of practice, and always has so accorded.
Mandeville’s utilitarianism is marked. It not only underlies his position, but is given explicit expression.
Every Individual [he says] is a little World by itself, and all Creatures, as far as their Understanding and Abilities will let them, endeavour to make that Self happy: This in all of them is the continual Labour, and seems to be the whole Design of Life. Hence it follows, that in the Choice of Things Men must be determin’d by the Perception they have of Happiness; and no Person can commit or set about an Action, which at that then present time seems not to be the best to him (ii. 178).
… It is manifest, that when we pronounce Actions good or evil, we only regard the Hurt or Benefit the Society receives from them, and not the Person who commits them (i. 244).
… there is not one Commandment in it [the Decalogue], that has not a regard to the temporal Good of Society … (ii. 283; cf. also ii. 282).
In his Modest Defence of Publick Stews (ed. 1724, pp. 68–9), he states his utilitarianism most succinctly:
… it is the grossest Absurdity, and a perfect Contradiction in Terms, to assert, That a Government may not commit Evil that good may come of it; for, if a Publick Act, taking in all its Consequences, really produces a greater Quantity of Good, it must, and ought to be term’d a good Act. … no sinful Laws can be beneficial, and vice versa, … no beneficial Laws can be sinful.
If we look at the Fable in this light, we shall see that, even in places which at first seem out of keeping with it, the utilitarian standard has been applied. ‘Private Vices, Publick Benefits’—does this mean that everything is a benefit since everything is vicious? Not at all. Vices are to be punished as soon as they grow into crimes, says Mandeville (i. 10). The only vice to be encouraged is useful vice (i. e., that which the non-rigoristic would not call vice at all). Harmful vice is crime, and to be discouraged. In other words, the real thesis of the book is not that all evil is a public benefit, but that a certain useful proportion of it (called vice) is such a benefit (and, as I indicated earlier, is on that account not really felt to be evil, though still called vicious). There is here a definite application of the utilitarian standard.
This point can hardly be over-emphasized. Much nonsense has been uttered concerning Mandeville’s believing everything equally valuable and his attempting to encourage wholesale vice, and crimes such as theft and murder. And this although he wrote a whole book on how to make the prevention of crime more efficacious. Mandeville never urged that all vice was equally useful to society; this misappre hension drew from him protest after protest. All he maintained was that, viewed from his arbitrary rigoristic point of view, all actions were equally vicious. But practically, if not always theoretically, he was a utilitarian.
Having considered the objective phase of Mandeville’s ethics, let us now examine its subjective side. What feelings cause men to be moral, and how are these feelings related to one another? We have already noted the untranscendental nature of Mandeville’s anatomy of society, and his analysis of the world’s activity into the interplay of purely human ‘passions’ and wants. These various passions and wants, it remains to add, he found to be so many manifestations of self-love, and all the actions of men so many naïve or deliberate efforts to satisfy that self-love.
ALL untaught Animals are only sollicitous of pleasing themselves, and naturally follow the bent of their own Inclinations, without considering the good or harm that from their being pleased will accrue to others (i. 41).
But such a state of things could not comfortably go on. So wise men
thoroughly examin’d all the Strength and Frailties of our Nature, and observing that none were either so savage as not to be charm’d with Praise, or so despicable as patiently to bear Contempt, justly concluded, that Flattery must be the most powerful Argument that cou’d be used to Human Creatures (i. 42–3).
They therefore organized society in such a fashion that those who acted for the good of others were rewarded through their pride, and that those who lacked this regard for others were punished through their shame. ‘… the Moral Virtues’, concluded Mandeville (i. 51), therefore, ‘are the Political Offspring which Flattery begot upon Pride.’
To develop more exactly Mandeville’s conception of the selfish basis of moral conduct, we may divide the motivation of good acts by selfish emotion into two varieties. First, there is the good which may be done by a savage. If any one should see a ‘nasty over-grown Sow’ crunching the bones of an innocent infant, he would naturally try to rescue it (i. 255–6). But this would be a selfish act in spite of its good social consequences, for the rescuer was acting to relieve his own compassion. In like manner, people give alms to beggars, not from unselfishness, but ‘from the same Motive as they pay their Corn-cutter, to walk easy’ (i. 259). The natural acts, therefore, are selfish. Secondly, there is the good which may be done by an educated man, who does not obey his impulses naïvely like a savage. It is here that Mandeville was most adroit. Through an analysis of human nature of extraordinary subtlety and penetration, he proceeded to reduce all apparent self-mortification and sacrifice, where there is no reward in view, to love of praise or fear of blame.
The Greediness we have after the Esteem of others, and the Raptures we enjoy in the Thoughts of being liked, and perhaps admired, are Equivalents that over-pay the Conquest of the strongest Passions … (i. 68).
The very desire not to appear proud he reduced to pride, for the true gentleman takes pride in never appearing proud. All apparent virtue, therefore, educated or naïve, is fundamentally selfish, being either the satisfaction of a natural, and hence selfish, impulse, or of the selfish passion of pride.
There are several things to be borne in mind in connexion with Mandeville’s reduction of all action to open or disguised selfishness. The first is that he did not deny the existence of those impulses which are commonly called altruistic. He merely argued that the philosopher can go behind this apparent unselfishness. He was rather explaining altruism than explaining it away. Nor, in the second place, was he accusing mankind of deliberate hypocrisy. One of his main contentions was that, for want of self-knowledge, almost all men deceive themselves. Their apparent altruism may be honest, he maintained: they simply do not realize that it springs from selfishness. Such self-deception is, he held, the most normal of psychological phenomena, for men’s convictions, and, indeed, reason itself, are the playthings of emotion. It is one of Mandeville’s basal beliefs that our most elaborate and judicial philosophizings are only a rationalization of certain dominant desires and biases: ‘… we are ever pushing our Reason which way soever we feel Passion to draw it, and Self-love pleads to all human Creatures for their different Views, still furnishing every individual with Arguments to justify their Inclinations’ (Fable i. 333). This conception Mandeville developed, in the Fable, Free Thoughts, and Origin of Honour, with a completeness and subtlety beyond that of any predecessor or contemporary, and not matched till present-day psychology attacked the problem.
Another important point in Mandeville’s tracing of morality and society to some form of egoism is that his description of the invention of virtue and society by lawgivers and wise men who deliberately imposed upon man’s pride and shame is a parable and not an attempt at history. This fact, which is often misapprehended, is important enough to demand special consideration. All that Mandeville was attempting to show by his allegory of the growth of society and morality was the ingredients that make it up, and not the actual process of growth. He did not mean that ‘politicians’ constructed morality out of whole cloth; they merely directed instincts already predisposed to moral guidance.
How unanimous soever, therefore, all Rulers and Magistrates have seem’d to be in promoting some Religion or other, the Principle of it was not of their Invention. They found it in Man … (Origin of Honour, p. 28).
Nor did he mean that society was organized overnight. To miss this point would be to miss an essential element in Mandeville, which is his precocious feeling for evolution. In a day which lacked historical perspective, he had a real feeling for the gulf of time and effort which divides us from the primitive: ‘… it is the Work of Ages to find out the true Use of the Passions …’ (ii. 319). Even in the allegory itself he took precautions that the reader should not understand him too literally. ‘This was (or at least might have been) the manner after which Savage Man was broke …’, he qualified (i. 46). And he was careful to add that the law-givers were and are as much deceived as the rest of mankind.
I would have no body that reflects on the mean Original of Honour complain of being gull’d and made a Property by cunning Politicians, but desire every body to be satisfied, that the Governors of Societies … are greater Bubbles to Pride than any of the rest (i. 220–1).
But it is in Part II, which he wrote largely to correct misconceptions caused by the deliberately paradoxical Part I, that Mandeville most stressed the gradualness of evolution. A great part of the volume is devoted to tracing the growth of society in a surprisingly scientific manner, and completely contradicts the literal interpretation of the allegory in the earlier portion of Part I.
Among the things [evidences of civilization] I hint at [he said (ii. 321–2)], there are very few, that are the Work of one Man, or of one Generation; the greatest part of them are the Product, the joynt Labour of several Ages. … By this sort of Wisdom [ordinary intelligence], and Length of Time, it may be brought about, that there shall be no greater Difficulty in governing a large City, than (pardon the Lowness of the Simile) there is in weaving of Stockings.
There are other similar passages, in which Mandeville demonstrated a vision and grasp of the origin and growth of society unique in his day.
However, the important thing to realize for the understanding of Mandeville is not so much his conception of the evolution of morals and society as the configuration of the passions on which it is based—always, Mandeville maintained, selfish.
Such is the general philosophic background of Mandeville’s thought. Against this background he outlined theories on a great variety of practical matters, notably concerning economics. Some of these theories are considered in the next chapter of this introduction. The present chapter being devoted to interpretation, we are here occupied only with those doctrines about which misunderstanding has arisen. One of those tenets was a celebrated economic fallacy with which Mandeville’s name has been closely connected.
The Fire of London was a Great Calamity [wrote Mandeville (i. 359)], but if the Carpenters, Bricklayers, Smiths, and all, not only that are employed in Building but likewise those that made and dealt in the same Manufactures and other Merchandizes that were Burnt, and other Trades again that got by them when they were in full Employ, were to Vote against those who lost by the Fire; the Rejoicings would equal if not exceed the Complaints.
And, he added (i. 364):
A Hundred Bales of Cloth that are burnt or sunk in the Mediterranean, are as Beneficial to the Poor in England, as if they had safely arriv’d at Smyrna or Aleppo, and every Yard of them had been Retail’d in the Grand Signior’s Dominions.
The theory took another form in Mandeville’s statement (i. 355–6) that,
It is the sensual Courtier that sets no Limits to his Luxury; the Fickle Strumpet that invents new Fashions every … ; the profuse Rake and lavish Heir… : It is these that are the Prey and proper Food of a full grown Leviathan. … He that gives most Trouble to thousands of his Neighbours, and invents the most operose Manufactures is, right or wrong, the greatest Friend to the Society.
This is what economists call the ‘make-work fallacy’, the belief that it is the amount of industry, and not the amount and quality of the goods produced, that measures a nation’s prosperity. Mandeville’s name has been so intertwined with this theory that now sane and intelligent critics—like Leslie Stephen —believe that Mandeville would have welcomed a succession of London fires and absurd extravagance on the part of everybody. That is what happens when serious people read a whimsical book. Mandeville did not mean these silly things. It should be remembered that the Fable of the Bees was a professedly paradoxical work, and not always to be taken literally. The passages from which I have quoted formed part of Mandeville’s general paradoxical assertion that good is based upon evil: he was substantiating this by showing that there is nothing bad which has not some compensations attached to it. He was also demonstrating, in accord with the general thesis of the book, that it is not ascetic virtues, such as a hoarding frugality, which make a nation prosperous.
He most explicitly denied the false meanings that have been read into him.
Should any of my Readers draw Conclusions in infinitum from my Assertions that Goods sunk or burnt are as beneficial to the Poor as if they had been well sold and put to their proper Uses, I would count him a Caviller … (i. 364).
And again (i. 249):
… whoever can subsist and lives above his Income is a Fool.
What he believed was that ‘Goods sunk or burnt’, and foolish extravagances, are beneficial to the class of workers which will have increased occupation in supplying the extra demands. And where he did argue that losses and extravagances are good for the state, it should be remembered that he was considering not an ideal state where people would spend for useful things what they now do for follies, but an actual, imperfect state of actual, imperfect people, where the abolishing of extravagance would mean a curtailment of demand and production. Mandeville, that is, was not trying to show the ideal way to make a state wealthy, but the way it often actually is made so.
One other article in Mandeville’s economic creed demands attention here—his notorious attack upon the charity-schools. Mandeville’s case against them was, briefly, as follows: Nobody will do unpleasant work unless he is compelled to by necessity. There is, however (i. 311), ‘Abundance of hard and dirty Labour’ to be done. Now, poverty is the only means of getting people to do this necessary work: men ‘have nothing to stir them up to be serviceable but their Wants, which it is Prudence to relieve, but Folly to cure’ (i. 194). National wealth, indeed, consists not in money, but (i. 287) in ‘a Multitude of laborious Poor’. Since, therefore, it would be ruinous to abolish poverty, and impossible to do away with unpleasant labour, the best thing to do is to recognize this fact, and help adapt the poor to the part they have to play. But charity-schools, by educating children above their station and thus leading them both to expect comforts they will not have and to loathe occupations they must engage in, are subversive of the future happiness and usefulness of the scholars:
… to divert … Children from useful Labour till they are fourteen or fifteen Years old, is a wrong Method to qualify them for it when they are grown up.
Finally, he attacked the schools on the ground that they interfered with the natural adjustment of society:
… proportion as to Numbers in every Trade finds it self, and is never better kept than when no body meddles or interferes with it.
The gusto of Mandeville’s assault on the charity-schools, and his incidental attack on what he termed the ‘Petty Reverence for the Poor’ (i. 311), is apt to impress the modern reader as almost incredibly brutal. But that is because the Essay is judged from a humanitarian point of view which hardly existed in Mandeville’s time. Seen in historical perspective, there is nothing unusually harsh in Mandeville’s position. The age was not interested in making the labourer comfortable, but in making his work cheap and plentiful. Sir William Petty was no friendlier than Mandeville to the poor when he termed them ‘the vile and brutish part of mankind’; even so ardent an upholder of the rights of man as Andrew Fletcher urged that labourers be returned to a condition of slavery; and Melon, too, advised slavery. The truth is that, although Mandeville’s attack on the charity-schools caused great scandal at the time, his adversaries were really as little desirous as Mandeville to lessen the labourer’s work or raise his wages.
Mandeville, indeed, was perhaps more considerate of the condition of the labourer than was the average citizen, for he felt at least the need of answering what could be urged on the other side:
I would not be thought Cruel, and am well assured if I know any thing of myself, that I abhor Inhumanity; but to be compassionate to excess where Reason forbids it, and the general Interest of the Society requires steadiness of Thought and Resolution, is an unpardonable Weakness. I know it will be ever urged against me, that it is Barbarous the Children of the Poor should have no Opportunity of exerting themselves, as long as God has not debarr’d them from Natural Parts and Genius more than the Rich. But I cannot think this is harder, than it is that they should not have Money as long as they have the same Inclinations to spend as others (i. 310).
It should be remembered, also, that Mandeville believed the lot of the hard-working poor need not be a sad one:
Was impartial Reason to be Judge between real Good and real Evil, … I question whether the Condition of Kings would be at all preferable to that of Peasants, even as Ignorant and Laborious as I seem to require the latter to be. … what I urge could be no injury or the least diminution of Happiness to the Poor. … by bringing them up in Ignorance you may inure them to real Hardships without being ever sensible themselves that they are such (i. 316–17).
In view of this apology and the fact that his views rested on the current economic attitude, such complaint as was made against his brutality may be taken as due really to his having omitted the flavouring of sentiment and moralizing with which his contemporaries sweetened their beliefs; they were scandalized at his downrightness of statement, which here, as elsewhere, was able to make a current creed obnoxious by the mere act of stating it with complete candour.
One other important aspect of the Fable will be considered here—and that is the relation of Mandeville to Shaftesbury. In both parts of the book Mandeville used Shaftesbury as a sort of ‘horrible example’, the epitome of everything with which he disagreed. When Mandeville, however, produced the Grumbling Hive in 1705, and wrote the Fable around this little satire in 1714, there is no reason to suppose that he had so much as read Shaftesbury. The Fable contained no mention of Shaftesbury till 1723. Mandeville, apparently, grew more and more conscious of the implications of his own position, relating it to other systems more fully as he expanded the Fable, and by 1723, when he began his systematic attack on the Characteristics, had realized that, as he put it, ‘two Systems cannot be more opposite than his Lordship’s and mine’ (i. 324).
Now, at first, a reader who is aware of certain resemblances between Shaftesbury and Mandeville may wonder just why their two systems show such an antithesis. Shaftesbury, for example, joined with Mandeville in decrying philosophical systems, and agreed that private advantage harmonizes with the public good. These agreements, however, are really superficial. Although Shaftesbury declaimed against system-makers, he was himself notorious for his system. Indeed, he saw the world as so perfectly and beautifully co-ordinated a piece of divine mechanism that he denied the very existence of evil, on which Mandeville built his philosophy. And, whereas to Mandeville the totality to which each particular act contributed so perfectly was the actual work-a-day world, to Shaftesbury it was the universe from the point of view of the Whole. Their entire emphasis, too, was different. Shaftesbury said, Consider the Whole and the individual will then be cared for; Mandeville said, Study the individual and the Whole will then look after itself. To Shaftesbury, also, the coincidence of public and private good was due to an enlightened benevolence, whereas to Mandeville it was the result of narrow self-seeking—Mandeville believing men completely and inevitably egoistic, Shaftesbury thinking them endowed with altruistic and gregarious feeling (see below, i. 336, n. 1). This is a fundamental distinction, for Mandeville’s whole conception of the rise and nature of society was determined by his belief in the essential egoism of human nature, and Shaftesbury’s, by his faith in the actuality of altruism.
The main distinction, however, between the two men cannot be made clear till one point has been allowed for: both men are remarkable for philosophies the apparent meaning of which is not the real meaning. Mandeville held on the surface that there is only one method of being virtuous—self-mortification from purely rational and unselfish motives; but essentially he believed that virtue is relative to time and place, that man is fundamentally irrational, and that he is unalterably selfish (cf. above in this chapter). Shaftesbury, on the other hand, because of his advice to follow nature, has often been thought to have advocated the virtue of obeying impulse and gratifying one’s own desires; but he really meant something very different. His ‘Nature’ was the whole divine scheme of creation—a thing of unalterable and perfect law, to follow which meant the subjection to it of all individual wills and differences; his was the Stoic following of ‘Nature’ and essentially rationalistic and repressive. Thus, Mandeville is on the surface an absolutist, a rationalist, and an ascetic, but is basally a relativist, an anti-rationalist, and a utilitarian; whereas Shaftesbury is superficially a relativist and spokesman for impulse, but is really an absolutist and a rationalist. The opposition between the two men, therefore, was double, for not only did the superficial aspects of their beliefs conflict, but the basal attitudes which motivated their thought were equally opposed. Each affords an inverse summary of the other.
With some such summary of Mandeville’s philosophy I shall close this discussion, for the reading of hundreds of estimates of Mandeville’s thought has impressed me with the fact that it is as important to explain what Mandeville did not mean as what he meant. A recollection of the following negative propositions, already elaborated in this chapter, will save the reader some perplexity.
Mandeville did not believe that all vice is a public benefit; he held the converse—that all benefits are based on actions fundamentally (according to his rigoristic definition ) vicious.
He did not believe that one could never tell right from wrong.
He did not believe that virtue was arbitrarily ‘invented’.
He did not deny the existence of the sympathetic emotions such as compassion, but merely refused to term them unselfish.
He did not deny the existence of what is usually termed virtue, but only maintained that it was not true virtue.
He did not believe that all extravagance and waste were good for the State.
He did not believe that vice should be encouraged, but merely that some vices ‘by the dextrous Management of a skilful Politician may be turned into Publick Benefits’ (i. 369).
And, finally, although his book is, as Dr. Johnson remarked, ‘the work of a thinking man’, and of great insight and shrewdness, he did not intend it to be taken as literally as a treatise on the calculus, but designed it also for what it successfully achieves, ‘the Reader’s Diversion’ (i. 8).
IF one is to chart the intellectual ancestry of a writer with much completeness and subtlety it is necessary to know more of his private life than is known of Mandeville’s. Of Mandeville’s intellectual companions, his tastes, his reading, the practical influences that played upon him, we know little more than can be learned from his books. And these books, moreover, date from a period when he was already a mature man, the first work definitely indicative of his outlook on life—the Virgin Unmask’d (1709)—having been published in his thirty-ninth year. Yet we can, none the less, discover those general aspects of the speculation of Mandeville’s age which were base and framework for his system. We can point out certain related elements in the thinking of contemporaries and predecessors with the assurance that, if this body of cognate thought did not mould him through this or that particular work, it must at least have done so through works of the same sort.
Now, the author of the Fable of the Bees was a very cosmopolitan person. Born and educated in Holland, familiar with the Continent, and conversant with the literature of three nations, Mandeville’s thought partook of the international quality of its creator; and this is especially true of the psychological and economic aspects of it.
It will be remembered that a dominant element in his analysis of the human mind was his insistence on its basal irrationality, his belief that what seems like the display of pure reason is merely the dialectic by which the mind discovers reasons to justify the demands of the emotions (cf. above, i. lxiii–lxiv). Now, before searching into the earlier history of this anti-rationalistic conception, it is necessary carefully to distinguish between several kinds of anti-rationalism existent at the time. There was, first, the pyrrhonistic distrust of reason as an instrument incapable of achieving absolute truth. This was a mere commonplace of an age confronted through its geographical discoveries with the knowledge that what one people held sacred was thought evil by another, and familiar with the philosophical anarchism of ancient thinkers like Sextus Empiricus. Secondly, there was the aristocratic belief that the majority of men are incapable of reasoning well—a platitude shared by Plato and the village alderman, and particular to no age. Both of these forms of distrust of human reason are to be found in Mandeville, but neither should be confused with the type of anti-rationalism here to be considered. Pyrrhonism announced the weakness of the reason on logical rather than on psychological grounds; Mandeville—always the psychologist—was not so much interested in proving that reason is impotent to discover truth, as that, whether it find truth or not, it does so entirely at the bidding and under the sway of some sub-rational desire. And, whereas the aristocratic attitude distrusted merely the reason of the multitude, Mandeville declared the reason of all men the tool of their passions.
All Human Creatures are sway’d and wholly govern’d by their Passions, whatever fine Notions we may flatter our Selves with; even those who act suitably to their Knowledge, and strictly follow the Dictates of their Reason, are not less compell’d so to do by some Passion or other, that sets them to Work, than others, who bid Defiance and act contrary to Both, and whom we call Slaves to their Passions (Origin of Honour, p. 31)
It is only this form of anti-rationalism which is here to be considered.
Mandeville’s anti-rationalism is developed with such literary inventiveness that it gives the effect of great originality. It was, however, merely the most brilliant handling of a conception which, from the time of Montaigne, had been common in French thought, and which, besides, had been profoundly stated by Spinoza. Some of the greatest French writers—La Rochefoucauld, Pascal, Fontenelle—had anticipated Mandeville; and popular philosophers had defended the conception elaborately. Thus Bayle devoted several sections of his Miscellaneous Reflections, Occasion’d by the Comet to the contention that ‘… Man is not determin’d in his Actions by general Notices, or Views of his Understanding, but by the present reigning Passion of his Heart’ (see below, i. 167, n. 2). And Jacques Abbadie rivalled Mandeville in his elaboration of the anti-rationalistic position:
… l’ame est inventive à trouver des raisons favorables à son desir, parce que chacune de ces raisons luy donne un plaisir sensible, elle est au contraire trés lente à apercevoir celles qui y sont contraires, quoy qu’elles sautent aux yeux, parce qu’elle … ne cherche point, & qu’elle conçoit mal, ce qu’elle ne reçoit qu’à regret. Ainsi le cœur rompant les reflexions de l’esprit, quand bon luy semble, détournant sa pensée du côté favorable à sa passion, comparant les choses dans le sens qui luy plait, oubliant volontairement ce qui s’oppose à ses desirs, n’ayant que des perceptions froides & languissantes du devoir; concevant au contraire avec attachement, avec plaisir, avec ardeur & le plus souvent qu’il luy est possible, tout ce qui favorise ses penchans, il ne faut pas s’étonner s’il se joüe des lumieres de l’esprit; & s’il se trouve que nous jugons des choses, non pas selon la verité: mais selon nos inclinations.
Il est vray que j’ay des maximes d’equité & de droiture dans mon esprit, que je me suis accoûtumé de respecter: mais la corruption qui est dans mon cœur se joüe de ces maximes generales. Qu’importe que je respecte la loy de la justice, si celle-ci ne se trouve que dans ce qui me plaît, ou qui me convient, & s’il depend de mon cœur de me persuader qu’une chose est juste ou qu’elle ne l’est pas?
With this body of anti-rationalistic thought Mandeville must have been conversant. Not only does his early career as a translator of French verse argue his familiarity with the literature of that nation, but such specific references as he makes in his writings are most frequently to French sources, and in particular to two writers—Bayle and La Rochefoucauld—who developed elaborately the anti-rationalistic concept.
In addition to literature of this nature, in which anti-rationalism is formulated with considerable completeness, there were other writings which might well have prepared the way for Mandeville’s beliefs. I refer to those works in which the anti-rationalistic position is found merely in embryo. Anti-rationalism, of course, did not spring fully articulated into thought, but had a long and tortuous ancestry. It is worth our while to examine into this preliminary history, for there is no element in it here to be considered which is not advocated somewhere by Mandeville, and which may not therefore have contributed directly to his thought.
In the first place there was the sensationalistic psychology of the Peripatetics and Epicureans, elaborated by Hobbes, Locke, and others. The usefulness of this doctrine—which is found in Mandeville —as a groundwork for anti-rationalism is too obvious to need elucidation.—Secondly, there was the body of unorthodox thought—Epicurean and Averroistic—which held the soul to be mortal. It is no great stride from the belief that the soul (rational principle) is dependent on the body for its existence to the belief that the rational faculty cannot help but be determined by the mechanism through which it has its being. And Mandeville, it should be noted, doubts the immortality of the soul. —Also related to the anti-rationalism we are considering was that other form of anti-rationalism, mentioned above, which denied the ability of the reason to arrive at final truth. This philosophical anarchism, a commonplace of Renaissance thought, is found in Mandeville closely interwoven with his psychological anti-rationalism, and evidently contributed towards it.—Another probable contributing influence was an opinion kindred to the Epicureanism of the seventeenth century; I mean the opinion that men cannot help living for what seems to their advantage. Such a conception, which allows the reason no function except that of discovering and furthering what the organism desires, needs only to have its implications made clear to become anti-rationalism. Now, Mandeville propounds this belief that men cannot help acting for what seems to their profit. —Still another agent conducing to anti-rationalism may have inhered in the discussions of the century concerning animal automatism. Add to the belief that animals are machines the belief that they feel, as Gassendi argued; and, with Gassendi, place man in the category of animals: man is then a sentient machine. From this position it is easy to progress to a deterministic psychology in which reason is little more than a spectator of physical reactions. And Mandeville had embraced the Gassendist positions.
Finally, there is one other precursor of anti-rationalism which did certainly enter into the formation of Mandeville’s psychology: the medical conception of the humours and temperament. From the time of the ancient Greeks, physicians had taught that our mental and moral constitution was determined by the relative proportions of the four ‘humours’ or body fluids—blood, phlegm, choler, and melancholy—or the four qualities—hot, cold, dry, and moist—which combine to compose a man’s temperament. Nor was this doctrine peculiar to physicians: it had been popularized by well-known literary men, including La Rochefoucauld. We do not, however, need the evidence that Mandeville actually cited La Rochefoucauld’s opinion that our virtues result from our temperament to prove that Mandeville was influenced by this popular medical concept; it is enough to know that he was himself a physician. Now, this doctrine of the dependence of the mind on the temperament is only removed by an inference from a systematic anti-rationalism which should proclaim the similar dependence of the reason on the temperament.
A second main trait of Mandeville’s psychology, as important as his anti-rationalism, was his insistence that man is completely egoistic, that all his apparently altruistic qualities are really merely an indirect and disguised form of selfishness. Here again, Mandeville’s speculation was led up to by a long avenue of thought. The basal egoism of man had been lamented by theologians from the beginning of Christianity. It was, however, the seventeenth century that saw the rise to prominence of the careful psychologizing of human nature which distinguishes Mandeville’s theory of human selfishness from the common theological form of the doctrine. In England, Hobbes had based the conception of human selfishness on psychological analysis, and La Rochefoucauld, Pascal, and others had done so in France. Jacques Esprit, for instance, declared that
… depuis que l’amour propre s’est rendu la maître & le tyran de l’homme, il ne souffre en luy aucune vertu ni aucune action vertueuse qui ne luy soit utile. … Ainsi ils [men] ne s’acquittent d’ordinaire de tous ces devoirs que par le mouvement de l’amour propre, & pour procurer l’execution de ses desseins.
Je dis d’ordinaire, parce que je n’entre pas dans ces contestations des Theologiens … (La Fausseté des Vertus Humaines, Paris, 1678, vol. 1, pref., signn. [a 11v–12]; for a sample of other similar passages in Esprit, see i. 172).
Even writers like Nicole, who believed that the doctrine of human selfishness was not always true, yet gave it such clear and complete expression as easily to serve for propagators of the conception: one needed only to omit their exceptions. So elaborate, indeed, had been the development of the doctrine, that even in such details as the analysis whereby Mandeville showed sympathy itself selfish he had been anticipated.
The chief means, according to Mandeville, whereby the human mechanism is made to hide its ineradicable egoism under a cover of apparent altruism, and thus to deceive the uninitiated observer, is the passion of pride. To gratify this passion man will undergo the greatest deprivations, and, as a wise organization of society has ordained that actions which are for the good or ill of others shall be repaid by glory or punished by shame, the passion of pride is the great bulwark of morality, the instigator of all action for the good of others which seems contrary to the interests and instincts of the performer. Now, the value of pride as a spur to moral action was, of course, a commonplace of ancient thought, and, being a very obvious fact, had never ceased to be remarked. Until the Renaissance, however, theology, to which pride was the first of the deadly sins, prevented much elaboration of the usefulness of this passion. But, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as theology lost grip, the value of pride became highly stressed, especially by the neo-Stoics. However, mere recognition of the utility of pride could scarcely serve as a genuine anticipation of Mandeville: the account of the uses of pride had first to become systematized, and a psychology of the emotion developed which should show it not merely a separate passion which happens to have social efficacy, but the basis of moral action in general. The real predecessors of Mandeville were those analysts who demonstrated how pride may take to itself the form of the various virtues. There were a considerable number of such anticipators. Mandeville, indeed was not original even in the most subtle part of his analysis of the function of pride—his reduction of modesty to a form of pride.
It is clear, then, that the main elements in Mandeville’s vivisection of human nature had been often anticipated—by Erasmus, Hobbes, Spinoza, and Locke, and by many French writers. Of predecessors outside France, however, only Erasmus and, possibly, Hobbes, as I try to show below, had much influence. The great source of Mandeville’s psychology was France, as is seen not only from the mass of anticipations there to be found, but from the fact that Mandeville’s citations and the circumstances of his life show him to have been thoroughly acquainted with this French speculation.
In the field of economics Mandeville’s most carefully developed position was his defence of luxury. This defence had two aspects to meet two current attitudes. In the first place, there was the attitude which made luxury a vice by making its opposite, frugality, a virtue. Mandeville met this by denying the virtuousness of national frugality: it is always, he said, merely the inevitable result of certain economic conditions and without relation, therefore, to morality: ‘ … a National Frugality there never was and never will be without a National Necessity’ (Fable i. 251). In the second place, Mandeville attacked the belief that luxury, by corrupting a people and wasting its resources, is economically dangerous. It is on the contrary, he argued, not only inseparable from great states, but necessary to make them great. For this defence of luxury there was little direct preparation—chiefly in Saint-Évremond.
Nevertheless, in a way, the road to Mandeville’s position was really well paved, although this road may seem at first sight to have been leading in an opposite direction. The attacks on luxury, paradoxically, opened the way for Mandeville’s defence. The ancient world abounded in philosophers who denounced the search for wealth and luxury; and throughout the Christian era such denunciation had represented the orthodox position. According to this attitude, then, luxury was ex hypothesi condemned; and the condemnation was elaborated in the seventeenth century by analyses of primitive civilizations such as those of Rome and Sparta showing how in these states greatness and the absence of enervating luxury were synonymous. Meanwhile, however, commerce and manufacture were growing enormously, and, as a result, the consumption of luxuries. The interest of the state being thereby involved in this increasing trade, the safeguarding of this activity became naturally a chief end of political theory. But, although the inevitable result of worldly interests was thus to foster the development of production and commerce, and thereby the spread of luxury, yet, in the face of this actual activity, popular opinion still denounced luxury as evil in itself and corrupting in its effects. This union of conflicting attitudes—of the practical aim of getting wealth with the moral condemnation of luxury—can plainly be seen, for example, in Fénelon when, immediately after discussing the way to make a state rich, he urges, ‘Lois somptuaires pour chaque condition. … On corrompt par ce luxe les moeurs de toute la nation. Ce luxe est plus pernicieux que le profit des modes n’est utile’ (Plans de Gouvernement, § 7). The age was partly aware of this dualism, for it made an effort to reconcile its opinions by arguing that wealth could be attained without producing luxury and without depending on it (see below, i. 189, n. 2). But, none the less, it was obvious that in practice wealth and luxury were companions; and the contradiction between the actual pursuit of this wealth and the current moral condemnation of the luxury it involved remained. The popular attitude, therefore, was a compound of antagonistic intellectual reagents needing only the proper shock of one upon the other to cause an explosion. This shock was supplied by Mandeville.
In other words, here as elsewhere Mandeville gained his effect by consciousness of a contradiction in current opinion which had escaped his contemporaries. And by playing on this contradiction, by confronting, in his usual manner, the ideal with the actual, he secured a greater effect on his contemporaries than the modern reader may suspect. Since, to Mandeville’s public, luxury was morally evil, when Mandeville demonstrated that it was inseparable from flourishing states, he was not only challenging orthodox economic theory, but forcibly achieving once more the moral paradox of ‘Private Vices, Publick Benefits’.
The other very important aspect of Mandeville’s economic speculation was the defence of free trade whereby he became so important a forerunner of the school of laissez-faire. Mandeville’s argument that business most flourishes when least interfered with by government had two aspects according to whether considered domestically or internationally. That internal affairs are best left to their own devices was urged strongly by Mandeville (Fable i. 299–300 and ii. 353); and, although he qualified in somewhat the usual manner concerning the ‘balance of trade’, he was caused by his sense of the interdependence of nations to plead urgently for freer trade with other states (Fable i. 109–16). For this attitude there had been much preparation. In the first place, there were certain general historical factors leading naturally to a reaction against restrictions on trade. For one thing, trade was growing rapidly, and thereby bringing into prominence groups of influential men who stood to gain by the removal of barriers and monopolies. For another thing, certain changes in the public outlook on life in general had effect in the field of economics. Thus, the conception of religious toleration was developing, carrying in its wake the idea of freedom in other fields; and the old Stoic doctrine of ‘following nature’, as revived in the neo-Stoics of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and in jurists like Grotius, was apparently being carried over into the theory of commerce, where too ‘nature’ was to rule. In addition, Mandeville had the opportunity of being familiar with an extensive body of English, Dutch, and French literature urging the cause of freer trade, both domestic and international. Every practical aspect of Mandeville’s argument had been anticipated. Nor should we overlook the probable effect on Mandeville of the Dutch environment in which he grew up. The Dutch were especially concerned with free trade. They were carriers to the rest of Europe and thus possessed of the interest in the freedom of the seas reflected in the treatises of Grotius and Graswinckel—the freedom of the seas, of course, being a problem closely connected with the question of the restriction of trade. The Dutch, furthermore, were international bankers and therefore could not help having driven in upon their consciousness the interdependence of national interests. The whole matter, also, must have been brought vividly before Mandeville when the city of Amsterdam, in 1689, reduced its tariffs so as to compete with Hamburg as a port of exchange, and thus aroused a heated controversy over free trade, Mandeville being then at the impressionable age of nineteen and still in Holland.
But, if Mandeville was thus anticipated even in the details of his argument—if, indeed, predecessors like Barbon and North had gone beyond him—what was there original about his advocacy of free trade? There was this very important difference between Mandeville and his predecessors: they considered the welfare of the state as a whole and the interest of its individual inhabitants as not necessarily corresponding; Mandeville held that the selfish good of the individual is normally the good of the state. Mandeville, therefore, not only argued away a powerful reason for restriction, but furnished a genuine philosophy for individualism in trade. This was a profoundly important step. Hitherto, except for a very few tentative and unsystematic anticipations, defence of laissez-faire had been opportunist rather than a matter of general principle. Mandeville allowed it to be made systematic. It is through his elaborate psychological and political analysis that individualism becomes an economic philosophy.
I have stated the difficulty of indicating more than the general background of Mandeville’s thought; yet there were some predecessors who can with certainty be specified as Mandeville’s teachers.
By far the chief of these was Pierre Bayle. In the Fable Mandeville cited Bayle and borrowed from him again and again—especially from his Miscellaneous Reflections; in his Free Thoughts Mandeville specifically confessed the debt which that book owed to Bayle’s Dictionary; and the germ of the Origin of Honour is to be found in the Miscellaneous Reflections. Mandeville’s basal theories are in Bayle: the general scepticism as to the possibility of discovering absolute truth; the anti-rationalism which held that men do not act from principles of reason or from regard for abstract morality, but from the reigning desires of their hearts; the corollary opinion that Christianity, despite the lip service paid it, is little followed in the world; the stress on man’s inevitable egoism, and the realization of the moral implications and uses of pride; the belief that men could be good without religion; the definition of Christianity as ascetic; and the belief that Christianity thus defined and national greatness are incompatible. Bayle, in fact, might almost have been planning the groundwork of the Fable when he summarized his own Miscellaneous Reflections as teaching
That considering the Doctrine of Original Sin, and that of the Necessity and Inamissibility of Grace, decided at the Synod of Dort, every reform’d Protestant is oblig’d to believe, that all, except the predestin’d, whom God regenerates and sanctifys, are incapable of acting out of a Principle of Love to God, or resisting their Corruptions from any other Principle than that of Self-love and human Motives: So that if some Men are more vertuous than others, this proceeds either from Natural Constitution, or Education, or from a Love for certain kinds of Praise, or from a fear of Reproach, &c. (Miscellaneous Reflections ii. 545).
Granted this psychology and these tenets, it needed only the educing of the latent inference to reach the doctrine that private vices are public benefits. And like Mandeville, also, Bayle refused to attack the validity of rigoristic morality because of its impracticability. Mandeville, in fact, offered as one of his guiding principles what he termed ‘that true, as well as remarkable Saying of Monsieur Baile. Les utilités du vice n’empéchent pas qu’il ne soit mauvais.’
It is worth noting, too, that Bayle was teaching in Rotterdam while Mandeville was attending the Erasmian School there (see above, i. xvii–xviii), and that, consequently, Mandeville may have had personal contact with Bayle.
Mandeville was indebted also to La Rochefoucauld, whom he cited several times and closely paralleled in thought (see index to commentary). Both insisted that men are creatures of passion and not reason and that human motives are at bottom self-love. Much of Mandeville’s philosophy, indeed, might be summarized as an elaboration of La Rochefoucauld’s maxim, ‘Nos vertus ne sont le plus souvent que des vices déguisées’, with le plus souvent changed to toujours. Nevertheless, as the doctrines in question were not rare, it is impossible to tell how much Mandeville drew them from La Rochefoucauld and how much from other sources (say Bayle or Esprit)—whether, in fact, Mandeville’s debt to La Rochefoucauld was not chiefly literary—phrasal borrowings to fit beliefs already formed.
Gassendi probably helped to mould Mandeville’s thought. Mandeville had read him while yet a boy, although at that time he opposed him in his De Brutorum Operationibus (Leyden, 1689), which upheld the Cartesian position. Perhaps, however, Mandeville’s youthful attack on Gassendi was not sincere, for the Disputatio was written under the tutelage of Burcherus de Volder, a violent Cartesian; and a student might well have hesitated to disagree with the fundamental beliefs of his instructor. Be that as it may, when he came to write the Fable Mandeville had discarded his Cartesianism and assumed the Gassendist attitude towards both animal automatism and the relation between man and beast. It may be, of course, that Mandeville reached the Gassendist positions without aid from Gassendi; but the latter was rather too big a figure to pass over, especially when read young; and it is perhaps significant that Mandeville referred favourably to him in the Fable (ii. 21).
Another noteworthy influence on Mandeville was that of Erasmus. Trained in the Erasmian School in Erasmus’s city of Rotterdam, Mandeville again and again shows traces of Erasmus’s mentorship. He cites him in the Virgin Unmask’d (1724), sign. [A 5v], in the Treatise (1730), pp. 14 and 111, and in the Fable. According to his own statement, also, Mandeville quotes continually from the Adagia of Erasmus (see below, i. 314, n. 2); and Typhon (1704) was dedicated to the ‘Numerous Society of Fools’, avowedly after the example of Erasmus.
The two men, indeed, had similar points of view. Erasmus too was empirical and disbelieved in absolute laws without exceptions; and he held with Mandeville that true religiousness makes demands upon human nature rarely fulfilled. Both, also, shared belief in the irreconcilability of war and Christianity.
Not only their attitudes but their cast of wit was akin, and their thoughts often took similar forms. The skeleton of the Encomium Moriae is essentially identical with that of the Fable: both works demonstrate, in a series of loosely connected essays, the necessity of something by hypothesis evil, in the one case, Folly, in the other, Vice; and Mandeville means by vice pretty much what Erasmus means by folly.
To show the general similarity between the thought of the two men I cite here some parallels:
|‘… Jupiter quanto plus indidit affectuum quam rationis? quasi semiunciam compares ad assem’ (Opera, Leyden, 1703–6, iv. 417, in Encomium Moriae).
||‘… For we are ever pushing our Reason which way soever we feel Passion to draw it, and Self-love pleads to all human Creatures for their different Views, still furnishing every individual with Arguments to justify their Inclinations’ (Fable i. 333).
|‘Quid autem æque stultum, atque tibi ipsi placere? te ipsum admirari? At rursum quid venustum, quid gratiosum, quid non indecorum erit, quod agas, ipse tibi displicens’ (Opera iv. 421, in Encomium Moriae)?
||‘There is no Man … wholly Proof against … Flattery …’ (i. 51). ‘If some great Men had not a superlative Pride … who would be a Lord Chancellor of England, a Prime Minister of State in France, or what gives more Fatigue, and not a sixth part of the Profit of either, a Grand Pensionary of Holland?’ (i. 221)… ‘Self-liking … is so necessary to the Well-being of those that have been used to indulge it; that they can taste no Pleasure without it …’ (ii. 135–6).
|‘Verum ut ad id quod institueram, revertar: quæ vis saxeos, quernos, & agrestes illos homines in civitatem coëgit, nisi adulatio’ (Opera iv. 424, in Encomium Moriae)?
||‘… the Moral Virtues are the Political Offspring which Flattery begot upon Pride’ (i. 51). Cf. Mandeville’s Enquiry into the Origin of Moral Virtue.
|‘Tum autem quæ res Deciis persuasit, ut ultro sese Diis Manibus devoverent? Quod Q. Curtium in specum traxit, nisi inanis gloria, dulcissima quædam Siren, sed mirum quam a Sapientibus istis damnata’ (Opera iv. 426, in Encomium Moriae)?
||‘… the great Recompence in view, for which the most exalted Minds have … sacrificed … every Inch of themselves, has never been any thing else but the Breath of Man, the Aerial Coin of Praise’ (i. 54–5).
|‘Cujus rei si desideratis argumenta primum illud animadvertite, pueros, senes, mulieres, ac fatuos sacris ac religiosis rebus præter cæteros gaudere, eoque semper altaribus esse proximos, solo, nimirum, naturae impulsu. Præterea videtis primos illos religionis auctores, mire simplicitatem amplexos, acerrimos litterarum hostes fuisse’ (Opera iv. 499–500, in Encomium Moriae).
||‘As to Religion, the most knowing and polite Part of a Nation have every where the least of it. … Ignorance is … the Mother of Devotion …’ (i. 269). Cf. Fable i. 308.
|‘Ego puto totum hoc de cultu pendere a consuetudine ac persuasione mortalium’ (Opera i. 742, in Colloquia Familiaria).
||‘In what concerns the Fashions and Manners of the Ages Men live in, they never examine into the real Worth or Merit of the Cause, and generally judge of things not as their Reason, but Custom direct them’ (i. 172).
I do not mean to imply, though, that Mandeville drew constantly and consciously from Erasmus as he did from Bayle. The Erasmian influence was, I believe, a general formative one, and the parallels to Erasmus—where they were derivative—the result probably of early absorption rather than of deliberate borrowing.
That the Fable often parallels and sometimes derives from Hobbes is evident from my annotations to the text, and, indeed, some indebtedness to Hobbes was inevitable at that period of thought. As early as his college days Mandeville had studied Hobbes, for he disagreed with him in his Disputatio Philosophica (1689), sign. A3v. Among their chief points of similarity is their analysis of human nature. To Hobbes also the mainspring of social action was egoism: man was a selfish animal, and society, consequently, artificial:
All society … is either for gain, or for glory; that is, not so much for love of our fellows, as for the love of ourselves (English Works, ed. Molesworth, ii. 5; cf. also Leviathan, pt. 1, ch. 13).
And to Hobbes as well, the love of virtue was derivable ‘from love of praise’ (Engiish Works iii. 87). Both men, too, denounced the search for a universal summum bonum (cf. English Works iii. 85), and, denying the ‘divine original’ of virtue, thought morality a human product. ‘Where no law, no injustice’ was Hobbes’s dictum (iii. 115). But in the midst of this similarity there was a very important difference. Hobbes maintained that
The desires, and other passions of men, are in themselves no sin. No more are the actions, that proceed from those passions, till they know a law that forbids them … (iii. 114).
Mandeville, however, when identifying current moralities with custom, did not say that genuine virtue and vice are thus dependent, but only that men’s opinions of them are. To Mandeville men in the ‘state of nature’ were ipso facto wicked, as being unredeemed from their primal degeneracy (cf. below, i. 40, n. 1).
In his account of the origin of society in Part II Mandeville is closer to Hobbes’s discussion of this matter in his Philosophical Rudiments concerning Government and Society and his Leviathan than to any other predecessor (cf. below, i. xcii, n. 1).
It is not, however, possible to gauge Mandeville’s indebtedness to Hobbes with much accuracy, since most of what Mandeville shares with Hobbes he shares also with other predecessors such as Bayle and La Rochefoucauld. Hobbes and Mandeville, besides, were both in the same current of speculation, and it is therefore always possible that Mandeville’s resemblances to Hobbes were due not so much to immediate influence as to the effect of a stream of thought which Hobbes had done so much to direct.
In the case of Locke also, although Mandeville cites him and shows kinship to him, it is not possible to be certain how much he was influenced by him directly, and how much indirectly through the medium of an age which Locke had so greatly affected.
Of the various other precursors noted in the first part of this section, Mandeville specifically cited only Saint-Evremond, Fe, Spinoza, and Montaigne. From Saint-Evremond Mandeville may well have drawn for his defence of luxury. As to the various other possible progenitors of Mandeville, their very multiplicity precludes any certainty in the selection of particular ones as sources. Those most likely to have had important general influence—if we judge by the quantity and closeness of the parallel passages recorded in my notes—are Spinoza, Esprit, Abbadie, North, and D’Avenant.
From this chapter and the notes to the text it will be seen that a great part of Mandeville’s thought was derivatory. What he did was to take conceptions of more or less currency and give to them an especially vivid embodiment; and if there was any self-contradiction in these conceptions, or if they had their roots in attitudes and circumstances usually concealed, he gave to these contradictions and concealments an especial prominence, so that merely by fully stating them he rendered men aghast at theories they had held all their lives. Much of his originality, then, lay in his manner of exposition.
But, for all that, Mandeville’s was essentially an original mind—in so far as there is such a thing. The reader who thinks that Mandeville’s evident borrowings show him a mere dealer in the second-hand would do well first to consider that the author of original mind is often (like Montaigne) more full of evident borrowings than the prosaic writer. The self-conscious, individualized, original thinker recognizes at once kindred elements in the thought of others; and, in his satisfaction at finding a sympathetic view-point in the midst of a world whose conventional opinions are usually hostile, may make an especial parade of statements by other writers with which he agrees. It should also be remembered that sufficient research can make any thought seem stale. If originality consists in not being anticipated, no one was ever original. We cannot help drawing from the old thoughts with which we first fed our consciousness; but we are not thereby made unoriginal unless we retail these thoughts without rethinking them. Mandeville did rethink them: in his books they bear the especial stigmata of his own mind. And, in such contributions as his psychologizing of economics and his extraordinary sketch of the origin of society, he offered that drawing of latent inference from old material, that novel rearrangement of old knowledge, which constitutes the positive side of originality.
WHEN first issued in 1714 the Fable, despite its two editions that year, attracted little notice. Another edition was not called for until 1723, and then, possibly, only because Mandeville had doubled the bulk of his book and wished publicity for the new matter. Included in that new matter, however, was an attack on a vested interest—the charity-schools. The work now at once attracted attention. The newspapers focused their batteries on it, and within a few months whole books began to be aimed at it. At the same time the public commenced to exhaust an edition a year. Then it went into foreign editions. Meanwhile, other books by Mandeville were having frequent printings in England and, translated, on the Continent. His works, moreover, must have been made familiar to thousands who never saw the books by the reviews (often of great length) which appeared of them in periodicals such as the Bibliothèque Britannique and the Histoire des Ouvrages des Savans, in theological bibliographies like those of Masch, Lilienthal, and Trinius, and in encyclopaedias like Chaufepié’s and Birch’s General Dictionary. The many attacks, also, on the Fable not only reflected the celebrity of the book, but diffused this fame still further—a fame often commented on by contemporaries. Here is a partial list of some of the better-known men who at some time gave him specific and often lengthy attention: John Dennis, William Law, Reimarus, Hume, Berkeley, Hutcheson, Godwin, Holberg, John Brown, Fielding, Gibbon, Diderot, Holbach, Rousseau, Malthus, James Mill, Mackintosh, Kant, Adam Smith, Warburton, John Wesley, Herder, Montesquieu, Hazlitt, and Bentham. Some of these, like Hazlitt, referred to him repeatedly, and some wrote whole books on him. William Law devoted a volume to him; so did John Dennis; Francis Hutcheson, no unimportant figure in the history of English thought, wrote two books against him; while Berkeley apportioned him two dialogues, and Adam Smith twice wrote at length about his thought.
Nor was this vogue merely academic. The Fable of the Bees made a public scandal. Mandeville, with his teaching of the usefulness of vice, inherited the office of Lord High Bogy-man, which Hobbes had held in the preceding century. The Fable was twice presented by the Grand Jury as a public nuisance; minister and bishop alike denounced it from the pulpit. The book, indeed, aroused positive consternation, ranging from the indignation of Bishop Berkeley to the horrified amazement of John Wesley, who protested that not even Voltaire could have said so much for wickedness. In France, the Fable was actually ordered to be burned by the common hangman.
It would, in fact, be difficult to overrate the intensity and extent of Mandeville’s eighteenth-century fame. A letter of Wesley’s, in 1750, indicates that the Fable was current in Ireland. In France, in 1765, we find Diderot evidencing that the book was a familiar subject of conversation. In 1768 the friend of Laurence Sterne, John Hall-Stevenson, thought a good title for one of his pieces would be ‘The New Fable of the Bees’. In Germany, in 1788, when Kant made his sixfold classification of ethical systems, he chose Mandeville’s name as that by which to identify one of the six types. And in America the author of the first American comedy—a play meant for popular consumption —referred to Mandeville as if his theories were as well known to the audience as the latest proclamation of General Washington.
The enormous vogue of the book should be borne in mind during the discussion of its influence; for in the light of this vogue points of relationship between the Fable and subsequent developments take on fuller significance, and the manner in which future events followed the trend foreshadowed by the book becomes more closely associated with the influence of the work.
We shall be occupied here with Mandeville’s effect in three fields: literature, ethics, and economics.
His literary influence was slight. The Fable had no direct imitators. Its influence was limited to the offering of titbits for amalgamation or paraphrase by other writers. Among these were Pope, Johnson, Adam Smith, and Voltaire. Pope paraphrased the Fable both in the Moral Essays and in the Essay on Man. The manuscript of the latter, it should be noted, had instead of the present line ii. 240 this direct paraphrase of the sub-title of the Fable of the Bees:
And public good extracts from private vice.
—Dr. Johnson, who said that Mandeville opened his views into real life very much, and whose economic theories were largely borrowed from Mandeville, limited his literary indebtedness to a passage in one of his Idlers (no. 34), which seems to be a paraphrase of a witty portion of the Fable (i. 106), and to some able discussions with Boswell about the book.—Adam Smith’s literary obligation extended to at least one famous passage, but this matter will be considered later as incidental to Smith’s debt to Mandeville in the field of economics.—The literary borrowings of Voltaire, whose considerable general indebtedness will also be touched on later, consisted in the paraphrase in French verse of several pages of the Fable (i. 176–80), Voltaire’s poem being called Le Marseillois et le Lion (Œuvres, ed. Moland, 1877–85, x. 140–8); and of passages in Le Mondain and the Defense du Mondain, and in the Observations sur MM. Jean Lass, Melon et Dutot; sur le Commerce, which have parallels in the Fable.
All this, however, constitutes an unimportant phase of Mandeville’s influence. His great effect was on ethics and economics.
To understand the effect which Mandeville exercised on ethical theory, certain aspects of his creed should be recalled. In the first place, his conception of virtue proclaimed that no action was virtuous if inspired by selfish emotion; and this assumption, since Mandeville considered all natural emotion fundamentally selfish, implied the ascetic position that no action was virtuous if done from natural impulse. Secondly, Mandeville’s definition of virtue declared that no action was meritorious unless the motive that inspired it was a ‘rational’ one. As he interpreted ‘rational’ to imply an antithesis to emotion and self-regard, both aspects of his ethical code—the ascetic and the rationalistic—alike condemned as vicious all action whose dominant motive was natural impulse and self-regarding bias. To put it from a different angle, his code condemned all such acts as were caused by the traits men share with the animals.
This conception of morality was no invention of Mandeville’s. He merely adopted the creed of two great popular groups of the period. The first group comprised the theologians who, from the orthodox belief in the depravity of human nature, concluded naturally that virtue could not be found except in such action as unselfishly denied or transcended the workings of the nature they condemned. To all logical inferences from Mandeville’s position as to the moral necessity of unselfishness and the conquest of natural impulse these ascetics were fairly committed. The other group comprised the rationalistic or ‘intellectualistic’ ethical thinkers, who identified morality with such action as proceeded from rational motives. This group was committed to conclusions logically deducible from Mandeville’s position only in so far as, like him, they made an antithesis between reason and emotion and therefore denied the virtue of action dictated by emotion; but, since this antithesis was very commonly made, at least implicitly, these thinkers too were largely implicated in Mandeville’s conclusions. The inferences, then, which Mandeville was to deduce from the rigorous application of his definition of virtue were such as could genuinely involve and provoke the thought of his day.
The analysis of human emotions and their relation to opinion and conduct which led Mandeville, in the light of his definition of virtue, to the conclusion that all human action is at bottom vicious has already been considered (i. lxi–lxiv). He found, in brief, that reason is not a determinant factor in men’s actions, our most elaborate and apparently detached ratiocination being basically only a rationalizing and excusing of the demands of dominant emotions; and that all our acts—even those apparently most unselfish—are, traced to their source, due to some variety or interplay of selfishness—that, in fact, despite all the divines and philosophers, man is, after all, only ‘the most perfect of Animals’ (Fable i. 44) and can never contradict or transcend this fact. Thus, no part of his definition of virtue being fulfillable in a world governed by more utilitarian considerations, he was driven to the conclusion that the world is entirely vicious, even its agreeable and valuable products being the effect of vice, and so arose the paradox ‘Private Vices, Publick Benefits’.
By juxtaposing together the utilitarian principles by which the world is inevitably controlled and the demands of rigoristic ethics, and showing their irreconcilability, Mandeville achieved a latent reductio ad absurdum of the rigoristic point of view. But he never educed this reductio ad absurdum. Although he spent most of his book in the demonstration that a life regulated by the principles of rigoristic virtue as expressed in his definition is not only impossible but highly undesirable, whereas the actual immoral world is a pleasant place, he continued to announce the sanctity of the rigoristic creed. This paradoxical ethical duet which Mandeville carried on with himself is the point to note here, for it is this fact which gives the clue to the influence on ethics which he exerted.
The attacks on Mandeville focus on this paradox, but the type of attack varies according to the intellectual leanings of the particular polemicist. First there were the critics who, like William Law and John Dennis, adhered to the rigoristic school of ethics. On these the effect of the Fable was that of the insane root which takes the reason prisoner. William Law was almost alone in keeping his head, although not his temper. It was not merely the theories of Mandeville that caused this riot of reason, but the tone of the Doctor’s writing. Mandeville employed a humorously cynical downrightness of statement that made him so provocative that even now, after two hundred years, he has kept almost unimpaired his ability to irritate those who disagree with him. But, apart from their expression, there was enough in Mandeville’s tenets to agitate those who believed virtue necessarily unselfish and rational. Mandeville accepted their own position to argue them into unbearable predicaments. He agreed that only such behaviour is virtuous as proceeds from dispassionate obedience to a moral code; and then he demonstrated that there can be no such conduct in this world. He admitted that a state based on selfishness is corrupt and that luxury is contrary to the Christian religion, and then he proceeded to show that all society must be based on selfishness and that no state can be great without luxury. He agreed that men must transcend their animal nature, and then he proved that it could not be done. In other words, he took advantage of his opponents’ own standards to show them that according to those standards they had never done a virtuous action in their lives, and that, if those principles could be lived up to, they would inevitably cause the total collapse of society. Meanwhile Mandeville stood in the middle of this spectacle roaring with laughter; which did not help to soothe his critics.
They lost their heads. If only Mandeville had accepted the reductio ad absurdum latent in his book and rejected the rigoristic system of ethics, things would have been simple for the William Laws. They would merely have rushed to the defence of their code, and been quite comfortable. But Mandeville did not reject it; the force of his demonstration of the value of vice and impossibility of virtue rested on his accepting their position.
There were, therefore, only two rational objections open to the rigorists. They could argue, first, that Mandeville’s vivisection of human nature was faulty and that men really do act from absolutely dispassionate unselfishness. This they tried. But Mandeville’s analysis had been so keen and thorough that few of his opponents dared claim that they had demonstrated much more than that in some few cases a man might conceivably be virtuous in their sense of the word. This was hardly very comforting, for it left them still drowning in a sea of almost undiluted iniquity.
The other method was to qualify the rigoristic point of view that only such actions were virtuous as were done from unselfish devotion to principle, and to call for another criterion of virtue. Now, the significant fact is that almost every rigorist who undertook to answer Mandeville did in some way modify the rigoristic position. William Law was perhaps as staunch and unmitigated an ascetic as ever urged his dogmas on other people; to Law an act done simply because a person wished to do it was ipso facto without merit. Yet Law, in his answer to the Fable, was at pains to defend the admissibility of emotion and desire, and even approached a utilitarian position.
Law was typical. Of the rigorists who attacked the Fable with any insight, almost all were driven in some manner to qualify the severity of the current rigoristic conception—to insist less on the sheerly rational element in moral conduct, to allow more play to interested motives, to offer, if only obliquely, something more in harmony with a utilitarian philosophy.
On the other hand, there was another class of critics of the Fable, comprising those men by intellectual bias anti-rigoristic, like Hume and Adam Smith. These men took the Fable more calmly. Not holding the ascetic premiss, they were not perturbed by Mandeville’s deductions therefrom. They agreed with his analyses; but when he came to his rigoristic candle-snuffer and said, ‘All these good things are due to vice’, they answered with Hume, If it be vice which produces all the good in the world, then there is something the matter with our terminology; such vice is not vice but good. These critics, then, simply accepted the reductio ad absurdum which Mandeville refused to educe, and, rejecting the rigorism which gave rise to Mandeville’s paradox, set up instead a utilitarian scheme of ethics.
This may seem the simple and obvious thing to do. And it is simple and obvious now—after two hundred years. But in that simple and obvious step is the germ of the whole modern utilitarian movement; in that rejection of absolute a priori codes and in that refusal to dissever man from the animals is the core of the modern scientific, empirical attitude. With the solving of Mandeville’s paradox, indeed, is bound up our whole present-day intellectual atmosphere, the development of which the utilitarian movement has done so much to foster.
Now, recognition of the inexpediency of rigoristic codes, which recognition eventually led to the utilitarian movement, was to be found elsewhere than in Mandeville, and the Mandevillian paradox was to be found latent in every-day points of view; but Mandeville’s statement of the paradox was the most forceful, the most provocative, and the most celebrated, and therefore, by natural deduction, one of the most influential. That it was Mandeville who furnished much of the specific stimulus towards the utilitarian solution of the paradox is demonstrated by the fact that in the case of at least two of the earlier utilitarian leaders—Francis Hutcheson and John Brown —their first statements of the utilitarian theory are found in those books of theirs which deal with Mandeville, and were evidently largely evolved through the controversy. Hume, too, may have owed to Mandeville some impulse towards utilitarianism. We might note, also, that of the later major utilitarians Bentham and Godwin praised him, and James Mill strongly defended him. And, turning from the leaders to the intellectual soil upon which they had to work, it should be remembered that contemporary anti- or non-utilitarian opinion had been disturbed, and thus prepared for change, by the insistent paradox of the Fable, the outstanding ethical irritant of its generation.
The case might be summed up thus: Mandeville’s critics, for all their dissimilarity from each other, were forced in common away from strict rigorism and, more or less, towards a utilitarian attitude. It seems, then, that the paradox of the Fable supplied a spur which, on contact, urged all groups in the general direction of utilitarianism; and the enormous vogue of the book, together with the facts that its paradox was based on dominant types of ethical theory and thus involved and affected their many adherents, and that the book was so studied and reacted to by the utilitarian leaders, is proof of how generally and efficaciously the spur was applied.
As a matter of fact Mandeville has an even fuller claim than this to be considered a prime mover in the development of modern utilitarianism: it was not alone through forcing a solution of the paradox that private vices are public benefits that the Fable helped to precipitate the utilitarian philosophy; another salient feature of Mandeville’s ethical scheme had effect of a similar sort. This feature can be equally well described as moral nihilism, philosophical anarchism, or pyrrhonism (cf. above, i. lvi–lviii). In morals, declared Mandeville, there are no universally valid rules of conduct. No person believes one thing but some one professes the opposite; no nation approves one form of conduct but another nation as strongly condemns it; ‘… hunting after this Pulchrum & Honestum is not much better than a Wild-Goose-Chace …’ (Fable i. 331). ‘What Mortal can decide which is the handsomest, abstract from the Mode in being, to wear great Buttons or small ones? … In Morals there is no greater Certainty’ (Fable i. 328–30).
How Mandeville reconciled this pyrrhonism with the rigoristic ethics which he accepted superficially and the utilitarianism which was basic in his thought has been discussed elsewhere (above, i. lviii–lxi). The point here is that he put his denial of general moral standards with his usual pungency, and that it produced reactions in a number of his critics. It affected them in much the same way that his famous paradox had. It presented what was to them an intolerable scheme of things, which, for their peace of mind and soul, they had to remodel. And this remodelling—the furnishing of those valid ethical standards whose existence Mandeville denied—led them either to assert some code of divine origin and to maintain a rigoristic scheme of ethics (in which case the other edge of Mandeville’s blade—his paradox—drove them towards utilitarianism); or it caused them to appeal to the utility of actions to supply, for judging those acts, the moral criteria Mandeville denied.
Thus with a double lash Mandeville drove his critics towards utilitarianism. By making the rigoristic position intolerable and the anarchistic position plausible, he forced his readers to formulate a way out. He furnished the necessity which is the mother of invention, and, by so doing, became one of the most fundamental and persistent of the early literary influences underlying the modern utilitarian movement.
Let us turn now to Mandeville’s effect on the course of economic theory, where his consequence was perhaps greatest.
One aspect of Mandeville’s effect in this field was his association with the famous division of labour theory, which Adam Smith made into one of the foundation stones of modern economic thought. For his statement of this principle Adam Smith owed much to Mandeville’s definite and repeated development of the conception. I do not mean that the Fable was the sole source of Smith’s doctrine, for, of course, knowledge of the implications of division of labour was far older than Mandeville. The Fable’ was only one source, but it was a source with special claims to influence. To begin with, Mandeville’s statement of the doctrine was a brilliant one, and Smith was intimately acquainted with it. At the beginning of his literary career he devoted part of an essay to the Fable, and his careful discussion of Mandeville in the Theory of the Moral Sentiments showed that he had not only learned Mandeville’s ideas but had the very language of the Fable by heart. Mandeville’s treatment of division of labour must have made an especial impression on him, for one of the most famous passages on this matter in the Wealth of Nations—that about the labourer’s coat—is largely a paraphrase of similar passages in the Fable. The celebrated phrase, too—‘division of labour’—was anticipated by Mandeville, and, apparently, by no one else. Finally, Dugald Stewart, who knew Smith personally, credited Mandeville with having been Smith’s inspiration. Obviously, therefore, considerable credit for establishing the division of labour theory belongs to Mandeville.
But, though important, his influence on the establishment of this doctrine was a minor phase of Mandeville’s effect on economic tendencies. More important was his effect through his defence of luxury—that argument for the harmlessness and necessity of luxury with which he confronted not only all the more ascetic codes of morality but what was once the classic economic attitude, which set forth the ideal of a Spartan state, exalted the simpler agricultural pursuits, and denounced luxury as the degenerator of peoples and impoverisher of nations. The problem of the value of luxury was to be a widely agitated question in the eighteenth century—one of the battlegrounds of the Encyclopaedists.
Now, of all single literary influences in this discussion of luxury the Fable of the Bees was one of the very greatest. In brilliance and completeness it surpassed all previous defences of luxury, and some of the leading contestants in the quarrel drew on the Fable for their opinions and arguments. Voltaire was considerably indebted to Mandeville. Melon probably owed him much. Montesquieu was at least slightly in his debt. Dr. Johnson confessed himself Mandeville’s pupil.
Nor was the Fable merely a potent influence in the works of other writers. It not only spurred on the others, but was itself in the van of the attack. In 1785, Professor Pluquet, in a work approved by the Collège Royal, called Mandeville the first to defend luxury from the standpoint of economic theory; and so thoroughly in the public mind was Mandeville conceived of as spokesman for the defence of luxury that a popular American play as late as 1787 apostrophized not Voltaire, not Montesquieu, not any of the well-known encyclopaedists, but Mandeville as the arch-advocate for this defence.
We now come to perhaps the most important aspect of Mandeville’s economic influence. In the Fable Mandeville maintains, and maintains explicitly, the theory at present known as the laissez-faire theory, which dominated modern economic thought for a hundred years and is still a potent force. This is the theory that commercial affairs are happiest when least regulated by the government; that things tend by themselves to find their own proper level; and that unregulated self-seeking on the part of individuals will in society so interact with and check itself that the result will be for the benefit of the community. But unnecessary interference on the part of the state will tend to pervert that delicate adjustment. Of this attitude Mandeville has definite anticipations: ‘In the Compound of all Nations, the different Degrees of Men ought to bear a certain Proportion to each other, as to Numbers, in order to render the whole a well-proportion’d Mixture. And as this due Proportion is the Result and natural Consequence of the difference there is in the Qualifications of Men, and the Vicissitudes that happen among them, so it is never better attained to, or preserv’d, than when no body meddles with it. Hence we may learn, how the short-sighted Wisdom, of perhaps well-meaning People, may rob us of a Felicity, that would flow spontaneously from the Nature of every large Society, if none were to divert or interrupt the Stream’ (Fable ii. 353). The Fable of the Bees, I believe, was one of the chief literary sources of the doctrine of laissez-faire.
But it became a source not because of such passages as that just cited—though the vogue of the Fable vouches for their having been well known; it became an influence because of the philosophy of individualism so prominent in the Fable. Man, said Mandeville, is a mechanism of interacting selfish passions. Fortunately, however, these passions, although, at first sight, their dominion might seem to threaten anarchy, are so composed and arranged that under the influence of society their apparent discords harmonize to the public good. This immensely complicated adjustment is not the effect of premeditated effort, but is the automatic reaction of man in society. Now, the laissez-faire theory was to be grounded on such a philosophy—a philosophy, indeed, without which there could hardly have been a self-conscious doctrine of laissez-faire and with which, sooner or later, there could hardly help but be.
But was it Mandeville’s statement of this philosophy which was influential? To answer this it should be noted that before Mandeville there was no systematic formulation of laissez-faire. All manifestations of the spirit were opportunist and unsynthesized for want of a philosophy of individualism. It should be noted, too, that Mandeville’s exposition of the individualistic position was incomparably the most brilliant, the most complete, the most provocative, and the best known until Adam Smith made the laissez-faire position classic in the Wealth of Nations. Adam Smith himself is the concrete example which indicates that Mandeville’s influence here was not merely a likelihood, but an actuality. I have already shown (above, i. cxxxiv–cxxxv) the general fact of Smith’s familiarity with and indebtedness to the Fable. There are additional reasons why he should have been influenced by Mandeville in conceiving his exposition of laissez-faire. Smith studied under Francis Hutcheson at Glasgow, and in both philosophy and economics owed his teacher much inspiration. Now, Mandeville was an obsession with Hutcheson. He could hardly write a book without devoting much of it to attacking the Fable. And the concepts concerning which he was most aroused were precisely those which underlie laissez-faire—the egoism of man and the advantage to society of this egoism. It is inconceivable that Hutcheson could have lectured without often analysing Mandeville’s point of view. Thus, precisely during a critical period of intellectual growth, Smith’s mind must have been fed on the Fable. And that the food was absorbed and not rejected we may see from the fact that in his exposition of laissez-faire and its basis Smith repudiated Hutcheson to come close to Mandeville.
This sketch of Mandeville’s importance in the modern utilitarian movement and of his effect on economic thought through the division of labour theory, the defence of luxury, and the laissez-faire philosophy does not exhaust the subject of his influence. It is, for instance, more than possible that he was a factor in the development of philological theory, for both Condillac and Herder may well have owed to the Fable inspiration for their noted studies of the origin of language. There remains, also, the fact of the enormous influence Mandeville must have exerted at second-hand—through Voltaire, through Melon, through Hutcheson, through Adam Smith, and, possibly, through Helvétius.
But, leaving aside the possible and the indirect in Mandeville’s influence and considering only his probable and immediate effect, his influence bulks so large in the two great fields of ethics and economics that it is doubtful whether a dozen English works can be found in the entire eighteenth century of such historical importance as The Fable of the Bees.
Private Vices, Publick Benefits.
With an ESSAY on
A Search into the Nature of Society.
The Sixth Edition.
To which is added,
A VINDICATION of the BOOK from the Aspersions contain’d in a Presentment of the Grand-Jury of Middlesex, and an abusive Letter to Lord C.
L O N D O N:
Printed for J. T o n s o n, at Shakespear’s-Head over-against Katharine-Street in the Strand.
[Note on the phrase ‘Private Vices, Publick Benefits’
(see title-page on recto of this leaf):]
Note on the phrase ‘Private Vices, Publick Benefits’
This conception was adumbrated by Montaigne: ‘De mesme, en toute police, il y a des offices necessaires, non seulement abiects, mais encore vitieux: les vices y trouuent leur rang & s’employent à la cousture de nostre liaison, comme les venins à la conseruation de nostre santé. … Le bien public requiert qu’on trahisse & qu’on mente et qu’on massacre …’ (Essais, Bordeaux, 1906–20, iii. 2–3). Charron put it that ‘Premierement nous sçavons, que souuent nous sommes menés & poussés a la vertu & a bien faire par des ressorts meschans & reprouués, par deffaut & impuissance naturelle, par passion, & le vice mesmes’ (De la Sagesse, Leyden, 1656, i. 246; bk. 2, ch. 3). Bayle wrote, ‘Les erreurs, les passions, les préjugez, & cent autres défauts semblables, sont comme un mal nécessaire au monde. Les hommes ne vaudroient rien pour cette terre si on les avoit guéris …’ (Oeuvres Diverses, The Hague, 1727–31, ii. 274; and cf. iii. 361 and 977 sqq.). There is an interesting parallel to Mandeville’s phrase in The City Alarum, or the Weeke of our Miscarriages (1645), p. 29: ‘… most men being ambitious, and affecting the repute of opulent, many from whom the Magistrate exacts too much, chuse rather to pay, then proclaime the slendernesse of their fortunes. So that vice it selfe supports vertue, and reall profit is reaped from wealth imaginary.’
I have cited only passages exhibiting some kinship in expression to Mandeville’s epigram. The general idea, however, of the possible usefulness of vice was frequently anticipated in the numerous seventeenth-century discourses on the passions. In these treatises it was shown how the passions, although vicious in themselves, could none the less be converted into virtues. Some of these works—Pierre Nicole’s De La Charité, & de l’Amour propre (Essais de Morale, vol. 3) is an example—continued to term the passions vicious despite their practical utility. Lay works also preached this moral. Thus Fontenelle wrote, ‘Avez-vous de la peine à concevoir que les bonnes qualités d’un homme tiennent à d’autres qui sont mauvaises, et qu’il seroit dangereux de le guérir de ses défauts?’ ((Œuvres, Paris, 1790, i. 367, in Dialogues des Morts); and an anonymous English work argued that ‘What the generality of men take for Virtues, are only Vices in Masquerade’ (Laconics: or, New Maxims of State and Conversation, ed. 1701, pt. 2, maxim 53; p. 43). See, also, the citation from La Rochefoucauld (above, i. cv) and from Rochester (below, i. 219, n. 1). Another, related, type of work held that the passions may become the ingredients of genuine virtue, but nevertheless showed at the same time much of the theological belief that the passions are in their nature of the world, the flesh, and the devil. For instances of such writings one might cite J. F. Senault’s De l’Usage des Passions (1643), Malebranche’s Recherche de La Vérité (cf. ed. Paris, 1721, iii. 18), and W. Ayloffe’s Government of the Passions, according to the Rules of Reason and Religion (1700). In these studies of the emotions—especially in the first-mentioned type—there lay implicit the paradox that vices may be benefits.—Concerning this whole matter of the psychologizing of virtue into vice cf. above, i. xlvii–xlix, lxxxvii–xciii, and below, ii. 404, n. 1.
These anticipations, however, unlike Mandeville, usually put little stress on the social implications of the value of vice, being content to show how the individual could transmute the evil passions of his nature into personal virtue.
As part of the background for Mandeville’s phrase there should be considered also the common ‘optimistic’ belief that somehow good springs from evil (see below, i. 57, n. 1).
For Mandeville’s own explanation of his phrase see below, i. 412, n. 1.
(Œuvres, Paris, 1753–4, i . 363). See also below, i. 259, n. 1.
- Leur bonheur [of friends and lovers] ne nous intéresse
- Qu’autant-qu’il est notre bonheur
(Œuvres, Paris, 1753–4, i . 364–5, in L’Amour Propre); Rémond de Saint-Mard (Œuvres Mêlées, 1742, i. 168): ‘La Gloire est un artifice dont la Société se sert pour faire travailler les hommes à ses intérêts’—a conception found also in Nicole (Essais de Morale, Paris, 1714, iii. 128) and in Erasmus (see below, i. cviii, the third quotation in the parallel columns). J. F. Bernard stated, ‘ … les plus honnêtes gens sont la dupe de leur orgueil’ (Reflexions Morales, Amsterdam, 1716, p. 112). For recognition of the social value of pride by Hobbes and Locke, see below, i. cix and 54, n. 1. Bayle developed the concept in detail; cf. below, i. 210, n. 1. See also below, i. 214, n. 3.
- Sa sévérité n’est que faste,
- Et l’honneur de passer pour chaste
- La résout à lêtre en effet.
- Sagesse pareille au courage
- De nos plus superbes Héros!
- L’Univers qui les envisage,
- Leur fait immoler leur repos
But it seems more likely that Johnson was thinking of the Fable, which he knew thoroughly (see below, i. cxxxviii, n. 2), and which bears a closer resemblance to the passage in the Idler than does Blacklock’s epigram.—It is, of course, possible that Blacklock also was indebted to Mandeville.
- Life is a bumper fill’d by fate …
- Where strong, insipid, sharp and sweet,
- Each other duly temp’ring, meet. …
- What harm in drinking can there be,
- Since Punch and life so well agree?