Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

" I bave pro

but because justice prescribes it. « mised to bestow. a sum of money upon some

good and respectable purpose. In the interval between the promise and my fulfilling it, a

greater and nobler purpose offers itself, and « calls with an imperious voice for my co-operation."

Which ought I to prefer? That which best deserves my preference. A promise can make no alteration in the case. I ought to be guided by the intrinsic merits of the objects, and not by any external and foreign consideration. No engagements of mine can change their intrinsic claims.

Justice it appears therefore ought to be done, whether we have promised it or not, If we discover any thing to be unjust, we ought to abstain from it, with whatever solemnity we have engaged for its perpetration. We were erroneous and vicious when the promise was made; but this affords no sufficient reason for the perform

ance.

Godwin. Political Justice, vol. i. b, iii. ch. 3.

POLITICAL society is founded in the principles of morality and justice. It is impossible for intellectual beings to be brought into coalition and intercourse without a certain mode of conduct, adapted to their nature and connection, immediately becoming a duty on the parties concerned. Men would never have associated, if they had not imagined that in consequence of that as

sociation

F

sociation they would mutually conduce to the advantage and happiness of each other. This is the real purpose, the genuine basis of their intercourse ; and as far as this purpose is answered, so far does society answer the end of its institution.

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]
[merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]

THE simplest form of government is despotism, where all the inferior orbs of power are moved merely by the will of the supreme, and all that are subjected to them, directed in the same manner, merely by the occasional will of the magistrate. This form, as it is the most simple, so it is infinitely the most general. Scarce any part of the world is exempted from its power. And in those few places where men enjoy what they call liberty, it is continually in a tottering situation, and makes greater and greater strides to that gulph of despotism which at last swallows up every species of government. This manner of ruling being directed merely by the will of the weakest, and generally the worst man in the society, becomes the most foolish and capricious thing, at the same time that it is the most terrible and destructive that can well be conceived. In a despotism the principal person finds, that let the want, misery, and indigence of his subjects be what they will, he can yet possess abundantly of every thing to gratify his most insatiable wishes. He does more. He finds that these gratifications

increase

F 2

[ocr errors]

increase in proportion to the wretchedness and slavery of bis subjects. Thus encouraged, both by passion and interest, to trample on the public welfare, and by his station placed above both shame, and fear, he proceeds to the most horrid and shocking outrages upon mankind. Their persons become victims of his suspicions. The slightest displeasure is death: and a disagreeable aspect is often as great a crime as high-treason. In the court of Nero, a person of learning, of unquestionable merit, and of unsuspected loyalty, was put to death for no other reason than that he had a pedantic countenance which displeased the emperor. This very monster of mankind appeared in the beginning of his reign to be a person of virtue. Many of the greatest tyrants on the records of history have begun their reigns in the fairest manner. But the truth is, this unnatural power corrupts both the heart and the understanding. And to prevent the least hope of ainendment, a king is surrounded by a crowd of infamous fiatrerers, who find their account in keeping him from the least light of reason, till all ideas of rectitude and justice are utterly crased from his mind. When Alexander had in his fury inhumanly butchered one of his best friends, and braxest captains; on the return of reason he began to conceive an horror suitable to the guilt of such a murder. In this juncture, his council came to his assistance. But what did his council ?

They found him out a philosopher who gave him comfort. And in what manner did this phi

losopher losopher comfort him for the loss of such a man, and heal his conscience, flagrant with the smart of such a crime? You have the matter at length in Plutarch. He told him ;

He told him ; " that let a sovereign do what he will, all bis actions are just and law

ful, because they are his.” The palaces of all princes abound with such courtly philosophers. The consequence was such as might be expected. He grew every day a inonster more abandoned to unnatural lust, to debauchery, to drunkenness, and to murder. And yet this was originally a great man, of uncommon capacity, and a strong propensity to virtue. But unbounded power proceeds step by step, until it has eradicated every laudable principle. It has been reniarked, that there is no prince so bad, whose favourites and ministers are not worse.

There is hardly any prince without a favourite, by whom he is governed in as arbitrary a manner as he governs the wretches subjected to him. Here the tyranny

is doubled. There are two courts, and two interests; both

very different from the interests of the people. The favourite knows, that the regard of a tyrant is a's unconstant and capricious as that of a woman; and concluding his time to be short, he makes haste to fill up the measure of his iniquity, in rapine, in 'luxury, and in revenge. To deserve well of the state is a crime against the prince. To be popular, and to be a traitor, are considered as synonimous terms. Even virrue is dangerous, as an aspiring quality, that claims an esteem by itself, and independent of the countenance of the court. F 3

What

[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »