One may be inclined to disagree with this,
and many have done so, but it should be conceded that Mandeville has a point:
Even if on average men are neither good nor noble, and - as the Heidelberger
Protestant Cathechism has it - "they are prone to mischief, 'to every good work
reprobate'", they may do good to one another, and contribute to each other's
income and chances, by cooperating to satisfy their own egoistic
desires, and by checking and balancing the exercise of each other's evil
tendencies by the very same.
3. On the human desire for and
corruption by power, also in (nominal) democracies
 And so in politics: when the state is framed upon the principle
of equality and likeness, the citizens think that they ought to hold
office by turns. Formerly, as is natural, every one would take his
turn of service; and then again, somebody else would look after his
interest, just as he, while in office, had looked after theirs. But
nowadays, for the sake of the advantage which is to be gained from the
public revenues and from office, men want to be always in office.
Actually, why if "when
the state is framed upon the principle of equality and likeness, the
citizens think that they ought to hold office by turns" is not
at all clear, except on a malapropriate notion of fairness:
Everyone who is not completely
ignorant and dim knows that some men are better in doing this, and
others in doing that, and that it will serve no one's interests if the
weak try to or must do the work that need the strong, and the stupid
try to or must do the thinking that requires the intelligent ones.
And note that this does not deny at
all that in principle all (sane, healthy) adults should be qualified
for all social functions, especially not with the additional
conditions that, even so, usually some are more fit for the function
than others, and that the best qualified should be chosen for the work
that should benefit all or most.
Next, Aristotle is quite right that
in general (with a few exceptions) "for the sake
of the advantage which is to be gained from the public revenues and
from office, men want to be always in office". For this, there
are at least three reasons, all of which are quite important:
- All men desire power - over
others, over circumstances, and over themselves - generally because
this gives them the best chances to serve their own interests, for
socially power is the ability to make others do as one desires if
and only if one desires that.
- Most men desire prominence -
honour, fame, status - and positions of power generally give men
most social prominence.
- "All power corrupts" (Lord Acton),
in the sense Sancho Panza gave: "All men desire to command, if only
a flock of sheep", and Daniel Defoe poetized:
That all men
4. The (Aristotelian) types of
government and their corruptions
Of the above-mentioned forms, the
perversions are as follows: of royalty, tyranny; of aristocracy,
oligarchy; of constitutional government, democracy. For tyranny is a
kind of monarchy which has in view the interest of the monarch only;
oligarchy has in view the interest of the wealthy; democracy, of the
needy: none of them the common good of all.
That is, we can set up the following
table of kinds of governments:
It should be noted that Aristotle
uses a double principle of classification, which is confusing:
On the one hand, whether the one, the few or the many rule; on the
other hand, whether the rulers act in the interest of the (many) poor
or the (few) rich.
This requires several remarks.
First, there are human societies -
e.g. theocracies and cloisters, or societies based on caste or
nobility - where wealth is not the main ground to qualify for a
position of power.
Second, Aristotle has argued, both
implicitly and explicitly, that good government, whatever its type or
form or membership, governs in the - legitimate - interests of all or
most members of the society, and not in the interests of a relatively
small subset of the society.
Third, and accordingly, the various
types of government and governors may be deemed perverse in rough
inverse proportion to the limited interests they serve: The smaller
the group served, or the greater the power or income appropriated from
the many for the few, the more perverse the government.
It is here notable, by the way, that
in many ages and societies the majority of the population has mostly
accepted for many generations that a small class or caste of
aristocrats ("nobles") and priests or clergy ruled many, and received
disproportionally much of the social product.
The reason for this acceptance of
quite unfair systems of distributions of power and wealth are mostly
ideological: The population often accepted and believed in large
numbers that they were ruled by their betters, and that, therefore,
the existing inequalities in wealth and power were somehow justified.
(In English light literature for the masses, the trope of 'the natural
characteristics of the born gentleman' is still common.)
5. That every government is an
For the real difference between
democracy and oligarchy is poverty and wealth. Wherever men rule by
reason of their wealth, whether they be few or many, that is an
oligarchy, and where the poor rule, that is a democracy. But as a fact
the rich are few and the poor many; for few are well-to-do, whereas
freedom is enjoyed by all, and wealth and
freedom are the grounds on which the oligarchical and democratical
parties respectively claim power in the state.
This involves two difficulties
remarked upon before:
First, the double classification,
namely by proportion of those in power (one, few, many) and by wealth.
Second, the fact that "the many" do
not and never did rule, except by proxy, through representation, or at
best by a majority of votes for deputies.
Also, there is another difficulty,
that may be put as follows:
Third, in fact, with very few
exceptions, and that only in exceptional circumstances, every
government is an oligarchy, that is, a government of the few over the
many, for kings need ministers and executives and advisors, that make
any king effectively into the frontman of a group that exercises the
power, and no majority can in practice govern, even if the few that
govern do so in the name of, and with tje consent of, the democratic
Consequently, it seems best to divide
kinds of governments by some other principle, relating to how those in
power constitutionally or legally come to power and are removed from
power, and according to what freedoms, rights and duties people in the
society have and can exercise.
Basic questions here are: Whether or
not the leadership can be removed peacefully by the led; whether such
removals happen periodically or conditionally; whether they happen by
majority or by merits (some supposedly qualified gremium); and whether
there are freedoms of opinion, publication, congregation, cooperation,
habeas corpus and others.
6. The properties a government
must have, in some fashion
 It is clear then that a state is
not a mere society, having a common place, established for the
prevention of mutual crime and for the sake of exchange. These are
conditions without which a state cannot exist; but all of them
together do not constitute a state, which is a community of families
and aggregations of families in well-being, for the sake of a perfect
and self-sufficing life. Such a community can only be established
among those who live in the same place and intermarry. Hence arise in
cities family connections, brotherhoods, common sacrifices, amusements
which draw men together. But these are created by friendship, for the
will to live together is friendship. The end of the state is the good
life, and these are the means towards it. And the state is the union
of families and villages in a perfect and self-sufficing life, by
which we mean a happy and honorable life.
Note first Aristotle's definition of what
- "a state" is: "a
community of families and aggregations of families in well-being,
for the sake of a perfect and self-sufficing life"
from which he derives the additional properties that, in order to
do this properly a state (or also: society, commonwealth, for the
usage is somewhat varying) must have most or all of the following
(sorts of) properties - and the "must have" in each case is a
stipulated necessary condition to use the term properly:
A state or society of any considerable complexity and extensive
- must have a territory in which people intermarry with "family
connections, brotherhoods, common sacrifices, amusements which draw
- must have (legal) rules for "the
prevention of mutual crime ";
- must have institutions that enable "exchange"
of many kinds, and cooperations of many kinds, between groups and
- must have some shared ends, values, ideals, assumptions and
- must have - for more complex societies - some articulated
constitution, that says what the society is for, and some system of
laws, that says what people in it may and may not do, in general,
and in specific conditions, and that are in principle known to all
(sane, adult) members, and that form part of an accepted social
agreements or traditions;
- must be geared to the end of enabling its members to lead "a
perfect and self-sufficing life" since this, a "happy
and honorable life" by means of human cooperation, agreement
and "friendship", is the conscious end
of human society, and of consciously chosen human desires to be
- must have some small group of leaders that has the effective
power in the society, through which its members can be coordinated,
be led, and be kept acting within the bounds of the laws, by means
of a somewhat larger group that executes the desires of the leaders,
and that maintains the coordination, action and existence of the
Note that the prime perversions of a state (society, group) will be
as regards the proportion or kinds of its members to lead "a
perfect and self-sufficing life": All, some, a few, primarily
the leaders and executives, restricted or not as regards race,
religion, beliefs, sex, opportunities, chances, education etcetera -
and note that these are fundamental questions, because they concern
(distributive) justice, which is the foundation of
7. What human societies and
governments are for
 Our conclusion, then, is that
political society exists for the sake of noble actions, and not of
mere companionship. Hence they who contribute most to such a society
have a greater share in it than those who have the same or a greater
freedom or nobility of birth but are inferior to them in political
virtue; or than those who exceed them in wealth but are surpassed by
them in virtue.
- Our conclusion,
then, is that political society exists for the sake of noble
actions, and not of mere companionship.
which is to say that
- a "political
society exists" to do good in the sense of existing in order
to improve the chances and the lives of its members
Consequently - it seems - those who are best in society are not
necessarily those who are rich or prominent, but those who do most
good, where it also should be noted that it follows from the above
stipulations that, in principle, at least the majority of - the sane
adult members of - a human society agree in principle on some ideals
and some specification of the goods a society is supposed to do,
further, or maintain, and on their relative importance, and the
means of bringing them about and protecting them, and on some of the
natural reality this is supposed to happen in, and on some of the
basic characteristics and capacities and needs of human beings, and
perhaps also (and historically often, so far), on a supernatural
reality that is appealed to as some ultimate justification or reason
for what is and should be the case.
Note also that a more complex society is generally a society of
societies - a group of groups of persons, such as: families, clubs,
villages, congregations, neighbourhoods, firms, teams, cooperatives,
institutions - generally consisting of many face-groups, many roles,
many exchanges and kinds of interactions and cooperations, and many
sorts of rewards and punishments for acts well or ill performed, while
all such human groups will tend to have many of the properties listed
above for states:
- In human groups that are coordinated there will tend to be some
territory, where members meet and interact, some rules of behaviour,
some kinds of coordinated interactions, some shared ends, values,
ideals, assumptions and traditions, and some leadership, some set of
executives, and normally many more members of that group,
institution, club, or society, who do most of the work of that group
or who perform most of the acts of the group.
And all or most of this is uniquely human, and requires natural
language, and the abilities and willingness to interact peacefully, to
cooperate, and to proceed by rational discussion, and to have some
shared agreements and principles of behaviour, language and
interaction, for mutual benefit or interest.
It is also this that enables human beings to become human persons,
which tends to require some twenty years of learning and training, at
least, normally, in complex societies, and which consists in the
ability to play many roles in a society in a proper way, and thus to
make more of one's talents and possibilities than one could do
otherwise, and also to contribute to one's own and others well-being
by cooperating for shared ends and agreed upon procedures and reasons.
8. On the main reasons why "laws,
when good, should be supreme"
discussion of the first question shows nothing so clearly as that
laws, when good, should be supreme; and that the magistrate or
magistrates should regulate those matters only on which the laws are
unable to speak with precision owing to the difficulty of any general
principle embracing all particulars.
Note the main reasons why "laws,
when good, should be supreme":
- because they have been deliberately
reasoned out and adopted
- because they go beyond private or limited interests
- because they are supported by tradition and past social consent
- because they have not been compiled for the case in question
- because they have been publicly declared as standards
he who bids the law rule may be deemed to bid God and Reason alone
rule, but he who bids man rule adds an element of the beast; for
desire is a wild beast, and passion perverts the minds of rulers, even
when they are the best of men.
Quite so, and this is again a major
argument for the thesis that no single men should rule, except in
extra-ordinary circumstances, and that also no single institution or
group should rule, but rather power must be divided in such a manner
that different men and different institutions are capable of keeping
each other in check and balance.
The answer to Juvenal's "Quis
custodiet ipse custodes?" is in the end:
Other guards from other institutions,
or members of the public. But the last option becomes impracticable if
the public is unarmed and divided, and the government armed and
organized, as is the case in modern Western democracies, except
Switzerland and the US.
The law is
reason unaffected by desire. We are told that a patient should call in
a physician; he will not get better if he is doctored out of a book.
But the parallel of the arts is clearly not in point; for the
physician does nothing contrary to rule from motives of friendship; he
only cures a patient and takes a fee; whereas magistrates do many
things from spite and partiality.
This is a good (partial) definition
of the law: "The
law is reason unaffected by desire",
and it should be understood why this is or may be so. Namely, because
(1) the laws have been articulated to judge fairly about individual
interests, rights and duties, without having an specific personal
interest as concern and because (2) the exercise of the law is by
qualified persons without any special personal interests in the
outcomes of the cases they judge, other than that the laws have been
fairly, publicly and on the basis of relevant knowledge applied.
Also, it is good to see that
Aristotle was not at all blind to the failings of leaders and
do many things from spite and partiality".
And indeed, the reason that magistrates may and can do so, and have
considerable power, often ill-controlled, is one major reason why bad
people are much interested in becoming a magistrate or leading
9. That all human excellence is partial and
aristocracy, or government of the best, a like difficulty occurs about
virtue; for if one citizen be better than the other members of the
government, however good they may be, he too, upon the same principle
of justice, should rule over them. And if the people are to be supreme
because they are stronger than the few, then if one man, or more than
one, but not a majority, is stronger than the many, they ought to
rule, and not the many.
These are not Aristotle's
convictions, but problems he raises.
In any case, the brief answer to this
manner of difficulty - say "so and so is a grandmaster of chess, and
therefore eminently fit to be prime minister" - is answered by the
factual consideration that, as men are, absolutely no one excells all
or most in most or a majority of his qualities. All human excellence
is partial and limited.
"Particular talent or genius does
not imply general capacity. Those who are most versatile are seldom
great in any one department; and the stupidest people can generally
do something. The highest pre-eminence in any one study commonly
arises from the concentration of the attention and faculties on that
one study. He who expects from a great name in politics, in
philosophy, in art, equal greatness in other things, is little
versed in human nature." (Hazlitt, Characteristics)
Besides, those who belief in the best
government by the best in the interest of all, should also realize
talents do not generally attain to the highest stations. For though
high, the ascent to them is narrow, beaten, and crooked. The path of
genius is free and his own. Whatever requires the concurrence and
cooperation of others, must depend chiefly on routine and an
attention to rules and minutiae. Success in business is
therefore seldom owing to uncommon talents or original power, which
is untractable and self-willed, but to the greatest degree of the
common-place capacity." (Hazlitt, Characteristics)
and that (from the
"The difficulty is
for a man to rise to high station, not to fill it; as it is easier
to stand on an eminence than to climb up to it."
10. Why most governments, states and
another sort of monarchy not uncommon among the barbarians, which
nearly resembles tyranny. But this is both legal and hereditary. For
barbarians, being more servile in character than Hellenes, and
Asiatics than Europeans, do not rebel against a despotic government.
Such royalties have the nature of tyrannies because the people are by
nature slaves; but there is no danger of their being overthrown, for
they are hereditary and legal.
The reason why "barbarians,
being more servile in character than Hellenes, and Asiatics than
Europeans" is presumambly the one Chamfort borrowed from the
"Presque tous les hommes sont
esclaves, par la raison que les Spartiates donnaient de la servitude
des Perses, faute de savoir prononcer la syllabe non. Savoir
prononcer ce mot et savoir vivre seul sont les deux seuls moyens de
conserver sa liberté et son charactère."
See also under .
So as you may have gleaned, I did annotate
but I should do more of it - and would if I could. As it is, most of
the above you won't read from others who live now - or if there is
something that seems like it, it tends to be diluted or superficial.
For more related to politics on this site, see inter alia:
P.S. Any needed corrections must be made later.