Monthly Archives: July 2011

Just In Case

I added Terraformed to the blogroll.



Or something. I think the VSP are making a major miscalculation.

Kabuki Theater Archive

Seems like only a month of Sundays ago,

The President has issued an ultimatum that more tax revenue must be part of budget negotiations. Indeed, he endlessly repeats his desire for a “balanced approach,” implying that as much as 50 percent of the deficit reduction in any agreement should come from higher revenues.

Because I am a thoughtful, middle-of-the-road, pragmatic guy, I’m willing to accept the President’s ultimatum. I do have one tiny request, however, and that is for any such deal to be based on honest math.

Just in case anyone you know is pretending to want to balance the budget.

The Following

I have taken great liberty with other peoples works and efforts to bring some of the most pertinent, for the moment, essays of Claude Helvetius, given the current political climate we find ourselves in America, and perhaps around the world.

I do so because I wish them to be read, and perhaps the book downloaded and read in its’ entirety, since so many lessons of the philosopher of democracy are lost on modern man. It was not because of his assertion that if man had been born with hoofs he would not have progressed beyond subsistence that excited authorities to burn his book, and for many in high stations to wish to do him likewise.

Helvetius Essay III- XVII



This desire derives its source from the love of pleasure, and consequently from the nature of man himself. Every one ‘would be as happy as possible;—everyone would be invested with the power of forcing men to contribute to their happiness to the utmost of their power; and for this reason everyone desires to command.

All people are either governed according to laws and established conventions, or by an arbitrary will. In the first case, the power over them is less arbitrary, and they are not under so great a necessity of pleasing the prince; besides, he that would govern a people according to their laws must know (hem, reflect upon them, and endure the fatigue of studying them,— from which indolence always seeks to be delivered. In order to gratify this indolence, he aspires to an absolute power, which, exempting him from all care, study, and the fatigue of attention, makes his fellow-creatures the abject slaves of his will.

According to Aristotle, a despotic government is that in which all men are slaves, and only one free.

This is the motive that induces every man to desire to be despotic. In order to be so, he must demolish the power both of the great and of the common people, and consequently divide the interest of the citizens. In a long succession of age’?, opportunities will offer, and almost all sovereigns, being animated by a view of their interest more lively than rational, embrace them with avidity.

On this anarchy of interests is established the despotic power of the East, resembling the picture given by Milton of the empire of Chaos, which, says he, extends its royal pavilion over a barren and wasteful abyss, where Confusion, involved in herself, maintains the anarchy and discord of the elements, and governs each atom with a sceptre of iron.

A division being once sown between the citizens, it is necessary to debase and degrade their minds, by brandishing the sword of tyranny, and making it dazzle in their eyes; to place the virtues in the rank of crimes, and to punish them as such. To what cruelties of this kind have not only the despotic power of the East, but even that of the Roman emperors, been carried? “Under the reign of Domitian,” says Tacitus, «’ the virtues were decrees of death. Rome swarmed with informers; the slave was a spy on his master, the freedman on his patron, the friend on his friend.” In those calamitous ages, the virtuous man did not advise the commission of crimes, but he was obliged to wink at them. Had he shewn more courage and firmness on such occasions, it would have been treated as a crime against the state. Among the degenerate Romans, weakness was the heroism. In that reign were punished Senecio and Rusticus, the panegyrists of the virtues of Thrasea and Helvidius; those illustrious orators were treated as criminals of state, and their works burnt by public authority. Celebrated writers, such as Pliny, were reduced to compose grammatical books, because every work, on a more elevated subject, might nave given umbrage to the tyrant, and have been dangerous to the author. The learned, who had been invited to Borne by an Augustus, a Vespasian, an Antoninus, and a Trajan, were banished by a Nero, a Caligula, a Domitian, and a Caracalla: the philosophers were driven away, and the sciences proscribed. “These tyrants,” says Tacitus, “endeavored to obliterate whatever had the marks of genius and virtue.”

By thus keeping the mind in the perpetual tremors of fear, tyranny debases it to her purposes. It is she who in the East has invented those cruel tortures and punishments practiced there*;—punishments sometimes necessary in those detestable countries, because the people are invited to commit crimes, not only by their misery, but also by the example of the sultan, who teaches them to despise justice.

These are both the motives on which the love of despotic authority is founded, and the means employed to arrive at it. Thus, foolishly in love with arbitrary power, kings inconsiderately throw themselves into a road interrupted by a thou« «and precipices, down which a thousand tyrants have fallen. Let us here venture, for the good of human nature, and that of sovereigns, to lend them some light, and to shew them the dangers to which, under such a government, they and their people are exposed. Let them from henceforward keep far from them every perfidious counsel, that inspires them with the desire of arbitrary power; and let them at length know, that the strongest and most masterly treatise against tyranny would be a treatise on the happiness and preservation of kings.

* The punishments, in use almost all over the East, fill the human mind with horror, because the tyrant who orders them is himself above the laws. This is not the case in republics, where the laws are always mild, because those who establish submit to them.

But, it is said, who can conceal this truth from them? why do not they compare the small number of princes banished from England with the prodigious number of Greek and Turkish emperors murdered on the throne of Constantinople? If the sultans, I reply, are not deterred by these terrible examples, it is from their not having this picture habitually present to their minds: it is from their being continually prompted to despotism, by the wretches who would share with them the arbitrary power; and because most of the eastern princes, being governed by the will of a vizier, yield, through weakness, to his desires, and are not sufficiently informed of their injustice by the noble resistance of their subjects.

The entrance into despotism is easy. The people seldom foresee the evils a confirmed tyranny prepares for them; and, if they at last perceive it, it is not till they sink under the yoke, are changed on all sides; and, being unable to defend themselves, only wait trembling for the punishment to which, they must be condemned.

Emboldened by the weakness of the people the princes become despotic tyrants. They do not know, that they themselves suspend over their heads the sword that is to give them, the mortal blow; that, to abrogate all law, and reduce every thing to arbitrary power, they must perpetually have recourse to force, and often employ the soldier’s sword. Now, the habitual custom of making use of such methods, either provokes the citizens to revolt, and invites them to revenge, or insensibly accustoms them to know no other justice than force.

Though a long time be required to spread such an idea among the people, it forces its way at last, and reaches even to the soldiers, who, at length, perceiving that no collective body in the state is capable of resisting them, and that the prince, odious to his subjects, owes all his power to them, their souls are open to the most audacious projects, and they long to better their condition. If then a bold and courageous man flatters them with the hope of plundering some great cities, such a man, as all history proves, is sufficient to cause a revolution ;—• a revolution that is always speedily followed by a second; since, in despotic states, as the illustrious president de Montesquieu observes, the tyrants are often assassinated, without destroying the tyranny. When once the soldiers know their strength, it is impossible to keep them within just bounds. I could cite on this occasion all the Roman emperors proscribed by the Praetorian bands, for resolving to free the country from the tyranny of the soldiers, and to re-establish the ancient discipline of the army.

The despotic tyrant then, in order to command slaves, is forced in his turn to obey his ever turbulent and imperious troops. But the case is very different, when the prince has created in the state a powerful body of magistrates, by whom the people, being judged, obtain ideas of justice and equity; the soldiers, being always taken out of the body of the citizens, preserve in their new state some idea of justice; besides, they are sensible that the entire body of the citizens, called together by the prince and the magistrates, under the standard of the laws, would oppose any bold attempt, and let the valour of the army be ever so great, it must at length be overpowered by numbers. Hence, the soldiers are kept within the bounds of duty by sentiments of justice and fear.

A powerful body of magistrates is then necessary to the safety of kings: it is a buckler, behind which both the prince and people are sheltered, the one from the madness of sedition, and the other from the cruelties of tyranny.

The Khalif Aaron Al-Raschid reflecting on this subject, in order to preserve himself from the dangers which on all sides surround despotic princes, one day asked his brother, the celebrated Beloulh, what advice he could give him on the manner of reigning well? “Make thy will,” said he, “conformable to the laws, and not the laws to thy will. Reflect, that men without merit are always craving, and that great men are so modest that they seldom ask; refuse then the requests of the one, and prevent those of the other. Load not thy people with taxes too burthensome; and recollect on this subject, the advice which king Nouchirvon the Just gave to his son Ormous: “My son,” said he, ‘« nobody will be happy in thine empire, if thou thinkest only of pleasure. When thou art reclined on thy pillow, and ready to taste the sweets of sleep, remember those whom oppression keeps awake; when a splendid repast shall be served up before thee, think on those who languish in misery; when thou ramblest through the delightful groves of thine haram, remember that there are those who are unfortunate, and whom tyranny keeps in irons.—I shall only add one word more,” said Beloulh; “receive into thy favour men eminent in the sciences, and conduct thyself by their advice, in order that monarchy may be obedient to the written law, and not the law to monarchy*.”

* See Chardin, vol. v.

Themistius+, being commissioned by the senate to harangue Jovianus on his advancement to the throne, made nearly the same discourse to that emperor: “Remember,” said he, ‘«that, though the army has raised thee to the empire, thou must learn from the philosophers the art of governing; the first has given thee the purple of the Csesars; but the latter will teach thee how to wear it worthily.”

+ Critical History of Philosophy, by M. Seslandes.

Even among the ancient Persians, the most abject and dastardly of all people, the philosophers, who inaugurated the princes, were allowed to repeat these words to them at their coronation §: “Know, O king, that thine authority shall cease to be lawful on the very day that thou ceasest to render the Persians happy.” A truth of which Trajan appears to be fully sensible, when, being raised to the throne, and presenting the sword, as usual, to the prefectus pretorio, he said, “Receive from me this sword, and make use of it under my reign, either to defend in me a just prince, or to punish in me a tyrant.”

\§: Ibid.

Whoever,’under pretence of supporting the authority of his sovereign, would stretch it to an arbitrary power, is at the same time a bad father, a bad citizen, and a bad subject: a bad father and a bad citizen, because he would load his posterity and his country with the chains of slavery; and a bad subject, because, by changing a lawful for an arbitrary authority, he is summoning up ambition and despair against the king. I call to witness the thrones of the East, so often stained with the blood of their sovereigns ^. If the sultans well understood their own interest, it would never permit them either to wish for such a power, or in this respect to yield to the desires of their viziers. Kings ought to be deaf to such advice, and to recollect that their highest interest requires, if I may so express myself, that they should set a proper value on their kingdom, in order that it may be enjoyed by them and their posterity. This true interest can only be understood by intelligent princes: in others, the contemptible glory they propose to themselves, by commanding absolutely, and the love of indolence, which conceals from them the dangers with which they are surrounded, will always prevent their engaging in more noble pursuits; hence all governments perpetually tend towards despotic power.

^ Notwithstanding the attachment of the Chinese to their sovereigns, which has often led several thousands of them to sacrifice themselves on the tomb of their monarchs, yet how many revolutions has the ambition of arbitrary power excited in that empire? See the History »f the Huns, by M. de Guignet, in the article of China.

Helvetius Essay III- XVIII



I Shall first distinguish despotic power into two kinds; one, suddenly established by force of arms in a virtuous nation, that bears it patiently. This nation is like an oak bent down by main force, whose elasticity soon breaks the ropes which hold it down. Greece furnishes a multitude of instances of this kind.

The other is founded by time, luxury, and effeminacy. The nation among whom it is established is like an oak, which, being bent down by little and little, insensibly loses the elasticity necessary to make it rise and recover its first state. Of this last kind of despotic power 1 shall’ treat in this chapter.

In nations subject to this kind of government, the men in high posts can have no clear idea of justice; they are in this respect plunged into the most profound ignorance. Indeed, ‘what idea can a vizier form of justice? He does not even know, that there is such a thing as the public welfare: yet destitute of this knowledge he must wander here and there without a guide. The ideas of just and unjust, received ia early youth, insensibly become obscured, and at length entirely disappear.

But who, it is objected, can conceal this knowledge from the viziers? How can they acquire it, I reply, in these despotic countries, where the citizens have no share in the management of public affairs; where the person, who fixes his attention on the misfortunes of his country, meets with the eye of resentment; where the mistaken interest of the sultan is opposed to the interests of his subjects; and where, to serve the prince, i» to betray the nation? In order to be just and virtuous, it is necessary that they should know what are the duties of a prince and his subjects, and study the reciprocal engagements that bind together all the members of society. Justice is no more than a consummate knowledge of these engagements. To rise to this knowledge, they must think; but what man among a people subject to arbitrary power dares to think? Indolence, inutility, inaction, and even the danger of thinking, soon draw after them an incapacity of thought; for they think but little in countries where they keep their thoughts concealed. It would be an idle surmise to say, that they are silent from prudence; but this does not prevent their thinking. It is certain, that they are void of thought, and that great and noble ideas are never formed in the heads of those subject to arbitrary power.

In those countries people are never animated by that opinion of their own importance, and that giddiness which foretells the destruction of empires. Every one keeping his eyes fixed on his private interest, never places them on that of the public— The people then can have no idea either of the public welfare or the duty of citizens; and the viziers, being taken from the body of the nation, must, on entering their office, be void of every principle that can teach them a wise administration, or a proper distribution of justice; the people then must seek for great places, not with a view of doing good, but to make their court to the sovereign, in order to obtain a share of his power.

But, even supposing them animated with the desire of doing good, their ignorance prevents their being able to accomplish it; and the attention of the viziers being necessarily engrossed by the intrigues of the seraglio, they have not leisure for reflection.

Besides, to obtain knowledge, they must expose themselves to the fatigue of study and meditation; and what motive can engage them to take this trouble? They are not stimulated to it even by the fear of censure *.

* For this reason the English esteem the liberty of the press one of the most valuable of their privileges.

If we may be allowed to compare small things with great, let us take a survey of the republic of letters. If the critic* Were banished from thence, is it not obvious, that authors being freed from the salutary fear of censure, which now compels them to take pains in improving their talents, they would then present the public with only rude and imperfect pieces? This is exactly the case of viziers; this is the reason of their inattention to the administration of affairs, and the cause of their never condescending to consult men of learning +.

+ The president de Montesquieu.s authority has been quoted in the parliament of England, because the English are a free people: and in relation to laws and the administration of affairs, Peter the Great consulted the famous Leibnitz, because one great man is not ashamed to consult another; and because Russia, by its commerce with the other European nations, may obtain more knowledge than other, eastern nations. even among ourselves, Louis XIII. in one of his letters, complains of the Marshal d’Ancre. “He opposes,” says he, “my walking in the streets of Paris, and allows me no pleasures but those of hunting, and taking a few turns in the Thuilleries: he has forbid the officers of my houshold, as well as all my subjects, to converse with me on serious affairs, and to speak to me in private.” It seems as if, in every country, pains are taken to render the princes but little worthy of the throne, where they are called to it by their birth.

What I have said of the viziers, may be applied to the sultans. Princes do not escape the general ignorance of their own. nation: their eyes are, even in this respect, covered with a thicker darkness than those of their subjects. Almost all, who are intrusted with their education, or who surround them, being eagerly desirous of governing under their name, have an interest in rendering them stupid *. Thus, the prince destined to reign, being shut up in the seraglio till the death of his father, passes from the haram to the throne, without any clear idea of the knowledge of government, and before he has ever* been once present at a divan.

Wherefore then, after the example of Philip of Macedon, whose superior courage and understanding did not inspire him with a blind self-confidence, and who paid his pages for repeating to him every day, “Remember, Philip, that thou art a man,” why should not viziers sometimes allow critics to put them in mind of being men*? Wherefore, I say, cannot they without a crime, doubt of the justice of their decisions, and repeat after Grotius, “That every decree, or every Jaw, which people are forbid to examine, and to censure, can never fail of being unjust?”

There is not a person like the Duke of Burgundy to be found in the East. That prince read all the libels made against him and Louis XIV. He was desirous of being informed, and was sensible that hatred and humour can alone, sometimes, dare to present the truth to kings.

It is because these viziers are but men. Are there many among the authors who would have the generosity to spare the critics, had they the power to punish them? It is at least only the men of a superior genius and of an elevated character, who, sacrificing their resentment to the public advantage, would preserve in the republic of letters the critics, so necessary to the progress of the arts and sciences. How then can such generosity be required from a vizier?

“There are,” says Balzac, “but few ministers so generous as to prefer being praised for their clemency, which lasts as long as the families of those they have preserved, to the pleasure of revenge, though the latter passes away as swiftly as the fall of the axe that separates the head from the body.” Few viziers deserve the praises given in Sethos to queen Nephta, •when the priest, pronouncing her panegyric, says, “she pardoned like the Gods, with the full power of punishing.”

Those in power will be always unjust and vindictive. M. de Vendome said, pleasantly enough on this subject, that in the march of armies he had often inquired into the quarrels between the mules and the muleteers; but, to the disgrace of human nature, reason was almost always on the side of the mules,

M. de Vernay, who was so well skilled in natural history, that by the bare inspection of the tooth of an animal he knew whether it was carnivorous or fed on grass, often said, “Let me only see the tooth of an unknown animal, and by that I shall judge of its manners.” After his example, a moral philosopher may say, *’ Shew me the degree of power wherewith a man is invested, and by that I shall form a judgment of his justice,” In vain should we attempt to disarm the cruelty of the viziers, by repeating after Tacitus, that the punishment of critics is only the trumpet that informs posterity of the disgrace and vices of their executioners. In despotic states, people care, and indeed cannot avoid caring, but little for glory and posterity, since they do not love, as I have already observed, esteem for its own sake, but for the advantages it procures; since nothing is granted to merit, and there is nothing which they dare refuse to power.

* As all the citizens are very ignorant of what constitutes the public welfare, most of the projectors in those countries are either cheats, n ho have no particular use in view, or people of mean abilities, who cannot seize, at a single glance, the long chain by which the several parts of a state are connected together, and consequently they always propose schemes that are inconsistent with the general system of government: for this reason, they seldom dare to expose them in their works to public view.

The viziers having then no interest in improving their minds, and consequently in supporting censure, they must generally remain ignorant *. The Lord Bolingbroke says on this subject, “When young, I at first considered those who governed the nations as superior intelligences; but,” he adds, “experience soon undeceived me. I examined those who were at the helm of affairs in England, and soon found that the Great were like those gods of Phoenicia, on whose shoulders were fixed the head of a bull, as a mark of supreme power; and that, in general, men were governed by the greatest blockheads among them.” This truth, which Bolingbroke applied, perhaps from humour, to England, is, doubtless, not to be disputed in almost all the empires of the east.

Helvetius Essay III- XIX



Though the viziers, it is objected, may not find it for their interest to improve their minds, yet it is most certainly for the interest of the public, that they should not be ignorant, since every nation desires to be well governed: what then is the reason, that no citizen in those countries has the virtue to reproach the viziers for their ignorance and injustice, and to force them by the fear of contempt to become good citizens? It is because the property of despotic power is to debase and degrade the mind.

In states where the law alone dispenses punishments and rewards, and where obedience is paid to none but the laws, the virtuous, dwelling in safety, contract a boldness and firmness of soul, that cannot subsist in a country which is the seat of despotic power, where property, life, and liberty, depend on the caprice* and arbitrary will of one man. In these countries it would be as imprudent to be virtuous, as it would have been to be viscious in Crete and Lacedemon. There no man rises up against injustice, and, rather than applaud it, cries with, the philosopher Philoxenes, “Let me be carried back to the quarries.”

* We can find no instance in Turkey like that which happened in Scotland, of the laws punishing the sovereign for an act of injustice committed against a subject. At Malcolm.s accession to the throne of Scotland, a nobleman presented to him the patent of his privileges, entreating his majesty to confirm them: but the king took the patent, and tore it in pieces. The nobleman complained of this to the parliament, who decreed, that the king should sit on his throne, and in the presence of the whole court stitch the nobleman.s patent together with a needle and thread.

In these governments, how difficult would it be to be virtuous? To what dangers would a person of probity be exposed? Suppose a man in love with virtue; would we have such a man perceive, that the injustice or incapacity of the viziers or satraps was the cause of the miseries of the public, and yet be silent? this would be a contradiction. Besides, a mute probity would here be of no use. The more virtuous this man was, the more eager would he be to point out him on whom the national contempt ought to fall: and I even maintain, that he ought to do it. Now, from the injustice and weakness of a vizier invested, as I have said above, with the power necessary to condemn merit to the greatest torments, this man would be so much the sooner delivered to the mutes, in proportion to his being more the friend of virtue than of his country.

As Nero, when on the stage, extorted the applauses of the spectators, more barbarous than himself; so the viziers require the praises of even those they use ill, and overload with taxes. They are like Tiberius, under whose reign the sighs and cries of the unhappy wretches under oppression were construed to proceed from a factious spirit, because every thing is criminal, says Suetonius, under a prince who is constantly stung with his own guilt.

There is not a vizier, who would not reduce mankind to the condition of those ancient Persians, who, being cruelly whipped by the order of their prince, were obliged to appear before him: “We come,” said they, “to thank thee for having condescended to remember us.”

The noble boldness of a citizen, so virtuous as to reproach the viziers for their ignorance and injustice, ‘would be soon followed by his punishment*, to which nobody would expose themselves. Nobody, you will say, but the brave man, the hero. He might do it, I reply, when supported by the hope of esteem and glory; but, if he is deprived of this hope, his courage abandons him. Among a slavish people, the name of factious is given to a generous citizen; and there will be found those who approve his punishment. There is no crime on which praise is not lavished, in a state where an abject mean* ness is become the mode. “If the plague,” says Gordon, “had garters, pensions, and ribbons, to bestow, there are churchmen vile enough, and civilians base enough, to main* tain, that the plague reigns by divine right; and that to withdraw ourselves from its malignant influences is a sin against God.” It is then more prudent in these countries to be the accomplice than the accuser of knaves; for virtue and talents are always the but of tyranny.

* When a vizier commits a fault during his administration, if the public suffer by it, the people complain, and the vizier’s pride is offended: but, so far is he from changing his measures, and trying by a better conduct to calm their too just complaints, that he solely employs himself in methods of imposing silence on the citizens. These methods of force exasperate them, and they redouble their cries: the vizier has then only two parts to take, cither to expose the state to revolutions, or to carry despotic power to that excess which always threatens the ruin of empires. This last choice is most commonly preferred by the viziers.

On the conquest of India by Thamas Kouli Khan, the only man worthy of esteem, whom that prince found in the Mogul’s empire, was one named Mahmouth, and this Mahmouth was banished.

In countries subject to a despotic government, the love of the esteem and acclamations of the people is so criminal, that the prince always punishes those who obtain them. Agricola, after having triumphed over the Britons, in order to escape the applauses of the people, as well as the fury of Domitian, passed the streets of Rome in the night, in his way to the emperor’s palace: the prince embraced him coldly: Agricola retired; and the conqueror of Briton, says Tacitus, was instantly lost in the crowd of other slaves.

In those unhappy times, one might have cried out at Rome, with Brutus, “O virtue, thou art but an empty name [” How can we expect to find it amongst a people who live in perpetual agonies, and whose minds, being broke with fear, hava lost all their force and vigour? Among such people, we only meet with powerful insolence, and abject dastard!)* slaves. What picture can be more humbling to human nature than the audience of a vizier, when, with a grave and stupid air of importance, he advances into the midst of a crowd of clients, who, grave, mute, and immoveable, with their eyes fixed and cast down, wait trembling for the favour of a look*, nearly in the attitude of those bramins, who, with their eyes fixed on the end of their noses, wait for the blue and divine flame with which Heaven is to bestow its illuminations, and whose appearance, according to them, is to raise them to the dignity of a pagod!

* The vizier himself never enter! the divan, when the sultan it there, without trembling.

When we see merit thus humbled before an ignorant vizier, or even a despicable eunuch, we cannot help calling to mind the ridiculous veneration in which cranes are held at Japan, where the name of that bird is never uttered without its being preceded by O-thurisama, or, my lord.

Helvetius Essay III- XX



Since, as I have already proved in the preceding chapters, the ignorance of the viziers is a necessary consequence of despotic forms of government; the ridicule, which in those countries is cast on virtue, seems equally to proceed from the same effect.

Is it to be doubted, that, in the sumptuous repasts of the ancient Persians, and in their elegant evening entertainments, they ridiculed the frugality and coarse food of the Spartans? and that the courtiers, accustomed to cringe in the anti-chamber of the eunuchs, in order to obtain the disgraceful honour of being their sport, did not give the name of ferocity to the noble pride which forbade the Greeks prostrating themselves before the great king.

A slavish people cannot avoid treating with ridicule bravery, magnanimity, disinterestedness, a contempt of life, and all the virtues founded on patriotism and liberty. In Persia, they must then have treated as a fool, and the enemy of a prince, every virtuous subject, who, struck with the heroism of the Greeks, exhorted his fellow-citizens to assemble, and, by a speedy reformation of the government, prevent the approaching ruin of an empire, where virtue was despised*. The Persians, to escape the mortification of thinking themselves mean, were under the necessity of considering the Greeks as ridiculous. We can never be struck by any sentiments that do not affect us in a lively manner. A brave citizen, who is had in veneration wherever the rank of a citizen subsists, must ever pass for a fool in all despotic governments.

* At the very moment when three hundred Spartans defended the pass of Thermopylae, some Arcadian deserters were giving Xerxes an account of the Olympic games, when a Persian lord cried out— “What men are we going to fight! Insensible of interest, they are only greedy of glory!”

Among us Europeans, who approach nearer to the heroism of the Greeks than to the servility of the eastern empires, how many great actions would be deemed foolish, were they not consecrated by the admiration of all ages! To this admiration is to be ascribed our not mentioning as ridiculous th» order sent by the people of Sparta to King Agis, before the battle of Mantinea: “Take no advantage of superiority of numbers; send back a part of the troops, and fight the enemy with equal force.” In like manner we should treat as ridiculous the answer made by Callicratidas, general of the Lacedemonian fleet, before the battle of Argineuses. Hermon advising him not to engage the Athenian fleet with unequal force, “O Hermon,” he replied, “the gods forbid that I should follow an advice that would be attended with such fatal consequences to my country. Sparta shall not be dishonoured by her general. Here both I and my army must either con. quer or perish. Is it for Callicratidas to teach the art of making a retreat to men who, to this day, have never inquired what were the numbers of the enemy, but only where they were encamped?” So bold and noble an answer would to most men appear foolish. What men have such an elevation of soul, such a profound knowledge of politics, as to perceive, like Callicratidas, the importance of cherishing in the Spartans that obstinate bravery that rendered them invincible? This hero knew that to be incessantly employed in cherishing their sentiments of courage and glory, too much prudence might blunt their edge; and that a nation can have none of the virtues, without having the scruples that attend them.

Half politicians, for want of comprehending a sufficient extent of time, are always struck in too lively a manner with a present danger. Accustomed to consider every action independently of the chain by which they are all united, when they think of correcting the success of any virtue that prevails among a people, they too often only take from them the palladium tp which is fixed their success and glory.

It is then to this ancient admiration that we owe our still continuing to admire these actions: this admiration is then ouly hypocritical, or the effect of prejudice. A felt admiration would necessarily lead us to imitation. , Now, what man is there, among those who pretend to be passionately fond of glory, who would blush at a victory, that was not entirely owing to his bravery and military skill? Are there many Antiochus Soters? That prince, sensible that he owed the defeat of the Galates only to the terror and confusion into which they were thrown by the unexpected sight of the elephants, shed tears on his triumphal palms, and on the field of battle caused trophies to be raised to his elephants.

They boast of the generosity of Gelon. After the defeat of the innumerable army of the Carthaginians, when the conquered expected the hardest conditions, that prince only required of the humbled Carthaginians the abolition of the barbarous sacrifices of their own children, whom they offered to Saturn. That conqueror would reap no other advantage from his victory than the conclusion of the only treaty that perhaps was ever made in favour of human nature. Among so many admirers, why has Gelon no imitator? A thousand heroes have by turns subdued Asia: however, there is not one who, sensible of the miseries suffered by the human race, has improved his victory, by freeing the Orientals from that weight of wretchedness and degradation- into which they have been sunk by despotic power. None of them have destroyed those houses of grief and lamentation where jealousy without remorse mutilates the unhappy persons destined to guard their pleasure, and condemned to the punishment of having desires always reviving and always impotent. People have then no esteem for Gelon’s action, but what is hypocritical, or the effect of prejudice.

We honour valour, but it is less than it was honoured at Sparta: therefore we do not experience, at the view of a fortified town, the sensations of contempt felt by the Spartans. Some of them, passing under the walls of Corinth, asked— “By what women is this city inhabited?”—” These are,” they were told, «’ the Corinthians.”—” Do not these meanspirited and cowardly men know,” they resumed, “that the only ramparts impenetrable to the enemy are citizens determined to die?” Such Courage and elevation of soul are only to be found in warlike republics. With whatever love we are animated for our country, we do not see the mother, after the loss of a son killed in battle, reproach her other sons who have survived the defeat. We do not take example from those virtuous Spartans: after the battle of Leuctra, ashamed of having borne in their wombs men capable of flying, those, whose children had escaped the slaughter, retired to the innermost parts of their houses, in mourning and silence; while, on the contrary, the mothers, whose sons died fighting, filled with joy, and, with their heads crowned with flowers, went to the temple to return thanks to the gods.

However brave our soldiers may be, we do not see a body of twelve hundred men sustain, like the Swiss at the battle of St. James l’Hospital*, the efforts of an army of sixty thousand men, who paid for their victory by the loss of eight thousand Soldiers. We no longer see governments treat as cowards, and condemn as such, ten soldiers, who, escaping from the slaughter of that battle, brought home the news of so glorious a defeat.

* M. Duclos, in the History, of Louis XI. says, that the Swiss, to the number of three thousand, sustained the shock of the Dauphin.s army, composed of fourteen thousand French and eight thousand English. The battle was fought near Bottelin, and the Swiss were ‘almost all slain.
At the battle of Morgarten, thirteen hundred Swiss routed the Archduke Leopold’s army, composed of twenty thousand men. Near the Wesen, in the canton of Claris, three hundred and fifty Swiss defeated eight thousand Austrians 4 every year they celebrate the memory of this defeat on the field of battle, when an orator makes- a panegyric on this action, and reads the list of the three hundred and fifty names.

If in Europe itself we have only a barren admiration of such actions and such virtues, what contempt must the people of the East feel for the same virtues? Who can make these think of them with respect? Those countries are peopled with abject vicious minds; and when the virtuous men in a country are not sufficiently numerous to give the bent to a nation, it necessarily receives it from those who are corrupt. These last, always interested in ridiculing the sensations they do not feel, render the virtuous silent. Unhappily there are but few who do not yield to the clamours of those by whom they are surrounded, who are courageous enough to brave the contempt of their country, and have the judgment to think that the esteem of a nation, placed on a certain degree of degradation, is less flattering than dishonourable.

Did the little value set on Hannibal, at the court of Anticchus, dishonour that great man? did the cowardice, with which Prusias would have sold him to the Romans, stain the glory of that illustrious Carthaginian? In the eyes of posterity, it has only dishonoured the king, the council, and the people, who deliberated upon it.

The result of what I have said is, that people have really in despotic empires only a contempt for virtue, and that nothing but the name is honoured. If every day we invoke this virtue, and require it of the citizens, it is only, in this case, with virtue as with truth, it is demanded on condition we arc so prudent as to conceal it.

Helvetius Essay III- XXI



The indifference of the eastern nations with respect to virtue, their ignorance, and abject state of mind, necessarily follow from the form of their government, and must at the same time render citizens dishonest to each other, and void of courage with respect to an enemy.

From this source we may trace the astonishing rapidity with which the Greeks and Romans subdued Asia. How could slaves, educated and nurtured in the anti-chamber of a master, stifle, at the sight of the Roman swords, the habitual sensations of fear they had contracted from arbitrary power? How could men, so debased, without elevation of mind, accustomed to trample on the weak, and to cringe before the powerful, avoid yielding to the magnanimity, the policy, the valour, of the Romans, and shew themselves equally dastardly in counsel and in the field of battle?

If the Egyptians, as Plutarch says, were successively the slaves of all nations, it was owing to their being subject to the most severe despotic power: thus they almost constantly gave proofs of cowardice. When King Cleomenes, being driven from Sparta, took refuge in Egypt, he was imprisoned by the intrigues of a minister, named Sobisius; but having killed his guard, and broken his fetters, the prince presented himself in the streets of Alexandria; but in vain did he exhort the citizens to revenge him, to punish the injustice of his treatment, and shake oft. the yoke of tyranny: every where, says Plutarch, he found only immoveable admirers. These base and cowardly people had only that species of courage which made them admire great actions, but not that which would excite them to imitate them.

How can a slavish people resist a free and powerful nation? In order to make use of arbitrary power with impunity, the tyrant is forced to enervate the minds and the courage of his subjects. What renders him formidable at home, renders him weak abroad: with liberty, he banishes from his empire, all the virtues. “They cannot,” says Aristotle, ” inhabit base and servile minds.”—” We must,” says the illustrious president de Montesquieu, whom we have already quoted, “begin by being bad citizens, in order to become good slaves.” They could only oppose against the attacks of a people like the Romans, councils and generals absolutely unacquainted with political and military knowledge, taken from that very nation, whose courage was softened, and whose minds were debilitated; it then necessarily followed that they must have been overcome.

But, it is said, the virtuous have however shone with the greatest lustre in despotic states. This is true, when it hat happened that the throne has been successively possessed by several great men. Virtue benumbed by the presence of ty« ranny, revives at the appearance of a virtuous prince: his presence may be compared to that of the sun; when his light pierces and disperses the black clouds that cover the earth, all nature revives, everything glows with new life; the plains are peopled with laborious husbandmen, the groves resound with aerial concerts, and the winged inhabitants of the skies fly to the tops of the oaks, to welcome the returning sun. “O happy times,” cries Tacitus, under the reign of Trajan, “when people obey only the laws, when every one may think freely, and freely tell his thoughts, when every heart flies to the prince, and the sight of him is a benefit!”

The lustre thrown upon such nations is always but of short duration. If sometimes they attain to the highest pitch of power and glory, and become illustrious by success of all kinds, this success being united, as I have already said, with the wisdom of the kingswho governed, and not with the form of government, has always been as fleeting as brilliant: the strength of such states, however it may impose upon us, is but an illusion; it is the Colossus of Nebuchadnezzar, whose feet were of potter’s clay. These empires resemble the lofty pine, whose top reaches to the heavens; the beasts of the field, and the birds of the air, seek for shelter under its branches; but, being fixed to the earth by too weak a root, is overthrown by the first storm. Such states have but a momentary existence, if they are not surrounded by nations, who have little dispositions for great enterprizes, and are subject to arbitrary power. The respective strength of such nations consists then in an equilibrium of weakness. If a despotic empire has received a shock, and the throne cannot be secured without a manly and courageous resolution, that empire is destroyed.

The people who groan beneath the yoke of arbitrary power have then only a momentary success, a mere flash of glory, and must, sooner or later, submit to a free and enterprising
nation. But supposing that particular circumstances and situations save them from this danger; the bad administration of these kingdoms is sufficient to destroy, to depopulate, and to turn them into desarts; the lethargic languor that successively seizes all the members, produces this effect. The property of despotic power is to stifle the passions: now when minds have, by the want of passions, lost their activity; when the citizens are in a manner rendered stupid by the opium of luxury, indolence, and softness, the state then falls into a consumption; the apparent calm it enjoys, is, in the eyes of men of understanding, a languid statathat is the forerunner of its dissolution. The passions are necessary in a nation, and are its life and soul; the people who have the strongest, are in the end triumphant.

The moderate effervescence of the passions is salutary to an empire; which in this respect resemble the sea, whose stagnate waters, on becoming corrupt, would exhale vapours that would prove fatal to the universe, if they were not purified by the rising of tempests.

But, if the grandeur of nations subject to arbitrary power is only momentaneous, it is not so in governments where the power, as in Rome and Greece, is divided between the people, the nobility, or the kings. In those states, private interest, closely connected with that of the public, changes men into citizens. It is in such states only that the people, whose success depends on the constitution of the government, may hope that it will be of long duration. The necessity in which the citizens here find themselves, of being employed about important objects, and the liberty of thinking and speaking whatever they please, give greater strength and elevation of mind; the boldness of their thoughts have an influence on their hearts, and make them conceive more extensive, more courageous projects, and execute them with greater intrepidity. I shall even add, that if private interest is not intirely separated from that of the public, if the manners of a people, like those of the Romans, are not as corrupt as they were in the time of Marius and Sylla; the spirit of faction, which obliges the citizens to watch, and be a mutual restraint on each other, is the preserving genius of these empires. They are maintained only by a
counter balance of opposite interests. Never are the foundations of these states more secure, than at the time when these exterior ferments appear ready to overthrow them. Thus, the bottom of the sea is calm and tranquil, even when the north winds, let loose on its surface, seems to turn it up from its abyss.

After having discovered in the despotic power of the eastern nations, the cause of the ignorance of the viziers, the indifference of the people with respect to virtue, and the overthrow of empires subject to that form of governments, I shall now proceed to shew the opposite effects produced from-other political constitutions.

Helvetius Essay III- XXII



This chapter is so necessary a consequence of the preceding, that I should think myself excused from all further examination of this subject, were I not convinced, that an explanation of the means proper to necessitate men to virtue, would be agreeable to the public, and that such disquisitions are instructive even to those who are most virtuous. I therefore enter into this subject. I cast my eyes over the republics more fruitful in virtuous men: I stop them at Greece and Rome, and see a multitude of heroes arise. Their great actions, preserved with care in history, seem collected there, to spread the odour of virtue into the most corrupt and distant ages: it is with these actions as with the vases of incense, which, placed on the altars of the Gods, are sufficient to diffuse their perfume over the vast extent of their temples.

Whoever considers the virtuous actions history has transmitted of these people, and would discover the cause, they will find that it proceeded from the address with which the legislators of those nations united private and public interest*.

In this union consists the true spirit of the laws.

I take the action of Regulus for a proof of this truth. Sup. posing in this general, no sentiment of heroism, not even those with which he must have been inspired by a Roman education; I maintain, that, in the age when that consul lived, the legislation •was, in certain respects, brought to such a degree of perfection, that had Regulus consulted merely his own personal interest, he could not avoid the generous action he performed. For whoever calls to mind the discipline of the Romans, and that flight, and even the loss of their buckler in battle was punished •with the bastinado, under which the guilty commonly expired, must be convinced that a consul conquered, made prisoner, and deputed by the Carthaginians to treat about the exchange of prisoners, could not appear before the Romans, without the fear of that contempt, which is always so humbling to republicans, and so insupportable to an elevated mind. Hence the only part Regulus had to take, was to efface, by some heroic action, the shame of his defeat. He therefore opposed the treaty of exchange, which the senate was ready to sign. He doubtless exposed his life by this advice: but the danger was not imminent; it was very probable, that, astonished by his courage, the senate would be only the more eager for concluding a treaty, that would restore to them so virtuous a citizen. Besides, supposing the senate was brought over by his advice, it was very probable, that the Carthaginians, from the fear of reprisals, or an admiration of his virtue, would not make him suffer the punishment, with which they had threatened him. Regulus did not then expose himself to any danger, to which, I will not say an hero, but even a sensible and prudent man, would have presented himself, to avoid the contempt, and obtain the admiration, of the Romans.

There is then an art of necessitating men to perform heroic actions; not that I would pretend to insinuate here, that Regu]us did nothing more than obey this necessity, nor do I mean to stain his glory; the action performed by Regulus was, doubtless, the effect of an impetuous enthusiasm, which led to virtue; but such an enthusiasm could no where be kindled but at Rome.

The virtues and vices of a nation are always necessary effects of its legislation; and it was doubtless the knowledge of this truth, that made way for that excellent law in China; to fertilize the seeds of virtue, the mandarins participate in the glory or shame of the virtuous or infamous actions committed in their governments*; and, in consequence of them, those mandarins are raised to superior, or degraded to inferior posts.

* This is not the case in the other empires of the East, where the governors are only employed in levying taxes, and opposing seditions. Besides, they are not required to trouble themselves about the happiness of the people in their provinces; their power in this respect is even very limited.

How can it be doubted, that virtue is not among all nations the effect of the greater or less degree of wisdom in the administration? If the Greeks and Romans were so long animated by these manly and courageous virtues, which Balzac calls “the excursions of the soul beyond the common duties,” it is because the virtues of this king are almost constantly peculiar to the nations, where each citizen has a part in the sovereignty.

It is only in these countries that we find aFabricius. Being pressed by Pyrrhusto follow him to Epirus: ” Pyrrhus,” said he, “thou art doubtless an illustrious prince, and a great warrior; but thy people groan in misery. What rashness would it be to take me into Epirus? Canst thou doubt that thy people, soon ranged under my law, would not prefer exemption from tribute, to being overloaded with taxes, and security to the uncertainty of their possessions? To-day thy favourite, tomorrow I should be thy master.” Such a discourse could only be pronounced by a Roman. In republics we perceive, with astonishment, how far the heighth of courage, and the heroism; of nations may be carried +. I shall mention Themistocles for an example of this kind: a few days before the battle of Salamis, that warrior, insulted in full council by the Spartan general, made no other reply to his menaces than these words< "Strike, but hear." To this example I shall add that of Ti. moleon: he was accused of a misdemeanor, and the people were ready to cut his accusers in pieces; but he stopped their fury by saying, "O SyracUsans, what are you going to do? Think that every citizen has a right to accuse rae: take care, lest by giving way to your gratitude, ye do not injure that very liberty, which it is my glory to have restored to you."

+ We see from cardinal Mazarine’s letters, that he was sensible of the advantages of this form of government. He was afraid that England, by forming a republic, would become too formidable to its neighhours. In a letter to M. le Tellier, he says, ” Don Louis and I know very well, that Charles II. is out of the kingdoms that belong to him; hul among all the reasons that may engage the kings our masters, to. think of his restoration, one of the strongest is, hindering England from forming a powerful republic, which, in the end, would give all its neighbours cause to look about them.”‘

If the Greek and Roman history is full of these heroic strokes, and if we in vain search the whole history of despotic power to find the like; it is only because, in these governments, private interest is never united to that of the public; because, in these countries, among a thousand qualities, they do honour only to baseness, and reward none but those of moderate abilities*; and because, to these men of moderate abilities, the administration of public affairs is almost always intrusted; while men of genius are excluded. They are of opinion, that these being restless and too active, they would disturb the repose of the state; a repose that may be compared to the momentary stillness of nature preceding a tempest. The tranquillity of a state does not always prove the happiness of the subject. In arbitrary governments, the men are like those horses, whose noses being wrung, suffer, without flinching, the most cruel operations, while the courser at liberty prances at the first touch. In these countries, a lethargy is taken for tranquillity. The love of glory, unknown to these nations, can only be preserved in a body politic, by the mild fermentation that renders it sound and robust, and calls forth ev«ry virtue and every talent. The ages most favourable to literature have, for this reason, always been most fruitful in great generals and great politicians: the same sun gives life to the cedar and the plane, tree.

*In these countries genius and abilities are only honoured in great princes, and great ministers.

Moreover, this passion for glory, which was deified by the Pagans, has received the homage of all republics, but principally of those that are poor and warlike.

Helvetius Essay III- XXIII



The heroes in commercial republics seem to appear only to destroy tyranny, and then to vanish. It was in the infancy of the liberty of the Dutch, that Balzac, speaking of that nation, said, “that they deserved to have God for their king, since they could not. bear to have a king for their god.” The soil proper for the production of great men in republics, is then soon exhausted. The glory of Carthage disappeared with Hannibal. The spirit of commerce there, necessarily destroyed that of valour. “Rich nations,” says Balzac, “are governed by the force of lucrative reasons, and not according to moral institutions, which propose motives to great and honest enterprizes.”

A virtuous courage is only preserved among poor nations. The Scythians were, perhaps, the only people who sung hymns in honour of the gods, without asking any favours, from their beiug persuaded that the courageous could want for nothing. Subject to commanders, whose power was sufficiently extensive, they were independent,” because they ceased to obey their chiefs, when they ceased te obey the laws. There are no rich nations who resemble the Scythians, in having no other want but that of glory. Wherever commerce flourishes, riches are preferred to glory, because riches afford an exchange for all pleasures, and it is more easy to acquire them.

What a sterility of virtues and talents must this preference occasion. The decrees of glory never proceeding, but from public gratitude, its acquisition is always the reward of services rendered to our country; and the desire of obtaining it, constantly supposes the desire of performing services, that may b« of use to the nation.

This is not the case with the desire of riches. They may> sometimes, be the reward of stock-jobbers, of meanness, of spies, and very often of crimes; they seldom fall to the share of those who have the greatest abilities, or of those who are most distinguished by their virtues. The love of riches does not necessarily lead to the love of virtue. Commercial nations ought therefore to be more fruitful in good merchants than in good citizens, and in great bankers than in heroes.

It is not then in the land of luxury and of riches, but in that of poverty, that the sublime virtues grow and flourish *; nothing is so uncommon as to meet great minds in opulent empires+; the citizens there contract too many wants. Whoever has multiplied them, has given tyranny hostages for his baseness and cowardice. Virtue, with which few are satisfied, can alone secure the people from corruption. It was this kind of virtue that dictated the answer of an English lord, distinguished by his merit, to a minister. The court, finding it for their interest to bring him over to their party, Mr. Walpole waited upon him: “I come from the king,” said he, ” to assure you of his protection; to let you know, that he is sorry for his not yet having done any thing for you; and to offer you a post more suitable to your merit.” “Sir,” replied the nobleman, ” before I answer your proposal, permit me to have my supper served up.” Immediately was brought in the remains of a leg of mutton, on which he had dined; then, turning to Mr. Walpole, “Sir,” said he, “do you think that a man, who can be contented with such fare, can be easily gained over? Tell his majesty what you have seen; this is the only answer I have to make *”.

*To which I add happiness. What it is impossible to say of individuals may be said of nations—that the most virtuous are always the most happy, though they are not the most rich and commercial.

+ ” Among all the nations of Germany, the Sucones,” says Tacitus, “after the example of the Romans, set a value on riches, and like them have submitted to despotic power.”

Such a discourse could only proceed from a person who knew how to contract the circle of his wants: but how few persons, in a rich country, can resist the perpetual temptation of superfluities! What virtuous men does poverty give to a nation, whom luxury would have corrupted!” O philosophers,” Socrates often said, ” you who represent the Gods on earth, learn, like them, to be self-sufficient, and to be contented with’little; especially, go not cringing to solicit princes and kings.” “Nothing can be more firm and virtuous,” says Cicero, “than the first ages of Greece; they were terrified at no danger, they were discouraged at no obstacles, and no respect restrained them, or made them sacrifice the truth to the absolute will of princes.” But these philosophers were born in poor countries; therefore their successors did always preserve the same virtues. Those of Alexandria were reproached with having too much complaisance for the princes their benefactors, and with purchasing, by their meanness, the tranquil leisure those princes suffered them to enjoy. On this subject, Plutarch cries out, “What sight can be more degrading to human nature, than to see sages prostitute their praises to men in place! Must the courts of kings be so often the rocks on which wisdom and virtue split! Ought not the great to be sensible, that all who entertain them, with things of only a frivolous nature, deceive them +? The true manner of serving them is to reprove them for their vices and bad conduct, and to let them know, that it ill becomes them to spend their days in diversion. This is the only language proper to a virtuous man; lying and flattery should never dwell upon his lip.”

*This story I find related of a member of parliament, in the reign of Charles II. in the General Dictionary.

+ There was doubtless a time when men, distinguished by their wisdom, had a right to speak only to princes, in order to tell them what was truly useful. Hence, the philosophers of India left their retreat hut once in a year: this was to repair to the king’s palace, where each % of them uttered, with a loud voice, his political reflections on the administration, and the changes and regulations they would have made in the laws. Those, whose reflections were for three times successively judged false or trivial, Ipst their right of speaking. Crit* Hist, of Philosophy, torn. II. ,

This exclamation of Plutarch is very fine; but it is a greater proof of his love of truth than of his knowledge of human nature. It is the same with respect to Pythagoras: “I refuse,” says he, “the name of philosophers to those who give into the corruption of courts; those alone are worthy of the name, who are ready to sacrifice before kings their life, their riches, their dignities, their families, and even their reputation. By this love of truth,” he adds, ” we participate with the divinity, and become united to him in the most noble and intimate manner.”

Such men do not indifferently arise in all kinds of governments: they are produced, either by a philosophical enthusiasm that is speedily extinguished, by a singular education, or by an excellent legislation. The philosophers mentioned by Plutarch and Pythagoras have almost constantly been born in poor nations, passionately fond of glory.

Not that I regard indigence as the source of virtues: it is to the greater or less wisdom in the administration of honours and rewards that we must attribute the production of great men among all nations. But what can scarcely be imagined is, that virtue and abilities are no where to be recompenced in so flattering a manner as in poor and warlike republics.

Helvetius Essay III- XXIV



To take from this proposition the air of a paradox, it is sufficient to observe, that the two most general objects of the desires of mankind are wealth and honours. But of these two objects, men are most desirous of honours; they are dispensed in a manner-flattering to self-love.

The desire therefore of obtaining them renders men capable of the greatest efforts, and it is then that they perform prodigies. Now these honours are no where distributed with more justice than among the people, who, having no other money to pay for the services rendered to their country, have consequently the greatest interest in supporting their value: thus, the poor republics of Greece and Rome have produced more great men than all the vast and rich empires of the East.

Among the nations opulent and subject to despotic power, people place, and ought to place, more value on money than on honours. As honours received their value from the manner in which they are administered, and as in the East the sultans are dispensers of them, it appears, that they must bring them into discredit by the ill choice they make of those whom they adorn with them. Thus, in those countries, honours are properly mere titles only: they cannot flatter pride in a very lively manner, because they are seldom united with glory, which is not in the power of princes, but in that of the people only, to bestow; since glory is nothing more than the acclamation of public gratitude. Now, when honours are debased, th«r desire of obtaining them grows cool, and this desire no longer enables men to perform great things; they become in a state a spring without force, and therefore placemen justly neglect to make use of them.

There is a district in America, where, when an Indian has gained a victory, or managed a negotiation with dexterity, they say to him in an assembly of the nation, “Thou art a man.” This eulogium is a more powerful incentive to great actions than all the dignities proposed by despotic states to those who render themselves illustrious by their talents.

In order to be fully sensible of the contempt which must be sometimes thrown on honours, from the ridiculous manner in which they are bestowed, let us remember the abuse that was made of them in the reign of Claudius: ” Under that emperor,” says Pliny, “a citizen killed a raven, remarkable for his dexterity: this citizen was put to death, and a magnificent funeral was made for the bird; a musician, playing on a flute, preceded the bed of state, on which the raven lay, which was supported by two slaves, and in the procession followed an infinite number of people of both sexes and of all ages. Upon this subject, Pliny cries out, «’ What would cur ancestors say, if in Rome itself, where our first kings were interred without pomp, where they did not revenge the death of the destroyer of Carthage and Numantia, they had assisted at the obsequies of a raven.”

But, you will say, in countries subject to arbitrary power, honours are however sometimes the reward of merit. They doubtless are so: but they are oftener the reward of vice and meanness. Honours are in these governments like the scattered trees in a desert, whose fruits are sometimes carried off by the birds of heaven, but become too often the prey of the serpent, which from.the foot of the tree ascends even to its top.

Honours being once degraded, services performed for the state can only be paid for with money. Now every nation, who discharges its obligations only with specie, soon becomes overcharged with expences, and in a little time insolvent; there is then no reward for virtue and abilities.

In vain, is it said, that, instructed by want, princes in this extremity ought to have recourse to the payment of their obligations with honours: for as in poor republics, where favours are distributed by the body of the nation, it is easy to raise the value of honours, nothing can be more difficult than to render them valuable in despotic countries.

What probity would that administration shew, that should endeavour to reward with honours! What strength of mind would it require to resist the intrigues of courtiers! What discernment to grant these honours only to persons ot great talents and distinguished virtues, and constantly to refuse them to those of mean abilities, who would discredit them’. What justness of thought would it demand, to seize the precise moment, when these honours, by becoming too common, would no longer excite the citizens to make the same efforts, and when they ought consequently to create new ones!

It is not the same with honours as with riches. If the public interest forbids the melting down the gold and silver specie, it on the contrary requires, that honours should not be bestowed
as a reward, when they have lost the value which they only receive from the opinion of the people.

I shall observe on this subject, that we cannot, without astonishment, consider the conduct of most natious, who employ 10 many men in the management of their revenues, and appoint none to watch over the distribution of honours. Yet what can be of greater use, than a severe scrutiny into the merit of those whom they raise to dignities? Why has not each nation a court, in which, by a profound and strict examination, they may ascertain the reality of those talents that are to be rewarded? What a value would such an examination give to honours! What a desire to merit them! What a happy change would this desire produce, not only in private education, but by little and little, in that of the public! A change, on which, perhaps, depends all the difference observable between nations.

Among the base and cowardly courtiers of Antiochus, how many would there have been had they been educated from their infancy at Rome, who would, like Popilius, have drawn a circle about that king, beyond which he could not pass without rendering himself a slave, or the enemy of the Romans!

Having proved that great rewards produce great virtues, and that the wise distribution of honours is the strongest band which legislators can use to unite the private and general interest, and to form good citizens; I think I have a right to conclude from thence, that the love or indifference of certain nations for virtue is an effect of the different forms of their governments. Now, what I have said of the love of virtue, which I take for an example, may be applied to any other of the passions. We ought not then to attribute to nature that unequal degree of passions, of which different nations appear susceptible.

As the last proof of this truth, I am going to shew, that the strength of our passions is always proportioned to the force of the means employed to excite them.

This Is Your Politics On Horse Tranquilizers


Moody’s announced today:

Moody’s Investors Service has placed under review for possible downgrade the Aaa ratings of 177 public finance credits, affecting a combined $69 billion of outstanding debt. The credits include 162 local governments in 31 states, 14 housing finance programs and one university. A complete list of affected securities and additional analysis is available at

What amazes me is how many politicians, pundits and columnists are are falling for this bullshit. I’m not surprised that ordinary people might do so, having been inflamed by politicians, pundits and columnists that know better.

Because my inductive reasoning tells me that politician, pundits and columnist do know better, and that leads me to deduce that they are lying sons of bitches.