Of corruption, as it tends to Political Slavery
From my notes for today's discussion in the History of European Civilization II on Adam Ferguson's An Essay on the History of Civil Society, 5th edition (London: T. Cadell, in the Strand; and Edinburgh: W. Creech and J. Bell, 1782):
- [p. 439] “Liberty results, we say, from the government of laws; and we are apt to consider statutes, not merely as the resolutions and maxims of a people determined to be free, not as the writings by which their rights are to be kept on record; but as a power erected to guard them, and as a barrier which the caprice of men cannot transgress.” But can they? NO.
- [p. 440] “If forms of proceeding, written statutes, or other constituents of law, cease to be enforced by the very spirit from which they arose; they serve only to cover, not to restrain, the iniquities of power. They are possibly respected even by the corrupt magistrate, when they favour his purpose; but they are contemned or evaded, when they stand in his way. And the influence of laws, where they have any real effect in the preservation of liberty, is not any magic power descending from shelves that are loaded with books [like the Advocates Library where Ferguson worked for a year?], but is, in reality, the influence of men resolved to be free; of men, who, having adjusted in writing the terms on which they are to live with the state, and with their fellow-subjects, are determined, by their vigilance and spirit, to make these terms be fulfilled.”
- [p. 441] Danger under every form of government in the abuse or extension of the executive power. Danger in republics “from every person whatsoever, who is incited by ambition, and who is supported by faction.”
- [p. 442] “Even with the best intentions towards mankind, we are inclined to think that their welfare depends, not on the felicity of their own inclinations, or the happy employment of their own talents, but on their ready compliance with what we have devised for their own good.”
- [p. 444] “Liberty is a right which every individual must be ready to vindicate for himself, and which he who pretends to bestow as a favour, has by that very act in reality denied.”
- [p. 446] Constitutions framed “for the preservation of liberty” must be composed of many parts; “our very praise of unanimity is to be considered a danger to liberty.”
- [p. 447] “Those very establishments which were devised, in one age, to limit or to direct the exercise of an executive power, will serve, in another, to remove obstructions, and to smooth its way; they will point out the channels in which it may run, without giving offense, or without exciting alarms, and the very councils which were instituted to check its encroachments, will, in a time of corruption, furnish an aid to its usurpations.”
- [p. 448] “…yet subjects, as well as their princes, frequently imagine that freedom is a clog on the proceedings of government: they imagine, that despotical power is best fitted to procure dispatch and secrecy in the execution of public councils; to maintain what they are pleased to call public order, and to give a speedy redress of complaints. They even sometimes acknowledge, that if a succession of good princes could be found, despotical government is best calculated for the happiness of mankind.” Cf. Footnote on the “good order” of stones in a wall: human beings are not stones!
- [p. 450] “Liberty is never in greater danger than it is when we measure national felicity by the blessings which a prince may bestow, or by the mere tranquility which may attend on equitable administration. The sovereign may dazzle with his heroic qualities; he may protect his subjects in the enjoyment of every animal advantage or pleasure: but the benefits arising from liberty are of a different sort; they are not the fruits of a virtue, and of a goodness, which operated in the breast of one man, but the communication of virtue itself to many; and such a distribution of functions in civil society, as gives to numbers the exercises and occupations which pertain to their nature.”
- [p. 451] “The best constitutions of government are attended with inconvenience; and the exercise of liberty may, on many occasions, give rise to complaints…”
- [p. 452] “When a people is accustomed to arms, it is difficult for a part to subdue the whole… These difficulties, however, the policy of civilized and commercial nations has sometimes removed… A people who are disarmed in compliance with this fatal refinement, have rested their safety on the pleadings of reason and of justice at the tribunal of ambition and force. In such an extremity, laws are quoted, and senators assembled in vain….”