An Essay on Forms of Government by Frederick the Great

April 13, 2021

in Extracts

Frederick II, King of Prussia

Frederick II, King of Prussia

Frederick the Great, King of Prussia (1712-1786), was a notable practitioner of what was known as “enlightened despotism” – a philosophy that espoused absolute monarchy combined with a social contract that the ruler was obliged solely to rule in the interests of his people.

I studied this philosophy briefly at university and recall a particular text that I would like to read again, that I have now been fruitlessly seeking for some years. I had thought for a long time that the author was Frederick himself, and that an essay that he had written on the nature of monarchy was the source of the text I had read. It took some time to find the actual name of that essay – An Essay on Form of Government, and on the Duties of Sovereigns –   and then even longer to find the full text, as most references to it contained only short extracts.

Given the difficulty of sourcing this text, which I eventually found in a scan of a 1789 translation of Frederick’s unpublished works uploaded to Google Books, I am rather suspicious of its widespread citation in various student essays!

Sadly for myself, the full 33 page essay does not contain the text that I am looking for, and it seems now likely that it was excerpted from a letter by Voltaire. Before I embark on reading all of Voltaire’s selected letters, however, I have typed up and made An Essay on Forms of Government available to the public in an accessible form.

APA citation: Holcroft, T. (1789). Posthumous Works of Frederic II, King of Prussia. Vol. V. Ireland: G.G.J. and J. Robinson. Pp. 5-33.

The scanned book itself:

Download (PDF, 12.02MB)

 

An Essay on Form of Government, and on the Duties of Sovereigns

 

If we look back into the most remote antiquity, we shall find that the people whose history has descended to us led pastoral lives, and did not form social bodies. What the book of Genesis related of the history of the Patriarchs is sufficient proof. Previous to this small Jewish nations, the Egyptians must in like manner have been dispersed over those countries which the Nile did not submerge; and many ages no doubt paffed away before the vanquished river would permit the people to assemble in small towns. From the Grecian history we learn the names of founder of states, and of those legislators who first assembled the Greeks in bodies. This nation was long in a savage state, as well as all the nations of the globe. Had the annals of the Etruscans and those of the Samnite, Sabine and other tribes, come down to us, we should assuredly have learnt that they lived in distinct families, before they were assembled and united.

 

The Gauls were forming into societies at the time they were conquered by Julius Caesar; but it appears Great Britain has not attained this point of affection, when the conqueror first paffed into that island with his Roman legions. In the age of this great man, the Germans could only be compared to what the Iroquois and Algonquins, or some equally savage people, are at present. They existed by hunting and fishing, and on their milk and herds. A German thought himself debased by cultivating he earth; this was a labour performed by the slaves he had taken in war. The Hercynian forest, at that time, was almost wholly covered the vast extent of country which at present composes the German empire. The nation could not be populous, for want of sufficient food; and this no doubt was the true cause of the prodigious emigrations of the northern people, who hastened southward in search of lands ready cleared, under a less rigorous climate.

 

We are astonished at imaging the human race so long existing in a brutal state, and without forming itself into societies. Reasons are accordingly suggested, such as might induce people like these to unite in bodies. It must have been the violence and pillage which existed among neighbouring hordes, that could have first inspired such savage families with the wish of uniting, that they might secure their possessions by mutual defence. Hence laws took birth, which taught those societies to prefer to the general to individual good. From that time, no person durst seize the effects of another, because of the dread of chastisement. The life, the wife, and the wealth of the neighbour were sacred; and if the whole society were attacked, it was the duty of the whole to assemble for its defence. The grand truth, -“That we should do unto others as they should do unto us” – became the principle of laws, and of the social compact. Hence originated the love of our country, which was regarded as the asylum of happiness.

 

But, as these laws could neither be maintained nor executed, unless some one should incessantly watch for their preservation, magistrates arose, out of this necessity, whom the people elected, and to whom they subjected themselves. Let it be carefully remembered that the preservation of the laws was the sole reason which induced men to allow of, and to elect, a superior; because this is the true origin of sovereign power. The magistrate, thus appointed, was the first servant of the state. When rising states had any thing to fear from their neighbours, the magistrate armed the people, and flew to the defence of the citizens.

 

That general instinct, in men, which leads them to procure for themselves the greatest possible happiness, occasioned the creation of various forms of government. Some imagines that, by confiding themselves to the guidance of a few sages; they should find this great happiness; hence the aristrocratic form. Others preferred an oligarchy. Athens, and most of the Grecian republics, chose a democratical government. Persia, and the east, bowed beneath despotism. The Romans, for a time, had kings; but, weary of the tyranny of the Tarquins, they changed the monarchy into the aristocracy. Presently tired of the severity of the Patricians, who oppressed them by usury, the people left the city, and did not return to Rome till the Senate had first approved the tribunes, elected by Plebians for the defence against the power of the great. The people afterward rendered their authority almost supreme. Those who seized violently on government, and who, following the guidance of passions and of caprice, reversed the laws and overturned those fundamental principles which had been established for the preservation of society, were denominated tyrants.

 

But, however sage the legislators, and those who first assembled the people in bodies were, however good their intentions might be, not one of these governments is found to have maintained its perfect integrity. And why? Because men are imperfect, consequently so are their works: because the citizens, employed by the prince, were blinded by individual interest, which always overthrows the general good: and in fine, because there is no stability on earth.

 

In aristocracies, the abuse which the principal members of the society make of their authority is the general cause of succeeding revolutions. The Roman democracy was destroyed by the people themselves. The blind multitude of the Plebians suffered themselves to be corrupted by ambitious citizens, by whom they were afterward deprived of their liberty, and enslaved. This is what England has to dread, if the lower house of parliament should not prefer the true interest of the nation to that infamous by which it is degraded.

 

As to monarchical government, of this there are various forms. The ancient feudal government, which some ages since was almost general in Europe, was established by the conquest of the Barbarians. The general of a horde renders himself sovereign of the conquered country, and divide its provinces among his principal officers; who, it is true, were subject to the lord paramount, and who supplied him with troops when required; but, as some of these vassals because equally powerful with their chief, this formed state within state; and hence a series, which were the misfortune of the whole. In Germany, these vassals are become independent; in France, England and Spain, they are suppressed. The only example that remains of that abominable form of government, is the republic of Poland.

 

In Turkey, the sovereign is despotic: he may with impunity commit the most atrocious cruelties; but it also often happens, with a vicissitude common to barbarous nations, or from a just retribution, that he in his turn is strangled.

 

With respect to the true monarchical government, it is the best or the worst of all others, accordingly as it is administered.

 

We have remarked that men granted pre-eminence to one of their equals, in expectation that he should do them certain services. These services consisted in the maintenance of the laws; a strict execution of justice; an employment of his whole powers to prevent any corruption of manners; and defending the state against its enemies. It is the duty of this magistrate to pay attention to agriculture; it should be his care that provisions for the nation should be in abundance, and that commerce and industry should be encouraged. He is a perpetual sentinel, who must watch the acts and the conduct of the enemies of the state. His foresight and prudence should form timely alliances, which should be made with those who might most conduce to the interest of the association.

 

By this short abstract, the various branches of knowledge, which each article in particular requires, will be perceived. To this must be added a profound study of the local situation of the country, which it is the magistrate’s duty to govern, and a perfect knowledge of the genius of the nation; for the sovereign who sins through ignorance is as culpable as he who sins through malice: the first is the guilt of idleness, the latter of a vicious heart; but the evil that results to society is the same.

 

Princes and monarchs, therefore, are not invested with supreme authority that they may, with impunity, riot in debauchery and voluptuousness. They are not raised by their fellow citizens in order that their pride may pompously display itself, and contemptuously insult simplicity of manners, poverty and wretchedness. Government is not entrusted to them that they may be surrounded by a crowd of useless people, whose idleness engenders every vice.

 

The ill administration of monarchical government originates in various causes, the source of which is in the character of the sovereign. Thus a prince addicted to women suffers himself to be governed by his mistresses, and his favourites, who abuse the ascendancy they have over his mind, commit injustice, protect the most vicious, sell places, and are guilty of other similar acts of infamy. If the prince, through debility, should abandon the helm of the state to mercenary hands, I mean to ministers, in that case, each having different views, no one proceeds on general plans: the new minister fritters away what he finds already established, however excellent that may be, to acquire the character of novelty, and execute his own schemes, generally to the detriment of the public good. His successors do the like; they destroy and overturn with equal want of understanding, that they may be supposed to possess originality. Hence that succession of change and variation which allows no project time to take root; hence confusion, disorder, and every vice of a bad administration. Prevaricators have a ready excuse; they shelter their turpitude under these perpetual changes.

 

Men attach themselves to that which appertains to them, and the state does not appertain to these ministers, for which reason they have not its real good at heart; business is carelessly executed, and with a kind of stoic indifference; and hence results the decay of justice, and the ill administration of the finances and the military. From a monarchy, as it was, the government degenerates into a true aristocracy, in which ministers and generals conduct affairs, according to their own fancies. There is no longer any comprehensive system; each pursues his own plans, and the central point, the point of unity, is lost. As all the wheels of a watch correspond to effect the same purpose, which is that of measuring time, so ought the springs of government to be regulated, that all the different branches of administration may equally concur to the greatest good of the state; an important object, of which we ought never to lose sight.

 

We may add, the personal interest of ministers and generals usually occasions them to counteract each other without ceasing, and sometimes to impede the execution of the best plans, because they had not been conceived by themselves. But the evil is at its utmost, when perverse minds are able to persuade the sovereign that his welfare and the public good are two things. The monarch then becomes the enemy of his people, without knowing why; is severe, rigorous, and inhuman, from mistake; for, the principle on which he acts being false, the consequences must necessarily be the same.

 

The sovereign is attached by indissoluble ties to the body of the state; hence it follows that he, by repercussion, is sensible of all the ills which afflict his subjects; and the people, in like manner, suffer from the misfortunes which affect their sovereign. There is but one general good, which is that of the state. If the monarch lose his provinces, he is no longer able as formerly to assist his subjects. If misfortune has obliged him to contract debts, they must be liquidated by the poor citizens; and, in return, if the people are not numerous, and if they are oppressed by poverty, the sovereign is destitute of all resource. These are truths so incontestable that there is no need to insist on them further.

 

I once more repeat, the sovereign represents the state; he and his people form but one body, which can only be happy as far as united by concord. The prince is to the nation he governs what the head is to the man; it is his duty to see, think, and act for the whole community, that he may procure it every advantage of which it is capable. If it be intended that a monarchical should excel a republican government, sentence is pronounced on the sovereign. He must be active, possess integrity, and collect his whole powers, that he may be able to run the career he has commenced. Here follow my ideas concerning his duties.

 

He ought to procure exact and circumstantial information of the strength and weakness of his country, as well relative to pecuniary resources as to population, finance, trade, laws, and the genius of the nation whom he is appointed to govern. If the laws are good they will be clear in their definitions; otherwise, chicanery will seek to elude their spirit to its advantage, and arbitrarily and irregularly determine the fortunes of individuals. Lawsuits ought to be as short as possible, to prevent the ruin of the appellants, who consume in useless expenses what is justly and duly their right. This branch of government cannot be too carefully watched, that every possible barrier may be opposed to the avidity of judges and counsellors. Every person is kept within the limits of their duty, by occasional visits into the provinces. Whoever imagines himself to be injured will venture to make his complaints to the commission; and those who are found to be prevaricators ought to be severely punished. It is perhaps superfluous to add that the penalty ought never to exceed the crime; that violence never ought to supersede law; and that it were better the sovereign should be too merciful than too severe.

 

As every person who does not proceed on principle is inconsistent in his conduct, it is still more necessary that the magistrate who watches over the public good should act from a determinate system of politics, war, finance, commerce, and law. Thus, for example, a people of mild manners ought not to have severe laws, but such as are adapted to their character. The basis of such systems ought always to be correspondent to the greatest good society can receive. Their principles ought to be conformable to the situation of the country, to its ancient customs, if they are good, and to the genius of the nation.

 

As an instance, it is a known truth, in politics, that the most natural allies, and consequently the best, are those whose interest concur, and which are not such near neighbours as to be engaged in any contest respecting frontiers. It sometimes happens that strange accidents give place to extraordinary alliances. We have seen, in the present times, nations that had always been rivals, and even enemies, united under the same banners. But these are events that rarely take birth, and which never can service as examples. Such connections can be no more than monetary; whereas the other kind, which are contracted from a unity of interests, are alone capable of exertion. In the present situation of Europe, when all her princes are armed, and among whom preponderating powers rise up capable of crushing the feeble, prudence requires alliances should be formed with other power, as well to secure aid, in case of attack, as to repress the dangerous projects of enemies, and to sustain all just pretentions, by the succour of such allies, in opposition to those to whom they are controverted.

 

Nor is this sufficient. It is necessary to have among our neighbours, especially among our enemies, eyes and ears which shall be open to receive, and report with fidelity, what they have seen, and heard. Men are wicked. Care must especially be taken not to suffer surprise, because whatever surprises intimidates and terrifies, which never happens when preparations are made, however vexatious the event may be which there is reason to expect. European politics are so fallacious that the most sage may become dupes, if they are not always alert, and on their guard.

 

The military system ought, in like manner, to rest on good principles, which from experience are known to be certain. The genius of the nation ought to be understood; of what is capable, and how far its safety may be risked by leading it against the enemy. The warlike customs of the Greeks and Romans are interdicted, in these ages. The discovery of gunpowder has entirely changed the mode of making war. A superiority of fire at present decides the day. Discipline, rules and tactics have all been changes, in order that they may conform to this new custom; and the recent and enormous abuse of numerous trains of artillery, which incumber armies, obliges others, in like manner, to adopt this method as well to maintain themselves in their posts as to attack the foe in those which they shall occupy, should reasons of importance so require. So many new refinement have, therefore, so much changed the art of war that it would, at present, be unpardonable temerity in a general who, in imitation f Turenne, Conde, or Luxembourg, should risk a battle according to the dispositions made by those great commanders, in the age in which they lived. Victory then was carried by valour and strength; it is at present decided by artillery and the art of the general consists in his near approach to the army of the enemy, without suffering his own troops to be destroyed previous to the attack. To gain this advantage, it is necessary he should silence the fire of the enemy, by the superiority of that with which it is opposed.

 

The art of castrametation, or of deriving all possible advantage from the situation of the ground, will however remain eternally unchanged in the military system. Should new discoveries continues to be made, the generals who then shall live must of force comply with these novelties, and change whatever may need correction in tactics.

 

There are states which, from their situation and constitution, must be maritime powers; such are England, Holland, France, Spain, and Denmark. They are surrounded by the sea, and the distant colonies which they possess oblige them to keep a marine, to maintain communication and trade between the mother country and these detached members. There are other states, such as Austria, Poland, Prussia, and even Russia, some of which may well do without shipping; and others that would commit an unpardonable fault, in politics, were they to divide their forces by employing a part of their troops at sea, of the services of which they indispensably stand in need by land.

 

The number of troops which a state maintains ought to be in proportion to the troops maintained by its enemies. Their force should be equal, or the weakest is in danger of being oppressed. It perhaps may be objected that a king ought to depend on the aid of his allies. The reasoning would be good were allies what they ought to be; but their zeal is only lukewarm; and he who shall depend upon another as upon himself will most certainly be deceived. If frontiers permit them to be defended by fortresses, there must be no neglect in building, nor any expense spared to bring them to perfection. Of this France has given an example, and he has found the advantage of it on different occasions.

 

But neither politics nor the army can prosper if the finances are not kept in the greatest order, and if the prince himself be not a prudent economist. Money is like the wand of the necromancer, for by its aid miracles are performed. Grand political views, the maintenance of the military, and the best conceived plans for the ease of the people, will all remain in a lethargic state, if not animated by money. The economy of the sovereign in the more useful to the public mood, because if he have no sufficient funds in reserve, either to supply the expenses of war, without loading his people with extraordinary taxes, or to succour citizens in times of public calamity, all these burdens will fall on the subject, who will be without the resource, in such unhappy times, of which they will then stand in the most need.

No government can exist without taxation, which is equally necessary to the republic and to the monarchy. The sovereign who labours in the public cause must be paid by the public; the judge the same, that he may have no need to prevaricate. The soldier must be supported that he may commit no violence, for want of having whereon to subsist. In like manner, it is necessary that those persons who are employed in collecting the finances should receive such salaries as may not lay them under any temptation to rob the public. These various expenses demand very considerable sums, and to these must still be added money that should only be laid apart to serve for extraordinary exigencies. This money must all be necessarily levied on the people; and the grand art consists in levying so as not to oppress. That taxes may be equally and not arbitrarily laid on, surveys and registers should be made, by which, if the people are properly classed, the money will be proportionate to the income of the persons paying. This is a thing so necessary that it would be an unpardonable fault, in finance, if ill-imposed taxes should disgust the husbandman with his labours. Having performed his duties, it is afterward necessary he and his family should live in a certain degree of ease. Far from oppressing the nursing fathers of the state, they ought to be encouraged in the cultivation of the lands; for in this cultivation the true riches of a country consists.

The earth furnishes the most necessary part of subsistence, and those who till it are, as we have already aid, the true nursing fathers of society. I shall perhaps be answer that Holland subsists, although the land does not yield a hundredth part of what the people consume. To this I reply, Holland is a small state in which trade is the substitute for agriculture; but more vast any government is the more ought rural economy to be encouraged.

Excise is another species of taxes, levied on cities, and this must be managed by able persons; otherwise, those provisions which are most necessary to life, such as bread, small beer, meat, &c, will be overloaded; and the weight will fall on the soldier, the labourer, and the artisan. The result will be, unhappily to the people, that the price of labour will be raised; consequently merchandise will become so dear as not to be saleable in foreign markets. Such at present is the case in Holland and in England. These two nations, having contracted immediately heavily debts in the last wars, have imposed new taxes to pay the interest; but, having very unadvisedly taxed labour, they have almost ruined their manufactures. Hence, all things having become dearer in Holland, the Dutch are obliged to purchase their cloths from Verviers and Liege; and England has lost a very considerable sale of her woollens in Germany. To obviate such inconveniences, the sovereign ought frequently to remember the condition of the poor, to imagine himself in the place of the peasant or the manufacturer, and then to say, “Were I born one among the class of citizens whose labours constitute the wealth of the state, what should I require from the king?” The answer which, on such a supposition, good sense would suggest it is his duty to put in practice.

 

In most of the kingdoms of Europe there are provinces in which the peasants are attached to the glebe, or are serfs to their lords. This, of all conditions, is the most unhappy, and that at which humanity most revolts. No man certainly was born to be the slave of his equal. We reasonably detest such an abuse; and it is supposed that nothing more than will is wanting to abolish so barbarous a custom. But this is not true; it is held on ancient tenures, and contracts made between the land-holders and the colonists. Tillage is regulated according to the service performed by the peasantry; and whoever should suddenly desire to abolish this abominable administration would entirely overthrow the mode of managing estates, and must be obliged, in part, to indemnify the nobility for the losses which their rents must suffer.

 

The state of manufactures and of trade, an article no less important, next presents itself. For the country to be preserved in prosperity, it is indubitably necessary that the balance of trade should be in its favour. If it pay more for importation than it gains by exportation, the result will be that it will be annually impoverished. Let us suppose a purse in which there are a hundred ducats, from which let us daily take one, and put none in, and everybody will allow that in a hundred days the purse will be empty. The means to avoid incurring any such loss are to work up all raw materials of which the country is in possession, and to manufacture foreign raw materials, that the price of labour may be gained, in order to procure a foreign market.

 

Three things are to be considered in respect to commerce: first the surplus of native products which are exported; next the products of foreign states, which enrich those by whom they are carried; and thirdly foreign merchandise, which home consumption obliges the state to import. The trade of any kingdom must be regulated according to these three articles, for of these only is it susceptible, according to the nature of things. England, Holland, France, Spain and Portugal, have possessions in the two Indies, and more extensive resources for their merchant ships than other kingdom. To profit by such advantages as we are in possession of, and to undertake nothing beyond out strength, is the advice of wisdom.

 

We have now to speak of what are the most proper means invariable to maintain those provinces in abundance, of which society stands in absolute need, that it may continue flourishing. The first is to be careful that the lands are well cultivated; to clear such grounds as are capable of tillage; to increase the breed of sheep and cattle, that the more may be gained by milk, butter, cheese, and manure; afterward to obtain an exact statement of the quantity of the various species of corn, grown in good, indifferent, and bad seasons, and to subtract the quantity consumed, that from the result information may be gained of the surplus, and the point at which exportation ought to stop; or of the deficiency in consumption, and of the consequently necessary importation. Every sovereign, actuated by the public good, is obliged to keep storehouses abundantly furnished, that supplied may be ready, when the harvest is bad, and famine prevented. During the scarcity of the year 1771 and 1772, Germany beheld the miseries with which Saxony and the provinces of the empire were afflicted, because this very useful precaution had not been taken. The people pounded oak bark, on which they fed, and this wretched food did but accelerate death. Numerous families perished unsuccoured, and the desolation was universal. The survivors were pale, livid and lean, and fled from their country to seek food elsewhere. The sight of them excited compassion; they would have been pitied by a heart of iron. What were the reproaches with which their governors ought to have loaded themselves, spectators as they were of such calamities and unable to afford any relief!

 

We shall now speak of another article, which perhaps is equally interesting. There are few countries in which the people are all of one religious opinion; they often totally differ. There are some who are called sectaries. The question then is started—Is it requisite that the people should all think alike, or may each one be allowed to think as he pleases? Gloomy politicians will tell us everybody ought to be of the same opinion, that there may be no division among the citizens. The priests will add whoever does not think like me is damned, and it is by no means proper that my king should be the king of the damned. The inevitable deduction is they must be destroyed in this world, that they may be the more prosperous in the next.

 

To this it is answered that all the members of one society never thought alike; that, among Christian nations, the majority are Anthropomorphites; that, among the Catholics, most of the people are idolaters, for I shall never be persuaded that a clown is capable of distinguishing between Latria and Hyperdulia. He simply and really adores the image he invokes. Therefore there are a number of heretics in all Christian sects. What is more, each man believes that which appears to him to be truth. A poor wretch may be constrained to pronounce a certain form of prayer, although he inwardly refuse his consent. His persecutor consequently has gained nothing. But, if we revert to the origin of all society, it will be found evident that the sovereign has no right to interfere in the belief of the subject. Would it not be madness to imagine men who have said to another man, their equal, “We raise you to be our superior, because we are in love with slavery; and we bestow on you the power of directing our thoughts, according to your will?” On the contrary, they have said, “We have need of you for the maintenance of those laws which we are willing to obey, and that we may be wisely governed and defended; but we also require that you should respect our freedom.” This is the sentence pronounced, and it is without appeal. Nay, tolerance is itself so advantageous, to the people among whom it is established, that it constitutes the happiness of the state. As soon as there is that perfect freedom of opinion, the people are all at peace; whereas persecution has given birth to the most bloody civil wars, and such as have been the most inveterate and the most destructive. The least evil that results from persecution is to occasion the persecuted to emigrate. The population of France has suffered in certain provinces, and those provinces still are sensible to the revocation of the edict of Nantes

 

Such are in general the duties imposed upon a prince, from which, in order that he may never depart, he ought often to recollect he himself is but a man, like the least of his subjects. If he be the first general, the first minister of the realm, it is not that he should remain the shadow of authority, but that he should fulfil the duties of such titles. He is only the first servant of the state, who is obliged to act with probity and prudence; and to remain as totally disinterested as if he were each moment liable to render an account of his administrations to his fellow citizens.

 

Thus he is culpable, if he be prodigal of the money of the people, dispersing the produce of the taxes in luxury, pomp, or licentiousness. It is for him to watch over morals, which are the guardians of the laws, and to improve the national education, and not pervert it by ill examples. One of the most important objects is the preservation of good morals, in all their purity; to which the sovereign may greatly contribute, by distinguishing and rewarding those citizens who have performed virtuous actions, and testifying his contempt for such as are so depraved as not to blush at their own disorders. The prince ought highly to disapprove of every dishonest act, and refuse distinctions to men who are incorrigible.

 

There is another interesting object which ought not to be lost sight of, and which, if neglected, would be of irreparable prejudice to good morality; which is that princes are liable too highly to notice persons who are possessed of no other merit than that of great wealth. Honours, so undeservedly bestowed, confirm the people in the vulgar prejudice that wealth, only, is necessary to gain respect. Interest and cupidity will then break forth from the curb by which they are restrained. Each will wish to accumulate riches; and, to acquire these, the most iniquitous means will be employed. Corruption increases, takes root, and becomes general. Men of abilities and virtue are despised, and the public honour none but the bastards of Midas, who dazzle by their excessive dissipation and their pomp. To prevent national manners from being perverted to an excess so horrible, the prince ought to be incessantly attentive to distinguish nothing but personal merit, and to show his contempt for that opulence which is destitute of morals and of virtue.

 

As the sovereign is properly the head of a family of citizens, the father of his people, he ought on all occasions to be the last refuge of the unfortunate; to be the parent of the orphan, and the husband of the widow; to have as much pity for the lowest wretch as for the greatest courtier; and to shed his benefactions over those who, deprived of all other aid, can only find succour in his benevolence.

 

Such, according to the principles which we established at the beginning of this Essay, is the most accurate conception we can form of the duties of a sovereign, and the only manner which can render monarchical government good and advantageous. Should the conduct of many princes be found different, it must be attributed to their having reflected but little on their institution, and its derivatory duties. They have borne a burden with the weight and importance of which they were unacquainted, and have been misled from the want of knowledge; for in our times ignorance commits more faults than vice. Such a sketch of sovereignty will perhaps appear to the censorious the archetype of the Stoics; an ideal sage, who never existed except in imagination, and to whom the nearest approach was Marcus Aurelius. We wish this feeble Essay were capable of forming men like Aurelius; it would be the highest reward we could possibly expect, at the same time that it would conduce to the good of mankind.

 

We ought however to add that the prince who should pursue the laborious route which we have indicated would never attain absolute perfection; because, with all possible good will, he might be deceived in the choice of the persons who he should employ in administration. Incidents might be depicted under false colours; his orders might not be punctually executed; iniquitous acts might be so concealed as never to arrive at his knowledge; and his ministers, rigorous and consequential, might be too severe, to haughty in their actions. In fine, it is impossible that a monarch should be everywhere, in an extensive kingdom. Such therefore is and much be the destiny of earthly affairs, that the degree of perfection which the happiness of the people requires, as far as it depends on government, never can be attained. Therefore, in this as in everything else, we must of necessity remain satisfied, with that which is least defective.

 

 

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