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demagogue over men who acknowledge no adventitious distinctions, is but another name for despotism; whereas in an hereditary aristocracy, the elevation of an individual to the throne may prepare the way for a mixed government, composed, like our own, by a happy union of the three simple forms.
The experience which the ancient Politicians had of the turbulence of Democracies, joined to their ignorance of such Mixed Monarchies as have arisen in modern Europe, naturally produced a strong partiality in favour of Aristocracy; and, undoubtedly, in ages when the art of printing was unknown, and of consequence the general instruction of the people was impossible, much might be advanced in support of their opinion. It must, too, be acknowledged, that notwithstanding the tendency of Aristocratical Constitutions to foster in the rulers a spirit of jealousy and oppression, they have, in some instances, been administered for a long course of time with such exemplary wisdom and moderation, as to secure, in an eminent degree, all the most essential ends for which governments are instituted. The history of the Canton of Berne, which (a few years ago) was unquestionably one of the happiest and most prosperous states in Europe, furnishes a striking illustration of the truth of this remark.
[SUBSECT. 111.]—Of Monarchy. By the word Monarchy, (as I employ it at present, in considering theoretically the simple forms of government,) is to be understood a political establishment, where a single person, without being limited by any law, directs everything agreeably to his own inclination, and where his subjects are understood to have no rights which they are entitled to state in opposition to his authority.
That such a form of government may, in particular combinations of circumstances, be attended with the most fortunate effects, it is impossible to deny. In certain respects, it possesses important advantages over every other that imagination can conceive; in particular, in the vigour, secrecy, and despatch
which it communicates to the operations of the executive magistrate. Nay, farther, it may be safely affirmed, that it has been under a government approaching to this description that the internal happiness of large empires has been sometimes carried to the highest pitch. “If a man,” says Mr. Gibbon, * “were called to fix the period in the history of the world during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would, without hesitation, name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus. The vast extent of the Roman empire was governed by absolute power, under the guidance of virtue and wisdom. The armies were restrained by the firm but gentle hand of four successive emperors, whose character and authority commanded involuntary respect. The forms of the civil administration were carefully preserved by Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, and the Antonines, who delighted in the image of Liberty, and were pleased with considering themselves as the accountable ministers of the laws.” In general, it must be granted to the advocates for this form of government, that if it were possible to secure perfect virtue and unerring wisdom in a prince, and if his subjects, at the same time, were of such a character as to be capable of enjoying the blessings of a mild and equitable government, the internal tranquillity and prosperity of an extensive empire, as well as the force it would be capable of employing against its foreign enemies, would be secured to a greater degree under such a constitution than under any other.
On the other hand, it is no less evident that this form of government rests the happiness of the people on the most precarious of all foundations ;—and that as it is capable, when well administered, of doing more good, so it is also capable, on the opposite supposition, of doing infinitely more mischief, than any other species of government whatever. And, accordingly, the eloquent historian now quoted, after remarking, that “the labours of these monarchs (the princes to whom the foregoing passage refers) were overpaid by the immense reward that inseparably waited on their success, by the honest pride of
* [Decline and Fall, &c., Chap. iii.]
virtne, and by the exquisite delight of beholding the general happiness, of which they were the authors," immediately subjoins,—“ A just but melancholy reflection embittered the noblest of human enjoyments. They must often have recollected the instability of a happiness which depended on the character of a single man. The fatal moment was perhaps approaching when some licentious youth, or some jealous tyrant, would abuse, to the destruction, that absolute power which they had exerted for the benefit, of their people. The ideal restraints of the senate and the laws, might serve to display the virtues, but could never correct the vices of the emperor. The military force was a blind and irresistible instrument of oppression, and the corruption of Roman manners would always supply flatterers eager to applaud, and ministers prepared to serve the fear or the avarice, the lust or the cruelty, of their masters.
“These gloomy apprehensions had been already justified by the experience of the Romans. The annals of the emperors exhibit a strong and various picture of human nature, which we should vainly seek among the mixed and doubtful characters of modern history. In the conduct of these monarchs we may trace the utmost lines of vice and virtue, the most exalted perfection, and the meanest degeneracy of our own species. The golden age of Trajan and the Antonines had been preceded by an age of iron. It is almost superfluous to enumerate the unworthy successors of Augustus : their unparalleled vices, and the splendid theatre on which they were acted, have saved them from oblivion. The dark, unrelenting Tiberius, the furious Caligula, the feeble Claudius, the profligate and cruel Nero, the beastly Vitellius, and the timid, inhuman Domitian, are condemned to everlasting infamy. During fourscore years, excepting only the short and doubtful respite of Vespasian's reign, Rome groaned beneath an unremitting tyranny, which exterminated the ancient families of the republic, and was fatal to almost every virtue and every talent that arose in that unhappy period.”*
* [Ibid.—Aristotle, in his Politics, clearly shews how a pure or Autocratic Monarchy is naturally either the best
or the worst form of government. Hence, though unnoticed by Erasmus, the adage,-Co-ruptio optimi pessima.]
Independently of these considerations, so forcibly stated by Mr. Gibbon, much might be urged in opposition to that argument, which the example of a few virtuous monarchs has furnished to some writers in favour of absolute power. It was only in an empire placed in the very peculiar circumstances in which Rome then stood, that such characters as Trajan and the Antonines were likely to be formed; or that they could have found themselves placed at the head of a people qualified to receive from them the happiness which they were willing to bestow. Among a people whose liberty has been suddenly overturned by a military force, the characters both of sovereigns and subjects may continue, for ages, to be influenced by the recollection of earlier and happier times. This, as we have seen, was the case in the Roman empire, under which the people long retained the independent and elevated ideas of their ancestors,-ideas which were more firmly rivetted in some of them by the study of the Greek philosophy; while, in the catalogue of sovereigns, among a multitude of the most execrable scourges of mankind, we find some of the most illustrious names that have ever adorned humanity. In order to form a judgment of the genuine nature and effects of pure Monarchy, we must suppose the government to be so long established as to obliterate, both in the case of the sovereign and his subjects, all the ideas and manners which might have been derived from earlier and happier institutions. This supposition is realized among different nations of the East. In the Persian language, it is said there is no word for any form of government but Absolute Monarchy; and excepting some faint ideas which have been communicated to the people by European travellers, of the freedom and mildness of our establishments, they believe that such has ever been the condition of mankind. It is to the East, accordingly, we must turn our views, if we wish to collect illustrations of the genuine tendency of this form of government with respect to human happiness and improvement. On this branch of our subject, I have nothing to add at present to the profound remarks of Montesquieu and Ferguson.
Where an individual is so far elevated above a community as to consider its members as born merely for his use and pleasure, it is not to be supposed that he will embarrass himself much with the cares of government. It is more natural to presume that he will make choice of some one person, to whom he will entrust the administration, and devote himself entirely to indolence and voluptuousness. Montesquieu,* therefore, states it as a fundamental law in this government, that the sovereign creates a vizier, to whom an unlimited power is delegated; and, in fact, we find that among the eastern despots the practice is universal. Among them, indeed, other circumstances concur to make it absolutely necessary; in particular, the education which is systematically bestowed on them,-an education calculated both to enfeeble their understandings and corrupt their hearts. Upon their elevation, accordingly, to the throne, finding themselves incapable of holding the reins of government, they relieve themselves of the whole burden, and abandon themselves to the pleasures of the seraglio.
The same effects which are felt in the extreme, under these despotic governments of the East, may be expected everywhere, though in a less degree, among princes possessed of sovereign authority, and not properly prepared for the exercise of it by a youth of exertion and enterprise. This observation is well illustrated by Helvetius in the following passage:
“ A despotic prince being in possession of all the pleasures which glory can promise to other men, has not motives sufficient to enable him to undergo the tiresome task of business, and to expose himself to that fatigue of attention necessary to his obtaining instruction. Such princes, therefore, are seldom reckoned among great sovereigns, except where they have cleared the way to the throne, or been long instructed in the school of misfortune. They always owe their knowledge to the interest they have in acquiring it.
“ Why are little princes generally more able men than the most powerful despots ? It is, because they have in a manner
* [Esprit, &c., Liv. II. chap. v.]