Posted: September 20th, 2022

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Essay Questions

Classical and Modern Political Theory

a) How valid is Machiavelli’s thought in today’s society?

b) Can we have peace without subjugation according to Hobbes?

c) Are there existing political systems that resemble Plato’s ideal state?

d) Is Machiavelli a reformer or a revolutionary in political philosophy?

e) Does Locke’s understanding of private property justify capitalism?

f) Which traditions of political theory do you find more convincing regarding the establishment of the state?

g) What are the political consequences of inequality according to Montesquieu?

h) Can democracy be imported to other countries and cultures according to Montesquieu?

i) Why a moderate government is the best government according to Montesquieu?

j) Which concept of liberty would you consider essential to a political community if you were to choose between Montesquieu’s understanding of liberty and that of J.S. Mill?

k) Do you agree with Montesquieu that certain societies are unsuited for democracy?

l) How would J.S. Mill argue against Hobbes’ claim that the sovereign [Leviathan] has the sole right to determine which ideas or doctrines should be circulated in the public sphere?

m) Why does social inequality erode a democratic regime according to Rousseau?

n) Can freedom and equality be reconciled?

o) How can an apathetic society gain a community of spirit according to Tocqueville?

p) How can the centralizing features of a government be reduced according to Tocqueville?

Introduction to Part Three

WHAT DOES “MODERN” POLITICS MEAN? What does the very word “modern” signify? When did
“modernity” begin? These questions cause endless controversy. Most students of political ideas,
however, will point you to a particular thinker: Niccolò Machiavelli and especially his advice book
for rulers, The Prince, written in the early sixteenth century. Those who study his works carefully,
including his Discourses on Livy, will understand that this Florentine patriot had a broad and shrewd
way of understanding the world and especially the workings of power. A man of the Renaissance, he
revived the political concerns of ancient Roman republicanism and also developed an effectively
secular stance about humanity’s place in the world, by contrast to the religious preoccupations of the
Middle Ages. His concern, scholars remark, is not the place of politics in God’s plans but how a state
can be strong, how a ruler can be effective. He doesn’t ask, as did medieval thinkers like Augustine
or Aquinas, about a world in which politics is shaped finally by divine hands and in which heaven is
the ultimate issue for human beings.

Machiavelli said he cared more about his Patria (homeland) than his soul. He cared about
religion not for its intrinsic beliefs but for its ability to fortify the state and a sense of civic
responsibility as well as loyalty to the political community. Ancient Roman religion, woven into its
society, did just these things in its public ceremonies. Christianity, however, told believers to render
unto Caesar what was Caesar’s and unto God what was God’s and therefore resulted in a bifurcation
of political and spiritual realms. A bifurcation of duties followed. And so: Should a ruler or
politicians worry about the “good state,” in a moral sense? Or rather about an effective and powerful
state? For Machiavelli, good often leads to evil, and order to disorder. Behavior is often dictated by
existing conditions and compulsions rather than reason or logic—or “principles.” A successful ruler
must know that “necessity will lead you to do many things which reason does not recommend.” He
must know that “a man who wishes to make a profession of goodness in everything must necessarily
come to grief among so many who are not good.”

Machiavelli wrote in a simple manner while fashioning a new intellectual vernacular in order to
address contingencies of political life. He used history to provide an alternative to Christian
discourses of the Bible and Revelation. History—especially Roman history but also events of his age
—provided a stable body of experiences from which lessons could be learned. Machiavelli rarely
read ancient historians critically. Nonetheless, history as he read it also taught him to prefer a
virtuous republic—in fact he served one as an official—in his homeland, rather than princely rule.
But since he also understood relations of power, he was willing to face up to the reality in front of
him: Florence’s republic was gone and replaced by renewed reign by the Medici family. Machiavelli
was ready to serve a prince when there was no other intelligent option. Some think of him as an
opportunist. In any event, he did not get a job. (He was even in prison for a spell.)

The diminished authority of the Church, the emergence of the modern state, new understandings of
politics, and the growing power of commercial classes in the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth
centuries occurred in a climate that was also increasingly more open to scientific questioning—and to
talking about politics in new “objective” ways. Machiavelli was, however, not “scientific.” He
counterposed Virtú, a kind of manly patriotism that combined fortitude and daring, to the Roman
female deity Fortuna (Fate), a notoriously capricious adversary that determined (metaphorically) at

least half the outcome of political and more generally human affairs. Life and politics were a contest
between them.

“How can a state survive in a corrupt world?” asked Machiavelli. Great inequalities in wealth
and power, the destruction of peace and justice, disunion, lawlessness, dishonesty, and contempt for
moral precepts constituted the glaring evidence of public and private vice in his day. Order, he
thought, required a properly advised prince—or a statesman—to govern by high-handed power when
necessary and who did not cower before despotic means. But he also thought a successful republic
depended on good laws and good arms (that is, a good assemblage of organized violence). Moral and
civic virtue would grow from such good laws, as would social and economic institutions. The state
was an economy of coercion, and only a fool or someone extraordinarily naïve could fail to recognize
that “security for man is impossible unless it be conjoined with power.” Faced by that reality and
conflicting interests, it was necessary to know how to use violence wisely and when its use is not
intelligent.

Contrast Machiavelli’s train of thought to that of Martin Luther. The Protestant Reformation was
initiated by Luther’s antipapal polemics. These were issued in German lands in the same early
sixteenth century in which Machiavelli wrote. His aims were religious. Yet, as a scholar once noted,
this Augustinian monk was a medieval man who helped to usher in the modern world. While he
believed that there was no right to challenge authority—it kept order in a world of sinners—his ideas,
like that of “the priesthood of all believers,” nonetheless gave rise to theories of resistance, first
against the Roman Catholic Church’s hierarchy and then beyond, all while he harnessed and upheld
the power of many established, local rulers. This combination inevitably led to widespread change.
The failure of the Church to carry out effective reforms, and its efforts to suppress Luther, who
claimed that believers needed only the Bible as their authority, led to a recognition that religious
reformers would ultimately have to depend on princes. They, in turn, had their own reasons to hold
back Church powers. Luther needed nobles as allies, and consequently he supported their savage
repression of peasant revolts in 1525 and later persecution of Anabaptists and other radical
Protestant sects. He was venomously hostile to Jews. Many Protestant radical reformers used his
ideas for purposes he would not have accepted. Yet he always insisted that Christians could never act
against secular authority, whether just or not. True justice was not of this world, and it was
impossible to know God’s ways, especially since we are all original sinners.

The result was paradoxical. Some princes, some nobles, and some in the emerging commercial
classes found themselves allies with Protestants on the question of obedience to authority. Yet
dissenters struggled inevitably for freedom of expression, and something new began to find
theological justification: the contention that rulers could be resisted when they were abusive.
Moreover, it was argued increasingly that the people had claims on rulers. Sometimes premises,
however strongly held, produce incongruous results. And when conflicting sides, each believing
heaven is with it, fail to defeat each other decisively, they sometimes learn to tolerate each other.

Religious battles filled the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Brutal civil wars gave rise to new
versions of old political claims. If at the beginning of the seventeenth century “divine right” was
invoked to legitimize the king of England, by the end of the century there was a constitutional
monarchy. Bloody civil war came in between, and in the middle of the century Thomas Hobbes
argued for absolutism on secular grounds. It was the only way to peace, he thought, in response to the
complete breakdown of authority, which even brought the execution of a king. Hobbes’s Leviathan

proposed that without absolute government and enforceable laws, men would be in a “State of
Nature,” a realm with no restraints on human behavior that resulted in a perpetual “war of everyone
against everyone.” It would be like the recent civil war or like ever colliding atoms in movement.
Everyone would fear for their lives and suspect everyone else; all would move constantly to protect
themselves by securing more power. But since everyone was more or less equal in their faculties,
conflicts would be endless—at least until all the frightened men came together to sign a social
“covenant” by which they would leave the State of Nature. Doing so, they would give up their right to
do whatever necessary to protect themselves because they create an absolute power to “overawe”
everyone. This “Leviathan”—a political sovereign, a “mortal God”—would establish peace, secure
property, and allow competition among men without war.

The Leviathan, however, could never be challenged, or else everyone would fall back into the
nasty State of Nature. Through governments and laws, man “seeks aid by society; for there is no other
way by which a man can secure his life and liberty.” The Leviathan can do “as he shall think
expedient, for their peace and common defense.” Hobbes says the government may be by one person
or by an assembly, but it is evident that he prefers a single man.

And so Hobbes provided an elegant and brilliantly argued case for absolutist rule to protect
individuals from both internal and external violence.

John Locke wrote decades after Hobbes. England had gone through abolition of its monarchy, the
establishment of a commonwealth, and the restoration of monarchy. But now there were new
controversies (actually reinventions of old ones). Who would sit on the throne? Should the ruler be
beneath the law made by Parliament or not? Should the king be Protestant or Catholic? Locke, a father
of modern liberalism and a supporter of the Whig faction in English politics, drew up a picture of the
State of Nature very different from that of Hobbes. It was also different from the assumptions of a
book called Patriarchy by Robert Filmer. Written decades earlier, it was used to advance arguments
in the 1680s by the Tories (the more conservative faction in English politics). Patriarchy claimed just
what its title implied: all political authority and property relations were patriarchal and hierarchal.
After all, you don’t elect your father. The proof: the Bible.

Locke challenged the notion that a kingdom was simply the property of the ruler. He believed that
men had reason in the State of Nature (he actually seems to have thought the State of Nature once
existed, while Hobbes clearly proposed it as a heuristic tool). We also have usually cooperative
relations in the State of Nature along with rights given to us by Nature—this later evolved into
notions of human rights—that any reasonable person would recognize. These are the rights to life,
liberty, and property. These are ours and universal, not given to us by any king or any government.
Nonetheless, Locke recognized that since there were no umpires in the State of Nature, there was
always the danger of strife since people might disagree or someone might act unreasonably. So
people come together to sign a social contract to leave the State of Nature and establish a government.
Its purpose is to protect what is already theirs—life, liberty, and property. Locke’s individual is still
an acquisitive being, both before and after signing the social contract, but covetous behavior now has
bounds. Government allows people to compete and interact safely.

Locke’s Two Treatises on Government were written before the Glorious Revolution of 1688
brought William of Orange (from Holland) and his wife Mary to the throne. Locke, who had been in
exile, returned on the same boat as them. Parliament drafted a Bill of Rights in 1689 that aimed to
secure constitutional monarchy: a king could no longer suspend laws or tax without consent of the

legislature. In addition to ensuring its own powers, Parliament also established the rights of any male
subject to petition the king and of anyone accused of a crime to jury trial and fair punishment.

The last part of Locke’s Second Treatise proposed that since legitimate political power derived
from the consent of the governed—the signers of the social contract—in order to protect their natural
rights, the people retained a right to revolution if the government acted arbitrarily or unjustly or in
violation of its mandate. The people reserved the right to “appeal to heaven” and take action.

It is easy to see how, at the beginning of “modern” Western politics, there was a great flourishing
of political ideas and debate. Most of it is in extensively elaborated form, as you will read in
Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Locke. Some of it took other forms in the religiously based pamphlets of
Luther or John Calvin. By contrast, sharp political satire could play a role, such as in Jonathan
Swift’s hilarious but stomach-turning “A Modest Proposal”—an extraordinary criticism of social
cruelty.

Many debates focused on how to determine if a government is legitimate and to delineate the
rights of citizens. One interesting figure is Baruch Spinoza, a rationalist Jewish philosopher from the
Netherlands. He was expelled from his own community when young (for reasons still not clear) and
wrote powerfully for the value of free speech. He was one of the only philosophers until the era of the
American and French Revolutions who wrote positively about the idea of democracy.

The authors of America’s Declaration of Independent drew heavily on Locke’s words and ideas.
The Federalist designers of the American Constitution in 1787 read European philosophers at great
length. One of them, Baron de Montesquieu, had argued earlier in the eighteenth century—the century
of “Enlightenment”—against too much concentration of power in one place (like a king’s hands) and
so proposed the idea that a healthy social order had to have countervailing social forces and checks
on centralized might. His book The Spirit of the Laws was widely read, including by American
revolutionaries. James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay wrote “The Federalist Papers” to
justify the new U.S. Constitution and fashioned an institutionalized concept of “checks and balances”
in their proposed national government. Some foes, the Anti-Federalists, still thought a more secure
specification of rights was needed.

A storm of political ideas swept Europe when the French Revolution began in 1789.
Revolutionaries championed the ideas of equality, human rights and a republic while others, notably
Edmund Burke in London, argued against revolutions altogether. At the same time, some women
objected to the fact that only men seemed to be securing rights and so they declared on behalf of the
rights of men and women. The issue of the rights of women would become an increasingly forceful
challenge to hierarchies and customs.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau had enormous influence in the decades before the French Revolution. If
the republicanism of Machiavelli emerged at the dawn of the modern state, republican Rousseau rose
to fame just before a modernizing state’s most famous big crack-up. Born in Geneva, he was most
identified with events in France, to which he moved originally as a young music copyist. (He also
wrote operas.) He was a fiery writer—“Man is born free, yet everywhere he is in chains”—whose
political thought represented the culmination of the social contract tradition of the previous two
centuries.

Rousseau’s understanding of human nature, law, and political legitimacy differed from those of
Hobbes and Locke. He imagined that men in a State of Nature were neither in a perpetual battle, as
Hobbes imagined, nor were they acquisitive, rational, and self-seeking, as Locke portrayed them. For

Rousseau, “natural men” were tranquil and lived in solitude. He imagined them beginning as self-
sufficient creatures who come into proximity with each other mostly by accident. They gradually
develop language and the ability to compare and to work together. Whereas many eighteenth-century
thinkers portrayed civilization in positive terms, Rousseau believed it made men more corrupt.
Property, civilization, and “progress” took men downhill. But he recognized that once men had left
their natural state, they could not return to it; they had changed too much. He described these
processes in his Discourse on the Origins of Inequality among Men.

In what became his most renowned book, The Social Contract, he focused not on how primeval
freedom and autonomy were lost but on how the inevitable “chains” of government—he meant laws—
could be regarded as legitimate. This was to ask one of the most basic questions of political theory:
Why should people obey authorities? All regimes coerce. How, Rousseau queried, could there be a
“form of association” that would at the same time protect both the individual citizen and the political
community as a whole? Certainly not with a king as “sovereign.” No, the people had to be the
sovereign, the final authorizer of laws under which citizens lived. And as sovereign, the “General
Will” of the citizens also chose their form of government. This was not the “Will of All” the citizens
added up but rather a Will to the general good, the true interest of all citizens as members of a
political community. Rousseau proposes a compact, a social contract, that shielded people from
arbitrary rule by establishing popular sovereignty through the General Will. “The Sovereign,” he
wrote, “being formed wholly of the individuals who compose it, neither has, nor can have any interest
contrary to it.” All laws had to be approved by the General Will, and since the government was its
tool, the government was revocable by the people.

If Rousseau’s ideas provide the cornerstone of one kind of political tradition—a type of
republicanism—John Stuart Mill, writing on the other side of the English Channel, became the
foremost champion of liberal ideas in the nineteenth century. His political thought was shaped by the
personal experience of his unusual intellectual training, done entirely by his father rather than at
school, as well as his brilliance at political argument. His intense education—read about it in his
Autobiography—was conducted by James Mill, a leading figure of the Benthamites. These were
colleagues and followers of Jeremy Bentham, the father of what became known as utilitarian
philosophy. Utilitarians advocated the “greatest happiness principle.” If something augmented the
happiness of the greatest number of people, it was considered good. If it did the opposite, it was
deemed bad. John Stuart Mill’s joyless education, he later wrote, turned him into a kind of human
calculating machine, denied the vast range of human feelings. He knew how to quantify what was
good or bad, but when he recognized how he became a limited human being as a result, he had a
nervous collapse. He decided that he was still a utilitarian, but qualitative factors and not just
quantitative calculations had to determine happiness and unhappiness for human beings. He matured
as an advocate of liberalism, liberty, and a well-rounded personality. Mill also became a champion
of women’s rights and served in Parliament. When he married he renounced publicly the legal
advantages to men that came with it.

His On Liberty presented one of the most powerful and enduring cases for individual rights and
liberties, especially free thought and self-expression. Mill argued that freedom was endangered not
only by abusive government but by “tyranny of the majority”—the coercion of public opinion and
customs. This claim was linked to his advocacy of free speech: ideas had always to be challenged,
even those that seemed settled. Opinions that are suppressed may be true or false, partly true or partly

false. However, suppressing opinions always causes social harm. Unless true ideas are contested,
they become dogmas and inefficacious. At the same time, Mill distinguished between free speech and
speech that in a specific circumstance can result in an immediate evil. This became the idea of a
“clear and present danger” to others, like crying fire in a crowded theater. This notion later became
crucial to discussions by the American Supreme Court of the First Amendment of the U.S.
Constitution.

Mill was also influenced by socialist writers when it came to questions of poverty, but he never
accepted overarching socialist solutions to the miserable conditions of working classes. Karl Marx
and Friedrich Engels, lifelong collaborators, had much more radical ideas. They were repelled by the
degraded conditions of working classes in England, France, Germany, and elsewhere in Europe.
Engels came from a family of mill and factory owners, and one result was his exposé The Condition
of the Working Class in England in 1844. Marx, born in Trier, in today’s Germany, and the grandson
of a rabbi, set out to study philosophy but became a radical journalist. His activities led to his
expulsion from several countries. After participating in the German revolutions of 1848–49 he had to
flee finally to London, where he lived for some three decades writing about capitalism and
revolutionary theory. He wrote on a wide array of subjects—even on the American Civil War.

Marx’s view of philosophy was shaped by the idealism of the German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel,
who saw history as a grand story of the progress of human spirit and its progressive rationalization.
But Marx’s ideas were also shaped by the “materialism” of Ludwig Feuerbach. Feuerbach tried, as
Marx said famously, to turn Hegel’s ideas upside down by focusing on the material human world.
Marx was less concerned with how the human “spirit” moved through stages of history than with how
social, political, cultural, and economic orders reproduced themselves. Ultimately, “philosophers
have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.” Marx did not inspire the
revolutions of 1848, but he (with Engels) published The Communist Manifesto then. Its concluding
exhortation—“Workingmen of all countries, unite!”—was a call to social justice and an unalienated
life, free of hierarchy.

Marx believed that societies structured by exploitation by ruling classes could finally be replaced
by a classless society. History, he said, was a dialectic of class conflicts, but capitalism created
something new: a vastly productive regime that would eventually generate its own overthrow. Due to
class conflict, the bourgeoisie, the ruling class of the age, would be overthrown by the vast majority
(the urban, wage-earning working class or “proletariat”). Since Marx believed that all states—the
political organization of society, including the government, the bureaucracy, the army, and the police
—were the means by which one class oppressed other classes, he thought that a classless society
would ensue that no longer requires politics as it had been known in the past.

His final, utopian vision was of an anarchist society with no central state and no classes. Private
ownership of the means of production would be replaced by communal ownership. The goal was not
to make everybody the same but to allow them to be fully differentiated, fulfilled as social
individuals. Each individual would contribute as best he or she could to society and receive back
what he or she needed. Qualitative rather than quantitative values would animate life. Human
consciousness would be transformed in this leap from the “realm of necessity” to the “realm of
freedom.” All past hierarchies—indeed modernity—would be transcended.

8

Niccolò Machiavelli

The Prince and Discourses (Selections)

Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527) is often associated with a sinister image—the cynical
practitioner of realpolitik who believes that the end always justifies the means. This tells
only part of the story. He is also generally considered the first major “modern” political
thinker. Whereas medieval Christians asked how politics and the state suited God’s scheme
of things, Machiavelli asked questions about the organization and preservation of power.
Religion concerned him only inasmuch as it fortified or weakened the state. He was born in
Florence and lived in the heyday of the Renaissance, when a generation of thinkers cast
their eyes back toward antiquity, especially ancient Rome, and away from Church dogma.
Machiavelli was an official of the Florentine republic but lost his job when Spain invaded
in 1512, reinstating the de Medici family, who had ruled the city earlier. In 1513 he
authored The Prince, which describes how a ruler might best preserve and expand his
power. Machiavelli probably hoped it would get him a job with the new regime. It didn’t. It
did lead to the mistaken view that he was a champion of monarchy. But one of his other
major works, the Discourses (a study of Livy’s History of Rome), shows that he was actually
a foe of tyranny who preferred a healthy republic based on “good laws and good arms.”

The Prince

Niccolò Machiavelli to Lorenzo the Magnificent, Son of Piero di Medici
It is customary for those who wish to gain the favour of a prince to endeavour to do so by offering him
gifts of those things which they hold most precious, or in which they know him to take especial
delight. In this way princes are often presented with horses, arms, cloth of gold, gems, and such-like
ornaments worthy of their grandeur. In my desire however, to offer to Your Highness some humble
testimony of my devotion, I have been unable to find among my possessions anything which I hold so
dear or esteem so highly as that knowledge of the deeds of great men which I have acquired through a
long experience of modern events and a constant study of the past. With the utmost diligence I have
long pondered and scrutinised the actions of the great, and now I offer the results to Your Highness
within the compass of a small volume. . . .

The Various Kinds of Government and the Ways by Which They Are Established
All states and dominions which hold or have held sway over mankind are either republics or
monarchies. Monarchies are either hereditary in which the rulers have been for many years of the
same family, or else they are of recent foundation. The newly founded ones are either entirely new, as
was Milan to Francesco Sforza, or else they are, as it were, new members grafted on to the hereditary
possessions of the prince that annexes them, as is the kingdom of Naples to the King of Spain. The
dominions thus acquired have either been previously accustomed to the rule of another prince, or else
have been free states, and they are annexed either by force of arms of the prince himself, or of others,
or else fall to him by good fortune or special ability.

Of Hereditary Monarchies
I will not here speak of republics, having already treated of them fully in another place. I will deal
only with monarchies, and will discuss how the various kinds described above can be governed and
maintained. In the first place, the difficulty of maintaining hereditary states accustomed to a reigning
family is far less than in new monarchies; for it is sufficient not to transgress ancestral usages, and to
adapt one’s self to unforeseen circumstances; in this way such a prince, if of ordinary assiduity, will
always be able to maintain his position, unless some very exceptional and excessive force deprives
him of it; and even if he be thus deprived, on the slightest mischance happening to the new occupier,
he will be able to regain it. . . .

Of Mixed Monarchies
But it is in the new monarchy that difficulties really exist. First, if it is not entirely new, but a member
as it were of a mixed state, its disorders spring at first from a natural difficulty which exists in all
new dominions, because men change masters willingly, hoping to better themselves; and this belief
makes them take arms against their rulers, in which they are deceived, as experience later proves that
they have gone from bad to worse. This is the result of another very natural cause, which is the

inevitable harm inflicted on those over whom the prince obtains dominion, both by his soldiers and
by an infinite number of other injuries caused by his occupation. Thus you find enemies in all those
whom you have injured by occupying that dominion, and you cannot maintain the friendship of those
who have helped you to obtain this possession, as you will not be able to fulfill their expectations,
nor can you use strong measures with them, being under an obligation to them; for which reason,
however strong your armies may be, you will always need the favour of the inhabitants to take
possession of a province.

It is indeed true that, after reconquering rebel territories they are not so easily lost again, for the
ruler is now, by the fact of the rebellion, less averse to secure his position by punishing offenders,
unmasking suspects, and strengthening himself in weak places. . . . Be it observed, therefore, that
those states which on annexation are united to a previously existing state may or may not be of the
same nationality and language. If they are, it is very easy to hold them, especially if they are not
accustomed to freedom; and to possess them securely it suffices that the family of the princes which
formerly governed them be extinct. For the rest, their old condition not being disturbed, and there
being no dissimilarity of customs, the people settle down quietly under their new rulers, as is seen in
the case of Burgundy, Brittany, Gascony, and Normandy, which have been so long united to France;
and although there may be some slight differences of language, the customs of the people are
nevertheless similar, and they can get along well together. Whoever obtains possession of such
territories and wishes to retain them must bear in mind two things: the one, that the blood of their old
rulers be extinct; the other, to make no alteration either in their laws or in their taxes; in this way they
will in a very short space of time become united with their old possessions and form one state.

But when dominions are acquired in a province differing in language, laws, and customs, the
difficulties to be overcome are great, and it requires good fortune as well as great industry to retain
them; one of the best and most certain means of doing so would be for the new ruler to take up his
residence there. This would render possession more secure and durable, and it is what the Turk has
done in Greece. In spite of all the other measures taken by him to hold that state, it would not have
been possible to retain it had he not gone to live there. Being on the spot, disorders can be seen as
they arise and can quickly be remedied, but living at a distance, they are only heard of when they get
beyond remedy. Besides which, the province is not despoiled by your officials, the subjects being
able to obtain satisfaction by direct recourse to their prince; and wishing to be loyal they have more
reason to love him, and should they be otherwise inclined they will have greater cause to fear him.
Any external power who wishes to assail that state will be less disposed to do so; so that as long as
he resides there he will be very hard to dispossess.

The other and better remedy is to plant colonies in one or two of those places which form as it
were the keys of the land, for it is necessary either to do this or to maintain a large force of armed
men. The colonies will cost the prince little; with little or no expense on his part, he can send and
maintain them; he only injures those whose lands and houses are taken to give to the new inhabitants,
and these form but a small proportion of the state, and those who are injured, remaining poor and
scattered, can never do any harm to him, and all the others are, on the one hand, not injured and
therefore easily pacified; and, on the other, are fearful of offending lest they should be treated like
those who have been dispossessed. To conclude, these colonies cost nothing, are more faithful, and
give less offence; and the injured parties being poor and scattered are unable to do mischief, as I have
shown. For it must be noted, that men must either be caressed or else annihilated; they will revenge

themselves for small injuries, but cannot do so for great ones; the injury therefore that we do to a man
must be such that we need not fear his vengeance. But by maintaining a garrison instead of colonists,
one will spend much more, and consume all the revenues of that state in guarding it, so that the
acquisition will result in a loss, besides giving much greater offence, since it injures every one in that
state with the quartering of the army on it; which being an inconvenience felt by all, every one
becomes an enemy, and these are enemies which can do mischief, as, though beaten, they remain in
their own homes. In every way, therefore, a garrison is as useless as colonies are useful.

Further, the ruler of a foreign province as described, should make himself the leader and defender
of his less powerful neighbours, and endeavour to weaken the stronger ones, and take care that they
are not invaded by some foreigner not less powerful than himself. And it will be always the case that
he will be invited to intervene at the request of those who are discontented either through ambition or
fear, as was seen when the Aetolians invited the Romans into Greece; and in whatever province they
entered, it was always at the request of the inhabitants. And the rule is that when a powerful foreigner
enters a province, all the less powerful inhabitants become his adherents, moved by the envy they
bear to those ruling over them; so much so that with regard to these minor potentates he has no trouble
whatever in winning them over, for they willingly join forces with the state that he has acquired. He
has merely to be careful that they do not assume too much power and authority, and he can easily with
his own forces and their favour put down those that are powerful and remain in everything arbiter of
that province. And he who does not govern well in this way will soon lose what he has acquired, and
while he holds it will meet with infinite difficulty and trouble.

The Romans in the provinces they took, always followed this policy; they established colonies,
inveigled the less powerful without increasing their strength, put down the most powerful and did not
allow foreign rulers to obtain influence in them. I will adduce the province of Greece as a sole
example. They made friends with the Achaeans and the Aetolians, the kingdom of Macedonia was
cast down, and Antiochus driven out, nor did they allow the merits of the Achaeans or the Aetolians
to gain them any increase of territory, nor did the persuasions of Philip induce them to befriend him
without reducing his influence, nor could the power of Antiochus make them consent to allow him to
hold any state in that province.

For the Romans did in these cases what all wise princes should do, who consider not only present
but also future discords and diligently guard against them; for being foreseen they can easily be
remedied, but if one waits till they are at hand, the medicine is no longer in time as the malady has
become incurable; it happening with this as with those hectic fevers, as doctors say, which at their
beginning are easy to cure but difficult to recognise, but in course of time when they have not at first
been recognised and treated, become easy to recognise and difficult to cure. Thus it happens in
matters of state; for knowing afar off (which it is only given to a prudent man to do) the evils that are
brewing, they are easily cured. But when, for want of such knowledge, they are allowed to grow so
that every one can recognise them, there is no longer any remedy to be found. Therefore, the Romans,
observing disorders while yet remote, were always able to find a remedy, and never allowed them to
increase in order to avoid a war; for they knew that war is not to be avoided, and can be deferred
only to the advantage of the other side; they therefore declared war against Philip and Antiochus in
Greece, so as not to have to fight them in Italy, though they might at the time have avoided either; this
they did not choose to do, never caring to do that which is now every day to be heard in the mouths of

our wise men, namely to enjoy the advantages of delay, but preferring to trust their own virtue and
prudence; for time brings with it all things, and may produce indifferently either good or evil.

The Way to Govern Cities or Dominions That, Previous to Being Occupied, Lived
under Their Own Laws
When those states which have been acquired are accustomed to live at liberty under their own laws,
there are three ways of holding them. The first is to despoil them; the second is to go and live there in
person; the third is to allow them to live under their own laws, taking tribute of them, and creating
within the country a government composed of a few who will keep it friendly to you. Because this
government, being created by the prince, knows that it cannot exist without his friendship and
protection, and will do all it can to keep them. What is more, a city used to liberty can be more easily
held by means of its citizens than in any other way, if you wish to preserve it.

There is the example of the Spartans and the Romans. The Spartans held Athens and Thebes by
creating within them a government of a few; nevertheless they lost them. The Romans, in order to hold
Capua, Carthage, and Numantia, ravaged them, but did not lose them. They wanted to hold Greece in
almost the same way as the Spartans held it, leaving it free and under its own laws, but they did not
succeed; so that they were compelled to lay waste many cities in that province in order to keep it,
because in truth there is no sure method of holding them except by despoiling them. And whoever
becomes the ruler of a free city and does not destroy it, can expect to be destroyed by it, for it can
always find a motive for rebellion in the name of liberty and of its ancient usages, which are forgotten
neither by lapse of time nor by benefits received; and whatever one does or provides, so long as the
inhabitants are not separated or dispersed, they do not forget that name and those usages, but appeal to
them at once in every emergency, as did Pisa after being so many years held in servitude by the
Florentines. But when cities or provinces have been accustomed to live under a prince, and the family
of that prince is extinguished, being on the one hand used to obey, and on the other not having their old
prince, they cannot unite in choosing one from among themselves, and they do not know how to live in
freedom, so that they are slower to take arms, and a prince can win them over with greater facility
and establish himself securely. But in republics there is greater life, greater hatred, and more desire
for vengeance; they do not and cannot cast aside the memory of their ancient liberty, so that the surest
way is either to lay them waste or reside in them.

Of New Dominions Which Have Been Acquired by One’s Own Arms and Ability
Let no one marvel if in speaking of new dominions both as to prince and state, I bring forward very
exalted instances, for men walk almost always in the paths trodden by others, proceeding in their
actions by imitation. Not being always able to follow others exactly, nor attain to the excellence of
those he imitates, a prudent man should always follow in the path trodden by great men and imitate
those who are most excellent, so that if he does not attain to their greatness, at any rate he will get
some tinge of it. He will do as prudent archers, who when the place they wish to hit is too far off,
knowing how far their bow will carry, aim at a spot much higher than the one they wish to hit, not in
order to reach this height with their arrow, but by help of this high aim to hit the spot they wish to.

I say then that in new dominions, where there is a new prince, it is more or less easy to hold them
according to the greater or lesser ability of him who acquires them. And as the fact of a private
individual becoming a prince presupposes either great ability or good fortune, it would appear that
either of these things would in part mitigate many difficulties. Nevertheless those who have been less
beholden to good fortune have maintained themselves best. The matter is also facilitated by the prince
being obliged to reside personally in his territory, having no others. But to come to those who have
become princes through their own merits and not by fortune, I regard as the greatest, Moses, Cyrus,
Romulus, Theseus, and their like. And although one should not speak of Moses, he having merely
carried out what was ordered him by God, still he deserves admiration, if only for that grace which
made him worthy to speak with God. But regarding Cyrus and others who have acquired or founded
kingdoms, they will all be found worthy of admiration; and if their particular actions and methods are
examined they will not appear very different from those of Moses, although he had so great a Master.
And in examining their life and deeds it will be seen that they owed nothing to fortune but the
opportunity which gave them matter to be shaped into what form they thought fit; and without that
opportunity their powers would have been wasted, and without their powers the opportunity would
have come in vain.

It was thus necessary that Moses should find the people of Israel slaves in Egypt and oppressed
by the Egyptians, so that they were disposed to follow him in order to escape from their servitude. It
was necessary that Romulus should be unable to remain in Alba, and should have been exposed at his
birth, in order that he might become King of Rome and founder of that nation. It was necessary that
Cyrus should find the Persians discontented with the empire of the Medes, and the Medes weak and
effeminate through long peace. Theseus could not have shown his abilities if he had not found the
Athenians dispersed. These opportunities, therefore, gave these men their chance, and their own great
qualities enabled them to profit by them, so as to ennoble their country and augment its fortunes.

Those who by the exercise of abilities such as these become princes, obtain their dominions with
difficulty but retain them easily, and the difficulties which they have in acquiring their dominions
arise in part from the new rules and regulations that they have to introduce in order to establish their
position securely. It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more
doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things. For the
reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all
those who would profit by the new order, this lukewarmness arising partly from fear of their
adversaries, who have the laws in their favour; and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who do
not truly believe in anything new until they have had actual experience of it. Thus it arises that on
every opportunity for attacking the reformer, his opponents do so with the zeal of partisans, the others
only defend him half-heartedly, so that between them he runs great danger. It is necessary, however, in
order to investigate thoroughly this question, to examine whether these innovators are independent, or
whether they depend upon others, that is to say, whether in order to carry out their designs they have
to entreat or are able to compel. In the first case they invariably succeed ill, and accomplish nothing;
but when they can depend on their own strength and are able to use force, they rarely fail. Thus it
comes about that all armed prophets have conquered and unarmed ones failed; for besides what has
been already said, the character of peoples varies, and it is easy to persuade them of a thing, but
difficult to keep them in that persuasion. And so it is necessary to order things so that when they no
longer believe, they can be made to believe by force. Moses, Cyrus, Theseus, and Romulus would not

have been able to keep their constitutions observed for so long had they been disarmed, as happened
in our own time with Fra Girolamo Savonarola, who failed entirely in his new rules when the
multitude began to disbelieve in him, and he had no means of holding fast those who had believed nor
of compelling the unbelievers to believe. Therefore such men as these have great difficulty in making
their way, and all their dangers are met on the road and must be overcome by their own abilities; but
when once they have overcome them and have begun to be held in veneration, and have suppressed
those who envied them, they remain powerful and secure, honoured and happy. . . .

Of New Dominions Acquired by the Power of Others or by Fortune
Those who rise from private citizens to be princes merely by fortune have little trouble in rising but
very much in maintaining their position. They meet with no difficulties on the way as they fly over
them, but all their difficulties arise when they are established. Such are they who are granted a state
either for money, or by favour of him who grants it, as happened to many in Greece, in the cities of
Ionia and of the Hellespont, who were created princes by Darius in order to hold these places for his
security and glory; such were also those emperors who from private citizens rose to power by bribing
the army. Such as these depend absolutely on the good will and fortune of those who have raised
them, both of which are extremely inconstant and unstable. They neither know how to, nor are in a
position to maintain their rank, for unless he be a man of great genius it is not likely that one who has
always lived in a private position should know how to command, and they are unable to maintain
themselves because they possess no forces friendly and faithful to them. Moreover, states quickly
founded, like all other things of rapid beginnings and growth, cannot have deep roots and wide
ramifications, so that the first storm destroys them, unless, as already said, the man who thus becomes
a prince is of such great genius as to be able to take immediate steps for maintaining what fortune has
thrown into his lap, and lay afterwards those foundations which others make before becoming
princes.

With regard to these two methods of becoming a prince, by ability or by good fortune, I will here
adduce two examples which have occurred within our memory, those of Francesco Sforza and Cesare
Borgia. Francesco, by appropriate means and through great abilities, from citizen became Duke of
Milan, and what he had attained after a thousand difficulties he maintained with little trouble. On the
other hand, Cesare Borgia, commonly called Duke Valentine, acquired the state by the influence of his
father and lost it when that influence failed, and that although every measure was adopted by him and
everything done that a prudent and capable man could do to establish himself firmly in a state that the
arms and the favours of others had given him. For, as we have said, he who does not lay his
foundations beforehand may by great abilities do so afterwards, although with great trouble to the
architect and danger to the building. If, then, one considers the procedure of the duke, it will be seen
how firm were the foundations he had laid to his future power, which I do not think it superfluous to
examine, as I know of no better precepts for a new prince to follow than may be found in his actions;
and if his measures were not successful, it was through no fault of his own but only by the most
extraordinary malignity of fortune.

In wishing to aggrandise the duke his son, Alexander VI had to meet very great difficulties both
present and future. In the first place, he saw no way of making him ruler of any state that was not a
possession of the Church. He knew that the Duke of Milan and the Venetians would not consent in his

attempt to take papal cities, because Faenza and Rimini were already under the protection of the
Venetians. He saw, moreover, that the military forces of Italy, especially those which might have
served him, were in the hands of those who would fear the greatness of the pope, and therefore he
could not depend upon them, being all under the command of the Orsini and Colonna and their
adherents. It was, therefore, necessary to disturb the existing condition and bring about disorders in
the states of Italy in order to obtain secure mastery over a part of them; this was easy, for he found the
Venetians, who, actuated by other motives, had invited the French into Italy, which he not only did not
oppose, but facilitated by dissolving the first marriage of King Louis. The king came thus into Italy
with the aid of the Venetians and the consent of Alexander, and had hardly arrived at Milan before the
pope obtained troops from him for his enterprise in the Romagna, which was made possible for him
thanks to the reputation of the king. The duke having thus obtained the Romagna and defeated the
Colonna, was hindered by two things in maintaining it and proceeding further: the one, his forces, of
which he doubted the fidelity; the other the will of France; that is to say, he feared lest the arms of the
Orsini of which he had availed himself should fail him, and not only hinder him in obtaining more but
take from him what he had already conquered, and he also feared that the king might do the same. He
had evidence of this as regards the Orsini when, after taking Faenza, he assaulted Bologna and
observed their backwardness in the assault. And as regards the king, he perceived his designs when,
after taking the dukedom of Urbino, he attacked Tuscany, and the king made him desist from that
enterprise. Whereupon the duke decided to depend no longer on the fortunes and arms of others. The
first thing he did was to weaken the parties of the Orsini and Colonna in Rome by gaining all their
adherents who were gentlemen and making them his own followers, by granting them large
remuneration, and appointing them to commands and offices according to their rank, so that their
attachment to their parties was extinguished in a few months, and entirely concentrated on the duke.
After this he awaited an opportunity for crushing the chiefs of the Orsini, having already suppressed
those of the Colonna family, and when the opportunity arrived he made good use of it, for the Orsini
seeing at length that the greatness of the duke and of the Church meant their own ruin, convoked a diet
at Magione in the Perugino. Hence sprang the rebellion of Urbino and the tumults in Romagna and
infinite dangers to the duke, who overcame them all with the help of the French; and having regained
his reputation, neither trusting France nor other foreign forces, in order not to venture on their
alliance, he had recourse to stratagem. He dissembled his aims so well that the Orsini made their
peace with him, being represented by Signer Paulo whose suspicions the duke disarmed with every
courtesy, presenting him with robes, money, and horses, so that in their simplicity they were induced
to come to Sinigaglia and fell into his hands. Having thus suppressed these leaders and made their
partisans his friends, the duke had laid a very good foundation to his power, having all the Romagna
with the duchy of Urbino, and having gained the favour of the inhabitants, who began to feel the
benefit of his rule.

And as this part is worthy of note and of imitation by others, I will not omit mention of it. When he
took the Romagna, it had previously been governed by weak rulers, who had rather despoiled their
subjects than governed them, and given them more cause for disunion than for union, so that the
province was a prey to robbery, assaults, and every kind of disorder. He, therefore, judged it
necessary to give them a good government in order to make them peaceful and obedient to his rule.
For this purpose he appointed Messer Remirro de Orco, a cruel and able man, to whom he gave the
fullest authority. This man, in a short time, was highly successful in rendering the country orderly and

united, whereupon the duke, not deeming such excessive authority expedient, lest it should become
hateful, appointed a civil court of justice in the centre of the province under an excellent president, to
which each city appointed its own advocate. And as he knew that the harshness of the past had
engendered some amount of hatred, in order to purge the minds of the people and to win them over
completely, he resolved to show that if any cruelty had taken place it was not by his orders, but
through the harsh disposition of his minister. And having found the opportunity he had him cut in half
and placed one morning in the public square at Cesena with a piece of wood and blood-stained knife
by his side. The ferocity of this spectacle caused the people both satisfaction and amazement. But to
return to where we left off.

The duke being now powerful and partly secured against present perils, being armed himself, and
having in a great measure put down those neighbouring forces which might injure him, had now to get
the respect of France, if he wished to proceed with his acquisitions, for he knew that the king, who
had lately discovered his error, would not give him any help. He began therefore to seek fresh
alliances and to vacillate with France on the occasion of the expedition that the French were
undertaking towards the kingdom of Naples against the Spaniards, who were besieging Gaeta. His
intention was to assure himself of them, which he would soon have succeeded in doing if Alexander
had lived.

These were the measures taken by him with regard to the present. As to the future, he feared that a
new successor to the states of the Church might not be friendly to him and might seek to deprive him
of what Alexander had given him, and he sought to provide against this in four ways. First, by
destroying all who were of the blood of those ruling families which he had despoiled, in order to
deprive the pope of any opportunity. Secondly, by gaining the friendship of the Roman nobles, so that
he might through them hold as it were the pope in check. Thirdly, by obtaining as great a hold on the
College as he could. Fourthly, by acquiring such power before the pope died as to be able to resist
alone the first onslaught. Of these four things he had at the death of Alexander accomplished three,
and the fourth he had almost accomplished. For of the dispossessed rulers he killed as many as he
could lay hands on, and very few escaped; he had gained to his party the Roman nobles; and he had a
great influence in the College. As to new possessions, he designed to become lord of Tuscany, and
already possessed Perugia and Piombino, and had assumed the protectorate over Pisa; and as he had
no longer to fear the French (for the French had been deprived of the kingdom of Naples by the
Spaniards in such a way that both parties were obliged to buy his friendship) he seized Pisa. After
this, Lucca and Siena at once yielded, partly through hate of the Florentines and partly through fear;
the Florentines had no resources, so that, had he succeeded as he had done before, in the very year
that Alexander died he would have gained such strength and renown as to be able to maintain himself
without depending on the fortunes or strength of others, but solely by his own power and ability. But
Alexander died five years after Cesare Borgia had first drawn his sword. He was left with only the
state of Romagna firmly established, and all the other schemes in mid-air, between two very powerful
and hostile armies, and suffering from a fatal illness. But the valour and ability of the duke were such,
and he knew so well how to win over men or vanquish them, and so strong were the foundations that
he had laid in this short time, that if he had not had those two armies upon him, or else had been in
good health, he would have survived every difficulty. And that his foundations were good is seen
from the fact that the Romagna waited for him more than a month; in Rome, although half dead, he
remained secure, and although the Baglioni, Vitelli, and Orsini entered Rome they found no followers

against him. He was able, if not to make pope whom he wished, at any rate to prevent a pope being
created whom he did not wish. But if at the death of Alexander he had been well, everything would
have been easy. And he told me on the day that Pope Julius II was elected, that he had thought of
everything which might happen on the death of his father, and provided against everything, except that
he had never thought that at his father’s death he would be dying himself.

Reviewing thus all the actions of the duke, I find nothing to blame, on the contrary, I feel bound, as
I have done, to hold him up as an example to be imitated by all who by fortune and with the arms of
others have risen to power. For with his great courage and high ambition he could not have acted
otherwise, and his designs were only frustrated by the short life of Alexander and his own illness.
Whoever, therefore, deems it necessary in his new principality to secure himself against enemies, to
gain friends, to conquer by force or fraud, to make himself beloved and feared by the people,
followed and reverenced by the soldiers, to destroy those who can and may injure him, introduce
innovations into old customs, to be severe and kind, magnanimous and liberal, suppress the old
militia, create a new one, maintain the friendship of kings and princes in such a way that they are glad
to benefit him and fear to injure him, such a one can find no better example than the actions of this
man. The only thing he can be accused of is that in the creation of Julius II he made a bad choice; for,
as has been said, not being able to choose his own pope, he could still prevent any one individual
being made pope, and he ought never to have permitted any of those cardinals to be raised to the
papacy whom he had injured, or who when pope would stand in fear of him. For men commit injuries
either through fear or through hate. Those whom he had injured were, among others, San Pietro ad
Vincula, Colonna, San Giorgio, and Ascanio. All the others, if elected to the pontificate, would have
had to fear him except Rohan and the Spaniards; the latter through their relationship and obligations to
him, the former from his great power, being related to the King of France. For these reasons the duke
ought above all things to have created a Spaniard pope; and if unable, then he should have consented
to Rohan being appointed and not San Pietro ad Vincula. And whoever thinks that in high personages
new benefits cause old offences to be forgotten, makes a great mistake. The duke, therefore, erred in
this choice, and it was the cause of his ultimate ruin.

Of Those Who Have Attained the Position of Prince by Villainy
But as there are still two ways of becoming prince which cannot be attributed entirely either to
fortune or to ability, they must not be passed over, although one of them could be more fully discussed
if we were treating of republics. These are when one becomes prince by some nefarious or villainous
means, or when a private citizen becomes the prince of his country through the favour of his fellow
citizens. And in speaking of the former means, I will give two examples, one ancient, the other
modern, without entering further into the merits of this method, as I judge them to be sufficient for any
one obliged to imitate them.

Agathocles the Sicilian rose not only from private life but from the lowest and most abject
position to be King of Syracuse. The son of a potter, he led a life of the utmost wickedness through all
the stages of his fortune. Nevertheless, his wickedness was accompanied by such vigour of mind and
body that, having joined the militia, he rose through its ranks to be praetor of Syracuse. Having been
appointed to this position, and having decided to become prince, and to hold with violence and
without the support of others that which had been constitutionally granted him; and having imparted

his design to Hamilcar the Carthaginian, who was fighting with his armies in Sicily, he called together
one morning the people and senate of Syracuse, as if he had to deliberate on matters of importance to
the republic, and at a given signal had all the senators and the richest men of the people killed by his
soldiers. After their death he occupied and held rule over the city without any civil strife. And
although he was twice beaten by the Carthaginians and ultimately besieged, he was able not only to
defend the city, but leaving a portion of his forces for its defence, with the remainder he invaded
Africa, and in a short time liberated Syracuse from the siege and brought the Carthaginians to great
extremities, so that they were obliged to come to terms with him, and remain contented with the
possession of Africa, leaving Sicily to Agathocles. Whoever considers, therefore, the actions and
qualities of this man, will see few if any things which can be attributed to fortune; for, as above
stated, it was not by the favour of any person, but through the grades of the militia, in which he had
advanced with a thousand hardships and perils, that he arrived at the position of prince, which he
afterwards maintained by so many courageous and perilous expedients. It cannot be called virtue to
kill one’s fellow-citizens, betray one’s friends, be without faith, without pity, and without religion; by
these methods one may indeed gain power, but not glory. For if the virtues of Agathocles in braving
and overcoming perils, and his greatness of soul in supporting and surmounting obstacles be
considered, one sees no reason for holding him inferior to any of the most renowned captains.
Nevertheless his barbarous cruelty and inhumanity, together with his countless atrocities, do not
permit of his being named among the most famous men. We cannot attribute to fortune or virtue that
which he achieved without either. . . .

Some may wonder how it came about that Agathocles, and others like him, could, after infinite
treachery and cruelty, live secure for many years in their country and defend themselves from external
enemies without being conspired against by their subjects; although many others have, owing to their
cruelty, been unable to maintain their position in times of peace, not to speak of the uncertain times of
war. I believe this arises from the cruelties being exploited well or badly. Well committed may be
called those (if it is permissible to use the word well of evil) which are perpetuated once for the need
of securing one’s self, and which afterwards are not persisted in, but are exchanged for measures as
useful to the subjects as possible. Cruelties ill committed are those which, although at first few,
increase rather than diminish with time. Those who follow the former method may remedy in some
measure their condition, both with God and man; as did Agathocles. As to the others, it is impossible
for them to maintain themselves.

Whence it is to be noted, that in taking a state the conqueror must arrange to commit all his
cruelties at once, so as not to have to recur to them every day, and so as to be able, by not making
fresh changes, to reassure people and win them over by benefiting them. Whoever acts otherwise,
either through timidity or bad counsels, is always obliged to stand with knife in hand, and can never
depend on his subjects, because they, owing to continually fresh injuries, are unable to depend upon
him. For injuries should be done all together, so that being less tasted, they will give less offence.
Benefits should be granted little by little, so that they may be better enjoyed. And above all, a prince
must live with his subjects in such a way that no accident of good or evil fortune can deflect him from
his course; for necessity arising in adverse times, you are not in time with severity, and the good that
you do does not profit, as it is judged to be forced upon you, and you will derive no benefit whatever
from it. . . .

Of the Civic Principality
But we now come to the case where a citizen becomes prince not through crime or intolerable
violence, but by the favour of his fellow-citizens, which may be called a civic principality. To attain
this position depends not entirely on worth or entirely on fortune, but rather on cunning assisted by
fortune. One attains it by help of popular favour or by the favour of the aristocracy. For in every city
these two opposite parties are to be found, arising from the desire of the populace to avoid the
oppression of the great, and the desire of the great to command and oppress the people. And from
these two opposing interests arises in the city one of the three effects: either absolute government,
liberty, or licence. The former is created either by the populace or the nobility, depending on the
relative opportunities of the two parties; for when the nobility see that they are unable to resist the
people they unite in exalting one of their number and creating him prince, so as to be able to carry out
their own designs under the shadow of his authority. The populace, on the other hand, when unable to
resist the nobility, endeavour to exalt and create a prince in order to be protected by his authority. He
who becomes prince by help of the nobility has greater difficulty in maintaining his power than he
who is raised by the populace, for he is surrounded by those who think themselves his equals, and is
thus unable to direct or command as he pleases. But one who is raised to leadership by popular
favour finds himself alone, and has no one, or very few, who are not ready to obey him. Besides
which, it is impossible to satisfy the nobility by fair dealing and without inflicting injury on others,
whereas it is very easy to satisfy the mass of the people in this way. For the aim of the people is more
honest than that of the nobility, the latter desiring to oppress, and the former merely to avoid
oppression. It must also be added that the prince can never insure himself against a hostile populace
on account of their number, but he can against the hostility of the great, as they are but few. The worst
that a prince has to expect from a hostile people is to be abandoned, but from hostile nobles he has to
fear not only desertion but their active opposition, and as they are more far-seeing and more cunning,
they are always in time to save themselves and take sides with the one who they expect will conquer.
The prince is, moreover, obliged to live always with the same people, but he can easily do without
the same nobility, being able to make and unmake them at any time, and improve their position or
deprive them of it as he pleases.

And to throw further light on this part of my argument, I would say, that the nobles are to be
considered in two different manners; that is, they are either to be ruled so as to make them entirely
dependent on your fortunes, or else not. Those that are thus bound to you and are not rapacious, must
be honoured and loved; those who stand aloof must be considered in two ways, they either do this
through pusillanimity and natural want of courage, and in this case you ought to make use of them, and
especially such as are of good counsel, so that they may honour you in prosperity and in adversity you
have not to fear them. But when they are not bound to you of set purpose and for ambitious ends, it is
a sign that they think more of themselves than of you; and from such men the prince must guard himself
and look upon them as secret enemies, who will help to ruin him when in adversity.

One, however, who becomes prince by favour of the populace, must maintain its friendship,
which he will find easy, the people asking nothing but not to be oppressed. But one who against the
people’s wishes becomes prince by favour of the nobles, should above all endeavour to gain the
favour of the people; this will be easy to him if he protects them. And as men, who receive good from
whom they expected evil, feel under a greater obligation to their benefactor, so the populace will

soon become even better disposed towards him than if he had become prince through their favour.
The prince can win their favour in many ways, which vary according to circumstances, for which no
certain rule can be given, and will therefore be passed over. I will only say, in conclusion, that it is
necessary for a prince to possess the friendship of the people; otherwise he has no resource in times
of adversity.

Nabis, prince of the Spartans, sustained a siege by the whole of Greece and a victorious Roman
army, and defended his country against them and maintained his own position. It sufficed when the
danger arose for him to make sure of a few, which would not have sufficed if the populace had been
hostile to him. And let no one oppose my opinion in this by quoting the trite proverb, “He who builds
on the people, builds on mud”; because that is true when a private citizen relies upon the people and
persuades himself that they will liberate him if he is oppressed by enemies or by the magistrates; in
this case he might often find himself deceived, as were in Rome the Gracchi and in Florence Messer
Georgio Scali. But when it is a prince who founds himself on this basis, one who can command and is
a man of courage, and does not get frightened in adversity, and does not neglect other preparations,
and one who by his own valour and measures animates the mass of the people, he will not find
himself deceived by them, and he will find that he has laid his foundations well.

Usually these principalities are in danger when the prince from the position of a civil ruler
changes to an absolute one, for these princes either command themselves or by means of magistrates.
In the latter case their position is weaker and more dangerous, for they are at the mercy of those
citizens who are appointed magistrates, who can, especially in times of adversity, with great facility
deprive them of their position, either by acting against them or by not obeying them. The prince is not
in time, in such dangers, to assume absolute authority, for the citizens and subjects who are
accustomed to take their orders from the magistrates are not ready in these emergencies to obey his,
and he will always in difficult times lack men whom he can rely on. Such a prince cannot base
himself on what he sees in quiet times, when the citizens have need of the state; for then every one is
full of promises and each one is ready to die for him when death is far off; but in adversity, when the
state has need of citizens, then he will find but few. And this experience is the more dangerous, in that
it can only be had once. Therefore a wise prince will seek means by which his subjects will always
and in every possible condition of things have need of his government, and then they will always be
faithful to him.

Of the Things for Which Men, and Especially Princes, Are Praised or Blamed
It now remains to be seen what are the methods and rules for a prince as regards his subjects and
friends. And as I know that many have written of this, I fear that my writing about it may be deemed
presumptuous, differing as I do, especially in this matter, from the opinions of others. But my intention
being to write something of use to those who understand, it appears to me more proper to go to the
real truth of the matter than to its imagination; and many have imagined republics and principalities
which have never been seen or known to exist in reality; for how we live is so far removed from how
we ought to live, that he who abandons what is done for what ought to be done, will rather learn to
bring about his own ruin than his preservation. A man who wishes to make a profession of goodness
in everything must necessarily come to grief among so many who are not good. Therefore it is

necessary for a prince, who wishes to maintain himself, to learn how not to be good, and to use this
knowledge and not use it, according to the necessity of the case.

Leaving on one side, then, those things which concern only an imaginary prince, and speaking of
those that are real, I state that all men, and especially princes, who are placed at a greater height, are
reputed for certain qualities which bring them either praise or blame. Thus one is considered liberal,
another misero or miserly (using a Tuscan term, seeing that avaro with us still means one who is
rapaciously acquisitive and misero one who makes grudging use of his own); one a free giver, another
rapacious; one cruel, another merciful; one a breaker of his word, another trustworthy; one effeminate
and pusillanimous, another fierce and high-spirited; one humane, another haughty; one lascivious,
another chaste; one frank, another astute; one hard, another easy; one serious, another frivolous; one
religious, another an unbeliever, and so on. I know that every one will admit that it would be highly
praiseworthy in a prince to possess all the above-named qualities that are reputed good, but as they
cannot all be possessed or observed, human conditions not permitting of it, it is necessary that he
should be prudent enough to avoid the scandal of those vices which would lose him the state, and
guard himself if possible against those which will not lose it him, but if not able to, he can indulge
them with less scruple. And yet he must not mind incurring the scandal of those vices, without which
it would be difficult to save the state, for if one considers well, it will be found that some things
which seem virtues would, if followed, lead to one’s ruin, and some others which appear vices result
in one’s greater security and wellbeing.

Of Cruelty and Clemency, and Whether It Is Better to Be Loved or Feared
Proceeding to the other qualities before named, I say that every prince must desire to be considered
merciful and not cruel. He must, however, take care not to misuse this mercifulness. Cesare Borgia
was considered cruel, but his cruelty had brought order to the Romagna, united it, and reduced it to
peace and fealty. . . .

A prince, therefore, must not mind incurring the charge of cruelty for the purpose of keeping his
subjects united and faithful; for, with a very few examples, he will be more merciful than those who,
from excess of tenderness, allow disorders to arise, from whence spring bloodshed and rapine; for
these as a rule injure the whole community, while the executions carried out by the prince injure only
individuals. And of all princes, it is impossible for a new prince to escape the reputation of cruelty,
new states being always full of dangers. Wherefore Virgil through the mouth of Dido says: “Hard
necessity and the newness of my realm, compel me to do such things and to protect my borders
everywhere” (The Aeneid).

Nevertheless, he must be cautious in believing and acting, and must not be afraid of his own
shadow, and must proceed in a temperate manner with prudence and humanity, so that too much
confidence does not render him incautious, and too much diffidence does not render him intolerant.

From this arises the question whether it is better to be loved more than feared, or feared more
than loved. The reply is, that one ought to be both feared and loved, but as it is difficult for the two to
go together, it is much safer to be feared than loved, if one of the two has to be wanting. For it may be
said of men in general that they are ungrateful, voluble, dissemblers, anxious to avoid danger, and
covetous of gain; as long as you benefit them, they are entirely yours; they offer you their blood, their
goods, their life, and their children, as I have before said, when the necessity is remote; but when it

approaches, they revolt. And the prince who has relied solely on their words, without making other
preparations, is ruined; for the friendship which is gained by purchase and not through grandeur and
nobility of spirit is bought but not secured, and at a pinch is not to be expended in your service. And
men have less scruple in offending one who makes himself loved than one who makes himself feared;
for love is held by a chain of obligation which, men being selfish, is broken whenever it serves their
purpose; but fear is maintained by a dread of punishment which never fails.

Still, a prince should make himself feared in such a way that if he does not gain love, he at any
rate avoids hatred; for fear and the absence of hatred may well go together, and will be always
attained by one who abstains from interfering with the property of his citizens and subjects or with
their women. And when he is obliged to take the life of any one, let him do so when there is a proper
justification and manifest reason for it; but above all he must abstain from taking the property of
others, for men forget more easily the death of their father than the loss of their patrimony. Then also
pretexts for seizing property are never wanting, and one who begins to live by rapine will always
find some reason for taking the goods of others, whereas causes for taking life are rarer and more
fleeting.

But when the prince is with his army and has a large number of soldiers under his control, then it
is extremely necessary that he should not mind being thought cruel; for without this reputation he
could not keep an army united or disposed to any duty. Among the noteworthy actions of Hannibal is
numbered this, that although he had an enormous army, composed of men of all nations and fighting in
foreign countries, there never arose any dissension either among them or against the prince, either in
good fortune or in bad. This could not be due to anything but his inhuman cruelty, which together with
his infinite other virtues, made him always venerated and terrible in the sight of his soldiers, and
without it his other virtues would not have sufficed to produce that effect. Thoughtless writers admire
on the one hand his actions, and on the other blame the principal cause of them. . . .

I conclude, therefore, with regard to being feared and loved, that men love at their own free will,
but fear at the will of the prince, and that a wise prince must rely on what is in his power and not on
what is in the power of others, and he must only contrive to avoid incurring hatred, as has been
explained.

In What Way Princes Must Keep Faith
How laudable it is for a prince to keep good faith and live with integrity, and not with astuteness,
every one knows. Still the experience of our times shows those princes to have done great things who
have had little regard for good faith, and have been able by astuteness to confuse men’s brains, and
who have ultimately overcome those who have made loyalty their foundation.

You must know, then, that there are two methods of fighting, the one by law, the other by force: the
first method is that of men, the second of beasts; but as the first method is often insufficient, one must
have recourse to the second. It is therefore necessary for a prince to know well how to use both the
beast and the man. This was covertly taught to rulers by ancient writers, who relate how Achilles and
many others of those ancient princes were given to Chiron the centaur to be brought up and educated
under his discipline. The parable of this semi-animal, semi-human teacher is meant to indicate that a
prince must know how to use both natures, and that the one without the other is not durable.

A prince being thus obliged to know well how to act as a beast must imitate the fox and the lion,
for the lion cannot protect himself from traps, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves. One
must therefore be a fox to recognise traps, and a lion to frighten wolves. Those that wish to be only
lions do not understand this. Therefore, a prudent ruler ought not to keep faith when by so doing it
would be against his interest, and when the reasons which made him bind himself no longer exist. If
men were all good, this precept would not be a good one; but as they are bad, and would not observe
their faith with you, so you are not bound to keep faith with them. Nor have legitimate grounds ever
failed a prince who wished to show colourable excuse for the nonfulfillment of his promise. Of this
one could furnish an infinite number of modern examples, and show how many times peace has been
broken, and how many promises rendered worthless, by the faithlessness of princes, and those that
have been best able to imitate the fox have succeeded best. But it is necessary to be able to disguise
this character well, and to be a great feigner and dissembler; and men are so simple and so ready to
obey present necessities, that one who deceives will always find those who allow themselves to be
deceived. . . .

It is not, therefore, necessary for a prince to have all the above-named qualities, but it is very
necessary to seem to have them. I would even be bold to say that to possess them and always to
observe them is dangerous, but to appear to possess them is useful. Thus it is well to seem merciful,
faithful, humane, sincere, religious, and also to be so; but you must have the mind so disposed that
when it is needful to be otherwise you may be able to change to the opposite qualities. And it must be
understood that a prince, and especially a new prince, cannot observe all those things which are
considered good in men, being often obliged, in order to maintain the state, to act against faith, against
charity, against humanity, and against religion. And, therefore, he must have a mind disposed to adapt
itself according to the wind, and as the variations of fortune dictate, and, as I said before, not deviate
from what is good, if possible, but be able to do evil if constrained.

A prince must take great care that nothing goes out of his mouth which is not full of the above-
named five qualities, and, to see and hear him, he should seem to be all mercy, faith, integrity,
humanity, and religion. And nothing is more necessary than to seem to have this last quality, for men in
general judge more by the eyes than by the hands, for every one can see, but very few have to feel.
Everybody sees what you appear to be, few feel what you are, and those few will not dare to oppose
themselves to the many, who have the majesty of the state to defend them; and in the actions of men,
and especially of princes, from which there is no appeal, the end justifies the means. Let a prince
therefore aim at conquering and maintaining the state, and the means will always be judged
honourable and praised by every one, for the vulgar is always taken by appearances and the issue of
the event; and the world consists only of the vulgar, and the few who are not vulgar are isolated when
the many have a rallying point in the prince. A certain prince of the present time, whom it is well not
to name, never does anything but preach peace and good faith, but he is really a great enemy to both,
and either of them, had he observed them, would have lost him state or reputation on many occasions.

That We Must Avoid Being Despised and Hated
But as I have not spoken of the most important of the qualities in question, I will now deal briefly and
generally with the rest. The prince must, as already stated, avoid those things which will make him
hated or despised; and whenever he succeeds in this, he will have done his part, and will find no

danger in other vices. He will chiefly become hated, as I said, by being rapacious, and usurping the
property and women of his subjects, which he must abstain from doing, and whenever one does not
attack the property or honour of the generality of men, they will live contented; and one will only have
to combat the ambition of a few, who can be easily held in check in many ways. He is rendered
despicable by being thought changeable, frivolous, effeminate, timid, and irresolute; which a prince
must guard against as a rock of danger, and so contrive that his actions show grandeur, spirit, gravity,
and fortitude; and as to the government of his subjects, let his sentence be irrevocable, and let him
adhere to his decisions so that no one may think of deceiving or cozening him.

The prince who creates such an opinion of himself gets a great reputation, and it is very difficult
to conspire against one who has a great reputation, and he will not easily be attacked, so long as it is
known that he is capable and reverenced by his subjects. For a prince must have two kinds of fear:
one internal as regards his subjects, one external as regards foreign powers. From the latter he can
defend himself with good arms and good friends, and he will always have good friends if he has good
arms; and internal matters will always remain quiet, if they are not perturbed by conspiracy and there
is no disturbance from without; and even if external powers sought to attack him, if he has ruled and
lived as I have described, he will always if he stands firm, be able to sustain every shock, as I have
shown that Nabis the Spartan did. But with regard to the subjects, if not acted on from outside, it is
still to be feared lest they conspire in secret, from which the prince may guard himself well by
avoiding hatred and contempt, and keeping the people satisfied with him, which it is necessary to
accomplish, as has been related at length. And one of the most potent remedies that a prince has
against conspiracies, is that of not being hated by the mass of the people; for whoever conspires
always believes that he will satisfy the people by the death of their prince; but if he thought to offend
them by doing this, he would fear to engage in such an undertaking, for the difficulties that
conspirators have to meet are infinite. Experience shows that there have been very many
conspiracies, but few have turned out well, for whoever conspires cannot act alone, and cannot find
companions except among those who are discontented; and as soon as you have disclosed your
intention to a malcontent, you give him the means of satisfying himself, for by revealing it he can hope
to secure everything he wants; to such an extent that seeing a certain gain by doing this, and seeing on
the other hand only a doubtful one and full of danger, he must either be a rare friend to you or else a
very bitter enemy to the prince if he keeps faith with you. And to express the matter in a few words, I
say, that on the side of the conspirator there is nothing but fear, jealousy, suspicion, and dread of
punishment which frightens him; and on the side of the prince there is the majesty of government, the
laws, the protection of friends and of the state which guard him. When to these things is added the
goodwill of the people, it is impossible that any one should have the temerity to conspire. For
whereas generally a conspirator has to fear before the execution of his plot, in this case, having the
people for an enemy, he must also fear after his crime is accomplished, and thus he is not able to hope
for any refuge. . . .

I conclude, therefore, that a prince need trouble little about conspiracies when the people are well
disposed, but when they are hostile and hold him in hatred, then he must fear everything and
everybody. Well-ordered states and wise princes have studied diligently not to drive the nobles to
desperation, and to satisfy the populace and keep it contented, for this is one of the most important
matters that a prince has to deal with. . . .

How Much Fortune Can Do in Human Affairs and How It May Be Opposed
It is not unknown to me how many have been and are of opinion that worldly events are so governed
by fortune and by God, that men cannot by their prudence change them, and that on the contrary there
is no remedy whatever, and for this they may judge it to be useless to toil much about them, but let
things be ruled by chance. This opinion has been more held in our day, from the great changes that
have been seen, and are daily seen, beyond every human conjecture. When I think about them, at times
I am partly inclined to share this opinion. Nevertheless, that our free-will may not be altogether
extinguished, I think it may be true that fortune is the ruler of half our actions, but that she allows the
other half or thereabouts to be governed by us. I would compare her to an impetuous river that, when
turbulent, inundates the plains, casts down trees and buildings, removes earth from this side and
places it on the other; every one flees before it, and everything yields to its fury without being able to
oppose it; and yet though it is of such a kind, still when it is quiet, men can make provision against it
by dykes and banks, so that when it rises it will either go into a canal or its rush will not be so wild
and dangerous. So it is with fortune, which shows her power where no measures have been taken to
resist her, and directs her fury where she knows that no dykes or barriers have been made to hold her.

I conclude then that fortune varying and men remaining fixed in their ways, they are successful so
long as these ways conform to circumstances, but when they are opposed then they are unsuccessful. I
certainly think that it is better to be impetuous than cautious, for fortune is a woman, and it is
necessary, if you wish to master her, to conquer her by force; and it can be seen that she lets herself be
overcome by the bold rather than by those who proceed coldly. And therefore, like a woman, she is
always a friend to the young, because they are less cautious, fiercer, and master her with greater
audacity.

Exhortation to Liberate Italy from the Barbarians
Having now considered all the things we have spoken of, and thought within myself whether at
present the time was not propitious in Italy for a new prince, and if there was not a state of things
which offered an opportunity to a prudent and capable man to introduce a new system that would do
honour to himself and good to the mass of the people, it seems to me that so many things concur to
favour a new ruler that I do not know of any time more fitting for such an enterprise. And if, as I said,
it was necessary in order that the power of Moses should be displayed that the people of Israel
should be slaves in Egypt, and to give scope for the greatness and courage of Cyrus that the Persians
should be oppressed by the Medes, and to illustrate the pre-eminence of Theseus that the Athenians
should be dispersed, so at the present time, in order that the might of an Italian genius might be
recognised, it was necessary that Italy should be reduced to her present condition, and that she should
be more enslaved than the Hebrews, more oppressed than the Persians, and more scattered than the
Athenians; without a head, without order, beaten, despoiled, lacerated, and overrun, and that she
should have suffered ruin of every kind. . . .

This opportunity must not, therefore, be allowed to pass, so that Italy may at length find her
liberator. I cannot express the love with which he would be received in all those provinces which
have suffered under these foreign invasions, with what thirst for vengeance, with what steadfast faith,
with what love, with what grateful tears. What doors would be closed against him? What people

would refuse him obedience? What envy could oppose him? What Italian would withhold allegiance?
This barbarous domination stinks in the nostrils of every one. May your illustrious house therefore
assume this task with that courage and those hopes which are inspired by a just cause, so that under its
banner our fatherland may be raised up, and under its auspices be verified that saying of Petrarch:

Valour against fell wrath
Will take up arms; and be the combat quickly sped!
For, sure, the ancient worth,
That in Italians stirs the heart, is not yet dead.

Discourses on Livy

Of the Different Kinds of Republics, and of What Kind the Roman Republic Was
I will leave aside what might be said of cities which from their very birth have been subject to a
foreign power, and will speak only of those whose origin has been independent, and which from the
first governed themselves by their own laws, whether as republics or as principalities, and whose
constitution and laws have differed as their origin. Some have had at the very beginning, or soon after,
a legislator, who, like Lycurgus with the Lacedaemonians, gave them by a single act all the laws they
needed. Others have owed theirs to chance and to events, and have received their laws at different
times, as Rome did. It is a great good fortune for a republic to have a legislator sufficiently wise to
give her laws so regulated that, without the necessity of correcting them, they afford security to those
who live under them. Sparta observed her laws for more than eight hundred years without altering
them and without experiencing a single dangerous disturbance. Unhappy, on the contrary, is that
republic which, not having at the beginning fallen into the hands of a sagacious and skilful legislator,
is herself obliged to reform her laws. More unhappy still is that republic which from the first has
diverged from a good constitution. And that republic is furthest from it whose vicious institutions
impeded her progress, and make her leave the right path that leads to a good end; for those who are in
that condition can hardly ever be brought into the right road. Those republics, on the other hand, that
started without having even a perfect constitution, but made a fair beginning, and are capable of
improvement—such republics, I say, may perfect themselves by the aid of events. It is very true,
however, that such reforms are never effected without danger, for the majority of men never willingly
adopt any new law tending to change the constitution of the state, unless the necessity of the change is
clearly demonstrated; and as such a necessity cannot make itself felt without being accompanied with
danger, the republic may easily be destroyed before having perfected its constitution. That of
Florence is a complete proof of this: reorganized after the revolt of Arezzo, in 1502, it was
overthrown after the taking of Prato, in 1512.

Having proposed to myself to treat of the kind of government established at Rome, and of the
events that led to its perfection, I must at the beginning observe that some of the writers on politics
distinguished three kinds of government, viz. the monarchical, the aristocratic, and the democratic;
and maintain that the legislators of a people must choose from these three the one that seems to them
most suitable. Other authors, wiser according to the opinion of many, count six kinds of governments,
three of which are very bad, and three good in themselves, but so liable to be corrupted that they
become absolutely bad. The three good ones are those which we have just named; the three bad ones
result from the degradation of the other three, and each of them resembles its corresponding original,
so that the transition from the one to the other is very easy. Thus monarchy becomes tyranny;
aristocracy degenerates into oligarchy; and the popular government lapses readily into licentiousness.
So that a legislator who gives to a state which he founds, either of these three forms of government,
constitutes it but for a brief time; for no precautions can prevent either one of the three that are
reputed good, from degenerating into its opposite kind; so great are in these the attractions and
resemblances between the good and the evil.

Chance has given birth to these different kinds of governments amongst men; for at the beginning
of the world the inhabitants were few in number, and lived for a time dispersed, like beasts. As the

human race increased, the necessity for uniting themselves for defence made itself felt; the better to
attain this object, they chose the strongest and most courageous from amongst themselves and placed
him at their head, promising to obey him. Thence they began to know the good and the honest, and to
distinguish them from the bad and vicious; for seeing a man injure his benefactor aroused at once two
sentiments in every heart, hatred against the ingrate and love for the benefactor. They blamed the first,
and on the contrary honored those the more who showed themselves grateful, for each felt that he in
turn might be subject to a like wrong; and to prevent similar evils, they set to work to make laws, and
to institute punishments for those who contravened them. Such was the origin of justice. This caused
them, when they had afterwards to choose a prince, neither to look to the strongest nor bravest, but to
the wisest and most just. But when they began to make sovereignty hereditary and non-elective, the
children quickly degenerated from their fathers; and, so far from trying to equal their virtues, they
considered that a prince had nothing else to do than to excel all the rest in luxury, indulgence, and
every other variety of pleasure. The prince consequently soon drew upon himself the general hatred.
An object of hatred, he naturally felt fear; fear in turn dictated to him precautions and wrongs, and
thus tyranny quickly developed itself. Such were the beginning and causes of disorders, conspiracies,
and plots against the sovereigns, set on foot, not by the feeble and timid, but by those citizens who,
surpassing the others in grandeur of soul, in wealth, and in courage, could not submit to the outrages
and excesses of their princes.

Under such powerful leaders the masses armed themselves against the tyrant, and, after having rid
themselves of him, submitted to these chiefs as their liberators. These, abhorring the very name of
prince, constituted themselves a new government; and at first, bearing in mind the past tyranny, they
governed in strict accordance with the laws which they had established themselves; preferring public
interests to their own, and to administer and protect with greatest care both public and private affairs.
The children succeeded their fathers, and ignorant of the changes of fortune, having never experienced
its reverses, and indisposed to remain content with this civil equality, they in turn gave themselves up
to cupidity, ambition, libertinage, and violence, and soon caused the aristocratic government to
degenerate into an oligarchic tyranny, regardless of all civil rights. They soon, however, experienced
the same fate as the first tyrant; the people, disgusted with their government, placed themselves at the
command of whoever was willing to attack them, and this disposition soon produced an avenger, who
was sufficiently well seconded to destroy them. The memory of the prince and the wrongs committed
by him being still fresh in their minds, and having overthrown the oligarchy, the people were not
willing to return to the government of a prince. A popular government was therefore resolved upon,
and it was so organized that the authority should not again fall into the hands of a prince or a small
number of nobles. And as all governments are at first looked up to with some degree of reverence, the
popular state also maintained itself for a time, but which was never of long duration, and lasted
generally only about as long as the generation that had established it; for it soon ran into that kind of
license which inflicts injury upon public as well as private interests. Each individual only consulted
his own passions, and a thousand acts of injustice were daily committed, so that, constrained by
necessity, or directed by the counsels of some good man, or for the purpose of escaping from this
anarchy, they returned anew to the government of a prince, and from this they generally lapsed again
into anarchy, step by step, in the same manner and from the same causes as we have indicated.

Such is the circle which all republics are destined to run through. Seldom, however, do they come
back to the original form of government, which results from the fact that their duration is not

sufficiently long to be able to undergo these repeated changes and preserve their existence. But it may
well happen that a republic lacking strength and good counsel in its difficulties becomes subject after
a while to some neighboring state, that is better organized than itself; and if such is not the case, then
they will be apt to revolve indefinitely in the circle of revolutions. I say, then, that all kinds of
government are defective; those three which we have qualified as good because they are too short-
lived, and the three bad ones because of their inherent viciousness. Thus sagacious legislators,
knowing the vices of each of these systems of government by themselves, have chosen one that should
partake all of them, judging that to be the most stable and solid. In fact, when there is combined under
the same constitution a prince, a nobility, and the power of the people, then these three powers will
watch and keep each other reciprocally in check.

Amongst those justly celebrated for having established such a constitution, Lycurgus beyond doubt
merits the highest praise. He organized the government of Sparta in such manner that, in giving to the
king, the nobles, and the people each their portion of authority and duties, he created a government
which maintained itself for over eight hundred years in the most perfect tranquillity, and reflected
infinite glory upon this legislator. On the other hand, the constitution given by Solon to the Athenians,
by which he established only a popular government, was of such short duration that before his death
he saw the tyranny of Pisistratus arise. And although forty years afterwards the heirs of the tyrant
were expelled, so that Athens recovered her liberties and restored the popular government according
to the laws of Solon, yet it did not last over a hundred years; although a number of laws that had been
overlooked by Solon were adopted, to maintain the government against the insolence of the nobles
and the license of the populace. The fault he had committed in not tempering the power of the people
and that of the prince and his nobles, made the duration of the government of Athens very short, as
compared with that of Sparta.

But let us come to Rome. Although she had no legislator like Lycurgus, who constituted her
government, at her very origin, in a manner to secure her liberty for a length of time, yet the disunion
which existed between the Senate and the people produced such extraordinary events, that chance did
for her what the laws had failed to do. Thus, if Rome did not attain the first degree of happiness, she
at least had the second. Her first institutions were doubtless defective, but they were not in conflict
with the principles that might bring her to perfection. For Romulus and all the other kings gave her
many and good laws, well suited even to a free people; but as the object of these princes was to found
a monarchy, and not a republic, Rome, upon becoming free, found herself lacking all those institutions
that are most essential to liberty, and which her kings had not established. And although these kings
lost their empire, for the reasons and in the manner which we have explained, yet those who expelled
them appointed immediately two consuls in place of the king; and thus it was found that they had
banished the title of king from Rome, but not the regal power. The government, composed of Consuls
and a Senate, had but two of the three elements of which we have spoken, the monarchical and the
aristocratic; the popular power was wanting. In the course of time, however, the insolence of the
nobles, produced by the causes which we shall see further on, induced the people to rise against the
others. The nobility, to save a portion of their power, were forced to yield a share of it to the people;
but the Senate and the Consuls retained sufficient to maintain their rank in the state. It was then that the
Tribunes of the people were created, which strengthened and confirmed the republic, being now
composed of the three elements of which we have spoken above. Fortune favored her, so that,
although the authority passed successively from the kings and nobles to the people, by the same

degrees and for the same reasons that we have spoken of, yet the royal authority was never entirely
abolished to bestow it upon the nobles; and these were never entirely deprived of their authority to
give it to the people; but a combination was formed of the three powers, which rendered the
constitution perfect, and this perfection was attained by the disunion of the Senate and the people. . . .

In Proportion as the Founders of a Republic or Monarchy Are Entitled to Praise, so
Do the Founders of a Tyranny Deserve Execration
Of all men who have been eulogized, those deserve it most who have been the authors and founders of
religions; next come such as have established republics or kingdoms. After these the most celebrated
are those who have commanded armies, and have extended the possessions of their kingdom or
country. To these may be added literary men, but, as these are of different kinds, they are celebrated
according to their respective degrees of excellence. All others—and their number is infinite—receive
such share of praise as pertains to the exercise of their arts and professions. On the contrary, those are
doomed to infamy and universal execration who have destroyed religions, who have overturned
republics and kingdoms, who are enemies of virtue, of letters, and of every art that is useful and
honorable to mankind. Such are the impious and violent, the ignorant, the idle, the vile and degraded.
And there are none so foolish or so wise, so wicked or so good, that, in choosing between these two
qualities, they do not praise what is praiseworthy and blame that which deserves blame. And yet
nearly all men, deceived by a false good and a false glory, allow themselves voluntarily or ignorantly
to be drawn towards those who deserve more blame than praise. Such as by the establishment of a
republic or kingdom could earn eternal glory for themselves incline to tyranny, without perceiving
how much glory, how much honor, security, satisfaction, and tranquillity of mind, they forfeit; and
what infamy, disgrace, blame, danger, and disquietude they incur. And it is impossible that those who
have lived as private citizens in a republic, or those who by fortune or courage have risen to be
princes of the same, if they were to read history and take the records of antiquity for example, should
not prefer Scipio to Caesar; and that those who were (originally) princes should not rather choose to
be like Agesilaus, Timoleon, and Dion, than Nabis, Phalaris, and Dionysius; for they would then see
how thoroughly the latter were despised, and how highly the former were appreciated. They would
furthermore see that Timoleon and the others had no less authority in their country than Dionysius and
Phalaris, but that they enjoyed far more security, and for a much greater length of time. Nor let any one
be deceived by the glory of that Caesar who has been so much celebrated by writers; for those who
praised him were corrupted by his fortune, and frightened by the long duration of the empire that was
maintained under his name, and which did not permit writers to speak of him with freedom. And if
anyone wishes to know what would have been said of him if writers had been free to speak their
minds, let them read what Catiline said of him. Caesar is as much more to be condemned, as he who
commits an evil deed is more guilty than he who merely has the evil intention. He will also see how
highly Brutus was eulogized; for, not being allowed to blame Caesar on account of his power, they
extolled his enemy. Let him also note how much more praise those Emperors merited who, after
Rome became an empire, conformed to the laws like good princes, than those who took the opposite
course; and he will see that Titus, Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus, and Marcus Aurelius did not
require the Praetorians nor the multitudinous legions to defend them, because they were protected by
their own good conduct, the good will of the people, and by the love of the Senate. He will

furthermore see that neither the Eastern nor the Western armies sufficed to save Caligula, Nero,
Vitellius, and so many other wicked Emperors, from the enemies which their bad conduct and evil
lives had raised up against them.

And if the history of these men were carefully studied, it would prove an ample guide to any
prince, and serve to show him the way to glory or to infamy, to security or to perpetual apprehension.
For of the twenty-six Emperors that reigned from the time of Caesar to that of Maximinius, sixteen
were assassinated, and ten only died a natural death; and if, amongst those who were killed, there
were one or two good ones, like Galba and Pertinax, their death was the consequence of the
corruption which their predecessors had engendered amongst the soldiers. And if amongst those who
died a natural death there were some wicked ones, like Severus, it was due to their extraordinary
good fortune and courage, which two qualities rarely fall to the lot of such men. He will furthermore
learn from the lessons of that history how an empire should be organized properly; for all the
Emperors that succeeded to the throne by inheritance, except Titus, were bad, and those who became
Emperors by adoption were all good, such as the five from Nero to Marcus Aurelius; and when the
Empire became hereditary, it came to ruin. Let any prince now place himself in the times from Nerva
to Marcus Aurelius, and let him compare them with those that preceded and followed that period, and
let him choose in which of the two he would like to have been born, and in which he would like to
have reigned. In the period under the good Emperors he will see the prince secure amidst his people,
who are also living in security; he will see peace and justice prevail in the world, the authority of the
Senate respected, the magistrates honored, the wealthy citizens enjoying their riches, nobility and
virtue exalted, and everywhere will he see tranquillity and well-being. And on the other hand he will
behold all animosity, license, corruption, and all noble ambition extinct. During the period of the
good Emperors he will see that golden age when every one could hold and defend whatever opinion
he pleased; in fine, he will see the triumph of the world, the prince surrounded with reverence and
glory, and beloved by his people, who are happy in their security. If now he will but glance at the
times under the other Emperors, he will behold the atrocities of war, discords and sedition, cruelty in
peace as in war, many princes massacred, many civil and foreign wars, Italy afflicted and
overwhelmed by fresh misfortunes, and her cities ravaged and ruined; he will see Rome in ashes, the
Capitol pulled down by her own citizens, the ancient temples desolate, all religious ties and
ceremonies corrupted, and the city full of adultery; he will behold the sea covered with ships full of
flying exiles, and the shores stained with blood. He will see innumerable cruelties in Rome, and
nobility, riches, and honor, and above all virtue, accounted capital crimes. He will see informers
rewarded, servants corrupted against their masters, the freedmen arrayed against their patrons, and
those who were without enemies betrayed and oppressed by their friends. And then will he recognize
what infinite obligations Rome, Italy, and the whole world owed to Caesar. And surely, if he be a
man, he will be shocked at the thought of re-enacting those evil times, and be fired with an intense
desire to follow the example of the good. And truly, if a prince be anxious for glory and the good
opinion of the world, he should rather wish to possess a corrupt city, not to ruin it wholly like Caesar,
but to reorganize it like Romulus. For certainly the heavens cannot afford a man a greater opportunity
of glory, nor could men desire a better one. And if for the proper organization of a city it should be
necessary to abolish the principality, he who had failed to give her good laws for the sake of
preserving his rank may be entitled to some excuse; but there would be none for him who had been
able to organize the city properly and yet preserve the sovereignty. And, in fine, let him to whom

Heaven has vouchsafed such an opportunity reflect that there are two ways open to him; one that will
enable him to live securely and insure him glory after death, and the other that will make his life one
of constant anxiety, and after death consign him to eternal infamy.

University of Toronto Press

Chapter Title: Machiavelli’s Art of Politics: A Critique of Humanism and the Lessons of
Rome
Chapter Author(s): JARRETT A. CARTY

Book Title: On Civic Republicanism
Book Subtitle: Ancient Lessons for Global Politics
Book Editor(s): GEOFFREY C. KELLOW, NEVEN LEDDY
Published by: University of Toronto Press. (2016)
Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/j.ctt1kk65xt.10

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PART TWO

The Enlightenment: An Accelerated
Reception?

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6 Machiavelli’s Art of Politics: A Critique
of Humanism and the Lessons of Rome

jarrett a. carty

this book On Civic Republicanism broadly contemplates both ancient and
modern versions and traditions of civic republican political thought;
thus, it is fitting to include in these considerations Niccolò Machiavelli,
whose singular contributions to this tradition became (and continue to
be) immensely influential and hotly controversial. Machiavelli’s place
in the history of civic republican political thought is at the nexus of
ancient and modern political ideas, yet this fact makes him notoriously
difficult to interpret. All at once he claimed to be doing something
wholly new by reviving the old republican teachings, yet also to be
doing something old by dismissing the new Renaissance republican-
ism in favour of Rome’s hitherto misunderstood example. therefore,
it behoves this volume’s study of civic republicanism to consider what
for Machiavelli made Rome’s civic republic become one of the most
storied and glorious regimes of all antiquity.

At the core of Machiavelli’s teaching is an art of politics – an art of
political efficacy acquired through the study of political histories. But
for Machiavelli its adoption necessitated a thorough critique of the
“humanism” of his day, and a re-evaluation of what the ancients, espe-
cially the ancient Romans, taught by their tumultuous histories. Machi-
avelli’s art of politics in The Prince and the Discourses on Livy presented
a forceful critique of Renaissance humanism while pointing towards a
robust civic republicanism based on an ambivalent reading of repub-
lican Rome. for Machiavelli, many of Rome’s political successes were
to be emulated and its failures avoided, but equally important, these
actions were to be truly understood and practised in a coherent art
used for the maintaining of regimes. Against the ancient claims of Livy
and Polybius, Machiavelli claimed that Rome’s political art maintained

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120 Jarrett A. Carty

the conflict between its two “humours” in the plebs and the nobles.
Moreover, Machiavelli’s Discourses argued that only a practice of this
art would bring stability to his city and homeland, which had been
hitherto plagued by humanism’s errors in interpreting the causes of
Rome’s greatness.

Machiavelli’s Critique of Humanism

the chaos of Italian Renaissance politics had invited experiments in
political thought and practice. despotisms – sometimes beneficent ones –
ruled much of Italy, though several cities, like Machiavelli’s florence,
had elements of a republican regime dating back to the city’s founding.
However, Italian political thought had a great asset: the variation in
Italian regimes and politics afforded political thinkers a comparative
vantage point that was unparalleled in the rest of Europe. A serious
political mind had before it a myriad of Italian regimes constantly com-
peting, conflicting, and cooperating among one another.

In his florence, Machiavelli witnessed the rise and downfall of several
regimes, including one which made him a respected civil servant, and
another which imprisoned and tortured him. this florentine regime
change brought great instability. tensions between different classes or
rival families could resurface and explode; foreign allegiances and vital
treaties could be upset or abandoned. Moreover, the regime change was
often accompanied by revolutions in political thought. the political tradi-
tions and ideals of a city could be revived or challenged; ideas that once
supported a polity could be quickly overturned. Under these internal fis-
sures and external pressures, Italian regimes could rise and quickly fall.

to Machiavelli, the lack of a want of an art of politics was abun-
dantly clear: the failure of so many Italian regimes and the failure to
secure stability and prosperity in a land so promising, demonstrated
the dire need to revive it. But for Machiavelli, “humanism” – the mod-
ern name for the Renaissance movement consisting of high scholarship
and educational programs built on ancient texts of moral and ethical
philosophy, history, and rhetoric1 – had failed to teach an effectual art
of maintaining the state.

to be sure, Machiavelli’s relationship to Renaissance humanism
was deeply ambivalent; whereas he would offer a biting critique of
humanism, its influence upon him was striking, and as Renaissance
scholarship has abundantly shown, he was greatly indebted to many of
its achievements. for instance, scholars Hans Baron, John G.A. Pocock,

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Machiavelli’s Art of Politics 121

or Quentin Skinner famously argued that he was part of a large “civic
humanist” movement in Italian political thought, reviving classical
ideas on civic republicanism – in the case of Pocock, Aristotelian ideas –
and modifying them for their application to Italian politics.2 Moreover,
Machiavelli in many ways displayed the art and skill of a Renaissance
humanist. Artful letter writing was a distinct mark of Renaissance
humanism,3 and Machiavelli was a talented letter writer.4 thus, broadly
speaking Machiavelli shared with humanists the accomplishment of a
man of letters: he composed histories, letters, commentaries, short sto-
ries, plays, poems, and of course political treatises.5

However, Machiavelli offered an unmistakable critique of humanism
in The Prince and The Discourses. therein, this critique was exemplified
in his treatment of humanism’s most revered thinkers: Petrarch and
Cicero. francesco Petrarcha, or Petrarch (1304–74), turned to ancient
Roman authorities to bring the “dark ages” to an end through the
revival of ancient virtue, rhetoric, art, and morality. Petrarch himself
had looked especially to the Roman statesman and writer Marcus tul-
lius Cicero (106–43 BCE) to spearhead the rebirth of a cultured age: for
Petrarch, Cicero was, among other things, a model teacher of ancient
ethics and rhetoric. for humanism, Petrarch and Cicero were venerable
father figures looked to for the rebirth of high civilization.6

yet there are sparse references to Petrarch and Cicero found in the
writings of Machiavelli, despite his familiarity with these heroes of the
age.7 But when he did use them, Machiavelli’s forceful political critique
was apparent. Consider the passage from Petrarch’s Italia mia8 found at
the end of Machiavelli’s famous concluding chapter of The Prince.

Virtue will take up arms against fury,
and make the battle short,
because the ancient valour in Italian hearts
is not yet dead.9

Petrarch’s call to virtue to combat fury was also a call to ancient virtues –
peacemaking, moderation, the quiet life, and magnanimity – to com-
bat the vices of the despotic signori, whose wars against one another
invited foreign invasions.10 yet Machiavelli’s exhortation and call to
arms, in this very same chapter, was far from extolling Petrarch’s kind
of ancient virtue; on the contrary, the priority of magnanimity, modera-
tion, and the quiet life for Machiavelli only exacerbated the need for an
art of politics.

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122 Jarrett A. Carty

Consider also Machiavelli’s obvious allusion to Cicero in one of his
most famous passages of The Prince. In his ancient classic On Duties,
Cicero had argued that “force and fraud” were bestial, suited to the lion
and fox but not human beings, and that “fraud is the more contempt-
ible.”11 But here in chapter 18 of The Prince, Machiavelli stood Cicero on
his head: “Since a prince is compelled of necessity to know well how to
use the beast, he should pick the fox and the lion,” and of the two the
beasts “the one who has known best how to use the fox has come out
best.”12 this lesson in The Prince was an inverted lesson from On Duties:
Cicero’s vice was Machiavelli’s virtue.

Machiavelli’s opposition to Petrarch and Cicero was not simply a
small ethical dispute: it revealed his criticism of humanism and his
assessment of the political crisis of the sixteenth century. Humanism
did not offer a comprehensive political theory,13 yet it insisted that high
culture would make for better politics. Humanism held that a classical
education of rhetoric, history and moral philosophy would make good
princes. But Machiavelli’s attempt at princely education – The Prince –
rejected the political efficacy of this education. to be sure, Machiavelli’s
writings contained humanist rhetoric, history (both ancient and mod-
ern) and moral philosophy, but they subverted the humanist project by
questioning its success and its assumptions on political virtue. By using
humanism’s own trademarks of rhetoric, ancient history, and moral
philosophy against it, Machiavelli offered a powerful critique: human-
ism failed to produce good princes, failed to cultivate an art of politics,
and thus failed to address the political crisis of the age.

Humanists were inspired by Rome’s fine arts but neglected its political
lessons. for Machiavelli, humanism exacerbated the political crisis of
the age by elevating artistic and literary accomplishments of the ancient
world to the detriment of political thought and practice. through edu-
cation in ancient fine arts and literature, and through a recreation of
their own literature and philosophy, the humanists sought to revive
ancient virtues (such as liberality) in political life. Under such an influ-
ence, Machiavelli argued, political thought became less and less about
what politics was, and more about what, in view of the humanist’s
overarching concerns, politics ought to be.

Machiavelli’s Ambivalent Rome

what then to Machiavelli was political “reality”? He looked to experi-
ence: according to the lessons of Rome, political reality was a world in

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Machiavelli’s Art of Politics 123

which classical virtues were often neither useful nor expedient for the
maintenance of state. In accordance with this reality, Machiavelli’s art of
politics was the art of maintaining regimes, an art devoid of overarch-
ing conceptions of the good or best regime or the kingdom of heaven,
and wholly based upon what, to his thinking, politics basically was.

the essence of Machiavelli’s political science was summed up in
the fifteenth chapter of The Prince; “imagined republics” were rejected
in favour of the “effectual truth.” At stake in the juxtaposition, for
example – though unmentioned throughout Machiavelli’s works –
were the merits of Plato’s political philosophy, and the greatest of
“imagined republics,” the Republic.14 His objection was not simply that
Socrates’s “city in speech” was impractical; such a criticism would have
put Machiavelli in company with Plato’s most prominent students,
Aristotle and Cicero.15 Rather, Machiavelli’s primary objection was that
the “city in speech” and all other “imagined republics” were creations
contrived from visions of what politics ought to be, to the detriment of
effective government.

Machiavelli’s “effectual truth” was opposed to the imagined repub-
lics because it jettisoned the metaphysics that girded them. It was not
that Machiavelli rejected Plato’s metaphysics in particular and argued
for his own; rather, he rejected the notion that metaphysical considera-
tions had any meaningful bearing on his art of politics. In a negative
sense they did: insofar as metaphysics inspired imagined republics and
obscured political realities, it impeded the art of maintaining the state.

In rejecting the imagined republics, Machiavelli appealed to the
lessons from the same Roman world to which humanism too had
appealed, but with his own new way of understanding its political
teachings. His Discourses was infused with this ambivalence of looking
back to Rome but with a new perspective. As the full title of the work
suggested, it took much of its substance from the first ten books of titus
Livy’s History of Rome. yet in the very first paragraph of the preface to
the first book, Machiavelli likened his book to “a path as yet untrodden
by anyone,” a finding of “new modes and orders,” and a labour no less
dangerous than seeking “unknown waters and lands.”16

An ambivalence about the ancients characterized Machiavelli’s art of
politics: at once he made it appear in part a revival and in part an inno-
vation. this ambivalence mimicked Italian Renaissance architecture,
in which there was something new, yet also “no break with tradition,
no resurrection of principles which had been entirely abandoned.”17
Likewise, Machiavelli certainly claimed to be doing something new,

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124 Jarrett A. Carty

yet there was also a claim that his political project had a seamless con-
nection to ancient political practice. His art of politics was accessible to
both those who considered the history of florence, and the causes of
hatreds and divisions within the city, and to those who studied ancient
Rome and read its histories carefully. At once Machiavelli claimed to
be sailing in uncharted waters, yet to be arguing for the imitation of
the ancients against those in his day who thought such imitation
impossible, “as if heaven, sun, elements, men had varied in motion,
order, and power from what they were in antiquity.”18 the ambiva-
lence was purposeful: Machiavelli praised the ancients in order that
he might improve on them. By presenting his project as a revival of
ancient political practice, Machiavelli appealed to his age’s fascination
with antiquity, thus making his teaching more palatable and seemingly
less radical. But in so doing, he rejected Livy and Polybius’s arguments
for the greatness of Rome.

Against Livy and Polybius’s Rome

for titus Livy, tumults and internal divisions in Rome between the
nobles and the plebeians were a threat to its very survival. But for
Machiavelli, this same conflict between the nobles and plebs favoured
Rome’s common good. Early in the Discourses, Machiavelli wrote, “I
do not wish to fail to discourse of the tumults in Rome from the death
of the tarquins to the creation of the tribunes.”19 In contrast to Livy, for
whom this period was a reign of confusion, Machiavelli argued that the
tumults between the nobles and plebs were the “first cause of keeping
Rome free.”20 Machiavelli’s argument was unmistakably novel; he was
alone in endorsing internal partisan conflict – often identified in his
works as the “two humours” – as useful and good.21

In some of the more particular departures from Livy’s History of
Rome, Machiavelli also showed himself far from being a mere reviver
of ancient teaching. A poignant example was his take on how Romu-
lus had secured sole power in the founding of Rome. In his account of
Romulus’s murder of his brother Remus, Livy attributed it to the “same
source which had divided their grandfather and Amulius: jealousy
and ambition.”22 yet Machiavelli explicitly disagreed: what Romulus
“did was for the common good and not for his own ambition.”23 His
disagreement with Livy came from consideration of the maxim from
the same chapter, “that it never or rarely happens that any republic or
kingdom is ordered well from the beginning or reformed altogether

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Machiavelli’s Art of Politics 125

anew outside its old orders unless it is ordered by one individual.”24
Machiavelli looked at Livy’s history through his new art of politics.
Livy was a source and basis for the political histories of Rome, but this
fact did not preclude Machiavelli from using much of Livy’s substance
and improving and remoulding it where the Roman historian failed to
discern the effective teaching on maintaining regimes.

At the beginning of the sixth book of his Histories, Polybius endeav-
oured to explain how “in less than fifty-three years nearly the whole
world was overcome and fell under the single dominion of Rome.”25
for Polybius, Rome’s greatness was due to its ability to cultivate and
preserve the virtues. this judgment of a regime’s character, Polybius
wrote, was no different from the judgment of character in a man: “the
sole test of a perfect man is the power of bearing high-mindedly and
bravely the most complete reverses of fortune, so it should be in our
judgment of states.”26 the chief cause for Rome’s success was its consti-
tution; yet Polybius conceded that it was a complex constitution, evad-
ing classification in the three typologies of monarchy, aristocracy, and
democracy. Polybius understood that the typologies were not exclu-
sive, and that, furthermore, they were not very stable: as his regime
cycles had shown, each type of regime had a vicious counterpart into
which it would inevitably degenerate.

Polybius argued that the best regime was a mixed one: a state that
combined the best virtues of the three types. thus, the Roman constitu-
tion combined the good character of kingship in the office of the con-
suls, aristocracy in the senate, and democracy in the powers given to
the plebs.27 therefore, Rome remained stable in the face of the natural
decay of political constitutions and in the face of turmoil, its example
was a “remedy for the evil which [each regime] suffered.”28

But against Polybius, Machiavelli argued that Rome’s greatness was
not due to its cultivation of virtue. Instead of looking to the mixed
regime, his first treatment of Rome in the Discourses turned to its found-
ing. “those who read what the beginning was of the city of Rome and
by what legislators and how it was ordered,” Machiavelli wrote, “will
not marvel that so much virtue was maintained for many centuries.”29
Contrary to the Polybian claim that kingship and aristocracy was very
different (though similar in form) from tyranny and oligarchy, Machi-
avelli concluded that all the regime types were pernicious because of
the “likeness that virtue and vice have in [each] case.”30 Machiavelli
dismissed Polybius’s judgment that Rome’s greatness was in its promo-
tion of virtue through the mixed regime. doubtless the mixed regime

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126 Jarrett A. Carty

for Machiavelli had merit; however, the chief cause for Rome’s success
was not its preservation of the best of the three good types of regimes
and the classical virtues they promoted. Rather, its free constitution had
instituted good laws built upon good arms and knowing the effectual
truths necessary for maintaining itself.

Polybius, in his comparison of Rome and other regimes, claimed
that there were two essential things in its well-being: custom and laws.
these customs and laws had a twofold purpose: to render the lives of
citizens righteous and the character of the regime good and just.

So just as when we observe the laws and customs of a people to be good,
we have no hesitation in pronouncing that the citizens and the state will
consequently be good also, thus when we notice that men are covetous in
their private lives and that their public actions are unjust, we are plainly
justified in saying that their laws, their particular customs, and the state
as a whole are bad.31

furthermore, Polybius connected the character of the regime to
the well-being of the soul, as in the example of the constitution of
Lycurgus. Spartan laws and customs, instituted by its constitution,
promoted the invaluable virtues of “fortitude and temperance,” and
when these virtues were “combined in one soul or city,” Polybius
wrote, “evil will not readily originate within such men or peoples,
nor will they be overmastered by their neighbors.”32 Even though
Sparta’s virtues and stability were different, Polybius argued that
Rome nevertheless succeeded in maintaining good laws and customs
like Sparta, and preserving itself and the goodness of its people even
in times of great turmoil.

At first glance, Machiavelli’s assessment of Rome in the first six
chapters of the Discourses appeared similar to the Polybian treatment.
there seemed to be a philosophical convergence: Polybius’s reticence
to introduce Plato’s ideal regime “unless it first [gave] an exhibition
of its actual working”33 was superficially similar to Machiavelli’s rejec-
tion of “imagined republics.” yet there was a major difference. Polybius
dismissed Plato’s city in speech, because although it was praisewor-
thy, it must first be shown to have actually existed. But Machiavelli
objected to imaginary republics more than their impracticability; in
the Discourses we see that Machiavelli took issue with this very vision
of goodness and virtue, which in his thinking neglected the effectual
truths necessary for founding and maintaining regimes.

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Machiavelli’s Art of Politics 127

Machiavelli began his third chapter of the Discourses with a glaring
avowal of one of the effectual truths practised by ancient Rome, but
ignored by the philosophers: “As all those demonstrate who reason on
a civil way of life, and as every history is full of examples, it is neces-
sary to whoever disposes a republic and orders laws in it to presuppose
that all men are bad, and that they always have to use the malignity
of spirit whenever they have a free opportunity for it.”34 Machiavelli
claimed that Livy’s History of Rome and his own study of the ancient
republic demonstrated this effectual truth, and that a successful regime
would be built upon it. for Machiavelli, it became a major factor in
determining the strength of the Roman regime. for soon after Machi-
avelli opened the third chapter with the “malignity of spirit” inherent
in humankind, he provided a poignant example of the Roman regime’s
strength. He described how “it appeared that in Rome there was a very
great union between the plebs and the Senate after the tarquins were
expelled” and the nobles had taken on a “popular spirit.”35 But the
nobles did not act humanely to the plebs out of goodness or some virtu-
ous disposition; Machiavelli argued that the nobles acted this way out
of fear that the plebs would not take their side in a possible conflict with
the tarquins, arguing that “men never work any good unless through
necessity.”36 the tarquinian conflict demonstrated to Machiavelli that
Rome was constituted in such a way that fear and tumult were the very
engine of Roman success and political virtue.37 for Rome, the tumult
between the plebs and the nobles, from its very foundation, made it
great: “All the laws that [were] made in favor of freedom [arose] from
their disunion.”38

The Two Humours

for Machiavelli, the word umore (humour) had several meanings. It
could designate the desires natural to a certain group; it could mean
a certain social group within a regime; it might designate the activi-
ties produced by the interaction between certain groups; sometimes it
referred to conflicts between regimes; it could even be used with an
evaluative term, like healthy or malignant, to describe the forces of
good and evil in a regime.39 Most importantly for his political thought,
and consistent with its use in The Prince and the Discourses, Machiavelli
used umore to evaluate the strength of regimes. In The Prince he wrote
that out of the conflict of the two humours, “one of three effects occurs
in cities: principality or liberty or license.”40 A principality or republic

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128 Jarrett A. Carty

was a regime built so that the conflicting humours had positive effects;
licence designated the regime in which the humours were out of balance
and thus produced ill effects.

Machiavelli’s notion of humours was derived from a long pedigree
of medical science, beginning with ancient Greek and Hellenistic phy-
sicians such as the Hippocratic school and Galen. from the ancient
world to his day, medical science generally considered the constitu-
tion of the human body to be made from various humours; in Galen’s
view, for example, there were the four humours of blood, phlegm,
yellow bile, and black bile, the balance of which would affect pain,
health, sickness, and wellness. deficiency or excess of one humour
in quantity, quality, potency, or proportionality would affect one’s
constitution.41 In ancient political thought, Plato, Aristotle, or Poly-
bius looked upon a diseased regime as something analogous to a dis-
eased body. Similarly, as disease of the body in the sixteenth century
was understood through the disorder of the humours, Machiavelli
understood political disease through analogous humours. In a living
body, humours were active and in constant motion; a healthy body
was one in which the humours were balanced in their interactions.
Likewise in the Discourses, a healthy regime was not one in which the
humours were quieted or eradicated, but one in which their moving
desires and ambitions were brought together to energize the regime
they constituted. Hence, Machiavelli insisted that tumult between
the humours in Rome had made it great; an artful constitution of the
regime had allowed it to flourish. tumult, effectively used, main-
tained and aggrandized the regime.

In a disordered regime the humours wreaked destruction. the Dis-
courses provided ample evidence of such excess and imbalance. for
Machiavelli, so often accompanying these examples was a neglect of
the effectual truths necessary to maintain regimes, a fault he thought
all too apparent in the early sixteenth century. In the fifteenth chapter
of the second part of the Discourses, Machiavelli offered examples of
regimes that, through indecision, allowed ill humours to weaken them.
One example Machiavelli got directly from Livy. In their war against
the Romans, the Latins asked the Lavinians for aid, but the Lavinians
deferred and delayed, coming “right outside the gate with their troops
to give them help” only when the Latins had been defeated.42 Another
example was one in recent florentine history, when King Louis XII of
france was at war with Milan; florence delayed ratification of a treaty
with the king, on account of a humour in favour of the duke of Milan,

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Machiavelli’s Art of Politics 129

thereby compromising the city at the very moment when Louis was
victorious over the forces of duke Ludovico.

these delays in decision making were for Machiavelli sure signs of
the want of an art of politics; it was an effectual truth that strategic
decisions needed hard and fast resolve, particularly in times of war,
lest malignant humours hurt and destroy the regimes they affected.
Machiavelli demonstrated the effects of the resolve in strategic decision
making. At the onset of the war between the Latins and the Romans, he
cited the example of the Latin praetor Annius, who urged clarity and
decisiveness in the Latin council’s deliberations; likewise, in midst of
the Punic wars, Apollonides warned his fellow Syracusans “to detest
ambiguity and tardiness in taking up a policy.”43 these examples dem-
onstrated that resolve quelled malignant humours.

Malignant humours could be so destructive that it was often neces-
sary to crush their leaders. Just as the lesson on resolve had been forgot-
ten, this effectual truth was neglected time and again to the detriment
of many regimes, including his own florence. Machiavelli warned his
readers with the example of Piero Soderini, gonfalonier of florence
until the Medicis returned to power in the spring of 1512.

for besides believing that he could extinguish ill humors with patience
and goodness and wear away some of the enmity to himself with rewards
to someone, he judged (and often vouched for it with his friends) that if he
wished to strike his opponents vigorously and to beat down his adversar-
ies, he would have needed to take up extraordinary authority and break
up civil equality together with the laws.44

Soderini ignored the effectual truth that it was necessary, if his regime
was to survive, to “kill the sons of Brutus”; for “whoever makes a free
state and does not kill the sons of Brutus,” Machiavelli wrote, “maintains
himself for little time.”45 Out of respect for goodness and order, Soderini
allowed an ill humour to grow far out of proportion, threatening the very
existence of the regime itself. for Machiavelli this was a massive mistake
that ignored a necessary lesson in maintaining a regime through internal
conflict.

Machiavelli’s accounts of the two humours were at times unclear, but
for him this confusion could be highly instructive. In the fifth chapter
of the first book, they became scarcely distinguishable. which humour
was more ambitious or even which one was plebeian or noble could be
confused. was the desire to maintain more ambitious than the desire

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130 Jarrett A. Carty

to acquire? Machiavelli collapsed the distinction between the desires:
the desire to maintain produced the same desire to acquire as in the
other humour, for the fear of losing possessions would not seem secure
until new possessions were acquired.46 what was clear was that “either
one appetite or the other [could] be the cause of very great tumults,”
and this was essentially because the ambitions of each humour were
similarly dynamic and malleable.47 Machiavelli saw that fear and
desire were universal passions among men, and thus ambitions would
be manifested differently according to their different conditions. these
conditions would dictate whether they feared for their possessions or
were free to acquire without such concern. Machiavelli, as one scholar
has noted, seemed to “view fear and desire as points on a continuum –
one followed by and causally connected to the other.”48 Ambition for
Machiavelli was ubiquitous and tempered only by conditions; these
differing conditions among men created different humours. Hence,
Machiavelli could remark that “whoever considers present and ancient
things easily knows that in all cities and in all peoples there are the
same desires and the same humors, and there have always been.”49

Machiavelli argued that through its balance of humours Rome
had not only been made stable, but that it had become great. He well
knew that there were ancient and latter-day examples of strong states
which had managed to severely restrict tumultuous faction; but Sparta
and Venice were small, insular states that had suppressed conflicting
humours at the cost of expansion and glory.50 Rome’s greatness and
power in the world would have been sacrificed if it had similarly deter-
mined to purge its tumult. Machiavelli argued that “one inconvenience
can never be suppressed without another’s cropping up”; therefore,
“if Rome wished to remove the causes of tumults, it removed too the
causes of expansion.”51 Allowing the tumultuous humours to exist,
Rome, through its constitution, was able to “vent” excessive energy so
as not to bring itself to ruin. In Rome, political turmoil vented malignant
humours.52

for Machiavelli, even the fall of the Roman republic did not contra-
dict his argument that the enmities between the plebs and the nobles
kept Rome free, though admittedly “the end of the Agrarian law
[appeared] not to conform to this conclusion.”53 But for Machiavelli,
this remained only an appearance, as the contention over the law took
three hundred years to destroy the republic, and in would have been
sooner had the Rome not vented the ambitions of the humours. the
tumult was necessary to vent this ambition, otherwise the republic

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Machiavelli’s Art of Politics 131

would have succumbed to the desires and fears of the plebs and nobles
long before any rise to glory.

Machiavelli combined the two humours into a dynamic of fear
and desire, the maintenance of which became the measure of Rome’s
strength and success. for Machiavelli, the Roman regime was in fact
the model regime in understanding and dealing with this dynamic
desire and fear. “Men are in motion and cannot stay steady,” Machi-
avelli wrote; Rome was the regime which best understood and applied
the effectual truths that derived from this maxim.54 Machiavelli agreed
with Livy and Polybius that indeed the Roman regime was stable. yet
for Machiavelli its stability was due not to maintaining and developing
a good state through customs and laws based in a natural inclination to
virtue, but to understanding the dynamic humours and knowing ulti-
mately that men were bad and always use their “malignity of spirit.”
Rather than inculcating virtues such as courage or wisdom, at least as
the first order of political business, Machiavelli’s Rome inculcated the
channelling of vice and called that virtue, all the while allowing desires
to expand rather than remain static or decline. Machiavelli’s political
art was thus contrary to ancient wisdom – particularly Plato and Aris-
totle’s – on the importance of reigning in eros, promoting the cardinal
virtues, and holding to small, rooted regimes.55 Rome, Machiavelli
believed, was the proof of his art’s success.

Machiavelli discouraged the emulation of imagined republics, yet
the Roman regime was as deft in the art of politics as regimes could
be. yet there was also a persistent counter-example: florence. Machi-
avelli’s home city was an unhealthy one. Its humours waxed to excess
or waned to inadequacy without balancing excesses and bringing the
regime to health. Only an art of maintaining regimes could bring it to
health and glory.

Conclusion

for Machiavelli, the Roman lessons of the Discourses would best serve
florence in her perennial political woes. whereas Rome succeeded on
using its internal conflict for the sake of glory, florence succumbed to
partisan conflict and external intrigue. A general ignorance of the art of
politics in general was to blame. In his History of Florence, for example,
Machiavelli justified his new history of his beloved city by arguing that
the other histories were silent with respect to the “civil discords and
internal enmities, and the effects rising from them.”56 florence’s internal

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132 Jarrett A. Carty

divisions were quite remarkable, but their causes and effects are poorly
understood. thus he summed up the purpose of his history: “If no
other lesson is useful to the citizens who govern republics, it is that
which shows the causes of the hatreds and divisions within the city, so
that when they have become wise through the dangers of others, they
may be able to maintain themselves united.”57 the lessons on maintain-
ing a regime through its divisions and tumult – the essential teaching
of his Discourses through the example of Rome – was thus also the key
lesson for his History of Florence as well as his art of politics in gen-
eral. Machiavelli hoped that the study of his work would in some way
recover this art, for with it florence could not only be stable, but also
great and glorious. for a civil servant who was barred from political
affairs by a restored Medici regime, teaching this political art was a way
to continue to serve a city he had claimed to love more than his soul.

NOTEs

1 J.R. Hale, Renaissance Europe: 1480–1520 (London: Collins, 1971), 275.
2 Hans Baron, The Crisis of the Early Italian Renaissance (Princeton, NJ:

Princeton University Press, 1966) and “Machiavelli: the Republican
Citizen and the Author of The Prince,” English Historical Review 76 (1961);
J.G.A. Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and
the Atlantic Republican Tradition (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press,
1975); Quentin Skinner, The Foundations of Modern Political Thought, vol. 1:
The Renaissance (New york: Cambridge University Press, 1978).

3 See chap. 1, “Renaissance Epistolarity,” in John M. Najemy, Between
Friends: Discourses of Power and Desire in the Machiavelli–Vettori Letters
of 1513–1515 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993); Paul Oskar
Kristeller, Renaissance Thought II (New york: Harper & Row, 1965), 8ff. the
importance of letter writing to Renaissance humanism is demonstrated
by not only the production and collection of letters by literary persons
of the period, but also the production of letter-writing manuals. for a
famous example, see Erasmus of Rotterdam’s De conscribendis epistolis [On
the Writing of Letters], in Collected Works of Erasmus, vol. 25, ed. Charles
fantazzi (toronto: University of toronto Press, 1985).

4 there are two helpful compilations of Machiavelli’s letters introducing
the reader to his talents: Niccolò Machiavelli, The Letters of Machiavelli:
A Selection, ed. Allan Gilbert (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
1988) and Niccolò Machiavelli, Machiavelli and His Friends: Their Personal

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Machiavelli’s Art of Politics 133

Correspondence, ed. James B. Atkinson and david Sices (deKalb: Northern
Illinois University Press, 1996).

5 for an excellent collection of essays on the former genres, see Vickie
Sullivan, ed., The Comedy and Tragedy of Machiavelli: Essays on the Literary
Works (New Haven, Ct: yale University Press, 2000). See also Niccolò
Machiavelli, The Comedies of Machiavelli, ed. david Sices and James B.
Atkinson (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1985) and
Joseph tusiani, Lust and Liberty: The Poems of Machiavelli (New york:
I. Obolensky, 1963). In the introductory essay, tusiani argues that
Machiavelli’s poetry was untypical Renaissance poetry for its realism.

6 See chap. 1, “the Birth of Humanist Culture,” in Charles G. Nauert, Jr,
Humanism and the Culture of Renaissance Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1995), 8–51.

7 though he only quoted Petrarch two times in his major prose writings – once
in The Prince (26) and once in the Florentine Histories (6.29) – he claimed
to have read Petrarch regularly in his leisure time on the farm during his
exile from active florentine politics. this claim is found in Machiavelli’s
famous letter to Vettori of 10 december 1513, a letter which begins with
a quotation from Petrarch’s Triumph of Eternity: “Never late were favours
divine”; CW 927–8, Op. 1158–9 (see n. 9 for these abbreviations). Cicero
was quoted three times in the Discourses (1.4, 1.33, 1.52), though there were
many allusions to him and his works in other passages in the Prince and
Discourses.

8 Canzone 16.13–16.
9 Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince, trans. Harvey C. Mansfield (Chicago:

University of Chicago Press, 1985), chap. 26, p. 105; CW 96, Op. 298.
Henceforth, direct quotations from The Prince will be taken from Mansfield’s
translation with chapter number followed by page number (Prince 26, 105).
Quotations from the Discourses are from Niccolò Machiavelli, The Discourses,
trans. Harvey C. Mansfield (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996)
and are also followed with chapter and page number. CW and Op. refer
(respectively) to Niccolò Machiavelli, Machiavelli: The Chief Works and Others,
3 vols., trans. Allan Gilbert (durham, NC: duke University Press, 1965) and
the Italian version, Niccolò Machiavelli, Machiavelli: Tutte le Opere, ed. Mario
Martelli (florence: Sansoni, 1971).

10 Harvey C. Mansfield, Machiavelli’s Virtue (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 1996), 34.

11 De Officiis 1.8; Marcus tullius Cicero, On Duties. trans. walter Miller
(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997), 45.

12 The Prince, 18, 69–70; CW 64–5; Op. 283–4.

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134 Jarrett A. Carty

13 An argument soundly demonstrated by Paul Oskar Kristeller, Renaissance
Thought I (New york: Harper & Row, 1961); cf. Nauert, Humanism and the
Culture of Renaissance Europe, 8–51.

14 for example, Plato and Aristotle are each mentioned once in the Discourses:
3.6, 16 and 3.26, 2.

15 Aristotle, The Politics, 2, 1ff.; Cicero, The Republic, 2, 1ff.
16 Discourses, 1, preface, 5; CW 190; Op. 76.
17 J. Quentin Hughes and Norbert Lynton, Renaissance Architecture (London:

Longmans, Green and Co., 1964), 3.
18 Discourses, 1, preface, 6; CW 191; Op. 76.
19 Ibid., 1.4, 16; CW 202; Op. 82.
20 Ibid. Cf. titus Livy, History of Rome, 2, 23–33.
21 Mansfield, Machiavelli’s Virtue, 92–7; “Introduction,” Discourses on Livy,

xxviii.
22 titus Livy, The Early History of Rome: Books I–V of The History of Rome from

Its Foundation, trans. Aubrey de Selincourt (London: Penguin Books, 1971),
1.6, 40. the grandfather (Numitor) and Amulius were sons of the Silvian
kingship of the Latins; Amulius drove his older brother from the throne
and unsuccessfully attempted to kill his brother’s line, from which came
Romulus and Remus (1.3).

23 Discourses, 1.9, 29; CW 218; Op. 91.
24 Ibid.
25 Polybius, Histories, trans. w.R. Paton (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University

Press, 1979), book 6, para. 2.
26 Ibid., 6, 2.
27 Ibid., 6, 12–14.
28 Ibid., 6, 18.
29 Discourses, 1.1, 7; CW 192; Op. 77.
30 Ibid., 1.2, 11; CW 197; Op. 79.
31 Histories, 6, 47.
32 Ibid., 6, 48.
33 Ibid., 6, 47.
34 Discourses, 1.3, 15; CW 201; Op. 81.
35 Ibid., 1.3, 15; CW 201; Op. 82.
36 Ibid. Cf. The Prince, 15.
37 Cf. Montesquieu’s treatment of fear and desire to promote the public good

in Robert Sparling’s chapter “Montesquieu on Corruption” below; I would
argue that Machiavelli’s treatment of Rome’s greatness figures highly in
Montesquieu’s thinking on regime stability.

38 Discourses, 1.4.

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Machiavelli’s Art of Politics 135

39 Anthony Parel, The Machiavellian Cosmos (New Haven: yale University
Press, 1992), 105–7.

40 The Prince, 9, 39; CW 39; Op. 271. Parel, The Machiavellian Cosmos, 107.
41 See Mark Grant, ed., Galen on Food and Diet (London: Routledge, 2000),

“Introduction,” 1–13, and translation of Galen’s “On the Humors” and
“On Black Bile,” 14–36; Parel, The Machiavellian Cosmos, 101.

42 Discourses, 2.15, 159; CW 362; Op. 165.
43 Ibid., 2.15, 159; CW 361; Op. 165.
44 Ibid., 3.3, 214–15; CW 425; Op. 198.
45 Ibid., 3.3, 214; CW 425; Op. 198. Cf. Discourses 1, 16; 3, 27.
46 Ibid., 1.5. See Mansfield, Machiavelli’s New Modes and Orders, 47–8.
47 Ibid., 1.5, 19; CW 206; Op. 84.
48 Patrick Coby, Machiavelli’s Romans (Lanham, Md: Lexington Books, 1999), 94.
49 Discourses 1.39, 83; CW 278; Op. 122.
50 Hence, for Machiavelli, Sparta was not the ancient regime fit for

contemporary emulation. Sparta’s fitness for modern imitation was a focus
of contending Enlightenment political philosophies, as Varad Mehta aptly
explains in his essay “Sparta, Modernity, Enlightenment” (chap. 10). See
also timothy Burns’s treatment of Sparta (chap. 1).

51 Discourses, 1.6, 21; CW 209; Op. 85.
52 Ibid., 1.7.
53 Ibid., 1.37, 80; CW 274; Op. 120.
54 Ibid. 1.6, 22; CW 210; Op. 86.
55 this volume contains a wealth of scholarship on several classical Greek

perspectives that contrast to Machiavelli’s art of politics. Compare and
contrast thucydides’s teaching on Athens, Sparta, and Pericles in timothy
Burns’s chapter, or Roochnik and weinman on Aristotle’s political
philosophy (chaps. 2 and 3). though influential upon much of Enlightenment
political thought, Machiavelli’s argument for conflicting factions also
contrasts with the attempts to curtail and limit faction in, for example, the
political thought of david Hume (see Marc Hanvelt’s essay below).

56 from Machiavelli’s preface to the History of Florence, in Florentine Histories,
trans. Laura f. Banfield and Harvey C. Mansfield (Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 1988), 6.

57 Ibid.

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11

Thomas Hobbes

Leviathan

Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) wrote his classic Leviathan (1651) in an era of civil war in
Britain. He was trained as a classical humanist but was greatly influenced by Galileo and
the scientific revolution. Consequently, he wanted to fashion a “science of politics.” While
the idea of a social contract (“covenant” for Hobbes) previously had been used to explain
the basis and obligations of political life, this was usually with the intention of restraining
royal power. Hobbes, in contrast, used the idea to justify absolutism on the grounds that in
a state of nature, where there was no government, human beings would engage in a “war of
everyone against everyone” so that life would be “nasty, brutish, and short.” His
conclusion: only a sovereign with absolute power could bring and keep the peace.

Author’s Introduction

Nature, the art whereby God hath made and governs the world, is by the art of man, as in many other
things, so in this also imitated, that it can make an artificial animal. For seeing life is but a motion of
limbs, the beginning whereof is in some principal part within; why may we not say, that all automata
(engines that move themselves by springs and wheels as doth a watch) have an artificial life? For
what is the heart, but a spring; and the nerves, but so many strings; and the joints, but so many
wheels, giving motion to the whole body, such as was intended by the artificer? Art goes yet further,
imitating that rational and most excellent work of nature, man. For by art is created that great
Leviathan called a Commonwealth, or State, in Latin Civitas, which is but an artificial man; though of
greater stature and strength than the natural, for whose protection and defence it was intended; and in
which the sovereignty is an artificial soul, as giving life and motion to the whole body; the
magistrates, and other officers of judicature and execution, artificial joints; reward and punishment,
by which fastened to the seat of the sovereignty every joint and member is moved to perform his duty,
are the nerves, that do the same in the body natural; the strength; salus populi, the people’s safety, its
business; counsellors, by whom all things needful for it to know are suggested unto it, are the
memory; equity, and laws, and artificial reason and will; concord, health; sedition, sickness; and
civil war, death. Lastly, the pacts and covenants, by which the parts of this body politic were at first
made, set together, and united, resemble that fiat, or the let us make man, pronounced by God in the
creation. . . .

Of Power

Power. The power of a man, to take it universally, is his present means, to obtain some future
apparent good; and is either original or instrumental.

Natural power, is the eminence of the faculties of body, or mind: as extraordinary strength, form,
prudence, arts, eloquence, liberality, nobility. Instrumental are those powers, which acquired by
these, or by fortune, are means and instruments to acquire more: as riches, reputation, friends, and the
secret working of God, which men call good luck. For the nature of power, is in this point, like to
fame, increasing as it proceeds; or like the motion of heavy bodies, which the further they go, make
still the more haste.

The greatest of human powers, is that which is compounded of the powers of most men, united by
consent, in one person, natural, or civil, that has the use of all their powers depending on his will;
such as is the power of a commonwealth: or depending on the wills of each particular; such as is the
power of a faction or of divers factions leagued. Therefore to have servants, is power; to have
friends, is power: for they are strengths united.

Also riches joined with liberality, is power; because it procureth friends, and servants: without
liberality, not so; because in this case they defend not; but expose men to envy, as a prey.

Reputation of power, is power; because it draweth with it the adherence of those that need
protection.

So is reputation of love of a man’s country, called popularity, for the same reason.
Also, what quality soever maketh a man beloved, or feared of many; or the reputation of such

quality, is power; because it is a means to have the assistance, and service of many.
Good success is power; because it maketh reputation of wisdom, or good fortune; which makes

men either fear him, or rely on him.
Affability of men already in power, is increase of power; because it gaineth love.
Reputation of prudence in the conduct of peace or war, is power; because to prudent men, we

commit the government of ourselves, more willingly than to others.
Nobility is power, not in all places, but only in those commonwealths, where it has privileges: for

in such privileges, consisteth their power.
Eloquence is power, because it is seeming prudence.
Form is power; because being a promise of good, it recommendeth men to the favour of women

and strangers.
The sciences, are small power; because not eminent; and therefore, not acknowledged in any man;

nor are at all, but in a few, and in them, but of a few things. For science is of that nature, as none can
understand it to be, but such as in a good measure have attained it.

Arts of public use, as fortification, making of engines, and other instruments of war; because they
confer to defence, and victory, are power: and though the true mother of them, be science, namely the
mathematics; yet, because they are brought into the light, by the hand of the artificer, they be esteemed,
the midwife passing with the vulgar for the mother, as his issue.

Of the Natural Condition of Mankind

Nature hath made men so equal, in the faculties of the body, and mind; as that though there be found
one man sometimes manifestly stronger in body, or of quicker mind than another; yet when all is
reckoned together, the difference between man, and man, is not so considerable, as that one man can
thereupon claim to himself any benefit, to which another may not pretend, as well as he. For as to the
strength of body, the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest, either by secret machination, or
by confederacy with others, that are in the same danger with himself.

And as to the faculties of the mind, setting aside the arts grounded upon words, and especially that
skill of proceeding upon general, and infallible rules, called science; which very few have, and but in
few things; as being not a native faculty, born with us; nor attained, as prudence, while we look after
somewhat else, I find yet a greater equality amongst men, than that of strength. For prudence, is but
experience; which equal time, equally bestows on all men, in those things they equally apply
themselves unto. That which may perhaps make such equality incredible, is but a vain conceit of one’s
own wisdom, which almost all men think they have in a greater degree, than the vulgar; that is, than
all men but themselves, and a few others, whom by fame, or for concurring with themselves, they
approve. For such is the nature of men, that howsoever they may acknowledge many others to be more
witty, or more eloquent, or more learned; yet they will hardly believe there be many so wise as
themselves; for they see their own wit at hand, and other men’s at a distance. But this proveth rather
that men are in that point equal, than unequal. For there is not ordinarily a greater sign of the equal
distribution of any thing, than that every man is contented with his share.

From this equality of ability, ariseth equality of hope in the attaining of our ends. And therefore if
any two men desire the same thing, which nevertheless they cannot both enjoy, they become enemies;
and in the way to their end, which is principally their own conservation, and sometimes their
delectation only, endeavour to destroy, or subdue one another. And from hence it comes to pass, that
where an invader hath no more to fear, than another man’s single power; if one plant, sow, build, or
possess a convenient seat, others may probably be expected to come prepared with forces united, to
dispossess, and deprive him, not only of the fruit of his labour, but also of his life, or liberty. And the
invader again is in the like danger of another.

And from this diffidence of one another, there is no way for any man to secure himself, so
reasonable, as anticipation; that is, by force, or wiles, to master the persons of all men he can, so
long, till he see no other power great enough to endanger him: and this is no more than his own
conservation requireth, and is generally allowed. Also because there be some, that taking pleasure in
contemplating their own power in the acts of conquest, which they pursue farther than their security
requires; if others, that otherwise would be glad to be at ease within modest bounds, should not by
invasion increase their power, they would not be able, long time, by standing only on their defence, to
subsist. And by consequence, such augmentation of dominion over men being necessary to a man’s
conservation, it ought to be allowed him.

Again, men have no pleasure, but on the contrary a great deal of grief, in keeping company, where
there is no power able to over-awe them all. For every man looketh that his companion should value
him, as the same rate he sets upon himself: and upon all signs of contempt, or undervaluing, naturally
endeavours, as far as he dares (which amongst them that have no common power to keep them in
quiet, is far enough to make them destroy each other), to extort a greater value from his contemners,
by damage; and from others, by the example.

So that in the nature of man, we find three principal causes of quarrel. First, competition; second,
diffidence; thirdly, glory.

The first, maketh man invade for gain; the second, for safety; and the third, for reputation. The first
use violence, to make themselves masters of other men’s persons, wives, children, and cattle; the
second, to defend them; the third, for trifles, as a word, a smile, a different opinion, and any other sign
of undervalue, either direct in their persons, or by reflection in their kindred, their friends, their
nation, their profession, or their name.

Hereby it is manifest, that during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in
awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war, as is of every man, against every
man. For War, consisteth not in battle only, or the act of fighting; but in a tract of time, wherein the
will to contend by battle is sufficiently known: and therefore the notion of time, is to be considered in
the nature of war; as it is in the nature of weather. For as the nature of foul weather, lieth not in a
shower or two of rain; but in an inclination thereto of many days together: so the nature of war,
consisteth not in actual fighting; but in the known disposition thereto, during all the time there is no
assurance to the contrary. All other time is Peace.

Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of war, where every man is enemy to every man; the
same is consequent to the time, wherein men live without other security, than what their own strength,
and their own invention shall furnish them withal. In such condition, there is no place for industry;
because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use
of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving,
and removing, such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of
time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent
death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

It may seem strange to some man, that has not well weighed these things; that nature should thus
dissociate, and render men apt to invade, and destroy one another: and he may therefore, not trusting
to this inference, made from the passions, desire perhaps to have the same confirmed by experience.
Let him therefore consider with himself, when taking a journey, he arms himself, and seeks to go well
accompanied; when going to sleep, he locks his doors; when even in his house he locks his chests;
and this when he knows there be laws, and public officers, armed, to revenge all injuries shall be
done him; what opinion he has of his fellow subjects, when he rides armed; of his fellow citizens,
when he locks his doors; and of his children, and servants, when he locks his chests. Does he not
there as much accuse mankind by his actions, as I do by my words? But neither of us accuse man’s
nature in it. The desires, and other passions of man, are in themselves no sin. No more are the actions,
that proceed from those passions, till they know a law that forbids them: which till laws be made they
cannot know: nor can any law be made, till they have agreed upon the person that shall make it.

It may peradventure be thought, there was never such a time, nor condition of war as this; and I
believe it was never generally so, over all the world: but there are many places, where they live so
now. For the savage people in many places of America, except the government of small families, the
concord whereof dependeth on natural lust, have no government at all; and live at this day in that
brutish manner, as I said before. Howsoever, it may be perceived what manner of life there would be,
where there were no common power to fear, by the manner of life, which men that have formerly
lived under a peaceful government, use to degenerate into, in a civil war.

But though there had never been any time, wherein particular men were in a condition of war one
against another; yet in all times, kings, and persons of sovereign authority, because of their
independency, are in continual jealousies, and in the state and posture of gladiators; having their
weapons pointing, and their eyes fixed on one another; that is, their forts, garrisons, and guns upon the
frontiers of their kingdoms; and continual spies upon their neighbours; which is a posture of war. But
because they uphold thereby, the industry of their subjects; there does not follow from it, that misery,
which accompanies the liberty of particular men.

To this war of every man, against every man, this also is consequent; that nothing can be unjust.
The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice have there no place. Where there is no common
power, there is no law: where no law, no injustice. Force, and fraud, are in war the two cardinal
virtues. Justice, and injustice are none of the faculties neither of the body, nor mind. If they were, they
might be in a man that were alone in the world, as well as his senses, and passions. They are
qualities, that relate to men in society, not in solitude. It is consequent also to the same condition, that
there be no propriety, no dominion, no mine and thine distinct; but only that to be every man’s, that he
can get; and for so long, as he can keep it. And thus much for the ill condition, which man by mere
nature is actually placed in; though with a possibility to come out of it, consisting partly in the
passions, partly in his reason.

The passions that incline men to peace, are fear of death; desire of such things as are necessary to
commodious living; and a hope by their industry to obtain them. And reason suggesteth convenient
articles of peace, upon which men may be drawn to agreement. These articles, are they, which
otherwise are called the Laws of Nature. . . .

Of the First and Second Natural Laws, and of Contracts

The right of nature, which writers commonly call jus naturale, is the liberty each man hath, to use his
own power, as he will himself, for the preservation of his own nature; that is to say, of his own life;
and consequently, of doing anything, which in his own judgment, and reason, he shall conceive to be
the aptest means thereunto.

By Liberty, is understood, according to the proper signification of the word, the absence of
external impediments: which impediments, may oft take away part of a man’s power to do what he
would; but cannot hinder him from using the power left him, according as his judgment, and reason
shall dictate to him.

A Law of Nature, lex naturalis, is a precept or general rule, found out by reason, by which a man
is forbidden to do that, which is destructive of his life, or taketh away the means of preserving the
same; and to omit that, by which he thinketh it may be best preserved. For though they that speak of
this subject, use to confound jus, and lex, right and law: yet they ought to be distinguished; because
Right, consisteth in liberty to do, or to forbear; whereas Law, determineth, and bindeth to one of them:
so that law, and right, differ as much, as obligation, and liberty; which in one and the same matter are
inconsistent.

And because the condition of man, as hath been declared in the precedent chapter, is a condition
of war of every one against every one; in which case every one is governed by his own reason; and
there is nothing he can make use of, that may not be a help unto him, in preserving his life against his

enemies; it followeth, that in such a condition, every man has a right to every thing; even to one
another’s body. And therefore, as long as this natural right of every man to every thing endureth, there
can be no security to any man, how strong or wise soever he be, of living out the time, which nature
ordinarily alloweth men to live. And consequently it is a precept, or general rule of reason, that
every man, ought to endeavour peace, as far as he has hope of obtaining it; and when he cannot
obtain it, that he may seek, and use, all helps, and advantages of war. The first branch of which
rule, containeth the first, and fundamental law of nature; which is, to seek peace, and follow it. The
second, the sum of the right of nature; which is, by all means we can, to defend ourselves.

From this fundamental law of nature, by which men are commanded to endeavour peace, is
derived this second law; that a man be willing, when others are so too, as far forth, as for peace,
and defence of himself he shall think it necessary, to lay down this right to all things; and be
contented with so much liberty against other men, as he would allow other men against himself.
For as long as every man holdeth this right, of doing any thing he liketh; so long are all men in the
condition of war. But if other men will not lay down their right, as well as he; then there is no reason
for anyone, to divest himself of his: for that were to expose himself to prey, which no man is bound to,
rather than to dispose himself to peace. This is that law of the Gospel; whatsoever you require that
others should do to you, that do ye to them. And that law of all men, what you would not have done
to you, do not do to others.

To lay down a man’s right to any thing, is to divest himself of the liberty, of hindering another of
the benefit of his own right to the same. For he that renounceth, or passeth away his right, giveth not to
any other man a right which he had not before; because there is nothing to which every man had not
right by nature: but only standeth out of his way, that he may enjoy his own original right, without
hindrance from him; not without hindrance from another. So that the effect which redoundeth to one
man, by another man’s defect of right, is but so much diminution of impediments to the use of his own
right original.

Right is laid aside, either by simply renouncing it; or by transferring it to another. By simply
Renouncing; when he cares not to whom the benefit thereof redoundeth. By Transferring; when he
intendeth the benefit thereof to some certain person, or persons. And when a man hath in either
manner abandoned, or granted away his right; then is he said to be Obliged, or Bound, not to hinder
those, to whom such right is granted, or abandoned, from the benefit of it: and that he ought, and it is
his Duty, not to make void that voluntary act of his own: and that such hindrance is Injustice, and
Injury, as being without right; the right being before renounced, or transferred. So that injury, or
injustice, in the controversies of the world, is somewhat like to that, which in the disputations of
scholars is called absurdity. For as it is there called absurdity, to contradict what one maintained in
the beginning: so in the world, it is called injustice, and injury, voluntarily to undo that, which from
the beginning he had voluntary done. The way by which a man either simply renounceth, or
transferreth his right, is a declaration, or signification, by some voluntary and sufficient sign, or signs,
that he doth so renounce, or transfer; or hath to renounced, or transferred the same, to him that
accepteth it. And these signs are either words only, or actions only; or, as it happeneth most often,
both words, and actions. And the same are the Bonds, by which men are bound, and obliged: bonds,
that have their strength, not from their own nature, for nothing is more easily broken than a man’s
word, but from fear of some evil consequence upon the rupture.

Whensoever a man transferreth his right, or renounceth it; it is either in consideration of some
right reciprocally transferred to himself; or for some other good he hopeth for thereby. For it is a
voluntary act: and of the voluntary acts of every man, the object is some good to himself. And
therefore there be some rights, which no man can be understood by any words, or other signs, to have
abandoned, or transferred. As first a man cannot lay down the right of resisting them, that assault him
by force, to take away his life; because he cannot be understood to aim thereby, at any good to
himself. The same may be said of wounds, and chains, and imprisonment; both because there is no
benefit consequent to such patience; as there is to be patience of suffering another to be wounded, or
imprisoned: as also because a man cannot tell, when he seeth men proceed against him by violence,
whether they intend his death or not. And lastly the motive, and end for which this renouncing, and
transferring of right is introduced, is nothing else but the security of a man’s person, in his life, and in
the means of so preserving life, as not to be weary of it. And therefore if a man by words, or other
signs, seem to despoil himself of the end, for which those signs were intended; he is not to be
understood as if he meant it, or that it was his will; but that he was ignorant of how such words and
actions were to be interpreted.

The mutual transferring of right, is that which men call Contract.
There is difference between transferring of right to the thing; and transferring, or tradition, that is

delivery of the thing itself. For the thing may be delivered together with the translation of the right; as
in buying and selling with ready-money; or exchange of goods, or lands: and it may be delivered
some time after.

Again, one of the contractors, may deliver the thing contracted for on his part, and leave the other
to perform his part at some determinate time after, and in the mean time be trusted; and then the
contract on his part, is called Pact, or Covenant: or both parts may contract now, to perform hereafter:
in which cases, he that is to perform in time to come, being trusted, his performance is called keeping
of promise, or faith; and he failing of performance, if it be voluntary, violation of faith.

When the transferring of right, is not mutual: but one of the parties transferreth, in hope to gain
thereby friendship, or service from another, or from his friends; or in hope to gain the reputation of
charity, or magnanimity; or to deliver his mind from the pain of compassion; or in hope of reward in
heaven; this is not contract, but Gift, Free-Gift, Grace: which words signify one and the same thing. . .
.

Words alone, if they be of the time to come, and contain a bare promise, are an insufficient sign of
a free gift, and therefore not obligatory. For if they be of the time to come, as to-morrow I will give,
they are a sign I have not given yet, and consequently that my right is not transferred, but remaineth till
I transfer it by some other act. But if the words be of the time present, or past, as, I have given, or, do
give to be delivered to-morrow, then is my to-morrow’s right given away to-day; and that by the
virtue of the words, though there were no other argument of my will. . . .

If a covenant be made, wherein neither of the parties perform presently, but trust one another; in
the condition of mere nature, which is a condition of war of every man against every man, upon any
reasonable suspicion, it is void: but if there be a common power set over them both, with right and
force sufficient to compel performance, it is not void. For he that performeth first, has no assurance
the other will perform after; because the bonds of words are too weak to bridle men’s ambition,
avarice, anger, and other passions, without the fear of some coercive power; which in the condition of
mere nature, where all men are equal, and judges of the justness of their own fears, cannot possibly

be supposed. And therefore he which performeth first, does but betray himself to his enemy; contrary
to the right, he can never abandon, of defending his life, and means of living.

But in a civil estate, where there is a power set up to constrain those that would otherwise violate
their faith, that fear is no more reasonable; and for that cause, he which by the covenant is to perform
first, is obliged so to do.

The cause of fear, which maketh such a covenant invalid, must be always something arising after
the covenant made; as some new fact, or other sign of the will not to perform: else it cannot make the
covenant void. For that which could not hinder a man from promising, ought not to be admitted as a
hindrance of performing.

He that transferreth any right, transferreth the means of enjoying it, as far as lieth in his power. As
he that selleth land, is understood to transfer the herbage, and whatsoever grows upon it: nor can he
that sells a mill turn away the stream that drives it. And they that give to a man the right of government
in sovereignty, are understood to give him the right of levying money to maintain soldiers; and of
appointing magistrates for the administration of justice.

To make covenants with brute beasts, is impossible; because not understanding our speech, they
understand not, nor accept of any translation of right; nor can translate any right to another: and
without mutual acceptation, there is no covenant.

To make covenant with God, is impossible, but by mediation of such as God speaketh to, either by
revelation supernatural, or by his lieutenants that govern under him, and in his name: for otherwise we
know now whether our covenants be accepted, or not. And therefore they that vow anything contrary
to any law of nature, vow in vain; as being a thing unjust to pay such vow. And if it be a thing
commanded by the law of nature, it is not the vow, but the law that binds them.

The matter, or subject of a covenant, is always something that falleth under deliberation; for to
covenant, is an act of the will; that is to say, an act, and the last act of deliberation; and is therefore
always understood to be something to come; and which is judged possible for him that covenanteth, to
perform.

And therefore, to promise that which is known to be impossible, is no covenant. But if that prove
impossible afterwards, which before was thought possible, the covenant is valid, and bindeth, though
not to the thing itself, yet to the value; or, if that also be impossible, to the unfeigned endeavour of
performing as much as is possible: for to more no man can be obliged.

Men are freed of their covenants two ways; by performing; or by being forgiven. For
performance, is the natural end of obligation; and forgiveness, the restitution of liberty; as being a
retransferring of that right, in which the obligation consisted.

Covenants entered into by fear, in the condition of mere nature, are obligatory. For example, if I
covenant to pay a ransom, or service, for my life, to an enemy; I am bound by it: for it is a contract,
wherein one receiveth the benefit of life; the other is to receive money, or service for it; and
consequently, where no other law, as in the condition of mere nature, forbiddeth the performance, the
covenant is valid. Therefore prisoners of war, if trusted with the payment of their ransom, are obliged
to pay it: and if a weaker prince, make a disadvantageous peace with a stronger, for fear; he is bound
to keep it; unless, as hath been said before, there ariseth some new, and just cause of fear, to renew
the war. And even in commonwealths, if I be forced to redeem myself from a thief by promising him
money, I am bound to pay it, till the civil law discharge me. For whatsoever I may lawfully do

without obligation, the same I may lawfully covenant to do through fear: and what I lawfully
covenant, I cannot lawfully break.

A former covenant, makes void a later. For a man that hath passed away his right to one man to-
day, hath it not to pass to-morrow to another: and therefore the later promise passeth no right, but is
null.

A covenant not to defend myself from force, by force, is always void. For, as I have showed
before, no man can transfer, or lay down his right to save himself from death, wounds, imprisonment,
the avoiding whereof is the only end of laying down any right; and therefore the promise of not
resisting force, in no covenant transferreth any right; nor is obliging. For though a man may covenant
thus, unless I do so, or so, kill me; he cannot covenant thus, unless I do so, or so, I will not resist
you, when you come to kill me. For man by nature chooseth the lesser evil, which is danger of death
in resisting; rather than the greater, which is certain and present death in not resisting. And this is
granted to be true by all men, in that they lead criminals to execution, and prison, with armed men,
notwithstanding that such criminals have consented to the law, by which they are condemned. . . .

The force of words, being, as I have formerly noted, too weak to hold men to the performance of
their covenants; there are in man’s nature, but two imaginable helps to strengthen it. And those are
either a fear of the consequence of breaking their word; or a glory, or pride in appearing not to need
to break it. This latter is a generosity too rarely found to be presumed on, especially in the pursuers of
wealth, command, or sensual pleasure; which are the greatest part of mankind. The passion to be
reckoned upon, is fear; whereof there be two very general objects: one, the power of spirits invisible;
the other, the power of those men they shall therein offend. Of these two, though the former be the
greatest power, yet the fear of the latter is commonly the greater fear. The fear of the former is in
every man, his own religion: which hath place in the nature of man before civil society. The latter
hath not so; at least not place enough, to keep men to their promises; because in the condition of mere
nature, the inequality of power is not discerned, but by the event of battle. So that before the time of
civil society, or in the interruption thereof by war, there is nothing can strengthen a covenant of peace
agreed on, against the temptations of avarice, ambition, lust, or other strong desire, but the fear of that
invisible power, which they every one worship as God; and fear as a revenger of their perfidy. All
therefore that can be done between two men not subject to civil power, is to put one another to swear
by the God he feareth. . . .

Of Other Laws of Nature

From that law of nature, by which we are obliged to transfer to another, such rights, as being retained,
hinder the peace of mankind, there followeth a third; which is this, that men perform their covenants
made: without which, covenants are in vain, and but empty words; and the right of all men to all
things remaining, we are still in the condition of war.

And in this law of nature, consisteth the fountain and original of Justice. For where no covenant
hath preceded, there hath no right been transferred, and every man has right to every thing; and
consequently, no action can be unjust. But when a covenant is made, then to break it is unjust: and the
definition of Injustice, is no other than the not performance of covenant. And whatsoever is not
unjust, is just.

But because covenants of mutual trust, where there is a fear of not performance on either part, as
hath been said in the former chapter, are invalid; though the original of justice be the making of
covenants; yet injustice actually there can be none, till the cause of such fear be taken away; which
while men are in the natural condition of war, cannot be done. Therefore before the names of just, and
unjust can have place, there must be some coercive power, to compel men equally to the performance
of their covenants, by the terror of some punishment, greater than the benefit they expect by the breach
of their covenant; and to make good that propriety, which by mutual contract men acquire, in
recompense of the universal right they abandon: and such power there is none before the erection of a
commonwealth. And this is also to be gathered out of the ordinary definition of justice in the Schools:
for they say, that justice is the constant will of giving to every man his own. And therefore where
there is no own, that is no propriety, there is no injustice; and where is no coercive power erected,
that is, where there is no commonwealth, there is no propriety; all men having right to all things:
therefore where there is no commonwealth, there nothing is unjust. So that the nature of justice,
consisteth in keeping of valid covenants: but the validity of covenants begins not but with the
constitution of a civil power, sufficient to compel men to keep them: and then it is also that propriety
begins.

The fool hath said in his heart, there is no such thing as justice; and sometimes also with his
tongue; seriously alleging, that every man’s conservation, and contentment, being committed to his
own care, there could be no reason, why every man might not do what he thought conduced thereunto:
and therefore also to make, or not make; keep, or not keep covenants, was not against reason, when it
conduced to one’s benefit. He does not therein deny, that there be covenants; and that they are
sometimes broken, sometimes kept; and that such breach of them may be called injustice, and the
observance of them justice: but he questioneth, whether injustice, taking away the fear of God, for the
same fool hath said in his heart there is no God, may not sometimes stand with that reason, which
dictateth to every man his own good; and particularly then, when in conduceth to such a benefit, as
shall put a man in a condition, to neglect not only the dispraise, and revilings, but also the power of
other men. The kingdom of God is gotten by violence: but what if it could be gotten by unjust
violence? were it against reason so to get it, when it is impossible to receive hurt by it? and if it be
not against reason, it is not against justice; or else justice is not to be approved for good. From such
reasoning as this, successful wickedness hath obtained the name of virtue: and some that in all other
things have disallowed the violation of faith; yet have allowed it, when it is for the getting of a
kingdom. And the heathen that believed, that Saturn was deposed by his son Jupiter, believed

nevertheless the same Jupiter to be the avenger of injustice: somewhat like to a piece of law in
Coke’s Commentaries on Littleton; where he says, if the right heir of the crown be attainted of
treason; yet the crown shall descend to him, and at that instant the attainder be void: from which
instances a man will be very prone to infer; that when the heir apparent of a kingdom, shall kill him
that is in possession, though his father; you may call it injustice, or by what other name you will; yet it
can never be against reason, seeing all the voluntary actions of men tend to the benefit of themselves;
and those actions are most reasonable, that conduce most to their ends. The specious reasoning is
nevertheless false.

For the question is not of promises mutual, where there is no security of performance on either
side; as when there is no civil power erected over the parties promising; for such promises are no
covenants: but either where one of the parties has performed already; or where there is a power to
make him perform; there is the question whether it be against reason, that is, against the benefit of the
other to perform, or not. And I say it is not against reason. For the manifestation whereof, we are to
consider; first, that when a man doth a thing, which notwithstanding any thing can be foreseen, and
reckoned on, tendeth to his own destruction, howsoever some accident which he could not expect,
arriving may turn it to his benefit; yet such events do not make it reasonably or wisely done. Secondly,
that in a condition of war, wherein every man to every man, for want of a common power to keep
them all in awe, is an enemy, there is no man who can hope by his own strength, or wit, to defend
himself from destruction, without the help of confederates; where every one expects the same defense
by the confederation, that any one else does: and therefore he which declares he thinks it reason to
deceive those that help him, can in reason expect no other means of safety, than what can be had from
his own single power. He therefore that breaketh his covenant, and consequently declareth that he
thinks he may with reason do so, cannot be received into any society, that unite themselves for peace
and defense, but by the error of them that receive him; nor when he is received, be retained in it,
without seeing the danger of their error; which errors a man cannot reasonably reckon upon as the
means of his security: and therefore if he be left, or cast out of society, he perisheth; and if he live in
society, it is by the errors of other men, which he could not foresee, nor reckon upon; and
consequently against the reason of his preservation; and so, as all men that contribute not to his
destruction, forbear him only out of ignorance of what is good for themselves.

As for the instance of gaining the secure and perpetual felicity of heaven, by any way; it is
frivolous: there being but one way imaginable; and that is not breaking, but keeping of covenant.

And for the other instance of attaining sovereignty by rebellion; it is manifest, that though the event
follow, yet because it cannot reasonably be expected, but rather the contrary; and because by gaining
it so, others are taught to gain the same in like manner, the attempt thereof is against reason. Justice
therefore, that is to say, keeping of covenant, is a rule of reason, by which we are forbidden to do any
thing destructive to our life; and consequently a law of nature.

There be some that proceed further; and will not have the law of nature, to be those rules which
conduce to the preservation of man’s life on earth; but to the attaining of an eternal felicity after death;
to which they think the breach of covenant may conduce; and consequently be just and reasonable;
such are they that think it a work of merit to kill, or depose, or rebel against, the sovereign power
constituted over them by their own consent. But because there is no natural knowledge of man’s estate
after death; much less of the reward that is then to be given to breach of faith; but only a belief
grounded upon other men’s saying, that they know it supernaturally, or that they know those, that knew

them, that knew others, that knew it supernaturally; breach of faith cannot be called a precept of
reason, or nature.

Others, that allow for a law of nature, the keeping of faith, do nevertheless make exception of
certain persons; as heretics, and such as use not to perform their covenant to others: and this also is
against reason. For if any fault of a man, be sufficient to discharge our covenant made; the same ought
in reason to have been sufficient to have hindered the making of it . . . .

As justice dependeth on antecedent covenant; so does Gratitude depend on antecedent grace; that
is to say, antecedent free gift: and is the fourth law of nature; which may be conceived in this form,
that a man which receiveth benefit from another of mere grace, endeavour that he which giveth it,
have no reasonable cause to repent him of his good will. For no man giveth, but with intention of
good to himself; because gift is voluntary; and of all voluntary acts, the object is to every man his own
good; of which if men see they shall be frustrated, there will be no beginning of benevolence, or trust;
nor consequently of mutual help; nor of reconciliation of one man to another; and therefore they are to
remain still in the condition of war; which is contrary to the first and fundamental law of nature,
which commandeth men to seek peace. The breach of this law, is called ingratitude; and hath the
same relation to grace, that injustice hath to obligation by covenant.

A fifth law of nature, is Complaisance; that is to say, that every man strive to accommodate
himself to the rest. For the understanding whereof, we may consider, that there is in men’s aptness to
society, a diversity of nature, rising from their diversity of affections; not unlike to that we see in
stones brought together for building of an edifice. For as that stone which by the asperity, and
irregularity of figure, takes more room from others, than itself fills; and for the hardness, cannot be
easily made plain, and thereby hindereth the building, is by the builders cast away as unprofitable,
and troublesome: so also, a man that by asperity of nature, will strive to retain those things which to
himself are superfluous, and to others necessary; and for the stubbornness of his passions, cannot be
corrected, is to be left, or cast out of society, as cumbersome thereunto. For seeing every man, not
only by right, but also by necessity of nature, is supposed to endeavour all he can, to obtain that which
is necessary for his conservation; he that shall oppose himself against it, for things superfluous, is
guilty of the war that thereupon is to follow; and therefore doth that, which is contrary to the
fundamental law of nature, which commandeth to seek peace. The observers of this law, may be
called Sociable, the Latins call them commodi; the contrary, stubborn, insociable, froward,
intractable.

A sixth law of nature, is this that upon caution of the future time, a man ought to pardon the
offences past of them that repenting, desire it. For Pardon, is nothing but granting of peace; which
though granted to them that persevere in their hostility, be not peace, but fear; yet not granted to them
that give caution of the future time, is sign of an aversion to peace; and therefore contrary to the law
of nature.

A seventh is, that in revenges, that is, retribution of evil for evil, men look not at the greatness
of the evil past, but the greatness of the good to follow. Whereby we are forbidden to inflict
punishment with any other design, than for correction of the offender, or direction of others. For this
law is consequent to the next before it, that commandeth pardon, upon security of the future time.
Besides, revenge without respect to the example, and profit to come, is a triumph, or glorying in the
hurt of another, tending to no end; for the end is always somewhat to come; and glorying to no end, is

vainglory, and contrary to reason, and to hurt without reason, tendeth to the introduction of war; which
is against the law of nature; and is commonly styled by the name of cruelty.

And because all signs of hatred, or contempt, provoke to fight; insomuch as most men choose
rather to hazard their life, than not to be revenged; we may in the eighth place, for a law of nature, set
down this precept, that no man by deed, word, countenance, or gesture, declare hatred, or contempt
of another. The breach of which law, is commonly called contumely.

The question who is the better man, has no place in the condition of mere nature; where, as has
been shewn before, all men are equal. The inequality that now is, has been introduced by the laws
civil. I know that Aristotle in the first book of his Politics, for a foundation of his doctrine, maketh
men by nature, some more worthy to command, meaning the wiser sort, such as he thought himself to
be for his philosophy; others to serve, meaning those that had strong bodies, but were not
philosophers as he; as if master and servant were not introduced by consent of men, but by different of
wit: which is not only against reason; but also against experience. For there are very few so foolish,
that had not rather govern themselves, than be governed by others: nor when the wise in their own
conceit, contend by force, with them who distrust their own wisdom, do they always, or often, or
almost at any time, get the victory. If nature therefore have made men unequal, that equality is to be
acknowledged: or if nature have made men unequal; yet because men that think themselves equal, will
not enter into conditions of peace, but upon equal terms, such equality must be admitted. And
therefore for the ninth law of nature, I put this, that every man acknowledge another for his equal by
nature. The breach of this precept is pride.

On this law, dependeth another, that at the entrance into conditions of peace, no man require to
reserve to himself any right, which he is not content should be reserved to every one of the rest. As
it is necessary for all men that seek peace, to lay down certain rights of nature; that is to say, not to
have liberty to do all they list: so is it necessary for man’s life, to retain some; as right to govern their
own bodies; enjoy air, water, motion, ways to go from place to place; and all things else, without
which a man cannot live, or not live well. If in this case, at the making of peace, men require for
themselves, that which they would not have to be granted to others, they do contrary to the precedent
law, that commandeth the acknowledgment of natural equality, and therefore also against the law of
nature. The observers of this law, are those we call modest, and the breakers arrogant men . . . .

And because, though men be never so willing to observe these laws, there may nevertheless arise
questions concerning a man’s action; first, whether it were done, or not done; secondly, if done,
whether against the law, or not against the law; the former whereof, is called a question of fact; the
latter a question of right, therefore unless the parties to the question, covenant mutually to stand to the
sentence of another, they are as far from peace as ever. This other to whose sentence they submit is
called an Arbitrator. And therefore it is of the law of nature, that they that are at controversy, submit
their right to the judgment of an arbitrator.

And seeing every man is presumed to do all things in order to his own benefit, no man is a fit
arbitrator in his own cause; and if he were never so fit; yet equity allowing to each party equal
benefit, if one be admitted to be judge, the other is to be admitted also; and so the controversy, that is,
the cause of war, remains, against the law of nature.

For the same reason no man in any cause ought to be received for arbitrator, to whom greater
profit, or honour, or pleasure apparently ariseth out of the victory of one party, than of the other: for

he hath taken, though an unavoidable bribe, yet a bribe; and no man can be obliged to trust him. And
thus also the controversy, and the condition of war remaineth, contrary to the law of nature.

And in a controversy of fact, the judge being to give more credit to one, than to the other, if there
be no other arguments, must give credit to a third; or to a third and fourth; or more: for else the
question is undecided, and left to force, contrary to the law of nature.

These are the laws of nature, dictating peace, for a means of the conservation of men in
multitudes; and which only concern the doctrine of civil society. There be other things tending to the
destruction of particular men; as drunkenness, and all other parts of intemperance; which may
therefore also be reckoned amongst those things which the law of nature hath forbidden; but are not
necessary to be mentioned, nor are pertinent enough to this place.

And though this may seem too subtle a deduction of the laws of nature, to be taken notice of by all
men; whereof the most part are too busy in getting food, and the rest too negligent to understand; yet to
leave all men inexcusable, they have been contracted into one easy sum, intelligible even to the
meanest capacity; and that is, Do not that to another, which thou wouldst not have done to thyself;
which sheweth him, that he has no more to do in learning the laws of nature, but, when weighing the
actions of other men with his own, they seem too heavy, to put them into the other part of the balance,
and his own into their place, that is own passions, and self-love, may add nothing to the weight; and
then there is none of these laws of nature that will not appear unto him very reasonable. . . .

Of the Causes, Generation, and Definition of a Commonwealth

The final cause, end, or design of men, who naturally love liberty, and dominion over others, in the
introduction of that restraint upon themselves, in which we see them live in commonwealths, is the
foresight of their own preservation, and of a more contented life thereby; that is to say, of getting
themselves out from that miserable condition of war, which is necessarily consequent, as hath been
shown, to the natural passions of men, when there is no visible power to keep them in awe, and tie
them by fear of punishment to the performance of their covenants, and observation of those laws of
nature set down in the fourteenth and fifteenth chapters.

For the laws of nature, as justice, equity, modesty, mercy, and in sum, doing to others, as we
would be done to, of themselves, without the terror of some power, to cause them to be observed, are
contrary to our natural passions, that carry us to partiality, pride, revenge, and the like. And
covenants, without the sword, are but words, and of no strength to secure a man at all. Therefore
notwithstanding the laws of nature (which every one hath then kept, when he has the will to keep
them, when he can do it safely) if there be no power erected, or not great enough for our security;
every man will, and may lawfully rely on his own strength and art, for caution against all other men.
And in all places, where men have lived by small families, to rob and spoil one another, has been a
trade, and so far from being reputed against the law of nature, that the greater spoils they gained, the
greater was their honour; and men observed no other laws therein, but the laws of honour; that is, to
abstain from cruelty, leaving to men their lives, and instruments of husbandry. And as small families
did then; so now do cities and kingdoms which are but greater families, for their own security,
enlarge their dominions, upon all pretences of danger, and fear of invasion, or assistance that may be
given to invaders, and endeavour as much as they can, to subdue, or weaken their neighbours, by open

force, and secret arts, for want of other caution, justly; and are remembered for it in after ages with
honour.

Nor is it the joining together of a small number of men, that gives them this security; because in
small numbers, small additions on the one side or the other, make the advantage of strength so great,
as is sufficient to carry the victory; and therefore gives encouragement to an invasion. The multitude
sufficient to confide in for our security, is not determined by any certain number, but by comparison
with the enemy we fear; and is then sufficient, when the odds of the enemy is not of so visible and
conspicuous moment, to determine the event of war, as to move him to attempt.

And be there never so great a multitude; yet if their actions be directed according to their
particular judgments, and particular appetites, they can expect thereby no defence, nor protection,
neither against a common enemy, nor against the injuries of one another. For being distracted in
opinions concerning the best use and application of their strength, they do not help but hinder one
another; and reduce their strength by mutual opposition to nothing: whereby they are easily, not only
subdued by a very few that agree together; but also when there is no common enemy, they make war
upon each other, for their particular interests. For if we could suppose a great multitude of men to
consent in the observation of justice, and other laws of nature, without a common power to keep them
all in awe; we might as well suppose all mankind to do the same; and then there neither would be, nor
need to be any civil government, or commonwealth at all; because there would be peace without
subjection.

Nor is it enough for the security, which men desire should last all the time of their life, that they be
governed, and directed by one judgment, for a limited time; as in one battle, or one war. For though
they obtain a victory by their unanimous endeavour against a foreign enemy; yet afterwards, when
either they have no common enemy, or he that by one part is held for an enemy, is by another part held
for a friend, they must needs by the difference of their interests dissolve, and fall again into a war
amongst themselves.

It is true, that certain living creatures, as bees, and ants, live sociably one with another, which are
therefore by Aristotle numbered amongst political creatures; and yet have no other direction, than
their particular judgments and appetites; nor speech, whereby one of them can signify to another, what
he thinks expedient for the common benefit: and therefore some man may perhaps desire to know, why
mankind cannot do the same. To which I answer,

First, that men are continually in competition for honour and dignity, which these creatures are
not; and consequently amongst men there ariseth on that ground, envy and hatred, and finally war; but
amongst these not so.

Secondly, that amongst these creatures, the common good differeth not from the private; and being
by nature inclined to their private, they procure thereby the common benefit. But man, whose joy
consisteth in comparing himself with other men, can relish nothing but what is eminent.

Thirdly, that these creatures, having not, as man, the use of reason, do not see, nor think they see
any fault, in the administration of their common business; whereas amongst men, there are very many,
that think themselves wiser, and abler to govern the public, better than the rest; and these strive to
reform and innovate, one this way, another that way; and thereby bring it into distraction and civil
war.

Fourthly, that these creatures, though they have some use of voice, in making known to one another
their desires, and other affections; yet they want that art of words, by which some men can represent

to others, that which is good, in the likeness of evil; and evil, in the likeness of good; and augment, or
diminish the apparent greatness of good and evil; discontenting men, and troubling their peace at their
pleasure.

Fifthly, irrational creatures cannot distinguish between injury, and damage; and therefore as long
as they be at ease, they are not offended with their fellows: whereas man is then most troublesome,
when he is most at ease: for then it is that he loves to shew his wisdom, and control the actions of
them that govern the commonwealth.

Lastly, the agreement of these creatures is natural; that of men, is by covenant only, which is
artificial: and therefore it is no wonder if there be somewhat else required, besides covenant, to make
their agreement constant and lasting; which is a common power, to keep them in awe, and to direct
their actions to the common benefit.

The only way to erect such a common power, as may be able to defend them from the invasion of
foreigners, and the injuries of one another, and thereby to secure them in such sort, as that by their
own industry, and by the fruits of the earth, they may nourish themselves and live contentedly; is, to
confer all their power and strength upon one man, or upon one assembly of men, that may reduce all
their wills, by plurality of voices, unto one will; which is as much as to say, to appoint one man, or
assembly of men, to bear their person; and every one to own, and acknowledge himself to be author of
whatsoever he that so beareth their person, shall act, or cause to be acted, in those things which
concern the common peace and safety; and therein to submit their wills, every one to his will, and
their judgments, to his judgment. This is more than consent, or concord; it is a real unity of them all, in
one and the same person, made by covenant of every man with every man, in such manner, as if every
man should say to every man, I authorize and give up my right of governing myself, to this man, or
to this assembly of men, on this condition, that thou give up thy right to him, and authorize all his
actions in like manner. This done, the multitude so united in one person, is called a Commonwealth,
in Latin Civitas. This is the generation of that great Leviathan, or rather, to speak more reverently, of
that mortal god, to which we owe under the immortal God, our peace and defence. For by this
authority, given him by every particular man in the commonwealth, he hath the use of so much power
and strength conferred on him, that by terror thereof, he is enabled to form the wills of them all, to
peace at home, and mutual aid against their enemies abroad. And in him consisteth the essence of the
commonwealth; which, to define it, is one person, of whose acts a great multitude, by mutual
covenants one with another, have made themselves every one the author, to the end he may use the
strength and means of them all, as he shall think expedient, for their peace and common defence.

And he that carrieth this person is called Sovereign, and said to have sovereign power, and every
one besides, his Subject.

The attaining to this sovereign power, is by two ways. One by natural force; as when a man
maketh his children, to submit themselves, and their children to his government, as being able to
destroy them if they refuse; or by war subdueth his enemies to his will, giving them their lives on that
condition. The other, is when men agree amongst themselves, to submit to some man, or assembly of
men, voluntarily, on confidence to be protected by him against all others. This latter, may be called a
political commonwealth, or commonwealth by institution; and the former, a commonwealth by
acquisition. And first, I shall speak of a commonwealth by institution.

Of the Rights of Sovereigns by Institution

A commonwealth is said to be instituted, when a multitude of men do agree, and covenant, every
one, with every one, that to whatsoever man, or assembly of men, shall be given by the major part,
the right to present the person of them all, that is to say, to be their representative; every one, as well
he that voted for it, as he that voted against it, shall authorize all the actions and judgments, of that
man, or assembly of men, in the same manner, as if they were his own, to the end, to live peaceably
amongst themselves, and be protected against other men.

From this institution of a commonwealth are derived all the rights, and faculties of him, or them,
on whom sovereign power is conferred by the consent of the people assembled.

First, because they covenant, it is to be understood, they are not obliged by former covenant to
anything repugnant hereunto. And consequently they that have already instituted a commonwealth,
being thereby bound by covenant, to own the actions, and judgments of one, cannot lawfully make a
new covenant, amongst themselves, to be obedient to any other, in any thing whatsoever, without his
permission. And therefore, they that are subject to a monarch, cannot without his leave cast off
monarchy, and return to the confusion of a disunited multitude; nor transfer their person from him that
beareth it, to another man, or other assembly of men: for they are bound, every man to every man, to
own, and be reputed author of all, that he that already is their sovereign, shall do, and judge fit to be
done: so that any one man dissenting, all the rest should break their covenant made to that man, which
is injustice: and they have also every man given the sovereignty to him that beareth their person; and
therefore if they depose him, they take from him that which is his own, and so again it is injustice.
Besides, if he that attempteth to depose his sovereign, be killed, or punished by him for such attempt,
he is author of his own punishment, as being by the institution, author of all his sovereign shall do:
and because it is injustice for a man to do anything, for which he may be punished by his own
authority, he is also upon that title, unjust. And whereas some men have pretended for their
disobedience to their sovereign, a new covenant, made, not with men, but with God; this also is
unjust: for there is no covenant with God, but by mediation of somebody that representeth God’s
person; which none doth but God’s lieutenant, who hath the sovereignty under God. But this pretence
of covenant with God, is so evident a lie, even in the pretenders’ own consciences, that it is not only
an act of an unjust, but also of a vile and unmanly disposition.

Secondly, because the right of bearing the person of them all, is given to him they make sovereign,
by covenant only of one to another, and not of him to any of them; there can happen no breach of
covenant on the part of the sovereign; and consequently none of his subjects, by any pretence of
forfeiture, can be freed from his subjection. That he which is made sovereign maketh no covenant
with his subjects beforehand, is manifest; because either he must make it with the whole multitude, as
one party to the covenant; or he must make a several covenant with every man. With the whole, as one
party, it is impossible; because as yet they are not one person: and if he make so many several
covenants as there be men, those covenants after he hath the sovereignty are void; because what act
soever can be pretended by any one of them for breach thereof, is the act both of himself, and of all
the rest, because done in the person, and by the right of every one of them in particular. Besides, if
any one, or more of them, pretend a breach of the covenant made by the sovereign at his institution;
and others, or one other of his subjects, or himself alone, pretend there was no such breach, there is in
this case, no judge to decide the controversy; it returns therefore to the sword again; and every man

recovereth the right of protecting himself by his own strength, contrary to the design they had in the
institution. It is therefore in vain to grant sovereignty by way of precedent covenant. The opinion that
any monarch receiveth his power by covenant, that is to say, on condition, proceedeth from want of
understanding this easy truth, that covenants being but words and breath, have no force to oblige,
contain, constrain, or protect any man, but what it has from the public sword; that is, from the untied
hands of that man, or assembly of men that hath the sovereignty, and whose actions are avouched by
them all, and performed by the strength of them all, in him united. But when an assembly of men is
made sovereign; then no man imagineth any such covenant to have passed in the institution; for no man
is so dull as to say, for example, the people of Rome made a covenant with the Romans, to hold the
sovereignty on such or such conditions; which not performed, the Romans might lawfully depose the
Roman people. That men see not the reason to be alike in a monarchy, and in a popular government,
proceedeth from the ambition of some, that are kinder to the government of an assembly, whereof they
may hope to participate, than of monarchy, which they despair to enjoy.

Thirdly, because the major part hath by consenting voices declared a sovereign; he that dissented
must now consent with the rest; that is, be contented to avow all the actions he shall do, or else justly
be destroyed by the rest. For if he voluntarily entered into the congregation of them that were
assembled, he sufficiently declared thereby his will, and therefore tacitly covenanted, to stand to what
the major part should ordain: and therefore if he refuse to stand thereto, or make protestation against
any of their decrees, he does contrary to his covenant, and therefore unjustly. And whether he be of
the congregation, or not; and whether his consent be asked, or not, he must either submit to their
decrees, or be left in the condition of war he was in before; wherein he might without injustice be
destroyed by any man whatsoever.

Fourthly, because every subject is by this institution author of all the actions, and judgments of the
sovereign instituted; it follows, that whatsoever he doth, it can be no injury to any of his subjects; nor
ought he to be by any of them accused of injustice. For he that doth anything by authority from another,
doth therein no injury to him by whose authority he acteth: but by this institution of a commonwealth,
every particular man is author of all the sovereign doth: and consequently he that complaineth of
injury from his sovereign, complaineth of that whereof he himself is author; and therefore ought not to
accuse any man but himself; no nor himself of injury; because to do injury to one’s self, is impossible.
It is true that they that have sovereign power may commit iniquity, but not injustice, or injury in the
proper signification.

Fifthly, and consequently to that which was said last, no man that hath sovereign power can justly
be put to death, or otherwise in any manner by his subjects punished. For seeing every subject is
author of the actions of his sovereign; he punisheth another for the actions committed by himself.

And because the end of this institution, is the peace and defense of them all; and whosoever has
right to the end, has right to the means; it belongeth of right, to whatsoever man, or assembly that hath
the sovereignty, to be judge both of the means of peace and defense, and also of the hindrances, and
disturbances of the same; and to do whatsoever he shall think necessary to be done, both beforehand,
for the preserving of peace and security, by prevention of discord at home, and hostility from abroad;
and, when peace and security are lost, for the recovery of the same. And therefore,

Sixthly, it is annexed to the sovereignty, to be judge of what opinions and doctrines are averse,
and what conducing to peace; and consequently, on what occasions, how far, and what men are to be
trusted withal, in speaking to multitudes of people; and who shall examine the doctrines of all books

before they be published. For the actions of men proceed from their opinions; and in the well-
governing of opinions, consisteth the well-governing of men’s actions, in order to their peace, and
concord. And though in matter of doctrine, nothing ought to be regarded but the truth; yet this is not
repugnant to regulating the same by peace. For doctrine repugnant to peace, can no more be true, than
peace and concord can be against the law of nature. It is true, that in a commonwealth, whereby the
negligence, or unskilfulness of governors, and teachers, false doctrines are by time generally
received; the contrary truths may be generally offensive. Yet the most sudden, and rough bursting in of
a new truth, that can be, does never break the peace, but only sometimes awake the war. For those
men that are so remissly governed, that they dare take up arms to defend, or introduce an opinion, are
still in war; and their condition not peace, but only a cessation of arms for fear of one another; and
they live, as it were, in the precincts of battle continually. It belongeth therefore to him that hath the
sovereign power, to be judge, or constitute all judges of opinions and doctrines, as a thing necessary
to peace; thereby to prevent discord and civil war.

Seventhly, is annexed to the sovereignty, the whole power of prescribing the rules, whereby every
man may know, what goods he may enjoy, and what actions he may do, without being molested by any
of his fellow-subjects; and this is it men call propriety. For before constitution of sovereign power,
as hath already been shown, all men had right to all things; which necessarily causeth war: and
therefore this propriety, being necessary to peace, and depending on sovereign power, is the act of
that power, in order to the public peace. These rules of propriety, or mine and yours, and of good,
evil, lawful, and unlawful in the actions of subjects, are the civil laws; that is to say, the laws of each
commonwealth in particular; though the name of civil law be now restrained to the ancient civil laws
of the city of Rome; which being the head of a great part of the world, her laws at that time were in
these parts the civil law.

Eighthly, is annexed to the sovereignty, the right of judicature; that is to say, of hearing and
deciding all controversies, which may arise concerning law, either civil, or natural; or concerning
fact. For without the decision of controversies, there is no protection of one subject, against the
injuries of another; the laws concerning mine and yours are in vain; and to every man remaineth, from
the natural and necessary appetite of his own conservation, the right of protecting himself by his
private strength, which is the condition of war, and contrary to the end for which every
commonwealth is instituted.

Ninthly, is annexed to the sovereignty, the right of making war and peace with other nations, and
commonwealths; that is to say, of judging when it is for the public good, and how great forces are to
be assembled, armed, and paid for that end; and to levy money upon the subjects, to defray the
expenses thereof. For the power by which the people are to be defended, consisteth in their armies;
and the strength of an army, in the union of their strength under one command; which command the
sovereign instituted, therefore hath; because the command of the militia, without other institution,
maketh him that hath it sovereign. And therefore whosoever is made general of an army, he that hath
the sovereign power is always generalissimo.

Tenthly, is annexed to the sovereignty, the choosing of all counsellors, ministers, magistrates, and
officers, both in peace and war. For seeing the sovereign is charged with the end, which is the
common peace and defense, he is understood to have power to use such means, as he shall think most
fit for his discharge.

Eleventhly, to the sovereign is committed the power of rewarding with riches, or honour, and of
punishing with corporal or pecuniary punishment, or with ignominy, every subject according to the
law he hath formerly made; or if there be no law made, according as he shall judge most to conduce
to the encouraging of men to serve the commonwealth, or deterring of them from doing disservice to
the same.

Lastly, considering what value men are naturally apt to set upon themselves; what respect they
look for from others; and how little they value other men; from whence continually arise amongst
them, emulation, quarrels, factions, and at last war, to the destroying of one another, and diminution of
their strength against a common enemy; it is necessary that there be laws of honour, and a public rate
of the worth of such men as have deserved, or are able to deserve well of the commonwealth; and that
there be force in the hands of some or other, to put those laws in execution. But it hath already been
shown, that not only the whole militia, or forces of the commonwealth; but also the judicature of all
controversies, is annexed to the sovereignty. To the sovereign therefore it belongeth also to give titles
of honour; and to appoint what order of place, and dignity, each man shall hold; and what signs of
respect, in public or private meetings, they shall give to one another.

These are the rights, which make the essence of sovereignty; and which are the marks, whereby a
man may discern in what man, or assembly of men, the sovereign power is placed, and resideth. For
these are incommunicable, and inseparable. The power to coin money; to dispose of the estate and
persons of infant heirs; to have præemption in markets; and all other statute prerogatives, may be
transferred by the sovereign; and yet the power to protect his subjects be retained. But if he transfer
the militia, he retains the judicature in vain, for want of execution of the laws: or if he grant away the
power of raising money; the militia is in vain; or if he give away the government of doctrines, men
will be frighted into rebellion with the fear of spirits. And so if we consider any one of the said
rights, we shall presently see, that the holding of all the rest will produce no effect, in the
conservation of peace and justice, the end for which all commonwealths are instituted. And this
division is it, whereof it is said, a kingdom divided in itself cannot stand: for unless this division
precede, division into opposite armies can never happen. If there had not first been an opinion
received of the greatest part of England, that these powers were divided between the King, and the
Lords, and the House of Commons, the people had never been divided and fallen into this civil war;
first between those that disagreed in politics; and after between the dissenters about the liberty of
religion; which have so instructed men in this point of sovereign right, and there be few now in
England that do not see, that these rights are inseparable, and will be so generally acknowledged at
the next return of peace; and so continue, till their miseries are forgotten; and no longer, except the
vulgar be better taught than they have hitherto been.

And because they are essential and inseparable rights, it follows necessarily, that in whatsoever
words any of them seem to be granted away, yet if the sovereign power itself be not in direct terms
renounced, and the name of sovereign no more given by the grantees to him that grants them, the grant
is void: for when he has granted all he can, if we grant back the sovereignty, all is restored, as
inseparably annexed thereunto.

This great authority being indivisible, and inseparably annexed to the sovereignty, there is little
ground for the opinion of them, that say of sovereign kings, though they be singulis majores, of greater
power than every one of their subjects, yet they be universis minores, of less power than them all
together. For if by all together, they mean not the collective body as one person, then all together,

and every one, signify the same; and the speech is absurd. But if by all together, they understand them
as one person, which person the sovereign bears, then the power of all together, is the same with the
sovereign’s power; and so again the speech is absurd: which absurdity they see well enough, when
the sovereignty is in an assembly of the people; but in a monarch they see it not; and yet the power of
sovereignty is the same in whomsoever it be placed.

And as the power, so also the honour of the sovereign, ought to be greater, than that of any, or all
the subjects. For in the sovereignty is the fountain of honour. The dignities of lord, earl, duke, and
prince are his creatures. As in the presence of the master, the servants are equal, and without any
honour at all; so are the subjects, in the presence of the sovereign. And though they shine some more,
some less, when they are out of his sight; yet in his presence, they shine no more than the stars in the
presence of the sun.

But a man may here object, that the condition of subjects is very miserable; as being obnoxious to
the lusts, and other irregular passions of him, or them that have so unlimited a power in their hands.
And commonly they that live under a monarch, think it the fault of monarchy; and they that live under
the government of democracy, or other sovereign assembly, attribute all the inconvenience to that form
of commonwealth; whereas the power in all forms, if they be perfect enough to protect them, is the
same: not considering that the state of man can never be without some incommodity or other; and that
the greatest, that in any form of government can possibly happen to the people in general, is scarce
sensible, in respect to the miseries, and horrible calamities, that accompany a civil war, or that
dissolute condition of masterless men, without subjection to laws, and a coercive power to tie their
hands from rapine and revenge: nor considering that the greatest pressure of sovereign governors,
proceedeth not from any delight, or profit they can expect in the damage or weakening of their
subjects, in whose vigour consisteth their own strength and glory; but in the restiveness of themselves,
that unwillingly contributing to their own defense, make it necessary for their governors to draw from
them what they can in time of peace, that they may have means on any emergent occasion, or sudden
need, to resist, or take advantage on their enemies. For all men are by nature provided of notable
multiplying glasses, that is their passions and self-love, through which, every little payment appeareth
a great grievance; but are destitute of those prospective glasses, namely moral and civil science, to
see afar off the miseries that hang over them, and cannot without such payment be avoided. . . .

Of the Several Kinds of Commonwealth by Institution; and of Succession to the
Sovereign Power

The difference of commonwealths, consisteth in the difference of the sovereign, or the person
representative of all and every one of the multitude. And because the sovereignty is either in one man,
or in an assembly of more than one; and into that assembly either every man hath right to enter, or not
every one, but certain men distinguished from the rest; it is manifest, there can be but three kinds of
commonwealth. For the representative must needs be one man, or more: and if more, then it is the
assembly of all, or but of a part. When the representative is one man, then is the commonwealth a
Monarchy: when an assembly of all that will come together, then it is a Democracy, or popular
commonwealth: when an assembly of a part only, then it is called an Aristocracy. Other kind of

commonwealth there can be none: for either one, or more, or all, must have the sovereign power,
which I have shown to be indivisible, entire.

There be other names of government, in the histories, and books of policy; as tyranny, and
oligarchy: but they are not the names of other forms of government, but of the same forms misliked,
for they that are discontented under monarchy, call it tyranny; and they that are displeased with
aristocracy, call it oligarchy: so also, they which find themselves grieved under a democracy, call it
anarchy, which signifies want of government; and yet I think no man believes, that want of
government, is any new kind of government: nor by the same reason ought they to believe, that the
government is of one kind, when they like it, and another, when they mislike it, or are oppressed by
the governors.

It is manifest, that men who are in absolute liberty, may, if they please, give authority to one man,
to represent them every one; as well as give such authority to any assembly of men whatsoever; and
consequently may subject themselves, if they think good, to a monarch, as absolutely, as to any other
representative. Therefore, where there is already erected a sovereign power, there can be no other
representative of the same people, but only to certain particular ends, by the sovereign limited. For
that were to erect two sovereigns; and every man to have his person represented by two actors, that
by opposing one another, must needs divide that power, which, if men will live in peace, is
indivisible; and thereby reduce the multitude into the condition of war, contrary to the end for which
all sovereignty is instituted. And therefore as it is absurd, to think that a sovereign assembly, inviting
the people of their dominion, to send up their deputies, with power to make known their advice, or
desires, should therefore hold such deputies, rather than themselves, for the absolute representatives
of the people: so it is absurd also, to think the same in a monarchy. And I know not how this so
manifest a truth, should of late be so little observed; that in a monarchy, he that had the sovereignty
from a descent of six hundred years, was alone called sovereign, had the title of Majesty from every
one of this subjects, and was unquestionably taken by them for their king, was notwithstanding never
considered as their representative; the name without contradiction passing for the title of those men,
which at his command were sent up by the people to carry their petitions, and give him, if he
permitted it, their advice. Which may serve as an admonition, for those that are the true, and absolute
representative of a people, to instruct men in the nature of that office, and to take heed how they admit
of any other general representation upon any occasion whatsoever, if they mean to discharge the trust
committed to them.

Comparison of monarchy, with sovereign assemblies. The difference between these three kinds
of commonwealth, consisteth not in the difference of power; but in the difference of convenience, or
aptitude to produce the peace, and security of the people; for which end they were instituted. . . .

Of the Liberty of Subjects

Liberty, or freedom, signifieth, properly, the absence of opposition; by opposition, I mean external
impediments of motion; and may be applied no less to irrational, and inanimate creatures, than to
rational. For whatsoever is so tied, or environed, as it cannot move but within a certain space, which
space is determined by the opposition of some external body, we say it hath not liberty to go further.
And so of all living creatures, whilst they are imprisoned, or restrained, with walls, or chains; and of
the water whilst it is kept in by banks, or vessels, that otherwise would spread itself into a larger
space, we use to say, they are not at liberty, to move in such manner, as without those external
impediments they would. But when the impediment of motion, is in the constitution of the thing itself,
we use not to say; it wants the liberty; but the power to move; as when a stone lieth still, or a man is
fastened to his bed by sickness.

And according to this proper, and generally received meaning of the word, a Freeman, is he, that
in those things, which by his strength and wit he is able to do, is not hindered to do what he has a
will to. But when the words free and liberty, are applied to any thing but bodies, they are abused; for
that which is not subject to motion is not subject to impediment: and therefore, when it is said, for
example, the way is free, no liberty of the way is signified, but of those that walk in it without stop.
And when we say a gift is free, there is not meant any liberty of the gift, but of the giver, that was not
bound by any law or covenant to give it. So when we speak freely, it is not the liberty of voice, or
pronunciation, but of the man, whom no law hath obliged to speak otherwise than he did. Lastly, from
the use of the word free-will, no liberty can be inferred of the will, desire, or inclination, but the
liberty of the man; which consisteth in this, that he finds no stop, in doing what he has the will, desire,
or inclination to do.

Fear and liberty are consistent; as when a man throweth his goods into the sea for fear the ship
should sink, he doth it nevertheless very willingly, and may refuse to do it if he will; it is therefore the
action of one that was free: so a man sometimes pays his debt, only for fear of imprisonment, which
because nobody hindered him from detaining, was the action of a man at liberty. And generally all
actions which men do in commonwealths, for fear of the law, are actions, which the doers had liberty
to omit.

Liberty, and necessity are consistent: as in the water, that hath not only liberty, but a necessity of
descending by the channel; so likewise in the actions which men voluntarily do: which, because they
proceed from their will, proceed from liberty; and yet, because every act of man’s will, and every
desire, and inclination proceedeth from some cause, and that from another cause, in a continual chain,
whose first link is in the hand of God the first of all causes, proceed from necessity. So that to him
that could see the connexion of those causes, the necessity of all men’s voluntary actions would
appear manifest. And therefore God, that seeth, and disposeth all things, seeth also that the liberty of
man in doing what he will, is accompanied with the necessity of doing that which God will, and no
more, nor less. For though men may do many things, which God does not command, nor is therefore
author of them; yet they can have no passion, nor appetite to anything, of which appetite God’s will is
not the cause. And did not his will assure the necessity of man’s will, and consequently of all that on
man’s will dependeth, the liberty of men would be a contradiction, and impediment to the
omnipotence and liberty of God. And this shall suffice, as to the matter in hand, of that natural liberty,
which only is properly called liberty.

But as men, for the attaining of peace, and conservation of themselves thereby, have made an
artificial man, which we call a commonwealth; so also have they made artificial chains, called civil
laws, which they themselves, by mutual covenants, have fastened at one end, to the lips of that man, or
assembly, to whom they have given the sovereign power; and at the other end to their own ears. These
bonds, in their own nature but weak, may nevertheless be made to hold, by the danger, though not by
the difficulty of breaking them.

In relation to these bonds only it is, that I am to speak now, of the liberty of subjects. For seeing
there is no commonwealth in the world, wherein there be rules enough set down, for the regulating of
all the actions, and words of men; as being a thing impossible: it followeth necessarily, that in all
kinds of actions by the laws prætermitted, men have the liberty, of doing what their own reasons shall
suggest, for the most profitable to themselves. For if we take liberty in the proper sense, for corporal
liberty; that is to say, freedom from chains and prison; it were very absurd for men to clamour as they
do, for the liberty they so manifestly enjoy. Again, if we take liberty, for an exemption from laws, it is
no less absurd, for men to demand as they do, that liberty, by which all other men may be masters of
their lives. And yet, as absurd as it is, this is it they demand; not knowing that the laws are of no
power to protect them, without a sword in the hands of a man, or men, to cause those laws to be put in
execution. The liberty of a subject, lieth therefore only in those things, which in regulating their
actions, the sovereign hath prætermitted: such as is the liberty to buy, and sell, and otherwise contract
with one another; to choose their own abode, their own diet, their own trade of life, and institute their
children as they themselves think fit; and the like.

Nevertheless we are not to understand, that by such liberty, the sovereign power of life and death,
is either abolished, or limited. For it has been already shown, that nothing the sovereign
representative can do to a subject, on what pretence soever, can properly be called injustice, or
injury; because every subject is author of every act the sovereign doth; so that he never wanteth right
to any thing, otherwise, than as he himself is the subject of God, and bound thereby to observe the
laws of nature. And therefore it may, and doth often happen in commonwealths, that a subject may be
put to death, by the command of the sovereign power; and yet neither do the other wrong; as when
Jephtha caused his daughter to be sacrificed: in which, and the like cases, he that so dieth, had liberty
to do the action, for which he is nevertheless, without injury put to death. And the same holdeth also
in a sovereign prince, that putteth to death an innocent subject. For though the action be against the
law of nature, as being contrary to equity, as was the killing of Uriah, by David; yet it was not an
injury to Uriah, but to God. Not to Uriah, because the right to do what he pleased was given him by
Uriah himself: and yet to God, because David was God’s subject, and prohibited all iniquity by the
law of nature. . . .

The liberty, whereof there is so frequent and honourable mention, in the histories, and philosophy
of the ancient Greeks, and Romans, and in the writings, and discourse of those that from them have
received all their learning in the politics, is not the liberty of particular men; but the liberty of the
commonwealth: which is the same with that which every man then should have, if there were no civil
laws, nor commonwealth at all. And the effects of it also be the same. For as amongst masterless men,
there is perpetual war, of every man against his neighbor; no inheritance, to transmit to the son, nor to
expect from the father; no propriety of goods, or lands; no security; but a full and absolute liberty in
every particular man: so in states, and commonwealths not dependent on one another, every
commonwealth, not every man, has an absolute liberty, to do what it shall judge, that is to say, what

that man, or assembly that representeth it, shall judge most conducing to their benefit. But withal, they
live in the condition of a perpetual war, and upon the confines of battle, with their frontiers armed,
and cannons planted against their neighbors round about. The Athenians, and Romans were free; that
is, free commonwealths: not that any particular men had the liberty to resist their own representative;
but that their representative had the liberty to resist, or invade other people. There is written on the
turrets of the city of Lucca in great characters at this day, the word Libertas; yet no man can thence
infer, that a particular man has more liberty, or immunity from the service of the commonwealth there,
than in Constantinople. Whether a commonwealth be monarchical, or popular, the freedom is still the
same.

But it is an easy thing, for men to be deceived, by the specious name of liberty; and for want of
judgment to distinguish, mistake that for their private inheritance, and birth-right, which is the right of
the public only. And when the same error is confirmed by the authority of men in reputation for their
writings on this subject, it is no wonder if it produce sedition, and change of government. In these
western parts of the world, we are made to receive our opinions concerning the institution, and rights
of commonwealths, from Aristotle, Cicero, and other men, Greeks and Romans, that living under
popular states, derived those rights, not from the principles of nature, but transcribed them into their
books, out of the practice of their own commonwealths, which were popular; as the grammarians
describe the rules of language, out of the practice of the time; or the rules of poetry, out of the poems
of Homer and Virgil. And because the Athenians were taught, to keep them from desire of changing
their government, that they were freemen, and all that lived under monarchy were slaves; therefore
Aristotle puts it down in his Politics, In democracy, Liberty is to be supposed: for it is commonly
held, that no man is Free in any other government. And as Aristotle; so Cicero, and other writers
have grounded their civil doctrine, on the opinions of the Romans, who were taught to hate monarchy,
at first, by them that having deposed their sovereign; shared amongst them the sovereignty of Rome;
and afterwards by their successors. And by reading of these Greek, and Latin authors, men from their
childhood have gotten a habit, under a false show of liberty, of favouring tumults, and of licentious
controlling the actions of their sovereigns, and again of controlling those controllers; with the effusion
of so much blood, as I think I may truly say, there was never any thing so dearly bought, as these
western parts have bought the learning of the Greek and Latin tongues.

To come now to the particulars of the true liberty of a subject; that is to say, what are the things,
which though commanded by the sovereign, he may nevertheless, without injustice, refuse to do; we
are to consider, what rights we pass away, when we make a commonwealth; or, which is all one,
what liberty we deny ourselves, by owning all the actions, without exception, of the man, or
assembly, we make our sovereign. For in the act of our submission, consisteth both our obligation,
and our liberty; which must therefore be inferred by arguments taken from thence; there being no
obligation on any man, which ariseth not from some act of his own; for all men equally, are by nature
free. And because such arguments, must either be drawn from the express words, I authorize all his
actions, or from the intention of him that submitteth himself to his power, which intention is to be
understood by the end for which he so submitteth; the obligation, and liberty of the subject, is to be
derived, either from those words, or others equivalent; or else from the end of the institution of
sovereignty, namely, the peace of the subjects within themselves, and their defense against a common
enemy.

First therefore, seeing sovereignty by institution, is by covenant of every one to every one; and
sovereignty by acquisition, by covenants of the vanquished to the victor, or child to the parent; it is
manifest, that every subject has liberty in all those things, the right whereof cannot by covenant be
transferred. I have shewn before in the 14th chapter, that covenants, not to defend a man’s own body,
are void. Therefore,

If the sovereign command a man, though justly condemned, to kill, wound, or maim himself; or not
to resist those that assault him; or to abstain from the use of food, air, medicine, or any other thing,
without which he cannot live; yet hath that man the liberty to disobey.

If a man be interrogated by the sovereign, or his authority, concerning a crime done by himself, he
is not bound, without assurance of pardon, to confess it; because no man . . . can be obliged by
covenant to accuse himself.

Again, the consent of a subject to sovereign power, is contained in these words, I authorize, or
take upon me, all his actions; in which there is no restriction at all, of his own former natural liberty:
for by allowing him to kill me, I am not bound to kill myself when he commands me. It is one thing to
say, kill me, or my fellow, if you please; another thing to say, I will kill myself, or my fellow. It
followeth therefore, that

No man is bound by the words themselves, either to kill himself, or any other man; and
consequently, that the obligation a man may sometimes have, upon the command of the sovereign to
execute any dangerous, or dishonourable office, dependeth not on the words of our submission; but on
the intention, which is to be understood by the end thereof. When therefore our refusal to obey,
frustrates the end for which the sovereignty was ordained; then there is no liberty to refuse: otherwise
there is.

Upon this ground, a man that is commanded as a soldier to fight against the enemy, though his
sovereign have right enough to punish his refusal with death, may nevertheless in many cases refuse,
without injustice; as when he substituteth a sufficient soldier in his place: for in this case he deserteth
not the service of the commonwealth. And there is allowance to be made for natural timorousness; not
only to women, of whom no such dangerous duty is expected, but also to men of feminine courage.
When armies fight, there is on one side, or both, a running away; yet when they do it not out of
treachery, but fear, they are not esteemed to do it unjustly, but dishonourably. For the same reason, to
avoid battle, is not injustice, but cowardice. But he that inrolleth himself a soldier, or taketh imprest
money, taketh away the excuse of a timorous nature; and is obliged, not only to go to the battle, but
also not to run from it, without his captain’s leave. And when the defense of the commonwealth,
required at once the help of all that are able to bear arms, every one is obliged; because otherwise the
institution of the commonwealth, which they have not the purpose, or courage to preserve, was in
vain.

To resist the sword of the commonwealth, in defense of another man, guilty, or innocent, no man
hath liberty; because such liberty, takes away from the sovereign, the means of protecting us; and is
therefore destructive of the very essence of government. But in case a great many men together, have
already resisted the sovereign power unjustly, or committed some capital crime, for which every one
of them expecteth death, whether have they not the liberty then to join together, and assist, and defend
one another? Certainly they have: for they but defend their lives, which the guilty man may as well do,
as the innocent. There was indeed injustice in the first breach of their duty; their bearing of arms
subsequent to it, though it be to maintain what they have done, is no new unjust act. And if it be only

to defend their persons, it is not unjust at all. But the offer of pardon taketh from them, to whom it is
offered, the plea of self-defense, and maketh their perseverance in assisting, or defending the rest,
unlawful.

As for other liberties, they depend on the silence of the law. In cases where the sovereign has
prescribed no rule, there the subject hath the liberty to do, or forbear, according to his own discretion.
And therefore such liberty is in some places more, and in some less; and in some times more, in other
times less, according as they that have the sovereignty shall think most convenient. As for example,
there was a time, when in England a man might enter into his own land, and dispossess such as
wrongfully possessed it, by force. But in after times, that liberty of forcible entry, was taken away by
a statute made, by the king, in parliament. And in some places of the world, men have the liberty of
many wives: in other places, such liberty is not allowed.

If a subject have a controversy with his sovereign, of debt, or of right of possession of lands or
goods, or concerning any service required at his hands, or concerning any penalty, corporal, or
pecuniary, grounded on a precedent law; he hath the same liberty to sue for his right, as if it were
against a subject; and before such judges, as are appointed by the sovereign. For seeing the sovereign
demandeth by force of a former law, and not by virtue of his power; he declareth thereby, that he
requireth no more, than shall appear to be due by that law. The suit therefore is not contrary to the
will of the sovereign; and consequently the subject hath the liberty to demand the hearing of his cause;
and sentence, according to that law. But if he demand, or take anything by pretence of his power; there
lieth, in that case, no action of law; for all that is done by him in virtue of his power, is done by the
authority of every subject, and consequently he that brings an action against the sovereign, brings it
against himself.

If a monarch, or sovereign assembly, grant a liberty to all, or any of his subjects, which grant
standing, he is disabled to provide for their safety, the grant is void; unless he directly renounce, or
transfer the sovereignty to another. For in that he might openly, if it had been his will, and in plain
terms, have renounced, or transferred it, and did not; it is to be understood it was not his will, but that
the grant proceeded from ignorance of the repugnancy between such a liberty and the sovereign
power; and therefore the sovereignty is still retained; and consequently all those powers, which are
necessary to the exercising thereof; such as are the power of war, and peace, of judicature, of
appointing officers, and councillors, of levying money, and the rest named in the 18th chapter.

The obligation of subjects to the sovereign, is understood to last as long, and no longer, than the
power lasteth, by which he is able to protect them. For the right men have by nature to protect
themselves, when none else can protect them, can by no covenant be relinquished. The sovereignty is
the soul of the commonwealth; which once departed from the body, the members do no more receive
their motion from it. The end of obedience is protection; which, wheresoever a man seeth it, either in
his own, or in another’s sword, nature applieth his obedience to it, and his endeavour to maintain it.
And though sovereignty, in the intention of them that make it, be immortal; yet it is in its own nature,
not only subject to violent death, by foreign war; but also through the ignorance, and passions of men,
it hath in it, from the very institution, many seeds of a natural mortality, by intestine discord.

If a subject be taken prisoner in war; or his person or his means of life be within the guards of the
enemy, and hath his life and corporal liberty given him, on condition to be subject to the victor, he
hath liberty to accept the condition; and having accepted it, is the subject of him that took him;
because he had no other way to preserve himself. The case is the same, if he be detained on the same

terms, in a foreign country. But if a man be held in prison, or bonds, or is not trusted with the liberty
of his body; he cannot be understood to be bound by covenant to subjection; and therefore may, if he
can, make his escape by any means whatsoever.

If a monarch shall relinquish the sovereignty, both for himself, and his heirs; his subjects return to
the absolute liberty of nature; because, though nature may declare who are his sons, and who are the
nearest of his kin; yet it dependeth on his own will, as hath been said in the precedent chapter, who
shall be his heir. If therefore he will have no heir, there is no sovereignty, nor subjection. The case is
the same, if he die without known kindred, and without declaration of his heir. For then there can no
heir be known, and consequently no subjection be due.

If the sovereign banish his subject; during the banishment, he is not subject. But he that is sent on a
message, or hath leave to travel, is still subject; but it is, by contract between sovereigns, not by
virtue of the covenant of subjection. For whosoever entereth into another’s dominion, is subject to all
the laws thereof; unless he have a privilege of the amity of the sovereigns, or by special licence.

If a monarch subdued by war, render himself subject to the victor; his subjects are delivered from
their former obligation, and become obliged to the victor. If he be held prisoner, or have not the
liberty of his own body; he is not understood to have given away the right of sovereignty; and
therefore his subjects are obliged to yield obedience to the magistrates formerly placed, governing
not in their own name, but in his. For, his right remaining, the question is only of the administration;
that is to say, of the magistrates and officers; which, if he have not means to name, he is supposed to
approve those, which he himself had formerly appointed.

Of Those Things That Weaken, or Tend to the Dissolution of a Commonwealth

Dissolution of commonwealths proceedeth from their imperfect institution. Though nothing can be
immortal, which mortals make, yet, if men had the use of reason they pretend to, their commonwealths
might be secured, at least from perishing by internal diseases. For by the nature of their institution,
they are designed to live, as long as mankind, or as the laws of nature, or as justice itself, which gives
them life. Therefore when they come to be dissolved, not by external violence, but intestine disorder,
the fault is not in men, as they are the matter; but as they are the makers, and orderers of them. For
men, as they become at last weary of irregular jostling, and hewing one another, and desire with all
their hearts, to conform themselves into one firm and lasting edifice: so for want, both of the art of
making fit laws, to square their actions by, and also of humility, and patience, to suffer the rude and
cumbersome points of their present greatness to be taken off, they cannot without the help of a very
able architect, be compiled into any other than a crazy building, such as hardly lasting out their own
time, must assuredly fall upon the heads of their posterity.

Amongst the infirmities therefore of a commonwealth, I will reckon in the first place, those that
arise from an imperfect institution, and resemble the diseases of a natural body, which proceed from a
defectuous procreation.

Want of absolute power. Of which, this is one, that a man to obtain a kingdom, is sometimes
content with less power, than to the peace, and defence of the commonwealth is necessarily
required. From whence it cometh to pass, that when the exercise of the power laid by, is for the
public safety to be resumed, it hath the resemblance of an unjust act; which disposeth great numbers of

men, when occasion is presented, to rebel; in the same manner as the bodies of children, gotten by
diseased parents, are subject either to untimely death, or to purge the ill quality, derived from their
vicious conception, by breaking out into biles and scabs. And when kings deny themselves some such
necessary power, it is not always, though sometimes, out of ignorance of what is necessary to the
office they undertake; but many times out of a hope to recover the same again at their pleasure.
Wherein they reason not well; because such as will hold them to their promises, shall be maintained
against them by foreign commonwealths; who in order to the good of their own subjects let slip few
occasions to weaken the estate of their neighbours. So was Thomas Beckett, archbishop of
Canterbury, supported against Henry the Second, by the Pope; the subjection of ecclesiastics to the
commonwealth, having been dispensed with by William the Conqueror at his reception, when he took
an oath, not to infringe the liberty of the church . . . .

Nor does this happen in monarchy only. For whereas the style of the ancient Roman
commonwealth, was, The Senate and People of Rome; neither senate, nor people pretended to the
whole power; which first caused the seditions, of Tiberius Gracchus, Caius Gracchus, Lucius
Saturninus, and others; and afterwards the wars between the senate and the people, under Marius and
Sylla; and again under Pompey and Cæsar, to the extinction of their democracy, and the setting up of
monarchy.

The people of Athens bound themselves but from one only action; which was, that no man on pain
of death should propound the renewing of the war for the island of Salamis; and yet thereby, if Solon
had not caused to be given out he was mad, and afterwards in gesture and habit of a madman, and in
verse, propounded it to the people that flocked about him, they had had an enemy perpetually in
readiness, even at the gates of their city; such damage, or shifts, are all commonwealths forced to, that
have their power never so little limited.

In the second place, I observe the diseases of a commonwealth, that proceed from the poison of
seditious doctrines, whereof one is, That every private man is judge of good and evil actions. This
is true in the condition of mere nature, where there are no civil laws; and also under civil
government, in such cases as are not determined by the law. But otherwise, it is manifest, that the
measure of good and evil actions, is the civil law; and the judge the legislator, who is always
representative of the commonwealth. From this false doctrine, men are disposed to debate with
themselves, and dispute the commands of the commonwealth; and afterwards to obey, or disobey
them, as in their private judgments they shall think fit; whereby the commonwealth is distracted and
weakened.

Another doctrine repugnant to civil society, is, that whatsoever a man does against his
conscience, is sin; and it dependeth on the presumption of making himself judge of good and evil. For
a man’s conscience, and his judgment is the same thing, and as the judgment, so also the conscience
may be erroneous. Therefore, though he that is subject to no civil law, sinneth in all he does against
his conscience, because he has no other rule to follow but his own reason; yet it is not so with him
that lives in a commonwealth; because the law is the public conscience, by which he hath already
undertaken to be guided. Otherwise in such diversity, as there is of private consciences, which are but
private opinions, the commonwealth must needs be distracted, and no man dare to obey the sovereign
power, further than it shall seem good in his own eyes.

It hath been also commonly taught, that faith and sanctity, are not to be attained by study and
reason, but by supernatural inspiration, or infusion. Which granted, I see not why any man should

render a reason of his faith; or why every Christian should not be also a prophet; or why any man
should take the law of his country, rather than his own inspiration, for the rule of his action. And thus
we fall again in the fault of taking upon us to judge of good and evil; or to make judges of it, such
private men as pretend to be supernaturally inspired, to the dissolution of all civil government. Faith
comes by hearing, and hearing by those accidents, which guide us into the presence of them that speak
to us; which accidents are all contrived by God Almighty; and yet are not supernatural, but only, for
the great number of them that concur to every effect, unobservable. Faith and sanctity, are indeed not
very frequent; but yet they are not miracles, but brought to pass by education, discipline, correction,
and other natural ways, by which God worketh them in his elect, at such times as he thinketh fit. And
these three opinions, pernicious to peace and government, have in this part of the world, proceeded
chiefly from the tongues, and pens of unlearned divines, who joining the words of Holy Scripture
together, otherwise than is agreeable to reason, do what they can, to make men think, that sanctity and
natural reason, cannot stand together.

A fourth opinion, repugnant to the nature of a commonwealth, is this, that he that hath the
sovereign power is subject to the civil laws. It is true, that sovereigns are all subject to the laws of
nature; because such laws be divine, and cannot by any man, or commonwealth be abrogated. But to
those laws which the sovereign himself, that is, which the commonwealth maketh, he is not subject.
For to be subject to laws, is to be subject to the commonwealth, that is to the sovereign
representative, that is to himself; which is not subjection, but freedom from the laws. Which error,
because it setteth the laws above the sovereign, setteth also a judge above him, and a power to punish
him; which is to make a new sovereign; and again for the same reason a third, to punish the second;
and so continually without end, to the confusion, and dissolution of the commonwealth.

A fifth doctrine, that tendeth to the dissolution of a commonwealth, is, that every private man has
an absolute propriety in his goods; such, as excludeth the right of the sovereign. Every man has
indeed a propriety that excludes the right of every other subject: and he has it only from the sovereign
power; without the protection whereof, every other man should have equal right to the same. But if the
right of the sovereign also be excluded, he cannot perform the office they have put him into; which is,
to defend them both from foreign enemies, and from the injuries of one another; and consequently
there is no longer a commonwealth.

And if the propriety of subjects, exclude not the right of the sovereign representative to their
goods; much less to their offices of judicature, or execution, in which they represent the sovereign
himself.

There is a sixth doctrine, plainly, and directly against the essence of a commonwealth; and it is
this, that the sovereign power may be divided. For what is it to divide the power of a
commonwealth, but to dissolve it; for powers divided mutually destroy each other. And for these
doctrines, men are chiefly beholding to some of those, that making profession of the laws, endeavour
to make them depend upon their own learning, and not upon the legislative power.

And as false doctrine, so also oftentimes the example of different government in a neighbouring
nation, disposeth men to alteration of the form already settled. So the people of the Jews were stirred
up to reject God, and to call upon the prophet Samuel, for a king after the manner of the nations: so
also the lesser cities of Greece, were continually disturbed, with seditions of the aristocratical, and
democratical factions . . . .

And as to rebellion in particular against monarchy; one of the most frequent causes of it, is the
reading of the books of policy, and histories of the ancient Greeks, and Romans; from which, young
men, and all others that are unprovided of the antidote of solid reason, receiving a strong, and
delightful impression, of the great exploits of war, achieved by the conductors of their armies, receive
withal a pleasing idea, of all they have done besides; and imagine their great prosperity, not to have
proceeded from the emulation of particular men, but from the virtue of their popular form of
government: not considering the frequent seditions, and civil wars, produced by the imperfection of
their policy. From the reading, I say, of such books, men have undertaken to kill their kings, because
the Greek and Latin writers, in their books, and discourses of policy, make it lawful, and laudable, for
any man so to do; provided, before he do it, he call him tyrant. For they say not regicide, that is,
killing a king, but tyrannicide, that is killing of a tyrant is lawful. From the same books, they that live
under a monarch conceive an opinion, that the subjects in a popular commonwealth enjoy liberty; but
that in a monarchy they are all slaves. I say, they that live under a monarchy conceive such an opinion;
not they that live under a popular government: for they find no such matter. In sum, I cannot imagine,
how any thing can be more prejudicial to a monarchy, than the allowing of such books to be publicly
read, without present applying such correctives of discreet masters, as are fit to take away their
venom: which venom I will not doubt to compare to the biting of a mad dog, which is a disease the
physicians call hydrophobia, or fear of water. For as he that is so bitten, has a continual torment of
thirst, and yet abhorreth water; and is in such an estate, as if the poison endeavoured to convert him
into a dog: so when a monarchy is once bitten to the quick, by those democratical writers, that
continually snarl at the estate; it wanteth nothing more than a strong monarch, which nevertheless out
of a certain tyrannophobia, or fear of being strongly governed, when they have him, they abhor.

As there have been doctors, that hold there be three souls in a man; so there be also that think
there may be more souls, that is, more sovereigns, than one, in a commonwealth; and set up a
supremacy against the sovereignty; canons against laws; and a ghostly authority against the civil;
working on men’s minds, with words and distinctions, that of themselves signify nothing, but bewray
by their obscurity; that there walketh, as some think, invisibly another kingdom, as it were a kingdom
of fairies, in the dark. Now seeing it is manifest, that the civil power, and the power of the
commonwealth is the same thing; and that supremacy, and the power of making canons, and granting
faculties, implieth a commonwealth; it followeth, that where one is sovereign, another supreme;
where one can make laws, and another make canons; there must needs be two commonwealths, of one
and the same subjects; which is a kingdom divided in itself, and cannot stand. For notwithstanding the
insignificant distinction of temporal, and ghostly, they are still two kingdoms, and every subject is
subject to two masters. For seeing the ghostly power challengeth the right to declare what is sin, it
challengeth by consequence to declare what is law, sin being nothing but the transgression of the law;
and again, the civil power challenging to declare what is law, every subject must obey two masters,
who both will have their commands be observed as law; which is impossible. Or, if it be but one
kingdom, either the civil, which is the power of the commonwealth, must be subordinate to the
ghostly, and then there is no sovereignty but the ghostly; or the ghostly must be subordinate to the
temporal, and then there is no supremacy but the temporal. When therefore these two powers oppose
one another, the commonwealth cannot but be in great danger of civil war and dissolution. For the
civil authority being more visible, and standing in the clearer light of natural reason, cannot choose
but draw to it in all times a very considerable part of the people: and the spiritual, though it stand in

the darkness of School distinctions, and hard words, yet because the fear of darkness and ghosts, is
greater than other fears, cannot want a party sufficient to trouble, and sometimes to destroy a
commonwealth. And this is a disease which not unfitly may be compared to the epilepsy, or falling
sickness, which the Jews took to be one kind of possession by spirits, in the body natural. For as in
this disease, there is an unnatural spirit, or wind in the head that obstructeth the roots of the nerves,
and moving them violently, taketh away the motion which naturally they should have from the power
of the soul in the brain, and thereby causeth violent, and irregular motions, which men call
convulsions, in the parts; insomuch as he that is seized therewith, falleth down sometimes into the
water, and sometimes into the fire, as a man deprived of his senses; so also in the body politic, when
the spiritual power, moveth the members of a commonwealth, by the terror of punishments, and hope
of rewards, which are the nerves of it, otherwise than by the civil power, which is the soul of the
commonwealth, they ought to be moved; and by strange, and hard words suffocates their
understanding, it must needs thereby distract the people, and either overwhelm the commonwealth
with oppression, or cast it into the fire of a civil war.

Sometimes also in the merely civil government, there be more than one soul; as when the power
of levying money, which is the nutritive faculty, has depended on a general assembly; the power of
conduct and command, which is the motive faculty, on one man; and the power of making laws, which
is the rational faculty, on the accidental consent, not only of those two, but also of a third; this
endangereth the commonwealth, sometimes for want of consent to good laws: but most often for want
of such nourishment, as is necessary to life, and motion. For although few perceive, that such
government, is not government, but division of the commonwealth into three factions, and call it
mixed monarchy: yet the truth is, that it is not one independent commonwealth, but three independent
factions; nor one representative person, but three. In the kingdom of God, there may be three persons
independent, without breach of unity in God that reigneth; but where men reign, that be subject to
diversity of opinions, it cannot be so. And therefore if the king bear the person of the people, and the
general assembly bear also the person of the people, and another assembly bear the person of a part
of the people, they are not one person, nor one sovereign, but three persons, and three sovereigns.

To what disease in the natural body of man, I may exactly compare this irregularity of a
commonwealth, I know not. But I have seen a man, that had another man growing out of his side, with
a head, arms, breast, and stomach, of his own; if he had had another man growing out of his other
side, the comparison might then have been exact.

Hitherto I have named such diseases of a commonwealth, as are of the greatest, and most present
danger. There be other not so great; which nevertheless are not unfit to be observed. At first, the
difficulty of raising money, for the necessary uses of the commonwealth; especially in the approach of
war. This difficulty ariseth from the opinion, that every subject hath a propriety in his lands and
goods, exclusive of the sovereign’s right to the use of the same. From whence it cometh to pass, that
the sovereign power, which foreseeth the necessities and dangers of the commonwealth, finding the
passage of money to the public treasury obstructed, by the tenacity of the people, whereas it ought to
extend itself, to encounter, and prevent such dangers in their beginnings, contracteth itself as long as it
can, and when it cannot longer, struggles with the people by stratagems of law, to obtain little sums,
which not sufficing, he is fain at last violently to open the way for present supply, or perish; and being
put often to these extremities, at last reduceth the people to their due temper; or else the
commonwealth must perish. Insomuch as we may compare this distemper very aptly to an ague;

wherein, the fleshly parts being congealed, or by venomous matter obstructed, the veins which by
their natural course empty themselves into the heart, are not, as they ought to be, supplied from the
arteries, whereby there succeedeth at first a cold contraction, and trembling of the limbs; and
afterward a hot, and strong endeavour of the heart, to force a passage for the blood; and before it can
do that, contenteth itself with the small refreshments of such things as cool for a time, till, if nature be
strong enough, it break at last the contumacy of the parts obstructed, and dissipateth the venom into
sweat; or, if nature be too weak, the patient dieth.

Again, there is sometimes in a commonwealth, a disease, which resembleth the pleurisy; and that
is, when the treasure of the commonwealth, flowing out of its due course, is gathered together in too
much abundance, in one, or a few private men, by monopolies, or by farms of the public revenues; in
the same manner as the blood in a pleurisy, getting into the membrane of the breast, breedeth there an
inflammation, accompanied with a fever, and painful stitches.

Also, the popularity of a potent subject, unless the commonwealth have very good caution of his
fidelity, is a dangerous disease; because the people, which should receive their motion from the
authority of the sovereign, by the flattery and by the reputation of an ambitious man are drawn away
from their obedience to the laws, to follow a man, of whose virtues, and designs they have no
knowledge. And this is commonly of more danger in a popular government, than in a monarchy;
because an army is of so great force, and multitude, as it may easily be made believe, they are the
people. By this means it was, that Julius Cæsar, who was set up by the people against the senate,
having won to himself the affections of his army, made himself master both of senate and people. And
this proceeding of popular, and ambitious men, is plain rebellion; and may be resembled to the effects
of witchcraft.

Another infirmity of a commonwealth, is the immoderate greatness of a town, when it is able to
furnish out of its own circuit, the number, and expense of a great army: as also the great number of
corporations; which are as it were many lesser commonwealths in the bowels of a greater, like
worms in the entrails of a natural man. To which may be added, the liberty of disputing against
absolute power, by pretenders to political prudence; which though bred for the most part in the lees of
the people, yet animated by false doctrines, are perpetually meddling with the fundamental laws, to
the molestation of the commonwealth; like the little worms, which physicians call ascarides.

We may further add, the insatiable appetite of enlarging dominion; with the incurable wounds
thereby many times received from the enemy; and the wens, of ununited conquests, which are many
times a burthen, and with less danger lost, than kept; as also the lethargy of ease, and consumption of
riot and vain expense.

Lastly, when in a war, foreign or intestine, the enemies get a final victory; so as, the forces of the
commonwealth keeping the field no longer, there is no further protection of subjects in their loyalty;
then is the commonwealth Dissolved, and every man at liberty to protect himself by such courses as
his own discretion shall suggest unto him. For the sovereign is the public soul, giving life and motion
to the commonwealth; which expiring, the members are governed by it no more, than the carcase of a
man, by his departed, though immortal, soul. For though the right of a sovereign monarch cannot be
extinguished by the act of another; yet the obligation of the members may. For he that wants
protection, may seek it anywhere; and when he hath it, is obliged, without fraudulent pretence of
having submitted himself out of fear, to protect his protection as long as he is able. But when the

power of an assembly is once suppressed, the right of the same perisheth utterly; because the
assembly itself is extinct; and consequently, there is no possibility for the sovereignty to re-enter.

HOBBES ON POLITICAL AUTHORITY, PRACTICAL REASON AND TRUTH
Author(s): GEORGE DUKE
Source: Law and Philosophy, Vol. 33, No. 5 (September 2014), pp. 605-627
Published by: Springer
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Law and Philosophy (2014) 33: 605-627 © Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014
DOI 10.1007/S10982-013-9194-1

GEORGE DUKE

HOBBES ON POLITICAL AUTHORITY, PRACTICAL REASON
AND TRUTH

(Accepted 27 July 2013)

ABSTRACT. The role of sovereign authority in Hobbes’ political philosophy is to
establish peace and stability by serving as a definitive and unambiguous source of
law. Although these broad outlines of Hobbes’ account of political authority are
uncontentious, matters quickly become more complicated once one seeks its
normative basis. This much is evident from recent debates on the normative status

of the laws of nature and the related issue as to whether Hobbes is better cate

gorised as an incipient legal positivist or as a heterodox natural law thinker. In this
paper I argue that although the positivist and natural law commitments in Hobbes’
theory of political authority can be partially reconciled, such a reconciliation points
to the need for more substantive theories of practical reason and truth than are to
be found in Hobbes’ official statements on these topics. Section II examines the
positivist and natural law dimensions in Hobbes’ thought and suggests that the
role of sovereign authority in providing the definitive interpretation of the laws of
nature allows a partial reconciliation to be effected. In section III, I consider the
tension between this reconciliation and Hobbes’ instrumentalism about practical
reason and equivocal separation of authority and truth.

I. INTRODUCTION

The role of sovereign authority in Hobbes’ political philosophy is to
establish peace and stability by serving as a definitive and unam
biguous source of law. Although these broad outlines of Hobbes’
account of political authority are uncontentious, matters quickly
become more complicated once one seeks its normative basis. This
much is evident from recent debates on the normative status of the

laws of nature and the related issue as to whether Hobbes is better

categorised as an incipient legal positivist or as a heterodox natural
law thinker. In this paper I argue that although the positivist and

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606 GEORGE DUKE

natural law commitments in Hobbes’ theory of political authority
can be partially reconciled, such a reconciliation points to the need
for more substantive theories of practical reason and truth than are
to be found in Hobbes’ official statements on these topics. Section II
examines the positivist and natural law dimensions in Hobbes’
thought and suggests that the role of sovereign authority in pro
viding the definitive interpretation of the laws of nature allows a
partial reconciliation to be effected. In Sect. Ill, I consider the tension
between this reconciliation and Hobbes’ instrumentalism about

practical reason and equivocal separation of authority and truth.

II. RECONCILING HOBBES’ POSITIVIST AND NATURAL LAW

COMMITMENTS

Recent debates over the status of Hobbes as an early legal positivist
or renegade natural law theorist have illuminated some of the
tensions in the normative foundations of his theory of political
authority. In this section I argue that whilst the apparent inconsis
tency between Hobbes’ advocacy of a positivistic command theory
of civil law and recourse to natural law arguments can be at least
partially resolved, this tension points towards deeper fault lines in his
account of political authority.

The controversy on the status of Hobbes as a legal positivist or
natural law thinker hinges on the independent plausibility, yet
apparent irreconcilability, of ascribing to him the following two
theses:

1. The promulgated commands of the sovereign authority are sufficient
to establish the existence and validity of civil law.

2. The laws of nature place moral constraints on the existence and
validity of civil law.

Perhaps the clearest expression of thesis (1) is found in Chap. 6 of De
Cive, where Hobbes states quite unequivocally that ‘the civil
laws (that we may define them) are nothing else but the
commands of him who hath the chief authority in the city, for
direction of the future actions of his citizens.’1 This passage suggests
that promulgated sovereign command is not only necessary for
something to be a civil law, but also sufficient. Similarly, Chap. 26

1 Thomas Hobbes, De Cive (New York: Appleton Century, 1949), p. 75 (italics mine).

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HOBBES ON POLITICAL AUTHORITY, PRACTICAL REASON AND TRUTH 607

of Leviathan states that ‘the Authority of the Law … consisteth in the
Command of the Soveraign only.’2 Thesis (2) is arguably more
contentious, but seems entailed by the conjunction of Hobbes’
characterisation of the laws of nature as immutable3 and expressive
of ‘the true and onely Moral Philosophy’4 with his claims that
(a) there exist cases where subjects are not obligated to obey the
commands of the sovereign5 and may do so ‘without Injustice’6; and
(b) there is a moral obligation for the sovereign to obey the laws of
nature.7 The difficulty, of course, is that thesis (2) directly contradicts
(1) by asserting that considerations of morality are relevant to the
existence and validity conditions of civil law.

The once dominant view of Hobbes as an early legal positivist
reflects thesis (1), i.e. the claim that the authoritative commands of
the sovereign are sufficient to establish the existence and validity of
civil law.8 Thesis (1) may, moreover, be regarded as consistent with
both (a) the separation and identification theses often taken to be
core commitments of legal positivism; and (b) a thinner normatively
inert definition of legal positivism which states that the validity of a
norm is dependent upon its sources and not its merits.9 Hobbes’
characterisation as a legal positivist has nonetheless recently been
challenged from a number of directions, with some theorists arguing
that Hobbes is better regarded as a heterodox natural law thinker,

2 Thomas Hobbes, in Richard Tuck (ed.) Leviathan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991),
p. 142 of the 1651 Head edition. All pagination references to Leviathan are to this edition.

3 Ibid., p. 79.
4 Ibid.

5 These include cases where the sovereign asks subjects to kill or harm themselves, abstain from
food, air, medicine and other necessary conditions of life, to confess to crimes or (under certain
conditions) to serve as a soldier i.e. cases where the fundamental principle of self-preservation is placed
in question. See Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, pp. 111-112.

6 Ibid., p. 111.

7 Ibid., p. 169.

8 See, in particular, Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, pp. 137-150; Thomas Hobbes, De Cive, p. 75.
Hobbes’ influence on Bentham and Austin is obviously also significant in this respect. Some influential
advocates of the view that Hobbes was a legal positivist are Jean Hampton, Hobbes and the Social
Contract Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), pp. 107-110; Gregory S. Kavka,
Hobbesian Moral and Political Theory (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986), pp. 248-250; S.
A. Lloyd, Ideas as Interests in Hobbes’s ‘Leviathan’: The Power of Mind over Matter (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1992), p. 15.

9 The separation thesis asserts that there is no necessary connection between law and morality. The
identification thesis asserts that the content of the law can be identified without recourse to moral

argument or evaluation. See H. L. A. Hart, ‘Positivism and the Separation of Law and Morals’, reprinted
in Essays in Jurisprudence and Philosophy (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983), pp. 49-87. For the thinner
definition see John Gardner, ‘Legal Positivism: 5 112 Myths’, American Journal of Jurisprudence Vol. 46
(2001), p. 201.

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608 GEORGE DUKE

others that his legal theory demonstrates the limitations of the natural
law/legal positivism dichotomy, and still others that he is best re
garded as a divine command theorist.30 In this section I concentrate
upon the first of these rival interpretations, which sets out from the
clear evidence in Hobbes’ work of a commitment to something akin
to thesis (2). Theses (1) and (2), I contend, represent two dimensions
in Hobbes’ political theory that are not irreconcilable, but undoubt
edly difficult to harmonise. Along the first dimension, Hobbes re
sponds to the lack of certainty and agreement in the moral and
political domains by postulating that publically ascertainable com
mands of the sovereign are the sole condition on the existence and
validity of law. Along the second dimension, Hobbes seeks in the laws
of nature a normative basis for the justification of authority relations.
It is Hobbes’ commitment to the co-extensiveness of natural and civil

law – insofar as the commands of the sovereign provide the definitive

interpretation of the laws of nature – that allows these two dimen
sions to be brought into an uneasy harmony.

The evidence for the natural law interpretation of Hobbes has
been ably summarised by Mark C. Murphy on the basis of the evi
dence supporting thesis (2) and Hobbes’ ‘deviant’ uses of the term
obligation.11 Murphy’s analysis suggests that Hobbes’ mechanistic
account of our self-interested psychological motivations and con
ventionalist account of obligation are both ill-suited to provide a
normative justification for our moral obligation to establish and obey
the laws of sovereign authority. This is where the first law of nature
enters the picture: ‘every man ought to endeavour Peace, as farre as
he has hope of obtaining it; and when he cannot obtain it, that he
may seek, and use, all helps, and advantages Of Warre.’12 The first

10 For Hobbes as a latter-day Thomas Aquinas’ see Mark C. Murphy, ‘Was Hobbes a Legal
Positivist?’, Ethics, Vol. 105, No. 4 (1995), pp. 846-873. See also the interpretation of Hobbes as a ‘self
effacing” natural law theorist – discussed in more detail below – in S. A. Lloyd, Morality in the Philosophy
of Thomas Hobbes: Cases in the Law of Nature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009),
pp. 265-294. For Hobbes as an anti-positivist concerned to give an account of legitimacy of legal order
and the constraints of the rule of law see David Dyzenhaus, ‘Hobbes and the Legitimacy of Law’, Law
and Philosophy 20 (2001), pp. 461-498. For a reading of Hobbes’ Leviathan that places in question his
status as a positivist on religious grounds see A. P. Martinich, The Two Gods of Leviathan: Thomas Hobbes
on Religion and Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992).

11 See Mark C. Murphy, ‘Was Hobbes a Legal Positivist?” (1995); Mark C. Murphy, ‘Deviant Uses of
Obligation in Hobbes’ Leviathan’, History of Philosophy Quarterly 11:3 (1994), pp. 281-294; footnotes 4-8
above. Murphy’s identification of Hobbes’ recourse to natural law arguments (of both a rationalistic and
voluntaristic variety) in his explanations of political obligation is particularly instructive, insofar as such
recourse may be regarded as a ‘forced move”.

12 Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, p. 64.

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HOBBES ON POLITICAL AUTHORITY, PRACTICAL REASON AND TRUTH 609

law of nature, upon which the other laws of nature are based, pre
sents self-preservation not simply as a descriptive psychological fact
about our desires, but as a normative claim and basic reason for

action, i.e. that it is desirable to escape the worst evil of death.
Broadly consistent with traditional natural law assumptions about
the relation between reason and motivation, this notion of self

preservation as a basic reason for action is much better suited to
provide justificatory force to Hobbes’ account of law’s authority than
his mechanistic psychology, insofar as it gives us an inherently
normative reason why we should seek to escape the state of nature
and establish a commonwealth based on principles of order.13 What
Murphy’s account does not fully explain, however, is how such
commitments are reconcilable with Hobbes’ unequivocal commit
ment to thesis (1). Murphy states that the view that Hobbes is a legal
positivist derives from the weakness of the restraint that the natural

law places on a sovereign’s commands. This is certainly suggestive of
a reconciliation, but does not directly address the clear assertion that
sovereign command is sufficient to establish the civil law.14

In this context, Michael Sevel has recently suggested that the
apparent irreconcilability of the theses can be overcome by regarding
Hobbes as an epistemic legal positivist and a metaphysical natural
law theorist.15 According to Sevel, Hobbes is an epistemic legal
positivist insofar as he thinks that the commands of the sovereign
should be promulgated in such a way that it is unnecessary for a
subject to engage in moral evaluation of the content of those
commands in order to identify the law.16 In this respect, Hobbes can
be found to offer an account of civil law consistent with Hart’s

separation and identification theses. Sevel’s Hobbes, however, is

13 Such an account need not contradict Hobbes’ identification of good and evil with our appetites
and aversions (discussed below). As Darwall suggests, Hobbes’ account of good is consistent with a
projectivist view whereby we experience survival as a good to be pursued from a first-person per
spective, even though such ethical and normative thought or discourse is ultimately a projection of our
desires. See Stephen Darwall, ‘Normativity and Projection in Hobbes’ Leviathan”, Philosophical Review
Vol. 109, No. 3 (2000), pp. 313-347.

14 Mark C. Murphy, ‘Was Hobbes a Legal Positivist?’, p. 872.

15 Michael Sevel, ‘Hobbes: Patriarch of Legal Positivism, or Reinventor of Natural Law?’, in Sharon
A. Lloyd (ed.), The Continuum Companion to Hobbes (London: Continuum, 2012).

16 Hobbes definition of civil law is certainly suggestive of this interpretation: ‘to every subject, those
rules, which the commonwealth hath commanded him, by word, writing, or other sufficient sign of the
will, to make use of, for the distinction of right, and wrong; that is to say, of what is contrary, and what
is not contrary to the rule’. Hobbes of course famously defined command as ‘where a main saith, do
this, or do not this, without expecting other reason than the will of him that says it”. Thomas Hobbes,
Leviathan, pp. 137 and 132.

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610 GEORGE DUKE

simultaneously a natural law theorist from a metaphysical perspec
tive. This is because, at the level of a general jurisprudence, he
asserts an ‘intimate relation between the very existence of law and an
obligation to obey the law on the part of its subject … in virtue of
the interdependent relationship between the natural and civil law/17
The idea here is that, as suggested above, Hobbes’ laws of nature
provide a genuinely normative basis for civil laws and place moral
constraints on the sovereign’s decision-making powers.

Whilst Severs general point that Hobbes’ political thought
incorporates elements of both positivism and natural law jurispru
dence is sound, it is not apparent that the epistemic/metaphysical
distinction altogether resolves the tension identified between theses
(1) and (2). If Hobbes may be considered a natural law theorist from
a metaphysical perspective, then this seems to suggest less that he
reconciles positivism and natural law commitments, as that he is a
natural law theorist who adheres to a robust theory of sovereign
authority due to a heightened awareness of our limited epistemic
capacities to access difficult metaphysical truths. This decides the
issue in favour of the natural law interpretation, albeit with an
important qualification. Yet, even apart from the doubtful plausi
bility of ascribing to Hobbes a substantive rather than projectivist
theory of human goods, his statements on political authority seem to
entail a stronger advocacy of the separation thesis than the claim that
the law must be readily identifiable to be valid. The passages cited
above quite unambiguously assert that sovereign command is suf
ficient for the existence and validity of civil law and hence seem to
entail that the conditions for civil law are independent of moral
truth.

A partial resolution of this tension can be found in what Kavka
coined the ‘mutual containment thesis,’18 namely the claim that ‘the
laws of nature, and the civil law, contain each other, and are of equal
extent.’19 This claim, which occurs in the context of a discussion of

the relationship between political authority and the validity and
existence conditions for civil law, suggests that the prescriptions
articulated in the laws of nature only attain the status of valid civil
laws subsequent to the institution of an artificial sovereign who lays

17 Sevel, ‘Hobbes: Patriarch of Legal Positivism, or Reinventor of Natural Law?’, p. 7.

18 Gregory S. Kavka, Hobbesian Moral and Political Theory, pp. 248-254.

19 Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, p. 138.

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HOBBES ON POLITICAL AUTHORITY, PRACTICAL REASON AND TRUTH 611

down such laws in definitive and canonical form. Promulgated
sovereign command is obviously a necessary condition for civil law,
but it is also understandable why Hobbes would imply it is sufficient
given that the laws of nature are both immutable and also broad
enough to admit of multiple interpretations about how best to
promote self-preservation. The laws of nature do place a broad
moral constraint on sovereign authority, but it is only through the
commands of sovereign authority that a determinate interpretation
of those laws in the form of positive civil laws is introduced.20 It is in
this sense that the law is simply what the sovereign commands: it is
the civil law that makes the laws of nature operative.

The consistency of this reading with Hobbes’ wider political
philosophy can be seen in its fit with the crucial distinction between
in foro interno and in foro externo obligations to obey the laws of
nature.21 The force of the distinction is that one is only obligated to
follow an internal disposition to follow the law of nature regarding
the establishment of covenants for the sake of peace under external
conditions where one is sufficiently assured that others will do the
same. Ultimately, then, the commands of authority are subordinate,
from a normative point of view, to the good of self-preservation, but
it is such commands that establish the conditions under which such

self-preservation can actually be realised. There is thus a natural law
constraint upon political obligation, but such a constraint is satisfied
just in case the sovereign is better able to provide protection of the
welfare of subjects than would be the case in the state of nature.
Given the horrors of the state of nature, this condition is not hard to

satisfy. Hobbes is what Gardner has labelled a ‘value-positivist,’
insofar as he regards the stabilising role of civil law – any civil law
that meets the broad moral constraints of the laws of nature – as

meritorious, whatever its other defects.22

20 My interpretation here is consistent with Lloyd’s attribution to Hobbes of a ‘self-effacing’ natural
law theory; self-effacing in the sense that the natural law imposes a duty to treat the positive law
promulgated by the sovereign as authoritative. As Lloyd argues, if ‘we understand the sovereign to be
the authoritative arbiter of all disputes, it follows that she may legitimately settle disputes as to what the
law – including natural law – is, how it is properly interpreted … whether she has or has not exceeded
its legitimate authority, and the like*. Lloyd, Morality in the Philosophy of Thomas Hobbes, p. 280. My
interpretation differs from that of Lloyd, however, in regard to whether Hobbes has the normative
resources at his disposal to achieve this reconciliation in a convincing manner. I return to this point in
Sect. III.

21 Ibid., p. 79.

22 John Gardner, ‘Legal Positivism: 5 112 Myths’, p. 205.

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612 GEORGE DUKE

It still remains unclear, however, whether the obligation referred
to in this context is that suggested by Hobbes’ incorporation of a
natural law conceptual framework or the more conventionalist
version implied by his official definition in terms of self-imposed
constraints.23 Another way to put the same point is that the claim
that the laws of nature only attain the status of valid civil laws
following the institution of an artificial sovereign who lays down
such laws in definitive and canonical form could entail either of the

following:

a. The normative force of the laws of nature only becomes operative
following their authoritative interpretation by the sovereign.

b. The normative force of the laws of nature is only operative in the form

of civil law following an authoritative interpretation by the sovereign.

The second interpretation suggests a more robust natural law
construal than the first, insofar as the normative force of the laws of

nature is operative before the commonwealth-establishing covenant,
even if it does not create genuinely binding obligations. It may be
argued that the distinction between obligations inforo interno and in
foro extemo does not resolve this equivocation; it rather compounds it
by postulating an inherently ambiguous form of obligation in the
state of nature.

In any case, on either interpretation recognition of the role
‘mutual containment’ plays in Hobbes’ account of political authority
allows for a deeper explanation of his extreme-sounding statements
on the authority of the sovereign to decide what doctrines are taught
within a commonwealth. The claim that ‘[a]ll judgement therefore in
a city belongs to him who hath the swords, that is, to him who has
the supreme authority,’24 is not simply an expression of the need to
remove all ambiguity from the political realm in a time of violent
moral and religious dispute, it expresses a core conceptual com
mitment of Hobbes’ system, namely the need to consolidate theo
retical and practical authority in one source insofar as the sovereign
provides the definitive interpretation of the laws of nature. It is, that
is to say, necessary for Hobbes to identify civil law with the natural
reason of the Sovereign in order to establish the thesis that the

23 Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, p. 79.

24 Thomas Hobbes, De Cive, p. 74.

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HOBBES ON POLITICAL AUTHORITY, PRACTICAL REASON AND TRUTH 613

natural law and civil law are but ‘different parts of Law; whereof one
part being written, is called Civill, the other unwritten, Naturall.’25

R. B. Friedman once traced the conceptual distinction between
someone being in a position of authority (‘in authority’) and some
one being a theoretical authority (‘an authority’) to Hobbes.26 Being
‘an authority’ generally rests on inequality in the sense of entailing
an epistemic assumption of superior insight and knowledge about a
particular state of affairs. A person being ‘in authority,’ by contrast,
does not presuppose an inequality antecedent to the authority rela
tion itself; indeed it seems to presuppose a level of formal equality. If
no single agent can persuade others that his judgment is superior,
then there is an increased need, from the point of view of stability
and security, for someone to be ‘in authority.’ In this sense, someone
being ‘in authority’ is suggestive of dissociation from a background
of common traditions and shared beliefs or at the very least a desire
to overcome the violence and disorder caused by competing belief
systems. Friedman’s analysis of practical authority seems to map
neatly onto Hobbes’ account of the artificial nature of authority
relations in Book 13 of Leviathan on the natural condition of man

kind. Hobbes begins the chapter by arguing for the basic equality of
men in the state of nature on the grounds that differences of strength
and intelligence are not so great as to protect the strongest man
whilst sleeping or confirm the high estimation that each places upon
his own wisdom.27 There is also a significant sense, however, in
which Hobbes runs together the two kinds of authority through his
thesis that the sovereign power provides the definitive interpretation
of the moral law. Hobbes’ statement that ‘the Authority of writers,
without the Authority of the Commonwealth, maketh not their
opinions Law, be they never so true … it is by the Soveraigne Power
that it is Law’ needs to be read in this context.28 Whilst Hobbes’

theory of sovereignty is hostile to common law and rules out the

25 Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, p. 138. See also Sean Coyle, ‘Thomas Hobbes and the Intellectual
Origins of Legal Positivism’, Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence 16:2 (2003), pp. 243-270.

26 R. B. Friedman, ‘On the Concept of Authority in Political Philosophy’ (1973), in Joseph Raz (ed.),
Authority (New York: New York University Press, 1990), pp. 56-91. Someone is ‘in’ a position of
authority if they occupy ‘some office, position or status which entitles him to make decisions about how
other people should behave”. A person is ‘an authority’, by contrast, insofar as they express utterances
or beliefs that are entitled to be believed. See pp. 77-85.

27 Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, pp. 60-61.

28 Ibid., p. 143. This sentiment is more concisely formulated in Chap. 26 of the Latin version of
Leviathan as auctoritas non Veritas facit legem.

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614 GEORGE DUKE

possibility of a subject appealing to disputable moral truths in order
to challenge the civil law,29 the notion of moral truth appears to
remain operative in his account insofar as the commands of the
sovereign may be taken to provide a definitive and binding inter
pretation of the laws of nature.

Hobbes’ command theory of political authority addresses the
need for an unambiguous source of law, whereas his appeal to the
laws of nature addresses the normative deficit that arises from a

crude command-theory played out solely at the descriptive level.
These two dimensions are moreover partially reconcilable by
acknowledging the role that the sovereign authority plays in ren
dering the moral law operative within the domain of social and
political action. As I shall suggest in the next section, the funda
mental tension underlying Hobbes’ political thought is not that
between positivism and natural law jurisprudence, but rather
between a constructive account of political authority which identifies
de facto and legitimate authority and an account which seeks a
minimal content of natural law in self-preservation and thereby relies
on at least one basic moral truth.

III. AUCTORITAS NON VERITAS FACIT LEGEM

The weak restraint Hobbes places upon sovereign command through
the laws of nature renders problematic the provision of an adequate
normative basis for legitimate political authority and thus tends
towards an identification of legitimate with de facto authority. Arguably
a deeper tension in Hobbes’ theory of authority emerges, however, in
his attempted reconciliation of positivistic and natural commitments
through the mutual containment thesis. The partial reconciliation
effected through the claim that sovereign command provides a
definitive interpretation of the laws of nature remains problematic
from a normative perspective insofar as it seems to depend upon the
capacity of practical reason to access at least one basic moral truth;
namely, the universality of the desire for self-preservation as a deci
sive reason for action in the political domain. This dependence seems,
however, to conflict with Hobbes’ official statements on the scope of

29 This is stated most clearly in Hobbes’ posthumously published (1681) dialogue on the common
law. See Thomas Hobbes, in Joseph Cropsey (ed.), A Dialogue Between a Philosopher and a Student of the
Common Laws of England (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), pp. 57-77.

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HOBBES ON POLITICAL AUTHORITY, PRACTICAL REASON AND TRUTH 615

practical reason and truth. A consideration of the conceptual and
historical presuppositions of Hobbes’ construal of authority relations
as artificial and assertion of the need to separate authority and truth
within the domain of politics can shed light on this tension. I begin
this section by considering the epistemic and jurisprudential pre
conditions of Hobbes’ constructivist account of political authority.
I then consider S. A. Lloyd’s attribution to Hobbes of a meta-normative
theory of reciprocity that is capable of effecting a reconciliation of his
natural law and positivist commitments. This frames my argument
that Hobbes’ instrumental account of practical reason and nominalist
theory of truth ultimately compromise his attempted reconciliation of
positivism and natural law commitments by undermining the
normative status of authoritative directives as decisive reasons for

action.

From an epistemic perspective, Hobbes’ account of authority
relations needs to be situated within the more pervasive critique of
traditional sources of authority characteristic of early modernity.
Descartes’ rejection, in the Discourse on Method (1637), of the
authority of the senses, scholasticism, ancient texts and his teachers
may be regarded as exemplary of this tendency. Hobbes shared with
Descartes a suspicion of the theoretical authority of Aristotle,
Aquinas and the philosophy of the Catholic Church and wanted to
provide a firm scientific foundation for morals in an intellectual
environment of scepticism.30 Hobbes’ acceptance of the relativity of
moral properties implies in particular the rejection of the Aristotelian
conception of the final good or summum bonum ‘spoken of in the
Books of the old Morall Philosophers.’31 What happiness there is in
this life is the temporary fulfilment of the ever restless movement of
desire, which constantly seeks different objects, meaning that ‘these
words of Good, Evill, and Contemptible, are ever used with relation
to the person that useth them: There being nothing simply and
absolutely so; nor any common Rule of Good and Evill, to be taken

30 Note, for example, the echo of Montaigne in Hobbes’ statement ‘that copulation which in one
city is matrimony, in another will be judged adultery’; at the end of the same passage Hobbes declares
that ‘what therefore theft, what murder, what adultery, and in general what injury is, must be known
by the civil laws, that is, the commands of him who hath the supreme authority”. Thomas Hobbes, De
Cive, pp. 82-83. I am indebted to Richard Tuck on this point. See Richard Tuck, ‘Introduction’ to
Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, p. xv.

31 Hobbes, Leviathan, p. 47.

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616 GEORGE DUKE

from the nature of the objects themselves.’32 Such a view of the
relation between desire and the good is an important part of the
rationale for an artificial sovereign authority who can univocally
determine moral and political truth in the absence of unanimity.

From a jurisprudential perspective, Hobbes’ work may be taken
as exemplary for two early modern tendencies in regard to the
legitimation of law. The first is from theologically determined truth
(Veritas) to secularised will (voluntas), the second from eternal law to
historically contingent positive law.33 As a result of these tendencies,
which are obviously closely linked with the Protestant reformation
and subsequent bloodshed, there is in the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries generally speaking not only a decline in the influence of the
Christian element in the justification of law, but also an increasing
reluctance to regard ‘truth’ and ‘justice’ as defining characteristics of
positive law.34 Hobbes’ theory of political authority thus needs to be
read in the context of the rise of the modern nation state and the

associated shift in the legitimation of political power. One particu
larly significant development pertains to the meaning of the concepts
of authority and power.

The early modern development I have in mind, which Hobbes
did not initiate but certainly furthered, is an erosion of the concep
tual distinction between authority and power. Bodin’s Les Six livres de
la Republique (1576) is perhaps the first clear example of this increased
convergence between the Roman terms auctoritas and potestas.35 In
Roman law the term auctoritas designates the peculiar prerogative of
the Senate to provide authoritative advice to the magistrates or
holders of political power, a form of advice captured by Mommsen

32 Hobbes, Leviathan, p. 24. Hobbes later remarks: ‘Nay, [even] the same man, in divers times, differs
from himself; and one time praiseth, that is, calleth good, what another time he dispraiseth, and calleth
evil: from whence arise, disputes, controversies, and at last war. Ibid., pp. 79-80.

33 Michael Stolleis, ‘The Legitimation of Law through God, Tradition, Will, Nature and Constitu
tion’, in Lorraine Daston and Michael Stolleis (eds.), Natural Law and the Laws of Nature in Early Modern
Europe: Jurisprudence: Theology, Moral and Natural Philosophy (Surrey: Ashgate, 2008), p. 49. Stolleis
cautions that these tendencies, whilst clearly operative in the early modern period, should not be
regarded as forming a clear linear development. See also in this regard Gerald J. Postema, ‘Law as
Command: The Model of Command in Modern Jurisprudence’, Philosophical Issues, 11 (2001), p. 474.

34 Hobbes articulates this refusal in his definition of civil law as ‘the orders of those who have

supreme authority in the State in respect to the future actions of citizens’. Thomas Hobbes, De Cive
(New York: Appleton Century, 1949), p. 75.

35 My analysis in this paragraph draws in particular on Jesus Fueyo, ‘Die Idee des ‘Auctoritas’:
Genesis und Entwicklung’, in Hans Barion, Ernst-Wolfgang Bockenforde, and Ernst Fortshoff (eds,),
Epirrhosis: Festgabe fiir Carl Schmitt (Berlin: Duncker 8C Humboldt, 1968); Alvaro d’Ors, ‘Auctorita
authentia-authenticum. Homenaje, al Prof. Fernandez-Galiano’, Estudios Clasicos 88 (1984), pp. 375-381.

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HOBBES ON POLITICAL AUTHORITY, PRACTICAL REASON AND TRUTH 617

in the memorable formulation ‘less than an order and more than a

counsel.’36 The notion of auctoritas here retains a strong etymolog
ical connection with augmentation, suggesting a dependence upon a
prior foundation of truth. The terms potestas and imperium, by con
trast, designate the political power deriving from the will of the
people and manifested in the form of commands. This distinction
between authority and power is maintained in the medieval world,
vividly represented by the practice of the inauguration of political
power by the ecclesiastical authority of the pope.37 Hobbes’ blurring
of the concepts of auctoritas and potestas perhaps finds clearest
expression in Chap. VI of Part 2 of De Cive, where ‘supreme power,1
‘chief command’ and ‘supreme authority’ are employed inter
changeably. In articles 7-12, Hobbes extends the authority of the
supreme power within a commonwealth to ‘judge what opinions
and doctrines are enemies unto peace’ and attributes the prevalence
of civil war in the Christian world to failure to adopt this principle of
dominion.38 Hobbes’ notion of authority, in contrast to the Roman
concept of auctoritas, sets out from the assumption of the lack of a
pre-existing moral order, with the emphasis shifting to the will of the
supreme commander.

Hobbes’ depiction of authority relations as artificial reflects a lack
of belief in the existence of substantive pre-conventional goods,
regarded as sources of moral truth.39 In the introduction to Leviathan,
Hobbes characterises the commonwealth as an artificial animal

animated by the artificial soul of the sovereign. Perhaps the most
striking assertion of the introduction, however, is the comparison of
the pacts and covenants establishing the commonwealth with the fiat
of God at Creation.40 This passage not only reflects Hobbes’
adherence to a command theory of law, it also illuminates the
conventionalist or constructivist aspect of the Hobbesian project to
establish a decision procedure that pre-empts conflicting compre

36 Theodor Mommsen, Romisches Staatsrecht Volume 3. Reprint (Graz: Akademische Druck, 1969),
p. 1034.

37 It is of course not possible to do justice to the complexity of the relationship between auctoritas
and potestas in medieval political thought here. See Joseph Canning, A History of Medieval Political
Thought 300-1450 (London: Routledge, 1996) for an overview of the issues at stake.

38 Thomas Hobbes, De Cive, p. 76.

39 An intriguing exception to Hobbes’ tendency to view authority relations as artificial is his thesis
that a mother naturally has authority over their child. See Thomas Hobbes, in J. C. A. Gaskin (ed.)
Human Nature and De Corpore Politico (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), p. 130.

40 Ibid., pp. 1-2.

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618 GEORGE DUKE

hensive doctrines and beliefs about truth and justice.41 The artifici
ality of political authority also explains Hobbes’ voluntaristic theory
of authorisation central to his account of the role of sovereign
power. When Hobbes defines authority in Leviathan as ‘a Right of
doing any act,’42 the basis of this definition is his distinction between
authors and actors. An actor is entitled to act on behalf of those who

have authorised them with a right. Insofar as the dissociated indi
viduals of the state-of-nature can authorise the sovereign with the
right to act on their behalf through a transfer of natural rights, a
disconnected people becomes a political unity. The sovereign is
authorised to act on the rights of subjects in order that he may
secure ‘their Peace and Common Defence.’43 Consistent with the

claim that it is authority, and not truth, which makes the law, this
suggests that authority emanates from a decision, or act of the will,
ultimately attributable to the rights of individuals. The transfer of the
natural right of each through an act of authorisation thus abstracts
from traditional and customary sources of authority relations in
favour of an account based on the rights of the individual and
motivated by rational self-interest.

If we shift the focus from Hobbes’ account of civil law to the

normative justification of political authority, however, it quickly
becomes apparent that a purely constructive interpretation of
authority relations will struggle to explain why sovereign commands
provide reasons for action that we are morally obliged to obey. It is
in this context that Lloyd (2009) has attempted to construct an
interpretation of Hobbes that attributes to him a meta-normative
theory based on what she calls the reciprocity theorem of reason.
The reciprocity theorem, which sets out from the definition of man
as a rational animal, is formulated by Lloyd as follows:

If one judges another’s doing of an action to be without right, and yet does that
action oneself, one acts contrary to reason … That is, to do what one condemns in

another is contrary to reason.44

41 For an excellent discussion of this point see Jan Schroder, ‘The Concept of (Natural) Law in the
Doctrine of Law and Natural Law of the Early Modern Era’, in Lorraine Daston and Michael Stolleis
(eds.), Natural Law and the Laws of Nature in Early Modem Europe: Jurisprudence, Theology, Moral and
Natural Philosophy, p. 63f.

42 Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, p. 81.

43 Ibid., pp. 87-88.

44 Lloyd, Morality in the Philosophy of Thomas Hobbes, p. 220. Italics removed. Lloyd derives the
theorem as the conclusion of an argument on the basis of premises drawn from passages across Hobbes’
work. Ibid., pp. 219-220.

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HOBBES ON POLITICAL AUTHORITY, PRACTICAL REASON AND TRUTH 619

Lloyd’s argument is that the reciprocity thesis is the ultimate
normative support for Hobbes’ claim that we have a duty, as rational
agents, to submit to the directives of the sovereign. On this reading,
the reciprocity theorem is the sum of the laws of nature, which
provide the normative support for the reasonableness of establishing
and maintaining sovereign authority.45 The idea is that we would
judge it unreasonable for others to retain their right to private
judgement concerning their reasons for action if this was to result in
perpetual conflict. As a result, our only reasonable alternative as
rational agents given the obtaining of the reciprocity theorem is to
give up our private right of judgement over our reasons for action
and engage in joint submission to authoritative decision.46

Lloyd’s interpretation thus seeks to challenge the traditional
reading of Hobbes as a psychological egoist by constructing a solid
meta-normative basis for his justification for the authority of law.
Whilst Lloyd acknowledges the concern that this involves the
attribution to Hobbes of a proto-Kantian account of normative
agency and the universality of moral norms, she nonetheless main
tains that the reciprocity theorem provides a kind of ‘moral mini
mum’ or weak universality constraint on reasonable action.47 The
difficulty with this – as an interpretation of Hobbes rather than a
reconstructive account of what Hobbes should have said – is the

absence in his work of a substantive conception of practical reason
and reasons for action that would allow the reciprocity theorem to
generate a normative justification for political authority that goes
beyond the rational concern for self-preservation. It is indeed plau
sible that it is precisely this absence that leads Hobbes to supplement
his voluntaristic command account of obligation with the require
ment that one not engage in reasoning that is self-contradictory.48
The more important point, however, as I suggest in what follows, is
that whilst this consistency requirement, and Hobbes’ commitment
to the claim that man is a rational animal, certainly allow for the
kind of proto-Kantian reconstruction of Hobbes proposed by Lloyd,

45 Ibid., pp. 273 and 275.

46 Ibid., pp. 213-214.

47 Ibid., p. 228. See also p. 230: ‘[W]hile his theory falls short of demanding Kantian universality, its
requirement of consistency in judgement universally across all judgements falling under a description
does invoke a requirement appropriately describable as a weak universality requirement’.

48 Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, Chap. 14. See also Thomas Hobbes, De Corpore Politico (1650), part 1,
Chap. 3.

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620 GEORGE DUKE

neither principles of logical consistency nor principles of reciprocity
are sufficient to provide an adequate normative justification of
political authority in the absence of a more substantive theory of
practical rationality or reasons for action.

It is Hobbes’ scepticism about the capacity of practical reason to
access substantive goods, and not just his mechanistic account of
moral psychology, that makes it difficult for him to provide a nor
mative justification of the law’s authority. As we saw in Sect. II,
Hobbes attempts to resolve this concern by regarding self-preser
vation as a natural good. The status of this natural good is, however,
given Hobbes’ account of the relationship between desire and the
good, somewhat ambivalent. There is no summum bonum, but there
is a summum malum, namely, death. Even the amour-propre of man,
his tendency to glory, or to wish to glory, in his superiority to others,
is subordinated to the desire to avoid death, insofar as the loss of life
is such that ‘no salve is sufficient.’49 The desire to avoid death thus

serves as a non-conventional good shared by all agents, despite
Hobbes’ relativistic account of human goods. This non-conventional
good is employed to justify the rationality of agents forming together
to create an artificial commonwealth that can guarantee their peace
and security, whilst also allowing the sovereign to be bound to the
fundamental law of nature that cannot be abrogated by any com
monwealth or sovereign.50

Even if we support this role of self-preservation with a proto
Kantian reciprocity theorem, however, Hobbes evidently has fewer
resources at his disposal to carry out the work of normative justifi
cation than a traditional natural law theorist like Aquinas. For
Aquinas the law is regarded as a rational standard for conduct where
this thesis applies to both the eternal law and the civil law, which is
deduced or determined on the basis of our rational participation in
the eternal law.51 Even without entering into the question of
Aquinas’ teleological understanding of nature and so-called intellec
tualist interpretation of the relation between reason and the will, it is
evident that this conception of law as providing a rational standard of
conduct on the basis of the eternal law entails that the normative

force of civil law derives from a form of order that transcends any

49 Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, p. 49.

50 Ibid., p. 169.
51 ST Iall 90, 1-4.

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HOBBES ON POLITICAL AUTHORITY, PRACTICAL REASON AND TRUTH 621

arbitrary human decision or willing. Hobbes, by contrast, needs to
generate normativity from an account of human government and
law conceived primarily in voluntaristic terms as a construction of
human artifice, albeit a construction precipitated by a rational and
natural concern with self-preservation.

The most obvious difficulty with an account of political authority
grounded in the good of self-preservation is that the reason for which
people resolve to authorise a sovereign can turn out not to be
promoted by that sovereign. Hobbes of course, and as stated above,
places a series of limitations on the absolute power of the sovereign,
limitations which reflect the motivations (avoidance of death) that
men had to establish the commonwealth in the first instance. The

problem of the normative ground of obligations remains, however,
and this is perhaps best captured in Hobbes’ own thesis that all
obligations are self-imposed.52 Given that the source of legitimacy is
the will of dissociated individuals, the question presents itself of how,
from a normative point of view, it is possible to justify why contracts
cannot be broken and the social covenant not revoked by an agent.53
If commands have no normative force beyond someone’s say so,
then their status as genuine reasons for action is compromised.54 On
the other hand, even the principle that one should not engage in
reasoning which violates norms of rational consistency is vulnerable
on the assumption of the priority of self-preservation as the over
riding reason for action.

The force of this concern regarding the obligation to obey
political authority can be seen in Ladenson’s contemporary defence
of Hobbes. Ladenson argues that the right to rule of governmental
authority is a justification right based upon the assumption that
rational people under a veil of ignorance would accept the need for
coercion to establish social stability.55 The difficulty with this solu
tion to the problem of political obligation is particularly evident in
Sartorius’ development of Ladenson’s view, which claims that the
bearer of political authority has a moral justification-right to use

52 Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, p. 111.

53 Hence the centrality of Hobbes’ response to ‘the Foole’ (who denies that it always in our self
interest to act justly) in discussions of his political thought. See Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, p. 72.

54 Hence the paradoxes of political authority made famous by R. P. Wolff. See R. P. Wolff, In Defence
of Anarchism (New York: Harper and Row, 1970).

55 Robert Ladenson, ‘In Defense of a Hobbesian Conception of Law’, Philosophy and Public Affairs,
Vol. 14, No. 1 (1985), pp. 134-159.

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622 GEORGE DUKE

coercion against a subject and a claim-right not to be usurped, whilst
at the same time denying that the subject of authority has a moral
obligation to abstain from actions that are outlawed by that
authority.56 The tension at the core of this picture of obligation
derives from the fact that the authority of the law ultimately stems
from the individuals who are subject to that authority without
explicit reference to reasons for action explaining the intelligibility of
authority relations beyond the desire for self-preservation. It is the
assumption that our obligations to authority ultimately derive from
an act of our own will that makes it difficult to explain why, from the
point of view of rational self-interest, there would not be circum
stances in which the obligation could simply be revoked.

It is instructive to trace the problematic normative status of
Hobbes’ laws of nature to his accounts of the relation between desire

and the good and practical reason. The most plausible way to take
Hobbes’ theory of the normativity of natural law, in the absence of
the sorts of assumptions about teleology and practical reason found
in a thinker like Aquinas, is to regard it as a projectivist account
whereby ethical and normative claims are projections or expressions
of our desires and sub-rational motivations.57 On this account,
however, Hobbes is committed to a view of human good according
to which something is good because we desire it, not that we desire
something because it is good. This tends to reduce normative claims
to desire-belief pairs, i.e. a sub-rational desire and a theoretical belief
about the best way to attain a good previously identified by that
sub-rational desire. This is indeed consistent with Hobbes’ official

definition of reason in terms of ‘Reckoning (that is, Adding and
Subtracting) of the Consequences of generall names agreed upon’
and instrumentalist characterisation of thoughts as scouts and spies
of the desires.58 Now such a proto-Humean theory of practical
reason and motivation not only seems ill-equipped to get us to any
strong normative theses about the authority of law, it also sits
uneasily with the view of human goods and practical reason gen
erally associated with the mainstream of natural law thought.

56 Rolf Sartorius, ‘Political Authority and Political Obligation’, Virginia Law Review 67, pp. 3-17; Rolf
Sartorius, ‘Positivism and the Foundations of Legal Authority’, in R. Gavison (ed.), Issues in Contem
porary Legal Phitosophy: The Influence ofH.L.A. Hart (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981), pp. 43-61.

57 See Stephen Darwall, ‘Normativity and Projection in Hobbes’ Leviathan’, pp. 314-318.

58 Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, pp. 18 and 35.

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HOBBES ON POLITICAL AUTHORITY, PRACTICAL REASON AND TRUTH 623

The dilemma can be viewed from another angle by considering
the debate between Murphy and John Deigh over the status of the
laws of nature.59 Deigh’s contention is that the laws of nature are
scientific statements based upon reasoning about customary usage,
rather than expressions of means-end thinking. As Murphy says, this

interpretation seems to overlook that the laws of nature are clearly
stated by Hobbes to have normative force, whereas on Deigh’s
reading they would be normatively inert. This debate is instructive,
because Deigh and Murphy are grappling with what seems to be the
following tension in Hobbes’ account. One reason why Hobbes
might have been inclined to regard the laws of nature as theoretical
precepts is to avoid the implication that our practical rationality is
capable of grasping goods in the traditional natural law sense, as this
would be inconsistent with his instrumentalist account of reason and

subjectivist or projectivist account of moral truth. This is to suggest
that the laws of nature are framed in such a way that they appear as
theoretical or scientific statements (theorems) about what we should
do if we want to preserve our life. On such an account it is the
desires that motivate us to pursue the means to the goods that are
encapsulated in the principles; as stated above, something is good
because we desire it, not desirable because it is good. As Hoekstra
has argued, reason is not divorced from desire in Hobbes, but rather
arises from it.60 Hobbes’ view of practical reason, then, seems to be
more easily aligned with a Humean account than a Kantian or
natural law one. On the other hand, Hobbes’ overarching intention,
in terms of his political thought, is to establish an ultimate source of
authority. But the normative force required for such an argument
does not seem as if it could be forthcoming on the basis of a
mechanistic account of desire; all that such an account seems capable
of producing is that we should follow the commands of a sovereign
authority when it is in our best interests.

If Hobbes, as his explicit statements on the scope of reason in the
practical sphere suggest, is indeed committed to a proto-Humean
conception of practical reason, then this has some problematic

59 See John Deigh, ‘Reason and Ethics in Hobbes’s Leviathan’, Journal of the History of Philosophy 34
(1996), pp. 33-60; Mark C. Murphy, ‘Desire and Ethics in Hobbes’s Leviathan: A Response to Professor
Deigh”, Journal of the History of Philosophy 38 (2000), pp. 259-268; John Deigh, ‘Reply to Mark Murphy’,
Journal of the History of Philosophy 41 (2003), pp. 97-109.

60 Kinch Hoekstra, ‘Hobbes on Law, Nature, and Reason’, Journal of the History of Philosophy 41
(2003), pp. 111-120.

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624 GEORGE DUKE

consequences regarding not only the thesis that he is genuinely a
natural law theorist, but also in relation to the capacity of the laws of
nature to generate sufficient normativity to justify political authority
more generally. A reason that is a slave to desire can indicate the best
way to satisfy some of one’s desires, but it is hard to see how it can
give reasons for action in the normative sense. Reason, that is, can
teach us how to satisfy our desires or passions, but cannot tell us
whether those desires or passions are rational. Reason accordingly
has no rational authority over desires, as seems clear from Hume’s
claim that it is no more rational to will the destruction of the world

than the scratching of one’s finger.61 The Humean position thus
seems to reduce to the following dilemma in relation to normativity.
Either reason simply identifies the best instrumental way to satisfy
one’s desires, but gives no genuine reasons for action. Or, alterna
tively, we can think of instrumentalism as normative, i.e. as telling us
that we should take the most efficient means to the desired end. But

the source of this normativity is not only quite mysterious, it seems
to embody an attempt to derive an ‘ought’ from an ‘is.’ Ultimately,
then, the account of practical reason found in Hobbes’ work rules
out the attribution to him of a natural law theory in any robust
traditional sense. This is not to deny the existence of materials in
Hobbes’ work that point in the direction of Lloyd’s weak universality
requirement, just to acknowledge that the overarching tendency of
his work is to undermine the capacity of practical reason to access
substantive human goods. One significant problem which Hobbes’
political philosophy hands down to modernity is thus how authority
can be legitimate when its normative force is ultimately a function of
self-interested human desire.

The second related problem for a Hobbesian account is the role of
truth in politics. Hobbes’ claim that it is authority, and not truth, that

makes the law, can be taken in a straightforward sense as prescribing
a clear demarcation of practical and theoretical authority to resolve
moral and religious conflict. This demarcation reflects the impossi
bility of definitively refuting moral scepticism and the difficulty of
resolving disputes over comprehensive doctrines on the human
good. As we have seen, however, Hobbes’ ‘mutual containment’
thesis suggests that the sovereign’s practical authority is associated

61 David Hume, in L. A. Selby-Bigge and P. H. Niditch (eds.), A Treatise of Human Nature, 2nd Edn
(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978), 2.3.3.6.

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HOBBES ON POLITICAL AUTHORITY, PRACTICAL REASON AND TRUTH 625

with his capacity to establish a definitive interpretation of the laws of
nature. When combined with Hobbes’ nominalist philosophy of
language, such a position seems to suggest a constructivist and
robustly anti-realist account of truth according to which the sover
eign will literally establishes what is truth within a commonwealth.62
On the other hand, Hobbes’ appeal to right reason and the laws of
nature would seem to presuppose a more substantive account of
truth, insofar as the sovereign is constrained by principles of self
preservation that transcend particular linguistic conventions.63
Indeed, as I shall argue in concluding this paper, Hobbes’ artificial
account of authority relations requires at a minimum an appeal to
consensus-based truth.

Understanding the utterances of another, even when such utter
ances express truth claims which conflict with our own, presupposes
not only a common language, but also a common store of shared
beliefs. Successful communication depends upon this shared frame
work, because we cannot know what people mean without the
attribution to them of holding certain sentences true, and we cannot
know what someone holds to be true without attributing to them
certain beliefs. It is only within the context of an underlying level of
commonality of belief that meaningful disagreement makes sense. If
we are to consider political authority as a normative notion, then this
presupposes a shared framework of beliefs and (defeasible) claims to
truth embodied in language as a social practice. These claims to truth
in turn cannot be divorced from reasons that people have for
forming beliefs. Whilst it is certainly the case that with political
authority reasons for action can come apart from reasons for
belief, they can never be altogether divorced from such reasons.64
A defence of the possibility of legitimate political authority on the
basis of its capacity to establish a framework for individuals to
coordinate their respective aims and rational plans of life is outside of

62 See Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, p. 15: ‘For True and False are attributes of Speech, not of Things.
And where Speech is not, there is neither Truth nor Falshood’.

63 This tension in Hobbes’ thought is noted by Stephen Finn, Thomas Hobbes and the Politics of
Natural Philosophy (London: Continuum, 2006), pp. 170-171. Leibniz’s observations on Hobbes’ nom
inalism are also apposite here: ‘Hobbes seems to me to be a super-nominalist. For not content like the
nominalists, to reduce universals to names, he says that the truth of things itself consists in names and
what is more, that it depends on the human will, because truth allegedly depends on the definitions of
terms, and definitions depend on the human will’. See G. W. Leibniz, ‘Preface to an Edition of
Nizolius’, in L. E. Loemker (ed.), Philosophical Papers and Letters, 2nd Edn (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1969),
p. 121.

64 See Joseph Raz, Practical Reason and Norms (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), p. 22.

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626 GEORGE DUKE

the scope of this paper, yet something akin to this thesis seems
implied by Hobbes’ strong emphasis upon the perils of the state of
nature and importance of peace and stability. This suggests that an
account of authority relations as totally artificial indicated by some of
Hobbes’ rhetoric is untenable.

It is important not to overstate the case regarding the capacity of
shared beliefs and meaning to serve as the basis for authority rela
tions. No denial is intended of the thesis that early modern politics is
coeval with the dissolution of the bonds of religious and traditional
authority and sources of social stability. Moreover, whilst appeals to
the capacity of common beliefs and communicative rationality to
serve as the basis for authority relations may appear plausible in
times of relative peace, it is clear that in times of significant social
upheaval such as, for example, the English Civil War or Weimar
Germany, prevailing norms are radically placed in question. The
claim, however, is not that a shared framework of beliefs is the basis

for ongoing social harmony, but that Hobbes’ account of the
capacity of the sovereign to impose a definitive interpretation of the
laws of nature, in the form of civil laws, presupposes an underlying
framework of mutual understanding regarding the status of
authoritative directives as reasons for action on the basis of their

capacity to establish peace and stability. The reason that Hobbes’
laws of nature can justify the commands of the sovereign is that the
political ‘oughts’ they generate represent claims to truth regarding,
at a minimum, the universality of the desire for self-preservation and
the desirability of political order.

In conclusion, Hobbes’ attempted reconciliation of positivistic and
natural law commitments in order to establish an ultimate source of

political and legal authority is ultimately compromised by his scep
tical and instrumentalist views on practical reason and nominalist
theory of truth. The moral truth articulated in the definitive inter
pretation of the laws of nature expressed in sovereign commands
nonetheless seems to presuppose not only the universality of the
desire for self-preservation, but also the intelligibility of authoritative
directives as providing presumptively decisive and morally obligating
normative reasons for action. The thesis that goods are projections
of desire pursued instrumentally undermines the status of those
goods as genuine reasons for action capable of providing normative

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HOBBES ON POLITICAL AUTHORITY, PRACTICAL REASON AND TRUTH 627

force to the laws of nature beyond recognition of the prudential
benefits of following whatever de facto authority happens to be in
place.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Thanks to Andrew Sims for his excellent research assistance and to Natalie

Cole for discussion and helpful editing suggestions.

Deakin University, Burwood, VIC,
Australia

E-mail: georged@deakin.edu.au

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Philosophical Review

Normativity and Projection in Hobbes’s Leviathan
Author(s): Stephen Darwall
Source: The Philosophical Review, Vol. 109, No. 3 (Jul., 2000), pp. 313-347
Published by: Duke University Press on behalf of Philosophical Review
Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/2693693
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The Philosophical Review, Vol. 109, No. 3 (July 2000)

Normativity and Projection in Hobbes’s Leviathan

Stephen Darwall

A perennial problem in interpreting Hobbes’s moral and political

thought in Leviathan has been to square the apparently irreducible

(or, at any rate, unreduced) normativity of central Hobbesian con-

cepts and premises with his materialism and empiricism. Thus,

Hobbes defines a “law of nature” as a “precept or general rule,

found out by reason, by which a man is forbidden to do that which

is destructive of his life” (14.3)1 and the “right of nature” as “the

liberty each man hath to use his own power, as he will himself, for

the preservation of his own nature” (14.1). Both are plainly nor-

mative. A law of nature is a precept that tells us what we ought not,

or must not, do. And the right of nature tells us what we may do.

But how does Hobbes intend these normative claims to be un-

derstood or, better, to be accounted for? “Words are wise men’s

counters” (4.13). According to Hobbes’s materialist theory of

meaning, however, a word can “enter into … an account,” only

if it refers to: (i) some matter or body, (ii) “some accident or

quality” of body such as “being moved” or having a certain length,

(iii) the “properties of our own bodies” when we have “fancies”

or sensory appearances, for example, as of color or sound, or (iv)

other names, as, Hobbes thinks, words like ‘general’ and ‘universal’

refer to. Where, in this framework, can a normative claim fit? In

what properties of bodies might laws or the right of nature consist?

Indeed, since Hobbes believes that only terms with these referents

can have meaning, what saves his central normative claims from

I am indebted to audiences at Brown University, Central Michigan Uni-
versity, Emory University, the Midwest Conference in History of Philosophy,
University College, Cork, University of California, San Diego, University of
Iowa, University of Pennsylvania, University of Pittsburgh, University of Sas-
katoon, University of Southern California, and West Virginia University for
helpful discussion of earlier versions. I am grateful to, among others, Ri-
chard Arneson, David Brink, David Gauthier, Barbara Herman, Paul Hur-
ley, Louis Loeb, Sharon Lloyd, and, especially, to an anonymous reader for
the Philosophical Review for many helpful suggestions.

‘References will be to chapter and paragraph number in Edwin Curley’s
edition (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1994).

313

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STEPHEN DARWALL

being “insignificant speech” of the kind he disdains among the

schools (1.5, 4.20)?

We can put this puzzle another way. Hobbes writes within the

tradition of natural law, but he is a modern rather than a classical

natural lawyer. On the classical theory deriving from Aquinas, the

normativity of natural law is grounded in teleological metaphysics.

Implicit in the nature of every natural being is what it is to be, a

teleological archetype that determines its perfection and good.2

This is what Aquinas calls the “eternal law.” Since human beings

can know their end through reason, eternal law is also a “natural

law,” that is, a law rooted in our nature that we can follow or flout.

As with all natural beings, however, the normativity of this law de-

rives from metaphysical teleology, from our having a telos: an end

we are to seek built into our nature.

“Words are wise men’s counters.” But, Hobbes adds, they are

but “the money of fools,” for those who “value them by the au-

thority of an Aristotle, a Cicero, or a Thomas” (4.13). Hobbes holds

that ends are unintelligible except for creatures with “sense and

will.”3 And for them, he re-identifies final causes as efficient causes,

namely, as the “endeavours” that cause all voluntary action.

Thus, Hobbes confronted directly the problem that all modern

natural lawyers faced in the seventeenth century. If the metaphys-

ical teleology of classical natural law is incompatible with the world-

view of the emerging empirical sciences, how is the normativity of

natural law to be accounted for? What place is there for oughts in

a world of empirical fact? Hobbes’s definition of ethics as a “sci-

ence” that draws out “consequences from the passions of men”

only compounds the difficulty (9, table). How can anything nor-

mative follow from propositions of psychology?

Faced with this puzzle, commentators have tended to pursue one

of two strategies. Some have taken Hobbes’s normative claims at

face value, as largely independent of his apparent empiricism and

materialism. These interpreters argue that Hobbes’s moral and po-

litical arguments are to be understood within the framework of a

non-empiricist moral realism or as some form of theological vol-

untarism.4 By far the more usual tack, however, has been to un-

21 discuss this further in The British Moralists and the Internal ‘Ought’:
1640-1740 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 4-6.

3Thomas Hobbes, English Works, 5.1, 132.
4For the former, see A. E. Taylor, “The Ethical Doctrine of Hobbes,” in

314

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NORMA TiVJTY AND PROJECTION iV HOBBES

derstand Hobbes’s empiricism and naturalism as significantly in-

forming his moral philosophy.5 Writers who follow this line take

their cue from Hobbes’s remark that the “dictates of reason” he

terms natural “laws” are only “improperly” so called. Really, they

are “conclusions, or theorems concerning what conduceth to the

conservation and defence” of oneself (15.41). Reading this togeth-

er with Hobbes’s characterization of ethics as a science that draws

conclusions “from the passions of men,” these writers frequently

infer that what Hobbes must believe is that normative claims, such

as that everyone should seek peace or “keep their convenants

made,” can be reduced to propositions of empirical fact, such as

that each person unavoidably seeks self-preservation and that seek-

ing peace and keeping covenant are necessary means to achieving

this end.

These writers also claim support from Hobbes’s theory of value,

which they interpret as some form of metaethical subjectivism.6

Thus, when Hobbes writes that “good and evil are names that signify

our appetites” (15.40), and that whatever a person desires he “cal-

leth good” (6.7), he is generally read as saying that ‘good’ means

something like “desired by me.” Added to the premises that I de-

sire self-preservation, that keeping covenant is necessary to achieve

this end, and that whatever is necessary to realize something good

is likewise good, this yields the conclusion that my keeping cove-

nant would be good. And, assuming that one should do what would

be good, it follows that I should keep covenant.

Interpreting Hobbes as a reductionist, however, gives him the

burden of explaining how facts about the agent’s psychology can

Keith Brown, Hobbes Studies, ed. Keith Brown (Oxford: Blackwell, 1965).
For the latter, see, somewhat problematically, Howard Warrender, The Po-
litical Philosophy of Hobbes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, Clarendon
Press, 1957) and, more straightforwardly, A. P. Martinich, The Two Gods of
Leviathan: Thomas Hobbes on Religion and Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1992).

5See, for example, David Gauthier, The Logic of Leviathan: The Moral and
Political Theory of Thomas Hobbes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, Claren-

don Press, 1967), and “Thomas Hobbes: Moral Theorist,” Journal of Phi-
losophy 76 (1979): 547-59; Jean Hampton, Hobbes and the Social Contract
Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986); and Gregory S.
Kavka, Hobbesian Moral and Political Theory (Princeton: Princeton University
Press, 1986).

6See the references to Gauthier, Hampton, and Kavka in notes 25-27
below.

315

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STEPHEN DARWALL

have normative practical force. Why does the fact that I happen to

desire something create a reason for me to seek it? That I actually

desire something seems to be one thing, that it is desirable, some-

thing I should desire or seek, another. Facts about my desires seem

to be psychological descriptions of my situation as they might be

viewed from an observer’s standpoint. Claims about what I should

do, however, concern what there are (normative) reasons for me

to do as these might be viewed from the perspective of an agent

deliberating about what to do.7 How does an agent get from the

fact that some means are necessary to an end she actually seeks to

the conclusion that she ought to take those means? Maybe the end

is one she ought not seek.8 What gets her from the apparently non-

normative, psychological claim to the normative practical conclu-

sion? Reductionism seems to change the subject from ethics to

psychology. Interpreting Hobbes in this way, therefore, makes him

subject to the problem with which we began.

There is a further problem with subjectivism that must also infect

a subjectivist interpretation of Hobbes. When two people, A and

B, say of something, X, that it is good and that it is not good,

respectively, there seems to be a disagreement between them about

some objective matter, concerning which both cannot be correct.

If subjectivism is true, however, what A really says is that she, A,

desires X, and what B says is that he, B, does not or, perhaps, that

he is averse, to X. But if this is so, then there is no objective issue

between A and B concerning which no more than one of them

7For criticism of the idea that desire provides a normative reason for
action (as opposed, say, to being a condition in which the desirer takes
something about her desire’s object as a normative reason), see E. J. Bond,
Reason and Value (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 1-41;
Stephen Darwall, Impartial Reason (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983),

25-82; Philip Pettit and Michael Smith, “Backgrounding Desire,” Philo-
sophical Review 99 (1990): 565-92; and T. M. Scanlon, What We Owe to Each
Other (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998), 33-55.

8For a critique of the idea that the fact that something is a (necessary)
means to the agent’s end is a normative reason for the agent to take it, as
opposed, say, to making it irrational for the agent to both maintain the
end and fail to take the means, see R. M. Hare, “Wanting: Some Pitfalls,”
in Agent, Action, and Reason, ed. Robert Binkley, Richard Bronaugh, and
Ausonio Marras (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1971); Patricia
Greenspan, “Conditional Oughts and Hypothetical Imperatives,” Journal
of Philosophy 72 (1975): 259-76; Stephen Darwall, Impartial Reason, 43-50;
and John Broome, “Normative Requirements,” Ratio 12 (1999): 398-419.

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NORMAITL VTiY AND PROJECTION IN HOBBES

can be correct. A will not be affirming what B denies, nor vice

versa. And subjectivism is not simply problematic in its own right.

It is especially dubious as an interpretation of Hobbes since, as we

shall see, Hobbes says that disagreements about good and evil can

be serious enough to lead to war.

I have argued elsewhere that Hobbes can be interpreted as ini-

tiating an internalist tradition in British moral thought, which held

that normative force should be understood as motive force for an

agent deliberating about what to do.9 This tradition came in two

versions, empirical naturalist internalism and autonomist internalism,

both of which held that practical normativity-an agent’s oughting

to do something-consists in her being moved so to act were she

to reason properly. I claimed that Hobbes initiated naturalist in-

ternalism, a tradition that also included Cumberland, Locke,

Hutcheson, and Hume. According to naturalist internalists, prac-

tical reasoning consists entirely in empirically based theoretical rea-

soning about practice.10 An agent ought to do something if, and

only if, she would be moved to do it were her empirical beliefs

about her practical situation error-free. Autonomist internalists, like

Cudworth, Shaftesbury, Butler, and, in certain moods, Locke, on

the other hand, held that only free agents can be subject to oughts.

They believed that obligation derives from a distinctive source of

motivation available through self-determining, autonomous agen-

cy-a uniquely practical reason.’ According to autonomist inter-

nalists, what a person ought to do is what he would be moved to

do were he correctly to exercise this capacity for self-determining

deliberation and choice.

I argued that Hobbes was a naturalist internalist who held that

all practical reasoning is instrumental. Theoretical reasoning-for

example, that concerning the relation between keeping covenant

and self-preservation-acquires a normative force in the practical

reasoning of an agent who has self-preservation as an end. But this

brings us back squarely to the problem I raised earlier: How can it

do this? Reducing normative propositions to propositions about

our ends or desires and the means to satisfying them seems to

change the subject from the normative practical question facing a

91n chapter 3 of The British Moralists and the Internal ‘Ought’.
?0With some caveats for Hume and Hutcheson.
“Again, with caveats, this time for Locke.

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STEPHEN DARWALL

deliberating agent-What should I do?-to a question of empirical

inquiry-What occurrences would cause the satisfaction of my de-

sire?

What I failed to see sufficiently clearly was that the instrumental

reasonings with which Hobbes was concerned are not practical be-

cause they proceed from a psychological premise about practice,

namely, that self-preservation is one’s end. Rather, according to

Hobbes, we reason from the end of self-preservation itself, not from

the fact that it is our end. In having self-preservation as end, we

accept a normative premise that differs from any description of

our psychology. We see our survival as good or as something that

ought to be achieved. And so we conclude that we ought to keep

covenant when we see doing so as a necessary means to staying

alive. But how exactly is this supposed to work, according to

Hobbes? How can Hobbes provide an account of instrumental

practical reasoning that both respects his empiricism and materi-

alism and does justice to normative practical force as it presents

itself to agents deliberating about what to do?

In what follows, I argue that Leviathan is best interpreted as pro-

viding a projectivist theory of this normative premise and, indeed,

of normative language and thought more generally. There are

many passages, I shall argue, where Hobbes is saying, not only that

the proper place to locate ethical thought is in practical reasoning,

from the agent’s point of view, but also that ethical or normative

thought and discourse are expressions or projections of what, in

Hobbes’s view, makes us deliberating agents in the first place, our

desires. In desiring our survival, Hobbes holds, we ascribe to it a

property, that of being good (something we ought to achieve), that

it does not literally have.12 Moreover, I shall argue, Hobbes explic-

12Although one might wish to distinguish the evaluative from the nor-
mative for various purposes, I will take it that the evaluative propositions
with which Hobbes is here concerned are normative, if only implicitly,
since they are neither good-of-a-kind judgments nor hedged in some other
way. On my interpretation, Hobbes holds that the (evaluative) thought that
something is good implies the (normative) thought that there is some
(normative) reason for the agent whose thought it is to bring it about and,
thus, that she ought to, other things being equal. (For the distinction be-
tween normative and motivating reasons (earlier termed justifying and ex-
plaining or “agents”‘ reasons, respectively), see, for example, Michael
Smith, The Moral Problem (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994), 94-98; Stephen Dar-
wall, Impartial Reason, 28-32; Kurt Baier, The Moral Point of View (Ithaca:
Cornell University Press, 1958), 148-56.)

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NORMA TIVIVTY AND) PROJECTION IN HOBBES

itly analogizes ethical judgments in this way to color judgments, of

which he suggests a similarly projectivist theory.13

This interpretation may seem to face significant problems of its

own, however. If values and oughts are, like color, strictly illusory,

then why doesn’t knowledge of their projective character under-

mine ethics? Hobbes doesn’t consider this question directly, but I

shall argue that we can infer his answer, however unsatisfactory it

may be. Desire-and deliberation under its influence-are, Hobbes

believes, what give ethical thought its point and function. So long

as we are alive, we desire. And so long as we desire, we find ethical

thought and, perforce, deliberation, unavoidable. Hobbes addresses

Leviathan’s central normative claims, the laws of nature, to his read-

ers as deliberating agents. As theorems about what leads to self-

preservation, these provide lemmas that can be combined in each

agent’s practical reasoning with a normative thought each finds un-

avoidable under the influence of a desire he cannot shake.

Before proceeding, I should make it clear what I am claiming

and what I am not. I am not saying that Hobbes himself had any

clear notion of the metaethical differences between projectivism

and subjectivism, nor that he ever explicitly rejects subjectivism.

These are our distinctions, and it would be anachronistic to read

them back into Hobbes in any detailed way.14 Nevertheless, I do

claim, against the main tenor of Hobbes scholarship, that projec-

tivism provides a significantly better interpretation of what Hobbes

says than subjectivism does. Leviathan thus provides one of the first,

if not the very first, expressions of a projectivist metaethics, for

similar reasons, indeed, to those that underlie projectivism today.

Color

We should begin with color. Analogies to color and to secondary

qualities more generally run through metaethical writing of the

‘3Strictly speaking, this does not simply extend the story I told about
Hobbes in The British Moralists and the Internalist. It amends it. I there
placed Hobbes at the head of a naturalist tradition in early modern British
metaethics. I now think, however, that while Hobbes is a methodological
and metaphysical naturalist, the most plausible metaethical category to
place him in is not naturalism but projectivism. But note the next para-
graph but one in the text.

4For a discussion of these distinctions, see Stephen Darwall, Peter Rail-
ton, and Allan Gibbard, “Toward Fin de SiWcle Ethics,” Philosophical Review
101 (1992): 115-89.

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STEPHEN DARWALL

last twenty years. This perhaps began with J. L. Mackie’s presenta-

tion of what he called the “error theory” and, in this connection,

with his discussion of projective “objectification” in Hume.15 Ac-

cording to Mackie and Mackie’s Hume, value judgments are like

color judgments in that both are rooted in “objectifying” states of

mind that project objective qualities onto objects that do not ac-

tually have them. In color experience we see objects as colored, as

though they had an objective, categorical color property. But they

actually have no such property. There are many related properties

they do have, for example, the disposition to cause certain expe-

riences (as of color) in normal observers in standard viewing con-

ditions. But this is not how they seem to us in color experience.

Our experience is as of an intrinsic or categorical color property

in the object.

Mackie argues that Hume holds that ethical properties should

be understood similarly. Thus, Hume famously compares vice and

virtue “to sounds, colours, heat and cold, which, according to mod-

ern philosophy, are not qualities in objects, but perceptions in the

mind.”116 Although both ethical and secondary qualities are nothing
but “perceptions,” it is important to Hume that both appear to us

as anything but items in our own minds. ” [T] he mind has a great

propensity to spread itself on external objects, and to conjoin with

them any internal impressions, which they occasion.”‘ 7 We “natu-

rally imagine a conjunction, even in place, betwixt the objects and

qualities”-we experience color and virtue as really being in ob-

jects and characters, respectively. Still, these qualities “really exist

no where.” In the case of vice and virtue, Hume attributes the

projection to sentiment or taste, which he contrasts with reason.

Reason “discovers objects as they really stand in nature; without

addition or diminution,” whereas taste “has a productive faculty,

15J. L. Mackie, Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong (Harmondsworth: Pen-
guin Books, 1977) and Hume’s Moral Theory (London: Routledge and Ke-
gan Paul, 1980). It should be noted that Mackie usually discusses objecti-
fication in relation to Hume, he does cite Hobbes as an example of the
view that value is a projection of desire (Hume’s Moral Theory, 43). However,
Mackie does not work this out in any detail, nor does he relate it to what
Hobbes says about color.

16David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, 2d ed., ed. L. A. Selby-Bigge,
2d. ed., with text revised and variant readings by P. H. Nidditch (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1978), 469.

17 Treatise, 167.

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NORMATIVITY AND PROJECTION iN HOBBES

and gilding or staining all natural objects with the colours, bor-

rowed from internal sentiment, raises in a manner a new crea-

tion. “X18

Recent invocations of an analogy between ethical and secondary

qualities go well beyond Mackie. Michael Smith models a nonred-

uctive dispositionalist theory of value quite explicitly on a similar

account of color, using the latter to exhibit how an analysis might

be nonreductive but still informative.1 And other reductive dis-

positionalists like David Lewis and Peter Railton exploit the analogy

as well.20 Sensibility theorists, like John McDowell and David Wig-

gins, provide yet another example of how the analogy can be de-

ployed, this time within a philosophical framework that, unlike that

of Smith, Lewis, and Railton, stresses discontinuities between ethics

and science.21

Hobbes on Color

While contemporary discussion looks to Hume for the analogy be-

tween color and value, especially for a projectivist approach to

both, I hope to show that these elements were also present in Le-

viathan (almost a century before the Treatise). In particular, I shall

argue, Leviathan exhibits an application to the case of desire, de-

liberation, and value of a projectivist approach to color that

Hobbes took from Galileo.22

18David Hume, Enquiries Concrning Human Understanding and Concerning
the Principles of Morals, 3d ed., ed. L. A. Selby-Bigge, with text revised and
notes by P. H. Nidditch (Oxford: Oxford University Press, Clarendon Press,
1985), 294.

19Michael Smith, The Moral Problem (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995).
20David Lewis, “Dispositional Theories of Value,” Proceedings of the Aris-

totelian Society, supp. vol. 63 (1989): 113-37; Peter Railton, “Moral Real-
ism,” Philosophical Review 95 (1986): 163-207.

21John McDowell, “Values and Secondary Qualities,” in Morality and
Objectivity, ed. T. Honderich (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985);
David Wiggins, “A Sensible Subjectivism?” in Needs, Values, Truth: Essays in
the Philosophy of Value (Oxford: Blackwell, 1987).

22Recent scholarly discoveries have revealed how Hobbes’s thinking un-
derwent a fundamental shift in the 1630s from Renaissance humanism to
modern natural philosophy (Quentin Skinner, “Bringing Back a New
Hobbes,” New York Review of Books (April 4, 1996)). New evidence of the
former has come in the republication of Three Discourses. This was initially
published anonymously in 1620, but computer analysis has recently sug-
gested that it was written by Hobbes (Thomas Hobbes, Three Discourses, ed.
Noel B. Reynolds and Arlene W. Saxonhouse (Chicago: University of Chi-

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STEPHEN DAR WALL

We should begin with Galileo. Colors, Galileo says, are like tastes

and odors in residing, as a matter of “objective existence,” “in our

sensitive body,” so that “if the perceiving creature were removed,

all of those qualities would be annihilated and removed from ex-

istence.” However, “just because we have given special names to

these qualities, different from the names we have given to the pri-

mary and real properties, we are tempted into believing that the

former really and truly exist as well as the latter.”23 Galileo diag-

noses the cause of this projective error not to be our experience

of color, but our linguistic habits. It is giving special names to col-

ors as we do to “primary and real properties,” that has tempted

us to believe that they also have objective existence.

Compare this with Hobbes:

[T] his seeming or fancy, is that which men call sense, and consisteth, as
to the eye, in a light or colour figured. … All which qualities, called

sensible, are in the object, that causeth them, but so many several mo-

tions of the matter, by which it presseth our organs diversely. Neither

in us that are pressed, are they any thing else, but divers motions; for

motion produceth nothing but motion. But their appearance to us is

fancy. … [T] hough … the real and very object seem invested with

the fancy it begets in us; yet still the object is one thing, the image or

fancy is another. (1.4)

According to Hobbes, it is color experience that leads us to

think, mistakenly, that objects have objective, categorical color

properties. The “seeming” or “fancy” is “as to the eye, in a light

or colour figured.” The appearance is as of color as an objective

property or thing. (What Hobbes actually says here is that it is to

the eye as if color were a shaped stuff or substance.) But there

cago Press, 1995)). One of the Discourses, the Discourse on Law, is particu-
larly interesting for our purposes, since it is replete with the rhetoric of
classical Thomist natural law that Hobbes would come later to scorn. The
last two years have also seen the publication of Hobbes’s correspondence,
which shows the emergence during the 1630s of a very different Hobbes,
someone intensively engaged in experiments with light and optics and fas-
cinated by Galileo’s theory of color (Thomas Hobbes, The Correspondence,

2 vols., ed. Noel Malcolm (Oxford: Oxford University Press, Clarendon
Press, 1994)). As we know, Hobbes pursued scientific and geometrical re-
search for the rest of life, and his philosophical writings from then on bear
the marks, not least, of course, Leviathan.

23From The Assayer (II Saggitore, 1623). This passage, translated by Arthur
Danto, is quoted in Danto and Sidney Morgenbesser, eds. Philosophy of Sci-
ence (Cleveland and New York: Meridien Books, 1960).

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NORMA TI VITY AND PROJECTION IN HOBBES

really is no such property or thing in nature. While “the real and

very object seem invested with the fancy,” object and fancy are

quite distinct.

There are, then, the following elements in Hobbes’s projective

account of color:

1. We experience color as an objective, categorical quality in the

object (the object “seem[s] invested with the fancy”).

2. We do not experience it as something in us, or as a disposition

in the object to cause experiences in us, or creatures like us,

etc.

3. There actually is no such objective, categorical, color quality

in objects.

4. All there is are the material motions in the object, in us, and

in between.

Hobbes on Desire and Voluntary Motion

Hobbes titles chapter 6 of Leviathan, “Of the Interior Beginnings

of Voluntary Motions; Commonly Called the Passions; and the

Speeches By Which They Are Expressed.” In it, he provides an

account of the “fancy” or appearancee” of good and evil that is

both structurally analogous to his projectivist account of color and

explicitly linked to it.24 Whereas color qualities are what we pro-

jectively attribute to the objects we are viewing when we have cer-

tain sensory experiences, Hobbes claims that good and evil are

qualities we attribute to objects when we desire or are averse to

them, respectively. When a person calls something good, she thus

“express [es]” the “passion” that Hobbes calls desire, and contrari-
wise for aversion.

Hobbes’s thinking is intricate here, so we need to lay it out in

some detail. Animal or voluntary motion differs from vital motion,

such as is involved in the movement of blood and normal breath-

ing. Since “voluntary motions … depend always upon a precedent

thought of whither, which way, and what, it is evident that the imag-

24So far as I know, the only interpreter to notice this is Richard Tuck
(see his Hobbes (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 52-
57). However, Tuck apparently does not see the difference between inter-
preting Hobbes as a projectivist and seeing him as a subjectivist (relativist),
nor the way in which Hobbes’s projectivist treatment of value and nor-
mativity fits into his account of deliberation and the will.

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STEPHEN DARWALL

ination is the first internal beginning of all voluntary motion”

(6.1). Hobbes calls these “small beginnings of motion “endeavour”

When an endeavor is “toward” some object, it is an “appetite” or

“desire.” And when it is “fromward something,” it is an “aversion”

(6.2).
Desire is psychologically identical with love-the “same thing,”

Hobbes says, except that desire’s object is always something we take

to be absent, and contrariwise for love (6.3). And similarly, with

appropriate changes, for aversion and hatred. We hate only what

we think present, and are averse when we have the same attitude

to something we suppose absent. Except for their objects’ mode

of presentation, then, desire and love are identical.

To get the next pieces of the puzzle onto the table, we must

consider in some depth a passage in which Hobbes makes an ex-

plicit analogy with the sensory experience of color.

As, in sense, that which is really within us, is, as I have said before,

only motion, caused by the action of external objects (but in appear-

ence, to the sight, light and colour, . . . ), so when the action of the

same object is continued from the eyes, ears, and other organs to the

heart, the real effect there is nothing but motion or endeavour, which

consisteth in appetite or aversion, to or from the object moving. But

the appearance or sense of that motion, is that we either call DE-
LIGHT, or TROUBLE OF MIND. (6.9)

What sense experience really is, Hobbes thinks, is simply some mo-

tion in my sense organs, caused by the sensed object, which motion

“is continued inward to the brain” (1.4). Nonetheless, this motion

has an appearancee,” which is “as to the eye, in a light or colour

figured” (1.4), or, as Hobbes says here, “to the sight, light and

colour” (6.9). The appearance is, in fact, a manifestation of the

material motions in the sense organs, brain, and object, in the

sense that these are what causally underlie the appearance. But

they are no part of the appearance’s content. They are not what

the appearance is as of. The appearance is as of an object with a

categorical, objective color property. To mark this distinction, let

us call what actually underlies the appearance, the appearance sub-

stratum. In this case, the appearance substratum is the complex of

material motions that are causing the object to look colored. And

we can call what the object is appearing as, the appearance content.

In this case, the appearance content is color as an objective, cate-

gorical property of an object or “a colour figured.” Finally, we can

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NORMATIVITY AMD PROJECTION IN HOBBES

refer to the phenomenal “fancy” as the appearance itself So we have

three things: the sensory experience or appearance itself, what the

object is appearing as (the appearance content), and what actually

underlies the appearance, the material motions that are its sub-

stratum.

Now follow the motion farther, from the sense organs and the

brain on to the “heart.” When the motion extends to the heart,

there is frequently a responsive effect, some motion to or from

some object, perhaps the sensed object itself. These “small begin-

nings of motion” are endeavors-desires or aversions, or loves or

hatreds, depending on whether they are toward or fromward their

objects and whether their objects are conceived as present or ab-

sent.

This new motion, the endeavor, also manifests itself in a fancy

or appearance. Like the material motions that appear in sense ex-

perience, it too is an appearance substratum. And Hobbes here

gives us his name for the appearance in which the endeavor man-

ifests itself. He calls the appearance itself “delight” or “trouble of

mind.” When I want something, my wanting is manifested in a

delightful appearance as I contemplate something I take to be ab-

sent (although not, of course, its absence). And when I am averse

to something, my aversion manifests itself in a troubled appearance

as I contemplate something I take to be absent (again, of course,

not its absence). Thus, delight (or “pleasure”) and trouble of

mind (or “molestation” or “displeasure”) are the appearances

themselves that are associated with the respective appearance subtra-

ta of desire and aversion.

But what are desire’s and aversion’s respective appearance con-

tents? What are their appearances as oft To get to Hobbes’s punch

line, consider the following example. You’ve just finished a long

run on a hot day and have a powerful thirst. You spy a bottle of

cold Gatorade in the fridge. First, the color story: motion in the

bottle begins a causal chain leading first to your eyes and then to

your brain, causing certain consequent motions there: the color

appearance substrata. These motions manifest themselves in a phe-

nomenal “fancy”: the color appearance itself. And this appearance

seems to be as of a lime green color, an objective quality of the

liquid in the bottle: the color appearance content.

The motion now runs from eyes and brain to your heart (going

through the material underpinnings of your thirst). Here it causes

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STEPHEN DAR WALL

a motion towards the possible state of affairs of your drinking the

Gatorade. This new motion is an endeavor, and because it is toward

an object you regard as absent, it is a desire. This desire manifests

itself in a second appearance, in addition to the one you had when

you saw the Gatorade as green. You experience pleasure or delight

when you contemplate actually drinking the Gatorade. Your plea-

sure is the second appearance itself. But, again, what is the content

of this second appearance? What is it as oft

Here is Hobbes’s answer: “Pleasure, . . . or delight, is the appear-

ence, or sense, of good; and molestation or displeasure, the appear-

ence, or sense, of evil” (6.10). The content of desire’s appearance

is value, and the content of aversion’s appearance is disvalue. Every

desire and love, Hobbes says, “is accompanied with some delight

more or less,” and every aversion or hatred “with more or less

displeasure” (6.11). And pleasure and displeasure are appearances

as of good and evil, respectively. So every desire and love manifests

itself in an appearance as of a good quality of something. And

every aversion or hatred manifests itself in an appearance as of a

bad or evil quality of something. You want to drink the Gatorade,

and in so wanting you have an appearance as of that’s being good.

Or you are averse to remaining in your current thirsty state, and

in so being, you have an appearance as of that’s being bad.

Projecting Value

Now that we understand how Hobbes relates desire and aversion

to appearances as of good and evil in explicit analogy to the rela-

tion between the motions involved in color sensation and appear-

ances as of color, we are in a position to understand Hobbes’s

“definitions” of good and evil. What emerges is quite different

from the standard interpretations. Let us get the passage clearly

before us:

[W] hatsoever is the object of any man’s appetite or desire, that is it

which he for his part calleth good: and the object of his hate and

aversion, evil… . For these words of good, evil, and contemptible, are
ever used with relation to the person that useth them; there being

nothing simply and absolutely so; nor any common rule of good and

evil, to be taken from the nature of the objects themselves; but from

the person of the man. (6.7)

Commentators who wish to square Hobbes’s moral and political

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NORMATIVITY AM) PROJECTION IN HOBBES

philosophy with his empiricist naturalism frequently interpret this

passage as saying that being good is the same thing as being de-

sired. Thus, Gauthier says that Hobbes is saying here that “‘This is

good’ means ‘this is an object of desire’.”25 And Hampton calls it

a “baldly subjectivist ethical understanding of ‘good’,” claiming

also that Hobbes here defines ‘good’ as “what we desire,” and

‘bad’ as “what we are averse to.”26 Kavka concurs, referring to it

as Hobbes’s “subjectivist definition of good and evil.”27

But Hobbes does not say in this passage either that ‘good’ and

‘evil’ mean the same as “what we desire” or “what we are averse

to” or that being good or evil are the same thing as being the

object of desire or aversion. He says that what we desire we call

good. Recall his title for chapter 6: “Of the Interiour Beginnings of

Voluntary Motions, Commonly Called the Passions; and the Speeches

by Which They Are Expressed” (emphasis added). When someone calls

something good, he expresses his desire. He does not say that he

desires it. As an analogy consider the difference between express-

ing a belief and self-attributing it. When I assert that it is raining,

I express my belief that it is raining. I do not say thereby that I

believe this even if, in asserting that it is raining, I imply that I

do.28 Similarly, when I say that something is good, I express my

desire for it. I do not say thereby that I desire it even if I may be

taken, at least in some situations, to imply that I do.

Weighing only these considerations, it should be uncontroversial

that Hobbes holds that when we call something good, we express

rather than assert our desire. And the addition of Hobbes’s explicit

analogy between the projection of value in desire and the illusory

projection of color points fairly directly to a projectivist rather than

a subjectivist interpretation. Thus, when Hobbes says that nothing

is “simply and absolutely” good or evil and that there is no “com-

mon rule of good and evil, to be taken from the nature of objects

25David Gauthier, The Logic of Leviathan, 7. In “Thomas Hobbes: Moral
Theorist,” 548, Gauthier again takes this passage as evidence that Hobbes
is a value subjectivist, albeit one who differs from contemporary subjectiv-

ists in taking desire rather than preference as a measure of value.
26Jean Hampton, Hobbes and the Social Contract Tradition, 29.
2 Gregory S. Kavka, Hobbesian Moral and Political Theory, 47.
28G. E. Moore, “A Reply to My Critics,” in The Philosophy of G. E. Moore,

ed. Paul Arthur Schilpp (La Salle, Ill.: Open Court, 1942), 561; H. P. Grice,

“The Causal Theory of Perception,” in Perceiving, Sensing, and Knowing, ed.
Robert Swartz (Garden City, N.Y: Anchor Books, 1965), 444-51.

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STEPHEN DARWALL

themselves,” it seems reasonable to interpret him as saying that

value is in this respect just like color. Color experience is analogous

to desire in that both involve appearances that are as of categorical

subject-independent features (color and value, respectively). Sen-

sory experience is as of color, rather than our own states of mind,

as the fancies we have when desiring are as of something’s good-

ness, rather than our state of desiring. There are, however, no such

color properties. We only think there are because we “invest” the

object “with the fancy.” It is only natural to conclude, therefore,

that Hobbes is here making the analogous points about desire and

the projective appearance of value. Nothing is “simply and abso-

lutely” good, just as nothing is objectively colored.

But this is not all that Hobbes says. He says also that ‘good’ and

‘evil’ are “ever used with relation to the person that useth them,”

and that although there is no rule of good inherent in “the nature

of objects themselves,” a rule can be given by “the person of the

man.” In the same vein, he says that “good, and evil, are names
that signify our appetites and aversions,” and that “appetite is the

measure of good” (15.40). Moreover, Hobbes frequently talks

about good and evil in an explicitly relativized way. “The voluntary

acts of every man,” he says, invariably aim at “some good to him-

self” (14.8). And Hobbes defines benevolence as “desire of good

to another” (6.22). Don’t all these remarks point in the direction

of subjectivism rather than projectivism?

Not necessarily. If Hobbes believes, as he clearly does, that speak-

ers use ‘good’ and ‘evil’ to express their desires, then there is an

obvious sense in which he must think they use them “with relation

to” themselves even if they don’t assert some relation to themselves

(as subjectivism requires). As for Hobbes’s other apparently sub-

jectivist remarks, these are best interpreted by bearing in mind two

things. First, as with color, the only thing that can enter into an

“account” for the projected appearance content is the appearance

substratum. So just as, in this sense, color signifies the material

motions in our sense organs, so likewise do good and evil signify

the material motions of desire and aversion. With color, Hobbes

says, “we bring into account the properties of our own bodies,

whereby we make such distinction” (4.17). So, similarly, does good

signify our appetites in this sense. But this is no more evidence

against a projectivist interpretation of Hobbes’s remarks about val-

ue than it would be against interpreting him as a projectivist about

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NORMATiVJTY AMD PROJECTION IN HOBBES

color. Or, to put the point the other way round, if one is persuaded

by this talk to reject a projectivist interpretation of Hobbes on val-

ue, then one should also reject a projectivist interpretation of

Hobbes on color.

Second, although Hobbes frequently speaks of things being

good to people, this can easily be interpreted as referring to what

people think good or what appears good to them. So when Hobbes

says that voluntary action invariably aims at some good to the

agent, this can readily be seen to be consistent with projectivism if

we understand him as saying that voluntary action invariably aims

at something the agent thinks good or that seems good to her. On

a projectivist reading, this will be true whenever the agent desires

the thing, so we could as easily say that voluntary action invariably

aims at something the agent desires. This interpretation has the

great merit of following directly from Hobbes’s definitions of “vol-

untary motion” and “desire.” As opposed to “vital motion,” “an-

imal” or “voluntary motion” invariably involves a “fancy” or

“imagination,” a “precedent thought of whither, which way, and
what” (6.1). This is the appearance itself of the “small beginings

of motion, within the body of man,” that are the fancy’s substra-

tum: “endeavour” or desire (6.2). Based on our earlier inquiry, we

know what the content of this fancy must be, namely, that an object

of action is good or something that ought to be brought about.

Here again, projectivism gives the most natural reading.

Finally, the context in which Hobbes speaks of desire as the

‘measure of good” and says that ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are “ever used

with relation to the person that useth them” (15.40) is one in

which these remarks cannot be given a subjectivist interpretation

without doing violence to Hobbes’s argument. What Hobbes is dis-

cussing at this point is the kind of conflict that is expressed (and

furthered) when people apply ‘good’ and ‘evil’ to the same thing.

Nay, [even] the same man, in divers times, differs from himself; and
one time praiseth, that is, calleth good, what another time he disprais-

eth, and calleth evil: from whence arise, disputes, controversies, and

at last war. (15.40)

If all a person says in calling something good is that she desires it

(now), then there is no conflict at all in what two people say when

one calls it good and another calls it evil, or between what one

person says in calling something good at one time and bad at an-

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STEPHEN DARWALL

other. The one says that she desires it (then) and the other that

he is averse to it, and since these can both be true, no conflict is

expressed. There is no dispute over the putatively subject-indepen-

dent issue of whether something is good or evil. If, however, in

respectively desiring and being averse to something, two people

see that thing as, respectively, good and evil (that is, absolutely, and

not just in relation to them), then the way they see things is in

conflict. In having conflicting desires, they see the world in con-

flicting ways, which they express by attributing the mutually incom-

patible properties of good and evil. All things considered, there-

fore, a projectivist interpretation enjoys a substantial preponder-

ance of evidence over a subjectivist one.

Desire, Deliberation, and Normative Reasons

Nonetheless, it will still be true on Hobbes’s materialist theory of

meaning that all that ‘good’ and ‘evil’ can actually signify, in the

sense of enter into an account for, are appetites and aversions.

There really are no such categorical, objective properties as good

and evil seem to be to us when we have desires and aversions. All

that exist are the material motions that constitute our endeavors.

But if that is so, why wouldn’t knowledge of the projective character

of ethical judgments undermine ethical thought and practice?

Shouldn’t Hobbes have believed that in putting forward a projec-

tive theory of value judgment he was placing a significant obstacle

to his readers’ accepting the normative propositions he wished to

convince them of in Leviathan?

Hobbes never faces this question directly. It is clear enough, how-

ever, that any answer he could give would have to do with what,

on his view, is the essentially practical character of ethical thought.

In this section, I will sketch this aspect of his view. My object is not

to show that Hobbes’s response would be satisfactory, but simply

to lay out what its main lines would have to be.

In considering it, we need not worry about our contemporary

issues of whether projectivism leads to the conclusion that all eth-

ical judgments are literally false, but perhaps not in a way that

undermines ethical practice, or whether projectivism should be

understood noncognitively as holding that ethical judgments are,

literally speaking, neither true nor false.29 The important point is

29Along the first line, J. L. Mackie argues that it is possible to hold a

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NORMA TIVITY ANAD PROJECTION IN HOBBES

that Hobbes believes that ethical thought is simply unavoidable for

us because we are agents, since, so long as we are alive, we have

desires. ” [L]ife itself is but motion, and can never be without de-
sire” (6.58). Once we are in the state of desire, Hobbes believes,

we are perforce deliberating. We face the practical ethical question

of what to do, of what there are normative reasons to do. Delib-

eration just is “the whole sum of desires, aversions, hopes and fears

continued till the thing be either done, or thought impossible”

(6.49). And an agent’s will is nothing but “the last appetite or

aversion immediately adhering to the action, or to the omission

thereof” (6.53). There is no possibility, therefore, that believing

projectivism could lead us to give up substantive ethical thought.

This reveals a deep irony in Hobbes’s ethics. Hobbes’s moral

psychology is frequently criticized for its woefully inadequate the-

ory of agency.30 Hobbes’s critics, both early modern and contem-

porary, argue that agency involves far more than thoughts related

to a succession of desires; it requires as well the capacity to gain

critical distance on desires and so make them, and thus one’s ac-

tions, one’s own.31 But it is important to recognize despite this that

Hobbes treats ethics as fundamentally an agent’s phenomenon.

Ethical thoughts-concerning good and ought-are those an

projectivist “error theory” at the level of “second-order” metaethics and
nonetheless engage sincerely in substantive, “first-order” normative ethical

thought and discourse (Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong, 15-49). For a
projectivist view that has greater affinities to traditional noncognitivism,
see Simon Blackburn, “How to Be an Ethical Antirealist,” Midwest Studies
in Philosophy 12 (1988): 361-75.

30Not least, by the Cambridge Platonist Ralph Cudworth, in his manu-
scripts on freedom of the will and autonomy. I discuss this aspect of Cud-
worth’s views in The British Moralists and the Internal ‘Ought’ 130-48.

3’This was a central objection of Cudworth’s. We should note, however,
that although Hobbes makes no place for critical reflection in his account
of deliberation, his political philosophy relies on this capacity in various

ways. Consider, for example: “For all men are by nature provided of no-
table multiplying glasses, (that is their passions and self-love,) through
which, every little payment appeareth a great grievance; but are destitute
of those prospective glasses, (namely moral and civil science,) to see afar
off the miseries that hang over them, and cannot without such payments
be avoided” (18.20). For Leviathan to beneficially affect deliberation,
Hobbes here says, agents must be able to put on the critically corrected
“prospective glasses” of Hobbesian moral science and revise the appear-
ances that momentary passions produce. I discuss in the next paragraph
but one how such remarks can be fit within a projectivist framework. I am
indebted here to a reader for the Philosophical Review.

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STEPHEN DARWALL

agent has in deliberation, as her desires and aversions are expressed

seriatim. We should therefore think of Leviathan as a deeply prac-

tical work, one that is addressed to agents and designed to inform

their practical reasoning.

This response may seem obviously unsatisfactory, however.

Granted, if Hobbes is right, we can’t stop having it appear to us as

though some things are good and ought to be brought into exis-

tence and others are evil and ought not. But that doesn’t mean

that believing projectivism won’t alienate us from these appear-

ances. We can’t avoid having straight sticks appear bent to us in

water either, but we nonetheless can (and do) abstract from these

appearances in theoretical and practical reasoning. Why should

Hobbes have thought that things would be any different with the

illusory appearances created by desire?

Compare, however, the case of color. A projectivist about color

can hold that although, strictly speaking, all color judgments are

false, our practical purposes are nonetheless better served by

speaking and thinking as though they weren’t, normalizing our

color judgments to the experiences of the normally sighted under

normal conditions. We can easily imagine a philosophically so-

phisticated, projectivist interior decorator whose “first-order”

thought and speech about color are regimented in this way. Asked

whether a swatch of cloth is really sienna red, she might judge that

it isn’t but only looks that way owing to the light. Its real color, she

might judge, is carmine. At the same time, her philosophical opin-

ion could be that the cloth has no real color, in the sense of the

categorical color property it appears to have in color experience,

in contrast, say, to the literally straight shape of an apparently bent

stick. Such a philosophical position apparently poses no obstacle

to facility, even expertise, in color judgments for her practical pur-

poses as a decorator.

Similarly, Hobbes might reply to the objection we are consider-

ing by saying that the point and function of ethical terms and

concepts is practical, even more so, indeed, than those of color.

Consequently, if the color thoughts and speech of a projectivist

interior decorator are not undermined, there is even less reason

to suppose that the ethical convictions of a (necessarily deliberat-

ing) human agent would be, whether he accepted projectivism or

not.

All deliberation begins with desire. And “from desire, ariseth the

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NORMATiVJTY AMD PROJECTION IN HOBBES

thought of some means we have seen produce the like of that

which we aim at; and from the thought of that, the thought of

means to that mean; and so continually, till we come to some be-

ginning within our power” (3.4). But what, again, are the contents

of the deliberating agent’s thoughts? “In deliberation,” Hobbes

says, “the appetites and aversions are raised by the foresight of

good and evil consequences and sequels of the action whereof we

deliberate” (6.57). The desires that Hobbes is talking about here,

however, are, not those with which we begin to deliberate, but

those arising as a result of our deliberation.32 It is because we see

an action as a means to something we deem good that a desire to

perform that action can be “raised.” But for this to happen, we

must already think that certain consequences would be good or

evil. It follows that if desires begin deliberation, they must provide

us with such thoughts. Under the influence of the desires that

begin deliberation, we must be disposed to see some consequences

of alternative actions as good and others as evil.

Alternatively, Hobbes writes that the “language of desire, and

aversion, is imperative, as do this, forbear that” (6.55). In seeing that

something is necessary to achieve our desire, we can see it as some-

thing we must do, since it is necessary to achieve what is good, as

we think in having the desire.

To sum up: All deliberation begins in an agent’s desires, but this

does not mean that they begin in a premise about her desires. The

deliberating agent reasons from a premise she accepts in having a

desire, not from the premise that she has a desire. And this premise

is something normative-that something would be good, that she

is to or ought to do something. The agent has these normative

thoughts because she has desires. They are the “appearances” of

her desires. As it happens, there is nothing in the nature of the

objects of her desires that answers to the normative properties she

attributes to them in having desires. But Hobbes evidently believes

that theoretical knowledge of this fact need not undermine delib-

eration. So long as the agent has appetites and desires, like the

desire for self-preservation, that are entirely independent of the-

32Note, this means that Hobbes must hold that we can acquire new
desires by practical reasoning, that is, by reasoning from the thoughts of
apparent good and evil we have when we have desires and aversions, respec-
tively.

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STEPHEN DARWALL

ory, and beliefs about what will accomplish their objects, she will

take action in the thought that in so acting she is achieving good

and doing as she ought.

This means that, although he never puts the point this way,

Hobbes works with a distinction between theoretical and practical

standpoints.33 Thought and discourse about good and evil encode

an agent’s view of things in deliberation, from the agent’s per-

spective provided by her desires. Thus, although Hobbes calls

“moral philosophy … the science of what is good, and evil”

(15.40), he clearly must mean that it is a science we engage in

from a practical point of view, as we discover how the consequences

to be drawn from “the passions of men” bear on the ends that

drive deliberative thought.34

Again, I am not concerned to argue that this gives Hobbes an

effective response to the worry that accepting projectivism should

undermine ethical thought and practice or render it unstable in

some way. Perhaps projectivism would or should have this effect. I

claim only that, for the reasons I have cited, it is clear enough that

Hobbes thinks that it wouldn’t. Those who disagree about this phil-

osophical issue, therefore, have no reason to reject a projectivist

interpretation of Hobbes.

At the same time, we can’t infer that Hobbes thought his readers’

ethics would be entirely unaffected by accepting his analogy be-

tween color and value. To the contrary, I believe that Hobbes

thought they would be affected and that the effects could be ex-

pected to be salutary. Hobbes was a notorious critic, for example,

of religious “superstition” and its intellectual expression in the

metaphysics of the schools.35 According to projectivism, when su-

perstitious believers expressed their ethical convictions, they were

33By “practical” here, I mean the standpoint of agency and delibera-
tion, in contrast with the (theoretical) standpoint we take up when we
consider what to believe concerning how things are. We can distinguish a
second sense of “practical” within this broadly theoretical standpoint,
namely, one involved in ordinary, everyday judgments (color judgments,
for example) as opposed to propositions of theory (say, projectivism about
color).

34More precisely, that part of “moral” science that consists, not in the
“apt imposing of names,” but in proceeding from these “to assertions
made by connexion of one of them to another,” must be inherently prac-
tical in this way (5.17).

35’Superstition’ is usually code for Roman Catholicism in Hobbes.

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NORMA TI VITY AMD PROJECTION IN HOBBES

simply giving voice to desires, albeit desires that were highly dis-

ciplined by religious ritual and practice. This is not how the faithful

saw it, of course. Some, at least, believed their ethical convictions

to be grounded in metaphysically real objective values, “final caus-

es,” for example. By Hobbes’s lights, however, this was nothing but

“insignificant speech.” Nothing stood behind their ethics but the

desires of which their thought was an appearance and their dis-

course an expression. But that does not mean that all of their

desires were on a par in being equally independent of (as Hobbes

saw it) “superstitious” theory. Hobbes might well have believed

that their ethics were, at least partly, “ideological” in the sense that

some of the desires they expressed wouldn’t have existed but for

religious rituals that were themselves based upon confused meta-

physical doctrines. Convincing his readers of projectivism, he

might have thought, could begin a process that, in time, would

lead them to see the ideological character of such ethical thought

and discourse and tend to undermine it as a consequence.36

Natural Law and Normativity

This brings us to the normativity of the laws of nature. Recall that

Hobbes says we only “improperly” call these laws. Really, they are

“conclusions or theorems concerning what conduceth to … con-

servation” and self-defense. As we noted at the outset, commen-

tators who stress Hobbes’s naturalism frequently combine this

claim with his thesis that human beings unavoidably desire self-

preservation (“by a certain impulsion of nature, no lesse than that

whereby a Stone moves downward”)37 to yield a metaethical nat-

uralist interpretation, namely, that laws of nature tell us what we

must do to achieve what we (unavoidably) desire.

In a sense, a projectivist will agree. As we saw, however, metaeth-

ical naturalism faces a problem in accounting for the normativity

36Necessary here is a distinction between desires, like thirst (or, as
Hobbes views it, the desire for self-preservation), that are relatively imper-
vious to changes in belief, and desires that are not, either because they are
based on belief, or because they are conditioned by causal processes (for
example, religious rituals) that are sensitive themselves to changes in be-
lief.

37De cive, the English Version, Entitled in the First Edition, Philosophicall Ru-
diments Concerning Government and Society, ed. Howard Warrender (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, Clarendon Press, 1983), 1.7.

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STEPHEN DARWALL

of natural laws, that is, in explaining how they can “dictate” con-

duct or are necessarily seen to do so. And while Hobbes scruples

at “law” he doesn’t at “dictate.”38 As we put the problem before,

the fact that an action will achieve something one desires, even

unavoidably, is not necessarily a normative reason for acting-it

has no inherent bearing on the question of what an agent should

do. A drug addict may have a desire for heroin that is as good as

unavoidable in her circumstances, but she need not (either actually

or rationally) take the fact of her desire as creating a reason to

take it.39 That one desires something is one thing, that it is desir-

able or worth pursuing, another. And while the latter is intrinsically

normative, the former is not.

If, however, Hobbes is a projectivist rather than a metaethical

naturalist, we can see why he could think that someone who ac-

cepts a proposition about what conduces to self-preservation will

take it to have normative force. If Hobbes can assume that his

readers desire self-preservation, then he can take for granted both

that each will accept that his own preservation is something good,

to be sought, and that each is already disposed to reason practically

from that premise. Consequently, if laws of nature tell us what we

must do to preserve ourselves, they inherit the normative force of

this end-this is nothing that is entailed by the fact that we have

this end, but the normativity we attribute to self-preservation in hav-

ing it as end. The thought is not, however, that this makes it true

that the agent ought to act as the laws of nature dictate, but that

the agent will take it that she should insofar as her reasoning is

instrumentally rational.40

38Hobbes’s scruples about law relate to his definition of law, which re-
lates it analytically to authoritative command. As with his definition of ‘ob-
ligation’ (the result of transferring a right), however, showing that some-
thing is a law in this sense is logically independent of establishing its nor-
mative force, that is, its power to dictate. On this point see note 45. The
point here is that Hobbes does think that the “laws of nature” are properly
seen as providing normative reasons for acting, even if they are improperly
called “laws.”

39In desiring heroin, she will see it as good in the sense that that is how
heroin will seem to her under the influence of her desire. She may, how-
ever, not just reject that the fact that she desires heroin is a reason for her
to seek it, but also that the appearance that it is good is a reason.

400f course, a heroin addict would similarly (unavoidably) see the
means to satisfying her desire for heroin as something she ought to do
also. Does a projectivist interpretation of Hobbes’s thought give him any
way of distinguishing these cases? As we noted above in considering how

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NORMATIVITY AND PROJECTION iN HOBBES

On this interpretation, Hobbes doesn’t need to convince his

readers that they have this end or that it is unavoidable. As delib-

erating agents, his readers reason not from the premise that they

desire to preserve themselves, but from normative premises they

accept in so desiring. If Hobbes is right that we unavoidably desire

self-preservation, then, we will regard “theorems concerning what

conduceth to . . . conservation” as telling us what we ought to do,

as dictating action, whether we believe that we desire self-preser-

vation or not. Thus, Hobbes reasons from the facts of human dif-

fidence, vainglory, and so on to conclusions about what courses of

action are necessary for self-conservation and defense. And these

conclusions are seen as normative by Leviathan’s readers, they seem

to them to provide normative reasons for acting, because, in having

the desire for self-preservation, they see that end, and what is nec-

essary to achieve it, as good and to be done.

This gives us a preliminary gloss on the normativity of laws of

nature as Hobbes defines them: “a precept or general rule, found

out by reason, by which a man is forbidden to do that which is

destructive of his life or taketh away the means of preserving the

same” (14.3). In desiring self-preservation, we see what will lead

to our destruction as something we should not do. For example,

in seeing that the consequences of breaking covenant can be ex-

pected to be mortal, we can be brought to accept the third law of

nature, “that men perform their covenants made” (15.1).41

We should stress that this gives Hobbes, as a projectivist, not

Hobbes could respond to the objection that projectivism undermines sub-
stantive ethical thought, Hobbes might say here that, for practical purpos-
es, we normalize our ethical judgments in various ways. He certainly does
say this for the case of judgments in the commonwealth, as we shall con-
sider in the final section. Whether this reply would be satisfactory would,
of course, be another matter. It is worth noting, however, that a version of
the same problem is faced by a subjectivist interpretation.

41But only, based on anything said so far, as holding “other things being
equal.” For laws of nature to have the sort of “all things considered” force
that moral norms are frequently supposed to have, Hobbes would need to
show that they counsel necessary means, not just to what (the agent un-
avoidably judges) is good, but to what (the agent unavoidably judges) is
best. We should regard Hobbes as taking steps in this direction when he
argues that we must keep covenant, not just to avoid death, but to avoid
“the danger of violent death,” “continual fear,” and the lack of all of the
following: “industry,” “culture of the earth,” “navigation,” “use of com-
modities that may be imported by sea,” “commodious building,” “arts,”
“letters,” “society,” and so on. I am indebted here to Sharon Lloyd.

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STEPHEN DARWALL

strictly an account of the normativity of the laws of nature, but of

why, on seeing that they spell out what we must do to preserve our

lives, we accept that we ought to act as they dictate. It is an account

of our normative thought and judgment, not of normativity itself.

There can be no account of the latter, because Hobbes evidently

believes that there really is no such thing, just as there really is no

such thing as color. When Hobbes puts forward the laws of nature

as normative claims, therefore, he is not arguing from any account

of normativity. Nor, indeed, is he arguing from his theory of nor-

mative judgment. Rather, his projectivism underlies his confidence

that his readers can be brought to accept these normative claims

by reasoning instrumentally from the thought that preserving their

lives is good.

Remaining Issues

However, this may only provide a first approximation of Hobbes’s

views on the laws of nature. In this concluding section, I briefly

consider a more elaborate, arguably more accurate, version that is

in some tension with Hobbes’s projectivism, although not, I shall

argue, with a projectivist interpretation of Hobbes. I consider, also,

how a projectivist interpretation might deal with judgments about

what others should, or have reason, to do. Finally, I consider what

Hobbes says about the normalizing of ethical judgments in a com-

monwealth and how this is not only consistent with a projectivist

interpretation, but actually supports it.

The need to refine the interpretation of the laws of nature pre-

sented in the last section is occasioned by Hobbes’s reply to the

fool.42 The fool questions the third law of nature, saying “that …

there could be no reason, why every man might not do what he

thought conduced [to his own “conservation and contentment”];

and therefore also to make, or not to make; keep, or not keep

covenants, was not against reason, when it conduced to one’s ben-

efit” (15.4). The fool makes two claims: one should always do what

will be for one’s benefit, or what one believes to be so; and keeping

covenant is not always for one’s greatest benefit.

42Here I am indebted to Greg Kavka. See his Hobbesian Moral and Polit-
ical Theory, 137-56, and “The Rationality of Rule-Following: Hobbes’ Dis-
pute with the Foole,” Law and Philosophy 14 (1995): 5-34.

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NORMA TIVJTY AND PROJECTION iN HOBBES

Significantly, Hobbes does not actually deny this second claim.

He doesn’t deny that it may sometimes turn out that breaking

covenant makes one better off. What he denies is that this fact,

notwithstanding anything that “can be foreseen and reckoned on,”

ever makes the breaking of a covenant “reasonably or wisely

done.” This suggests a distinction between subjective and objective

rightness or reasonableness that the fool ought to be able to ac-

cept. The fool’s position might then be that an action is objectively

right or reasonable if it is actually for the agent’s greatest benefit

(including her survival), and an action is subjectively right or reason-

able if it is what she would reasonably believe likely to be so, in the

sense, say, of maximizing her expected benefit (her survival in-

cluded). The issue would then be whether keeping covenant always

satisfies this latter condition, with Hobbes maintaining, and the

fool denying, that keeping covenant is always subjectively right in

this senses.

However, this seems unlikely to be so.43 Kavka points out that

Hobbes’s reply to the fool need not rely on this questionable as-

sumption, and Gauthier agrees.44 For Hobbes may hold that when

it comes to covenants, the risks and uncertainties are sufficiently

great that it never makes sense to rely even on one’s best estimates.

Kavka argues on this basis that Hobbes is a rule-egoist, and Gau-

thier maintains that Hobbes’s reply invokes a theory of “con-

strained” rather than “unconstrained” maximization. On these

readings, the laws of nature are “precepts” or “general rules” that,

43Hobbes urges, of course, that the costs of being known to have broken
covenant are severe. In the state of nature, no one can expect to survive
without the help of confederates who are bound by covenant, and covenant
is also the only way out of this nasty and brutish state. Anyone known to
violate covenant can therefore expect “no other means of safety, than what
can be had from his own single power” (15.5). But these substantial risks
notwithstanding, can Hobbes really think that circumstances never arise in
which a person may reasonably think he is likeliest to do best by breaching
covenant?

44Kavka, “The Rationality of Rule-Following.” See also, David Gauthier,
“Thomas Hobbes: Moral Theorist,” Journal of Philosophy 76 (1979): 547-
59; “Taming Leviathan,” Philosophy and Public Affairs 76 (1987): 280-98;
Morals By Agreement (Oxford: Oxford University Press, Clarendon Press,
1986), 157-89. We should note, of course, that Hobbes also believes that
threats to life cancel the obligation to keep covenant. I have been assum-
ing, and will continue to assume, that the cases of keeping covenant we
are considering are not life-threatening.

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STEPHEN DARWALL

if accepted by the agent, will best promote his good. What the agent

should do is what these rules dictate, not what would be recom-

mended by considerations of his own good directly. If, then, as

Hobbes evidently believes, a person does best by accepting a rule

requiring the keeping of covenant, regardless of how reasonably

one believes one can do better by violation, then she should keep

covenant. And this vindicates the third law of nature in the face of

the fool’s challenge.45

This may be Hobbes’s position, but if it is, we should note a

problem that arises when it is combined with the projectivist ac-

count of normative judgment I have attributed to him. Suppose

Jones reasonably believes she will do better by breaking a particular

covenant. Suppose that she also believes that she will do better in

general by accepting a norm that requires her to keep covenants

45Note how the account of the normativity of the laws of nature I have
sketched fits with Hobbes’s official view of obligation. Hobbes defines obli-
gation as the state one comes to be in by renouncing or transferring a
right (14.7), the relevant ones deriving from the “right of nature,” which
everyone has in the state of nature, of doing whatever “in his own judg-
ment and reason” will promote self-preservation (14.1). A covenant, for
Hobbes, is a special form of contract, where a contract is a “mutual trans-
ferring of right” (14.9). Covenant is a contract in which one person per-
forms his part first, trusting that the other will later perform, as per the
contract (14.11).

It simply follows from these definitions that a person is obligated to keep
covenant, since ‘obligation’ just refers to the state resulting from the trans-
ference of right in which covenant consists. But, of course, nothing with

genuine normative force can follow from definitions alone. So what makes
it the case that people ought to keep their covenants, that is, act as they

are obligated? Obviously, Hobbes recognizes this as a genuine question.
Otherwise, there would be no need for the third law of nature, “that men

perform their covenants made,” or for him to bother with the fool.
There is a neat solution to this problem that is available to Hobbes.

Suppose that Hobbes’s reply to the fool works. It will then be true that an
agent should keep covenant, even if “in his own judgment and reason,”
he believes, even reasonably, that he would do better by breaking it. It
follows that the law of nature now requires that, for this case, he not do
what “in his own judgment and reason,” would most advance his “conser-
vation and contentment.” But what that means is that the right of nature is
effectively suspended for this case. And so, by covenanting, the agent will in-
deed have laid down his right of nature not to violate covenant should he
think in his own “judgment and reason” it would benefit him to do so.
And since obligation just is the state a person comes to be in by renouncing
or transferring a right, he will, by covenanting, have undertaken an obli-
gation to keep his covenant. For an extended discussion of these points,
see The British Moralists and the Internal ‘Ought; 60-79.

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NORMA TiVITY AMD PROJECTION iN HOBBES

such as the current one. The problem is that it is simply unclear

what practical relevance this latter fact has from her standpoint in

deliberating about whether to keep or break this particular cove-

nant. For one thing, there seems no reason to think one can come

to accept some principle as a norm simply by seeing that one would

be better off by doing so. Although this gives her a reason to want

to accept the third law as a norm, it is not a reason on whose basis

she can accept it. To put the point in projectivist terms, the desire

that the judgment that it would be good to accept the third law as

a norm expresses is no desire that is itself part of, or that could

directly lead to, accepting it as a norm.

Secondly, although the fact that she would be better off by ac-

cepting the third law fails to connect any deliberative alternative

before her directly to her desires, considerations that lead her to

believe (reasonably) that she would benefit from breaking cove-

nant do. It follows from Hobbes’s version of projectivism that she

will see these as normative reasons for breaking covenant, reasons

that, without the desires that actually constitute accepting the third

law, will be in no way countered by the fact that she would be better

off if she viewed things differently.

That combining projectivism with an indirect or rule-egoist the-

ory of justification is problematic in this way is not, however, evi-

dence against a projectivist interpretation of Hobbes. Hobbes

would face the same problem if he were a subjectivist, since, in the

kinds of cases we have been considering, it would be true that the

agent would (reasonably believe she would) maximize the satisfac-

tion of her desires by violating a norm that it would maximally

satisfy her desires to accept. On either metaethical theory, Hobbes

would confront the problem that reasons for acting that are

grounded in values promoted by being guided by a norm can con-

flict with reasons the agent must credit insofar as she genuinely

accepts the norm.46 The tension between the projectivist interpre-

tation I have sketched and Kavka’s and Gauthier’s interpretation

of the laws of nature in light of Hobbes’s reply to the fool may

461t is worth noting that Hobbes could remain a projectivist and avoid
this particular problem if he held that the agents’ views of normative rea-
sons for acting express, not the agent’s desires, but her acceptance of
norms. For a view of this sort, see Allan Gibbard, Wise Choices, Apt Feelings
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990).

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STEPHEN DARWALL

reveal a real tension in Hobbes’s own thought, not any evidence

against interpreting him as a projectivist.

To this point, I have discussed Hobbes’s account of normative

and evaluative judgment as if these are always made from the

agent’s standpoint. But what about judgments concerning what oth-

ers ought or have reason to do? How are we to understand these,

according to Hobbes?47 To make the issue vivid, suppose the action

is one that would be good for the agent (A) but bad for the ob-

server (0) who is judging what the agent should do. As we have

been interpreting Hobbes, if an observer judges that an action

would be bad to or for himself (0), then he judges that it would

be something he (0) judges bad simpliciter48 And, according to

projectivism, he makes the latter judgment by a projection of his

desires (aversions). Strictly speaking, only the latter is an evaluative

or normative judgment. The judgment that something is a bad to

or for him is a judgment about his own psychology, about what he

deems bad. Similarly, when 0 judges that A’s act would be good

for A, he judges that A deems (or would deem) it good. And strictly

speaking this is not an evaluative or normative judgment either,

but a judgment about A’s psychology.

Now in (projectively) judging that A’s act would be (or promote)

bad simpliciter, the observer judges that he, 0, has reason to prevent
A’s doing it. But this is about O’s reasons (for preventing A’s ac-

tion), not A’s, as O judges these from the perspective of his desires,

that is, as a deliberating agent. But what about a judgment by 0

that A has reason for or against doing something, that she ought

or ought not act? How, according to Hobbes, are we to understand

judgments of this kind?

If such a judgment were the same as the judgment that it would

be bad simipliciter for A to do it, then Hobbes would be committed

to thinking that 0 makes the former judgment also from the per-

spective of his (O’s) desires, even if 0 judges as well that A’s act

would be good to or for her (A). As we have just seen, however, the

former judgment concerns reasons that 0 has (for preventing A’s

acting), not reasons that A has for not so acting.

Recall at this point Hobbes’s doctrine that reason “dictateth to

47 am indebted to an anonymous reader for the Philosophical Review for
pressing this issue.

48See the section “Projecting Value,” above.

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NORMA TiVITY AMD PROJECTION iN HOBBES

every man his own good” (15.4). This is usually interpreted as

asserting that each agent has normative reasons (and so should)

do what is good for him or her. So we might ask in the present

case, how can 0 judge that A’s acting would be bad simpliciter (and

therefore, give 0 reasons to prevent it) and also judge that A has

reasons to act nonetheless, that reason “dictates” acting to her,

because acting is for her good, that is, because it promotes what

she, A, judges good?

The sense in which, according to Hobbes, reason “dictates” A’s

acting for her own good is that reason dictates this to A. On the

projectivist picture of deliberative reasoning we have been sketch-

ing, reason “dictates” taking necessary means to what the agent

desires, hence judges good. The idea, again, is not that the agent

takes the fact that she desires something, or that she judges it good

(hence, that it is a good to her), as the reason to seek it. Rather, in

desiring something, she sees it as good simpliciter and takes the fact

that an action is a necessary means to realizing this good as a

reason for her to perform that action. Reason thus “dictates” to

each agent her own good in the sense that each agent always takes

the fact that something is necessary to realize something (she judg-

es) good as giving her normative reason to take those means (per-

haps, other things being equal).

Suppose that 0 and A are engaged in violent conflict, each per-

son’s continued living being seen as a threat by the other. Since 0

and A each desire self-preservation, reckoning from their other

beliefs leads them to an aversion to the other’s preservation. 0

judges his continued living a good thing, and takes the fact that,

as he sees it, killing A is necessary to assure that as a reason to kill

A. This is what reason dictates to 0. At the same time, 0 can see

that what reason dictates to A-in the sense of what normative

conclusions reckoning would lead A, or someone in A’s position,

to draw-is just the reverse. Reason dictates to A that she do what-

ever is necessary to preserve her life, including killing 0.

So far everything proceeds as one would expect on a projectivist

interpretation. Moreover, interpreting Hobbes in this way makes

good sense of what he actually says about reason’s “dictates” to

other agents. There is, however, a remaining problem. For as we

are interpreting him, judgments about what reason dictates to oth-

er agents are not genuine normative judgments. They are psycho-

logical judgments about what other agents will take as normative.

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STEPHEN DARWALL

And one can, of course, judge that another will take herself to have

reason to do something (even that she will unavoidably do so) and

nonetheless judge that she has no reason to do it, or even reason

not to do it.

So far as I can see, Hobbes has no good account of judgments

of this latter kind. Various possibilities suggest themselves. Hobbes

might identify the normative judgment (by 0) that A ought or has

reason to act with O’s (projective) judgment that it would be bad

simpliciter for A to do so, in the way we considered above. However,

this would commit Hobbes to the position that all reasons are

agent-neutral, and that hardly seems in the spirit of his views. Al-

ternatively, Hobbes might interpret observer’s judgments as involv-

ing the taking up of A’s deliberative standpoint in imagination. On

this account, 0 would simulate A by imagining himself in A’s po-

sition, (projectively) judge self-preservation (that is, now A’s pres-

ervation) good, take the fact that an action is a necessary means

to that end as a normative reason to perform it, and, therefore,

(projectively) judge that A has reason to kill 0. Hobbes says noth-

ing like this, however, and, in any case, it would require a richer

theory of the imagination than he provides. In the end, it seems,

this is a problem to which Hobbes has no good solution.

Finally, it is worth noting how what Hobbes says about normal-

izing ethical judgments by the sovereign’s dictates in a common-

wealth, and by the rulings of a judge established by common con-

sent in the state of nature, remarks that may seem to cut against a

projectivist interpretation, do not. Quite to the contrary, in fact.

When earlier I quoted Hobbes’s “definition” of good and evil

(6.7), I ended just before a passage that might seem embarrassing

for a projectivist interpretation. After saying that there is no “com-

mon rule of good and evil to be taken from the nature of objects

themselves, but from the person of the man,” Hobbes adds that

this is so only “where there is no commonwealth” and that when

a commonwealth exists, the rule is given by “the person that re-

presenteth it.” He continues, moreover, by saying that a rule other

than private judgment (hence, desire) is also given by “an arbitra-

tor or judge” when one is set up to settle disagreements by mutual

consent (6.7). On the face of it, both seem to conflict with projec-
tivism.

If value judgments express desires and aversions of those who

make them, what can they have to do with the will of a sovereign

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NORMATiVIT:Y AMD PROJECTION iN HOBBES

or of an arbitrator? This conflict, however, is more apparent than

real. A projectivist interpretation can accommodate both remarks

if it can account for the normative claims embodied in Hobbes’s

laws of nature, specifically, in the third law, “that men perform

their covenants made.” If we put aside the complications discussed

earlier in this section, we can construct a general Hobbesian ar-

gument that begins with the premise that the sovereign, or an im-

partial judge, rules that X is good or rules that we are to do Y, and

ends with the conclusion that X is, indeed, good, or that we are,

indeed, to do Y, where this conclusion is interpreted along projec-

tivist lines.

Hobbes believes that the commonwealth is established by a mu-

tual covenant that gives the sovereign authority to rule and his

subjects the obligation to be ruled by him. Suppose the sovereign

rules that we are to Y If we accept the central argument of Levia-

than, then we will judge that we should do what the sovereign

commands because we should keep our covenant to be ruled by

him. In judging our survival good (as we must, projectively, in de-

siring it), and reasoning instrumentally from that premise together

with the premise that keeping covenant is necessary for our sur-

vival, we conclude that we should keep covenant. Adding in the

premises that we have covenanted to obey the sovereign and that

he rules that we are to Y gives us the conclusion that we are to Y.

Thus, beginning with an apparently nonnormative, empirical pre-

mise about what the sovereign rules, we end up with a normative

conclusion concerning what we should do, a conclusion that ex-

presses the desire we acquire through this instrumental practical

reasoning.49

The reasoning is parallel in the case of a judge set up by mutual

consent in the state of nature. Hobbes believes that so long as there

is no reasonable suspicion of the other’s noncompliance, we ought

to keep covenants, even in the state of nature. Suppose that you

49Things are more complicated if the sovereign rules that X is good. If
subjects are obligated to be ruled by this ruling, then, presumably, they
are bound to accept that X is good. But from the fact that they ought to
accept that X is good, it doesn’t follow that X is, indeed, good. In other
words, the desire that will be “raised” by the instrumental reasoning that
underlies the judgment that we should be ruled by the sovereign in this
instance is not the first-order desire for X, but the second-order desire to
desire X.

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STEPHEN DARWALL

and I agree to be ruled by a judge to settle a dispute. Prior to the

ruling, I desire that you do Y, and you desire that I do Y So ex

ante, I judge that you are to do Y and you judge that I am to do

Y Suppose that the judge rules that I am to do Y From this premise

and the premises that our (respective) survival is good (which judg-

ments express our respective desires to live), that each of us can

live only if we keep covenant, and that we can keep covenant only

if we are ruled by the judge in this matter, both of us can conclude

that we should be so ruled. As in the case of the reasoning con-

cerning the sovereign, Hobbes believes that this instrumental prac-

tical reasoning will “raise” in each of us the desire that I do Y

(6.57). And so, ex post, both of us will now judge that Y should be

done by me (rather than you).

If we ignore the complications created by Hobbes’s reply to the

fool, therefore, complications that create problems for subjectivist

and projectivist interpretations alike, Hobbes’s remarks about nor-

malizing ethical judgments by the rulings of the sovereign and

established judges can be seen to be completely consistent with a

projectivist interpretation. Indeed, once we see why this is so, we

can see that it provides further evidence for interpreting Hobbes

as a projectivist rather than a subjectivist. For one thing, as we

noted before, the sort of dispute described in the last paragraph

cannot be properly expressed by subjectivism since each “dispu-

tant” will simply be expressing his belief that he wants Yto be done

by the other, and there is no conflict between these expressed

beliefs. For another, to get a form of subjectivist instrumental rea-

soning going that might “shadow” the reasoning described above,

the agents must not simply desire that they preserve their lives,

they must know that they do. Third, as I have been arguing from

the outset, it is simply not clear why an agent should conclude from

the fact that she desires some end, that she ought (or has some

reason) to take the means to realizing it, since her end might be

one she ought not have.50

Finally, fourth, even if the shadow reasoning were to go through,

so that whenever one judged that the sovereign or an established

judge ruled that Yis to be done one could reason to the conclusion

that doing Yis something I desire and, hence, that doing Yis good,

what would make this latter claim true, according to subjectivism,

50See note 8 above.

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NORMA TIVVTY AM) PROJECTIONiN HOBBES

would still be the fact that I desire it and not that the sovereign

rules it. It is a further virtue of a projectivist interpretation that it

avoids this consequence. According to projectivism, it is not the

fact that I desire something that makes it good, but whatever facts

about it make it desirable (as I appreciate in coming to desire it

on that basis). If I follow the above (“shadowed”) reasoning, I

judge that I should do Y because the sovereign rules that I should.

The desire I acquire to do Y in following the reasoning is not my

ground for judging that I should do Y, or what, in my view, makes

it true that I should. Rather it is a desire that, according to

Hobbes’s projectivism, is expressed phenomenally in an “appear-

ence” of Ys value or “to be doneness” and linguistically in the

“speeches” “doing Ywould be good” and “I ought to do Y’ (6.10,

title). In virtually every respect, therefore, a projectivist interpre-

tation of Hobbes’s Leviathan is superior to a subjectivist one.

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

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13

John Locke

Second Treatise of Government

John Locke (1632–1704) was one of the most influential thinkers in the tradition of Western
liberalism. Educated at Oxford, he trained as a physician and became an adviser to the
first earl of Shaftesbury. While Locke’s Two Treatises of Government defend the principles
of the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which established constitutional monarchy and
parliamentary supremacy in Britain, they were actually written some years earlier, during
a political debate over the king’s prerogatives. At that time, proponents of the king
republished Sir Robert Filmer’s book Patriarcha (originally written in 1640), which argued
that all political power is patriarchal, dating back to Adam. Locke rebutted this with a
social contract theory: government rests on the consent of the governed, who freely leave a
state of nature that has proven to be inconvenient for them. Government is created to
protect the natural rights of life, liberty, and property, and these are inviolable. Locke’s
ideas had a great influence on the American revolutionaries, especially Thomas Jefferson.
The following selection is from Locke’s Second Treatise of Government.

Of Civil Government

. . . I think it may not be amiss, to set down what I take to be political power; that the power of a
magistrate over a subject may be distinguished from that of a father over his children, a master over
his servant, a husband over his wife, and a lord over his slave. All which distinct powers happening
sometimes together in the same man, if he be considered under these different relations, it may help us
to distinguish these powers one from another, and shew the difference betwixt a ruler of a
commonwealth, a father of a family, and a captain of a galley.

Political power, then, I take to be a right of making laws with penalties of death, and
consequently all less penalties, for the regulating and preserving of property, and of employing the
force of the community, in the execution of such laws, and in the defence of the common-wealth from
foreign injury; and all this only for the public good.

Of the State of Nature
To understand political power right, and derive it from its original, we must consider, what state all
men are naturally in, and that is, a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their
possessions and persons, as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking
leave, or depending upon the will of any other man.

A state also of equality, wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more
than another; there being nothing more evident, than that creatures of the same species and rank,
promiscuously born to all the same advantages of nature, and the use of the same faculties, should
also be equal one amongst another without subordination or subjection, unless the lord and master of
them all should, by any manifest declaration of his will, set one above another, and confer on him, by
an evident and clear appointment, an undoubted right to dominion and sovereignty. . . .

But though this be a state of liberty, yet it is not a state of licence: though man in that state have
an uncontroulable liberty to dispose of his person or possessions, yet he has not liberty to destroy
himself, or so much as any creature in his possession, but where some nobler use than its bare
preservation calls for it. The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every
one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal
and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions: for men
being all the workmanship of one omnipotent, and infinitely wise maker; all the servants of one
sovereign master, sent into the world by his order, and about his business; they are his property,
whose workmanship they are, made to last during his, not one another’s pleasure: and being furnished
with like faculties, sharing all in one community of nature, there cannot be supposed any such
subordination among us, that may authorize us to destroy one another, as if we were made for one
another’s uses, as the inferior ranks of creatures are for our’s. Every one, as he is bound to preserve
himself, and not to quit his station wilfully, so by the like reason, when his own preservation comes
not in competition, ought he, as much as he can, to preserve the rest of mankind, and may not, unless
it be to do justice on an offender, take away, or impair the life, or what tends to the preservation of the
life, the liberty, health, limb, or goods of another.

And that all men may be restrained from invading others rights, and from doing hurt to one
another, and the law of nature be observed, which willeth the peace and preservation of all mankind,

the execution of the law of nature is, in that state, put into every man’s hands, whereby every one has
a right to punish the transgressors of that law to such a degree, as may hinder its violation: for the law
of nature would, as all other laws that concern men in this world, be in vain, if there were no body
that in the state of nature had a power to execute that law, and thereby preserve the innocent and
restrain offenders. And if any one in the state of nature may punish another for any evil he has done,
every one may do so: for in that state of perfect equality, where naturally there is no superiority or
jurisdiction of one over another, what any may do in prosecution of that law, every one must needs
have a right to do.

And thus, in the state of nature, one man comes by a power over another, but yet no absolute or
arbitrary power, to use a criminal, when he has got him in his hands, according to the passionate
heats, or boundless extravagancy of his own will; but only to retribute to him, so far as calm reason
and conscience dictate, what is proportionate to his transgression, which is so much as may serve for
reparation and restraint: for these two are the only reasons, why one man may lawfully do harm to
another, which is that we call punishment. In transgressing the law of nature, the offender declares
himself to live by another rule than that of reason and common equity, which is that measure God has
set to the actions of men, for their mutual security; and so he becomes dangerous to mankind, the type,
which is to secure them from injury and violence, being slighted and broken by him. Which being a
trespass against the whole species, and the peace and safety of it, provided for by the law of nature,
every man upon this score, by the right he hath to preserve mankind in general, may restrain, or where
it is necessary, destroy things noxious to them, and so may bring such evil on any one, who hath
transgressed that law, as may make him repent the doing of it, and thereby deter him, and by his
example others, from doing the like mischief. And in the case, and upon this ground, every man hath a
right to punish the offender, and be executioner of the law of nature.

I doubt not but this will seem a very strange doctrine to some men: but before they condemn it, I
desire them to resolve me, by what right any prince or state can put to death, or punish an alien, for
any crime he commits in their country. It is certain their laws, by virtue of any sanction they receive
from the promulgated will of the legislative, reach not a stranger: they speak not to him, nor, if they
did, is he bound to hearken to them. The legislative authority, by which they are in force over the
subjects of that common-wealth, hath no power over him. Those who have the supreme power of
making laws in England, France or Holland, are to an Indian, but like the rest of the world, men
without authority: and therefore, if by the law of nature every man hath not a power to punish offences
against it, as he soberly judges the case to require, I see not how the magistrates of any community can
punish an alien of another country; since, in reference to him, they can have no more power than what
every man naturally may have over another.

Besides the crime which consists in violating the law, and varying from the right rule of reason,
whereby a man so far becomes degenerate, and declares himself to quit the principles of human
nature, and to be a noxious creature, there is commonly injury done to some person or other, and
some other man receives damage by his transgression: in which case he who hath received any
damage, has, besides the right of punishment common to him with other men, a particular right to seek
reparation from him that has done it: and any other person, who finds it just, may also join with him
that is injured, and assist him in recovering from the offender so much as may make satisfaction for
the harm he has suffered.

From these two distinct rights, the one of punishing the crime for restraint, and preventing the
like offence, which right of punishing is in every body; the other of taking reparation, which belongs
only to the injured party, comes it to pass that the magistrate, who by being magistrate hath the
common right of punishing put into his hands, can often, where the public good demands not the
execution of the law, remit the punishment of criminal offences by his own authority, but yet cannot
remit the satisfaction due to any private man for the damage he has received. That, he who has
suffered the damage has a right to demand in his own name, and he alone can remit: the damnified
person has this power of appropriating to himself the goods or service of the offender, by right of
self-preservation, as every man has a power to punish the crime, to prevent its being committed
again, by the right he has of preserving all mankind, and doing all reasonable things he can in order
to that end: and thus it is, that every man, in the state of nature, has a power to kill a murderer, both to
deter others from doing the like injury, which no reparation can compensate, by the example of the
punishment that attends it from every body, and also to secure men from the attempts of a criminal,
who having renounced reason, the common rule and measure God hath given to mankind, hath, by the
unjust violence and slaughter he hath committed upon one, declared war against all mankind, and
therefore may be destroyed as a lion or a tyger, one of those wild savage beasts, with whom men can
have no society nor security: and upon this is grounded that great law of nature, Whoso sheddeth
man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed. And Cain was so fully convinced, that every one had a
right to destroy such a criminal, that after the murder of his brother, he cries out, Every one that
findeth me, shall slay me; so plain was it writ in the hearts of all mankind.

By the same reason may a man in the state of nature punish the lesser breaches of that law. It will
perhaps be demanded, with death? I answer, each transgression may be punished to that degree, and
with so much severity, as will suffice to make it an ill bargain to the offender, give him cause to
repent, and terrify others from doing the like. Every offence, that can be committed in the state of
nature, may in the state of nature be also punished equally, and as far forth as it may, in a common-
wealth: for though it would be besides my present purpose, to enter here into the particulars of the
law of nature, or its measures of punishment; yet, it is certain there is such a law, and that too, as
intelligible and plain to a rational creature, and a studier of that law, as the positive laws of common-
wealths; nay, possibly plainer; as much as reason is easier to be understood, than the fancies and
intricate contrivances of men, following contrary and hidden interests put into words; for so truly are
a great part of the municipal laws of countries, which are only so far right, as they are founded on the
law of nature, by which they are to be regulated and interpreted.

To this strange doctrine, viz. That in the state of nature every one has the executive power of the
law of nature, I doubt not but it will be objected, that it is unreasonable for men to be judges in their
own cases, that self-love will make men partial to themselves and their friends: and on the other side,
that ill nature, passion and revenge will carry them too far in punishing others; and hence nothing but
confusion and disorder will follow, and that therefore God hath certainly appointed government to
restrain the partiality and violence of men. I easily grant, that civil government is the proper remedy
for the inconveniences of the state of nature, which must certainly be great, where men may be judges
in their own case, since it is easy to be imagined, that he who was so unjust as to do his brother an
injury, will scarce be so just as to condemn himself for it: but I shall desire those who make this
objection, to remember, that absolute monarchs are but men; and if government is to be the remedy of
those evils, which necessarily follow from men’s being judges in their own cases, and the state of

nature is therefore not to be endured, I desire to know what kind of government that is, and how much
better it is than the state of nature, where one man, commanding a multitude, has the liberty to be judge
in his own case, and may do to all his subjects whatever he pleases, without the least liberty to any
one to question or controul those who execute his pleasure? and in whatsoever he doth, whether led
by reason, mistake or passion, must be submitted to? much better it is in the state of nature, wherein
men are not bound to submit to the unjust will of another: and if he that judges, judges amiss in his
own, or any other case, he is answerable for it to the rest of mankind.

It is often asked as a mighty objection, where are, or ever were there any men in such a state of
nature? To which it may suffice as an answer at present, that since all princes and rulers of
independent governments all through the world, are in a state of nature, it is plain the world never
was, nor ever will be, without numbers of men in that state. I have named all governors of
independent communities, whether they are, or are not, in league with others: for it is not every
compact that puts an end to the state of nature between men, but only this one of agreeing together
mutually to enter into one community, and make one body politic; other promises, and compacts, men
may make one with another, and yet still be in the state of nature. The promises and bargains for truck,
&c. between the two men in the desert island, mentioned by Garcilasso de la Vega, in his history of
Peru; or between a Swiss and an Indian, in the woods of America, are binding to them, though they
are perfectly in a state of nature, in reference to one another: for truth and keeping of faith belongs to
men, as men, and not as members of society.

To those that say, there were never any men in the state of nature, I will not only oppose the
authority of the judicious Hooker, Eccl. Pol. lib. i. sect. 10. where he says, The laws which have
been hitherto mentioned, i.e. the laws of nature, do bind men absolutely, even as they are men,
although they have never any settled fellowship, never any solemn agreement amongst themselves
what to do, or not to do: but forasmuch as we are not by ourselves sufficient to furnish ourselves
with competent store of things, needful for such a life as our nature doth desire, a life fit for the
dignity of man; therefore to supply those defects and imperfections which are in us, as living
single and solely by ourselves, we are naturally induced to seek communion and fellowship with
others: this was the cause of men’s uniting themselves at first in politic societies. But I moreover
affirm, that all men are naturally in that state, and remain so, till by their own consents they make
themselves members of some politic society; and I doubt not in the sequel of this discourse, to make it
very clear.

Of the State of War
The state of war is a state of enmity and destruction: and therefore declaring by word or action, not a
passionate and hasty, but a sedate settled design upon another man’s life, puts him in a state of war
with him against whom he has declared such an intention, and so has exposed his life to the other’s
power to be taken away by him, or any one that joins with him in his defence, and espouses his
quarrel; it being reasonable and just, I should have a right to destroy that which threatens me with
destruction: for, by the fundamental law of nature, man being to be preserved as much as possible,
when all cannot be preserved, the safety of the innocent is to be preferred: and one may destroy a man
who makes war upon him, or has discovered an enmity to his being, for the same reason that he may
kill a wolf or a lion; because such men are not under the ties of the commonlaw of reason, have no

other rule, but that of force and violence, and so may be treated as beasts of prey, those dangerous and
noxious creatures, that will be sure to destroy him whenever he falls into their power.

And hence it is, that he who attempts to get another man into his absolute power, does thereby put
himself into a state of war with him; it being to be understood as a declaration of a design upon his
life: for I have reason to conclude, that he who would get me into his power without my consent,
would use me as he pleased when he had got me there, and destroy me too when he had a fancy to it;
for no body can desire to have me in his absolute power, unless it be to compel me by force to that
which is against the right of my freedom, i.e. make me a slave. To be free from such force is the only
security of my preservation; and reason bids me look on him, as an enemy to my preservation, who
would take away that freedom which is the fence to it; so that he who makes an attempt to enslave
me, thereby puts himself into a state of war with me. He that, in the state of nature, would take away
the freedom that belongs to any one in that state, must necessarily be supposed to have a design to
take away every thing else, that freedom being the foundation of all the rest; as he that, in the state of
society, would take away the freedom belonging to those of that society or common-wealth, must be
supposed to design to take away from them every thing else, and so be looked on as in a state of war.

This makes it lawful for a man to kill a thief, who has not in the least hurt him, nor declared any
design upon his life, any farther than, by the use of force, so to get him in his power, as to take away
his money, or what he pleases, from him; because using force, where he has no right, to get me into his
power, let his pretence be what it will, I have no reason to suppose, that he, who would take away my
liberty, would not, when he had me in his power, take away every thing else. And therefore it is
lawful for me to treat him as one who has put himself into a state of war with me, i.e. kill him if I
can; for to that hazard does he justly expose himself, whoever introduces a state of war, and is
aggressor in it.

And here we have the plain difference between the state of nature and the state of war, which
however some men have confounded, are as far distant, as a state of peace, good will, mutual
assistance and preservation, and a state of enmity, malice, violence and mutual destruction, are one
from another. Men living together according to reason, without a common superior on earth, with
authority to judge between them, is properly the state of nature. But force, or a declared design of
force, upon the person of another, where there is no common superior on earth to appeal to for relief,
is the state of war: and it is the want of such an appeal gives a man the right of war even against an
aggressor, tho’ he be in society and a fellow subject. Thus a thief, whom I cannot harm, but by appeal
to the law, for having stolen all that I am worth, I may kill, when he sets on me to rob me but of my
horse or coat; because the law, which was made for my preservation, where it cannot interpose to
secure my life from present force, which, if lost, is capable of no reparation, permits me my own
defence, and the right of war, a liberty to kill the aggressor, because the aggressor allows not time to
appeal to our common judge, nor the decision of the law, for remedy in a case where the mischief may
be irreparable. Want of a common judge with authority, puts all men in a state of nature: force without
right, upon a man’s person, makes a state of war, both where there is, and is not, a common judge.

But when the actual force is over, the state of war ceases between those that are in society, and
are equally on both sides subjected to the fair determination of the law; because then there lies open
the remedy of appeal for the past injury, and to prevent future harm: but where no such appeal is, as in
the state of nature, for want of positive laws, and judges with authority to appeal to, the state of war
once begun, continues, with a right to the innocent party to destroy the other whenever he can, until the

aggressor offers peace, and desires reconciliation on such terms as may repair any wrongs he has
already done, and secure the innocent for the future; nay, where an appeal to the law, and constituted
judges, lies open, but the remedy is denied by a manifest perverting of justice, and a barefaced
wresting of the laws to protect or indemnify the violence or injuries of some men, or party of men,
there it is hard to imagine any thing but a state of war: for where-ever violence is used, and injury
done, though by hands appointed to administer justice, it is still violence and injury, however
coloured with the name, pretences, or forms of law, the end whereof being to protect and redress the
innocent, by an unbiassed application of it, to all who are under it; where-ever that is not bona fide
done, war is made upon the sufferers, who having no appeal on earth to right them, they are left to the
only remedy in such cases, an appeal to heaven.

To avoid this state of war (wherein there is no appeal but to heaven, and wherein every the least
difference is apt to end, where there is no authority to decide between the contenders) is one great
reason of men’s putting themselves into society, and quitting the state of nature: for where there is an
authority, a power on earth, from which relief can be had by appeal, there the continuance of the state
of war is excluded, and the controversy is decided by that power. Had there been any such court, any
superior jurisdiction on earth, to determine the right between Jephtha and the Ammonites, they had
never come to a state of war: but we see he was forced to appeal to heaven. . . .

. . . Where there is no judge on earth, the appeal lies to God in heaven.

Of Slavery

The natural liberty of man is to be free from any superior power on earth, and not to be under the
will or legislative authority of man, but to have only the law of nature for his rule. The liberty of man,
in society, is to be under no other legislative power, but that established, by consent, in the common-
wealth; nor under the dominion of any will, or restraint of any law, but what that legislative shall
enact, according to the trust put in it. Freedom then is not what Sir Robert Filmer tells us,
Observations, A. 55. a liberty for every one to do what he lists, to live as he pleases, and not to be
tied by any laws: but freedom of men under government is, to have a standing rule to live by,
common to every one of that society, and made by the legislative power erected in it; a liberty to
follow my own will in all things, where the rule prescribes not; and not to be subject to the
inconstant, uncertain, unknown, arbitrary will of another man: as freedom of nature is, to be under no
other restraint but the law of nature.

This freedom from absolute, arbitrary power, is so necessary to, and closely joined with a man’s
preservation, that he cannot part with it, but by what forfeits his preservation and life together: for a
man, not having the power of his own life, cannot, by compact, or his own consent, enslave himself
to any one, nor put himself under the absolute, arbitrary power of another, to take away his life, when
he pleases. No body can give more power than he has himself; and he that cannot take away his own
life, cannot give another power over it. Indeed, having by his fault forfeited his own life, by some act
that deserves death; he, to whom he has forfeited it, may (when he has him in his power) delay to take
it, and make use of him to his own service, and he does him no injury by it: for, whenever he finds the
hardship of his slavery outweigh the value of his life, it is in his power, by resisting the will of his
master, to draw on himself the death he desires.

This is the perfect condition of slavery, which is nothing else, but the state of war continued,
between a lawful conqueror and a captive: for, if once compact enter between them, and make an
agreement for a limited power on the one side, and obedience on the other, the state of war and
slavery ceases, as long as the compact endures: for as has been said, no man can, by agreement, pass
over to another that which he hath not in himself, a power over his own life. . . .

Of Property

Whether we consider natural reason, which tells us, that men, being once born, have a right to their
preservation, and consequently to meat and drink, and such other things as nature affords for their
subsistence: or revelation, which gives us an account of those grants God made of the world to Adam,
and to Noah, and his sons, it is very clear, that God, as king David says, Psal. cxv. 16. has given the
earth to the children of men; given it to mankind in common. But this being supposed, it seems to
some a very great difficulty, how any one should ever come to have a property in any thing: I will not
content myself to answer, that if it be difficult to make out property, upon a supposition that God gave
the world to Adam, and his posterity in common, it is impossible that any man, but one universal
monarch, should have any property upon a supposition, that God gave the world to Adam, and his
heirs in succession, exclusive of all the rest of his posterity. But I shall endeavour to shew, how men
might come to have a property in several parts of that which God gave to mankind in common, and
that without any express compact of all the commoners.

God, who hath given the world to men in common, hath also given them reason to make use of it to
the best advantage of life, and convenience. The earth, and all that is therein, is given to men for the
support and comfort of their being. And tho’ all the fruits it naturally produces, and beasts it feeds,
belong to mankind in common, as they are produced by the spontaneous hand of nature; and no body
has originally a private dominion, exclusive of the rest of mankind, in any of them, as they are thus in
their natural state: yet being given for the use of men, there must of necessity be a means to
appropriate them some way or other, before they can be of any use, or at all beneficial to any
particular man. The fruit, or venison, which nourishes the wild Indian, who knows no inclosure, and
is still a tenant in common, must be his, and so his, i.e. a part of him, that another can no longer have
any right to it, before it can do him any good for the support of his life.

Though the earth, and all inferior creatures, be common to all men, yet every man has a property
in his own person: this no body has any right to but himself. The labour of his body, and the work of
his hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever then he removes out of the state that nature hath
provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with, and joined to it something that is his own, and
thereby makes it his property. It being by him removed from the common state nature hath placed it in,
it hath by this labour something annexed to it, that excludes the common right of other men: for this
labour being the unquestionable property of the labourer, no man but he can have a right to what that
is once joined to, at least where there is enough, and as good, left in common for others.

He that is nourished by the acorns he picked up under an oak, or the apples he gathered from the
trees in the wood, has certainly appropriated them to himself. No body can deny but the nourishment
is his. I ask then, when did they begin to be his? when he digested? or when he eat? or when he
boiled? or when he brought them home? or when he picked them up? and it is plain, if the first
gathering made them not his, nothing else could. That labour put a distinction between them and
common: that added something to them more than nature, the common mother of all, had done; and so
they became his private right. And will any one say, he had no right to those acorns or apples, he thus
appropriated, because he had not the consent of all mankind to make them his? Was it a robbery thus
to assume to himself what belonged to all in common? If such a consent as that was necessary, man
had starved, notwithstanding the plenty God had given him. We see in commons, which remain so by
compact, that it is the taking any part of what is common, and removing it out of the state nature leaves

it in, which begins the property; without which the common is of no use. And the taking of this or that
part, does not depend on the express consent of all the commoners. Thus the grass my horse has bit;
the turfs my servant has cut; and the ore I have digged in any place, where I have a right to them in
common with others, become my property, without the assignation or consent of any body. The labour
that was mine, removing them out of that common state they were in, hath fixed my property in them.

By making an explicit consent of every commoner, necessary to any one’s appropriating to himself
any part of what is given in common, children or servants could not cut the meat, which their father or
master had provided for them in common, without assigning to every one his peculiar part. Though the
water running in the fountain be every one’s, yet who can doubt, but that in the pitcher is his only who
drew it out? His labour hath taken it out of the hands of nature, where it was common, and belonged
equally to all her children, and hath thereby appropriated it to himself.

Thus, this law of reason makes the deer that Indian’s who hath killed it; it is allowed to be his
goods, who hath bestowed his labour upon it, though before it was the common right of every one. . . .

It will perhaps be objected to this, that if gathering the acorns, or other fruits of the earth, &c.
makes a right to them, then any one may ingross as much as he will. To which I answer, Not so. The
same law of nature, that does by this means give us property, does also bound that property too. God
has given us all things richly, 1 Tim. vi. 12. is the voice of reason confirmed by inspiration. But how
far has he given it us? To enjoy. As much as any one can make use of to any advantage of life before it
spoils, so much he may by his labour fix a property in: whatever is beyond this, is more than his
share, and belongs to others. Nothing was made by God for man to spoil or destroy. And thus,
considering the plenty of natural provisions there was a long time in the world, and the few spenders;
and to how small a part of that provision the industry of one man could extend itself, and ingross it to
the prejudice of others; especially keeping within the bounds, set by reason, of what might serve for
his use; there could be then little room for quarrels or contentions about property so established.

But the chief matter of property being now not the fruits of the earth, and the beasts that subsist on
it, but the earth itself; as that which takes in and carries with it all the rest; I think it is plain, that
property in that too is acquired as the former. As much land as a man tills, plants, improves,
cultivates, and can use the product of, so much is his property. He by his labour does, as it were,
inclose it from the common. Nor will it invalidate his right, to say every body else has an equal title
to it; and therefore he cannot appropriate, he cannot inclose, without the consent of all his fellow-
commoners, all mankind. God, when he gave the world in common to all mankind, commanded man
also to labour, and the penury of his condition required it of him. God and his reason commanded him
to subdue the earth, i.e., improve it for the benefit of life, and therein lay out something upon it that
was his own, his labour. He that in obedience to this command of God, subdued, tilled and sowed any
part of it, thereby annexed to it something that was his property, which another had no title to, nor
could without injury take from him.

Nor was this appropriation of any parcel of land, by improving it, any prejudice to any other
man, since there was still enough, and as good left; and more than the yet unprovided could use. So
that, in effect, there was never the less left for others because of his inclosure for himself: for he that
leaves as much as another can make use of, does as good as take nothing at all. No body could think
himself injured by the drinking of another man, though he took a good draught, who had a whole river
of the same water left him to quench his thirst: and the case of land and water; where there is enough
of both, is perfectly the same.

God gave the world to men in common; but since he gave it them for their benefit, and the greatest
conveniencies of life they were capable to draw from it, it cannot be supposed he meant it should
always remain common and uncultivated. He gave it to the use of the industrious and rational (and
labour was to be his title to it); not to the fancy or covetousness of the quarrelsome and contentious.
He that had as good left for his improvement, as was already taken up, needed not complain, ought not
to meddle with what was already improved by another’s labour: if he did, it is plain he desired the
benefit of another’s pains, which he had no right to, and not the ground which God had given him in
common with others to labour on, and whereof there was as good left, as that already possessed, and
more than he knew what to do with, or his industry could reach to.

It is true, in land that is common in England, or any other country, where there is plenty of people
under government, who have money and commerce, no one can inclose or appropriate any part,
without the consent of all his fellow-commoners; because this is left common by compact, i.e. by the
law of the land, which is not to be violated. And though it be common, in respect of some men, it is
not so to all mankind; but is the joint property of this country, or this parish. Besides, the remainder,
after such inclosure, would not be as good to the rest of the commoners, as the whole was when they
could all make use of the whole; whereas in the beginning and first peopling of the great common of
the world, it was quite otherwise. The law man was under, was rather for appropriating. God
commanded, and his wants forced him to labour. That was his property which could not be taken
from him where-ever he had fixed it. And hence subduing or cultivating the earth, and having
dominion, we see are joined together. The one gave title to the other. So that God, by commanding to
subdue, gave authority so far to appropriate: and the condition of human life, which requires labour
and materials to work on, necessarily introduces private possessions.

The measure of property nature has well set by the extent of men’s labour and the conveniencies
of life: no man’s labour could subdue, or appropriate all; nor could his enjoyment consume more than
a small part; so that it was impossible for any man, this way, to intrench upon the right of another, or
acquire to himself a property, to the prejudice of his neighbour, who would still have room for as
good, and as large a possession (after the other had taken out his) as before it was appropriated. This
measure did confine every man’s possession to a very moderate proportion, and such as he might
appropriate to himself, without injury to any body, in the first ages of the world, when men were more
in danger to be lost, by wandering from their company, in the then vast wilderness of the earth, than to
be straitened for want of room to plant in. And the same measure may be allowed still without
prejudice to any body, as full as the world seems: for supposing a man, or family, in the state they
were at first peopling of the world by the children of Adam, or Noah; let him plant in some in-land,
vacant places of America, we shall find that the possessions he could make himself, upon the
measures we have given, would not be very large, nor, even to this day, prejudice the rest of mankind,
or give them reason to complain, or think themselves injured by this man’s incroachment, though the
race of men have now spread themselves to all the corners of the world, and do infinitely exceed the
small number was at the beginning. Nay, the extent of ground is of so little value, without labour, that
I have heard it affirmed, that in Spain itself a man may be permitted to plough, sow and reap, without
being disturbed, upon land he has no other title to, but only his making use of it. But, on the contrary,
the inhabitants think themselves beholden to him, who, by his industry on neglected, and consequently
waste land, has increased the stock of corn, which they wanted. But be this as it will, which I lay no
stress on; this I dare boldly affirm, that the same rule of propriety, (viz.) that every man should have

as much as he could make use of, would hold still in the world, without straitening any body; since
there is land enough in the world to suffice double the inhabitants, had not the invention of money,
and the tacit agreement of men to put a value on it, introduced (by consent) larger possessions, and a
right to them; which, how it has done, I shall by and by shew more at large.

This is certain, that in the beginning, before the desire of having more than man needed had
altered the intrinsic value of things, which depends only on their usefulness to the life of man; or had
agreed, that a little piece of yellow metal, which would keep without wasting or decay, should be
worth a great piece of flesh, or a whole heap of corn; though men had a right to appropriate, by their
labour, each one of himself, as much of the things of nature, as he could use: yet this could not be
much, nor to the prejudice of others, where the same plenty was still left to those who would use the
same industry. To which let me add, that he who appropriates land to himself by his labour, does not
lessen, but increase the common stock of mankind: for the provisions serving to the support of human
life, produced by one acre of inclosed and cultivated land, are (to speak much within compass) ten
times more than those which are yielded by an acre of land of an equal richness lying waste in
common. And therefore he that incloses land, and has a greater plenty of the conveniencies of life
from ten acres, than he could have from an hundred left to nature, may truly be said to give ninety
acres to mankind: for his labour now supplies him with provisions out of ten acres, which were but
the product of an hundred lying in common. I have here rated the improved land very low, in making
its product but as ten to one, when it is much nearer an hundred to one: for I ask, whether in the wild
woods and uncultivated waste of America, left to nature, without any improvement, tillage or
husbandry, a thousand acres yield the needy and wretched inhabitants as many conveniencies of life,
as ten acres of equally fertile land do in Devonshire, where they are well cultivated?

Before the appropriation of land, he who gathered as much or the wild fruit, killed, caught, or
tamed, as many of the beasts, as he could; he that so imployed his pains about any of the spontaneous
products of nature, as any way to alter them from the state which nature put them in, by placing any of
his labour on them, did thereby acquire a propriety in them: but if they perished, in his possession,
without their due use; if the fruits rotted, or the venison putrified, before he could spend it, he
offended against the common law of nature, and was liable to be punished; he invaded his
neighbour’s share, for he had no right, farther than his use called for any of them, and they might
serve to afford him conveniencies of life.

The same measures governed the possession of land too: whatsoever he tilled and reaped, laid
up and made use of, before it spoiled, that was his peculiar right; whatsoever he enclosed, and could
feed, and make use of, the cattle and product was also his. But if either the grass of his inclosure
rotted on the ground, or the fruit of his planting perished without gathering, and laying up, this part of
the earth, notwithstanding his inclosure, was still to be looked on as waste, and might be the
possession of any other. Thus, at the beginning, Cain might take as much ground as he could till, and
make it his own land, and yet leave enough to Abel’s sheep to feed on; a few acres would serve for
both their possessions. But as families increased, and industry inlarged their stocks, their possessions
inlarged with the need of them; but yet it was commonly without any fixed property in the ground
they made use of, till they incorporated, settled themselves together, and built cities; and then, by
consent, they came in time, to set out the bounds of their distinct territories, and agree on limits
between them and their neighbours; and by laws within themselves, settled the properties of those of
the same society: for we see, that in that part of the world which was first inhabited, and therefore

like to be best peopled, even as low down as Abraham’s time, they wandered with their flocks, and
their herds, which was their substance, freely up and down; and this Abraham did, in a country where
he was a stranger. Whence it is plain, that at least a great part of the land lay in common; that the
inhabitants valued it not, nor claimed property in any more than they made use of. But when there was
not room enough in the same place, for their herds to feed together, they by consent, as Abraham and
Lot did, Gen. xiii. 5. separated and inlarged their pasture, where it best liked them. . . .

Nor is it so strange, as perhaps before consideration it may appear, that the property of labour
should be able to over-balance the community of land: for it is labour indeed that puts the difference
of value on every thing; and let any one consider what the difference is between an acre of land
planted with tobacco or sugar, sown with wheat or barley, and an acre of the same land lying in
common, without any husbandry upon it, and he will find, that the improvement of labour makes the
far greater part of the value. I think it will be but a very modest computation to say, that of the
products of the earth useful to the life of man nine tenths are the effects of labour: nay, if we will
rightly estimate things as they come to our use, and cast up the several expences about them, what in
them is purely owing to nature, and what to labour, we shall find, that in most of them ninety-nine
hundredths are wholly to be put on the account of labour.

. . . It is labour then which puts the greatest part of value upon land, without which it would
scarcely be worth any thing: it is to that we owe the greatest part of all its useful products; for all that
the straw, bran, bread, of that acre of wheat, is more worth than the product of an acre of as good
land, which lies waste, is all the effect of labour: for it is not barely the plough-man’s pains, the
reaper’s and thresher’s toil, and the baker’s sweat, is to be counted into the bread we eat; the labour
of those who broke the oxen, who digged and wrought the iron and stones, who felled and framed the
timber employed about the plough, mill, oven, or any other utensils, which are a vast number,
requisite to this corn, from its being feed to be sown to its being made bread, must all be charged on
the account of labour, and received as an effect of that: nature and the earth furnished only the almost
worthless materials, as in themselves. It would be a strange catalogue of things, that industry
provided and made use of, about every loaf of bread, before it came to our use, if we could trace
them; iron, wood, leather, bark, timber, stone, bricks, coals, lime, cloth, dying drugs, pitch, tar, masts,
ropes, and all the materials made use of in the ship, that brought any of the commodities made use of
by any of the workmen, to any part of the work; all which it would be almost impossible, at least too
long, to reckon up.

From all which it is evident, that though the things of nature are given in common, yet man, by
being master of himself, and proprietor of his own person, and the actions or labour of it, had still
in himself the great foundation of property; and that, which made up the great part of what he
applied to the support or comfort of his being, when invention and arts had improved the
conveniencies of life, was perfectly his own, and did not belong in common to others. Thus labour, in
the beginning, gave a right of property, wherever any one was pleased to employ it upon what was
common which remained a long while the far greater part, and is yet more than mankind makes use of.
Men, at first, for the most part, contented themselves with what unassisted nature offered to their
necessities: and though afterwards, in some parts of the world, (where the increase of people and
stock, with the use of money, had made land scarce, and so of some value) the several communities
settled the bounds of their distinct territories, and by laws within themselves regulated the properties
of the private men of their society, and so, by compact and agreement, settled the property which

labour and industry began; and the leagues that have been made between several states and kingdoms,
either expressly or tacitly disowning all claim and right to the land in the others possession, have, by
common consent, given up their pretences to their natural common right, which originally they had to
those countries, and so have, by positive agreement, settled a property amongst themselves, in
distinct parts and parcels of the earth; yet there are still great tracts of ground to be found, which (the
inhabitants thereof not having joined with the rest of mankind, in the consent of the use of their
common money) lie waste, and are more than the people who dwell on it do, or can make use of, and
so still lie in common; tho’ this can scarce happen amongst that part of mankind that have consented to
the use of money.

The greatest part of things really useful to the life of man, and such as the necessity of subsisting
made the first commoners of the world look after, as it doth the Americans now, are generally things
of short duration; such as, if they are not consumed by use, will decay and perish of themselves:
gold, silver and diamonds, are things that fancy or agreement hath put the value on, more than real use,
and the necessary support of life. Now of those good things which nature hath provided in common,
every one had a right (as hath been said) to as much as he could use, and property in all that he could
effect with his labour; all that his industry could extend to, to alter from the state nature had put it in,
was his. He that gathered a hundred bushels of acorns or apples, had thereby a property in them, they
were his goods as soon as gathered. He was only to look, that he used them before they spoiled, else
he took more than his share, and robbed others. And indeed it was a foolish thing, as well a dishonest,
to hoard up more than he could make use of. If he gave away a part to any body else, so that it
perished not uselessly in his possession, these he also made use of. And if he also bartered away
plums, that would have rotted in a week, for nuts that would last good for his eating a whole year, he
did no injury; he wasted not the common stock; destroyed no part of the portion of goods that
belonged to others, so long as nothing perished uselessly in his hands. Again, if he would give his
nuts for a piece of metal, pleased with its colour; or exchange his sheep for shells, or wool for a
sparkling pebble or a diamond, and keep those by him all his life, he invaded not the right of others,
he might heap up as much of these durable things as he pleased; the exceeding of the bounds of his
just property not lying in the largeness of his possession, but the perishing of any thing uselessly in it.

And thus came in the use of money, some lasting thing that men might keep without spoiling, and
that by mutual consent men would take in exchange for the truly useful, but perishable supports of life.

And as different degrees of industry were apt to give men possessions in different proportions, so
this invention of money gave them the opportunity to continue and enlarge them: for supposing an
island, separate from all possible commerce with the rest of the world, wherein there were but an
hundred families, but there were sheep, horses and cows, with other useful animals, wholsome fruits,
and land enough for corn for a hundred thousand times as many, but nothing in the island, either
because of its commonness, or perishableness, fit to supply the place of money; what reason could
any one have there to enlarge his possessions beyond the use of his family, and a plentiful supply to
its consumption, either in what their own industry produced, or they could barter for like perishable,
useful commodities, with others? Where there is not some thing, both lasting and scarce, and so
valuable to be hoarded up, there men will not be apt to enlarge their possessions of land, were it
never so rich, never so free for them to take: for I ask, what would a man value ten thousand, or an
hundred thousand acres of excellent land, ready cultivated, and well stocked too with cattle, in the
middle of the inland parts of America, where he had no hopes of commerce with other parts of the

world, to draw money to him by the sale of the product? It would not be worth the inclosing, and we
should see him give up again to the wild common of nature, whatever was more than would supply
the conveniencies of life to be had there for him and his family. Thus in the beginning all the world
was America, and more so than that is now; for no such thing as money was any where known. Find
out something that hath the use and value of money amongst his neighbours, you shall see the same
man will begin presently to enlarge his possessions.

But since gold and silver, being little useful to the life of man in proportion to food, raiment, and
carriage, has its value only from the consent of men, whereof labour yet makes in great part, the
measure, it is plain, that men have agreed to a disproportionate and unequal possession of the earth,
they having, by a tacit and voluntary consent, found out a way how a man may fairly possess more
land than he himself can use the product of, by receiving in exchange for the overplus gold and silver,
which may be hoarded up without injury to any one; these metals not spoiling or decaying in the hands
of the possessor. This partage of things in an inequality of private possessions, men have made
practicable out of the bounds of society, and without compact, only by putting a value on gold and
silver, and tacitly agreeing in the use of money: for in governments, the laws regulate the right of
property, and the possession of land is determined by positive constitutions. . . .

Of Political or Civil Society

God having made man such a creature, that in his own judgment, it was not good for him to be alone,
put him under strong obligations of necessity, convenience, and inclination to drive him into society
as well as fitted him with understanding and language to continue and enjoy it. . . .

. . . But how a family, or any other society of men, differ from that which is properly political
society we shall best see, by considering wherein political society itself consists.

Man being born, as has been proved, with a title to perfect freedom, and an uncontrouled
enjoyment of all the rights and privileges of the law of nature, equally with any other man, or number
of men in the world, hath by nature a power, not only to preserve his property, that is, his life, liberty
and estate, against the injuries and attempts of other men; but to judge of, and punish the breaches of
that law in others, as he is persuaded the offence deserves, even with death itself, in crimes where the
heinousness of the fact, in his opinion, requires it. But because no political society can be, nor
subsist, without having in itself the power to preserve the property, and in order thereunto, punish the
offences of all those of that society; there, and there only is political society, where every one of the
members hath quitted this natural power, resigned it up into the hands of the community in all cases
that exclude him not from appealing for protection to the law established by it. And thus all private
judgment of every particular member being excluded, the community comes to be umpire, by settled
standing rules, indifferent, and the same to all parties; and by men having authority from the
community, for the execution of those rules, decides all the differences that may happen between any
members of that society concerning any matter of right; and punishes those offences which any
member hath committed against the society, with such penalties as the law has established: whereby it
is easy to discern, who are, and who are not, in political society together. Those who are united into
one body, and have a common established law and judicature to appeal to, with authority to decide
controversies between them, and punish offenders, are in civil society one with another: but those
who have no such common appeal, I mean on earth, are still in the state of nature, each being, where
there is no other, judge for himself, and executioner; which is, as I have before shewed it, the perfect
state of nature.

And thus the common-wealth comes by a power to set down what punishment shall belong to the
several transgressions which they think worthy of it, committed amongst the members of that society
(which is the power of making laws) as well as it has the power to punish any injury done unto any of
its members, by any one that is not of it (which is the power of war and peace); and all this for the
preservation of the property of all the members of that society, as far as is possible. But though every
man who has entered into civil society, and is become a member of any common-wealth, has thereby
quitted his power to punish offences, against the law of nature, in prosecution of his own private
judgment, yet with the judgment of offences, which he has given up to the legislative in all cases,
where he can appeal to the magistrate, he has given a right to the common-wealth to employ his force,
for the execution of the judgments of the common-wealth, whenever he shall be called to it; which
indeed are his own judgments, they being made by himself, or his representative. And herein we have
the original of the legislative and executive power of civil society, which is to judge by standing
laws, how far offences are to be punished, when committed within the common-wealth; and also to
determine, by occasional judgments founded on the present circumstances of the fact, how far injuries

from without are to be vindicated; and in both these to employ all the force of all the members, when
there shall be need.

Where-ever therefore any number of men are so united into one society, as to quit every one his
executive power of the law of nature, and to resign it to the public, there and there only is a political,
or civil society. And this is done, where-ever any number of men, in the state of nature, enter into
society to make one people, one body politic, under one supreme government; or else when any one
joins himself to, and incorporates with any government already made: for hereby he authorizes the
society, or which is all one, the legislative thereof, to make laws for him, as the public good of the
society shall require; to the execution whereof, his own assistance (as to his own decrees) is due.
And this puts men out of a state of nature into that of a common-wealth, by setting up a judge on
earth, with authority to determine all the controversies, and redress the injuries that may happen to
any member of the common-wealth; which judge is the legislative, or magistrates appointed by it. And
where-ever there are any number of men, however associated, that have no such decisive power to
appeal to, there they are still in the state of nature.

Hence it is evident, that absolute monarchy, which by some men is counted the only government
in the world, is indeed inconsistent with civil society, and so can be no form of civil-government at
all: for the end of civil society, being to avoid, and remedy those inconveniencies of the state of
nature, which necessarily follow from every man’s being judge in his own case, by setting up a known
authority, to which every one of that society may appeal upon any injury received, or controversy that
may arise, and which every one of the society ought to obey; where-ever any persons are, who have
not such an authority to appeal to, for the decision of any difference between them, there those
persons are still in the state of nature; and so is every absolute prince, in respect of those who are
under his dominion. . . .

Of the Beginning of Political Societies
Men being, as has been said, by nature, all free, equal, and independent, no one can be put out of this
estate, and subjected to the political power of another, without his own consent. The only way
whereby any one divests himself of his natural liberty, and puts on the bonds of civil society, is by
agreeing with other men to join and unite into a community for their comfortable, safe, and peaceable
living one amongst another, in a secure enjoyment of their properties, and a greater security against
any, that are not of it. This any number of men may do, because it injures not the freedom of the rest;
they are left as they were in the liberty of the state of nature. When any number of men have so
consented to make one community or government, they are thereby presently incorporated, and make
one body politic, wherein the majority have a right to act and conclude the rest.

For when any number of men have, by the consent of every individual, made a community, they
have thereby made that community one body, with a power to act as one body, which is only by the
will and determination of the majority: for that which acts any community, being only the consent of
the individuals of it, and it being necessary to that which is one body to move one way; it is necessary
the body should move that way whither the greater force carries it, which is the consent of the
majority: or else it is impossible it should act or continue one body, one community, which the
consent of every individual that united into it, agreed that it should; and so every one is bound by that
consent to be concluded by the majority. And therefore we see, that in assemblies, impowered to act

by positive laws, where no number is set by that positive law which impowers them, the act of the
majority passes for the act of the whole, and of course determines, as having, by the law of nature and
reason, the power of the whole.

And thus every man, by consenting with others to make one body politic under one government,
puts himself under an obligation, to every one of that society, to submit to the determination of the
majority, and to be concluded by it; or else this original compact, whereby he with others
incorporates into one society, would signify nothing, and be no compact, if he be left free, and under
no other ties than he was in before in the state of nature. For what appearance would there be of any
compact? what new engagement if he were no farther tied by any decrees of the society, than he
himself thought fit, and did actually consent to? This would be still as great a liberty, as he himself
had before his compact, or any one else in the state of nature hath, who may submit himself, and
consent to any acts of it if he thinks fit.

For if the consent of the majority shall not, in reason, be received as the act of the whole, and
conclude every individual; nothing but the consent of every individual can make any thing to be the act
of the whole: but such a consent is next to impossible ever to be had, if we consider the infirmities of
health, and avocations of business, which in a number, though much less than that of a common-
wealth, will necessarily keep many away from the public assembly. . . .

Whosoever therefore out of a state of nature unite into a community, must be understood to give
up all the power, necessary to the ends for which they unite into society, to the majority of the
community, unless they expressly agreed in any number greater than the majority. And this is done by
barely agreeing to unite into one political society, which is all the compact that is, or needs be,
between the individuals, that enter into, or make up a common-wealth. And thus that, which begins
and actually constitutes any political society, is nothing but the consent of any number of freemen
capable of a majority to unite and incorporate into such a society. And this is that, and that only,
which did, or could give beginning to any lawful government in the world. . . .

Every man being, as has been shewed, naturally free, and nothing being able to put him into
subjection to any earthly power, but only his own consent; it is to be considered, what shall be
understood to be a sufficient declaration of a man’s consent, to make him subject to the laws of any
government. There is a common distinction of an express and a tacit consent, which will concern our
present case. No body doubts but an express consent, of any man entering into any society, makes him
a perfect member of that society, a subject of that government. The difficulty is, what ought to be
looked upon as a tacit consent, and how far it binds, i.e. how far any one shall be looked on to have
consented, and thereby submitted to any government, where he has made no expressions of it at all.
And to this I say, that every man, that hath any possessions, or enjoyment, of any part of the dominions
of any government, doth thereby give his tacit consent and is as far forth obliged to obedience to the
laws of that government, during such enjoyment, as any one under it; whether this his possession be of
land, to him and his heirs for ever, or a lodging only for a week; or whether it be barely travelling
freely on the highway; and in effect, it reaches as far as the very being of any one within the territories
of that government.

To understand this the better, it is fit to consider, that every man, when he at first incorporates
himself into any common-wealth, he, by his uniting himself thereunto, annexed also, and submits to the
community, those possessions, which he has, or shall acquire, that do not already belong to any other
government: for it would be a direct contradiction, for any one to enter into society with others for the

securing and regulating of property; and yet to suppose his land, whose property is to be regulated by
the laws of the society, should be exempt from the jurisdiction of that government, to which he
himself, the proprietor of the land, is a subject. By the same act therefore, whereby any one unites his
person, which was before free, to any common-wealth, by the same he unites his possessions, which
were before free, to it also; and they become, both of them, person and possession, subject to the
government and dominion of that common-wealth, as long as it hath a being. Whoever therefore, from
thenceforth, by inheritance, purchase, permission, or otherways, enjoys any part of the land, so
annexed to, and under the government of that common-wealth, must take it with the condition it is
under; that is, of submitting to the government of the common-wealth, under whose jurisdiction it is,
as far forth as any subject of it.

But since the government has a direct jurisdiction only over the land, and reaches the possessor of
it (before he has actually incorporated himself in the society) only as he dwells upon, and enjoys that;
the obligation any one is under, by virtue of such enjoyment, to submit to the government, begins and
ends with the enjoyment; so that whenever the owner, who has given nothing but such a tacit consent
to the government, will, by donation, sale, or otherwise, quit the said possession, he is at liberty to go
and incorporate himself into any other common-wealth; or to agree with others to begin a new one, in
vacuis locis, in any part of the world, they can find free and unpossessed: whereas he, that has once,
by actual agreement, and any express declaration, given his consent to be of any common-wealth, is
perpetually and indispensibly obliged to be, and remain unalterably a subject to it, and can never be
again in the liberty of the state of nature; unless, by any calamity, the government he was under comes
to be dissolved; or else by some public act cuts him off from being any longer a member of it.

But submitting to the laws of any country, living quietly, and enjoying privileges and protection
under them, makes not a man a member of that society: this is only a local protection and homage
due to and from all those, who, not being in a state of war, come within the territories belonging to
any government, to all parts whereof the force of its laws extends. But this no more makes a man a
member of that society, a perpetual subject of that common-wealth, than it would make a man a
subject to another, in whose family he found it convenient to abide for some time; though, whilst he
continued in it, he were obliged to comply with the laws, and submit to the government he found
there. And thus we see, that foreigners, by living all their lives under another government, and
enjoying the privileges and protection of it, though they are bound, even in conscience, to submit to its
administration, as far forth as any denison; yet do not thereby come to be subjects or members of that
common-wealth. Nothing can make any man so, but his actually entering into it by positive
engagement, and express promise and compact. This is that, which I think, concerning the beginning of
political societies, and that consent which makes any one a member of any common-wealth.

Of the Ends of Political Society and Government
If man in the state of nature be so free, as has been said; if he be absolute lord of his own person and
possessions, equal to the greatest, and subject to no body, why will he part with his freedom? why
will he give up this empire, and subject himself to the dominion and controul of any other power? To
which it is obvious to answer, that though in the state of nature he hath such a right, yet the enjoyment
of it is very uncertain, and constantly exposed to the invasion of others: for all being kings as much as
he, every man his equal, and the greater part no strict observers of equity and justice, the enjoyment of

the property he has in this state is very unsafe, very unsecure. This makes him willing to quit a
condition, which, however free, is full of fears and continual dangers: and it is not without reason,
that he seeks out, and is willing to join in society with others, who are already united, or have a mind
to unite, for the mutual preservation of their lives, liberties and estates, which I call by the general
name, property.

The great and chief end, therefore, of men’s uniting into common-wealths, and putting themselves
under government, is the preservation of their property. To which in the state of nature there are
many things wanting. First, There wants an established, settled, known law, received and allowed by
common consent to be the standard of right and wrong, and the common measure to decide all
controversies between them: for though the law of nature be plain and intelligible to all rational
creatures; yet men being biassed by their interest, as well as ignorant for want of study of it, are not
apt to allow of it as a law binding to them in the application of it to their particular cases. Secondly,
In the state of nature there wants a known and indifferent judge, with authority to determine all
differences according to the established law: for every one in that state being both judge and
executioner of the law of nature, men being partial to themselves, passion and revenge is very apt to
carry them too far, and with too much heat, in their own cases; as well as negligence, and
unconcernedness, to make them too remiss in other men’s.

Thirdly, In the state of nature there often wants power to back and support the sentence when right,
and to give it due execution. They who by any injustice offended, will seldom fail, where they are
able, by force to make good their injustice; such resistance many times makes the punishment
dangerous, and frequently destructive, to those who attempt it. Thus mankind, notwithstanding all the
privileges of the state of nature, being but in an ill condition, while they remain in it, are quickly
driven into society. Hence it comes to pass, that we seldom find any number of men live any time
together in this state. The inconveniencies that they are therein exposed to, by the irregular and
uncertain exercise of the power every man has of punishing the transgressions of others, make them
take sanctuary under the established laws of government, and therein seek the preservation of their
property. It is this makes them so willingly give up every one his single power of punishing, to be
exercised by such alone, as shall be appointed to it amongst them; and by such rules as the community,
or those authorized by them to that purpose, shall agree on. And in this we have the original right and
rise of both the legislative and executive power, as well as of the governments and societies
themselves.

For in the state of nature, to omit the liberty he has of innocent delights, a man has two powers.
The first is to do whatsoever he thinks fit for the preservation of himself, and others within the

permission of the law of nature: by which law, common to them all, he and all the rest of mankind
are one community, make up one society, distinct from all other creatures. And were it not for the
corruption and vitiousness of degenerate men, there would be no need of any other; no necessity that
men should separate from this great and natural community, and by positive agreements combine into
smaller and divided associations.

The other power a man has in the state of nature, is the power to punish the crimes committed
against that law. Both these he gives up, when he joins in a private, if I may so call it, or particular
politic society, and incorporates into any common-wealth, separate from the rest of mankind.

The first power, viz. of doing whatsoever he thought for the preservation of himself, and the rest
of mankind, he gives up to be regulated by laws made by the society, so far forth as the preservation

of himself, and the rest of that society shall require; which laws of the society in many things confine
the liberty he had by the law of nature.

Secondly, The power of punishing he wholly gives up, and engages his natural force (which he
might before employ in the execution of the law of nature, by his own single authority, as he thought
fit) to assist the executive power of the society, as the law thereof shall require: for being now in a
new state, wherein he is to enjoy many conveniencies, from the labour, assistance, and society of
others in the same community, as well as protection from its whole strength; he is to part also with as
much of his natural liberty, in providing for himself, as the good, prosperity, and safety of the society
shall require; which is not only necessary, but just, since the other members of the society do the like.

But though men, when they enter into society, give up the equality, liberty, and executive power
they had in the state of nature, into the hands of the society, to be so far disposed of by the legislative,
as the good of the society shall require; yet it being only with an intention in every one the better to
preserve himself, his liberty and property; (for no rational creature can be supposed to change his
condition with an intention to be worse) the power of the society, or legislative constituted by them,
can never be supposed to extend farther, than the common good; but is obliged to secure every one’s
property, by providing against those three defects above mentioned, that made the state of nature so
unsafe and uneasy. And so whoever has the legislative or supreme power of any common-wealth, is
bound to govern by established standing laws, promulgated and known to the people, and not by
extemporary decrees; by indifferent and upright judges, who are to decide controversies by those
laws; and to employ the force of the community at home, only in the execution of such laws, or
abroad to prevent or redress foreign injuries, and secure the community from inroads and invasion.
And all this to be directed to no other end, but the peace, safety, and public good of the people.

Of the Extent of the Legislative Power
The great end of men’s entering into society, being the enjoyment of their properties in peace and
safety, and the great instrument and means of that being the laws established in that society; the first
and fundamental positive law of all commonwealths is the establishing of the legislative power; as
the first and fundamental natural law, which is to govern even the legislative itself, is the
preservation of the society, and (as far as will consist with the public good) of every person in it.
This legislative is not only the supreme power to the common-wealth, but sacred and unalterable in
the hands where the community have once played it; nor can any edict of any body else, in what form
soever conceived, or by what power soever backed, have the force and obligation of a law, which
has not its sanction from that legislative which the public has chosen and appointed: for without this
the law could not have that, which is absolutely necessary to its being a law, the consent of the
society, over whom no body can have a power to make laws, but by their own consent, and by
authority received from them; and therefore all the obedience, which by the most solemn ties any one
can be obliged to pay, ultimately terminates in this supreme power, and is directed by those laws
which it enacts: nor can any oaths to any foreign power whatsoever, or any domestic subordinate
power, discharge any member of the society from his obedience to the legislative, acting pursuant to
their trust; nor oblige him to any obedience contrary to the laws so enacted, or farther than they do
allow; it being ridiculous to imagine one can be tied ultimately to obey any power in the society,
which is not the supreme.

Though the legislative, whether placed in one or more, whether it be always in being, or only by
intervals, though it be the supreme power in every commonwealth; yet,

First, It is not, nor can possibly be absolutely arbitrary over the lives and fortunes of the people:
for it being but the joint power of every member of the society given up to that person, or assembly,
which is legislator; it can be no more than those persons had in a state of nature before they entered
into society, and gave up to the community: for no body can transfer to another more power than he
has in himself; and no body has an absolute arbitrary power over himself, or over any other, to
destroy his own life, or take away the life or property of another. A man, as has been proved, cannot
subject himself to the arbitrary power of another; and having in the state of nature no arbitrary power
over the life, liberty, or possession of another, but only so much as the law of nature gave him for the
preservation of himself, and the rest of mankind; this is all he doth, or can give up to the common-
wealth, and by it to the legislative power, so that the legislative can have no more than this. Their
power, in the utmost bounds of it, is limited to the public good of the society. It is a power, that hath
no other end but preservation, and therefore can never have a right to destroy, enslave, or designedly
to impoverish the subjects. The obligations of the law of nature cease not in society, but only in many
cases are drawn closer, and have by human laws known penalties annexed to them, to inforce their
observation. Thus the law of nature stands as an eternal rule to all men, legislators as well as others.
The rules that they make for other men’s actions, must, as well as their own and other men’s actions,
be conformable to the law of nature, i.e. to the will of God, of which that is a declaration, and the
fundamental law of nature being the preservation of mankind, no human sanction can be good, or
valid against it.

Secondly, The legislative, or supreme authority, cannot assume to its self a power to rule by
extemporary arbitrary decrees, but is bound to dispense justice, and decide the rights of the subject
by promulgated standing laws, and known authorized judges: for the law of nature being unwritten,
and so no where to be found but in the minds of men, they who through passion or interest shall
miscite, or misapply it, cannot so easily be convinced of their mistake where there is no established
judge: and so it serves not, as it ought, to determine the rights, and fence the properties of those that
live under it, especially where every one is judge, interpreter, and executioner of it too, and that in his
own case: and he that has right on his side, having ordinarily but his own single strength, hath not
force enough to defend himself from injuries, or to punish delinquents. To avoid these inconveniences,
which disorder men’s properties in the state of nature, men unite into societies, that they may have the
united strength of the whole society to secure and defend their properties, and may have standing
rules to bound it, by which every one may know what is his. To this end it is that men give up all their
natural power to the society which they enter into, and the community put the legislative power into
such hands as they think fit, with this trust, that they shall be governed by declared laws, or else their
peace, quiet, and property will still be at the same uncertainty, as it was in the state of nature.

Absolute arbitrary power, or governing without settled standing laws, can neither of them consist
with the ends of society and government, which men would not quit the freedom of the state of nature
for, and tie themselves up under, were it not to preserve their lives, liberties and fortunes, and by
stated rules of right and property to secure their peace and quiet. It cannot be supposed that they
should intend, had they a power so to do, to give to any one, or more, an absolute arbitrary power
over their persons and estates, and put a force into the magistrate’s hand to execute his unlimited will
arbitrarily upon them. This were to put themselves into a worse condition than the state of nature,

wherein they had a liberty to defend their right against the injuries of others, and were upon equal
terms of force to maintain it, whether invaded by a single man, or many in combination. . . . And
therefore, whatever form the common-wealth is under, the ruling power ought to govern by declared
and received laws, and not by extemporary dictates and undetermined resolutions: for then mankind
will be in a far worse condition than in the state of nature, if they shall have armed one, or a few men
with the joint power of a multitude, to force them to obey at pleasure the exorbitant and unlimited
decrees of their sudden thoughts, or unrestrained, and till that moment unknown wills, without having
any measures set down which may guide and justify their actions: for all the power the government
has, being only for the good of the society, as it ought not to be arbitrary and at pleasure, so it ought
to be exercised by established and promulgated laws; that both the people may know their duty, and
be safe and secure within the limits of the law; and the rulers too kept within their bounds, and not be
tempted, by the power they have in their hands, to employ it to such purposes, and by such measures,
as they would not have known, and own not willingly.

Thirdly, The supreme power cannot take from any man any part of his property without his own
consent: for the preservation of property being the end of government, and that for which men enter
into society, it necessarily supposes and requires, that the people should have property, without
which they must be supposed to lose that, by entering into society, which was the end for which they
entered into it; too gross an absurdity for any man to own. Men therefore in society having property,
they have such a right to the goods, which by the law of the community are their’s, that no body hath a
right to take their substance or any part of it from them, without their own consent: without this they
have no property at all; for I have truly no property in that, which another can by right take from me,
when he pleases, against my consent. Hence it is a mistake to think, that the supreme or legislative
power of any common-wealth, can do what it will, and dispose of the estates of the subject
arbitrarily, or take any part of them at pleasure. This is not much to be feared in governments where
the legislative consists, wholly or in part, in assemblies which are variable, whose members, upon
the dissolution of the assembly, are subjects under the common laws of their country, equally with the
rest. But in governments, where the legislative is in one lasting assembly always in being, or in one
man, as in absolute monarchies, there is danger still, that they will think themselves to have a distinct
interest from the rest of the community; and so will be apt to increase their own riches and power, by
taking what they think fit from the people: for a man’s property is not at all secure, tho’ there be good
and equitable laws to set the bounds of it between him and his fellow subjects, if he who commands
those subjects have power to take from any private man, what part he pleases of his property, and use
and dispose of it as he thinks good.

But government, into whatsoever hands it is put, being, as I have before shewed, intrusted with
this condition, and for this end, that men might have and secure their properties; the prince, or senate,
however it may have power to make laws, for the regulating of property between the subjects one
amongst another, yet can never have a power to take to themselves the whole, or any part of the
subjects property, without their own consent: for this would be in effect to leave them no property at
all. And to let us see, that even absolute power, where it is necessary, is not arbitrary by being
absolute, but is still limited by that reason, and confined to those ends, which required it in some
cases to be absolute, we need look no farther than the common practice of martial discipline: for the
preservation of the army, and in it of the whole common-wealth, requires an absolute obedience to
the command of every superior officer, and it is justly death to disobey or dispute the most dangerous

or unreasonable of them; but yet we see, that neither the serjeant, that could command a soldier to
march up to the mouth of a cannon, or stand in a breach, where he is almost sure to perish, can
command that soldier to give him one penny of his money; nor the general, that can condemn him to
death for deserting his post, or for not obeying the most desperate orders, can yet, with all his
absolute power of life and death, dispose of one farthing of that soldier’s estate, or seize one jot of
his goods; whom yet he can command any thing, and hang for the least disobedience; because such a
blind obedience is necessary to that end, for which the commander has his power, viz. the
preservation of the rest; but the disposing of his goods has nothing to do with it.

It is true, governments cannot be supported without great charge, and it is fit every one who
enjoys his share of the protection, should pay out of his estate his proportion for the maintenance of it.
But still it must be with his own consent, i.e. the consent of the majority, giving it either by
themselves, or their representatives chosen by them: for if any one shall claim a power to lay and
levy taxes on the people, by his own authority, and without such consent of the people, he thereby
invades the fundamental law of property, and subverts the end of government: for what property
have I in that, which another may by right take, when he pleases, to himself?

Fourthly, The legislative cannot transfer the power of making laws to any other hands: for it
being but a delegated power from the people, they who have it cannot pass it over to others. The
people alone can appoint the form of the commonwealth, which is by constituting the legislative, and
appointing in whose hands that shall be. And when the people have said, We will submit to rules, and
be governed by laws made by such men, and in such forms, no body else can say other men shall make
laws for them; nor can the people be bound by any laws, but such as are enacted by those whom they
have chosen, and authorized to make laws for them. The power of the legislative, being derived from
the people by a positive voluntary grant and institution, can be no other than what that positive grant
conveyed, which being only to make laws, and not to make legislators, the legislative can have no
power to transfer their authority of making laws, and place it in other hands.

These are the bounds which the trust, that is put in them by the society, and the law of God and
nature, have set to the legislative power of every common-wealth, in all forms of government.

First, They are to given by promulgated established laws, not to be varied in particular cases, but
to have one rule for rich and poor, for the favourite at court, and the country man at plough.

Secondly, These laws also ought to be designed for no other end ultimately, but the good of the
people.

Thirdly, They must not raise taxes on the property of the people, without the consent of the
people, given by themselves, or their deputies. And this properly concerns only such governments
where the legislative is always in being, or at least where the people have not reserved any part of
the legislative to deputies, to be from time to time chosen by themselves.

Fourthly, The legislative neither must nor can transfer the power of making laws to any body
else, or place it any where, but where the people have.

Of the Legislative, Executive, and Federative Power of the Common-wealth

The legislative power is that, which has a right to direct how the force of the common-wealth shall
be employed for preserving the community and the members of it. But because those laws which are

constantly to be executed, and whose force is always to continue, may be made in a little time;
therefore there is no need, that the legislative should be always in being, not having always business
to do. And because it may be too great a temptation to human frailty, apt to grasp at power, for the
same persons, who have the power of making laws, to have also in their hands the power to execute
them, whereby they may exempt themselves from obedience to the laws they make, and suit the law,
both in its making, and execution, to their own private advantage, and thereby come to have a distinct
interest from the rest of the community, contrary to the end of society and government: therefore in
well-ordered common-wealths, where the good of the whole is so considered, as it ought, the
legislative power is put into the hands of divers persons, who duly assembled, have by themselves,
or jointly with others, a power to make laws, which when they have done, being separated again, they
are themselves subject to the laws they have made; which is a new and near tie upon them, to take
care, that they make them for the public good.

But because the laws, that are at once, and in a short time made, have a constant and lasting force,
and need a perpetual execution, or an attendance thereunto; therefore it is necessary there should be a
power always in being, which should see to the execution of the laws that are made, and remain in
force. And thus the legislative and executive power come often to be separated.

There is another power in every common-wealth, which one may call natural, because it is that
which answers to the power every man naturally had before he entered into society: for though in a
common-wealth the members of it are distinct persons still in reference to one another, and as such
are governed by the laws of the society; yet in reference to the rest of mankind, they make one body,
which is, as every member of it before was, still in the state of nature with the rest of mankind. Hence
it is, that the controversies that happen between any man of the society with those that are out of it, are
managed by the public; and an injury done to a member of their body, engages the whole in the
reparation of it. So that under this consideration, the whole community is one body in the state of
nature, in respect of all other states or persons out of its community.

This therefore contains the power of war and peace, leagues and alliances, and all the
transactions, with all persons and communities without the commonwealth, and may be called
Federative, if one pleases. So the thing be understood, I am indifferent as to the name.

These two powers, executive and federative, though they be really distinct in themselves, yet one
comprehending the execution of the municipal laws of the society within its self, upon all that are
parts of it; the other the management of the security and interest of the public without, with all those
that it may receive benefit or damage from, yet they are always almost united. And though this
federative power in the well or ill management of it be of great moment to the commonwealth, yet it
is much less capable to be directed by antecedent, standing, positive laws, than the executive; and so
must necessarily be left to the prudence and wisdom of those, whose hands it is in, to be managed for
the public good: for the laws that concern subjects one amongst another, being to direct their actions,
may well enough precede them. But what is to be done in reference to foreigners, depending much
upon their actions, and the variation of designs and interests, must be left in great part to the prudence
of those, who have this power committed to them, to be managed by the best of their skill, for the
advantage of the commonwealth. . . .

Of the Subordination of the Powers of the Common-wealth

Though in a constituted common-wealth, standing upon its own basis, and acting according to its own
nature, that is, acting for the preservation of the community, there can be but one supreme power,
which is the legislative, to which all the rest are and must be subordinate, yet the legislative being
only a fiduciary power to act for certain ends, there remains still in the people a supreme power to
remove or alter the legislative, when they find the legislative act contrary to the trust reposed in
them: for all power given with trust for the attaining an end, being limited by that end, whenever that
end is manifestly neglected, or opposed, the trust must necessarily be forfeited, and the power
devolve into the hands of those that gave it, who may place it anew where they shall think best for
their safety and security. And thus the community perpetually retains a supreme power of saving
themselves from the attempts and designs of any body, even of their legislators, whenever they shall
be so foolish, or so wicked, as to lay and carry on designs against the liberties and properties of the
subject: for no man or society of men, having a power to deliver up their preservation, or
consequently the means of it, to the absolute will and arbitrary dominion of another; when ever any
one shall go about to bring them into such a slavish condition, they will always have a right to
preserve, what they have not a power to part with; and to rid themselves of those, who invade this
fundamental, sacred, and unalterable law of self-preservation, for which they entered into society.
And thus the community may be said in this respect to be always the supreme power, but not as
considered under any form of government, because this power of the people can never take place till
the government be dissolved.

In all cases, whilst the government subsists, the legislative is the supreme power; for what can
give laws to another, must needs be superior to him; and since the legislative is no otherwise
legislative of the society, but by the right it has to make laws for all the parts, and for every member
of the society, prescribing rules to their actions, and giving power of execution, where they are
transgressed, the legislative must needs be the supreme, and all other powers, in any members or
parts of the society, derived from and subordinate to it. . . .

Of Tyranny

As usurpation is the exercise of power, which another hath a right to; so tyranny is the exercise of
power beyond right, which no body can have a right to. And this is making use of the power any one
has in his hands, not for the good of those who are under it, but for his own private separate
advantage. When the governor, however intitled, makes not the law, but his will, the rule; and his
commands and actions are not directed to the preservation of the properties of his people, but the
satisfaction of his own ambition, revenge, covetousness, or any other irregular passion.

If one can doubt this to be truth, or reason, because it comes from the obscure hand of a subject, I
hope the authority of a king will make it pass with him. King James the first, in his speech to the
parliament, 1603, tells them thus, I will ever prefer the weal of the public, and of the whole
commonwealth, in making of good laws and constitutions, to any particular and private ends of
mine; thinking ever the wealth and weal of the commonwealth to be my greatest weal and worldly
felicity; a point wherein a lawful king doth directly differ from a tyrant: for I do acknowledge, that
the special and greatest point of difference that is between a rightful king and an usurping tyrant,
is this, that whereas the proud and ambitious tyrant doth think his kingdom and people are only
ordained for satisfaction of his desires and unreasonable appetites, the righteous and just king
doth by the contrary acknowledge himself to be ordained for the procuring of the wealth and
property of his people. And again, in his speech to the parliament, 1609, he hath these words, The
king binds himself by a double oath, to the observation of the fundamental laws of his kingdom;
tacitly, as by being a king, and so bound to protect as well the people, as the laws of his kingdom;
and expressly, by his oath at his coronation; so as every just king, in a settled kingdom, is bound to
observe that action made to his people, by his laws, in framing his government agreeable
thereunto, according to that paction which God made with Noah after the deluge. Hereafter, seed-
time and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night, shall not cease
while the earth remaineth. And therefore a king governing in a settled kingdom, leaves to be a
king, and degenerates into a tyrant, as soon as he leaves off to rule according to his laws. And a
little after, Therefore all kings that are not tyrants, or perjured, will be glad to bound themselves
within the limits of their laws; and they that persuade them the contrary, are vipers, and pests both
against them and the commonwealth. Thus that learned king, who well understood the notion of
things, makes the difference betwixt a king and a tyrant to consist only in this, that one makes the
laws the bounds of his power, and the good of the public, the end of his government; the other makes
all give way to his own will and appetite.

It is a mistake, to think this fault is proper only to monarchies; other forms of government are
liable to it, as well as that: for wherever the power, that is put in any hands for the government of the
people, and the preservation of their properties, is applied to other ends, and made use of to
impoverish, harass, or subdue them to the arbitrary and irregular commands of those that have it; there
it presently becomes tyranny, whether those that thus use it are one or many. . . .

Where-ever law ends, tyranny begins, if the law be transgressed to another’s harm; and
whosoever in authority exceeds the power given him by the law, and makes use of the force he has
under his command, to compass that upon the subject, which the law allows not, ceases in that to be a
magistrate; and, acting without authority, may be opposed, as any other man, who by force invades the
right of another. This is acknowledged in subordinate magistrates. He that hath authority to seize my

person in the street, may be opposed as a thief and a robber, if he endeavours to break into my house
to execute a writ, notwithstanding that I know he has such a warrant, and such a legal authority, as
will impower him to arrest me abroad. And why this should not hold in the highest, as well as in the
most inferior magistrate, I would gladly be informed. Is it reasonable, that the eldest brother, because
he has the greatest part of his father’s estate, should thereby have a right to take away any of his
younger brothers portions? or that a rich man, who possessed a whole country, should from thence
have a right to seize, when he pleased, the cottage and garden of his poor neighbour? The being
rightfully possessed of great power and riches, exceedingly beyond the greatest part of the sons of
Adam, is so far from being an excuse, much less a reason, for rapine and oppression, which the
endamaging another without authority is, that it is a great aggravation of it: for the exceeding the
bounds of authority is no more a right in a great, than in a petty officer; no more justifiable in a king
than a constable; but is so much the worse in him, in that he has more trust put in him, has already a
much greater share than the rest of his brethren, and is supposed, from the advantages of his
education, employment, and counsellors, to be more knowing in the measures of right and wrong.

May the commands then of a prince be opposed? may he be resisted as often as any one shall find
himself aggrieved, and but imagine he has not right done him? This will unhinge and overturn all
polities, and instead of government and order, leave nothing but anarchy and confusion.

To this I answer, that force is to be opposed to nothing, but to unjust and unlawful force; whoever
makes any opposition in any other case, draws on himself a just condemnation both from God and
man; and so no such danger or confusion will follow. . . .

Of the Dissolution of Government

He that will with any clearness speak of the dissolution of government, ought in the first place to
distinguish between the dissolution of the society and the dissolution of the government. That which
makes the community, and brings men out of the loose state of nature, into one politic society, is the
agreement which every one has with the rest to incorporate, and act as one body, and so be one
distinct common-wealth. The usual, and almost only way whereby this union is dissolved, is the
inroad of foreign force making a conquest upon them: for in that case, (not being able to maintain and
support themselves, as one entire and independent body) the union belonging to that body which
consisted therein, must necessarily cease, and so every one return to the state he was in before, with a
liberty to shift for himself, and provide for his own safety, as he thinks fit, in some other society.
Whenever the society is dissolved, it is certain the government of that society cannot remain. Thus
conquerors swords often cut up governments by the roots, and mangle societies to pieces, separating
the subdued or scattered multitude from the protection of, and dependence on, that society which
ought to have preserved them from violence. The world is too well instructed in, and too forward to
allow of, this way of dissolving of governments, to need any more to be said of it; and there wants not
much argument to prove, that where the society is dissolved, the government cannot remain; that being
as impossible, as for the frame of an house to subsist when the materials of it are scattered and
dissipated by a whirl-wind, or jumbled into a confused heap by an earthquake.

Besides this over-turning from without, governments are dissolved from within, First, When the
legislative is altered. Civil society being a state of peace, amongst those who are of it, from whom
the state of war is excluded by the umpirage, which they have provided in their legislative, for the
ending all differences that may arise amongst any of them, it is in their legislative, that the members of
a common-wealth are united, and combined together into one coherent living body. This is the soul
that gives form, life, and unity, to the common-wealth: from hence the several members have their
mutual influence, sympathy, and connexion: and therefore, when the legislative is broken, or
dissolved, dissolution and death follows: for the essence and union of the society consisting in
having one will, the legislative, when once established by the majority, has the declaring, and as it
were keeping of that will. The constitution of the legislative is the first and fundamental act of
society, whereby provision is made for the continuation of their union, under the direction of
persons, and bonds of laws, made by persons authorized thereunto, by the consent and appointment of
the people, without which no one man, or number of men, amongst them, can have authority of making
laws that shall be binding to the rest. When any one, or more, shall take upon them to make laws,
whom the people have not appointed so to do, they make laws without authority, which the people are
not therefore bound to obey; by which means they come again to be out of subjection, and may
constitute to themselves a new legislative, as they think best, being in full liberty to resist the force of
those, who without authority would impose any thing upon them. Every one is at the disposure of his
own will, when those who had, by the delegation of the society, the declaring of the public will, are
excluded from it, and others usurp the place, who have no such authority or delegation.

This being usually brought about by such in the common-wealth who misuse the power they have;
it is hard to consider it a right, and know at whose door to lay it, without knowing the form of
government in which it happens. Let us suppose then the legislative placed in the concurrence of three
distinct persons.

1. A single hereditary person, having the constant, supreme, executive power, and with it the power of convoking and
dissolving the other two within certain periods of time.

2. An assembly of hereditary nobility.
3. An assembly of representatives chosen, pro tempore, by the people. Such a form of government supposed, it is evident,

First, That when such a single person, or prince, sets up his own arbitrary will in place of the
laws, which are the will of the society, declared by the legislative, then the legislative is changed:
for that being in effect the legislative, whose rules and laws are put in execution, and required to be
obeyed; when other laws are set up, and other rules pretended, and inforced, than what the legislative,
constituted by the society, have enacted, it is plain that the legislative is changed. Whoever
introduces new laws, not being thereunto authorized by the fundamental appointment of the society, or
subverts the old, disowns and overturns the power by which they were made, and so sets up a new
legislative.

Secondly, When the prince hinders the legislative from assembling in its due time, or from acting
freely, pursuant to those ends for which it was constituted, the legislative is altered: for it is not a
certain number of men, no, nor their meeting, unless they have also freedom of debating, and leisure
of perfecting, what is for the good of the society, wherein the legislative consists: when these are
taken away or altered, so as to deprive the society of the due exercise of their power, the legislative
is truly altered; for it is not names that constitute governments, but the use and exercise of those
powers that were intended to accompany them; so that he, who takes away the freedom, or hinders the
acting of the legislative in its due seasons, in effect takes away the legislative, and puts an end to the
government.

Thirdly, When, by the arbitrary power of the prince, the electors, or ways of election, are altered,
without the consent, and contrary to the common interest of the people, there also the legislative is
altered: for, if others than those whom the society hath authorized thereunto, do chuse, or in another
way than what the society hath prescribed, those chosen are not the legislative appointed by the
people.

Fourthly, The delivery also of the people into the subjection of a foreign power, either by the
prince, or by the legislative, is certainly a change of the legislative, and so a dissolution of the
government: for the end why people entered into society being to be preserved one intire, free,
independent society, to be governed by its own laws; this is lost, whenever they are given up into the
power of another.

Why, in such a constitution as this, the dissolution of the government in these cases is to be
imputed to the prince, is evident; because he, having the force, treasure and offices of the state to
employ, and often persuading himself, or being flattered by others, that as supreme magistrate he is
uncapable of controul; he alone is in a condition to make great advances toward such changes, under
pretence of lawful authority, and has it in his hands to terrify or suppress opposers, as factious,
seditious, and enemies to the government: whereas no other part of the legislative, or people, is
capable by themselves to attempt any alteration of the legislative, without open and visible rebellion,
apt enough to be taken notice of, which, when it prevails, produces effects very little different from
foreign conquest. Besides, the prince in such a form of government, having the power of dissolving
the other parts of the legislative, and thereby rendering them private persons, they can never in
opposition to him, or without his concurrence, alter the legislative by a law, his consent being
necessary to give any of their decrees that sanction. But yet, so far as the other parts of the legislative

any way contribute to any attempt upon the government, and do either promote, or not, what lies in
them, hinder such designs, they are guilty, and partake in this, which is certainly the greatest crime
men can be guilty of one towards another.

There is one way more whereby such a government may be dissolved, and that is, when he who
has the supreme executive power, neglects and abandons that charge, so that the laws already made
can no longer be put in execution. This is demonstratively to reduce all to anarchy, and so effectually
to dissolve the government: for laws not being made for themselves, but to be, by their execution, the
bonds of the society, to keep every part of the body politic in its due place and function; when that
totally ceases, the government visibly ceases, and the people become a confused multitude, without
order or connexion. Where there is no longer the administration of justice, for the securing of men’s
rights, nor any remaining power within the community to direct the force, or provide for the
necessities of the public, there certainly is no government left. Where the laws cannot be executed, it
is all one as if there were no laws; and a government without laws is, I suppose, a mystery in politics,
unconceivable to human capacity, and inconsistent with human society.

In these and the like cases, when the government is dissolved, the people are at liberty to provide
for themselves, by erecting a new legislative, differing from the other, by the change of persons, or
form, or both, as they shall find it most for their safety and good: for the society can never, by the fault
of another, lose the native and original right it has to preserve itself, which can only be done by a
settled legislative, and a fair and impartial execution of the laws made by it. But the state of mankind
is not so miserable that they are not capable of using this remedy, till it be too late to look for any. To
tell people they may provide for themselves, by erecting a new legislative, when by oppression,
artifice, or being delivered over to a foreign power, their old one is gone, is only to tell them, they
may expect relief when it is too late, and the evil is past cure. This is in effect no more than to bid
them first be slaves, and then to take care of their liberty; and when their chains are on, tell them, they
may act like freemen. This, if barely so, is rather mockery than relief; and men can never be secure
from tyranny, if there be no means to escape it till they are perfectly under it: and therefore it is, that
they have not only a right to get out of it, but to prevent it.

There is therefore, secondly, another way whereby governments are dissolved, and that is, when
the legislative, or the prince, either of them, act contrary to their trust.

First, The legislative acts against the trust reposed in them, when they endeavour to invade the
property of the subject, and to make themselves, or any part of the community, masters, or arbitrary
disposers of the lives, liberties, or fortunes of the people.

The reason why men enter into society, is the preservation of their property; and the end why they
chuse and authorize a legislative, is, that there may be laws made, and rules set, as guards and fences
to the properties of all the members of the society, to limit the power, and moderate the dominion, of
every part and member of the society: for since it can never be supposed to be the will of the society,
that the legislative should have a power to destroy that which every one designs to secure, by entering
into society, and for which the people submitted themselves to legislators of their own making;
whenever the legislators endeavour to take away, and destroy the property of the people, or to
reduce them to slavery under arbitrary power, they put themselves into a state of war with the people,
who are thereupon absolved from any farther obedience, and are left to the common refuge, which
God hath provided for all men, against force and violence. Whensoever therefore the legislative shall
transgress this fundamental rule of society; and either by ambition, fear, folly or corruption,

endeavour to grasp themselves, or put into the hands of any other, an absolute power over the
lives, liberties, and estates of the people; by this breach of trust they forfeit the power the people had
put into their hands for quite contrary ends, and it devolves to the people, who have a right to resume
their original liberty, and, by the establishment of a new legislative (such as they shall think fit)
provide for their own safety and security, which is the end for which they are in society. What I have
said here, concerning the legislative in general, holds true also concerning the supreme executor, who
having a double trust put in him, both to have a part in the legislative, and the supreme execution of
the law, acts against both, when he goes about to set up his own arbitrary will as the law of the
society. He acts also contrary to his trust, when he either employs the force, treasure, and offices of
the society, to corrupt the representatives, and gain them to his purposes; or openly preengages the
electors, and prescribes to their choice, such, whom he has, by sollicitations, threats, promises, or
otherwise, won to his designs; and employs them to bring in such, who have promised before-hand
what to vote, and what to enact. Thus to regulate candidates and electors, and new-model the ways of
election, what is it but to cut up the government by the roots, and poison the very fountain of public
security? for the people having reserved to themselves the choice of their representatives, as the
fence to their properties, could do it for no other end, but that they might always be freely chosen, and
so chosen, freely act, and advise, as the necessity of the common-wealth, and the public good should,
upon examination, and mature debate, be judged to require. This, those who give their votes before
they hear the debate, and have weighed the reasons on all sides, are not capable of doing. To prepare
such an assembly as this, and endeavour to set up the declared abettors of his own will, for the true
representatives of the people, and the lawmakers of the society, is certainly as great a breach of
trust, and as perfect a declaration of a design to subvert the government, as is possible to be met
with. To which, if one shall add rewards and punishments visibly employed to the same end, and all
the arts of perverted law made use of, to take off and destroy all that stand in the way of such a
design, and will not comply and consent to betray the liberties of their country, it will be past doubt
what is doing. What power they ought to have in the society, who thus employ it contrary to the trust
went along with it in its first institution, is easy to determine; and one cannot but see, that he, who has
once attempted any such thing as this, cannot any longer be trusted.

To this perhaps it will be said, that the people being ignorant, and always discontented, to lay the
foundation of government in the unsteady opinion and uncertain humour of the people, is to expose it
to certain ruin; and no government will be able long to subsist, if the people may set up a new
legislative, whenever they take offence at the old one. To this I answer, Quite the contrary. People are
not so easily got out of their old forms, as some are apt to suggest. They are hardly to be prevailed
with to amend the acknowledged faults in the frame they have been accustomed to. And if there be any
original defects, or adventitious ones introduced by time, or corruption; it is not an easy thing to get
them changed, even when all the world sees there is an opportunity for it. This slowness and aversion
in the people to quit their old constitutions, has, in the many revolutions which have been seen in this
kingdom, in this and former ages, still kept us to, or, after some interval of fruitless attempts, still
brought us back again to our old legislative of king, lords and commons: and whatever provocations
have made the crown be taken from some of our princes heads, they never carried the people so far as
to place it in another line.

But it will be said, this hypothesis lays a ferment for frequent rebellion. To which I answer,

First, No more than any other hypothesis: for when the people are made miserable, and find
themselves exposed to the ill usage of arbitrary power, cry up their governors, as much as you will,
for sons of Jupiter; let them be sacred and divine, descended, or authorized from heaven; give them
out for whom or what you please, the same will happen. The people generally ill treated, and
contrary to right, will be ready upon any occasion to ease themselves of a burden that sits heavy upon
them. They will wish, and seek for the opportunity, which in the change, weakness and accidents of
human affairs, seldom delays long to offer itself. He must have lived but a little while in the world,
who has not seen examples of this in his time; and he must have read very little, who cannot produce
examples of it in all sorts of governments in the world.

Secondly, I answer, such revolutions happen not upon every little mismanagement in public
affairs. Great mistakes in the ruling part, many wrong and inconvenient laws, and all the slips of
human frailty, will be born by the people without mutiny or murmur. But if a long train of abuses,
prevarications and artifices, all tending the same way, make the design visible to the people, and they
cannot but feel what they lie under, and see whither they are going; it is not to be wondered, that they
should then rouze themselves, and endeavour to put the rule into such hands which may secure to them
the ends for which government was at first erected; and without which, ancient names, and specious
forms, are so far from being better, that they are much worse, than the state of nature, or pure anarchy;
the inconveniencies being all as great and as near, but the remedy farther off and more difficult.

Thirdly, I answer, that this doctrine of a power in the people of providing for their safety a-new,
by a new legislative, when their legislators have acted contrary to their trust, by invading their
property, is the best fence against rebellion, and the probablest means to hinder it: for rebellion
being an opposition, not to persons, but authority, which is founded only in the constitutions and laws
of the government; those, whoever they be, who by force break through, and by force justify their
violation of them, are truly and properly rebels: for when men, by entering into society and civil-
government, have excluded force, and introduced laws for the preservation of property, peace, and
unity amongst themselves, those who set up force again in opposition to the laws, do rebellare, that is,
bring back again the state of war, and are properly rebels: which they who are in power (by the
pretence they have to authority, the temptation of force they have in their hands, and the flattery of
those about them) being likeliest to do; the properest way to prevent the evil, is to shew them the
danger and injustice of it, who are under the greatest temptation to run into it.

In both the fore-mentioned cases, when either the legislative is changed, or the legislators act
contrary to the end for which they were constituted; those who are guilty are guilty of rebellion: for if
any one by force takes away the established legislative of any society, and the laws by them made,
pursuant to their trust, he thereby takes away the umpirage, which every one had consented to, for a
peaceable decision of all their controversies, and a bar to the state of war amongst them. They, who
remove, or change the legislative, take away this decisive power, which no body can have, but by the
appointment and consent of the people; and so destroying the authority which the people did, and no
body else can set up, and introducing a power which the people hath not authorized, they actually
introduce a state of war, which is that of force without authority: and thus, by removing the
legislative established by the society (in whose decisions the people acquiesced and united, as to that
of their own will) they untie the knot, and expose the people a-new to the state of war. And if those,
who by force take away the legislative, are rebels, the legislators themselves, as has been shewn, can
be no less esteemed so; when they, who were set up for the protection, and preservation of the

people, their liberties and properties, shall by force invade and endeavour to take them away; and so
they putting themselves into a state of war with those who made them the protectors and guardians of
their peace, are properly, and with the greatest aggravation, rebellantes, rebels.

But if they, who say it lays a foundation for rebellion, mean that it may occasion civil wars, or
intestine broils, to tell the people they are absolved from obedience when illegal attempts are made
upon their liberties or properties, and may oppose the unlawful violence of those who were their
magistrates, when they invade their properties contrary to the trust put in them; and that therefore this
doctrine is not to be allowed, being so destructive to the peace of the world: they may as well say,
upon the same ground, that honest men may not oppose robbers or pirates, because this may occasion
disorder or bloodshed. If any mischief come in such cases, it is not to be charged upon him who
defends his own right, but on him that invades his neighbours. If the innocent honest man must quietly
quit all he has, for peace sake, to him who will lay violent hands upon it, I desire it may be
considered, what a kind of peace there will be in the world, which consists only in violence and
rapine; and which is to be maintained only for the benefit of robbers and oppressors. Who would not
think it an admirable peace betwix the mighty and the mean, when the lamb, without resistance,
yielded his throat to be torn by the imperious wolf? Polyphemus’s den gives us a perfect pattern of
such a peace, and such a government, wherein Ulysses and his companions had nothing to do, but
quietly to suffer themselves to be devoured. And no doubt Ulysses, who was a prudent man, preached
up passive obedience, and exhorted them to a quiet submission, by representing to them of what
concernment peace was to mankind; and by shewing the inconveniences might happen, if they should
offer to resist Polyphemus, who had now the power over them.

The end of government is the good of mankind; and which is best for mankind, that the people
should be always exposed to the boundless will of tyranny, or that the rulers should be sometimes
liable to be opposed, when they grow exorbitant in the use of their power, and employ it for the
destruction, and not the preservation of the properties of their people?

Nor let any one say, that mischief can arise from hence, as often as it shall please a busy head,
or turbulent spirit, to desire the alteration of the government. It is true, such men may stir, whenever
they please; but it will be only to their own just ruin and perdition: for till the mischief be grown
general, and the ill designs of the rulers become visible, or their attempts sensible to the greater part,
the people, who are more disposed to suffer than right themselves by resistance, are not apt to stir.
The examples of particular injustice, or oppression of here and there an unfortunate man, moves them
not. But if they universally have a persuasion, grounded upon manifest evidence, that designs are
carrying on against their liberties, and the general course and tendency of things cannot but give them
strong suspicions of the evil intention of their governors, who is to be blamed for it? Who can help it,
if they, who might avoid it, bring themselves into this suspicion? Are the people to be blamed, if they
have the sense of rational creatures, and can think of things no otherwise than as they find and feel
them? And is it not rather their fault, who put things into such a posture, that they would not have
them thought to be as they are? I grant, that the pride, ambition, and turbulency of private men have
sometimes caused great disorders in common-wealths, and factions have been fatal to states and
kingdoms. But whether the mischief hath oftener begun in the peoples wantonness, and a desire to
cast off the lawful authority of their rulers, or in the rulers insolence, and endeavours to get and
exercise an arbitrary power over their people; whether oppression, or disobedience, gave the first
rise to the disorder, I leave it to impartial history to determine. This I am sure, whoever, either ruler

or subject, by force goes about to invade the rights of either prince or people, and lays the foundation
for overturning the constitution and frame of any just government, is highly guilty of the greatest
crime, I think, a man is capable of, being to answer for all those mischiefs of blood, rapine, and
desolation, which the breaking to pieces of governments bring on a country. And he who does it, is
justly to be esteemed the common enemy and pest of mankind, and is to be treated accordingly. . . .

To conclude, The power that every individual gave the society, when he entered into it, can
never revert to the individuals again, as long as the society lasts, but will always remain in the
community; because without this there can be no community, no common-wealth, which is contrary to
the original agreement: so also when the society hath placed the legislative in any assembly of men, to
continue in them and their successors, with direction and authority for providing such successors, the
legislative can never revert to the people whilst that government lasts; because having provided a
legislative with power to continue for ever, they have given up their political power to the legislative,
and cannot resume it. But if they have set limits to the duration of their legislative, and made this
supreme power in any person, or assembly, only temporary; or else, when by the miscarriages of
those in authority, it is forfeited; upon the forfeiture, or at the determination of the time set, it reverts
to the society, and the people have a right to act as supreme, and continue the legislative in
themselves; or erect a new form, or under the old form place it in new hands, as they think good.

Between History and Nature: Social Contract Theory in Locke and the Founders
Author(s): Joshua Foa Dienstag
Source: The Journal of Politics, Vol. 58, No. 4 (Nov., 1996), pp. 985-1009
Published by: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of the Southern Political Science
Association
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Between History and Nature: Social Contract
Theory in Locke and the Founders

Joshua Foa Dienstag
University of Virginia

Part of the problem with the debate between “liberal” and “republican” historians of early American

political thought is the use both sides have made of a false conceptual dichotomy between “nature” and

“history” where the first is taken to be the province of liberal theory and the second belongs to republi-

canism. A careful reading of Locke’s philosophy, however, shows that his theory is carefully positioned

between history and nature. A further reading of the theoretical texts of Jefferson and Adams then

shows that these two Founders, at least, followed Locke’s theory at a very high level of detail. It is

Locke’s theory that authorizes a simultaneous claim of natural and historical rights.

O ur understanding of the political theory of the American Founders has been
impeded by a false conceptual dichotomy between “nature” and “history.” In the

polemic between liberal and republican historians for the soul of the early
American nation, it has often been assumed that the languages of “nature” and of

“history” are mutually exclusive. That is, talk of “nature” and the “state of nature”
has been associated exclusively with Lockean liberalism and an alternative vocabu-

lary founded on “history” is taken to be both wholly distinct and derived from the

theoretical sources of republican philosophy (Aristotle, Cicero, Machiavelli, etc.).

It is vexing, then, to find, as we often do, the Founders themselves speaking

blithely of their rights by nature and those by history in the same breath, as if there

were little or no tension between them. What I want to suggest here is that this ten-

sion has been greatly exaggerated, in part through a misunderstanding of Locke’s
philosophy. Although Locke’s ultimate justifications of rights clearly rely on the

state of nature, this position (as I describe in the first two sections) does not deny,
but actually authorizes, a series of historical claims.

My thanks are due to the participants in the Political Philosophy Colloquia at both Harvard

University and the University of Virginia for helping to improve this paper. I am also indebted to Chris

DeSan, George Kateb, George Klosko, Frank Michaelman, Jennifer Mnookin, and Debra Morris for

reading and commenting on earlier drafts. Thanks are also due to Charles Beitz, John Dilulio, and

Claire Laporte for putting me onto this topic, however unwittingly. The research was underwritten by
the Program on Constitutional Government at Harvard University, and I am grateful for its support

and that of its director, Harvey Mansfield.

THE JOURNAL OF POLITICS, Vol. 58, No. 4, November 1996, Pp. 985-1009

C) 1996 by the University of Texas Press, P.O. Box 7819, Austin, TX 78713-7819

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986 Joshua Foa Dienstag

It has been argued that the colonists’ understanding of Locke was rather shal-

low.’ Even defenders of the old theory of Lockean consensus only argued that the

Founders understood Locke in a “rough and ready” kind of way.2 What I hope to

show (in the third and fourth sections) is that Lockean theory was actually under-

stood in considerable detail, at least by certain important revolutionary figures. In

particular, I will be attempting to demonstrate that the American Founders en-

dorsed a special Lockean understanding of human politics as something between

nature and history.3 I have chosen, in these sections, to focus on Jefferson and
Adams. Although any selection of this kind is open to question, there is one impor-

tant reason to consider the choice of these two: their longstanding political opposi-

tion. If it can be shown that Jefferson and Adams (both continuously involved in

American politics for nearly 50 years and, for long periods, bitter rivals as the re-

spective heads of the two principal political parties of the early republic) held sim-

ilar Lockean views on fundamental questions even while they disagreed about

many particular policies, then it might be reasonably inferred that such views were

particularly influential in the period in question.

LOCKE’S POLITICAL HISTORY

Most readings of Locke depict the Second Treatise, and especially the state of na-

ture, as abstract moral argument. This interpretation has two general forms. In the

traditional secular, liberal version, it stresses the elements of liberty, equality, and
contract as ideals which find physical expression in the concept of a state of nature.4

More recent interpretations have stressed the religious roots of Locke’s thought

and the connection between his theology and his politics.5 In fact, Locke speaks

only rarely of the “foundations” of government but frequently of its “original.”

His search for the ground of government takes him back to its beginnings in time.

‘ See Bailyn (1967, chap. 2); Dunn (1969b); Pocock (1975, chap. 14, 1980); Wood (1972, passim); and

Elkins and McKitrick (1993, chap. 1).

2The phrase is Becker’s (1922, chap. 1); it also suits the approach of Barker (1948); Curti (1939);

Hartz (1955); Miller (1943); Parrington (1927); and Rossiter (1953). Baldwin (1928) shows in more de-

tail the connections between Locke and the New England clergy; unfortunately, her research on the

American side is limited to this group.

3Other recent attempts to reunite Locke and the Founders have usually rested on preexisting inter-

pretations of Locke. Thus Dworetz (1990) explicitly relies on Dunn (1968, 1969a, 1969b) while Pangle

(1988) and Zuckert (1994) rely on Strauss (1953). Less directly, perhaps, Appleby (1992, 1986, 1978)

and Kramnick (1990) have relied on Macpherson (1951, 1954, 1962) for their account of “Lockeanism.”

While the same cannot be said for the original interpretation in Huyler (1995), I cannot agree to its near-

identification of Locke with republicanism. Since my approach to Locke is distinct from all of these, so

too are my conclusions about the Americans. For a fuller discussion of this literature see my article

“Serving God and Mammon,” American Political Science Review September 1996.

4See Vaughn (1980); Seliger (1963, 1968); Diggins (1984); Kendall (1941); Plamenatz (1963). By far
the most serious case for this view has been made by Grant (1987). My objections to this view will be-

come apparent in what follows.

5See Dunn (1969a). This thesis is reiterated, with different emphases, by Tully (1980).

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Between History and Nature 987

Locke’s Second Treatise is not merely a reasoned description of sound government

but also a history of government from the earliest scatterings of humans, through

their association in a social contract, to their rebellion when the terms of that con-

tract are breached.

While it is not usually thought that Locke’s efforts in the Second Treatise consti-
tute an attempt to write a new history, supplanting existing histories of political au-

thority, it is just my argument that this is the case.6 The Second Treatise provides its

readers with an alternative to traditional narratives of royal rule. It supplies both a

rival vocabulary and a rival series of events with which to constitute history. The

state of nature is not meant merely as a physical incarnation of political ideals but

as a representation of the past more “true” than the alternatives, specifically more

true than the biblical history which derived political authority from descent from

Adam.7

The countermemory Locke proposes is not meant merely to establish abstract

propositions, but to suggest and help bring about a particular future. Such a his-

tory, if credible, reconstitutes its readers’ self-understanding with regard to their

role in politics. In Locke’s narrative, the populace are not royal subjects by nature

and history (as Filmer would have it), but, instead, descendants of those who once

stood in the state of nature (a status, as I describe below, with very different impli-

cations). If the circumstances are right, it may even be their role to revolt against a

ruler who has broken a social contract. Locke’s theory is thus a “plot” in both the

passive and active senses: it provides a record of past events, but it also seeks to di-

rect the course of the future.

The familiar story begins with God’s labor in the creation of humanity, “all the

Workmanship of one Omnipotent, and infinitely wise Maker,” (Locke Second
Treatise ?6). Because of our status as God’s creations, we are each bound to pre-

serve ourselves and, where our own lives are not at stake, “to preserve the rest of

Mankind” (Locke Second Treatise ?6). Further, we are created in such a condition

that this preservation of ourselves and others requires our labor and the use of our

natural surroundings. Fortunately this is not difficult since “God has given us all

things richly” (Second Treatise ?31, quoting 1 Timothy 6:17). Individuals create

personal property by laboring on the Earth and bringing forth its useful fruits

(Second Treatise ?45). So long as they have no means of contracting, there is little
interaction other than procreation and there are few disturbances between individ-

uals (Second Treatise ?31). Within this condition, bartering could take place, but ex-

tended associations, either economic or political, could not. This changes, however,

6This line of argument is indebted, more than anything else, to the work of Ashcraft (1968, 1986,

1987, 1992) who was the first to insist on taking seriously the historical character of Locke’s writings. In

the end, I probably go further in this direction than Ashcraft would countenance. Nonetheless, his work

has been fundamental in reversing the tide created by Strauss, Macpherson, and Dunn, all of whom in-

sisted that Locke’s history could not be taken seriously. See also, Waldron (1989) and Batz (1974).

7This was the theory advanced by Robert Filmer in Patriarcha (1640), the book Locke specifically in-

tended his Two Treatises to refute.

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988 Joshua Foa Dienstag

with the introduction of money and the contract that took place to establish it as

the medium of exchange.

Only money allows for the fulfillment of agreements to be deferred over any

length of time. Each coin is a minipledge and the fabric of society is maintained

only through the integrity of such pledges. Without money, an integrated society

would not be possible, and government, which follows upon that society, would

not be necessary. The transition from the barter economy to something recogniz-

able as yeoman or estate agriculture is encapsulated in the fifth chapter of the

Second Treatise. But far from being the climax of the argument, as many authors

have maintained,8 that section is only an overture. It introduces the theme of con-

tract and sets in motion the narrative of civil association which begins with the de-

velopment of commerce and the acquisition of property in unequal amounts.

After the introduction of nonspoiling money, people increase their holdings far-

ther than they could without such a store of value. Because of this accumulation,

for the first time, conditions of scarcity occur and this creates competition between

individuals. The disputes that arise in this competitive state vex the population,

for there is no impartial judge to enforce their contracts and secure to each the

product of his labor. A group therefore enters “into Society to make one People,

one Body Politick under one Supreme Government” (Second Treatise ?89). This, in
short, is the familiar episode of the social contract in Locke’s story. On this much,

at least, most commentators agree: The People contract to depute their right to

judge (in their own individual cases) to a central authority in order to secure their

property claims more completely.

It is rarely noticed, however, that while the broad outlines of this government

are fixed by the requirement that it uphold natural rights, the details of its design

are not. It may be a monarchy, aristocracy, or republic, just as the people like

(Second Treatise ?106). Of course, some forms (such as absolute monarchy) are ruled

out by the basic requirement.9 But the fact that Locke only rules out explicitly this
one possibility merely underlines just how wide open it is for the founders of a po-
litical society to choose their form of government. ‘0 Concomitantly, while the basic

8Macpherson began this trend and, ironically, many of those who have sought to refute him on the

subject of property follow him in this narrow path of interpretation, e.g., Tully, Vaughn, Chap. V is un-

doubtedly crucial, but neglecting the balance of the text which follows it can only result in a blindered

interpretation.

9Hence, the executive and legislative branches ought to be separate (Second Treatise ?90).

I0 This may seem to conflict with the sense of ?99 that the people give up their power to a majority and

hence that government must be democratic. However, what Locke actually seems to have in mind is a

two-stage process where a “people” first decide to constitute themselves as such and agree to invest a

government with power and then, by majority (“unless they expressly agreed in any number greater”)

decide (at what we might call the constitutional-convention stage) on a particular form of government.

This is the only way to make sense of the statement: “That the beginning of Politick Society, depends

upon the consent of the Individuals to joyn into and make one Society; who, when they are thus incorpo-

rated [my emphasis], might set up what form of Government they thought fit” (?106). Locke’s point

here is that monarchy may be perfectly legitimate so long as it is not absolute and has a democratic

“original.”

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Between History and Nature 989

rights of citizens derive from their natural property rights, other civil rights will

depend on the style of political association chosen (Essay II, 28, 2-3). These

choices differentiate one polity from another and, remarkably, allow Locke to con-

sider each almost as a private corporation within the community of mankind. Each

citizen “joins in a private, if I may so call it, or particular Political Society, and in-

corporates into any Commonwealth, separate from the rest of Mankind” (Second

Treatise ?127).

This unusual feature of the Second Treatise-that no one form of government is

explicitly singled out as best-ought to reemphasize our understanding of the

work as a narrative. If it were truly reasoning on the model of a geometric deduc-

tion (as Grant 1987 has argued), then a single conclusion would be expected. In

writing that the people may choose from a (slightly limited) variety of possible

regimes, Locke stresses the degree to which the story of government’s creation is a

contingent one. Only an actual history, not pure reason, could tell us what the peo-

ple had decided in any particular case. This is government by plot, not by proof.

This element of Lockean political theory will turn out to be very important

when we compare it with that of the Founders. The latter went to great efforts of

historical investigation in the Revolutionary period to establish just what they had,

and had not, contracted for in the way of government. That such historical investi-

gations could prove so important tells us a great deal about the theoretical frame-

work within which the Founders operated. Arguments from history can only carry

weight within a theoretical framework that accords them legitimacy. Locke’s the-

ory, as we can see, was just such a framework. His social contract is not simply an

abstract ideal which summarizes some of our assumptions about government;

rather, it is meant to be understood as an actual artifact. The form of government

specified in any particular social contract cannot be known by reason alone, but

only through an act of historical recovery which the theory authorizes. When we

see the American Founders appeal to history, then, we cannot automatically as-

sume that they do so in the spirit of republicanism. Only a careful examination of

how they use history can tell us which theoretical framework they were employing.

First, however, we must fill out the details of Locke’s framework more thoroughly.

CONTRACT, TESTAMENT, AND REVOLUTION

Government by Will and Testament

If all just political societies, in Locke’s theory, are not ruled by the same kind of

regime, the question arises of how those who have not directly consented to partici-

pation in one regime are nonetheless said to be members of it. Or rather, that ques-

tion acquires a particular urgency in these circumstances. The reason is this: any

account of a social contract faces the question of how people who have not explic-

itly agreed to the contract can nonetheless be said to be parties to it. One standard
reply is to establish that the terms of the contract are the only ones (or the “best”

ones) to which a “reasonable” person could have consented. By allowing that there

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990 Joshua Foa Dienstag

are a variety of possible, legitimate social contracts, Locke forbids himself the use

of this reply. He must therefore seek another way to join latecomers to the contract.
Put another way, we can say that the puzzle is how Locke can have his story per-

sist. The challenge is to continue the narrative of government across generations.
This Locke will do by recasting his contract-this time as a contract between the

living and the dead, which we commonly call a testament-a covenant between the

generations. Understanding the social contract as a testament is the link between
the founders of a society and its later inhabitants. While in theory, Locke says, each
individual is as free as the first generation and is not born into any political obliga-
tion, in practice the consent of the late-born to a covenant with those preceding al-
lows society to continue without interruption or continual renegotiation.

The key, unsurprisingly, is property. While no man can oblige his children to

join any political association, control over his own estate is another matter. One
holds property, Locke argues, within the laws of a particular political community
and agrees thereby to abide by the terms of that polity’s contract (Second Treatise
?120). In other words, while owning property is a natural right which government

is instituted to protect, by agreeing to join a particular political community and
enjoy its protection, the original contractors agree to all the special conditions of
government that state has. All just governments protect property; but whether
they do it as monarchies or republics is another matter. And in order to enjoy the
protection of a monarchy, say, one must consent to its mode of governance.

If, then, a later individual accepts an inheritance within a polity, Locke thinks
that person can do so only by accepting the conditions that come attached to the

property (Second Treatise ?116-7). Just as any will can set conditions for an inher-
itance which a beneficiary must meet, so too does the social contract function as
one large will for all the inheritors in its domain:

For Every Man’s Children being by Nature as free as himself, or any of his Ancestors ever were,

may, whilst they are in that Freedom, choose what Society they will join themselves to, what

Common-wealth [sic] they will put themselves under. But if they will enjoy the Inheritance of

their Ancestors, they must take it on the same terms their Ancestors had it, and submit to all the

Conditions annexed to such a Possession (Second Treatise ?73; see also ?191).

Property in the state of nature is held free and clear; within “Politick Society,”
however, an inheritance may come with encumbrances which it is the recipient’s

obligation to accept or else to forfeit the bequest. Thus, youths only come to be
members of the commonwealth as they accede to the terms of testament, “sepa-

rately, in their turns, as each comes to be of Age” (Second Treatise ? 117). 11
It is hard to imagine this system actually working in the way Locke outlines. Not

only does it leave women and children in a countryless void, but even those few

who do accept an inheritance might well be past their majority when they receive

” It seems not to have occurred to Locke that some might have considered this citizenship-by-black-

mail; or, if he considered it, he remained unconcerned with the element of coercion involved so long as

men were free to forfeit their inheritance and remove themselves to some other place. We are not owed an

inheritance by nature, he might say, and to be deprived of it in those circumstances is, therefore, no injury.

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Between History and Nature 991

it. Locke realizes this and tries to argue that conditions can be annexed to pur-

chases as well as inheritances, but inheritance remains the basic model. It may be

that his efforts to stretch the model to include purchase render it inconsistent (es-

pecially in ?120). But this does not alter the conclusion that Locke attempted to

order the continuity of government around this simple idea. He envisions the

chain that holds society together over time to be a series of contracts whereby each

generation accepts its inheritance with certain terms annexed, then engages in a se-

ries of labors and contracts to improve their own estates, only to turn their efforts

over to the next generation with the same set of conditions. We might even say here

that Locke, in the quotation above, is playing on the notion of “inheritance” so that

it includes both the wealth we receive from our ancestors and the form of govern-

ment which secures it (no small bequest if the form is a sound one).

In the latter half of the Second Treatise, Locke describes the degeneration of the

government whose creation he has chronicled. When the contract is violated by

the executive, a new situation appears. The character of the people is tested as the

rights they secured by consent come under assault. Finally, when they can take it

no longer, the people reclaim their original right to organize the government and

oust the trustee. The story ends with the remaking of government through the re-

membrance of its “original.”

Breach of Trust and Revolution

The people have their inheritance from their ancestors in the terms of a testa-

ment. While this is normally an inheritance to obedience, in special times it can be

a claim of privilege as well: “Then they may appeal, as ]7eptha did, to Heaven, and
repeat their Appeal, till they have recovered the native Right of their Ancestors”

(Second Treatise ?176). This is a key point: the people do not simply claim their own

rights-they redeem the earlier pledge of their ancestors. They reclaim what has

been held in trust for them by the government since its “original”: their right to

judge. It is not so much their material inheritance that they seek, but the less phys-

ical one embodied in the valuable words of the social contract. They reclaim their

power of judgment as a property held in trust. They seek to enforce the terms of

the testament. They not only seek justice for themselves, but redemption for their

past. They want to ensure that their ancestors did not labor in vain. The second

half of the Second Treatise thus chronicles the story of a government’s decline from

its “original” to a degraded condition. The plot is one of increasingly severe chal-

lenges to the people’s inheritance.

In the last chapter, Locke lists in more detail just what abuses constitute a breach

of trust on the part of the rulers, so that a people might be justified in revolt. When

the chain of contracts is broken by a ruler, it is up to the people to reestablish it.

Here, ’tis like, the common Question will be made, Who shall be Judge whether the Prince or
Legislative act contrary to their Trust? … To this I reply, the People shall be Judge; for who shall

be judge whether his Trustee or Deputy acts well, and according to the Trust reposed in him, but

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992 Joshua Foa Dienstag

he who deputes him, and must, by having deputed him have still a Power to discard him, when he

fails in his Trust? If this be reasonable in particular Cases of private Men, why should it be oth-

erwise in that of the greatest moment; where the Welfare of Millions is concerned … ? (Second

Treatise ?240, cf. ?171)

The language of “Trust,” which directly invokes the parallel between the “Cases”

of individuals and that of the people versus the government, links the call to revo-

lution to the narrative that Locke has developed: the King has failed to execute a

“Fiduciary Trust,” as Locke specifically calls it, to the beneficiaries of that trust

(Second Treatise ?149, 156). He must be replaced as Trustee.’2 The people should

reclaim their stolen inheritance. They should redeem the acts of their ancestors by

holding the future to the terms agreed on in the past. They must join the plot that

Locke has laid out for them and recall the memory of government’s true “original.”
If they lose this account of their past, then they will surely lose their “case” as well

and enter a future where their role will be that of a slave to the King.
To make a Lockean political claim, then, does not simply mean to appeal to one’s

rights by nature. Locke authorized a series of historical claims about the particular

forms of government for which one’s ancestors had contracted. Clearly Locke does

not use history in the same tenor as all other political theorists, but he certainly

does not avoid history as a category (pace Skinner 1969, 47). His political theory
takes a position between nature and history. It is this special position, I will argue,
that especially appealed to the Founders. When Jefferson and Adams speak of na-

ture and history in the same breath, they do so, not by contradicting themselves,

but by using both terms in a Lockean fashion.

THE FOUNDERS’ UNDERSTANDING OF SOCIAL CONTRACT

The question of man’s “natural” condition is a well-known point of divergence

between liberal and republican political theories. Liberal theories start from the in-

dividual in a relatively isolated condition; republican theories, following Aristotle

(e.g., Ethics, books 1, 3), generally suppose the natural state of the human species to

be social. This distinction should not be overdrawn: Locke, as we have seen, be-

lieved that humans would quickly learn the advantages of incorporating as a group

and would not long remain hermits. Yet the difference between the two theories

clearly has a strong bearing on the status which each accords constitutional agree-
ments. Such agreements, to Locke’s understanding, secured preexisting natural

“2On the connection of trust and testament: it was a common practice, under the English law of

Locke’s period, to set up a trust to oversee an inheritance rather than simply to bequeath the inheri-

tance. This was because there were fewer legal obstacles to such trusts. For example, since women could

often not hold property, daughters could not always be the recipients of a simple bequest but could be

the beneficiaries of a trust. Locke worked for a time at the Chancery, which was in charge of enforcing

such trusts, and would have had knowledge of this sort of arrangement in some detail. I thank Jennifer

Mnookin for the benefit of her knowledge of early English common law. There has been some debate

about Locke’s use of the term “trust.” Dunn (1984) and Laslett (in Locke 1960) have denied that Locke

uses this term in a specifically legal sense, while J. W. Gough (1956) argues a position closer to my own.

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Between History and Nature 993

rights. In a Lockean schema, therefore, constitutional agreements are, in a strong

sense, contractual agreements between theoretically independent parties. Gover-

nors hold a position similar to that of trustees and governments have a status akin

to that of corporations, i.e., their form is not predetermined but only bounded by

natural rights. Republicanism, if its difference from liberalism is to amount to any-

thing, cannot agree to these formulations. Though it can certainly accord its citi-

zens rights, it cannot concur that these rights derive from a natural condition of

solitary liberty. Republicanism can imagine a government dissolved, but not a

people. For Locke, both peoples and regimes are formed by constitutional agree-

ments. Again, these distinctions should not be overemphasized. The point here is

merely that, in their arguments for independence, Founders such as Jefferson and

Adams repeated Locke’s narrative of a society that had its “original” in a state of

nature and a contract contingent on the King’s dutiful fulfillment of the role of

trustee. Rather than emphasize their naturally social state and duties to others, the

colonists repeatedly emphasized that their society had, as a historical matter,
emerged from a state of nature and could return to such a state in the right circum-

stances. The “slavery” which the King’s actions threatened was of the sort which

Locke described; it was not that monarchical government of itself was enslaving,

rather, the King was attempting to overstep his role as Trustee and assume the po-

sition of Tyrant. In making this argument, I do not mean to deny that there were

significant differences between Jefferson and Adams. But an overemphasis on these
differences can obscure the important areas of commonality between them-and

thereby wrongly minimize the extent of agreement between the principal political

groups in the early republic.’3

The State of Nature

While the earlier historians of Lockean consensus were satisfied to proclaim a
“rough and ready” correspondence between the Founders’ political thought and

that of Locke (see note 2), such a view must strike us as unsatisfactory in the face of

the rigorous work of the historians of republicanism. Fortunately, it is within our

power to describe such a correspondence at a high level of detail. Often it is even

possible to note the particular passages of Locke that Jefferson and Adams, at least,
seem to have had in mind.

Jefferson and Adams both regularly used state-of-nature arguments in their po-

litical papers from early in their careers. Even as a lawyer in colonial Virginia,

Jefferson appealed to such positions, assuming, no doubt, that they were the pre-

vailing views of the day:

“30f course, a number of specialists on Jefferson and Adams (writing both before and after the “re-

publican” revolution) have always insisted on the “Lockean” character of their thought. But without a

careful reexamination of Locke, such statements have less weight than they might otherwise. See Koch

(1943), Malone (1948), Howe (1966), Peterson (1970), Matthews (1984), Sanford (1984), Miller (1988),

Hellenbrand (1990), Sheldon (1991).

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994 Joshua Foa Dienstag

Under the law of nature, all men are born free, every one comes into the world with a right to his

own person, which includes the liberty of moving and using it at his own will. This is what is

called personal liberty, and is given him by the author of nature, because necessary for his own

sustenance. (1904, 1:474; cf. Locke Second Treatise ?25-27)

Like Locke, Jefferson derives from this condition a right to property which is prior

to the individual’s participation in any society:

a right to property is founded in our natural wants, in the means with which we are endowed to

satisfy these wants, and the right to what we acquire by those means without violating the similar

rights of other sensible beings; that no one has a right to obstruct another, exercising his faculties

innocently for the relief of sensibilities made a part of his nature . .. (1904, 11:522-3; cf. Locke

Second Treatise ?28, 30-3 1)

More than this, Jefferson actually follows Locke’s account of property-formation
in a highly precise way. He specifically endorses the “Lockean proviso” that limits

accumulation of land to that amount whereby “as much and as good” is left over

for others.

Whenever there are in any country uncultivated lands and unemployed poor, it is clear that the

laws of property have been so far extended as to violate natural right. The earth is given as a com-

mon stock for man to labor and live on…. If we do not [provide employment to the landless], the

fundamental right to labor the earth returns to the unemployed. (1984, 842; cf. Locke Second

Treatise ?26-33)

Adams, too, subscribed to these well-known elements of the state-of-nature nar-

rative. There is a presocial condition, he maintains, which, however brief its exis-

tence, forms the basis for our claims of right, specifically our right to property.

Typically, his description of this period is more colorful than Jefferson’s:

When we take one remove from this forlorn condition [one of utter animality], and find the

species propagated, the banks of clams and oysters discovered, the bow and arrow invented, and

the skins of beasts or the bark of trees employed for covering-although the human creature has

a little less anxiety and misery than before, yet each individual is independent of all others. There

is no intercourse of friendship; no communication of food or clothing; no conversation or con-

nection, unless the conjunction of sexes, prompted by instinct, like that of hares and foxes, may

be called so. The ties of parent, son, and brother, are of little obligation. The relations of master

and servant, the distinction of magistrate and subject are totally unknown. (1851, 3:428)

Resistance to sudden violence, for the preservation not only of my person, my limbs and life,

but of my property, is an indisputable right of nature which I never surrendered to the public by

the compact of society, and which, perhaps, I could not surrender if I would. (1851, 3:438)

I say RIGHTS, for such they [the populace] have, undoubtedly, antecedent to all earthly gov-

ernment-RIGHTS, that cannot be repealed or restrained by human laws-RIGHTS, derived

from the great legislator of the universe. (1851, 3:449)

It is important to note, as well, here the historical, narrative quality of these ap-

peals to the state of nature. The first quotation from Adams, with its talk of “the

skins of beasts” and “bow and arrow” gives every indication that he too viewed the

state of nature as a real past (and not as an intellectual construct). Jefferson also
does not merely use the state of nature as a point of view from which to criticize,

but encourages the belief that it corresponds to a historical period too primitive to
have been recorded:

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Between History and Nature 995

Let a philosophic observer commence a journey from the savages of the Rocky Mountains, east-

wardly towards our seacoast. These he would observe in the earliest stage of association living

under no law but that of nature, subsisting and covering themselves with the flesh and skins of

wild beasts. He would next find those on our frontiers in the pastoral state, raising domestic ani-

mals to supply the defects of hunting. Then succeed our own semi-barbarous citizens, the pio-

neers of the advance of civilization, and so in his progress he would meet the gradual shades of

improving man until he would reach his, as yet, most improved state in our seaport towns. This,

in fact, is equivalent to a survey, in time of the progress of man from the infancy of creation to the pres-

ent day. (1903, 16:75, emphasis added)

The Reasons for Association

The manner of association also serves as a useful point of distinction between

Locke and republican theory. For Locke, as we have seen, association is technically

an open question, for republicanism it is a matter of how our natural association

ought to be structured. Adams and Jefferson take the former perspective and give

entirely Lockean reasons why a group of individuals might want to form them-

selves into a “people.” Locke argued that, once the holding of property became

widespread and unequal, disputes would develop. Individuals attempting to settle

these controversies for themselves in the state of nature were liable to do so in a bi-

ased manner which would only intensify the conflict. They would therefore agree

to establish a neutral “umpire” to mediate such disagreements and enforce natural

rights (Second Treatise ?87). Jefferson repeats this reasoning, right down to the

metaphor of “umpire”:

[Legislators’] true office is to declare and enforce only our natural rights and duties, and to take

none of them from us. No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of an-

other; and this is all from which the laws ought to restrain him; every man is under the natural

duty of contributing to the necessities of the society; and this is all the law should enforce on him;

and, no man having a natural right to be the judge between himself and another, it is his natural

duty to submit to the umpirage of an impartial third. When the laws have declared and enforced

all this, they have fulfilled their functions, and the idea is quite unfounded, that on entering into

society we give up any natural right. (1904, 11:534)14

One of the most remarkable ways in which we can see the thoroughness of
Jefferson’s views on this matter is to explore his writings to Native Americans. As

governor of Virginia and later as president, Jefferson took it upon himself to com-

pose the messages that his government sent to various tribes with which relations

had been established. In these communications, Jefferson takes it as a matter of

course that the natives exist in a state of nature. He urges them to abandon this

condition and join the European settlers in their more “advanced” condition.
These writings establish, without question, that Jefferson took the state of nature

‘4In speaking of the “duty of contributing” here, Jefferson is not departing from the Lockean model.

He is, after all, speaking here of a time after the formation of a social contract when, Locke says, taxes

and other duties (even military service) may be required from all by the vote of a majority for the pur-

pose of preserving the state (see Locke Second Treatise ?139-40). It is a recent and unfortunate descrip-

tion of such a state that sees it as anarchistic; it is a misdescription, however, which has done much to

improve the appeal of republicanism.

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996 Joshua Foa Dienstag

to be a real condition, and not a moral fable or theoretical construct: To the chiefs

of the Cherokee in 1806, he wrote:

When a man has enclosed and improved his farm, builds a good house on it and raised plentiful

stocks of animals, he will wish when he dies that these things shall go to his wife and children,

whom he loves more than he does his other relations, and for whom he will work with pleasure

during his life. You will, therefore, find it necessary to establish laws for this. When a man has

property, earned by his own labor, he will not like to see another come and take it from him be-

cause he happens to be stronger, or else to defend it by spilling blood. You will find it necessary

then to appoint good men, as judges, to decide contests between man and man according to rea-

son and to the rules you shall establish. (1984, 561)

This attitude toward Native Americans results in some rather odd dealings, since

they do not necessarily hold this view of their own condition. Jefferson scrupu-
lously insisted that land could only be taken from the Indians when it was freely

and honestly purchased; but he could not comprehend that the natives themselves

might have a rather different view of “ownership.” As a result, while staunchly de-
fending the aboriginals’ “rights” he was frequently forced to give them lessons in

these rights, in a kind of Lockean baby-talk, when they complained about en-
croachments on their land: “[To Brother Handsome Lake in 1801]: The lands were
your property. The right to sell is one of the rights of property. To forbid you the

exercise of that right would be a wrong to your nation” (1984, 556).
Adams also adopts a Lockean tone in describing the purposes of the state. In-

deed, he duplicates Locke’s radical proposition that the social contract creates, not
just a government, but a people out of a heretofore unconnected mass of individuals:

When a number of men, women, and children, are simply congregated together, there is no polit-

ical authority among them; nor any natural authority, but that of parents over their children. To

leave the women and children out of the question for the present, the men will all be equal, free,

and independent of each other. Not one will have any authority over any other. The first “collec-

tion” of authority must be an unanimous agreement to form themselves in a nation, people, community,

or body politic, and to be governed by the majority of suffrages or voices. (1851, 4:301, emphasis
added; cf. Locke Second Treatise ?89)

This is a key point in our argument that the Founders follow Locke’s state-of-

nature reasoning, not merely in a general way, but actually quite closely. For Adams
here replicates a rather complicated element of Locke’s narrative. Locke maintains

that the agreement to join as a people must be a unanimous one but that, in subse-
quent matters a majority shall have the decision (Second Treatise ?95ff.). Though

Adams was a Federalist and a bitter political foe of Jefferson’s, he was far from
agreeing with the republican view that humans are born to a social condition. In

addition, rather than basing government on a political culture framed by ethnicity,
religion, or language, he insists, along with Locke, that a people are only formed by
the contractual agreements they reach together. And he too repeats the idea that

the subject of these constitutional agreements are nothing other than the deputa-
tion of the right to judge:

For the great distinction between savage nations and polite ones lies in this-that among the for-

mer every individual is his own judge and executioner; but among the latter all pretensions to

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Between History and Nature 997

judgment and punishment are resigned to tribunals erected by the public; a resignation which

savages are not, without infinite difficulty persuaded to make…. (1851, 3:429)

Both Jefferson and Adams follow the same Lockean reasoning on the formation

of a people and a state. Starting from an account of our natural condition, they de-

scribe the value of a neutral judge to secure the natural rights to which labor en-

titles one. The next step, then, will be to see whether they both continue in a

Lockean vein when describing the state itself.

“The Sum of Good Government”

In his first inaugural address, where Jefferson said that he had no “difference of

principle” with the Federalists, he made a simple declaration of what he called “the

sum of good government”: “a wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain

men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their

own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of

labor the bread it has earned,” (1984, 494). Four years later, at his second inau-

gural, he returned to the same theme. Once again he claimed there was an underly-
ing consensus of American political principles which he summarized as requiring

“equality of rights maintained, and that state of property, equal or unequal, which
results to every man from his own industry, or that of his fathers” (1984, 522).

Jefferson had good reason to believe that he and the Federalists (particularly
Adams, whom he had replaced as president) were in agreement on the fundamen-

tals of government. For one thing, the constitution for Massachusetts, which

Adams had authored, contained a preamble which matched the tone of Jefferson’s
Declaration with great precision:

The end of the institution, maintenance, and administration of government is to secure the exis-

tence of the body politic; to protect it, and to furnish the individuals who compose it with the

power of enjoying, in safety and tranquility, their natural rights and the blessings of life; and

whenever these great objects are not obtained, the people have a right to alter the government,

and to take measures necessary for their safety, happiness, and prosperity…

The body politic is formed by a voluntary association of individuals. It is a social compact, by

which the whole people covenants with each citizen, and each citizen with the whole people, that

all shall be governed by certain laws for the common good….

All men are born equally free and independent, and have certain natural, essential, and un-

alienable rights, among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives

and liberties; that of acquiring, possessing, and protecting [their] property; in fine, that of seek-

ing and obtaining their safety and happiness. (1851, 4:219-20) ‘1

“The last paragraph is Article I of that constitution. Compare the key passage of the Declaration, as

Jefferson originally drafted it:

We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal; they are endowed by their

Creator with inherent and inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of

happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just

powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes de-

structive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new

government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as

to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. (Jefferson 1903, 1:29).

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998 Joshua Foa Dienstag

Both this statement, and that by Jefferson which it mirrors, contain a series of

Lockean claims too familiar to warrant much discussion: they claim rights from na-

ture on an individual basis; a right to property “equal or unequal” according to the

quantity of one’s labor; government by social contract; and, implicitly, a right to re-

volt to protect all the other rights. What is important to note is that these claims

were not opportunistic or made simply to serve the revolutionary moment. As we

have seen, they stand on a firm edifice of Lockean philosophy which both men sub-

scribed to at a considerable level of detail. When, late in life, Adams was accused of

not believing in the principle of equality, he defended himself by reference to this

constitution, written 35 years before. It is also notable that he too claimed that his

words represented a consensus among all Americans, just as Jefferson did. Adams
wrote of himself in the third person:

he has through life asserted the moral equality of all mankind. His system of government, which

is the system of Massachusetts, as well as the system of the United States, which are the same as

much as an original and a copy are the same, was calculated and framed for the express purpose of

securing to all men equal laws and equal rights. (1851, 6:458)

One key element in the Lockean social contract model is the designation of the
government as a “trustee,” not an equal party to the contract but a designated

executor of it. This was an argument that Adams had used as early as his “Dis-
sertation on the Canon and Federal Law” of 1765. His arguments, like those of
Locke, have, for all their revolutionary fervor, an extremely legalistic tone:

Rulers are no more than attorneys, agents, and trustees, for the people; and if the cause, the in-

terest and trust, is insidiously betrayed, or wantonly trifled away, the people have a right to revoke

the authority that they themselves have deputed, and to constitute abler and better agents, attor-

neys, and trustees. (1851, 3:456-57)16

This is, of course, the linchpin of the revolutionary argument. If the king is, in

any way, a party to the contract, then he could not be summarily dismissed: nor-
mally, one party cannot break a contract at will (that, after all, is the purpose of a

contract). That the king is not a party but an agent is, therefore, a crucial point.
Locke had pictured the state almost as a private corporation, where officers serve at
the pleasure of the shareholders. Jefferson held similarly:

when, by the exercise of these faculties, he has procured a state of society, it is one of his acquisi-

tions which he has a right to regulate and control, jointly indeed with all those who have con-

curred in the procurement, whom he cannot exclude from its use or direction more than they
him. (1904, 11:520)

[The king] is no more than the chief officer of the people, appointed by the laws, and circum-

scribed with definite powers, to assist in working the great machine of government, erected for

their use, and, consequently, subject to their superintendence … (1903, 1:185)

16The argument reappears in the Massachusetts Constitution: “All power residing originally in the

people, and being derived from them, the several magistrates and officers of government, vested with

authority, whether legislative, executive, or judicial, are their substitutes and agents, and are at all times

accountable to them” (4:224).

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Between History and Nature 999

Both passages describe the civil authorities as agents of the people as a whole.

Kings are not parties to the contract and, ultimately, have no standing to dispute

the people’s judgment of their own interests and their agents’ performance. That

Jefferson and Adams share this conception of government is clear enough. What

needs to be emphasized here is the dependence of such a conception on the

Lockean narrative which we have seen in the rest of their political theory. The

model of government-as-trustee relies on the existence of a state of nature in the

historical past. Putting something in trust requires an original condition in which

one possesses it outright. This is what Lockean theory supplied to the American

revolutionaries and what republican theory did not and cannot.

Inheritance

All that remains to complete the Lockean model sketched out above are the ele-

ments of inheritance and the right to revolt. Recall the complexity of Locke’s posi-

tion: individuals are born with natural rights; political societies are particular

structures erected to defend those rights, and are maintained through a historical

contract in the form of the trust. Thus, people do have rights both by nature and by

contract: by nature to their rights in general, by contract to particular institutions

which defend those rights. It is no contradiction, then, for the colonists to appeal

simultaneously to natural rights and historical agreements in their polemic with the

British. Indeed, Lockean theory practically requires that they do so.

Most of the statements Adams made with regard to inheritance as a political

concept concerned the American case directly. We will therefore defer a detailed
consideration of them to the next section, which considers how Jefferson and

Adams applied their broad Lockean theory to the American instance. For now we
can note that Adams spoke easily of liberty as both a natural right and a civil in-
heritance: “[L]iberty must at all hazards be supported. We have a right to it, de-
rived from our Maker. But if we had not, our fathers have earned and bought it for

us . . .” (1851, 3:456). It is one and the same thing to him to claim “original rights,
conditions of original contracts” (1851, 3:462). For Adams, these two are insepa-

rably linked, as they are in Lockean theory. We will see this position in more detail
below.

Jefferson’s thoughts on this matter require a little more attention. While few
would dispute his belief in natural rights, it may appear more questionable whether
he conceived of the form of government as something that could be handed down
from one generation to another. Jefferson is, after all, famous for saying that “one
generation is to another as one independent nation is to another” (1984, 962). Such

statements appear, at the least, to be in tension with Locke’s image of a testament
binding the generations.

The tension is genuine, but it is not so much a matter of Jefferson departing

from Locke as putting a different emphasis on Locke’s conclusions. For Locke
too had recognized the independence of one generation to next. Indeed, it was

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1000 Joshua Foa Dienstag

precisely this problem that Locke sought to overcome with his understanding of

government’s continuity as a matter of a continuing trust to the terms of which de-

scendants acceded in order to claim their inheritance. Locke’s point is not that citi-
zens are naturally bound to the institutions of their ancestors but that, by the terms

of the trust, they must agree to the system of government in order to claim the

benefits of it, including their local property holdings. This system includes the
provision that it can be altered by a majority; but until such majorities are mus-

tered to revoke or alter the trust, descendants are bound to the terms their ances-

tors agreed to. Thus Jefferson does not differ from Locke when he writes:

the child, the legatee or creditor takes [an inheritance of land], not by any natural right, but by a

law of the society of which they are members, and to which they are subject. Then no man can by

natural right oblige the lands he occupied, or the persons who succeed him in that occupation, to

the paiment of debts contracted by him. (1984, 959)

Jefferson’s point is that, in the state of nature, if one man died in debt, his debtors
could not attach those debts to his children, even if those children occupied the

same land which momentarily returned to nature upon the death of the parent.
But there is nothing here for Locke to take issue with. He too agreed that chil-

dren were naturally independent from parents and that the continuation of the

person of the deceased in the inheritor was a convention instituted to foster stabil-

ity. What really separates the two men is Jefferson’s belief that fundamental

changes in the terms of the contract will be fairly frequent (i.e., that it will not be
hard to muster a “constitutional” majority) and, that, in any case, such stability is

not of great importance. Locke’s tone, by contrast, implies that generations would
pass without any need to revise the fundamental constitutional arrangements, so

long as they were respected by all parties. While the agreements were respected, he

felt, it would be unlikely that majorities would be mustered to change them.’7

The Right of Revolution

No account of the Founders’ thinking can be satisfactory without an explanation

of the theoretical basis on which the colonists proclaimed their right to revolt. And

‘7It must be admitted, however, that Jefferson’s conclusions alarmed Madison enough that he saw fit

to remind Jefferson of the Lockean conclusions that ought to have followed, Madison felt, from his

Lockean premises. Jefferson’s position, Madison argued, left out of the equation the results of the work

done by earlier generations:

If the earth be the gift of nature to the living, their title can extend to the earth in its natural state

only. The improvements made by the dead form a debt against the living, who take the benefit of

them. This debt cannot be otherwise discharged than by a proportionate obedience to the will of

the authors of the improvements. (Madison 1953, 30)

Locke’s position, it seems to me, lies somewhere in between these two. Madison seems to believe that

ancestors could largely determine the form of later governments, while Jefferson reduces their influence

almost to nil. But both argue from Lockean premises about nature and what testament implies for gov-

ernment. Locke’s middling position is that testament gives earlier generations a means to influence

strongly what comes after them, but hardly a power to determine it wholly.

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Between History and Nature 1001

yet republican historians have not really done this. Instead they have focused on

the reasons why the colonists wanted to revolt, namely, their claim of corruption of

the English constitution.”8 There is surely a great deal of evidence for their view,

but it does not really address a further question: given that the English system of

government had been perverted, by what right can a people threatened with cor-

ruption revolt and establish a new government? 19

The great republican philosophers had little to say on this question.20 So to an-

swer it, the colonists turned, as they had all along, to Locke. All the corruption of

England would mean little to the colonists’ political situation if they had not the

natural right of trustors to revoke the authority of their agent. It is on this precise

point that Adams chose to cite Locke at length. In 1774, in his “Novanglus” pa-
pers, he quotes Locke in exactly this manner:

‘This power in the people of providing for their safety anew by a legislative, when their legisla-

tors have acted contrary to their trust by invading their property, is the best fence against rebel-

lion, and the probablest means to hinder it; for rebellion being an opposition, not to persons, but

authority, which is founded only in the constitutions and laws of the government; those, whoever

they be, who by force break through, and by force justify the violation of them, are truly and properly

rebels. For when men, by entering into a society and civil government, have excluded force, and

introduced laws for the preservation of property, peace, and unity, among themselves; those who

set up force again, in opposition to the laws, do rebellare, that is, bring back again the state of war

and are properly rebels.’ (Locke Second Treatise ?226; Adams’ emphasis]

[Adams goes on:] But it will be said, that ill affected and factious men may spread among the

people, and make them believe that the prince or legislative act contrary to their trust, when they

only make use of their due prerogative. To this Mr. Locke answers, that the people, however, is

to judge of all that; because nobody can better judge whether his trustee or deputy acts well, and

according to the trust reposed in him, than he who deputed him [paraphrasing Second Treatise

?240]. (1851, 4:84)

Here Locke, and Adams with him, is playing on the literal, etymological meaning

of “rebellare”: to “re-bellare” is to restart or bring back into existence a state of war

(“bellare” = to war). The quotation thus accuses a tyrannical Parliament of being

the true starters of the rebellion by ending the protection of natural rights that citi-

zens are due under their constitutional agreements. When a government acts “to

annul the contract on [its] part, [that] will annul it on the part of the people”

(Adams 1851, 4:16). Adams then goes on to make the technical but crucial point

about the power of the people to dispose of their agent summarily when they judge

‘8See Wood (1972, chap. 1) and Bailyn (1967, chap. IV).

190f course, it is not strictly necessary for the colonists to claim such a right if they had been willing

to do without rights-based arguments altogether. But, since we know the colonists to have had a great

fondness for asserting their rights, we ought to assume that they believed such assertions to have had

some theoretical foundations.

20At best, republican philosophers speak of “renovation,” which means restoring a state to its earlier

principles (e.g., Machiavelli 1970, 385ff.). But revolution is an entirely different matter, one on which

Machiavelli (who, of course, would never use the language of rights), for one, was hardly encouraging

(Machiavelli 1970, 398-99). While Aristotle accepts revolution as a normal species of politics, he cer-

tainly never speaks of a right to it; and he, too, holds no particularly high opinion of it (e.g., Politics,

1302a; and book V passim).

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1002 Joshua Foa Dienstag

he has violated his trust. Adams’ model of government, from its formation in a

state of nature, to its continuation in the form of a trust, to its dissolution when the

trust is violated by the trustee-all of it follows the Lockean model, step by step.

Jefferson, too, we will see below, described the colonists’ rebellion as something

that had occurred when the king put his American citizens “out of his protection”

(1903, 1:22), an act which “throw[s] back, into the hands of the people, the powers

they had delegated” (1984, 253). Even more remarkable, perhaps, is Jefferson’s de-

scription of the American Constitution itself as a similar trust, with an ultimate

right to judge reserved to the people:

the government created by this compact was not made the exclusive or final judge of the extent

of the powers delegated to itself; since that would have made its discretion, and not the

Constitution, the measure of its powers; but that, as in all other cases of compact among powers

having no common judge, each party has an equal right to judge for itself… Congress being not

a party, but merely the creature of the compact. (1984, 449)21

Thus far, I have endeavored to present the political theory of Jefferson and

Adams in isolation, as far as possible, from the specific events of colonial history,

the better to show that they held these theories in a general way. But one point
which this approach has led us to is the supreme importance of history itself in
Lockean theory. The claim of the colonists to natural rights was not meant as a

moral fable but as something deriving from their true past. In the final section, we

will see how Jefferson and Adams narrated colonial history so that it conformed to
Lockean parameters.

AMERICA’S FREE HISTORY & THE KING’S SLAVERY

Both Jefferson and Adams launched their public careers with pamphlets written

in defense of the colonists’ rights, the former with his “Summary View of the

Rights of British Americans” (1774), the latter with his “Dissertation on the Canon

and Feudal Law” (1765) and “Novanglus” papers (1774). In these writings, and

elsewhere, both made arguments to the effect that the colonists now faced a situa-
tion similar to what Locke had described in his Second Treatise. Though their his-

torical reviews are not identical, both claim that the land of the colonies had lain in

a state of nature until settled by Europeans, that the Europeans claimed a property

21 One further historical event confirms the conclusion that Jefferson, at least, saw the colonists’ chal-

lenge to the king’s authority in Lockean terms. Just prior to the rebellion, the Virginia House of

Burgesses decided on a measure, atJefferson’s instigation, to avert the conflict: the legislature decided to

appeal to Heaven. A resolution was passed appointing June 1, 1774, “a day of fasting, humiliation, and

prayer, to implore Heaven to avert from us the evils of civil war, to inspire us with firmness in support

of our rights, and to turn the hearts of the King and Parliament to moderation and justice” (1903, 1:9).

This gesture, though it was useless at the time, is very helpful to us in indicating the cast of mind of the

Virginia legislature. Fasting, humiliation, and prayer are not what republican theory normally has in

mind when it speaks of civic participation. But the gesture is eminently Lockean in its hope that an ap-

peal to heaven can avert the need for the more direct, but doubtless more bloody, appeal to the people

that must inevitably follow if prayers go unanswered (Locke, Second Treatise ?168, 240-41).

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Between History and Nature 1003

in the land through labor, that existing political structures were created by express

compact between the colonists and the king, and that the king had, in effect, dis-

solved those compacts by violating their terms through seizures of property or

threatened seizures. The colonists, under these conditions, were returned to a state

of nature and could set up what government they chose.

Jefferson

Jefferson’s “Summary View” sketches the history of the Virginia colony from the

first settlers onward. It claims that the colonists came without any assistance from

the mother country, acquiring their stakes “by the lives, the labors, and fortunes of

individual adventurers,” like the Saxons who left northern Europe for Britain

(1903, 1:186-88). The lands they took as property were “allodial possessions,” that

is, freeholds held by natural right and not feuds held at the pleasure of the king

(1984, 751). That English laws were in use in the colony was not evidence that the

lands belonged to England by nature or conquest because “they [English laws]

were expressly adopted by an act of [the colonial] assembly” in 1661 (1984, 258).22

Having emigrated and found themselves in a state of nature, they “established civil

societies with various forms of constitution, but possessing all, what is inherent in

all, the full & perfect powers of legislation” (1904, 2:112). Though still loyal, under

these new constitutions to the English king, they had, Jefferson says, their own leg-

islature and, hence, no relation to Parliament. Then came the oppression of the

colonists by the Stuart kings “whose treasonable crimes against their people,

brought on them, afterwards, the exertion of those sacred and sovereign rights of

punishment, reserved in the hands of the people for cases of extreme necessity,”

better known as the Glorious Revolution (1903, 1:188). During this turmoil, he
maintains, the colonists too broke with the Stuarts and only came under the rule of

the new government by a specific agreement (one was signed in the 1690s):

The colony [Virginia] supposed that, by this solemn convention, entered into with arms in their

hands, they had secured the ancient limits of their country, its free trade, its exemption from tax-

ation but by their own assembly, and exclusion of military force from among them. Yet in every of

these points was this convention violated by subsequent kings and parliaments…. It is unneces-

sary, however, to glean up the several instances of injury, as scattered through American and

British history, and the more especially as, by passing on to the accession of the present king, we

shall find specimens of them all, aggravated, multiplied and crowded within a small compass of

time, so as to evince a fixed design of considering our rights natural, conventional and chartered

as mere nullities. (1984, 242)

The last straw in this “long train of abuses” was the Declaratory Act, in which

Parliament declared, and the king approved, that Parliament itself had the right to

22See Jefferson (1903), at 1:187-88. Jefferson is on somewhat shaky ground here since, as he ac-
knowledges, the common law was in use before 1661. He nonetheless maintains that this required the

“consent of the settlers,” which was implicit before 1661 and explicit thereafter. Though the argument

is hardly airtight, it is interesting that the colonial assembly thought it necessary to formally adopt

English law by declaration in the mid-seventeenth century.

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1004 Joshua Foa Dienstag

legislate for the colonies “in all cases whatsoever.” To the colonists this, in effect,

meant the dissolution of their own legislatures and “too plainly prove[d] a deliber-

ate, systematical plan of reducing us to slavery.”

Shall these governments be dissolved, their property annihilated, and their people reduced to a

state of nature, at the imperious breath of a body of men whom they never saw, in whom they

never confided, and over whom they have no powers of punishment or removal … Can any one

reason be assigned, why one hundred and sixty thousand electors in the island of Great Britain,

should give law to four millions in the States of America, every individual of whom is equal to

every individual of them in virtue, in understanding, and in bodily strength? Were this to be ad-

mitted, instead of being a free people, as we have hitherto supposed, and mean to continue our-

selves, we should suddenly be found the slaves, not of one, but of one hundred and sixty thousand

tyrants…. (1903, 1:193-95)

By this “abuse of a power, trusted with his Majesty for other purpose” (1903,

1:201) the king has “forfeited the kingly office” (1904, 2:164). In effect, the king has

dissolved the trust, so that the condition of the people is now in that intermediate

Lockean stage, after they have formed themselves into a people, but before they

have instituted a system of government:

While those bodies are in existence to whom the people have delegated the powers of legislation,

they alone possess, and may exercise those powers. But when they are dissolved, by the lopping

off one or more of their branches, the power reverts to the people, who may use it to unlimited ex-

tent, either assembling together in person, sending deputies, or in any other way they may think

proper. (1903, 1:205)

Jefferson’s assessment of the situation thus makes considerable (indeed, almost

exclusive) use of the language which Locke provided. A contract in the form of a

trust, which had been duly agreed to and promulgated by his ancestors, has been

violated by a later trustee, thus threatening the colonists’ property rights and, in-

deed, the entire system of government, itself an inheritance. Jefferson does not ad-
vise that the colonists break with the king, he proclaims instead that the king has al-

ready broken with the colonists. Their only recourse, under Lockean theory, is to

form a new government, to protect against the threatened slavery.

Adams

For Adams, some minor details of the story were different, but in large part, the
narrative is the same. America, he wrote, was “not a conquered, but a discovered

country,” the king’s title to which came solely from the “labor, blood, treasure
which [the settlers] expended to subdue it to cultivation” (1851, 4:170). Like

Jefferson, he insists that the original colonists came by their system of laws only

through their own express consent:

How then do we New Englandmen derive our laws? I say, not from parliament, not from the com-

mon law, but from the law of nature, and the compact made with the king in our charters. Our

ancestors were entitled to the common law of England when they emigrated, that is, to just so

much of it as they pleased to adopt, and no more. They were not bound or obliged to submit to it,

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Between History and Nature 1005

unless they chose it…. So that our ancestors, when they emigrated … had a clear right to have

erected in this wilderness a British constitution, or a perfect democracy, or any other form of gov-

ernment they saw fit. (1851, 4:122)

Like Locke, Adams asserts that individuals in a state of nature have a wide latitude

to establish the form of government they prefer. The simultaneous invocation of

both “the law of nature, and the compact made with the king” is also in keeping

with Lockean theory since, as was discussed earlier, the latter is meant to secure the

former, while designating the particular regime that would do so.

The reestablishment of the state that Jefferson held to have occurred in the late

seventeenth century, Adams also recorded. “It ought to be remembered,” he wrote,

“that there was a revolution here, as well as in England [in 1688], and that we,

as well as the people of England, made an original, express contract with King

William” (1851, 4:114). By this contract, he argues, Parliament had no authority

over the colonies, “none at all” (1851, 4:112). Adams cites the same agreement be-

tween the Crown and Virginia that Jefferson pointed to as evidence for the under-

standing on both sides that the colonists could not be taxed without the agreement

of their own legislatures (1851, 4: 109).23 This state of affairs Adams too considered

as an inheritance for the colonists which formed the basis of their civil society until

violated by some party. In an example of this style of thinking, in 1789, Adams

looked back on his congressional resolution of 1774 and, transposing it to the past

tense, claims that it represented, and still represents, the sum of American political

theory:

That, by the immutable laws of nature, the principles of the English constitution and your several

charters or compacts, you were entitled to life, liberty, and property; that your ancestors were en-

titled to all the rights, liberties, and immunities of free and natural born subjects in England; that

you, their descendants, were entitled to the exercise and enjoyment of all such of them as your

local and other circumstances enabled you to exercise and enjoy…. These among others you

then claimed, demanded and insisted on, as your indubitable rights and liberties. These are the

principles on which you first united and then associated…. (1851, 6:278)

As Jefferson did, Adams listed the abuses of this contract, chiefly taxes, which

had caused the people to conclude that there existed “a plan to enslave them”

(1851, 4:54). This conclusion, he adds, was confirmed by the Declaratory Act,

which amounted to “the destruction of their [the colonists’] charter.” Such an act,

which makes “the people subject to the unlimited power of parliament as their

supreme legislative, is slavery” (1851, 4:54). As we have seen above, Adams consid-

ered this, and not any act of the colonists to be the true act of “rebellion”: “a man-

ifest design in the prince, to annul the contract on his part, will annul it on the part

of the people” (1851, 4:16). It was the king who had destroyed the trust and re-

introduced a state of war by attempting to establish a tyranny (1851, 4:84). Fi-

nally, that the “slavery” which the colonists feared was the same which Locke had

23 Adams is on dubious grounds here; the agreement says nothing about the other colonies.

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1006 Joshua Foa Dienstag

described is nowhere better illustrated than in “Novanglus.” For in describing

what the actions of the king threatened, Adams had recourse to a famous passage of

Locke’s:

How can a Man any more hinder himself from being persuaded in his own Mind, which way

things are going; or from casting about how to save himself, than he could from believing the

Captain of the Ship he was in, was carrying him, and the rest of his Company to Algiers [a slave

market], when he found him always steering that Course … [Locke Second Treatise ?210] (1851,
4:83)

The history of America which Adams narrates, like that of Jefferson, takes for its

fundamental outlook and terminology the Lockean account of a state of nature,

government-as-inherited-trust, and finally “slavery” as that which opposed the

second and third of these terms. Both the colonists’ fears and their hopes echoed

those that Locke had in fact described in urging an earlier revolution.

CONCLUSION

Early American political theorists were not automata who parroted the views of

any European thinker, be it Locke or Machiavelli. Nonetheless, the basic frame-

work of the political theory of Jefferson and Adams can be correctly described as
“Lockean.” It was Locke who spun out, in the most detail, an account of the

human condition between nature and history. Though humans had natural rights,

he claimed, the particular rights of any group could only be known through an act

of historical inquiry and recovery. Jefferson and Adams, in large measure, accepted

this account and simultaneously pursued a claim to liberty by nature and by his-

tory. Without a Lockean framework, this dual approach would appear, at best, re-
dundant and, at worst, contradictory.

Far from having a cursory understanding of it, Jefferson and Adams display a

striking degree of knowledge of and assent to Lockean theory, even in its more un-

usual details. Not only do they employ Locke’s description of government as a
“trustee” and “umpire,” they also endorse such particular matters as the Lockean

proviso regarding property ownership and the creation of a people through an act

of consent. More importantly, they endorse the Lockean view that natural rights

only put boundaries on the variety of legitimate social contracts and, therefore,

that some elements of a just government could be historical artifacts. Jefferson’s

and Adams’s historical claims, then, are both authorized and required by Locke’s

theory. Such claims complement (rather than compete with) those of natural right.

The detailed analysis of colonial history that each carried out and published as a

defense of revolution replicated the Lockean narrative of society and government.

We will not understand the Founders’ political theory so long as we attempt

to assign it a position according to a typology which recognizes only a “liberal-

ism” that appeals simply to natural rights and a “republicanism” within which all

appeals to history lie. The political theory of Jefferson and Adams, at least, is

best called “Lockean” when it is understood that that term connotes, not modern

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Between History and Nature 1007

liberalism (of the Kantian, Rawlsian, or Nozickian variety), but an earlier liberal-

ism which is as comfortable with history as it is with nature. While Jefferson and

Adams cannot be said to represent the whole founding generation, it is significant,

to say the least, that there were so many important areas of agreement on funda-

mental questions of political theory between the rival leaders of the “left” and

“right” in the early republic. The implication of this conclusion, however, is hardly

that American political thought is univocal. Rather, it seems more likely to me that

the thought of the Founders is not truly continuous with that of any of the major

schools of political theory popular today. Not just modern “republicans” and “lib-

erals,” but even those conservatives who claim the mantle of Locke would have

difficulty, I imagine, endorsing the Locke described here, who is neither a pure the-

orist of natural rights, nor of free markets, and possessed of some unusual views on

inheritance.

The debate about the Founders’ political theory has been animated, to a consid-

erable degree, by those who see the subject as a proxy or synecdoche for American

identity in general. But tracing the “original” of American political thought,

though it may tell us much about the sources of certain American political tradi-

tions, is unlikely to offer simple solutions to our current dilemmas. In meeting a

distant relative, one first seeks out common features and is inclined to emphasize

them-but a better acquaintance usually serves only to point out the vast differ-

ences between remote relations. The Founders’ Lockean sympathy was genuine

and remains an important and valuable element of our political culture. But our

Lockean inheritance is also perhaps stranger and less familiar to us than we are

often willing to admit-and our own historical investigations, justified as they are

by Lockean theory, may deliver to us a bequest that no side expected or desired.

Perhaps, then, rather than expecting history to settle arguments about identity, we
can begin to negotiate a more complicated, but more tenable, understanding be-
tween past and present, one where we are neither completely the creatures of his-
tory nor completely free of it; one where we neither forsake our Lockean inheri-

tance, nor mistake it for a destiny.

Manuscript submitted 3 August 1995

Final manuscript received.8January 1996

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10

Locke

History and Political Thought

INTRODUCTION

John Locke was born in Wrington, Somerset in 1632. His parents came from
Puritan trading families; his father was an attorney and clerk to the Justices of
the Peace in Somerset. If his immediate family had a modest income, he
benefited from the support of his uncle, Alexander Popham, a West Country
Member of Parliament and an influential figure in national politics, who
supported John Locke’s education at Westminster School. After Westminster
John Locke attended Christchurch College, Oxford, where he read medicine
and philosophy, and became acquainted with Sydenham, the distinguished
physician. Cranston observes how Locke, like Hobbes before him, was unim-
pressed by the scholastic philosophy that was dominant in Oxford, though he
associated with members of the newly established experimental philosophy
club.1 In the 1660s Locke wrote, but did not publish, two works; Two Tracts on
Government, a linked pair of essays arguing against religious toleration, and
Essays on the Law of Nature, a set of lectures on the law of nature, which he
gave as Censor of Moral Philosophy at Christchurch College in 1664. These
works are conservative in their support for established authority and express
standpoints at variance with his later views.2 Following a meeting in Oxford
with Anthony Ashley Cooper, later the Earl of Shaftesbury, Locke joined the
latter’s household having impressed the Earl by his conversation and medical
expertise. Shaftesbury was the leader of a section of the Whig Party, which was
opposed to Charles II, and critical of his perceived drift towards absolutism
and Catholicism. While he was connected with the Shaftesbury household,
Locke himself developed political views that were critical of the monarchy.

1 M. Cranston, John Locke: A Biography (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1985), pp. 29–46.
2 P. Laslett, ‘Introduction’, John Locke, Locke’s Two Treatises of Government, ed. P. Laslett

(Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1970), pp. 1–20.

Between 1679 and 1683 political tensions came to a head when Shaftesbury’s
faction conspired to prevent Charles II’s brother, James, an acknowledged
Catholic, from ascending to the throne. This exclusion crisis culminated in the
failure of the Rye House plot of 1683 and the aborted projected kidnapping of
James, the Duke of York. In the aftermath of the plot and the implication of
Shaftesbury and Locke in an act of treason, Locke followed the example of his
patron Shaftesbury in leaving England for exile in Holland. In Holland he
mixed with Dutch Armenian theologians and merchants, and Huguenot
refugees. Louis XIV continued to exercise absolutist Catholic power in France,
threatening Protestant states, and intensifying the disquiet amongst those in
England who opposed absolutism and Catholicism.3 Following the successful
overthrow of James II in 1688, in the so-called Glorious Revolution, Locke
returned to England and his Two Treatises of Government was published
anonymously in 1689. Locke’s Letter on Toleration was also published anony-
mously in the same year in Holland and England. Locke’s An Essay Concern-
ing Human Understanding, his most considered work of philosophy, also
appeared in 1689, and its empiricist epistemology takes philosophy to be
dependent upon observation and science.4 Philosophy, for Locke, was
assigned the role of conceptual clarification of first-order forms of knowledge,
a role which it has largely retained in subsequent analytic and empirically
minded forms of philosophy in the English-speaking world. In 1693 Locke
published a disciplinarian tract on education, Some Thoughts Concerning
Education, and two years later he composed the deistic The Reasonableness
of Christianity.5

Interest in Locke’s political thought has centred upon Two Treatises of
Government. The First Treatise is a detailed refutation of Filmer’s Patriarcha,
a royalist tract, which was republished in 1680. Critical interest focuses upon
The Second Treatise, which presents an independently formulated argument
explaining the basis of government.6 Interpretive controversy over the text
ranges over a number of fields, not the least of which has been the dating and
circumstances of its composition. It was published anonymously in 1689 and
Locke took great care to protect his anonymity.7 Laslett, an early exponent of
an historically minded Cambridge approach to the history of political thought,

3 On the exclusion crisis see J. Dunn, Locke (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1984),
pp. 31–3.

4 J. Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (New York, Prometheus Book, 1995).
5 J. Locke, The Reasonableness of Christianity, ed. J.C. Higgins-Biddle (Oxford, Oxford

University Press, 1999); J. Locke, Some Thoughts Concerning Education (New York, Dover
Publications, 2007).

6 John Locke, Locke’s Two Treatises of Government, ed. P. Laslett (Cambridge, Cambridge
University Press, 1970); R. Filmer, Patriarcha, ed. P. Laslett (Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1949).

7 P. Laslett, ‘Introduction’, John Locke, Locke’s Two Treatises of Government, ed. P. Laslett,
pp. 10–20.

Locke: History and Political Thought 197

attends carefully to questions on the text’s composition, invoking the evidence
of Locke’s diary, his engagement with contemporary texts, the circumstances
of Locke’s life, and the background contextual politics in the 1670s and 1680s.
Although definitive evidence for the text’s composition is lacking, Laslett
makes a persuasive case for identifying its composition as taking place earlier
than 1689. While Ashcraft has questioned his suggestion that a draft of some
of The Second Treatise may be traced to 1679, the argument that the overall
design and draft of the Two Treatises of Government follow the republication
of Filmer’s Patriarcha in January 1680 is generally accepted.8 The dating of the
composition of Locke’s Two Treatises of Government is not of merely anti-
quarian interest, because it relates to what Skinner would identify as its
illocutionary force. What was Locke doing in writing the text? If it is to be
seen as a response to the publication of Filmer’s text and the politics of the
exclusion crisis, then it is likely to have constituted a revolutionary interven-
tion that was aimed at undermining the prevailing monarchy, rather than
representing a retrospective endorsement of the Glorious Revolution.9

THE POLITICS OF LOCKE ’S SECOND TREATISE OF
GOVERNMENT

The Second Treatise begins by imagining men and women in a state of nature,
a condition without express government. While it is a non-political condition
it is a moral condition. Individuals in a state of nature are conceived as being
equally free, rational, and independent. They can distinguish right from wrong
and they can do so because they can discern natural law and its God-given
moral obligations. These moral obligations entail that individuals are to
respect one another’s rights to life, liberty, and property, which in Locke’s
text tends to mean material property but can refer more broadly to entitle-
ments.10 Locke observes, ‘The State of Nature has a Law of Nature to govern it,
which obliges everyone: And Reason, which is that Law, teaches all Mankind,
who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no-one ought to
harm another in his Life, Health, Liberty or Possessions.’11

The rights to life, liberty, and property serve as constraints upon the
conduct of government as well as restraints upon individual behaviour in a

8 For details of Locke’s reading of Filmer, see P. Laslett, ‘Introduction’, pp. 25–50; John
Locke, Locke’s Two Treatises of Government. See also R. Ashcraft, Revolutionary Politics and
Locke’s Two Treatises of Government (Princeton NJ, Princeton University Press, 1986), pp. 60–5.

9 P. Laslett, ‘Introduction’, pp. 46–7.
10 See J. Dunn, Locke, pp. 33–44.
11 John Locke, Locke’s Two Treatises of Government, p. 289.

198 A History of Modern Political Thought

state of nature. For Locke, individuals agree to form a political society because
there are inconveniences in a state of nature, but they are not to sacrifice
fundamental rights in the transition to government. These inconveniences
arise out of the uncertain enforcement of the law of nature, which persuades
individuals to establish a government, but the ensuing authority of govern-
ment does not legitimate transgression against natural rights. Political author-
ity for Locke is established by the consent of the people and it operates as a
form of trust whereby each individual’s right to interpret and enforce natural
law is entrusted to government. Locke, however, was mindful of the possibility
of a government abusing this trust, and he rests the legitimacy of government
on the ongoing consent of the people. He notes, ‘For all Power given with trust
for the attaining an end, being limited by that end, whenever that end is
manifestly neglected, or opposed, the trust must necessarily be forfeited,
and the Power devolve into the hands of those who gave it, who may place
it anew where they shall think best for their safety and security’ (emphasis in
original).12

While the general contours of Locke’s enterprise in limiting the power of
government are clear, the precise mechanisms of how the consent of the
people is to be elicited are less clear. For instance, the manner in which the
people are to be represented politically and the scope of the franchise are not
specified in detail. If Locke’s Second Treatise lacks detail on institutional
arrangements and presumes rather than explains the operation of government
by consent, it nevertheless expresses a cogent statement of limited govern-
ment. The authority of government is limited by its hypothetical conditions of
emergence, so that government functions legitimately only if it continues to
recognize the law of nature and natural rights. Critical debate turns upon the
extent to which The Second Treatise is to be seen either as an historical
intervention into a particular political crisis, lacking the credentials to serve
as a generic text for liberalism or as the formulation of a political philosophy
that transcends its historical circumstances. Oakeshott in his posthumously
published Lectures in the History of Political Thought contrasts Locke sharply
with Hobbes by identifying Locke as a theorist who is primarily concerned
with practical politics and the justification of political action, whereas Hobbes
assumes a comprehensive and philosophical perspective on the political.
Oakeshott imagines Locke to be an ideological thinker, whose arguments
and rhetorical strategies relate to what is at hand rather than to systematic
philosophical analysis.13

Laslett’s scholarly studies on Locke and Filmer serve to identify Locke as
operating in a specific historical context and review his thinking from an

12 Ibid., p. 385.
13 M. Oakeshott, Lectures in the History of Political Thought, ed. T. Nardin and L. O’Sullivan

(Exeter, Imprint Academic, 2006), p. 393.

Locke: History and Political Thought 199

historical perspective. The illocutionary force of Locke’s composition of The
Second Treatise is reinterpreted in terms of his intention of influencing
political events in the context of the exclusion crisis. Skinner, himself, high-
lights the ascription to Locke of historically situated ideological purposes by
recalling how his turn to Hobbes, and to the challenge of a historical explan-
ation of Hobbes’s work, was motivated by his contrary response to Laslett’s
observation that Locke’s more ideologically inspired writing was eminently
susceptible to an historical perspective, whereas Hobbes’s systemic standpoint
was a very different proposition.14 However, an historical perspective on
Locke is not the only one that is in interpretive play. Waldron, amongst
others, urges strongly that Locke offers a philosophical liberal perspective
that remains of relevance to contemporary political thinking.15 Moreover, a
recent advocate of a tough-minded form of liberalism, Robert Nozick, draws
expressly on Locke in framing a theory of rights and just property arrange-
ments.16 Nozick’s Lockean ascription of rights to individuals in a state of
nature and his justification of private property are modelled on Locke’s
theorizing. The evident relevance of Nozick’s argument to the ideological
context of late capitalist society intimates the continuing currency of Locke’s
ideas in their relation to subsequent economic and political conditions. This
relevance of Locke’s ideas, however, should not obscure how his express
intentions reflect his contemporary circumstances and do not accommodate
readily succeeding ideological debate, which is post-Keynesian and post-
Marxist, as well as post-Lockean.

A productive way of examining interpretive issues surrounding Locke’s
Second Treatise is to review Dunn’s argument in his The Political Thought of
John Locke. Dunn’s reading of Locke is expressly historical and is cited by
Skinner as a notable example of the methodology of the Cambridge School,
and so its review yields insight into the claims of this generic interpretive
perspective.17 Engagement with Dunn’s emphatically historical reading of
Locke provides a means of access into the historical context of Locke’s political
thought and affords us a perspective by which to review the status of Locke’s
theories of rights, consent, and property. Likewise, Dunn’s critique of

14 See Q. Skinner interview with Petri Koikkalainen and Sami Syrjamaki, ‘Quentin Skinner
On Encountering the Past’, Finnish Yearbook of Political Thought [Redescriptions Yearbook of
Political Thought Conceptual History and Feminist Theory] no. 6, p. 42.

15 J. Waldron, ‘Locke’, in D. Boucher and P. Kelly, Political Thinkers (Oxford, Oxford Univer-
sity Press, 2004, pp. 207–24 and J. Waldron, God, Locke and Equality: Christian Foundations of
John Locke’s Political Thought (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2002); see also
J.A. Simmons, The Lockean Theory of Rights (Princeton NJ, Princeton University Press, 1992).

16 On Nozick’s use of Locke, see T. Kenyon, ‘Locke’, in A. Edwards and J. Townshend,
Interpreting Modern Political Philosophy (Basingstoke and New York, Palgrave Macmillan,
2002), pp. 60–81.

17 Q. Skinner interview with P. Koikkalainen and S. Syrjamaki, ‘Quentin Skinner On
Encountering the Past’, p. 39.

200 A History of Modern Political Thought

Macpherson’s Marxist analysis of Locke and property enables us to assess how
an historical focus on a political thinker’s express intentions and contextual
assumptions bears upon a Marxist reading of a political thinker’s alignment
with emerging economic trends and structures.
In the Preface to The Political Thought of John Locke Dunn proclaims his

commitment to an historical interpretation of Locke, which he takes to
rule out imagining Locke’s ideas as pertaining to present-day concerns. He
observes, ‘I simply cannot conceive of constructing an analysis of any issue in
political theory around the affirmation or negation of anything which Locke
says about political matters.’18 This proclamation of an historical approach
represents an emphatic commitment to the agenda of the Cambridge School
in concentrating on explaining past political thought by reference to past
contexts rather than invoking past ideas to serve current political agendas.
Its challenging rhetoric, however, has been challenged, and not least by Dunn
himself, who has been forthright in his self-criticism. He confesses subse-
quently, ‘The sentence was intended, plainly enough as a challenge—perhaps
even almost as a boast. It was certainly not intended as it now dispiritingly
reads, as a ludicrous confession of intellectual myopia.’19 In retracting the
statement Dunn explains it to have been inspired by a legitimate yet misplaced
concern to read texts holistically so as to avoid extracting doctrines for present
purposes from an overall historical argument the general character of which is
shaped by historical circumstances.20

In retrospect Dunn continues to maintain that much of Locke’s theologic-
ally oriented argument remains of little relevance to a more secular society but
he does allow that Locke’s contractarian approach has something to offer,
particularly in pointing to the role of trust in establishing viable political
arrangements.21 In his essay, ‘ “Trust” in the Politics of John Locke’, he urges
the relevance of Locke’s recognition of the rationality of trust in the operation
of politics, though he specifies that this relevance is indirect in that his express
arguments are related closely to contemporary circumstances. Dunn observes,
‘To discuss Locke in this fashion is not to argue that today we should espouse
all—or any—of Locke’s own detailed conceptions, but it is implicitly to suggest
that we have good reason to treat his political philosophy as exemplary . . . ’.22

Notwithstanding Dunn’s subsequent repudiation of his hyperbolic defence of
a purely historical reading of the Two Treatises of Government Dunn’s

18 J. Dunn, The Political Thought of John Locke: An Historical Account of the Argument of the
‘Two Treatises of Government’ (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1969), p. x.

19 J. Dunn, ‘What is Living and What is Dead in the Political Theory of John Locke?’, in
J. Dunn, Interpreting Political Responsibility (Princeton NJ, Princeton University Press, 1999), p. 9.

20 Ibid, pp. 9–12.
21 Ibid., pp. 23–4.
22 J. Dunn, ‘ “Trust” in the Politics of John Locke’, in J. Dunn, Rethinking Modern Political

Theory—Essays 1979–83 (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1985), p. 34.

Locke: History and Political Thought 201

historical approach in The Political Thought of John Locke and interpretive
strategy remains well-worth considering. It offers a perceptive reading of
Locke and its approach and detailed analysis represents an outstanding his-
toric example of the style of the Cambridge School. It remains a significant
example of a contextual approach to the history of political thought and
continues to stand out in providing an historical contextual approach to the
history of political thought. A review of its arguments allows for understand-
ing of what is involved in such an approach and its contextual reading of a past
political philosophy continues to be supported in broad terms by Dunn and
fellow contextualists.

DUNN ON LOCKE AND THE HISTORY OF
POLITICAL THOUGHT

In The Political Thought of John Locke Dunn resists a Whig history whereby
the past is read from the present. Historic theorists are to be understood as
contributing to a specific context. Their ideas are not invoked to contribute to
subsequent political debate or to a generalized conceptual analysis of an
ideology or political argument. Theories and concepts are subsumable to
particular ideological contexts. Hence Locke, commonly, if unreflectively,
taken to be the founder of liberal thought, is not to be used as source material
for a generic ‘liberal’ ideology. The separation of the past from the present is
axiomatic for Dunn. Dunn maintains an historical reading, which excludes
speculation about Locke’s relevance to present circumstances. He makes this
explicit in amplifying his sense of history, remarking, ‘by “historical”, then, is
meant an account of what Locke was talking about, not a doctrine written
(perhaps unconsciously) by him on a sort of invisible ink which becomes
apparent only when held up to the light (or heat) of the twentieth century
mind.’23 Dunn is unequivocal in interpreting Locke’s thought to be precisely
what Locke intended his ideas to mean. He observes, ‘The claim that the
account given here of Locke’s argument in the Two Treatises of Government is
“historical” implies that its status depends upon the adequacy of its identifi-
cation of Locke’s own meaning’ (emphasis in original).24

Dunn’s historical interpretive approach to Locke’s thought neither assumes
coherence nor comprehensiveness at the expense of contingent and local
factors. Hence Locke’s arguments are not pressed so as to demand details
that would only be warranted if his intention were to provide comprehensive
accounts of the nature of political representation, consent, and legitimacy. To

23 Ibid., p. xl. 24 Ibid., p. xli.

202 A History of Modern Political Thought

the contrary Dunn concludes that there is no evidence to justify interpreting
Locke as aiming to deliver such comprehensive accounts. Similarly, if his ideas
were to be reviewed generically as contributions to the clarification of generic
political concepts and a justification of a theory that would be sustainable
against all possible counter-arguments, then his political theory would have to
be assessed by its perceived omissions and shortcomings. However, if Locke’s
Second Treatise is designed to achieve more specific objectives, namely under-
mining absolutist arguments in favour of unlimited royal authority and
providing grounds for opposing continued Stuart rule, then Locke’s Second
Treatise is to be understood and judged in the light of those goals rather than
for its adequacy in pursuing more generic arguments. Dunn questions the
assumption that Locke was attempting and failing to carry out a philosophical
task when there is no evidence that he was so engaged.25

According to Dunn, the character of The Second Treatise should not be
assumed in advance of analysis and interpretation of the text and its context.
He maintains that Locke’s particular use of concepts poses interpretive ques-
tions at every turn about their provenance and purposes. While it might be
tempting to distinguish a set of doctrines in Locke, on say political legitimacy,
consent, rights, and property, it is misleading to imagine these doctrines as
either determining the text or to operate as explanatory factors outside of their
role in specific forms of argument. Hence Locke might highlight the role of
consent in ruling, and its correlative absence may undermine legitimacy, but
he is not overly concerned to spell out what is involved in consent, as his
interest appears to be in highlighting the illegitimacy of absolutist rule, rather
than in elaborating the generic conditions constituting legitimate rule.26 More
generally Dunn observes that the Two Treatises of Government requires an
historical form of explanation rather than abstract speculation to identify
exactly why Locke employs arguments in particular ways. The very project
of invoking natural rights to set against the power of government demands
explanation given the record of Locke’s preceding beliefs. To discuss Locke in
terms of the general acceptability of natural rights arguments begs the ques-
tion of why Locke framed his argument in terms of natural rights.
Dunn sets out the above grounds for reading the Two Treatises of Govern-

ment historically. In so doing he addresses the historical puzzle of how Locke,
prior to the writing of the Two Treatises of Government, maintains a contrast-
ing conservative political outlook and why Locke’s views on natural law are so
completely transformed by the time he wrote the Two Treatises of Govern-
ment. Locke’s preceding writings on natural law imagine that natural law is to
be interpreted by authoritative, traditional channels, so his subsequent

25 On this point note the arguments of I. Hampsher-Monk, ‘John Locke’, in A History of
Modern Political Thought (Oxford, Blackwell, 1992), p. 101.

26 J. Dunn, The Political Thought of John Locke, p. 9.

Locke: History and Political Thought 203

assumption that governments could be out of step with natural law, and that it
might be legitimate to overturn governments poses historical questions over
what led to Locke’s radical change of mind. Like Laslett before him, Dunn
observes how Locke’s transformation of outlook coincides with his fifteen-year
engagement with the household of Anthony Ashley Cooper, the first Earl of
Shaftesbury, who was a critic of the government of the day. Locke’s subsequent
standpoint on natural law is aligned to Shaftesbury and more generally with
the political opposition movement with which Shaftesbury was associated. To
identify Locke’s affiliation with the Shaftesbury household as bearing upon his
political and ideological writings, as Laslett indicates, is clearly right. Laslett
cites a reference in the Shaftesbury Papers from the Earl of Shaftesbury’s
grandson and Locke’s pupil, the third Earl. Shaftesbury’s grandson notes,
‘Mr. Locke grew so much in esteem with my grandfather that as great as he
had experienced him in physic, he looked upon this but as his least part. He
encouraged him to turn his thoughts another way . . . He put him upon study
of the religious and civil affairs of the nation . . . ’.27 Laslett also cites a reference
to Locke in the Shaftesbury papers by F.C., who observes, ‘My Lord imparted
to him [Locke] from time to time all the secretest affairs then in agitation and
by my Lord’s frequent discourse of state affairs, religion, toleration and trade,
Mr. Locke came to have a wonderful knowledge of these things . . . ’.28 In
considering the impact of the Shaftesbury household on Locke’s views and
on The Second Treatise, Laslett concludes, ‘We owe the Two Treatises to the
wonderful knowledge of state affairs which Locke acquired from frequent
discourse with the first earl of Shaftesbury; indeed the evidence suggests, as
we shall see, that he actually wrote the book for Shaftesbury’s purposes.’29

While the similarity of standpoint between Locke and the Earl of Shaftes-
bury suggests that engagement with the household was an important factor in
the development of Locke’s political thought, Laslett does not show in detail
the nature and operation of the influence. He establishes that the composition
of The Second Treatise is related to the exclusion crisis of 1679 until 1683.
Shaftesbury and other Whig landowners opposed the monarch for a number
of reasons including their determination to defend Protestantism, their con-
cern to preserve their landed interests, and their dislike of arbitrary and
absolutist government. They feared that the Stuart monarchy was heading in
a direction that would endanger Protestantism, the landed interest, and
limited, responsible government. Their resistance to the monarchy crystallized
into a determination to exclude the brother of Charles II, the reigning mon-
arch, from succeeding to the throne. James, Charles’s brother, was next in line
and likely to succeed to the throne given the absence of a legitimate heir.
Minds amongst the opposition were duly concentrated, and Shaftesbury

27 P. Laslett, ‘Introduction’, John Locke, Locke’s Two Treatises of Government, pp. 27–8.
28 Ibid., p. 27. 29 Ibid.

204 A History of Modern Political Thought

orchestrated an opposition that was set against James’ succession, given the
likelihood that it would lead to everything that was most to be feared,
absolutism, government by prerogative, the relegation of parliamentary gov-
ernment, and the ascendancy of Catholicism. This fractious political situation
provides a context for Locke’s thought, and informs Locke’s critique of
absolutist government. But, as Dunn points out, all this does not in itself
explain particular and significant lines of Locke’s political argument in the
Two Treatises of Government.Moreover, as Dunn observes, we cannot be sure
if Locke’s assumption of anti-Stuart political ideas was a cause or effect of his
joining the Shaftesbury household. In respect of this disarmingly simple but
awkward question, he remarks, ‘[I]t is raised here in this simple-minded form
because we do not at the moment apparently (and may never) know the
answer to it.’30

An insistent aspect of Dunn’s reading of Locke’s political thought is his
emphasis upon Locke’s adoption of a theological line of argument, which he
observes to be underdetermined by the contextual politics of the time. In fact,
Locke’s theological argument does not fit neatly with the goals of those who
pressed the case for excluding James II. Locke’s argument in The Second
Treatise tends to focus on the individual rather than on the representative
institutions, which were central to the argument of the anti-Stuart landed
interest and of great moment to the Earl of Shaftesbury.31 Dunn makes a good
case for seeing the centrality of theological argument in Locke’s Two Treatises
on Government. The care with which Locke develops the argument suggests it
is not a mere ploy in a strategy to achieve an otherwise unrelated outcome,
the defence of an alternative political settlement.32 As Dunn notes in his
later book, Locke, ‘Locke’s arguments and Shaftesbury’s tactics sometimes
diverged.’33 The theological line of argument is distinctive and does not fit
with the standard rhetoric of those aligned with Shaftesbury against the
Stuarts. It is a product of Locke’s particular set of historical beliefs.
Dunn argues persuasively how Locke’s puritanism and his use of theological

argument are central to The Second Treatise. Theological arguments are not to
be taken as merely instrumental in supporting independently specifiable
conclusions. Dunn observes, ‘Whenever he [Locke] began to sketch out the
contours of an ethic and searched for the fundamental form which it
must take, the touchstone which he set up was always the relation between
the Creator and created.’34 Locke’s formulation of the state of nature at the
outset of the text reveals the theological character of his argument. Locke’s
conceptualization of a state of nature argument is distinct from Hobbes’s in
Leviathan, due to its assertive incorporation of God-given rights. Locke

30 J. Dunn, The Political Thought of John Locke, p. 8. 31 Ibid., p. 27.
32 Ibid., p. 24. 33 J. Dunn, Locke, p. 31.
34 J. Dunn, The Political Thought of John Locke, p. 28.

Locke: History and Political Thought 205

imagines the condition to be social but ahistorical. Moral rights derive from
the natural law, which is authorized by God. They are imagined as pertaining
to any human situation, given the ahistorical character that is imputed to the
state of nature. Individuals owe a duty to God to discharge the duties of
natural law by respecting the rights of all to life, liberty, and property. Natural
theology and the authority of God demand that individuals maintain these
rights in the state of nature. An individual’s obligation to observe rights
derives from God’s command, hence individuals must respect their own
right to life, irrespective of their own wishes. They have a duty to preserve
their own life. These God-given rights and duties set the context for the
obligations that individuals owe to the sovereign, whose duty, in turn, is to
maintain these rights. If the sovereign fails to respect the rights of the citizen,
individuals are endowed with a duty of resistance to oppose the failing political
authority. Individuals remain empowered so to act notwithstanding the role
that is allocated to the legislature in representing the people and in maintain-
ing government by consent. Dunn observes how individual responsibility to
God remains of significance throughout The Second Treatise of Government. It
underlies its argument against absolutist government and hence its opposition
to Stuart rule. The singularity of Locke’s line of argument is disclosed in
its discordance with standard arguments opposing absolutism that were
presented during the exclusion crisis.35

Locke’s argument in The Second Treatise does not replicate the priorities of
elaborating representational government and of ending rule by prerogative,
which are central to the views of those opposed to Stuart rule. Dunn makes a
good case for aligning it to what Locke took to be demanded by an appropri-
ately critical response to the publication of Filmer’s work. If the First Treatise
is an evident rejoinder to Filmer, then Locke’s argument in the Two Treatises
of Government can also be interpreted in the context of responding to Filmer.
Dunn observes, ‘When Filmer’s Patriarcha was at last published in 1680 it
became imperatively necessary to provide an ideological counterweight which
could set out the rationale of the Exclusionist position in a way which
assimilated it firmly to the solid continuous historical order of the English
polity and protected it against the needling gibes of Patriarcha.’36 To urge that
Locke’s Two Treatises of Government should be interpreted in the light of
Filmer is to push at an open textualist door. After all, Locke’s text advertises
itself as a response to Filmer’s Patriarcha. The context of frenzied political
debate in which the publication of Filmer’s text served as a provocative move
in an ideological game underlines the point of Locke responding to Filmer.
Locke devotes the First Treatise to a detailed and express response to Filmer’s
text, which had been published in its entirety in January 1680 by loyalist

35 Ibid., p. 50. 36 Ibid., p. 47.

206 A History of Modern Political Thought

royalists. Unlike, say Hobbes’s Leviathan, Filmer’s Patriarcha was clear-cut in
its royalist sympathies and could be employed unambiguously as royalist
propaganda. It had no truck with popular consent, because it located political
authority directly in the monarchy, and did not conceive of consent arising out
of those imagined to be in a primal state of nature. Nor did it raise the spectre
of a multiplicity of forms of sovereign authority, which might include a
representative body. Filmer urged that the authority of kings was derived
naturally from God due to his granting of their patriarchal authority. While
this argument from divine right in turn appears to raise difficulties given
uncertain lines of succession in the past, at least it provides an unequivocal
commitment to the rule of kings.
In line with other contextualist commentators, Dunn brings out the frenzy

of dispute that attended the royalist publication of Filmer’s text. Filmer
constitutes the key element in the ideological strategy of royalist argument,
to which critics are obliged to reply. The ebb and flow of the argument of
Locke’s Second Treatise is explained plausibly by Dunn as responding specif-
ically to the arguments of Filmer. In setting himself against hereditary abso-
lutist power that is sanctioned by divine right, Locke responds to the terms of
Filmer’s argument. In replying to Filmer, Locke highlights how the rights and
duties of individuals derive directly from God. While the form of this argu-
ment is misaligned with standard critiques of absolutism, it furnishes an
effective response to Filmer in bypassing the supposedly divinely ordained
patriarchal authority of the king. Traditionalist patriarchal arrangements, for
Locke, compromise the duty that each individual owes directly to God. Dunn
observes, ‘[T]he Two Treatises is more individualist than can be explained
by the Exclusion programme—But the individualism is more distinctively
Lockean. The key appears to be the very intensive confrontation with the
positions of Filmer.’37 Whereas Shaftesbury and standard exclusionist argu-
ments emphasize the role of Parliament and the right of legislative represen-
tation in the raising of revenue and in the pursuit of foreign policy or
diplomacy, Locke pays only intermittent attention to the processes of govern-
ment and legislation, opting instead to rely on the rights and duties of
individuals. The right of resistance is squarely located in individuals, rather
than in the mediated representative form of a Parliament. This specification of
the rights of individuals makes sense if it is seen as serving Locke’s strategy of
responding directly and convincingly to the arguments of Filmer, but jars with
the agenda of the landed interest. Dunn comments on this anomaly, ‘There is
no doubt that if the text of the Two Treatises as we have it now is exclusively or
predominantly an Exclusion Tract it is often a notably ham-fisted one’.38 The
role of Locke’s arguments in combating Filmer can also be detected in the right

37 Ibid., p. 50. 38 Ibid., p. 58.

Locke: History and Political Thought 207

of emigration that he grants to citizens. While irrelevant to the succession
crisis, the right of emigration responds to Filmer’s granting of a right of
secession.39 Again, the lack of details in Locke’s account of parliamentary
representation and his vagueness on how forms of express and tacit consent
are to operate suggest that Locke is not overly concerned with these issues. In
contrast to standard arguments against absolutism, Locke’s priority is to
highlight individual natural rights and to sideline or at least economize
discussion of political arrangements.

DUNN, LOCKE, AND MACPHERSON

Dunn’s interpretation of Locke incorporates a critique of a Marxist reading of
Locke’s Second Treatise. Marx made references to Locke and property in
Capital, impugning Locke as a bourgeois apologist for the historical develop-
ment of capital.40 An elaborated Marxist critique of Locke is developed by
Macpherson, a twentieth-century Marxist, in The Political Theory of Possessive
Individualism, which sets out a concentrated reading of Hobbes and Locke as
ideologues of the emerging form of capitalism. Macpherson distinguishes
between a number of models of economy and society; customary or status
society, a simple market society, and a possessive market society. He takes the
latter to possess distinctive features of a modern competitive market society,
notably due to its competitive market in products, differing levels of ability,
possessions and desire, and the alienability of labour. Far from theorizing
about individuals and society in the abstract, Hobbes and Locke are taken
to theorize for the conditions of an emerging possessive market society.
Macpherson’s thesis, however, has been critiqued by many commentators,
who observe the lack of evidence for taking Hobbes and Locke to conceive of
society in the ways that are attributed to them.41 Certainly, aspects of Hobbes’s
argument jar with an interpretation that aligns him with an emerging capit-
alist society. For example, Hobbes does not support laissez-faire, criticizes the
growth of joint stock companies, accords authority over property to the
sovereign, and shows a sympathy for aristocratic values. Macpherson’s reading
of Locke imagines him to be expressly supporting key features of a capitalist
economy and a possessive market society.

39 Ibid.
40 K. Marx, Capital trans. S. Moore and E. Aveling and ed. F. Engels (Moscow, Progress

Publishers, 1969), pp. 43–4.
41 See I. Berlin, ‘Hobbes, Locke and Professor Macpherson’, Political Quarterly, vol. 35, no. 4,

1964, pp. 444–68; A. Ryan, ‘Hobbes and Individualism’, in G.A.J. Rogers and A. Ryan (eds),
Perspectives on Thomas Hobbes (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1988), pp. 81–105.

208 A History of Modern Political Thought

In support of his reading of Locke, Macpherson cites The Second Treatise’s
wholesale endorsement of a money economy and the sale of commodities,
including labour and property. Macpherson traces the stages of Locke’s
argument on property and money, observing how Locke assumes that God
grants property to mankind in common, but that individuals establish the
right of private property by working on and adding value to what is be-
queathed to mankind. The assumed consent to the use of money enables the
operation of a money economy, the acquisition of goods on a large scale, and a
complex division of labour. These developments are justifiable, for Locke, if
sufficient land resources remain available to all, as an increasing total level of
productivity enhances general welfare. Affiliated to his reading of Locke as
allowing for the unlimited accumulation of money and property, Macpherson
observes Locke’s intermittent references to differential forms of political
consent, the development of the division of labour, and repression of the
poor in the interests of generating a compliant and energetic labour force.
Macpherson concludes that Locke promotes a two-tier society in which an
emerging bourgeois class is accorded power so as to develop capital and to
maximize their class interests.42

Laslett and Tully disagree with Macpherson by maintaining that Locke
does not justify the operation of a fully-fledged capitalist economy. Against
Macpherson, Laslett urges that Locke does not support a market in wage-
labour. Locke’s reference to the servant who cut the turfs of his master is
interpreted as implying the supply of a service rather than labour. Laslett also
observes how Locke advocated regulation of property and conceived of society
to be subject to the laws of nature.43 In a similar vein Tully identifies Locke as a
Leveller rather than as an apologist for capital. He assigns Locke to a natural
law tradition, which puts property rights on a communal basis, and subor-
dinates property to the duties that subjects owe to God.44 On this reading, far
from setting out a market in property, Locke allows for the English Common,
whereby the English yeoman is entitled to usufruct, which is the use of as
much land as he could make use of. Accordingly, property is subject to
regulation and distributive justice so that inheritance is to be regulated and
charity is to provide for those who are needy. For Tully, Locke’s reference to
the servant performing a service for his master is not an endorsement of a free
market in labour and property but represents a commitment to an artisanal
model of economy.45 On this reading, Locke presumes that a specific service
might be sold but labour is not commodified generically and abstractly.

42 C.B. Macpherson, The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism (Oxford, Oxford Uni-
versity Press, 1962).

43 P. Laslett, ‘Introduction’, John Locke, Locke’s Two Treatises of Government, pp. 105–6.
44 J. Tully, A Discourse on Property: John Locke and His Adversaries (Cambridge, Cambridge

University Press, 1980).
45 Ibid., pp. 136–42.

Locke: History and Political Thought 209

If Macpherson reads Locke as expressly endorsing untrammelled market
relations, Tully and Laslett follow Macpherson in endowing Locke’s text with
an equal precision, but in their case Locke is explicitly disavowing capitalist
relations of production. All their assumptions are misplaced in that Locke’s
Second Treatise does not furnish precision, and the precision that is misattrib-
uted to Locke arises out of inattention to Locke’s intentions. Townshend,
a defender of the Macpherson thesis, observes how Locke’s remarks about
the regulation of property and his opposition to primogeniture reflect his
opposition to Filmer rather than a positive commitment to a non-market
economy.46 Locke’s treatment of property relations reinforces Dunn’s identi-
fication of the contextual role that is played by his concern to rebut Filmer.
Locke’s imagining of God’s grant of the earth to mankind as a whole while
allowing for individuals to assume private property via their labour, is part of
his strategy in undermining Filmer’s patriarchal ideas. Property, for Locke, is
to be divorced from the tight control of a patriarchal monarch. Dunn’s
contextual reading of Locke informs his critique of the Macpherson thesis,
the force of which resides in his attention to Locke’s historical intentions in
The Second Treatise. In particular, he draws attention to the crucial roles
played by Locke’s theological arguments in framing individual rights and
attitudes, which are directed at rebutting Filmer rather than providing whole-
sale endorsement of capital.

Dunn provides a considered response to Macpherson’s overall reading of
Locke, admitting the severity of the emerging hierarchical political economy
but questioning the alleged role of Locke as an ideological apologist of
capital.47 He argues that Locke’s Puritan theology does not serve the instru-
mental purpose of accommodating capital but rather constitutes a moral
ahistorical reading of the human condition, by which ‘natural’ rights, includ-
ing those of property, are distributed. On this reading, Locke takes theology
seriously. Fundamentally, human beings are to be understood as oriented
towards God, owing divinely sanctioned duties to themselves and to others.
Hence, Locke’s moral injunctions against laziness are not directed against
the poor in the service of capital. Rather all have a duty to be industrious,
which derives from their relationship to God. But this duty is conceived to
be genuinely egalitarian, even if Locke does not prescribe an egalitarian
organization of production and distribution.48 Moreover, Dunn rebuts
Macpherson’s reading of Locke’s references to differing forms of consent,
express and tacit, as applying respectively to owners of property and proper-
tyless labourers so as to exclude or minimize the political role of the poor.
Locke’s discussion of consent is opaque, but, for Dunn, this is most likely due

46 J. Townshend, C.B. Macpherson and the Problem of Liberal Democracy (Edinburgh,
Edinburgh University Press, 2000), p. 81.

47 J. Dunn, The Political Thought of John Locke, p. 58. 48 Ibid., p. 24.

210 A History of Modern Political Thought

to its primarily negative role in opposing Filmer and absolutist authority
rather than because of its positive role in elaborating an operational political
scheme. In any event Dunn observes how the likelihood of many opportun-
ities for individuals to offer oaths of allegiance to the prevailing regime
provided for possibilities of express consent. These possibilities suggest that
tacit consent was designed most likely not to exclude the poor but to apply to
resident aliens.49

Dunn’s response to Macpherson and a Marxist reading of Locke is in-
formed by his theological reading of The Second Treatise and his recognition
that the relative lack of detail on consent and representation in the text is due
to Locke’s focus on rebutting Filmer rather than deriving from his support for
an emerging bourgeois class. Locke is not to be taken as framing a text that is
to promote the operations of capital and to secure an expressly bourgeois form
of political rule. Rather, Locke’s Second Treatise is pitched against a particular
argument for absolutism and is animated by theological convictions. This is
not to say that Locke, like Hobbes, cannot be read as presenting an ahistorical
form of argument, which tacitly assumes and thereby legitimates aspects of
developing forms of a money economy and individualist social orientations.50

An intentionalist reading of a political theorist is not the only interpretive
strategy in engaging with a past form of thinking.51

A growing interest in colonial and post-colonial aspects of the history of
political thought is reflected in recent scholarly interest in recognizing Locke’s
arguments in The Second Treatise and elsewhere as supporting a differential
treatment of European settlers and native American Indians and so as pro-
moting the interests of colonization. The Earl of Shaftesbury was an energetic
enthusiast for colonization in America and served as one of the Lords Propri-
etors of the Province of Carolina. Armitage argues plausibly for Locke’s
involvement in the writing of and revisions to the Fundamental Constitutions
of Carolina.52 In this constitutional document slavery is justified, which in
supporting a differential treatment of individuals runs counter to the general
tenor of Locke’s natural rights argument of The Second Treatise.53 Moreover,
Arneil urges that references to the lack of cultivation of land on the part of the
natives of America is highlighted in The Second Treatise and hence can be seen
as justifying tacitly the expropriation of land from natives as long as the

49 Ibid., p. 54.
50 J. Townshend, C.B. Macpherson and the Problem of Liberal Democracy, p. 106.
51 Dunn himself recognizes the potential for non-intentionalist readings of past political

theory, including Marxist accounts of the structures of society in which theorizing took place.
See J. Dunn, ‘The History of Political Theory’, in J. Dunn, The History of Political Theory and
Other Essays (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1996), p. 24.

52 D. Armitage, ‘John Locke, Carolina and the Two Treatises of Government’, Political Theory,
vol. 32, no. 5, October 2004, p. 615.

53 Ibid., p. 632.

Locke: History and Political Thought 211

expropriated land can be anticipated to be developed more productively.54

Again, Locke’s references to the incapacity for rational thinking on the part of
people with mental disabilities are taken by Arneil to signify the limits of
Locke’s support for rights. She understands Locke to exclude the mentally
disabled from the terms of citizenship and from the enjoyment of natural
rights.55 While her arguments on land acquisition and differential citizenship
do not show clearly Locke’s intentions to operate restrictively in his concep-
tion of the application of rights, they certainly establish a case that his
arguments align with colonialism and an exclusionary attitude towards
disability. Intentionality is not the sole guide to the reading of a text.

CONCLUSION

Locke’s political thought has yielded a disputed interpretive legacy. Dunn’s
The Political Thought of John Locke provides an astute reading of Locke,
which relates texts to contexts and draws upon Locke’s religious convictions
to explain the force of his political thinking. To understand what Locke is doing
in The Second Treatise, Dunn emphasizes Locke’s intention of refuting Filmer’s
Patriarcha, so as to undermine contemporary royalist propaganda. To filter
Locke’s arguments through his engagement with Filmer is to allow for an
appreciation of how they work. Locke’s deployment of natural law and natural
rights disturbs Filmer’s identification of political authority with monarchical
succession. Moreover, Locke’s relative lack of engagement with determining the
practicalities of consent and the operation of representative institutions in
relation to civil and foreign affairs reflects how his argument concentrates on
counterpointing the natural rights of individuals to unlimited political authority.
Dunn’s focus upon Locke’s intentions in responding to countervailing argu-
ments avoids extravagant and unwarranted speculation on what Locke may
have meant by scattered references to express consent and Parliamentary
representation. Dunn’s focused historical interpretation of Locke’s Second Trea-
tise contrasts with Ashcraft’s reading of Locke as a radical. Ashcraft’s ascription
of radical ideas on democracy to Locke rests upon speculation over indetermin-
ate references by Locke to personal contacts with radicals, rather than drawing
upon convincing evidence from Locke’s texts or their historical contexts.56

54 See B. Arneil, ‘Liberal Colonialism, Domestic Colonies and Citizenship’, History of Political
Thought, vol. 13, no. 3, 2012, p. 496; B. Arneil, ‘John Locke and Natural Law and Colonialism’,
History of Political Thought, vol. 13, no. 4, 1992, pp. 587–603.

55 B. Arneil, ‘Liberal Colonialism, Domestic Colonies and Citizenship’, History of Political
Thought, vol. 13, no. 3, 2012, p. 501.

56 R. Ashcraft, Revolutionary Politics and Locke’s Two Treatises of Government (Princeton NJ,
University of Princeton Press, 1986), pp. 247–8.

212 A History of Modern Political Thought

Dunn’s historical perspective on Locke and on The Second Treatise is
enlightening and it demonstrates the general value of the Cambridge School
in explaining political ideas by adopting an historical approach, which relates
ideas to circumstances and the intentions of authors. Recent exploration of
Locke’s involvement with colonial enterprises and a related review of his
references to native American Indians may be seen as continuing the enter-
prise of relating Locke’s thought to his interests and purposes. Dunn’s critique
of Macpherson serves as a reminder that a particular context of socio-
economic development does not in itself explain the specific ideas of a past
political thinker. It might be reasonable to suppose that a theorist makes
assumptions about contemporary economic conditions, but the specific char-
acter and force of her or his ideas is not reducible to generic economic and
social conditions. However, to say that relating texts and contexts so that
intentions are uncovered can yield understanding of a past thinker’s ideas is
not to say that past thinkers do not maintain unreflectively standard historic
assumptions on the practices of social life. Arneil’s attention to Locke’s
references to the mentally disabled highlights how Locke’s theory of rights
does not override standard contemporary assumptions concerning disability.
What is assumed by authors can be as significant as what is intended. Critics

of Macpherson tend to assume that he was aiming to explain Locke’s inten-
tions and although there is an ambiguity over Macpherson’s intentions, at
least part of his project was to explain what Locke and Hobbes were assuming
rather than intending in framing political arguments based on individualist
natural rights.57 Again, the perceptiveness of Dunn’s historical study of Locke
does not endorse that an historical focus upon contemporary historical con-
texts and the intentions of past authors captures everything of importance
about past political thinkers. While Dunn himself has relaxed his contention
that Locke’s political thought has no bearing upon our own present-day issues
of political theory, he continues to maintain that the theological orientation of
his thinking rules out the direct ongoing relevance of his general political
argument.58 Many commentators dissent from this view. Waldron is a notable
dissenter. He urges that Locke offers arguments, which contribute notably to
ongoing liberal arguments for equality and rights.59 What is at issue here is the
viability of interpreting Locke’s political thought at differing levels of abstrac-
tion. Dunn follows Locke’s political thought closely, attending to the particu-
larities of his argument so as to consider the reasons why he concentrated on
specific aspects of a critique of absolutism. He highlights the singularity of
Locke’s argument in responding to historic arguments and circumstances.
Locke maintains a particular adherence to a theology and focuses upon

57 See J. Townshend, C.B. Macpherson and the Problem of Liberal Democracy, p. 156.
58 J. Dunn, The Political Thought of John Locke, p. 98.
59 J. Waldron, God, Locke and Equality (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2002).

Locke: History and Political Thought 213

rebutting contemporary absolutist arguments. Waldron, however, steps back
from the specifics of Locke’s critique of absolutism to recognize how Locke
may be seen to establish features of what subsequently appear as standard
aspects of a distinctively liberal form of political argument. On this reading
and at a high level of abstraction Locke is taken to frame the conditions of a
credible form of political association, which accommodates individual rights,
and which allows individuals to participate in the devising and maintenance of
a political association that is committed to enabling the rights of individuals.
Waldron’s way of reading Locke reflects Bevir’s identification of how past
political theorists can provide enduring ways of conceiving politics.60

Dunn may well be right to point to the increasing irrelevance of Dunn’s
theological grounding of individual rights to later generations of readers. But
the particular ways in which rights might be grounded are endlessly contro-
versial and there is no contemporary agreement on specific formulas for
justifying rights, whereas the general conception of a society in which indi-
vidual rights are related to institutional contrivances to maintain and interpret
them remains highly germane to the contemporary Western practice of
politics. The ongoing relevance of Locke’s political thought is registered in
Nozick’s subsequent employment of the language of rights, his analysis of
property, and his critique of rival forms of political theory. Nozick’s arguments
rehearse Locke’s conceptual language and the framework of his political
theory, even if Nozick neither endorses nor employs the idiom of Locke’s
theological interpretation of rights.61

60 M. Bevir, ‘Are there Perennial Problems in Political Theory?’, Political Studies, vol. 42, no. 4,
1995, pp. 662–75.

61 R. Nozick, Anarchy, State and Utopia (New York, Basic Books, 1974).

214 A History of Modern Political Thought

15

Montesquieu

The Spirit of the Laws

Montesquieu (1689–1755) was one of the most eminent intellectuals of eighteenth-century
France. Born near Bordeaux, where he played a leading role in legal life, his full name was
Charles Louis de Secondat, Baron de la Brède et de Montesquieu. The influence of this man
of letters went beyond France’s borders to the founders of the American republic, who were
especially interested in his discussion of separation of powers. Two of Montesquieu’s most
famous works, Persian Letters (1721) and The Spirit of the Laws (1748), were banned by the
Catholic Church. In Persian Letters, a novel in letters, two Persians visit Europe, and their
responses comprise a critique of France and Europe. The Spirit of the Laws, a massive
work from which the following excerpts are taken, is especially concerned with the nature
of different forms of government and their relation to liberty, law, and customs.
Montesquieu sought to explain the principles that animate different types of government,
and relations among laws and a nation’s character. He was also the author of
Considerations on the Causes of the Greatness of the Romans and their Decline (1734).

LAWS, IN THEIR MOST GENERAL SIGNIFICATION, are the necessary relations arising from the nature of
things. In this sense all beings have their laws: the Deity His laws, the material world its laws, the
intelligences superior to man their laws, the beasts their laws, man his laws.

They who assert that a blind fatality produced the various effects we behold in this world talk
very absurdly; for can anything be more unreasonable than to pretend that a blind fatality could be
productive of intelligent beings?

There is, then, a prime reason; and laws are the relations subsisting between it and different
beings, and the relations of these to one another. . . .

Since we observe that the world, though formed by the motion of matter, and void of
understanding, subsists through so long a succession of ages, its motions must certainly be directed by
invariable laws; and could we imagine another world, it must also have constant rules, or it would
inevitably perish. . . .

Man, as a physical being, is like other bodies governed by invariable laws. As an intelligent
being, he incessantly transgresses the laws established by God, and changes those of his own
instituting. He is left to his private direction, though a limited being, and subject, like all finite
intelligences, to ignorance and error: even his imperfect knowledge he loses; and as a sensible
creature, he is hurried away by a thousand impetuous passions. Such a being might every instant
forget his Creator; God has therefore reminded him of his duty by the laws of religion. Such a being is
liable every moment to forget himself; philosophy has provided against this by the laws of morality.

Formed to live in society, he might forget his fellow-creatures; legislators have, therefore, by
political and civil laws confined him to his duty.

* * *

. . . But the example of paternal authority proves nothing. For if the power of a father relates to a
single government, that of brothers after the death of a father, and that of cousins-german after the
decease of brothers, refer to a government of many. The political power necessarily comprehends the
union of several families.

Better is it to say, that the government most conformable to nature is that which best agrees with
the humor and disposition of the people in whose favor it is established.

The strength of individuals cannot be united without a conjunction of all their wills. . . .
Law in general is human reason, inasmuch as it governs all the inhabitants of the earth: the

political and civil laws of each nation ought to be only the particular cases in which human reason is
applied.

They should be adapted in such a manner to the people for whom they are framed that it should be
a great chance if those of one nation suit another.

They should be in relation to the nature and principle of each government; whether they form it, as
may be said of politic laws; or whether they support it, as in the case of civil institutions.

They should be in relation to the climate of each country, to the quality of its soil, to its situation
and extent, to the principal occupation of the natives, whether husbandmen, huntsmen, or shepherds:
they should have relation to the degree of liberty which the constitution will bear; to the religion of
the inhabitants, to their inclinations, riches, numbers, commerce, manners, and customs. In fine, they
have relations to each other, as also to their origin, to the intent of the legislator, and to the order of
things on which they are established; in all of which different lights they ought to be considered.

This is what I have undertaken to perform in the following work. These relations I shall examine,
since all these together constitute what I call the Spirit of Laws. . . .

* * *

There are three species of government: republican, monarchical, and despotic. In order to discover
their nature, it is sufficient to recollect the common notion, which supposes three definitions, or rather
three facts: that a republican government is that in which the body, or only a part of the people, is
possessed of the supreme power; monarchy, that in which a single person governs by fixed and
established laws; a despotic government, that in which a single person directs everything by his own
will and caprice.

This is what I call the nature of each government. . . .
When the body of the people is possessed of the supreme power, it is called a democracy. When

the supreme power is lodged in the hands of a part of the people, it is then an aristocracy.
In a democracy the people are in some respects the sovereign, and in others the subject.
There can be no exercise of sovereignty but by their suffrages, which are their own will; now the

sovereign’s will is the sovereign himself. The laws therefore which establish the right of suffrage are

fundamental to this government. And indeed it is as important to regulate in a republic, in what
manner, by whom, to whom, and concerning what, suffrages are to be given, as it is in a monarchy to
know who is the prince, and after what manner he ought to govern. . . .

The people, in whom the supreme power resides, ought to have the management of everything
within their reach: that which exceeds their abilities must be conducted by their ministers.

But they cannot properly be said to have their ministers, without the power of nominating them: it
is, therefore, a fundamental maxim in this government, that the people should choose their ministers—
that is, their magistrates. . . .

As most citizens have sufficient ability to choose, though unqualified to be chosen, so the people,
though capable of calling others to an account for their administration, are incapable of conducting the
administration themselves. . . .

The law which determines the manner of giving suffrage is likewise fundamental in a democracy.
It is a question of some importance whether the suffrages ought to be public or secret. Cicero
observes that the laws which rendered them secret towards the close of the republic were the cause
of its decline. But as this is differently practiced in different republics, I shall offer here my thoughts
concerning this subject.

The people’s suffrages ought doubtless to be public and this should be considered as a
fundamental law of democracy. The lower class ought to be directed by those of higher rank, and
restrained within bounds by the gravity of eminent personages. Hence, by rendering the suffrages
secret in the Roman republic, all was lost; it was no longer possible to direct a populace that sought
its own destruction. But when the body of the nobles are to vote in an aristocracy or in a democracy
the senate as the business is then only to prevent intrigues, the suffrages cannot be too secret.

Intriguing in a senate is dangerous; it is dangerous also in a body of nobles; but not so among the
people, whose nature is to act through passion. . . .

It is likewise a fundamental law in democracies, that the people should have the sole power to
enact laws. . . .

* * *

In an aristocracy the supreme power is lodged in the hands of a certain number of persons. These are
invested both with the legislative and executive authority; and the rest of the people are, in respect to
them, the same as the subjects of a monarchy in regard to the sovereign. . . .

In a republic, the sudden rise of a private citizen to exorbitant power produces monarchy, or
something more than monarchy. In the latter the laws have provided for, or in some measure adapted
themselves to, the constitution; and the principle of government checks the monarch: but in a republic,
where a private citizen has obtained an exorbitant power, the abuse of this power is much greater,
because the laws foresaw it not, and consequently made no provision against it. . . .

The best aristocracy is that in which those who have no share in the legislature are so few and
inconsiderable that the governing party have no interest in oppressing them. . . .

Aristocratic families ought therefore, as much as possible, to level themselves in appearance with
the people. The more an aristocracy borders on democracy, the nearer it approaches perfection: and,
in proportion as it draws towards monarchy, the more is it imperfect.

But the most imperfect of all is that in which the part of the people that obeys is in a state of civil
servitude to those who command, as the aristocracy of Poland, where the peasants are slaves to the
nobility. . . .

The intermediate, subordinate, and dependent powers constitute the nature of monarchical
government; I mean of that in which a single person governs by fundamental laws. I said the
intermediate, subordinate, and dependent powers. . . .

The most natural, intermediate, and subordinate power is that of the nobility. This in some
measure seems to be essential to a monarchy, whose fundamental maxim is: no monarch, no nobility;
no nobility, no monarch; but there may be a despotic prince.

There are men who have endeavored in some countries in Europe to suppress the jurisdiction of
the nobility, not perceiving that they were driving at the very thing that was done by the parliament of
England. Abolish the privileges of the lords, the clergy and cities in a monarchy, and you will soon
have a popular state, or else a despotic government. . . .

Far am I from being prejudiced in favor of the privileges of the clergy; however, I should be glad
if their jurisdiction were once fixed. . . .

Though the ecclesiastic power be so dangerous in a republic, yet it is extremely proper in a
monarchy, especially of the absolute kind. What would become of Spain and Portugal, since the
subversion of their laws, were it not for this only barrier against the incursions of arbitrary power? A
barrier ever useful when there is no other: for since a despotic government is productive of the most
dreadful calamities to human nature, the very evil that restrains it is beneficial to the subject.

In the same manner as the ocean, threatening to overflow the whole earth, is stopped by weeds
and pebbles that lie scattered along the shore, so monarchs, whose power seems unbounded, are
restrained by the smallest obstacles, and suffer their natural pride to be subdued by supplication and
prayer.

The English, to favor their liberty, have abolished all the intermediate powers of which their
monarchy was composed. They have a great deal of reason to be jealous of this liberty; were they
ever to be so unhappy as to lose it, they would be one of the most servile nations upon earth. . . .

From the nature of despotic power it follows that the single person, invested with this power,
commits the execution of it also to a single person. A man whom his senses continually inform that he
himself is everything and that his subjects are nothing, is naturally lazy, voluptuous, and ignorant. In
consequence of this, he neglects the management of public affairs. But were he to commit the
administration to many, there would be continual disputes among them; each would form intrigues to
be his first slave; and he would be obliged to take the reins into his own hands. . . .

* * *

There is this difference between the nature and principle of government, that the former is that by
which it is constituted, the latter that by which it is made to act. One is its particular structure, and the
other the human passions which set it in motion.

Now, laws ought no less to relate to the principle than to the nature of each government. . . .
I have already observed that it is the nature of a republican government that either the collective

body of the people, or particular families, should be possessed of the supreme power; of a monarchy,

that the prince should have this power, but in the execution of it should be directed by established
laws; of a despotic government, that a single person should rule according to his own will and
caprice. This enables me to discover their three principles; which are thence naturally derived. . . .

There is no great share of probity necessary to support a monarchical or despotic government.
The force of laws in one, and the prince’s arm in the other, are sufficient to direct and maintain the
whole. But in a popular state, one spring more is necessary, namely, virtue.

What I have here advanced is confirmed by the unanimous testimony of historians, and is
extremely agreeable to the nature of things. For it is clear that in a monarchy, where he who
commands the execution of the laws generally thinks himself above them, there is less need of virtue
than in a popular government, where the person entrusted with the execution of the laws is sensible of
his being subject to their direction.

Clear is it also that a monarch who, through bad advice or indolence, ceases to enforce the
execution of the laws, may easily repair the evil; he has only to follow other advice; or to shake off
this indolence. But when, in a popular government, there is a suspension of the laws, as this can
proceed only from the corruption of the republic, the state is certainly undone. . . .

When virtue is banished, ambition invades the minds of those who are disposed to receive it, and
avarice possesses the whole community. The objects of their desires are changed; what they were
fond of before has become indifferent; they were free while under the restraint of laws, but they
would fain now be free to act against law; and as each citizen is like a slave who has run away from
his master, that which was a maxim of equity he calls rigor; that which was a rule of action he styles
constraint; and to precaution he gives the name of fear. Frugality, and not the thirst of gain, now passes
for avarice. Formerly the wealth of individuals constituted the public treasure; but now this has
become the patrimony of private persons. The members of the commonwealth riot on the public
spoils, and its strength is only the power of a few, and the license of many. . . .

As virtue is necessary in a popular government, it is requisite also in an aristocracy. True it is that
in the latter it is not so absolutely requisite.

The people, who in respect to the nobility are the same as the subjects with regard to a monarch,
are restrained by their laws. They have, therefore, less occasion for virtue than the people in a
democracy. But how are the nobility to be restrained? They who are to execute the laws against their
colleagues will immediately perceive that they are acting against themselves. Virtue is therefore
necessary in this body, from the very nature of the constitution.

An aristocratic government has an inherent vigor, unknown to democracy. The nobles form a body,
who by their prerogative, and for their own particular interest, restrain the people; it is sufficient that
there are laws in being to see them executed. . . .

Moderation is therefore the very soul of this government; a moderation, I mean, founded on virtue,
not that which proceeds from indolence and pusillanimity. . . .

In monarchies, policy effects great things with as little virtue as possible. Thus in the nicest
machines, art has reduced the number of movements, springs, and wheels.

The state subsists independently of the love of our country, of the thirst of true glory, of self-
denial, of the sacrifice of our dearest interests, and of all those heroic virtues which we admire in the
ancients, and to us are known only by tradition.

The laws supply here the place of those virtues; they are by no means wanted, and the state
dispenses with them: an action performed here in secret is in some measure of no consequence.

Though all crimes be in their own nature public, yet there is a distinction between crimes really
public and those that are private, which are so called because they are more injurious to individuals
than to the community.

Now in republics private crimes are more public, that is, they attack the constitution more than
they do individuals; and in monarchies, public crimes are more private, that is, they are more
prejudicial to private people than to the constitution. . . .

Ambition is pernicious in a republic. But in a monarchy it has some good effects; it gives life to
the government, and is attended with this advantage, that it is in no way dangerous, because it may be
continually checked.

It is with this kind of government as with the system of the universe, in which there is a power that
constantly repels all bodies from the center, and a power of gravitation that attracts them to it. Honor
sets all the parts of the body politic in motion, and by its very action connects them; thus each
individual advances the public good, while he only thinks of promoting his own interest.

True it is that, philosophically speaking, it is a false honor which moves all the parts of the
government; but even this false honor is as useful to the public as true honor could possibly be to
private persons. . . .

Honor is far from being the principle of despotic government: mankind being here all upon a
level, no one person can prefer himself to another; and as on the other hand they are all slaves, they
can give themselves no sort of preference.

Besides, as honor has its laws and rules, as it knows not how to submit; as it depends in a great
measure on a man’s own caprice, and not on that of another person; it can be found only in countries
in which the constitution is fixed, and where they are governed by settled laws.

How can despotism abide with honor? The one glories in the contempt of life; and the other is
founded on the power of taking it away. How can honor, on the other hand, bear with despotism ? The
former has its fixed rules, and peculiar caprices; but the latter is directed by no rule, and its own
caprices are subversive of all others. . . .

As virtue is necessary in a republic, and in a monarchy honor, so fear is necessary in a despotic
government: with regard to virtue, there is no occasion for it, and honor would be extremely
dangerous. . . .

* * *

Virtue in a republic is a most simple thing: it is a love of the republic; it is a sensation, and not a
consequence of acquired knowledge: a sensation that may be felt by the meanest as well as by the
highest person in the state. When the common people adopt good maxims, they adhere to them more
steadily than those whom we call gentlemen. It is very rarely that corruption commences with the
former: nay, they frequently derive from their imperfect light a stronger attachment to the established
laws and customs.

The love of our country is conducive to a purity of morals, and the latter is again conducive to the
former. The less we are able to satisfy our private passions, the more we abandon our selves to those
of a general nature. . . .

A love of the republic in a democracy is a love of the democracy; as the latter is that of equality.

A love of the democracy is likewise that of frugality. Since every individual ought here to enjoy
the same happiness and the same advantages, they should consequently taste the same pleasures and
form the same hopes, which cannot be expected but from a general frugality.

The love of equality in a democracy limits ambition to the sole desire, to the sole happiness, of
doing greater services to our country than the rest of our fellow-citizens. They cannot all render her
equal services, but they all ought to serve her with equal alacrity. At our coming into the world, we
contract an immense debt to our country, which we can never discharge. . . .

Thus well-regulated democracies, by establishing domestic frugality, made way at the same time
for public expenses, as was the case at Rome and Athens, when magnificence and profusion arose
from the very fund of frugality. And as religion commands us to have pure and unspotted hands when
we make our offerings to the gods, the laws required a frugality of life to enable them to be liberal to
our country.

The good sense and happiness of individuals depend greatly upon the mediocrity of their abilities
and fortunes. . . .

A true maxim it is, therefore, that in order to love equality and frugality in a republic, these virtues
must have been previously established by law.

Some ancient legislators, as Lycurgus and Romulus, made an equal division of lands. A settlement
of this kind can never take place except upon the foundation of a new republic; or when the old one is
so corrupt, and the minds of the people are so disposed, that the poor think themselves obliged to
demand, and the rich obliged to consent to a remedy of this nature.

If the legislator, in making a division of this kind, does not enact laws at the same time to support
it, he forms only a temporary constitution; inequality will break in where the laws have not precluded
it, and the republic will be utterly undone.

Hence for the preservation of this equality it is absolutely necessary there should be some
regulation in respect to women’s dowries, donations, successions, testamentary settlements, and all
other forms of contracting. For were we once allowed to dispose of our property to whom and how
we pleased, the will of each individual would disturb the order of the fundamental law. . . .

Though real equality be the very soul of a democracy, it is so difficult to establish that an extreme
exactness in this respect would not be always convenient. Sufficient is it to establish a census which
shall reduce or fix the differences to a certain point: it is afterwards the business of particular laws to
level, as it were, the inequalities, by the duties laid upon the rich, and by the ease afforded to the
poor. It is moderate riches alone that can give or suffer this sort of compensation; for as to men of
overgrown estates, everything which does not contribute to advance their power and honor is
considered by them as an injury.

All inequality in democracies ought to be derived from the nature of the government, and even
from the principle of equality. For example, it may be apprehended that people who are obliged to
live by their labor would be too much impoverished by a public employment, or neglect the duties
attending it; that artisans would grow insolent, and that too great a number of freemen would
overpower the ancient citizens. In this case the equality in a democracy may be suppressed for the
good of the state. But this is only an apparent equality; for a man ruined by a public employment
would be in a worse condition than his fellow-citizens; and this same man, being obliged to neglect
his duty, would reduce the rest to a worse condition than himself, and so on.

It is not sufficient in a well-regulated democracy that the divisions of land be equal; they ought
also to be small, as was customary among the Romans. . . .

True is it that when a democracy is founded on commerce, private people may acquire vast riches
without a corruption of morals. This is because the spirit of commerce is naturally attended with that
of frugality, economy, moderation, labor, prudence, tranquility, order, and rule. So long as this spirit
subsists, the riches it produces have no bad effect. The mischief is, when excessive wealth destroys
the spirit of commerce, then it is that the inconveniences of inequality begin to be felt.

In order to support this spirit, commerce should be carried on by the principal citizens; this
should be their sole aim and study; this the chief object of the laws: and these very laws, by dividing
the estates of individuals in proportion to the increase of commerce, should set every poor citizen so
far at his ease as to be able to work like the rest, and every wealthy citizen in such a mediocrity as to
be obliged to take some pains either in preserving or acquiring a fortune.

It is an excellent law in a trading republic to make an equal division of the paternal estate among
the children. . . .

If the people are virtuous in an aristocracy, they enjoy very nearly the same happiness as in a
popular government, and the state grows powerful. But as a great share of virtue is very rare where
men’s fortunes are so unequal, the laws must tend as much as possible to infuse a spirit of moderation,
and endeavor to re-establish that equality which was necessarily removed by the constitution.

The spirit of moderation is what we call virtue in an aristocracy; it supplies the place of the spirit
of equality in a popular state. . . .

In aristocratic governments there are two principal sources of disorder: excessive inequality
between the governors and the governed; and the same inequality between the different members of
the body that governs. From these two inequalities, hatreds and jealousies arise, which the laws ought
ever to prevent or repress. . . .

As honor is the principle of a monarchical government, the laws ought to be in relation to this
principle.

They should endeavor to support the nobility, in respect to whom honor may be, in some measure,
deemed both child and parent.

They should render the nobility hereditary, not as a boundary between the power of the prince and
the weakness of the people, but as the link which connects them both. . . .

Great is the advantage which a monarchical government has over a republic: as the state is
conducted by a single person, the executive power is thereby enabled to act with greater expedition. .
. .

Monarchy has a great advantage over a despotic government. As it naturally requires there should
be several orders or ranks of subjects, the state is more permanent, the constitution more steady, and
the person of him who governs more secure. . . .

As people who live under a good government are happier than those who without rule or leaders
wander about the forests, so monarchs who live under the fundamental laws of their country are far
happier than despotic princes who have nothing to regulate, neither their own passions nor those of
their subjects. . . .

Let us not look for magnanimity in despotic governments; the prince cannot impart a greatness
which he has not himself; with him there is no such thing as glory.

It is in monarchies that we behold the subjects encircling the throne, and cheered by the irradiancy
of the sovereign; there it is that each person filling, as it were, a larger space, is capable of exercising
those virtues which adorn the soul, not with independence, but with true dignity and greatness.

When the savages of Louisiana are desirous of fruit, they cut the tree to the root, and gather the
fruit. This is an emblem of despotic government. . . .

The principle of despotic government is fear; but a timid, ignorant, and faint-spirited people have
no occasion for a great number of laws.

Everything ought to depend here on two or three ideas; hence there is no necessity that any new
notions should be added. When we want to break a horse, we take care not to let him change his
master, his lesson, or his pace. Thus an impression is made on his brain by two or three motions, and
no more. . . .

As fear is the principle of despotic government, its end is tranquility; but this tranquility cannot be
called a peace: no, it is only the silence of those towns which the enemy is ready to invade.

Since strength does not lie in the state, but in the army that founded it, in order to defend the state
the army must be preserved, how formidable so ever to the prince. How, then, can we reconcile the
security of the government to that of the prince’s person? . . .

After what has been said, one would imagine that human nature should perpetually rise up against
despotism. But notwithstanding the love of liberty, so natural to mankind, notwithstanding their innate
detestation of force and violence, most nations are subject to this very government. This is easily
accounted for. To form a moderate government, it is necessary to combine the several powers; to
regulate, temper, and set them in motion; to give, as it were, ballast to one, in order to enable it to
counterpoise the other. This is a masterpiece of legislation; rarely produced by hazard, and seldom
attained by prudence. On the contrary, a despotic government offers itself, as it were, at first sight; it
is uniform throughout; and as passions only are requisite to establish it, this is what every capacity
may reach. . . .

* * *

The corruption of every government generally begins with that of its principles.
The principle of democracy is corrupted not only when the spirit of equality is extinct, but

likewise when they fall into a spirit of extreme equality, and when each citizen would fain be upon a
level with those whom he has chosen to command him. Then the people, incapable of bearing the very
power they have delegated, want to manage everything themselves, to debate for the senate, to execute
for the magistrate, and to decide for the judges.

When this is the case, virtue can no longer subsist in the republic. . . .
Democracy has, therefore, two excesses to avoid—the spirit of inequality, which leads to

aristocracy or monarchy, and the spirit of extreme equality, which leads to despotic power, as the
latter is completed by conquest. . . .

As distant as heaven is from earth, so is the true spirit of equality from that of extreme equality.
The former does not imply that everybody should command, or that no one should be commanded, but
that we obey or command our equals. It endeavors not to shake off the authority of a master, but that
its masters should be none but its equals.

In the state of nature, indeed, all men are born equal, but they cannot continue in this equality.
Society makes them lose it, and they recover it only by the protection of the laws.

Such is the difference between a well-regulated democracy and one that is not so, that in the
former men are equal only as citizens, but in the latter they are equal also as magistrates, as senators,
as judges, as fathers, as husbands, or as masters.

The natural place of virtue is near to liberty; but it is not nearer to excessive liberty than to
servitude. . . .

Aristocracy is corrupted if the power of the nobles becomes arbitrary: when this is the case, there
can no longer be any virtue either in the governors or the governed.

If the reigning families observe the laws, it is a monarchy with several monarchs, and in its own
nature one of the most excellent; for almost all these monarchs are tied down by the laws. But when
they do not observe them, it is a despotic state swayed by a great many despotic princes. . . .

The extremity of corruption is when the power of the nobles becomes hereditary; for then they can
hardly have any moderation. If they are only a few, their power is greater, but their security less: if
they are a larger number, their power is less, and their security greater, insomuch that power goes on
increasing, and security diminishing, up to the very despotic prince who is encircled with excess of
power and danger.

The great number, therefore, of nobles in an hereditary aristocracy renders the government less
violent: but as there is less virtue, they fall into a spirit of supineness and negligence, by which the
state loses all its strength and activity. . . .

As democracies are subverted when the people despoil the senate, the magistrates, the judges of
their functions, so monarchies are corrupted when the prince insensibly deprives societies or cities of
their privileges. In the former case the multitude usurp the power, in the latter it is usurped by a single
person. . . .

Monarchy is destroyed when a prince thinks he shows a greater exertion of power in changing
than in conforming to the order of things; when he deprives some of his subjects of their hereditary
employments to bestow them arbitrarily upon others; and when he is fonder of being guided by fancy
than judgment.

Again, it is destroyed when the prince, directing everything entirely to himself, calls the state to
his capital, the capital to his court, and the court to his own person. . . .

The principle of despotic government is subject to a continual corruption, because it is even in its
nature corrupt. Other governments are destroyed by particular accidents, which do violence to the
principles of each constitution; this is ruined by its own intrinsic imperfections, when some
accidental causes do not prevent the corrupting of its principles. . . .

* * *

There are two sorts of tyranny: one real, which arises from oppression; the other is seated in opinion,
and is sure to be felt whenever those who govern establish things shocking to the existing ideas of a
nation. . . .

Mankind are influenced by various causes: by the climate, by the religion, by the laws, by the
maxims of government, by precedents, morals, and customs; whence is formed a general spirit of

nations.
In proportion as, in every country, any one of these causes acts with more force, the others in the

same degree are weakened. Nature and the climate rule almost alone over the savages; customs
govern the Chinese; the laws tyrannize in Japan; morals had formerly all their influence at Sparta;
maxims of government, and the ancient simplicity of manners, once prevailed at Rome. . . .

It is the business of the legislature to follow the spirit of the nation, when it is not contrary to the
principles of government; for we do nothing so well as when we act with freedom, and follow the
bent of our natural genius. . . .

4 The Spirit of the Laws :
constraint and liberty

When one reads all of Montesquieu’ s published and un­
published writings from beginning to end, one realizes that
he had been working on his masterpiece, The Spirit of the
Laws, all his life . The book was published in 1 7 48 in Geneva,
and distributed freely, with neither the consent nor the
interference of the censor, and it was an instant success . Two
years after it had appeared Montesquieu wrote to a friend that
there were twenty-two editions of his work and that it was
read all over Europe . Eventually there were to be many
critics, but they only enhanced the fame of the author . The
latter was, in fact, perfectly aware of the originality and
worth of his creation . He put a phrase from Ovid, ‘ an off­
spring made without a mother’ , at the head of the last preface
he was able to prepare for it . This was not meant to imply that
all his ideas were brand new, but that he had put together a
distinctive political theory that was unlike any of its
predecessors . And, indeed, while he referred frequently to
other authors, he quite explicitly treated even the greatest of
them, Plato and Aristotle, as reliable sources of information
and not as philosophical authorities (Pensees , 1 378 ) .

Montesquieu ‘ s evident pride in his work may have been
partly due to his triumph over his blindness . To an old friend
he confessed that he thought the book would have been
much better if he had not been so hampered by his infirmity .
The text had to be dictated to a succession of secretaries,
which was frustrating . More significantly, however, Mon­
tesquieu knew that he had put all of his life ‘ s experiences
into this, his final book . His entire intellectual capital as a
judge, scientist, novelist, historian, and traveller was
invested in it. The oldest of his preoccupations, though,
proved to be the most enduring; for as the title proclaims

67

Montesquieu

plainly enough, the book is about law . And surprisingly,
given its subject, it is more cheerful in its tone and message
than his two earlier books . Reason and knowledge could,
after all , do a great deal to prevent corruption and injustice,
and even to control the natural obstacles to human well­
being. While the devastations of despotism and fear haunt
this book even more than The Persian Letters, we are pre­
sented with plausible political alternatives . And though he
reworked a lot of the material assembled in Romans, we hear
far more about the vigorous republic than about the decadent
empire . The greatest difference is one of tone . This is the
story not of personal despair and historical decline, but of
what can be done to avert public disaster and to diminish the
political cruelties that mar our lives . Montesquieu had been
radicalized, possibly by his visit to England, and even by his
young friends from the Encyclopedie . Unlike most people,
he undeniably came to be more convinced of the possibility
of positive political action as he grew older . He never lost his
scepticism, and was as comfortable with his doubts as ever,
but his notes indicate that he also became both socially and
intellectually more self-confident in his last years .

Like most great works of political theory The Spirit of the
Laws has at least three purposes : philosophical, historical,
and polemical . Its philosophical aim was to define the
structure of law and to classify, under a few coherent
headings, the whole variety of social rules and procedures in
such a way as to reveal their place in any given society .
Historical examples were not only to explain how the laws of
a society at any time had acquired their peculiar character,
but also to show their part in the ‘nature of things ‘ . This was
one of Montesquieu’ s favourite phrases, and it stood for the
entire social and physical situation of which law was a
dynamic part . As the given state of affairs, it determined both
the possibilities and the limits of effective legislation .
History also provided the materials with which one could
build an empirical science of human law that would be like
one of the natural sciences . It was, finally, to be an eminently

68

Constraint and liberty

practical doctrine, for Montesquieu was as determined as
ever to warn his countrymen of the dangers of despotism and
to encourage the liberalization and humanization of the law
on every possible occasion . The politics of fear remained the
supreme enemy .

It cannot be said that Montesquieu was always careful to
keep his various purposes apart . The word devoir is used to
mean ‘must ‘ ( as a natural necessity ) , ‘ should’ j in order to
bring about some end) , and ‘ ought’ (because it is right ) . Even
the subtitle to his final edition is ambiguous : ‘The relation
that the laws doivent (must, should, ought to? ) have with the
constitution of every government , with mores, the climate,
religion, commerce, etc . ‘ In addition to this difficulty, there
are so many illustrations and digressions in every chapter
that many readers have found the book incoherent and con­
fusing. Jnfleegi…�§.Q.Ui�.!1.!IA.mitted that he sometimes
had to be djsorderly in ordex. to he comtixebeosixe {XIX 1 J I
Nevertheless, The Spirit of the Laws does have a clear design,
and as soon as it is recognized, its individual parts fall into
place quite readily . The first thirteen chapters deal with the
function of law as both social constraint and liberation . The
tensions and contrasts between these two equally necessary
objects of law are the guiding theme of this part of the book .
The second part discusses the natural necessities and cul­
tl!rnl,r;hi!J.�r;�_�ris!!�.§.:wl}ic!}..Q9tP,_E}.0Uld ��? limit mankind’ s
ability,: tolm.P.Q.fil! its-�ill .. Y.I>.Q!l�nme.nt. Only know­
ledge makes it possible for us to be at ease and to act
effectively within the physical and historical world into
which we are born . To disregard ‘ the nature of things ‘ is to
court both intellectual and political disaster . The lesson for
legislatoi;s is that they must understand l aw fiI£t of all as pa.It
of the social whole whi.chJhi;:y mle, as well as an instrnmeot
of deliberate &QY.�U.l!I!�Ut. The spirit of the laws is thus a
mixture of intentional human designs and of the deep
circumstances which condition all the rules of a society. The
last five chapters are an appendix, in which the Roman and
early French laws of succession are analysed to demonstrate

69

Montesquieu

how the history of law should be studied . Above all, the book
is about the spirit, not the letter of the law; about what it
means in society and not what it says in the law-books .

The brief opening book of The Spirit of the Laws, with a
nod to convention, is modelled on one of the most venerable
and best-known authorities , the second-century Roman
jurist Ulpian . Like him, Montesquieu began with a defini­
t ion of law in general , and then went on to an account of the
specific types of law. He was particularly faithful to the
original in covering the philosophical ground as quickly as he
decently could before getting down to the real matter in
hand, positive, man-made laws . His initial definition of law
is cryptic: ‘Laws, in their most general significance, are the
necessary relations arising from the nature of things . In this
sense all beings have their laws : the Deity has His laws, the
material world has its laws, intelligences superior to man
have their laws, the beasts have their laws, and man has his
laws’ (I . l ) . These sentences pleased hardly anyone . Sceptics
like Hume complained that the word ‘relation’ was a mean­
ingless metaphysical abstraction. This was unfair, since
Montesquieu had no metaphysical aspirations whatsoever .
He just wanted to discuss law as both cause and effect of all
other social conditions. Clerical readers were also offended,
because they saw a hierarchy of norms which enclosed God,
man, and the beasts in a single self-perpetuating system .
With some prudence, Montesquieu had actually added to his
initial statement the reflection that without an intelligent
Creator and first cause such a structure of rules was
unthinkable . God was no longer active in it, but He had made
it all . This may not have sufficed for any imaginable
Christian reader, but it was very important for Montesquieu
himself, because acts of legislation were at the very heart of
his idea of law . In a notebook he wrote that when we see law
in society we always have an idea of a legislator, just as there
is an artisan for every machine . Everything in the world has a
cause and for every artifact there must be a craftsman. Since
the universe had surely been created, there must have been

70

Constraint and liberty

a Deity who had made it . Montesquieu was a deist, not an
atheist . That the laws of the natural world should have been
made by an intelligent being was both a symbolic necessity
and a plausible proposition for him. Human legislators give
their societies a great part of their form and character, and
they are not just remote mythical figures , like Lycurgus .
Montesquieu remembered that William Penn had done no
less within living memory, indeed had done better, because
peace, not war, had been the aim of his laws . Moreover, in
England Montesquieu had seen parliamentary legislating as
an ongoing practice, not as just an initial founding .
Important though legislative action was, it did not, however,
define law . Montesquieu spoke of law as a relation precisely
because, unlike Hobbes and Pufendorf, he did not regard it as
the command of a superior or the will of a sovereign . Relation
may indeed be a vague word, but what it does not mean may
be more important than what it does imply, in this case.

The second part of a preamble to a treatise on law was
traditionally supposed to deal with the differences between
natural and human law, and Montesquieu proceeded accord­
ingly . Human bodies, our machines, are, like all material
objects, subject to physical laws, but our soul and its will can
make choices about conduct . That is why, unlike the
animals, we are not wholly guided by instinct . Here, still
closely following Ulpian, Montesquieu identified the law of
nature as the instinct for self-preservation . Unhappily we are
not as well-favoured by nature as are the beasts, who, with­
out intelligence to lead them astray, live more happily and
peacefully than we can . We are, in fact , nature ‘ s stepchildren
and we must make all kinds of rules for ourselves to restrain
and guide us . Deism allowed Montesquieu to think that the
laws of physical motion, animal instinct, and social rules
were somehow alike, except that we are able to refuse to
follow the latter two .

Justice also was not a part of Montesquieu ‘ s definition of
law, which does not mean that he disregarded it . As Uzbek
had remarked, if there is a God He must be just, otherwise

7 1

Montesquieu

He would be a demon, and even if there is no God we should
love justice, because it is a relationship of inherent fitness ,
which corresponds to what a perfect being would establish .
At the very least we should believe that there is an inner voice
that tells us what is right and wrong . Without that minimal
act of faith we should fall into despair and live in perpetual
fear ( lxxxiii ) . In The Spirit of the Laws justice is not treated as
a necessary myth . It is simply claimed that the ideas of
justice and law arise simultaneously in the human mind, like
a circle and its radii . Law and justice are inseparable, one
implies the other . Justice may even be anterior in time to
law, since we do have an innate sense of obligation to those
who have benefited us, but nothing suggests that it has its
origins in anything other than human intelligence. What
counts most is that without laws we could not survive . A
man who had spent more than a decade presiding over a
criminal court was not likely to ignore the necessity of
coercive law, but he did not draw the same conclusions as
Hobbes had from this consideration . He had no use for the
sort of law of nature that was supposed to prevail in Hobbes ‘
fear- and aggression-ridden state of nature, mainly because
he thought speculations about pre-social life irrelevant . In
such an imaginary state men would probably be too timid
and too simple to think of domination, which presupposes a
considerable social experience . Montesquieu dismissed the
ideas both of a pre-political hell and of Utopian perfection .
Law deals with men as they exist in history, and at its best it
is reason applied to the nature of things . Such reasoning is
particularly necessary for Ulpian ‘s final category of law, the
law of nations (ius gen ti um ) . This is the law of war and peace
between states which instructs them to do each other as little
harm as possible in war, and all the good compatible with
their own interests in time of peace .

Eventually Montesquieu went far beyond Ulpian in his
account of the relations between the different kinds of law .
For in post-feudal and multi-religious Europe it was a matter
of utmost importance that the various types of law be kept

72

Constrain t and liberty

apart . The first task of modern law is to mark off private from
public spheres of conduct, to regulate only the latter, and
to organize legal procedures to protect the former . Otherwise
there could be no liberty; for constraint is only one half of
the aim of law . First of all the rules governing the structure
and powers of government must be kept apart from the civil
and criminal law which applies to private citizens . Rulers
must not be allowed to treat their offices as their personal
property . Nor is the feudal mix of private and public
authority suitable now (XXVI . 1 5-1 7 ) . If, in turn, the
government interferes with civil law, the person and
property of the citizens are in danger . To abrogate the
‘palladium’ of property and to seize private property for
public purposes without due compensation can never be for
the public good . For what is the public good but the security
of property? These are compelling reasons for keeping public
and private law in separate compartments, and Montesquieu
thought that this section was the most original part of his
book (Pensees, 1 770) .

Religious law, as one might expect, was to be kept entirely
apart from secular law. Religion deals with the eternal
verities, and its precepts cannot be applied to an ever­
changing social world. It should speak to our hearts and rely
on counsel, not on force . There must be no punishable
religious crimes; therefore inquisitions and persecutions ,
which are incursions into the criminal law, are unacceptable
assaults on personal security . To be sure, religious rules can
contribute enormously to the stability of society, and when
they do so the civil law should follow them, in matrimonial
law for instance . Inheritance, dowries, and the legitimacy
of children are, however, all matters of political economy
and must be left to the civil law (XXVl . 2, 9-13 ) . So also are
charitable bequests and the management of poor houses and
the like (XXIII . 29 ) . Sexual and family relations are an
extension of our instinct for self-preservation, and so fall
under the law of nature, which should be beyond public
control altogether . Partly because our security depends

73

Montesquieu

on a protected private sphere, but also because these forms of
conduct are so relative to time and place, they ought not to be
subjected to the rigours of the criminal law . Readers of The
Persian Letters will not be surprised to find Montesquieu less
than shocked by incest.

The instinct of self-preservation plays its most creative
part in the law of nations . It could not exist at all if it were not
separated from political law, which always tries to reduce it
to the mere expediency of governments . The law of nations
forbids wars of extermination and permits only defensive
wars and wars of liberation, which alone are compatible with
human preservation (X .2-4) . No law can justify permanent
slavery : bondage is permitted, if at all, only during the first
years of a military occupation . Finally, the laws of the con­
querors may not replace the law of nations; the Spaniards
had no right to kill Indian kings in America because they
did not rule according to Spanish customs (XXVl . 20-2) .
Humanity is always prior to citizenship (Pensees, 350) .
Above all, laws must be placed in appropriate compartments
so that they will be neither too onerous nor uncertain. They
will still remind us forcefully of what we may and may not
do.

Of all the possible fields of legislation, political ( con­
stitutional) law is by far the most important in setting the
rules by which we must live . There are, Montesquieu
argued, three forms of government, republican, monarchic,
and despotic, and what distinguishes them is the number
and character of those who rule . A republic may be
governed by the many or the few, that is, the people or an
aristocracy . In a monarchy, one man rules according to pre­
established laws, while in a despotism there are no
restraints upon him. This would have been a fairly
conventional way of classifying regimes if it had not put
such an emphasis on despotism. Lawless autocracy is,
however, not just another form of government here, it is the
limiting case, the very extremity of political corruption . All
governments are judged by their distance from or proximity

74

Constraint and liberty

to this evil . It was for Montesquieu a yardstick with which
he could measure both the psychological qualities of rulers
and the structures of governments . For despotism is a
passion of the soul, a political tendency, and a system of
government . A state in which institutionalized power is too
concentrated is moving structurally towards despotism,
and this is particularly likely to occur in monarchies .
Asiatic despotism is their ultimate end, and its prevalence
was important for Montesquieu, because he wanted to
make sure that his readers fully understood that such
regimes really did exist .

Forms of government do not adequately define regimes,
something more dynamic must be added, the passions and
the ethos of those who govern . They make up the
‘principles’ which make states act and give them their
effective character . They are what the soul is to an
individual . Virtue in democracies, moderation in aristo­
cracies, honour in monarchies, and fear in despotisms are
integral to these regimes, and to change these principles is
to transform the entire political order (III . 2, 9 ) . These
principles are not ideologies jwhich are complex structures
of thought ) but common mentalities or shared dispositions .
To complete the task of definition Montesquieu noted that
while all states aim at their own preservation, each one has
a special end as well : war for Sparta, glory for most
monarchies, and liberty for England, for example (XL S ) .
This is the political psychology, the ‘moral causes ‘ , which
any scientific study of law must take into account .

Since the survival of any regime depends on the
disposition of its rulers to maintain its principle, education
must be the first constraint that the law imposes upon
them . The earliest impressions we receive are the most
enduring and it is never too soon to begin to imprint the
principles of government upon the young jIV . 1 ) . This was
much easier in antiquity, when there was only one set of
ethical precepts to be absorbed, while in modern Europe,
the family, religion, and the world all teach their own

75

Montesquieu

lessons, even though the latter usually prevails (IV .4 ) . There
is no reason to believe, however, that Montesquieu resented
the modem divided self . He was not given to that sort of
introspection . What he did regret was the feeble public
activity of the traditional French elites . Despotism, of
course, shuns education, ignorance being its normal
condition .

How do governments constrain the citizens and how are
rulers restrained? Montesquieu’ s representations of how the
various regimes work are indissoluble mixtures of history
and cautionary analysis . They are accounts of what was done
to preserve a form of government, and what should have been
done, and what very often was not done . The result is not so
much a construction of models of the four types of govern­
ment, as an artful collage of historical information about
what policies had kept them alive, and might have continued
to do so, as well as of those decisions that eventually caused
their decline or transformation . In every case, he begins with
the most important point of all : who rules?

In a democratic republic, of which Athens was his chief
example, all citizens rule and are ruled in turn. Its most
important political decision, therefore, is who is to count as a
citizen and a voter, for they will govern themselves directly .
Montesquieu thought that the suffrage should be spread very
widely, but exercised on a limited area of legislation, with
most matters left to elected magistrates . Some of these may
be chosen by lot, but most should be elected in open
assemblies so that discussion and persuasion can play a
part in the deliberations and choices of the people . Not all
votes need be counted equally; voters can be divided into
blocks which give the richer ones extra weight, but in general
the people as a whole can be expected to make very sound
electoral choices . Virtue, defined as patriotic zeal, and a
passionate love of equality animate the citizens, which is
possible only in a small society of similar members . The
military dangers of smallness can be overcome by a
confederation among similar polities ( IX . 1-3 ) . Because

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Constrain t and liberty

Montesquieu thought that in a pure democracy the egali­
tarian rather than the military passions of a republican
citizenry constituted their patriotism, social education,
not martial discipline, seemed to be the first requirement of
a democracy (V .3-7 ) . Only in Rome was constant military
ardour an essential part of patriotism. In either case, how­
ever, a tight, cohesive little society of mutually watchful
citizens is essential to maintain democracy and its spirit of
equality (VII . 1 6) . Censors must reinforce these informal
restraints upon the conduct of adults , but nothing is more
important than the upbringing of the young, who must obey
the old in rigidly patriarchal households . Such customs are
no violation of equality, but a rotation of authority, since all
men may expect to become wise fathers eventually . Next to
education, law enforcement is the most urgent object of
government in a democracy . The accused criminal must be
given the most extensive protection, for the life of every
citizen is equally precious, but once a sentence has been
passed there can be no pardon. All crimes are, after all, public
offences against one ‘ s fellow citizen-rulers . There can,
therefore, also be no separate religious courts , everything
being part of one public order . Sumptuary laws may be a
good policy to maintain thrift and equality, which are social,
not religious virtues . Since women are treated as articles of
consumption in these societies , their chastity and domes­
tication are part of the frugal probity of an egalitarian
republic (VII . 8-1 7 ) . Because all relationships are public
in a republic, male friendship is fully realized only there .
Men there love and hate each other passionately, while in .
monarchies they feel only an instinctual affection or con­
tempt for each other IPensees, 1 253, 1 675 ) . This was Athens
at its best and it haunted Montesquieu ‘ s imagination. He
was not the last political thinker to come under its spell .

The indoctrination of citizens in both democratic and
aristocratic republics must be deep and subtle . If it fails , all
is lost, for who is there to recall a corrupted people to
patriotism and equality? Corruption, as we have seen, always

7 7

Montesquieu

begins at the top . Montesquieu had far more confidence in
the Roman people than in the patricians, but in the end
they also lost their virtue (VIII . 12-1 6) . The greatest
problem of republican regimes is to put off the evil moment
when they lose their inner balance . Indeed, nothing reveals
the brittleness of political elites more than the conduct of
republican aristocracies, of whom the Roman patricians
and the modern Venetians were the main examples . Here
sovereignty, the power to make and enforce laws, is in the
hands of a recognized nobility ( 11 . 3 ) . The closer they are
to the people the more stable they are, because some
egalitarian restraints remain intact . When their status
becomes hereditary all these are lost (VIII . 5 ) . It is also
difficult to prevent the personal ambitions and mutual
antagonisms of the individual members of an aristocracy
from destroying the republic . Moderation must be their
principle if they are to survive, and as the history of Venice
shows, they are not capable of it . One way to force
moderation upon them is to tax off any excessive wealth
that they might acquire (VII . 3 ) . Marriage into plebeian
families should also be encouraged and estates divided
equally among all heirs, and commercial enrichment
forbidden so that economic inequality is not added to
already unequal political conditions . In the end, however,
no law can keep an aristocracy within republican bounds;
only their own moderation and good sense can do that, and

‘. that may not be enough (III . 4 ) . Liberty is not safe in the
hands of aristocrats unless they have a collective self­
interest in maintaining it .

What was Montesquieu trying to establish about
republican government in general? First of all that these
governments were quite rational and that there were very
good reasons for their laws, which served their political
stability and ethos . Nevertheless, there is also a record of
mistakes and loss of public will which were detrimental to
the constitutional survival of these states . Republican
constitutions are exceptionally fragile because they depend

78

Constraint and liberty

on the customs, habits , and attitudes of the citizens far more
than on explicit legislation . They can really work only in
societies that are deeply traditional, integrated, and totally
geared to political purposes . Every institution, whether
domestic or communal, must serve the republican order, and
especially the egalitarian structure of politics . It is obviously
not an easy system to copy and Montesquieu made no
suggestions to that end, quite the contrary . His purposes in
reconstructing the political experiences of republics were
far more scientific than programmatic . The comparison
between functioning and disturbed constitutions, which
illustrates the heavy demands of republican government, is
only a part of a general theory of political survival . It was
evidently Montesquieu’ s hope that he had found standards
by which the performance of governments could be judged,
the onset of decay recognized, and the probable course of any
republic foreseen . Once one fully grasps the structure and
movements of a regime, one has not cures for its ills, but a
new way of using history to understand the constitutional
law of republics in general, and of other regimes as well .

Monarchy preoccupied Montesquieu more than any other
form of government . Most of Europe was, after all, governed
by monarchs and he was writing mainly about and for France .
In a monarchy the legislative power is in the hands of a single
prince, but he is surrounded by laws and institutions that
stop him imposing his will directly upon his subjects .
Limitations upon the power of the prince are thus part of
the very definition of monarchy (11 .4 ) . The necessity of
intermediary institutions to stem the ‘ ocean’ of royal power
which always threatens to inundate the people cannot
therefore be overestimated . Among the remaining barriers
that stood between the king of France and the people,
Montesquieu sometimes spoke respectfully of the parle­
ments, but by no means always (Pensees, 589 ) . He even
thought that buying, selling, and inheriting judicial offices
was appropriate, because it put their owners out of the
reach of the prince ‘ s control, and probably provided better

79

Montesquieu

magistrates than those that the king and his ministers would
appoint (V . 19 ) . He knew all about the inner weakness of the
parlements, and he appreciated them, not as governing
bodies, but only as bulwarks against the king. Was this
special pleading for his own caste, or the counsel of despair?
The Estates General had not met for over a century and even
then had been a failure . The old nobility had become
courtiers who, among other vices, were given to ‘ ambition in
idleness; meanness mixed with pride; a desire for riches
without industry; aversion to truth; flattery, perfidy,
violation of engagements, and contempt for civil duties ‘ . A.s
one might expect, they set a bad example to the rest of the
population ( III . 5 J . Their privileges and estates would have to
be maintained to leave some sort of link between the people
and the king, but as a ruling elite they were evidently
hopeless . As for the Church, it could in principle control the
prince, but as the clergy were beholden to the crown for their
property, they were entirely dependent upon the king .
Nothing could be expected from that quarter ( II .4; Pensees,
2 1 4 ) . Who was to govern France? Who was to thwart the
prince ?

Montesquieu was obviously aware of the frailty of the
ancien regime, and he attributed it to the decline of its
countervailing powers . Honour is the energizing principle of
monarchical constitutions, and it is the ethos of the military
nobility . War is their joy, and they do not mind giving their
lives for their prince, but their estates and privileges mean
a lot more to them . Personal ambition and class­
consciousness move them most of all and that is what makes
the monarchy go as well. Education teaches the nobility
what they owe to themselves, not to others . Frankness is
important to them, because it is a mark of breeding and
boldness, but a love of truth is not required . Pride should be
cultivated at all costs to prevent the utter servility and
politeness of courtiers (IV . 2 ) . For their politeness is not
genuine civility; it merely flatters the vices of others , while
civility hides our own vices and protects others against our

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Constrain t and liberty

worst impulses (XIX . 1 6) . The French nobility had lost its
independent political significance and with the clergy were
so bound to the king that they must all sink or swim together .
Montesquieu never imagined a political future for the
commercial bourgeoisie or the lower reaches of the third
estate; he did not even look in that direction . What he
dreaded was the descent of French absolutism into a
despotism on the Spanish model . Writing as he did before the
middle of the eighteenth century, that was not an
unreasonable apprehension, even though we know that this
was not how it turned out .

Although the honour of the nobility had been eroded, and
though the clergy were the servants of the crown, law and
policy could still do much to save the French monarchy from
the Spanish shipwreck . The maintenance of an independent
judiciary, and thus of the parlements, was one positive step
still open to the regime, and that was a crucial issue for
Montesquieu . The central and continuous theme of The
Spirit of the Laws is that the independence of the courts of
law more than any other institution separates moderate from
despotic regimes . In a monarchy they are the essential barrier
against tyranny, which is why neither the prince nor his
advisers may act as judges; for if they replace the judiciary,
the person and the property of the subject are at risk. The
judicial process should be slow and complex in criminal
cases, so as to afford the accused every opportunity to prove
his innocence . The stability of law is also better ensured in
this way than if judgements are made summarily by single
judges or by some royal official (VI. l , 5-6 J . If confusion arises
in an unco-ordinated legal system it can always be put in
order by timely legislation . The prince may, however,
demonstrate his clemency by granting pardons, which
though they are not in keeping with the rigours of republican
justice are fitt ing acts of monarchical benevolence, since
there is a personal, not a wholly public sovereign (VI . 2 1 ) . In
punishing the guilty, the social position of the criminal is to
be taken into account, since shame and dishonour are as

8 1

Montesquieu

serious for some ranks as fines and imprisonment are for
others . These were the minimal standards of judicial
behaviour under a monarchical constitution, and not the
best Montesquieu could hope for, as he was to show later on
in the book .

If the monarchy needed self-restraint in its judicial
procedures it needed it even more in its military policies .
Montesquieu’ s ideas on foreign affairs were largely inspired
by his loathing of Louis XIV and all of his policies . The
king ‘ s imperial ambitions were absurd . He was generally
incompetent, obsessed by his need for glory and ostentation,
and did not know either when to begin or when to end a war
(Pensees, 1 302 ) . A monarchy should avoid conquests
because they impoverish the provinces and corrupt the
capital with plunder (X .9 ) . Since only defensive wars should
be contemplated, strategically placed fortresses offer the best
protection ( IX . 5-6) . A moderate territory is in any case best
for a monarchy; otherwise, a too distant nobility will assert
its independence from the capital, and rule the outlying
localities despotically, as the conduct of the Spanish con­
querors in America demonstrated only too well (VIII. 1 7-1 8 ) .
Military policy in a monarchy, no less than in a republic ,
should clearly be what it almost never is, subordinate to
constitutional considerations and to the demands of political
survival .

Fear of despotism, rather than nostalgia for the old French
feudal nobility, persuaded Montesquieu to look to the
remnants of noble honour as a scaffolding on which to build a
reformed monarchy . His notes on the early history of France
cast the nobility in a particularly unflattering light . They
were barbaric and superstitious, and they engaged in futile
wars and oppressed the peasantry . Nor did they care if the
king did the same as long as he left them alone (Pensees,
1 1 84, 1 302) . As a form of government the monarchy,
however, needs intermediary institutions to buffet the
people and to restrain the prince . Otherwise it must assume a
different form sooner or later . The core of Montesquieu ‘ s

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Constrain t and liberty

theory of monarchy is that when it is absolute it is unstable,
whether in modem Europe or in ancient Rome . Unless there
is a very wide dispersal of power it does not maintain its
constitution, and is in danger of shifting toward either a
republican or a despotic order, the latter being the more
probable alternative now. The conditions for democracy no
longer exist, as the English discovered after the execution of
Charles I (VIII . 6-9 ) . France, on that premiss, stood poised
between the Spanish and the English model, and
Montesquieu ardently hoped that it would not follow the
path of the former .

The Spanish monarchy was well on its way to pure
despotism. The clergy was the only remaining restraint upon
the king, and it was a feeble fence ( II .4 ) . Indeed, it was so
intolerant that it was despotic in its own right, as is usual
in oppressive regimes . Spain ‘s corruption began with its
conquests and the stupid and cruel policy of extermination in
America . The political attitudes thus acquired in Mexico
were then brought back home to Spain jVIII . 1 8 ) . And all of
this had begun and been continued under the pretext of
religion (XV .4; Pensees, 207, 1 268 ) . The erosion 9f the
intermediary powers began when clerical and monarchical
power were too closely joined. Montesquieu did not argue
absurdly that the Spanish nobility had lost their sense of
honour; far from it, but they had allowed the balance of
power to shift to the king. The result was a structural
political change, and not one of mentality .

Despotism was not a new subject for Montesquieu . As a
form of government despotism is exactly like Uzbek’ s rule
over his seraglio . It is the uncontrolled power of a single man
and its principle is fear . Everything else follows from that .
Punishment takes the place of education and the instinct for
self-preservation keeps the subjects in animal-like obedience
(II . 5 ; III . 8-1 0; IV . 3; V . 14-1 6; VI . 9 ) . Terror undeniably
works . There is no security of property, since creditors have
no way of recovering debts and people are generally too
frightened to be litigious and to go to court to claim their own ‘

83

Montesquieu

(V . 1 , 13-l Si Vl . 1-3 ) . In military policy the despot cares only
for himself and his capital, to which the exposed provinces
are sacrificed in war. The laws of religion might temper the
rule of a despotic prince, but do not in fact do so (III . 1 0 ) .
Generally religions tend t o support despotism, because belief
in an after-life makes people fatalistic, passive, and ready to
endure oppression (XXIV . 1 1 , 14 ) . Religious doctrines and
practices may also impoverish a country in ways that help
the despot . Magnificent objects of veneration both bind
believers deeply to the faith and make them love those who
are most responsible for their misery (XXV .2 ) . In addition
compulsory gifts to the clergy, as well as clerical celibacy and
idleness, contribute to the poverty of an already poor
population (XXIII . 2 1 , 28 ) . Montesquieu’ s case against
religion was completely political, but it was aimed at the
content, not only at the social power of belief, because he was
convinced that religion added much to human fears and
misery .

Fear (crainte) was for Montesquieu a physiological reac­
tion set in motion by a ‘ moral ‘ impulse when a command is
transmitted from the soul to all the fibres of the body with
paralysing results . It is involuntary and far too imperious to
be controlled, especially as it is a permanent state of
foreboding, not a sudden response to danger (peur) . That is
why it is so characteristic of despotic states (Pensees, 1 1 92) .
In the article Crainte, written by Montesquieu ‘ s disciple
J au court for the Encyclopedie, this sort of fear is defined as so
tyrannical a passion that it prevents us from enjoying the
present in anticipation of the future, especially after our
death . The fear of dying is therefore easily exploited by a
systematically cruel regime . This is where our physical and
moral impulses meet and struggle, and where the former
triumph . There is something uniquely physical about a fear­
ridden despotism that separates it from every other form of
government in Montesquieu’s gallery of regimes . That is
why he first mentioned the compelling force of climate in the
discussion of despotism (V . 1 5 ) . Despotism is so unalterable

84

Constrain t and liberty

precisely because its principle is so physiological . It suffers
from succession crises and riots, but nothing really changes .
I t is the social equivalent o f death . That also i s why it can
occur anywhere, even if in Montesquieu’s view it was most
common in Asia . Why, finally, was he so obsessed by
despotism? Napoleon was, after all, still a long way off, not to
mention later dictators . Tyranny was an old notion, but
Montesquieu was no longer interested in it, because it :
referred only to individual rulers . He was interested in :
political systems, not just in the personality of princes , I
because he understood that the entire ancien regime was at l
risk, whether it had a good or a bad man on the throne . France \
was structurally inclined toward despotism.

With the analysis of despotism Montesquieu came to the
most significant of his distinctions between regimes : the
moderate and the immoderate . What did he mean by political
moderation? Clearly it is more than just the principle of
aristocratic republics . It is also more than the personal ability
to inhibit, freely or under compulsion, the despotic impulses
that afflict us all . Fully developed moderation is a political
form of intelligence, the capacity to calculate correctly the
most probable social consequences of our actions and to
act accordingly . Because political power offers every
opportunity and temptation to cast off one ‘ s inhibitions,
moderation can be instilled only by rules and constraints . It
is thus a public rather than a private virtue . The mountain of
information and the diagnoses assembled in The Spirit of the
Laws were meant not only to inspire a moderate temper,
but also to show what was required to sustain it . It was in
many ways a manual for a possible French ruling class .
Without institutionally enforced restraints, whether formal
or informal, moderate politics are not even imaginable .
The best constitution is a system of interlocking and
mutually checking interests and powers such as prevailed
in republican Rome and in modern England . It is the ‘master­
piece of legislation’ (V . 14 ; Pensees, 892, 9 1 8 ) .

There was only one government in modern Europe that

85

Montesquieu

made freedom the aim of its constitution and policies,
England . Montesquieu did not see it as a heaven at the
opposite pole of the hell of despotism. He did not make it into
a utopia, but he admittedly presented an improved version of
the actual government of England . It was what England could
and was meant to be. Constitutional liberty meant the rule of
law, a limited government whose various members were not
subordinate to each other, and a people that enjoyed a high
degree of personal security . What is liberty? According to
Montesquieu it is not independence, which is just doing as
one pleases, but rather the condition that causes people to
feel that their person and property are secure (XI .3 ) . If fear is
the predominant emotion of the subjects of despots , a sense
of security is normal among a free people. A free citizen may
do what the law permits and what he ought to will, and he is
not forced to abstain from what the law does not forbid . It is
very much a matter of negative liberty, of not being
interfered with . Montesquieu refused to engage in
metaphysical speculations about the freedom of the will
(XII .2 ) . When he said that liberty was willing what one
should will, he only meant that one should agree to what law
and custom in a free society demand, because it is a supreme
benefit . A.man in a free state who has been condemned to
hang in a fair trial still has more liberty than a Turkish pasha
jXII .2 ) . Freedom is not happiness, but it is the necessary
precondition of all possible joys (Pensees, 1 5 74 ) . There is
nothing anarchical about this notion of liberty. Freedom is
above all the result of political arrangements that protect a
people against the oppressive inclinations of its rulers, and
the latter from their mutual aggression . Montesquieu never
mentioned rights, natural or artificial, but only the deep
assurance of personal security . In-his -notebook he described
liberty as a good net in which the fish do not feel constrained
(Pensees, 943 ) . There are always rules .and coercion in every
state, but their impact upon the members of society is quite
different when their aim is liberty rather than oppression .

A free government is extremely complex, for it requires not

86

Constraint and liberty

only laws protecting the citizens, but also a constitutional
law that ensures a wide play of interests among those who
govern. England is a ‘ democracy disguised as a monarchy’ , in
which the people agree to share power with a monarch and
the nobility, as the Roman plebeians had once permitted the
Senate to rule (XI . 6, 1 3 ) . Its principle is something more
egalitarian than honour, widely shared political ambition,
which is entirely in keeping with its institutional structure
in which both the people and the nobility are involved. The
House of Commons represents the people, because they are
too numerous to meet directly . Representation is for
Montesquieu a second best, not an inherently superior way
for the people to participate in lawmaking . Its only advantage
is that demagogues could do less damage there than in
popular assemblies (XIX .27 ) . To fulfil its essential functions,
the House of Commons must express the ‘general will ‘ of the
people, and the vote is to be denied only to those who are too
poor to be able to exercise an independent judgement . As the
mirror of the nation, its members are not the leaders or the
trustees of the people, but their spokesmen . The hereditary
nobility need a legislative chamber of their own, since the
majority might vote them out of existence otherwise and
again attempt an impractical republican experiment without
the necessary political virtues . On the whole, however,
Montesquieu did not fear the turbulence of the people as
much as he dreaded despotism, even though he was well
aware of the dangers of popular violence . Nor did he think
that civil war was the greatest calamity; a state of blind
obedience was a lot worse (Pensees, 1252 ) . The danger of
despotism, not of discord, served him as a steady political
measure . Thus if the nobility helps to maintain moderate
government they are politically functional in a free
government and so is the monarch . The House of Lords can
in fact check the hasty impulses of the Commons and the
king ‘ s veto serves the same end. The monarch enforces the
law with dispatch and is also useful in convening and
dissolving Parliament at the right intervals . His ministers

8 7

Montesquieu

should be subject to impeachment proceedings, but not the
monarch himself. And there must be no standing armies to
tempt him to undertake political adventures, which are also
discouraged by the legislative power of the purse . Every part
of this constitutional order is free from the domination of
the others, which is what Montesquieu meant by political
liberty, as distinguished from personal freedom .

The origin of this beautiful system was in German
antiquity, Montesquieu claimed, thus starting a durable
myth . Like many of Tacitus ‘ readers he was much taken with
the picture of free tribesmen choosing their chieftains,
though he admitted that they had too many bondsmen. More
immediately it permitted him to believe that European
liberty was embedded in a common past and was not just an
English invention . It could be recovered, given its deep and
ancient roots . But if English history offered grounds for hope,
its present course was not without dangers . The Crown
seduced and corrupted the members of the House of
Commons with patronage and money . Virtue was still firm
among the middle classes, but elections were notoriously
dishonest (Pensees, 1960 ) . Precisely because it was meant to
serve as a living model, Montesquieu did not choose to
present the English constitution as an ideal state, but as the
best known alternative to despotically inclined monarchies .
The best government is one that suits a given people, and in
Europe that meant moderate government of some sort, and a

fair degree of liberty .
The most essential institution for genuine political liberty

is a judicial system manned by impartial, rigidly rule-bound,
and predictable judges . Their decisions must have all the
rigour of a syllogistic argument (VI .3 ; XI . 6) . Far more than
Locke , Montesquieu put the burden of protecting liberty on
the shoulders of the judiciary . And whatever else his
celebrated theory of the separation of powers may involve, it
means the absolute independence of the judiciary from all
other agencies of government . Without that there can be no
liberty . It was also on this point that he proceeded to

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Constrain t and liberty

democratize the English constitution far beyond its actu­
ality . The judicial power is so terrible to mankind that it
must be made invisible in some way; for it is before a judge
that the ordinary citizen feels the full power of the state,
when he is accused of a crim.e that he may or may not have
committed . It is here that he discovers not only that all law is
coercive and frightening, but also whether or not he enjoys
any liberty. In a free constitution he should have to fear only
the office, not the person of the magistrate . He should have
some choice as to who is to judge him and juries should be
selected by lot , as in Athens, to ensure their popular
character . Finally, everyone should be judged by his peers .
The nobility should be tried by the House of Lords, which
may also act as an appeals court .

Montesquieu’ s claim to being one of the greatest of liberal
thinkers rests not on his famous homage to the English
constitution, but on his theory of the criminal law and
punishment. The liberty of the individual, according to that
doctrine, depends radically on the extent of the criminal law
and the kinds of punishment that it inflicts . This is a
liberalism of fear, an effort to avoid oppression rather than
directly to promote rights to political action or self­
development, but its arguments in favour of an extensive
sphere of personal liberty are just as compelling. For clearly
there was more to Montesquieu’ s idea of liberty than the
separation of governmental powers and the general sense of
security . The single most important requirement for the
realization of liberty is that only a very few misdeeds should
be criminalized at all . Religious errors can safely be left to
God for correction. Posterity would think it horrible that
Europeans were ever so uncivilized as to burn Jews . Sexual
deviations are, at worst , forms of self-neglect, and as such not
the business of the public law . The very notion of the guilt of
parents being visited upon their children is abhorrent and
inherently despotic. Any charter of our liberties is now
simply impossible without the complete exclusion of
religion from politics in general, and from the criminal law

89

Montesquieu

especially . Disturbers of the public peace may be put in
prison or exiled, but there is only one crime that must always
be punished : any act of violence against the person or
property of a private individual . Words are not acts and
therefore cannot be crimes unless they are the equivalent of
performative utterances, such as calling for a riot in a
crowded market . The dangerous thoughts of our neighbours
are also not actions and cannot concern the law . Secret
accusations might have a place in a virtuous republic, but in
all other states the tribe of secret informers should be
outlawed (VI. 8 ) . It is, moreover, very important to define all
crimes very exactly so that no arbitrary sentences can be
imposed. Especially the crime of high treason must be
carefully spelled out and very narrowly defined . Unless the
reach of the criminal law is shackled in these ways, there
simply is no liberty for anyone (XII . 1-30) .

The scope of criminal law is only half of the story . The
severity of punishments is just as important for a liberal
theory . Montesquieu believed that an excessive harshness of
penalties was both intolerable and useless (VI. 9-20) . Even
despotic governments do not get all the results they want .
People simply become mentally and physiologically
hardened and cease to respond to threats . As for torture,
nothing can excuse it . Montesquieu must have tortured
many people during his years as a criminal judge in Bordeaux,
and he came to regard the practice as utterly irrational . He
said that he had observed that nine out of ten people put to
the rack and to other tortures endured them . ‘ If so many
innocent people were condemned to such horrible pain, what
cruelty ! If so many criminals escaped death, what an
injustice ! ‘ (Pensees, 643, 1 540) . The death penalty itself was
a symptom of a diseased society, and not at all necessary .
‘ Our ancestors, the Germans’ did without it, imposing only
fines and no corporal punishments at all (VI . 1 7 ; XII .4 ) . What
is punishment meant to achieve, after all? It is supposed to
deter potential criminal acts, and the fear of harsh physical
punishments may not serve that end nearly as well as fear of

90

Constraint and liberty

social disgrace and shame jVl. 12 ) . Justice is to be found in a
proportion between crime and punishment , but in weighing
the two, the danger of oppressive government must always
be taken into account . The protection of the innocent is ,
moreover, no less important than the punishment of the
guilty . In extreme emergencies a government may imprison
suspects briefly, but it must always be an exception . He
had mixed feelings about bills of attainder in England .
Sometimes he thought them a necessary infringement upon
liberty that would preserve it in the long run, but in his
notebooks he called them barbaric and intolerable (XII . 1 99;
Pensees, 1 665 ) .

One thread runs through all of Montesquieu’ s reflections
on crime and punishment : how to lessen the burden of fear
in the minds of ordinary citizens . Cruelty and fear are
physically and psychologically so damaging that they make
life worthless . They cripple their victims just as Uzbek
infantilizes his tormented wives . A moderate government
may not contribute directly to our happiness and the absence
of fear may not make us virtuous, but without them all hope
for these goods is extinguished . To prevent that bitter end is
the chief object of Montesquieu’ s liberalism, and especially
of his theory of criminal law . It is a liberalism devoid of
Utopian aspirations, which were not in any case in keeping
with his severe relativism . In his notebook he did once put
down a few thoughts on the best state . Its main features were
the equal distribution of wealth and of inheritances , and a
simple judicial process before five judges and without
lawyers (Pensees, 1 85 ) . The most revealing thing about that
brief sketch is the importance Montesquieu attached, even
in his fantasies, to the law of inheritance and to the judiciary .
Both touch the liberty and well-being of individuals very
nearly, and they remind us of an indelibly democratic
element in his thought .

No list of the constraints that governments must impose
upon the citizens is complete if it does not mention taxes,
and Montesquieu did not ignore them . Even in a free state we

9 1

Montesquieu

cannot have complete control over our property, but we
should be given good reasons for having to part with it . The
people should not be deprived of necessities in order to satisfy
the imaginary wants of rulers , such as glory, arms races, and
extraordinary projects, or to pay for the greed and general
incompetence of officials . Tax farming is an oppressive
curse . The best taxes are sales taxes, which the merchants
simply pass on to the customers, who do not even know that
they are being taxed. On the whole, it is less dangerous if
some people do not pay enough than if everyone has to pay
too much (XIII . 1-20) . This may well have been a bit of special
pleading from a wine grower and landowner . The main point ,
however, was that excessive taxes are a form of enslavement
and not compatible with freedom, especially as a free people
would be ready to pay very high taxes in order to preserve its
liberty .

The first part of The Spirit of the Laws closes with the
burdens of taxation. The second part deals with the sources
of wealth and poverty, and above all with the physical
conditions of political development . Having set out a moral
morphology and an analysis of how governments alter their
form for better or for worse, Montesquieu now turned to the
limits that nature and history impose upon political choice .
Law is not just a matter of the will of lawmakers; the spirit of
the people also impinges upon its character. Culture and
climate constitute a realm of necessity to which men must
adjust, but which they may also understand, thus vindicat­
ing their claim to rationality .

92

Political Research Quarterly
2014, Vol. 67(3) 589 –602
© 2014 University of Utah
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DOI: 10.1177/1065912914525862
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Regular Article

525862 PRQXXX10.1177/1065912914525862Political Research QuarterlyCallanan
research-article2014

1Middlebury College, VT, USA

Corresponding Author:
Keegan Callanan, Department of Political Science, Middlebury
College, Middlebury, VT 05753, USA.
Email: kcallanan@middlebury.edu

Liberal Constitutionalism and Political
Particularism in Montesquieu’s The Spirit
of the Laws

Keegan Callanan1

Abstract
The most well-known elements of Montesquieu’s political thought are his liberal constitutionalism and his emphasis
on the need for a fit between a regime and a populace. But scholars have rarely sought to understand the theoretical
relationship between these elements, and some have denied that they are meaningfully related at all. I argue that
Montesquieu’s liberal constitutionalism and his political particularism are theoretically harmonious and mutually
reinforcing elements of a unified project. Montesquieu’s liberal political philosophy possesses in-built sources of
resistance to the rationalistic and universalistic political projects often associated with modern liberalism.

Keywords
liberalism, universalism, regime change, Montesquieu, political culture

In 1750, an Edinburgh publisher produced a slim volume
containing Montesquieu’s two books on liberty from The
Spirit of the Laws—selections he likely regarded as the
“essential Montesquieu” (Montesquieu 1750). Of great-
est interest was the account of the English Constitution
in Book XI. The Anglo-American reception of Montes-
quieu’s work has from the earliest days emphasized his
constitutionalism contained in this admiring though not
uncritical account of English liberty. British and American
scholars and statesmen have seen Montesquieu’s accounts
of separation of powers, judicial independence, and lim-
ited government as his chief contributions to the science
of law and politics.1 Indeed, on the basis of these contri-
butions, he has been regarded as the father of modern
constitutional design.

On the continent, readers did not neglect Montesquieu’s
constitutionalism altogether, but many of his most influ-
ential legatees turned their attention to another element of
thought: his account of the relationship of law and poli-
tics to the mores, manners, customs, history, and “general
spirit” of a people. Both Rousseau and Tocqueville drew
inspiration from Montesquieu’s account of the “relations”
of the laws to social and cultural factors, and Hegel
believed he had learned from Montesquieu to judge and
justify institutions not merely in the abstract but rather on
the basis of their coherence with historical circumstances
(Franco 1999, 136). Later, Durkheim (1960), Althusser
(1972), and Aron (1998) similarly emphasized this cru-
cial element of Montesquieu’s social science.

In the last several decades, scholarship on The Spirit of
the Laws and The Persian Letters has regularly noted the
centrality of this aspect of Montesquieu’s thought. Larrère
(1999, 34–39) discusses Montesquieu’s critique de
l’universel positif, Dallmyr (2009, 239) admires his “anti-
Jacobinism,” Schaub (1995, xi) highlights Montesquieu’s
unwillingness to formulate a “universally valid public
law,” Kelley (1990, 219–22) comments on his opposition
to “abstract universalism,” Berlin (1980, 144–47) notes
his skepticism toward “universal solutions,” Lowenthal
(1987, 534) and Pangle (1973, 21) remark upon
Montesquieu’s opposition to Lockean universalism or
Lockean doctrinarism, Ceaser (1992, 61) emphasizes
Montesquieu’s attention to “knowledge of place.” Despite
differences in nomenclature, these interpreters all refer to
the same practical implication of Montesquieu’s political
sociology. We may call this Montesquieu’s political
particularism.2

This element of Montesquieu’s thought is sometimes
reduced to his speculations concerning the political
effects of climate: despotism where it is hot, liberty where
it is not. But his treatment of climate, eye-catching as it
may be, constitutes one part of his larger discussion of the

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590 Political Research Quarterly 67(3)

relationship of laws to various cultural, social, environ-
mental, and economic factors in a country. In his treat-
ment of these various “relations”—which “together form
THE SPIRIT OF THE LAWS”—Montesquieu expounds
a principle of political sociology: the aptness of a given
law depends, in part, on its coherence with the character-
istics of the people and place it governs (Montesquieu
[1748] 1989 [hereafter EL], I.3, XIX.21). Legislators and
state-builders ought to craft political and civil laws that
“relate well” to the characteristics of their particular
country, he argues. They must adapt their normative aims
to the characteristics of people and place. Montesquieu’s
political particularism unsettles expectations of con-
structing, according to rational principles, a universal set
of civil and political laws best for all times and all
peoples.

Sharon Krause (2002b, 703) correctly suggests that
Montesquieu’s liberal constitutionalism and his political
particularism are the “most famous and influential
aspects” of The Spirit of the Laws. Yet surprisingly, we
lack a clear, extended account of whether or how these
crucial elements of Montesquieu’s teaching are mean-
ingfully related. While many studies have focused
alternatively on aspects of Montesquieu’s liberal consti-
tutionalism or his political particularism, scholarship on
The Spirit of the Laws has rarely sought to understand
how these two hemispheres of his thought fit together
theoretically. Most scholars simply never pose the
question.

In view of liberalism’s usual affinity for universal
politics, many readers of Montesquieu’s work find puz-
zling his marriage of liberalism to particularism. Indeed,
the dissonance proved too much for some classic inter-
preters to abide: they concluded that these hemispheres
of Montesquieu’s thought have no intrinsic relationship
to one another (Becker 1932, 113; Sabine 1961, 552).
And to some of his near contemporaries, Montesquieu’s
critique of universal politics seemed to stand in tension
with his bold denunciations of despotism and his paeans
of praise to free government. As one early liberal critic
put it, Montesquieu seems to have forgotten that just as
a “true proposition is true everywhere,” so a “good law
should be good for all men” (de Condorcet 1811, 274).
For Montesquieu to deny the universal applicability of
the very liberal principles he celebrated was an intoler-
able concession to custom. He had compromised with
prejudice, another critic wrote, much as an impression-
able young man compromises with the grand dames of
high society ([Pseudo-] Helvetius 1811, 285; cf. Koebner
1951). His eighteenth-century adversaries perceived a
tension that is even more striking today in the context of
debates over liberal democracy’s status as the universal
regime: Montesquieu’s anti-universalism seems to belie
the confident meliorism and the discourse of universal

rights that has come to characterize some leading strains
of liberal thought.

Isaiah Berlin and Sheldon Wolin come nearest to pro-
viding an account of how these elements of Montesquieu’s
thought might cohere. Berlin (1980, 148–58) suggests
that Montesquieu’s constitutionalism and “anti-uniform-
ism” share a “common libertarian purpose.” On his view,
Montesquieu’s constitutionalism is rooted in a rejection
of the desire for uniformity (“monism”); this desire for
uniformity is the hallmark of both despotism (liberty’s
foe) and political universalism (political particularism’s
antipode). Sheldon Wolin (1989, 100–10) similarly sug-
gests that Montesquieu’s political sociology and his lib-
eral constitutionalism are philosophically unified under
the banner of a respect for diversity and resistance to
“Cartesian reason.” Common to Berlin and Wolin’s
approaches is the implication that Montesquieu’s politi-
cal particularism is not merely the conclusion of his social
science but is rather underwritten by the moral concerns
that inform his liberal constitutionalism. Unfortunately,
neither Berlin nor Wolin develops the highly suggestive
point through analysis of the text and argument of The
Spirit of the Laws.3

Building upon the unexplored intimations in Berlin
and Wolin, the present article argues that Montesquieu’s
liberal constitutionalism and political particularism are
mutually reinforcing elements of a unified political proj-
ect: they share a common moral foundation, and together
they yield a coherent approach to the problem of political
change. While important from an historical and interpre-
tive point of view, my argument has implications stretch-
ing well beyond matters of intellectual history. Because I
take Montesquieu’s work to be a species of the genus lib-
eral theory, this interpretation of Montesquieu’s thought
suggests that liberal theory itself is not inherently or nec-
essarily allied with projects of political universalism but
rather possesses in-built resources for critiquing, educat-
ing, and resisting such projects.

My argument will unfold as follows. In the first part of
the essay, I will offer an account of Montesquieu’s cri-
tique of universalism in law and politics, or his political
particularism. Second, I will show that Montesquieu’s
liberal constitutionalism relies on a psychological account
of liberty, and this same psychological understanding of
liberty provides the distinctively moral (and not merely
prudential) grounding for his warnings about universalis-
tic approaches to law and politics. He defines liberty as
the citizen’s psychological sense of security, a sense that
Montesquieu believes is upended by the imposition of
alien and ill-fitting institutions, however liberal they may
appear in the abstract. In this way, Montesquieu’s particu-
larism is intrinsic to his politics of liberty. Penultimately,
I will show how, in the face of this warning against coun-
tercultural impositions upon a people, Montesquieu’s

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liberal and particularistic principles together give shape
to a distinctive approach to political and cultural change
in Spirit. Finally, in conclusion, I indicate the significance
of this unified reading to both our understanding of early
liberal theory’s relationship to the Enlightenment aspira-
tion of “universal civilization” as well as to contemporary
debates concerning liberalism’s global aspirations (Gray
1995, 32). At a time when many are contesting—and
many defending—liberal democracy’s claim to be the
universal regime, valid for all times and all peoples, a
fresh look at the relationship between Montesquieu’s lib-
eralism and political particularism could not be more
relevant.

Montesquieu’s Political Particularism

Montesquieu’s political particularism occupies a central
place in his philosophical and scientific project. It is
enshrined in the very title of his book. Unlike Plato and
Cicero before him, he writes not the Laws or On the Laws
but On the Spirit of the Laws.4 The title contains an allu-
sion with a distinction. The spirit of the laws is formed by
the relations of the laws to the physical and moral aspects
of a country (EL I.3). On Montesquieu’s view, these rela-
tions, and not merely the laws themselves, must consti-
tute the chief concern of lawmakers and theorists.

The line of argument that leads Montesquieu to these
relations commences in the third chapter of Book I of The
Spirit of the Laws. Here, with little fanfare, he raises the
question of the best political order: into whose hands
should we place the “strength of the whole society” (EL
I.3)? The question soon takes on a more distinctive tinc-
ture: which government is most “in conformity with
nature?” Following Algernon Sidney and John Locke,
Montesquieu first refutes the paternal power argument
for the rule of one alone.5 When Sidney and Locke had
dispensed with this argument, each turned to his central
political principle—consent as the basis of legitimacy
(Locke 2003, §6–7; Sidney 1996, II). Once Montesquieu
has similarly dispensed with the argument for paternal
power, he turns to his central political principle. It is not
rule by consent. He writes,

It is better to say that the government most in conformity
with nature is the one whose particular arrangement best
relates to the disposition of the people for whom it is
established. (EL I.3)

In response to his own question, Montesquieu refuses
to say whether any particular form of government is “most
natural.” Here, he will offer no answer that abstracts from
the diversity and complexity of the empirical world. He
offers instead what we can only describe as a meta-answer.
The naturalness of a particular government can be judged

only as we compare its arrangement with the disposition
of a particular people.

Both social contract theorists and theorists of paternal
power had used the standard of “conformity with nature”
as the test of political legitimacy. Like Locke and Sidney
before him, Montesquieu accepts that the legislator must
take his bearings from nature, but he rejects their narrow
accounts of the nature of nature. Locke understood con-
sensual political orders to be in conformity with nature
because such orders best reflect the universal moral facts
of natural equality and natural freedom. Nature was uni-
form. But Montesquieu invokes a different conception of
nature: nature is a manifold. A government that is accord-
ing to nature must somehow strive to reflect moral facts
rooted in our common human nature. But crucially, it
must also reflect what is distinctively “natural” to each
nation in the sense of second nature or disposition—what
Jean Bodin (1580, 461), before Montesquieu, had called
“the nature of each nation.” This position is the core of
Montesquieu’s political particularism.

Of course, Montesquieu does not here deny the exis-
tence, in theory, of a common standard for judging
regimes. Rather, he tells his reader that it is “better to say”
that the most natural government is the one that relates
well to the disposition of the people (EL I.3). It is less
dangerous to say this than to answer the question of natu-
ral government in a way comparable to Locke or Sidney’s
response. To propose theories of “natural government”
without attending to the diversity of human societies
threatens to give license to unwise and, as we will see,
effectively illiberal projects of legal and political univer-
salism. Montesquieu will praise a particular kind of poli-
tics later in Spirit, but as the work opens, he declines to
follow his proto-liberal predecessors in outlining any uni-
versal prescriptions.6

Yet, despite appearances, Montesquieu does not aim
simply to dissuade would-be reformers from initiating
legal and political change. Rather, he aims to help them to
discern when change is required, how it should be pur-
sued, and what kind of knowledge is required to pursue it
beneficially. As he opens The Spirit of the Laws, he
explains how he believes his book will affect his readers’
thinking on the subject of political change:

Each nation will find here the reasons for its maxims, and
the consequence will naturally be drawn from them that
changes can be proposed only by those who are born
fortunate enough to fathom by a stroke of genius the whole
of a state’s constitution. (EL Pref.)

We will find reasons for our maxims. But it seems that
our maxims are not fully reasonable in the sense of being
perfectly right or good, since in the same breath,
Montesquieu speaks of proposing changes (Brewer 2008,

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592 Political Research Quarterly 67(3)

87). The reasons we will discover are explanations of
causes. We will learn why things are thus and so.
Understanding these reasons will not lead us to dismiss
all proposed changes to our “reasonable” institutions but
will rather lead us to recognize that beneficial changes
can only be undertaken by those who can fathom by a
“stroke of genius” the whole of their state’s constitu-
tion—and, by implication, the relationship of the consti-
tution to culture and place (EL Pref.). As Brewer (2008,
87) puts it, “This intrinsic comprehensibility does not
function as the acceptance of the status quo; instead it is
the condition without which meliorative political inter-
vention cannot be imagined.” From The Spirit of the
Laws, reformers will naturally draw the conclusion that
because they operate within social wholes, projects of
political and legal transformation must be tailored to—
and therefore limited by—the particular and distinctive
nature or second nature of the people whose lot they hope
to improve.

The Psychology of Liberal
Constitutionalism

Readers of The Spirit of the Laws have often noted
Montesquieu’s warnings against universalistic and ratio-
nalistic approaches to political change. Traditionally,
these warnings have been seen as the obvious, prudential
applications of his political sociology and climatology.
On this reading, Montesquieu’s critique of universalism
in politics, or his political particularism, flows from wor-
ries about instability: the legislator must “examine and
test the soil”—the people—“in order to see whether it can
support the weight” of the new political institutions
(Rousseau 2002, 183). If he fails to do so, the regime may
collapse. But while it is certainly true that political stabil-
ity ranks among the chief concerns in Spirit, this under-
standing of Montesquieu’s political particularism is
incomplete because it fails to capture the relationship
between his admonitions regarding regime change and
his liberalism. As I will argue, Montesquieu’s warnings
against unseasonable political change flow from his
understanding of liberty’s psychological dimension.

To understand this relationship, we must begin with
Montesquieu’s treatment of liberty as it takes shape in his
books on the English Constitution and criminal law (EL
XI, XII). Here, Montesquieu’s analysis moves along two
fronts. First, in Book XI, he promises to approach politi-
cal liberty in “relation with the constitution” (EL XI.1).
Next, in Book XII, he promises to approach liberty “in
relation to the citizen” (EL XII.1). Though significantly
more porous than it first appears, this distinction suggests
that the establishment of liberal or moderate constitu-
tional forms may not fully guarantee the liberty of the
citizen (EL XII.1).

In Book XI, Montesquieu describes the constitutional
forms best suited to prevent abuses of power (EL XI.4).
He initially defines political liberty as “the right to do
everything the laws permit” (EL XI.3).7 When a constitu-
tion allows arbitrary constraint or compulsion beyond the
scope of settled laws, political liberty is imperiled. In
other words, liberty requires the rule of law. Montesquieu,
therefore, proceeds to his discussion of the separation of
powers because this institutional feature preserves the
rule of law. It becomes clear that “the laws that form
political liberty in its relation with the constitution” are
fundamental laws securing separation of powers and the
rule of law (EL XI.1).

But what does the “liberty of the citizen” require,
beyond the presence of liberal constitutional forms? In
Book XII, Montesquieu writes that the liberty of the citi-
zen “consists in security or in one’s opinion of one’s secu-
rity” (EL XII.6). This aspect of liberty has an unmistakably
psychological dimension. What matters is not only
whether I am objectively secure but whether I consider
myself to be secure. This unusual definition of liberty
suggests that the citizen might not consider himself polit-
ically secure even if liberal institutions—the separation
of powers and the rule of law—are in place. Instead,
Montesquieu argues, the liberty of the citizen is realized
only in the presence of the right kinds of “mores, man-
ners, and received examples” (EL XI.1). Likewise, cer-
tain criminal laws “favor” the liberty of the citizen. In
Book XII, Montesquieu focuses primarily upon these
laws. Liberal mores, manners, and received examples
pass here without further mention but will reappear later.

Montesquieu thus seems to present two views of polit-
ical liberty: one that is psychological or subjective and
another rooted in observable constitutional arrangements
and practices (Rahe 2001, 81). His explicit distinction
between Books XI and XII suggests as much (EL XII.1).
But at the deepest level, both treatments of liberty are
grounded in a psychology of fear. Just after Montesquieu
promises to devote Book XI to “liberty in relation with
the constitution” (the “objective” kind of liberty), he
introduces a psychological definition of liberty. Appearing
to get ahead of himself, he writes,

Political liberty in a citizen is that tranquility of spirit
[tranquillité d’esprit] which comes from the opinion each
one has of his security, and in order for him to have this
liberty the government must be such that one citizen cannot
fear another citizen. (EL XIX.6)

From the point of view of the citizen, political liberty
is tranquility of spirit. A citizen’s tranquility of spirit
depends upon his freedom from fear of fellow citizens,
including those in power. But this reference to the “lib-
erty in relation with the citizen” in a chapter purportedly

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concerned with “liberty in relation to the constitution” is
not a Homeric nod. Rather, Montesquieu’s psychology of
liberty serves as the point of departure for his analysis of
the English constitution, and so, of his account of “liberty
in relation with the constitution.” He continues,

When legislative power is united with executive power in a
single person or in a single body of magistracy, there is not
liberty, because one can fear that same monarch or senate
that makes tyrannical laws will execute them tyrannically.
(EL XI.6, emphasis added)

Separation of powers preserves liberty not simply by
preventing actual tyrannical deeds but by removing the
causes of fear—a passion that proves inimical to the
human good in despotic regimes. Students of politics can-
not fully understand even free and moderate political
institutions except in relation to their effects upon the
passions and opinions of men. Liberty has an important
psychological dimension, and Montesquieu therefore
locates goodness of “free” institutions largely in their
ability to reduce fear. Absent this effect, the institutions
are considerably less choiceworthy.

The psychological account of liberty also shapes
Montesquieu’s defense of the English jury system.
Judicial power is “terrible among men” when held by per-
manent officers because unlike the legislative and execu-
tive, it is ultimately the power to condemn (EL XI.6). The
jury trial reduces this terror because it makes the judicial
power “invisible and null” (EL XI.6). When one’s judges
are not “continually in view,” one comes to “fear the
magistracy but not the magistrates” (EL XI.6). Under a
jury system, the citizen does not know the identity of his
future judges. The judicial power is composed of all and
none. Fear is diffused. Similarly, Montesquieu suggests
that a man’s judges must be his peers, not simply because
one’s peers are actually more inclined to dispense justice
but because a judicial power so constituted will ensure
that the accused “does not suppose he has fallen into the
hands of people inclined to do him violence” (EL XI.6,
emphasis added). The jury system is a free institution
because it fosters an “opinion of security” and a “tran-
quility of spirit” in the citizen and the accused. Likewise,
the fundamental feature of free government—rule by pro-
mulgated law—is a free institution not only because it
protects the citizen from harm by arbitrary power but also
because it liberates the citizen from fear of arbitrary indi-
vidual wills. We see, therefore, that even Montesquieu’s
analysis of formal institutional arrangements relies upon
the psychological account of liberty—the account he
seemed to reserve for Book XII (EL XII.1; Rahe 2009,
98). In this way, Montesquieu places the perceptions of
the citizen at the center of his liberalism. He foregoes a
merely juridical or formal account of political liberty.

Montesquieu’s understanding of despotism leads to
his emphasis on the psychological dimension of liberty.
Fear (crainte) is the principle of despotic government (EL
III.9). Like virtue in a republic or honor in a monarchy,
fear sets despotic government in motion and “makes it
act” (EL III.1). Despotism both produces and feeds upon
fear. While Montesquieu regards the experience of fear as
an intrinsic evil (Shklar 1987, 69), he is equally con-
cerned with its effect upon other elements of human well-
being (Krause 2001; Robin 2004, 31–51). In despotic
regimes, fear undermines the grounds of political
agency—magnanimity and honor (EL V.12, III.8–9;
Krause 2002a, 1–66; Montesquieu [1721] 1999, LXXIX).
It vitiates love within the household (EL III.10;
Montesquieu [1721] 1999, XV–XVI). In the presence of
habitual fear, reason atrophies and man descends to the
level of beasts (EL III.10, IV.4, V.14; Montesquieu [1721]
1999, VIII). Montesquieu summarizes the effects of fear
upon human reason with a brief illustration drawn from
travel literature: “When the savages of Louisiana want
fruit, they cut down the tree and gather the fruit. There
you have despotic government” (EL V.13). Fear is stupe-
faction. It paralyzes the humanity in the man (Montesquieu
[1899] 2012, 1192; Shklar 1987, 82).

Against the backdrop of this account of despotic fear,
Montesquieu offers his account of liberty as tranquility of
spirit. Moderate and liberal government affords man a
modicum of freedom from both the intrinsic evil of fear
and its effects upon other elements of human well-being.8
This vision of free government, as we will see, deeply
informs Montesquieu’s warnings regarding universalism
in politics.

Institutional Change and the
“Tyranny of Opinion”

We find Montesquieu’s most explicit warnings against
political universalism in his treatment of regime change
in the crucial nineteenth book of The Spirit of the Laws.
As I will show, the particularistic admonitions present in
this book are rooted not merely in pragmatic reasoning
about stability but in what I have called the psychology of
liberal constitutionalism.

Book XIX is titled, On the Laws in Their Relation with
the Principles Forming the General Spirit [l’esprit gen-
eral], the Mores, and the Manners of a Nation. This is the
reader’s first introduction to the term “general spirit.” In
previous books bearing obscure titles, Montesquieu
opens with brief chapters explaining the terms in doubt
(Pangle 1973, 193–94). But “What the General Spirit Is”
must wait until chapter 4 of Book XIX.

Instead, Montesquieu inserts chapter 2: “How Much It
Is Necessary for Spirits to Be Prepared for the Best Laws.”

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Before he explains the meaning of the general spirit, he
gives the reader an indication of its importance. Unlike cli-
mate, terrain, and other “physical causes” of laws, the gen-
eral spirit, together with mores and manners, admits of
manipulation by political reformers: it can be “prepared.”
Montesquieu then provides four examples of “unprepared”
spirits. He recounts episodes from Roman history in which
non-Romans balked at Roman judicial formalities. The
Germans found Roman tribunals “intolerable.” During one
trial, they cut out the lawyers’ tongues and demanded,
“Viper, stop hissing.” Mithradates reproached the Romans
for their formal procedures of justice. The Laxians judged
the Roman trial of their king’s assassin a “horrible and bar-
barous” affair. Finally, Montesquieu adds that the Parthians’
were unable to tolerate their king’s universal affability and
accessibility (EL XIX.2).9

In these four examples, Montesquieu shows us
nations failing to understand and embrace the tone and
practices of moderate government. In his view, judicial
formalities and accessible rulers are hallmarks of mod-
erate and free government. Formalities “increase in pro-
portion to the importance given to the honor, fortune,
life and liberty of the citizens” (EL VI.2). Likewise,
accessibility characterizes a monarch, in contradistinc-
tion to the cloistered despot (EL XXIV.3). Montesquieu,
therefore, means to suggest that the spirits of the
Germans, the Laxians, and the Parthians were unpre-
pared for “the best laws.”

A summary statement follows these four examples:
“Even liberty has appeared intolerable to peoples who
were not accustomed to enjoying it. Thus, is pure air
sometimes harmful to those who have lived in swampy
countries” (EL XIX.2). The “best laws” are laws of lib-
erty and moderation. But absent properly prepared spir-
its, these best laws are harmful to a people. The harm
these institutions cause springs not from the institutions
themselves but rather from the people’s perception of
them—from their appearance. Twice in this paragraph,
Montesquieu remarks that good laws “appeared unbear-
able [paru insupportable]” to a people. The danger of
free and moderate institutions for “unprepared spirits”
lies in a problem of opinion, appearance, or perception.

Chapter 2 closes with a colorful and revealing anec-
dote. A Venetian traveler visited the court of the king of
Pegu. When in the presence of the king this traveler men-
tioned that Venice had no monarch, the king of Pegu
laughed “so much that he began to cough and could
scarcely talk to his courtiers.” Montesquieu asks, “What
legislator could propose popular government to such peo-
ples?” With this final example, Montesquieu suggests
that a people may lack the political categories necessary
to take new political institutions seriously, much less
judge the new institutions legitimate. Book XIX repre-
sents a warning for political reformers about the limits

and perils of institutional change; yet more than a warn-
ing, it represents a guide to the right methods of political
change.

The next chapter, “On Tyranny,” seems at first to be
out of place. Tyranny is not a regime type for Montesquieu,
and one initially wonders why he takes up the subject in a
book on the general spirit. In the original draft of The
Spirit of the Laws, “On tyranny” is even more strikingly
prominent: it appears to have been Book XIX’s lead
chapter (Montesquieu 1998–, 4:462.). The chapter’s
theme was apparently central to the purpose of Book XIX
as Montesquieu first conceived it. When we consider this
brief treatment of tyranny and its role in the book, we
begin to see more clearly the theoretical connection
between Montesquieu’s liberalism and his particularistic
cautions regarding political change.

Montesquieu explains that there are two sorts of tyr-
anny: a real tyranny (réelle tyrannie) and a tyranny of
opinion (tyrannie d’opinion). Real tyranny “consists in
the violence of the government.” Tyranny of opinion is
“felt when those who govern establish things that run
counter to a nation’s way of thinking [la manière de
penser d’une nation].” The introduction of this second
variety of tyranny is a true innovation. John Locke offers
a single, juridical definition of tyranny—the “exercise of
power beyond right” (Locke 2003, §199). Montesquieu’s
“real tyranny” answers to Lockean tyranny. But tyranny
of opinion is a new political category, forged for this
occasion. Montesquieu invites the reader to ask after its
significance as he turns to the reign of Augustus to illus-
trate his meaning.

He explains that when Augustus wanted to be called
Romulus, the people “feared that he wanted to make him-
self king” (EL XIX.3). If he had adopted this name, the
Roman people would likely have felt themselves under a
tyrant’s heel, even in the absence of any acts of violence.
The people’s fear did not simply flow from an aversion to
acts of despotism. Rather, the institution of kingship was
opposed to their manners. Montesquieu suggests that
though Caesar, the triumvirs, and Augustus “were real
kings,” the people did not perceive their reigns as tyran-
nical insofar as they “preserved an appearance of equal-
ity” and “seemed opposed to kingly pomp.” The
perception of tyranny proceeded not from any institu-
tional structure or act of violence but from the rulers’ con-
travention of national manners. The Romans did not want
a king because they did not want to “suffer his manners.”
Montesquieu implies that any political change, if it runs
counter to the manners of a people, may be experienced
as tyrannical and fear-inducing. Such changes need not
come in the form of rulers that covet the name of Romulus
(cf. Montesquieu [1899] 2012, 677).

In time, Augustus enacted truly harsh legislation. He
governed violently, as a “real” tyrant (cf. EL XII.4). As

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the Roman people recognized his tyranny, they grew
angry and discontent. But as Montesquieu explains,

Their discontent ceased as soon as [Augustus] brought back
the actor Pylades, who had been driven out of the town by
the factions. Such a people felt tyranny more vividly when a
buffoon was driven out than when all their laws were taken
from them. (EL XIX.3, emphasis added)

The Roman populace was in error, as Montesquieu
makes clear. But this episode, together with his previous
comments on the reign of Augustus, suggests that just as
real tyranny can exist where tyranny of opinion does not,
tyranny of opinion can exist where real tyranny does not.
The Romans misjudged a real tyrant because he restored
their favored celebrity. Another people may misjudge
free and moderate government because it runs counter to
their mores, manners and general spirit. Though the insti-
tutions of free government may not produce tyrannical
violence in Montesquieu’s sense, a people may nonethe-
less experience these institutions as alien, dissonant with
their manner of thinking and productive of fear and dis-
quiet. In other words, they may experience a tyrannie
d’opinion.

In light of this, we see now why Montesquieu intro-
duces the concept of the general spirit as he does. The
Germans and Laxians experienced a tyranny of opinion
under the Romans’ judicial formalities (EL XIX.2). As I
have argued, Montesquieu believes that such judicial for-
malities are essential to the full protection of political lib-
erty. But here, he aims to show that when otherwise
moderate, liberal institutions are installed before spirits
are prepared to understand them and receive them as
legitimate, the people perceive these innovations as
tyrannical. No longer liberal in effect, the institutions
become despotic in effect. That is, they enflame a peo-
ple’s disquiet and fear—the same pernicious passion that
sustains despotic regimes. They disturb and diminish a
people’s “tranquility of spirit” and their opinion of their
own security (EL XI.6).10 While the Germans and Laxians
may, in this instance, have been as mistaken as the
Romans who felt tyranny when a buffoon was driven out,
their perceptions carry moral significance for
Montesquieu. The Romans’ institutional changes were
harmful for the same reason that these liberal institutions
are good in nations prepared for them. For on
Montesquieu’s account, the goodness of these institutions
lies substantially in their psychological effects. He
teaches the legislator to evaluate political institutions not
merely by assessing their merits as abstract forms but
rather by considering their likely effects upon the pas-
sions and opinions of a particular people.

As we have seen, Montesquieu does not simply
approach the legislator with counsels of expedience on

the question of matching a regime to a people. He does
not merely foretell the difficulties of political change
amid a people unprepared to understand it or receive it.
He goes beyond description and prediction. Montesquieu
suggests that unseasonable political change represents an
injury to a people analogous though not identical to the
injuries of despotism. Situated in the matrix of
Montesquieu’s psychology of liberty, this error is not
merely technical but also moral. On his view, to seek
political liberalization through merely institutional means
while neglecting the cultural preconditions of these insti-
tutions is to misunderstand and offend against the sub-
stance of liberty itself.

The General Spirit and the Means of
Political Change

As Montesquieu warns against the establishment of lib-
eral institutions in nations not yet prepared for them, he
speaks from within the moral logic of his own liberalism.
This much is clear when we consider his particularistic
warnings in the context of his psychological understand-
ing of political liberty. But while this reading confirms
the theoretical consistency of Montesquieu’s position, the
practical harmony of his liberalism and particularism still
remains in doubt. Does Montesquieu’s worry about the
tyranny of opinion leave the liberal reformer’s hands
tied? In this section, I show how, as Book XIX proceeds,
Montesquieu limns the contours of an approach to politi-
cal change that can avoid the problem of tyranny of opin-
ion. As one would expect, this approach calls for cultural
change as a forerunner to political change. But
Montesquieu’s liberal commitment to the limited scope
of law casts a veil of moral suspicion over the use of coer-
cive cultural legislation (e.g., banning the burqa) as a
means of cultural transformation. Montesquieu therefore
seeks to develop an account of indirect, noncoercive cul-
tural change as preparation for political liberalization.11
Previous scholarship, including Pangle (1973, 195–96),
Schaub (1995, 138–44), Larrère (2009), and Samuel
(2009, 312), has noted that the phenomenon of political
change moves to the fore in Book XIX of Spirit. But cru-
cially, I argue as previous scholars have not that this treat-
ment of change represents Montesquieu’s attempt to
develop a practicable model of political reform within the
bounds of his liberal and particularist commitments. This
model displays practical coherence of his liberal constitu-
tionalism and political particularism.

The early chapters of Book XIX suggest that
Montesquieu means to teach the legislator to reshape his
nation’s spirit (XIX.2) so that, when he finally establishes
new civil, political or fundamental laws, these changes
will not run counter to the people’s manner of thinking

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596 Political Research Quarterly 67(3)

(XIX.3). In this way, the people will comprehend the
eventual changes and receive them as legitimate, and the
legislator will avoid both the “tyranny of opinion” as well
as acts of “real tyranny.”

But to understand how Montesquieu’s approach to
political reform unfolds in Book XIX, we must first grasp
the political vocabulary and analytical categories he uses
there. As we have seen, the book’s central concept is the
general spirit. In chapter 4, Montesquieu finally explains
what it is. A nation’s general spirit is a cause, though not
a first cause (Larrère 2009, 287). Still other physical and
moral causes form it (EL XIX.4). These include climate,
human nature, religion, laws, political ideas, received
examples, history, mores, and manners. The general spirit
is, therefore, not simply a “sociological” variable. Laws
and material causes help to shape it. But the general spirit
is also not an empty signifier, intended to represent the
concatenation of all causes that “govern men” (EL
XIX.4). Having been shaped by these moral and physical
causes, the general spirit shapes them in turn. It acts upon
its causes. We have seen how the general spirit can limit
a people’s willingness to accept new political institutions
(EL XIX.2). More importantly, according to Montesquieu,
a nation’s mores “depend” upon its general spirit (EL
XIX.14).

Because Book XIX is a study of political change,
Montesquieu devotes his attention to laws, mores, and
manners, for unlike physical causes (e.g., geography and
climate), these admit of manipulation by the legislator.
They are potential sites of human agency. Mores and
manners are “usages that laws have not established, or
that they have not been able to, or have not wanted, to
establish” (EL XIX.16). When laws, mores and manners
are in harmony, “Mores represent laws, and manners rep-
resent mores” (EL XIX.16). Mores impress the content of
the laws upon man’s everyday experience, his judgment
and his passions. For instance, when the laws give
unquestionable authority to the king, mores often give
unquestionable authority to the husband, and thereby rep-
resent these laws to man. Manners also represent mores
to the man, although in a different way: they are physical
and exterior, consisting in the covering, movements, and
postures of the body. But despite their physicality, man-
ners are designed to shape “internal conduct” (EL
XIX.16). Manners are habits of the body that represent
and reinforce the habits of the heart. Given their powerful
connection to law and the people’s reception of it, mores
and manners must, to some extent, lie within the ken and
control of statesmen.

Using these categories, Montesquieu unfolds his art of
political change in chapters 5–15 of Book XIX. Pangle
(1973, 195–96) is correct in dividing the approach of
these chapters into two distinct modes. In chapters 5–11,
Montesquieu shows how the legislator may sometimes

use the existing general spirit of a nation to produce a
greater degree of political liberty or to prevent further
decline into despotism. This is often possible in Europe.
In chapters 12–15, Montesquieu explains how the legisla-
tor may bring about political change when the general
spirit itself is averse to liberty and moderation, as one
finds under profoundly despotic governments. In the first
case, the legislator may act with the general spirit and
canalize its flow for his political ends. In the second case,
the legislator acts not against but apart from the general
spirit to alter it indirectly. Both methods avoid direct
manipulation of custom, mores and manners.

Taken by itself, the title of chapter 5 does not appear to
mark the beginning of a meditation on political change,
for it reads, “How Careful One Must Be Not to Change
the General Spirit of a Nation.” But with this, Montesquieu
does not flatly deny the necessity of changing the general
spirit. Rather, he promises a discussion of how careful the
legislator must be not to change it. He then describes
France in terms reminiscent of the account of Paris in the
Persian Letters (Montesquieu [1721] 1999, XL, VIII,
LV). The French—especially French women—possess a
joie de vivre, sociable humor, playfulness, and even fri-
volity. Men live in the company of women, and each sex
desires to please the other. From this desire is born orna-
mentation and the multiplication of fashions. Montesquieu
concludes, “Fashions are an important subject; as one
allows one’s spirit to become frivolous, one constantly
increases the branches of commerce” (EL XIX.8). In light
of his teaching on commerce in Books XX and XXI, his
meaning is clear. Commerce is conducive to liberty
because it softens mores, habituates men to give and
demand precise justice, and establishes powers indepen-
dent of the state. Within the general spirit of the French
people, Montesquieu sees the germ of liberty. Their van-
ity multiplies opportunities for commerce, and commerce
conduces to liberty—about which more below. If the leg-
islator’s end is liberalization and moderation, he may find
within the vices of the national character a source of
political improvement.

But this mode of political reform is not always possi-
ble. In historically despotic nations, the general spirit
offers no support for the work of political liberalization.
The legislator finds little or nothing inclined toward lib-
erty in either the national character or general spirit—no
French vanity and no Athenian gaiety. Therefore, if he
wishes to liberalize and moderate the state, he must alter
the general spirit and the causes that form it to prepare the
people.

Montesquieu asserts that in despotic nations, “there
are no laws, so to speak; there are only mores and man-
ners” (EL XIX.12). Though he understands that many
despotic nations live under nominally legal decrees, he
means to suggest that mores and manners are the most

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powerful forces in these nations. They tend to exert great
influence in forming the general spirit. One would, there-
fore, suppose that Montesquieu’s reforming legislator
must act upon mores and manners if he would “prepare
spirits” for better laws. But he surprises us with an initial
warning: “It is a maxim of capital importance that the
mores and manners of a despotic regime must never be
changed; nothing would be more promptly followed by a
revolution” (EL XIX.12). This statement seems to sug-
gest that political reform is impossible in historically des-
potic states. But we should note that while Montesquieu
calls this maxim important, he does not say it is true with-
out qualification. We should also note that Montesquieu
expects revolution as the consequence of changing mores
and manners in a despotic regime; they must “never be
changed” if one wishes to avoid a revolution.

Yet, chapter 14 is titled, “What Are the Natural Means
of Changing the Mores and Manners of a Nation.” With
this, Montesquieu seems to shunt aside the “capitally
important maxim” of chapter 12. If the maxim were
unqualifiedly true, he would exclude despotism from the
analysis in chapter 14. But instead, he uses the histori-
cally despotic Muscovite regime to illustrate the “natural
means” of changing mores. Before proceeding to the
Muscovite examples, he writes,

We have said that the laws were the particular and precise
institutions of the legislator and the mores and manners, the
institutions of the nation in general. From this it follows that
when one wants to change the mores and manners, one must
not change them by laws, as this would appear to be too
tyrannical; it would be better to change them by other mores
and other manners. (EL XIX.14)

The legislator must change mores and manners to alter
the general spirit and prepare a nation for better laws. But
when he crafts new laws aimed at changing mores and
manners directly, he errs. He will appear tyrannical
because his institutions will run counter to the nation’s
manner of thinking (EL XIX.1, XIX.2). Instead, he must
find a way to effect a change in mores and manners, and
so in the general spirit, without opposing them (cf.
Courtney 1963, 22–23). For as soon as he is seen to
oppose them, he will cause the same fear and insecu-
rity—tyranny of opinion—that he would have produced
had he simply imposed “the best laws” without preparing
spirits (EL XIX.2). Montesquieu’s legislator must change
mores and manners not by laws but by new mores, new
manners, and fresh examples.

This indirect method takes shape as Montesquieu
recounts two episodes from the reign of Peter the Great.
First, Peter wanted all Muscovite men to shorten the
lengths of their beards and their robes. He passed a law
mandating it. If a long-robed man sought to enter a town,
the officer would impose a sartorial penalty, trimming the

offending frock (EL XIX.14). Montesquieu calls these
sanctions “tyrannical” and “violent means.” Such spec-
tacles illustrate the wrong way—the tyrannical way—to
change mores and manners.

We recall here that on Montesquieu’s view, real tyr-
anny “consists in the violence of the government” (EL
XIX.3). The violence of the government has a specific
meaning for Montesquieu. A government does violence
to man when, as Montesquieu explains earlier in Spirit,
its punishments proceed from “the legislator’s capri-
ciousness” rather than “the nature of the thing”—that is,
the nature of offense (EL XII.4). Each class of offenses
carries a natural, necessary and reasonable penalty. When
the offender meets with his natural penalty through the
mediation of a government, no violence is done him (EL
XII.4). But the imposition of penalties in excess of an
offense’s natural penalty constitutes an act of violence.
Likewise, the imposition of legal penalties for an action
carrying no natural, necessary legal penalty constitutes an
act of violence (e.g., the execution of heretics). This posi-
tion is central to Montesquieu’s liberalism. As he explains
in chapter 14, “Every penalty that does not derive from
necessity is tyrannical. The law is not a pure act of power;
things indifferent by their nature are not within its scope
[ressort]” (EL XIX, 14).

The Muscovite manners governing dress and groom-
ing are “indifferent by their nature.” They are certainly
not indifferent politically; indeed, Montesquieu has
underscored their political import. But they are indiffer-
ent with respect to the primitive or natural law (EL
XVI.12, XII.4, I.1). They therefore fall outside the scope
of positive law. To punish a man for the length of his
beard is an act of violence and tyranny, Montesquieu
insists. By extension, any use of penal codes to regulate
indifferent manners constitutes an act of violence and tyr-
anny. To attempt to change such manners by laws is not
only imprudent; it is immoral and illiberal. Therefore,
while Montesquieu’s art of political reform often relies
upon changes in manners, it cannot directly regulate these
conventions. The injunctions of legislators must remain
within the natural scope of the law.

Montesquieu uses a second episode from the reign of
Peter the Great to illustrate an alternative—what he calls
the “natural means” of changing mores and manners.
When Peter assumed his rule, Muscovy’s women were
“enclosed and in a way enslaved” (EL XIX.14). Peter
objected to these conditions. He called leading women to
his court, had them don German dresses, and sent them
new fabrics. The foreign styles were a success. We expect
Montesquieu to say that the women appreciated the flatter-
ing new style of dress. Instead, he explains that the women
“immediately appreciated a way of life that so flattered
their taste, their vanity, and their passions, and they made
the men appreciate it” (EL XIX.14, emphasis added). The

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new manners began to transform the mores of the house-
hold. Montesquieu leaves it to his reader to discern how
this change unfolded. But he implies that the charming
new attire shifted the balance of power between the sexes
by strengthening the men’s attachments to the women—or,
more to the point, by weakening the men. The Muscovite
women became more like the alluring and fashionable
French women of the Persian Letters, who in Rica’s
assessment had achieved a “wholesale capture of author-
ity” in their households (Montesquieu [1721] 1999, CVII).

Montesquieu explains that the liberalization of mores
in the domestic sphere will spur similar effects in the
political sphere. In chapter 15, he predicts,

This change in the mores of women will no doubt affect the
government of Muscovy very much. Everything is closely
linked together: the despotism of the prince is naturally
united with the servitude of women; the liberty of women,
with the spirit of monarchy. (EL XIX.15)

The liberation of women from domestic enslavement
opens a pathway to the moderation and liberalization of
laws and political institutions. When the husband’s
authority is absolute and untrammeled, the general spirit
is inclined toward despotism. When the husband’s author-
ity is checked, softened, moderated or even undermined
by feminine charm, the general spirit is inclined toward
monarchy—a form of government that is, by its nature,
moderate and somewhat free (EL XI.4).

With this example, Montesquieu illustrates what he
calls the “natural means” of changing mores, manners,
and consequently, political institutions. Peter the Great
did not “establish” new mores and manners; he did not
directly oppose traditional mores and manners. Instead,
he “inspired” new mores and manners by insinuating new
examples and engaging the people to change their cus-
toms themselves (EL XIX.12, 14). Montesquieu calls the
method “natural” for two reasons. First, it does not rely
upon violence or tyranny. The legislator governs against
nature when he dispenses punishments for practices that
are by their nature not worthy of punishment—“things
indifferent by their nature” (EL XIX.14). In this way,
Peter’s treatment of the women is consistent with nature,
unlike his earlier treatment of men in overlong frocks.
Second, the method is natural because it uses natural pas-
sions to achieve its ends. Animated by their passions, the
people changed their own mores. So strictly speaking,
Montesquieu’s “natural means” of changing mores does
not contradict the “maxim of capital importance” that
mores must never be changed in despotic states (EL
XIX.12). This indirect change in mores was not “promptly
followed by a revolution” in the conventional sense (EL
XIX.12). But Montesquieu predicts that the new manner
of dress would work its way through the whole of state

and society, reshaping the general spirit and gradually
contributing to the moderation of political and legal insti-
tutions. Montesquieu suggests that when the legislator
follows the natural means of political change, he advances
his nation toward freer and more moderate political insti-
tutions without revolution. As importantly, he avoids real
acts of tyranny and the appearance of tyranny, for he
establishes nothing that runs “counter to the nation’s way
of thinking” and does no violence to man (EL XIX.3,
XIX.14, XII.4).

This vision of political change is shaped by Montes-
quieu’s commitment to political liberty, his rejection of
crude political universalism, and his liberal understand-
ing of the moral limits of legislation. In view of these
considerations, he crafts a coherently liberal particularist
model of political reform. The Montesquieuian legislator
aims to avoid the twin shoals of tyranny of opinion and
coercive cultural legislation while still guiding his nation
toward a freer and more moderate politics. If liberal insti-
tutions are praiseworthy in light of their effects upon the
citizen’s tranquility of spirit, then the means of liberaliza-
tion must be subject to a similar standard of judgment.
Through attention to mores, manners, and the general
spirit, the legislator may establish bridgeheads to political
liberty.

Montesquieu’s examples from the reign of Peter the
Great may initially strike us as being obscure and of lim-
ited application outside eighteenth-century Muscovy. But
his search for a means of cultural transformation that
operates within the bounds of his liberal commitments
does not end at the court of Peter. Montesquieu’s books
on commerce (XX–XXI) immediately follow Book
XIX’s exhortation to use indirect means of cultural prepa-
ration, and they are best understood as a continuation of
this theme. The aims of the present study do not
require, nor does space allow, an in-depth analysis of
Montesquieu’s famous insinuations regarding the power
of commerce to make way for free and moderate govern-
ment by softening mores and inculcating habits of giving
and demanding “exact justice” (EL XX.1–2). Instead, it is
critical to see at this point that moral and unmistakably
liberal considerations bring him to this destination. That
is, in view of the argument of Book XIX, we see that
Montesquieu does not turn to commerce simply because
he considers it a technically efficient means of promoting
the preconditions of political liberty. Rather, he focuses
upon commercial activity because it represents a poten-
tial path to fostering mores consonant with “better laws”
without resort to illiberal means of coercive cultural
transformation, which are beyond the scope of law. The
doux commerce thesis emerges as a distinctively liberal
response to a distinctively liberal problem.

On Montesquieu’s view, commerce is one means of
escaping the trilemma that faces friends of liberty as they