Chap. 2: How Societies are recommended to our Beneficence

Chap. 2: The order in which Societies are by nature recommended to our Beneficence

6.2.26. The same principles that direct the order of how individuals are recommended to our beneficence, direct the order of how societies are recommended to our beneficence.

  • The most important societies are the first and principal ones recommended to our beneficence.

6.2.27.  Ordinarily, our good or bad conduct can have much influence on the happiness or misery of the society in which we live and have been born and educated.

  • It is accordingly, most strongly recommended to us by nature.
  • We and all the natural objects of our kindest affections, our children, parents, relations, friends, benefactors are commonly comprehended within it.
    • Their prosperity and safety depend on the prosperity and safety of our society.
  • Therefore, it is endeared to us by nature, by all our selfish and private benevolent affections.
    • Because of our connection with our own society, the prosperity and glory of our society reflects some honour on ourselves.
    • When we compare it with other societies, we are:
      • proud of its superiority, and
      • mortified if it appears below them.

We have the most partial admiration for all the illustrious characters it has produced before,  its warriors, statesmen, poets, philosophers, and men of letters of all kinds.

  • We rank them above those of all other nations, sometimes most unjustly.
  • Envy might prejudice us a little when we compare those of our own times.
  • The patriot who lays down his life for the safety, or even for the vain-glory of this society, appears to act with the most exact propriety.
    • He views himself in the light in which the impartial spectator naturally and necessarily views him.
      • In the eye of that equitable judge, he is:
        • but one of the multitude,
        • of no more consequence than any other in it, and
        • always bound to sacrifice and devote himself to the safety, service, and even to the glory of the greater number
  • But though this sacrifice appears to be perfectly just and proper, we know:
    • how difficult it is to make it, and
    • how few people are capable of making it.
  • His conduct, therefore, excites:
    • our entire approbation, and
    • our highest wonder and admiration.
  • It seems to merit all the applause which can be due to the most heroic virtue.
  • On the contrary, the traitor appears the most detestable of all villains.
    • He promotes his own little interest by betraying the interest of his native country to the public enemy.
    • He prefers himself so shamefully and basely, to all those he is connected with, regardless of the judgment of the man within the breast.


6.2.28. The love of our own nation often disposes us to view, the prosperity and aggrandisement of neighbouring nations with the most malignant jealousy and envy.

  • Independent and neighbouring nations, which have no common superior to decide their disputes, all live in continual dread and suspicion of one another.
    • Each sovereign, expecting little justice from his neighbours, is disposed to treat them with as little justice as he expects from them.
  • The regard for the laws of nations is often little more than mere pretence and profession.
    • Independent states profess or pretend to observe those rules in their dealings with one another.
    • We see those rules everyday evaded or directly violated without shame or remorse:
      • from the smallest interest, and
      • on the slightest provocation.
    • Each nation foresees, or imagines it foresees, its own subjugation in the increasing power and aggrandisement of any of its neighbours.
    • The mean principle of national prejudice is often founded on the noble one of the love of our own country.
  • ‘It is my opinion likewise that Carthage should be destroyed.’
    • The elder Cato concluded his every senate speech with this sentence, whatever the subject.
    • It was the natural expression of the savage patriotism of a strong but coarse mind.
      • This mind was enraged almost to madness against a foreign nation from which his own nation had suffered so much.
  • ‘It is my opinion likewise that Carthage should not be destroyed,’
    • Scipio Nasica concluded all his speeches with this more humane sentence.
    • It was the liberal expression of a more enlarged and enlightened mind.
      • It felt no aversion to the prosperity even of an old enemy, when reduced to a state which could no longer be formidable to Rome.

France and England may have reasons to dread the other’s naval and military power.

  • But it is surely beneath the dignity of two such great nations for them to envy:
    • the other’s internal happiness and prosperity,
    • the cultivation of its lands,
    • the advancement of its manufactures,
    • the increase of its commerce,
    • the security and number of its ports, and
    • its proficiency in all the liberal arts and sciences.
  • These are all real improvements of our world.
    • Mankind are benefited, human nature is ennobled by them.
  • In such improvements, each nation should excel and promote, instead of obstructing the excellence of its neighbours, from the love of mankind.
    • These are all proper objects of national emulation, not of national prejudice or envy.

6.2.29. The love of our own country seems not derived from the love of mankind.

  • The love of our country is altogether independent of the love of mankind.
    • It sometimes seems even to dispose us to act inconsistently with the love of mankind.
  • France may have nearly three times the population of Great Britain.
    • Therefore, in great society of mankind, France’s prosperity should be much more important than Great Britain’s prosperity.
    • However, the British subject who prefers France’s prosperity to Great Britain’s, on that account, would not be thought a good British citizen.
  • We do not love our country merely as a part of the great society of mankind.
    • We love it for its own sake, and independently of any such consideration.
  • That wisdom which contrived the system of human affections and that of every other part of nature, seems to have judged that the interest of the great society of mankind would be best promoted by directing the principal attention of each individual to that particular portion of it, which was most within the sphere of his abilities and understanding.

6.2.30. National prejudices and hatreds seldom extend beyond neighbouring nations.

  • Perhaps we very weakly and foolishly call the French our natural enemies.
    • Perhaps they, as weakly and foolishly, consider us their natural enemies.
  • Neither they nor we bear envy to the prosperity of China or Japan.
    • It very rarely happens that our goodwill towards such distant countries can be exerted with much effect.

6.2.31. The most extensive public benevolence of the statesmen can commonly be exerted with any considerable effect.

  • He projects and forms alliances among nearby nations to preserve ‘the balance of power’.
    • The balance of power is the general peace and tranquility of the states within the circle of their negotiations.
  • However, the statesmen who plan and execute such treaties, frequently only have the interest of their respective countries.
    • Sometimes, their views are more extensive.

The Count d’Avaux was the plenipotentiary of France at the treaty of Munster.

  • Cardinal de Retz was a man not over-credulous other people’s virtue.
  • According to the Cardinal, the Count was willing to sacrifice his life to restore Europe’s general tranquility by that treaty.
  • King William had a real zeal for the liberty and independence of most European sovereign states.
    • Perhaps, it was much stimulated by his particular aversion to France.
      • That liberty and independence were principally in danger from France during his time.
  • Some share of the same spirit seems to have descended to Queen Anne’s first ministry.

The State and its Constitution

6.2.32. Every independent state is divided into many different orders and societies, each of which has its own particular powers, privileges, and immunities.

  • Every individual is naturally more attached to his own particular order or society, than to any other.
  • His own interest, his own vanity the interest and vanity of many of his friends and companions, are commonly very connected with it.
  • He is ambitious to extend its privileges and immunities.
  • He is zealous to defend them against the encroachments of every other order or society.

6.2.33. The ‘constitution’ of that state depends on:

  • how any state is divided into the different orders and societies, and
  • the distribution of their respective powers, privileges, and immunities.

6.2.34. The stability of that constitution depends on the ability of each order or society to maintain its own powers, privileges, and immunities, against the encroachments of every other.

  • That constitution is necessarily more or less altered, whenever any of its subordinate parts is raised above or depressed below its former rank and condition.

6.2.35. All those different orders and societies are dependent on the state to which they owe their security and protection.

  • Their most partial member acknowledges the truth that they are:
    • all subordinate to that state, and
    • established only in subserviency to the state’s prosperity and preservation.
  • However, it may often be hard to convince him that the state’s prosperity and preservation require any reduction of the powers, privileges, and immunities of his own order or society.
    • This partiality may sometimes be unjust.
      • It is not useless, on that account.
      • It checks the spirit of innovation.
      • It preserves whatever is the established balance among the different orders and societies into which the state is divided
      • It sometimes appears to obstruct some alterations of government which may be fashionable and popular at the time.
        • In reality, it contributes to the whole system’s stability and permanency.

6.2.36. Ordinarily, the love of our country seems to involve in it two principles:

  1. A certain respect and reverence for that constitution or form of government actually established
  2. An earnest desire to render the condition of our fellow-citizens as safe, respectable, and happy as we can.
  • A person who is not disposed to respect the laws and obey the civil magistrate is not a citizen.
  • He is certainly not a good citizen if he does not wish to promote the welfare of his whole society.

6.2.37. In peacetime, those two principles generally coincide and lead to the same conduct.

  • The support of the established government is the best expedient to maintain the safe, respectable, and happy situation of our fellow-citizens, when we see that this government actually maintains them in that situation.
  • But in times of public discontent, faction, and disorder, those two principles may draw different ways.
    • Even a wise man may think some change is needed in that constitution or form of government which appears unable to maintain the public tranquility.
  • However in such cases, the highest effort of political wisdom is often required to determine:
    • when a real patriot should support and try to re-establish the old system’s authority, or
    • when he should give way to the more daring, but often dangerous spirit of innovation.

6.2.38. The two situations which afford the most splendid opportunities to display public spirit are:

  1. Foreign war and
  2. Civil faction.

The hero who serves his country successfully in a foreign war gratifies his whole nation’s wishes.

  • He becomes the object of universal gratitude and admiration.
  • In times of civil discord, the leaders of the contending parties might be admired by half of their fellow-citizens.
    • But they are commonly execrated by the other.
      • Their characters and the merit of their respective services appear commonly more doubtful.

Thus, the glory acquired by foreign war is almost always more pure and more splendid than the glory acquired in civil faction.

6.2.39. The leader of the successful party may sometimes render a service to his country, if he has enough authority to prevail on his own friends to act with proper temper and moderation (which he frequently has not).

  • This service is much more essential and important than:
    • the greatest victories and
    • the most extensive conquests.
  • He may re-establish and improve the constitution.
  • The reformer and legislator of a great state is the greatest and noblest of all characters.
    • He may assume this character, from the very doubtful and ambiguous character of the leader of a party.
    • By the wisdom of his institutions, he may secure the internal tranquillity and happiness of his fellow-citizens for many generations.

6.2.40. Amidst the turbulence and disorder of faction, a certain spirit of system often mixes itself with that public spirit founded on the love of humanity.

  • This love is a real fellow-feeling with the inconveniencies and distresses of some of our fellow-citizens.
    • It is a more gentle public spirit.
  • This spirit of system:
    • commonly takes the direction of that love,
    • always animates that love,  and
    • often inflames that love even to the madness of fanaticism.
  • The leaders of the discontented party often hold out some plausible reform plan which they pretend will:
    • remove the inconveniencies and relieve the distresses immediately complained of, and
    • prevent any future return of the like inconveniencies and distresses.
  • They often propose to:
    • re-model the constitution, and
    • alter, in some of its most essential parts, that system of government under which the subjects of a great empire have enjoyed peace, security, and even glory for several centuries.
  • The great body of the party are commonly intoxicated with the imaginary beauty of this ideal system, of which they have no experience.
    • This system has been represented to them in all the most dazzling colours in which the eloquence of their leaders could paint it.
      • Those leaders may have originally meant only their own aggrandisement.
        • In time, many of them become the dupes of their own sophistry.
        • They are as eager for this great reformation as the weakest and most foolish of their followers.
  • The leaders commonly preserve their own heads, free from this fanaticism.
    • Yet they dare not always disappoint their followers’ expectations.
    • They are often obliged to act as if they were under the common delusion, contrary to their principle and their conscience.
  • The violence of the party frequently obtains nothing by:
    • refusing all palliatives, temperaments, reasonable accommodations, and
    • requiring too much.
  • Those inconveniencies and distresses which might have been removed and relieved through a little moderation, are left without the hope of a remedy.

6.2.41. The man whose public spirit is prompted by humanity and benevolence, will respect the established powers and privileges even of individuals.

  • He will respect more those of the great orders and societies, into which the state is divided.
  • He would consider some of them as somewhat abusive.
    • But he will be content with moderating, what he often cannot annihilate without great violence.
  • When he cannot conquer the people’s rooted prejudices by reason and persuasion, he will not attempt to subdue them by force.
    • He will religiously observe what Cicero justly called ‘the divine maxim of Plato’.
      • This maxim is never to use violence to his country no more than to his parents.
  • He will accommodate, as well as he can, his public arrangements to the people’s confirmed habits and prejudices.
  • He will remedy as well as he can, the inconveniencies which may flow from the lack of those regulations which the people are averse to submit to.
  • When he cannot establish the right, he will not disdain to ameliorate the wrong.
    • But like Solon, when he cannot establish the best system of laws, he will try to establish the best that the people can bear.

6.2.42. On the contrary, the man of system is apt to be very wise in his own conceit.

  • He is often so enamoured with the supposed beauty of his own ideal plan of government, that he cannot deviation from any part of it.
  • He goes on to establish it completely without any regard to:
    • the great interests or
    • the strong prejudices opposing it.
  • He seems to imagine that he can arrange the members of a great society as easily as the hand arranges the pieces on a chess-board.
  • He does not consider that the pieces on the chess-board have no other principle of motion besides that which the hand impresses upon them.
    • But that, in the great chess-board of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might choose to impress on it.
  • If those two principles coincide and act in the same direction, the game of human society will go on easily and harmoniously, and is very likely to be happy and successful.
  • If they are opposite or different, the game will go on miserably, and the society must be at all times in the highest degree of disorder.

6.2.43. Some general, and even systematical, idea of the perfection of policy and law, might be needed to direct the statesman’s views.

  • But it is most arrogant to insist on establishing all at once, and in spite of all opposition, this idea from the man of system.
    • It is to erect his own judgment into the supreme standard of right and wrong.
    • It is to fancy:
      • that he himself the only wise and worthy man in the commonwealth, and
      • that his fellow-citizens should accommodate themselves to him and not he to them.

It is on this account, that of all political speculators, sovereign princes are by far the most dangerous.

  • This arrogance is perfectly familiar to them.
  • They entertain of the immense superiority of their own judgment.
  • When such imperial and royal reformers condescend to contemplate their country’s constitution, they often see the obstructions which might oppose the execution of their own will, as something wrong.
  • They condemn Plato’s divine maxim.
    • They consider the state as made for themselves, not themselves for the state.
  • The great object of their reformation is:
    • to remove those obstructions, and
    • to reduce the nobility’s authority.
    • to take away the privileges of cities and provinces, and
    • to render the greatest individuals and orders of the state incapable of opposing them.


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