Thursday, July 28, 2022

Something That Could Be Guarded Against

“Virtue is a necessary constituent of national strength: capacity, and a vigorous understanding, are no less necessary to sustain the fortune of states.  Both are improved by discipline, and by the exercises in which men are engaged.  We despise, or we pity the lot of mankind, while they lived under uncertain establishments, and were obliged to sustain in the same person, the character of the senator, the statesman, and the soldier.  Commercial nations discover, that any one of these characters is sufficient in one person; and that the ends of each, when disjoined, are more easily accomplished.  The first, however, were circumstances under which nations advanced and prospered; the second were those in which the spirit relaxed, and the nation went to decay.

“We may, with good reason, congratulate our species on their having escaped from a state of barbarous disorder and violence, into a state of domestic peace and regular policy; when they have sheathed the dagger, and disarmed the animosities of civil contention; when the weapons with which they contend are the reasonings of the wise, and the tongue of the eloquent.  But we cannot, mean time, help to regret, that they should ever proceed, in search of perfection, to place every branch of administration behind the counter, and come to employ, instead of the statesman and warrior, the mere clerk and accountant.  By carrying this system to its height, men are educated, who could copy for Caesar his military instructions, or even execute a part of his plans; but none who could act in all the different scenes for which the leader himself must be qualified, in the state and in the field, in times of order or of tumult, in times of division or of unanimity; none who could animate the council when deliberating on domestic affairs, or when alarmed by attacks from abroad.”

- Adam Ferguson, from An Essay on the History of Civil Society

Roughly, this concerns the threat of a danger when a society proceeds too far in differentiating people and their roles -- particularly roles relevant to citizenship and government, and to citizens participating in and running their own government and its parts -- reaching a point where few people are competent in more than one principal area of leadership, or even where those separate areas become subdivided in such a way that they depend for their operation on regulation, routine, and the communication and execution of instructions, and where it does not require (if it continues even to allow for the possibility of it) many of the people involved to have more than a superficial comprehension of what they are doing.  It becomes rare for a person to know the reasons that underlie any of it, to understand the part that it plays in the larger plan (or, possibly, even to be aware that it plays a part in a larger plan), or to have mastery of the larger subject.  In this condition, will we be able to find the people (if they exist) who not only know what is being done but understand it well enough to competently lead or assist in repairing, updating, enhancing, or in any other way altering the organizational machinery?  How will we prepare or identify them?  At what point will we even realize that we have a need for this?

Tuesday, June 28, 2022


“Republican governments, in general, are in hazard of ruin from the ascendant of particular factions, and from the mutinous spirit of a populace, who, being corrupted, are no longer fit to share in the administration of state.  But under other establishments, where liberty may be more successfully attained if men are corrupted, the national vigour declines from the abuse of that very security which is procured by the supposed perfection of public order.  A distribution of power and office; an execution of law, by which mutual encroachments and molestations are brought to an end; by which the person and the property are, without friends, without cabal, without obligation, perfectly secured to individuals, does honour to the genius of a nation; and could not have been fully established, without those exertions of understanding and integrity, those trials of a resolute and vigorous spirit, which adorn the annals of a people, and leave to future ages a subject of just admiration and applause.

“But if we suppose that the end is attained, and that men no longer act, in the enjoyment of liberty from liberal sentiments, or with a view to the preservation of public manners; if individuals think themselves secure without any attention or effort of their own; this boasted advantage may be found only to give them an opportunity of enjoying, at leisure, the conveniencies and necessaries of life; or, in the language of Cato, teach them to value their houses, their villas, their statues, and their pictures, at a higher rate than they do the republic.  They may be found to grow tired in secret of a free constitution, of which they never cease to boast in their conversation, and which they always neglect in their conduct.

“The dangers to liberty are not the subject of our present consideration; but they can never be greater from any cause than they are from the supposed remissness of a people, to whose personal vigour every constitution, as it owed its establishment, so must continue to owe its preservation.  Nor is this blessing ever less secure than it is in the possession of men who think that they enjoy it in safety, and who therefore consider the public only as it presents to their avarice a number of lucrative employments; for the sake of which, they may sacrifice those very rights which render themselves objects of management or of consideration.  From the tendency of these reflections, then, it should appear, that a national spirit is frequently transient, not on account of any incurable distemper in the nature of mankind, but on account of their voluntary neglects and corruptions.”

- Adam Ferguson, from An Essay on the History of Civil Society

Friday, June 24, 2022

Let Justice Be Done

Following a couple of mentions that I made last month of the old legal maxims (and their value), I now present one of my favorites, as it was used by Mansfield in Somerset's Case:

"If the parties will have judgment, Fiat justitia, ruat coelum; let justice be done whatever be the consequence."

Monday, June 20, 2022

Too Little Noise

“But if a rigorous policy, applied to enslave, not to restrain from crimes, has an actual tendency to corrupt the manners, and to extinguish the spirit of nations; if its severities be applied to terminate the agitations of a free people, not to remedy their corruptions; if forms be often applauded as salutary, because they tend merely to silence the voice of mankind, or be condemned as pernicious, because they allow this voice to be heard; we may expect that many of the boasted improvements of civil society, will be mere devices to lay the political spirit at rest, and will chain up the active virtues more than the restless disorders of men.  If to any people it be the avowed object of policy in all its internal refinements, to secure only the person and the property of the subject, without any regard to his political character, the constitution indeed may be free, but its members may likewise become unworthy of the freedom they possess, and unfit to preserve it.  The effects of such a constitution may be to immerse all orders of men in their separate pursuits of pleasure, which they may on this supposition enjoy with little disturbance; or of gain, which they may preserve without any attention to the commonwealth.  If this be the end of political struggles, the design, when executed, in securing to the individual his estate, and the means of subsistence, may put an end to the exercise of those very virtues that were required in conducting its execution.

“A man who, in concert with his fellow subjects, contends with usurpation in defence of his estate or his person, may in that very struggle have found an exertion of great generosity, and of a vigorous spirit; but he who, under political establishments, supposed to be fully confirmed, betakes him, because he is safe, to the mere enjoyment of fortune, has in fact turned to a source of corruption the advantages which the virtues of the other procured.  Individuals, in certain ages, derive their protection chiefly from the strength of the party to which they adhere; but in tithes of corruption they flatter themselves; that they may continue to derive from the public that safety which, in former ages, they must have owed to their own vigilance and spirit, to the warm attachment of their friends, and to the exercise of every talent which could render them respected, feared, or beloved.  In one period, therefore, mere circumstances serve to excite the spirit, and to preserve the manners of men; in another, great wisdom and zeal for the good of mankind on the part of their leaders, are required for the same purposes.”

- Adam Ferguson, from An Essay on the History of Civil Society

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

So Much Noise!

“Whatever be the national extent, civil order, and regular government, are advantages of the greatest importance; but it does not follow, that every arrangement made to obtain these ends, and which may, in the making, exercise and cultivate the best qualities of men, is therefore of a nature to produce permanent effects, and to secure the preservation of that national spirit from which it arose.  We have reason to dread the political refinements of ordinary men, when we consider that repose, or inaction itself, is in a great measure their object; and that they would frequently model their governments, not merely to prevent injustice and error, but to prevent agitation and bustle; and by the barriers they raise against the evil actions of men, would prevent them from acting at all.  Every dispute of a free people, in the opinion of such politicians, amounts to disorder, and a breach of the national peace.  What heart burnings? What delay to affairs? What want of secrecy and despatch? What defect of police?  Men of superior genius sometimes seem to imagine, that the vulgar have no title to act, or to think.  A great prince is pleased to ridicule the precaution by which judges in a free country are confined to the strict interpretation of law.

“We easily learn to contract our opinions of what men may, in consistence with public order, be safely permitted to do.  The agitations of a republic, and the license of its members, strike the subjects of monarchy with aversion and disgust.  The freedom with which the European is left to traverse the streets and the fields, would appear to a Chinese a sure prelude to confusion and anarchy.  ‘Can men behold their superior and not tremble?  Can they converse without a precise and written ceremonial?  What hopes of peace, if, the streets are not barricaded at an hour?  What wild disorder, if men are permitted in any thing to do what they please?’”

- Adam Ferguson, from An Essay on the History of Civil Society

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

“Remiss or Supine”

“States, even distinguished for military prowess, sometimes lay down their arms from lassitude, and are weary of fruitless contentions; but if they maintain the station of independent communities, they will have frequent occasions to recall, and to exert their vigour.  Even under popular governments, men sometimes drop the consideration of their political rights, and appear at times remiss or supine; but if they have reserved the power to defend themselves, the intermission of its exercise cannot be of long duration.  Political rights, when neglected, are always invaded; and alarms from this quarter must frequently come to renew the attention of parties.

“The love of learning, and of arts, may change its pursuits, or droop for a season; but while men are possessed of freedom, and while the exercises of ingenuity are not superseded, the public may proceed, at different times, with unequal fervour; but its progress is seldom altogether discontinued, or the advantages gained in one age are seldom entirely lost to the following.  If we would find the causes of final corruption, we must examine those revolutions of state that remove, or withhold, the objects of every ingenious study or liberal pursuit; that deprive the citizen of occasions to act as the member of a public; that crush his spirit; that debase his sentiments, and disqualify his mind for affairs.”

- Adam Ferguson, from An Essay on the History of Civil Society

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

More Activity

“The public safety, and the relative interests of states; political establishments, the pretensions of party, commerce, and arts, are subjects which engage the attention of nations.  The advantages gained in some of these particulars, determine the degree of national prosperity.  The ardour and vigour with which they are at any one time pursued, is the measure of a national spirit.  When those objects cease to animate, nations may be said to languish; when they are during a considerable time neglected, states must decline, and their people degenerate.  In the most forward, enterprising, inventive, and industrious nations, this spirit is fluctuating; and they who continue longest to gain advantages, or to preserve them, have periods of remissness, as well as of ardour.  The desire of public safety, is, at all times, a powerful motive of conduct; but it operates most when combined with occasional passions, when provocations inflame, when successes encourage, or mortifications exasperate.

“A whole people, like the individuals of whom they are composed, act under the influence of temporary humours, sanguine hopes, or vehement animosities.  They are disposed, at one time, to enter on national struggles with vehemence; at another, to drop them from mere lassitude and disgust.  In their civil debates and contentions at home, they are occasionally ardent or remiss.  Epidemical passions arise or subside on trivial as well as important grounds.  Parties are ready, at one time, to take their names and the pretence of their oppositions, from mere caprice or accident; at another time, they suffer the most serious occasions to pass in silence.  If a vein of literary genius be casually opened, or a new subject of disquisition be started, real or pretended discoveries suddenly multiply, and every conversation is inquisitive and animated.  If a new source of wealth be found, or a prospect of conquest be offered, the imaginations of men are inflamed, and whole quarters of the globe are suddenly engaged in ruinous or in successful adventures.  Could we recall the spirit that was exerted, or enter into the views that were entertained, by our ancestors, when they burst, like a deluge, from their ancient seats, and poured into the Roman empire, we should probably, after their first success at least, find a ferment in the minds of men, for which no attempt was too arduous, no difficulties insurmountable.”


“Even the weak and the remiss are roused to enterprise, by the contagion of such remarkable ages; and states, which have not in their form the principles of a continued exertion, either favourable or adverse to the welfare of mankind, may have paroxysms of ardour, and a temporary appearance of national vigour.  In the case of such nations, indeed, the returns of moderation are but a relapse to obscurity, and the presumption of one age is turned to dejection in that which succeeds.  But in the case of states that are fortunate in, their domestic policy, even madness itself may, in the result of violent convulsions, subside into wisdom; and a people return to their ordinary mood, cured of their follies, and wiser by experience; or, with talents improved, in conducting the very scenes which frenzy had opened, they may then appear best qualified to pursue with success the object of nations.  Like the ancient republics, immediately after some alarming sedition, or like the kingdom of Great Britain, at the close of its civil wars, they retain the spirit of activity which was recently awakened, and are equally vigorous in every pursuit, whether of policy, learning, or arts.  From having appeared on the brink of ruin, they pass to the greatest prosperity.  Men engage in pursuits with degrees of ardour not proportioned to the importance of their object.  When they are stated in opposition, or joined in confederacy, they only wish for pretences to act.  They forget, in the heat of their animosities, the subject of their controversy; or they seek, in their formal reasonings concerning it, only a disguise for their passions.  When the heart is inflamed, no consideration can repress its ardour; when its fervour subsides, no reasoning can excite, and no eloquence awaken its former emotions.”

- Adam Ferguson, from An Essay on the History of Civil Society

Sunday, May 8, 2022


“From what we have already observed on the general characteristics of human nature, it has appeared that man is not made for repose.  In him every amiable and respectable quality, is an active power, and every subject of commendation an effort.  If his errors and his crimes are the movements of an active being, his virtues and his happiness consist likewise in the employment of his mind; and all the lustre which he casts around him, to captivate or engage the attention of his fellow creatures, like the flame of a meteor, shines only while his motion continues; the moments of rest and obscurity are the same.  We know, that the tasks assigned him frequently may exceed, as well as come short of, his powers; that he may be agitated too much, as well as too little; but cannot ascertain a precise medium between the situations in which he would be harassed, and those in which he would fall into languor.  We know that he may be employed on a great variety of subjects, which occupy different passions; and that, in consequence of habit, he becomes reconciled to very different scenes.  All we can determine in general is, that whatever be the subjects with which he is engaged, the frame of his nature requires him to be occupied, and his happiness requires him to be just.”

- Adam Ferguson, from An Essay on the History of Civil Society

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

And Another

Many of the old legal maxims -- especially the ones that had a history of significance and actual use before the publication of certain late 19th and early 20th century collections of "maxims", which would call almost anything a "maxim" -- are worth remembering.  Here is another:

Quod Ab Initio non valet in Tractu Temporis non Convalescit.

One of the Maxims

 Debile fundamentum fallit opus.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Atrophy And Entropy

“Each, when the institutions of his country are mature, may find in the laws a protection to his personal rights; but those rights themselves are differently understood, and with a different set of opinions, give rise to a different temper of mind.  The republican must act in the state, to sustain his pretensions; he must join a party, in order to be safe; he must lead one, in order to be great.  The subject of monarchy refers to his birth for the honour he claims; he waits on a court, to shew his importance; and holds out the ensigns of dependence and favour, to gain him esteem with the public.

“If national institutions, calculated for the preservation of liberty, instead of calling upon the citizen to act for himself, and to maintain his rights, should give a security, requiring, on his part, no personal attention or effort; this seeming perfection of government might weaken the bands of society, and, upon maxims of independence, separate and estrange the different ranks it was meant to reconcile.  Neither the parties formed in republics, nor the courtly assemblies, which meet in monarchical governments, could take place, where the sense of a mutual dependence should cease to summon their members together.”

- Adam Ferguson, from An Essay on the History of Civil Society

Monday, April 25, 2022

The Security And The Spirit Of Justice

“But there is no peace in the absence of justice.  It may subsist with divisions, disputes, and contrary opinions; but not with the commission of wrongs.  The injurious, and the injured, are, as implied in the very meaning of the terms, in a state of hostility.  Where men enjoy peace, they owe it either to their mutual regards and affections, or to the restraints of law.  Those are the happiest states which procure peace to their members by the first of these methods: but it is sufficiently uncommon to procure it even by the second.”


“From whatever motive wrongs are committed, there are different particulars in which the injured may suffer.  He may suffer in his goods, in his person, or in the freedom of his conduct.  Nature has made him master of every action which is not injurious to others.  The laws of his particular society entitle him perhaps to a determinate station, and bestow on, him a certain share in the government of his country.  An injury, therefore, which in this respect puts him under any unjust restraint, may be called an infringement of his political rights.  Where the citizen is supposed to have rights of property and of station, and is protected in the exercise of them, he is said to be free; and the very restraints by which he is hindered from the commission of crimes, are a part of his liberty.

“No person is free, where any person is suffered to do wrong with impunity.  Even the despotic prince on his throne, is not an exception to this general rule.  He himself is a slave, the moment he pretends that force should decide any contest.  The disregard he throws on the rights of his people recoils on himself; and in the general uncertainty of all conditions, there is no tenure more precarious than his own.”


“We must be contented to derive our freedom from a different source: to expect justice from the limits which are set to the powers of the magistrate, and to rely for protection on the laws which are made to secure the estate and the person of the subject. ... Without any establishments to preserve their manners, besides penal laws, and the restraints of police, they derive, from instinctive feelings, a love of integrity and candour, and from the very contagion of society itself, an esteem for what is honourable and praiseworthy.  They derive, from their union and joint opposition to foreign enemies, a zeal for their own community, and courage to maintain its rights.  If the frequent neglect of virtue, as a political object, tend to discredit the understandings of men, its lustre, and its frequency, as a spontaneous offspring of the heart, will restore the honours of our nature.”

- Adam Ferguson, from An Essay on the History of Civil Society

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Vulnerability In Numbers -- Or The Danger Of It

“Where the sovereign power is reserved by the collected body, it appears unnecessary to think of additional establishments for securing the rights of the citizen. But it is difficult, if not impossible, for the collective body to exercise this power in a manner that supersedes the necessity of every other political caution.  If popular assemblies assume every function of government; and if, in the same tumultuous manner in which they can, with great propriety, express their feelings, the sense of their rights, and their animosity to foreign or domestic enemies, they pretend to deliberate on points of national conduct, or to decide questions of equity and justice; the public is exposed to manifold inconveniencies; and popular governments would, of all others, be the most subject to errors in administration, and to weakness in the execution of public measures.

“To avoid these disadvantages, the people are always contented to delegate part of their power.  They establish a senate to debate, and to prepare, if not to determine, questions that are brought to the collective body for a final resolution.  They commit the executive power to some council of this sort, or to a magistrate who presides in their meetings.  Under the use of this necessary and common expedient, even while democratical forms are most carefully guarded, there is one party of the few, another of the many.  One attacks, the other defends; and they are both ready to assume in their turns.  But though, in reality, a great danger to liberty arises on the part of the people themselves, who, in times of corruption, are easily made the instruments of usurpation and tyranny; yet, in the ordinary aspect of government, the executive carries an air of superiority, and the rights of the people seem always exposed to encroachment.

“Though, on the day that the Roman people were assembled, the senators mixed with the crowd, and the consul was no more than the servant of the multitude; yet, when this awful meeting was dissolved, the senators met to prescribe business for their sovereign, and the consul went armed with the axe and the rods, to teach every Roman, in his separate capacity, the submission which he owed to the state.  Thus, even where the collective body is sovereign, they are assembled only occasionally; and though, on such occasions, they determine every question relative to their rights and their interests as a people, and can assert their freedom with irresistible force; yet they do not think themselves, nor are they in reality, safe, without a more constant and more uniform power operating in their favour. The multitude is every where strong; but requires, for the safety of its members, when separate as well as when assembled, a head to direct and to employ its strength....”

“In democratical establishments, citizens, feeling themselves possessed of the sovereignty, are not equally anxious, with the subjects of other governments, to have their rights explained, or secured, by actual statute.  They trust to personal vigour, to the support of party, and to the sense of the public.  If the collective body perform the office of judge, as well as of legislator, they seldom think of devising rules for their own direction, and are found still more seldom to follow any determinate rule, after it is made.  They dispense, at one time, with what they enacted at another; and in their judicative, perhaps even more than in their legislative, capacity, are guided by passions and partialities that arise from circumstances of the case before them.”

- Adam Ferguson, from An Essay on the History of Civil Society

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Not In Mere Laws

“No magistrate, whether temporary or hereditary, can with safety neglect that reputation for justice and equity, from which his authority, and the respect that is paid to his person, are in a great measure derived.  Nations, however, have been fortunate in the tenor, and in the execution of their laws, in proportion as they have admitted every order of the people, by representation or otherwise, to an actual share of the legislature. Under establishments of this sort, law is literally a treaty, to which the parties concerned have agreed, and have given their opinion in settling its terms.  The interests to be affected by a law, are likewise consulted in making it.  Every class propounds an objection, suggests an addition or an amendment of its own.  They proceed to adjust, by statute, every subject of controversy: and while they continue to enjoy their freedom, they continue to multiply laws, and to accumulate volumes, as if they could remove every possible ground of dispute, and were secure of their rights, merely by having put them in writing.

“Rome and England, under their mixed governments, the one inclining to democracy, and the other to monarchy, have proved the great legislators among nations.  The first has left the foundation, and great part of the superstructure of its civil code to the continent of Europe: the other, in its island, has carried the authority and government of law to a point of perfection, which they never before attained in the history of mankind.  Under such favourable establishments, known customs, the practice and decisions of courts, as well as positive statutes, acquire the authority of laws; and every proceeding is conducted by some fixed and determinate rule.

“The best and most effectual precautions are taken for the impartial application of rules to particular cases; and it is remarkable, that, in the two examples we have mentioned, a surprising coincidence is found in the singular methods of their jurisdiction. The people in both reserved in a manner the office of judgment to themselves, and brought the decision of civil rights, or of criminal questions, to the tribunal of peers, who, in judging of their fellow citizens, prescribed a condition of life for themselves.  It is not in mere laws, after all, that we are to look for the securities to justice, but in the powers by which these laws have been obtained, and without whose constant support they must fall to disuse.  Statutes serve to record the rights of a people, and speak the intention of parties to defend what the letter of the law has expressed; but without the vigour to maintain what is acknowledged as a right, the mere record, or the feeble intention, is of little avail.  A populace roused by oppression, or an order of men possessed of temporary advantage, have obtained many charters, concessions, and stipulations, in favour of their claims; but where no adequate preparation was made to preserve them, the written articles were often forgotten, together with the occasion on which they were framed.

“The history of England, and of every free country, abounds with the example of statutes enacted when the people or their representatives assembled, but never executed when the crown or the executive was left to itself.  The most equitable laws on paper are consistent with the utmost despotism in administration.  Even the form of trial by juries in England had its authority in law, while the proceedings of courts were arbitrary and oppressive.  We must admire, as the key stone of civil liberty, the statute which forces the secrets of every prison to be revealed, the cause of every commitment to be declared, and the person of the accused to be produced, that he may claim his enlargement, or his trial, within a limited time.  No wiser form was ever opposed to the abuses of power.  But it requires a fabric no less than the whole political constitution of Great Britain, a spirit no less than the refractory and turbulent zeal of this fortunate people, to secure its effects.  If even the safety of the person, and the tenure of property, which may be so well defined in the words of a statute, depend, for their preservation, on the vigour and jealousy of a free people, and on the degree of consideration which every order of the state maintains for itself; it is still more evident, that what we have called the political freedom, or the right of the individual to act in his station for himself and the public, cannot be made to rest on any other foundation.  The estate may be saved, and the person released, by the forms of a civil procedure; but the rights of the mind cannot be sustained by any other force but its own.”

- Adam Ferguson, from An Essay on the History of Civil Society

Thursday, February 3, 2022

Thirty Is Not Thirty-One

 Commentary on this point ought to be unnecessary, so before I bother to try to explain this further, I'll just leave this here and see how it goes.

Saturday, January 1, 2022

After Thirty Days Had Passed

  1. April 30, 2021.
  2. May 31, 2021.
  3. August 30, 2021.
  4. September 30, 2021.
  5. October 31, 2021.
  6. December 1, 2021.
  7. January 1, 2022.

This is a list of the dates (so far) when the thirty days of the then-latest renewal term of Indiana's State of Disaster Emergency had been exhausted but the pending renewal had yet to take effect.  I have no idea what would lead the Governor's office to schedule these renewals so as to allow the COVID-19 State of Disaster Emergency repeatedly expire.  When I first noticed that dates were being skipped, I felt certain that it was being done inadvertently.  However, it has now happened seven times (so far) since April 2021, including the last four in a row.  The longer this continues, the more difficult it becomes to believe that it is an accident, but it would make no sense to do this on purpose.  By the terms of IC 10-14-3-12(a)(2), a State of Disaster Emergency expires and terminates after thirty days unless a renewal keeps it going for another thirty days.  The renewal must, of course, begin the new thirty day period where the one preceding it ends; if the State of Disaster Emergency is permitted to expire, then there will no longer be anything left to renew.  Unless Governor Holcomb wants the State of Disaster Emergency to end (which he can bring about at will whenever he might choose to do so), it is unwise to repeatedly schedule renewals to take effect a full day after the latest thirty-day term has been exhausted.  If Indiana law were being followed, here, the State of Disaster Emergency should have ended on April 30th, 2021, or, failing that, on any one of the other six of the seven dates above.

I cannot explain why this is being done; I can only call attention to the fact that it is.

(I can also add: If you know anyone who has been dead on seven separate occasions, each time for a full twenty-four hours, then that person has something in common with Indiana's COVID-19 State of Disaster Emergency.)