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

No comments:

Post a Comment