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