Political Philosophy

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Category: Philosophy
[ Originally published in The Nineteenth Century for January 1890. The writing of this essay was consequent on a controversy carried on in The Times between Nov. 7 and Nov. 27, 1889, and was made needful by the misapprehensions and mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tions embodied in that controversy. Hence the allusions which the essay contains. The last few paragraphs of it in its original form were mainly personal in their character; and, not wishing to perpetuate personalities, I have omitted them .] Life in Fiji, at the time when Thomas Williams settled there, must have been something worse than uncomfortable. One of the ...
Category: Note
In order to crush all opposing forces and to facilitate the perfecting of the totalitarian machinery, it became necessary to step up the process of centralization. This alone is able to foster uniformity and egalitarianism, and to ensure swift execution of governmental orders.
Category: Note
Psychologically, rule stemming from a person considered superior is less oppressive than coercion exercised by equals—not to mention that exercised by those felt to be inferior.
Category: Note
Since the victory of Lucerne the dogma of popular sovereignty and the omnipotence of democracy has become the practical basis of our public institutions. I don’t doubt that this ideology is going to proceed to all, even its most extreme conclusions, if the conditions of Europe permit it and if great catastrophes do not lead the people back to the true foundations of a sound political life. Yet complete democracy is the end of everything good. Republics have the most to fear from it. I tremble at the thought of its expansion, not on account of property, but because democracy ...
Category: Note
Author: Nietzsche
The democratic idea favours the nurturing of a human type prepared for slavery in the most subtle sense of the term. Every democracy is at one and the same time an involuntary establishment for the breeding of tyrants, taking the word in all its connotations, including those of a spiritual nature.
Category: Note
Author: Edmund Burk
Of this I am certain, that in a democracy, the majority of the citizens is capable of exercising the most cruel oppressions upon the minority, whenever strong divisions prevail in that kind of polity, as they often must; and that oppression of the minority will extend to far greater numbers, and will be carried on with much greater fury, than can almost ever be apprehended from the dominion of a single sceptre. In such a popular persecution, individual sufferers are in a much more deplorable condition than in any other. Under a cruel prince they have the balmy compassion of ...
Category: Note
Yet since democracy cannot relinquish its egalitarian heritage, the jealousy, envy and insecurity of the voting masses tend to give new impetus to the egalitarian mania as well as to ever increasing demands for “social security” and other forms of “economic democracy.” These cravings and desires result in specific measures, and thus we see finally a bureaucratic totalitarianism restricting personal liberties.
Category: Note
. . . in our own day, no fact is more incontestable and conspicuous than the love of democracy for authoritative regulation. . . . The expansion of the authority and the multiplication of the functions of the State in other fields, and especially in the field of social regulation, is an equally apparent accompaniment of modern democracy. This increase of state power means a multiplication of restrictions imposed upon the various forms of human action. It means an increase of bureaucracy, of the number and power of state officials. It means also a constant increase of taxation, which is ...
Category: Philosophy
[ First published as the Introduction to a volume entitled A Plea for Liberty, &c.: a series of anti-socialistic essays, issued at the beginning of 1891.] Of the many ways in which common-sense inferences about social affairs are flatly contradicted by events (as when measures taken to suppress a book cause increased circulation of it, or as when attempts to prevent usurious rates of interest make the terms harder for the borrower, or as when there is greater difficulty in getting things at the places of production than elsewhere) one of the most curious is the way in which the ...
Category: Note
The final general result of the dissolution of spiritual power is the establishment of that type of modern autocracy which has no exact counterpart in history and which, in the absence of a better label, one might call ministerialism or administrative despotism. Its basic character is the centralization of power extended more and more beyond all reasonable limits. Its general medium of action is systematized corruption.
Category: Note
. . . we have besides as the common expression, in part of the ideas of the French Revolution and in part of the demands of modern reform movements, what is called democracy, that is, an ideology merged from a thousand different sources and highly differentiated according to the various layers of her supporters, yet in one respect invariable; that for it the power of the state over the individual can never be sufficient. As a result the boundary lines between state and society are obliterated, and the state is expected to carry out all tasks which society might possibly ...
Category: Philosophy
[ First published in The Westminster Review for July 1853. ] From time to time there returns on the cautious thinker, the conclusion that, considered simply as a question of probabilities, it is unlikely that his views upon any debatable topic are correct. “Here,” he reflects, “are thousands around me holding on this or that point opinions differing from mine—wholly in many cases; partially in most others. Each is as confident as I am of the truth of his convictions. Many of them are possessed of great intelligence; and, rank myself high as I may, I must admit that some ...
Category: Philosophy
[ First published in The Westminster Review for April 1860 .] Thirty years ago, the dread of impending evils agitated not a few breasts throughout England. Instinctive fear of change, justified as it seemed by outbursts of popular violence, conjured up visions of the anarchy which would follow the passing of a Reform Bill. In scattered farm-houses there was chronic terror, lest those newly endowed with political power should in some way filch all the profits obtained by rearing cattle and growing corn. The occupants of halls and manors spoke of ten-pound householders almost as though they formed an army ...
Category: Note
The great political superstition of the past was the divine right of kings The great political superstition of the present is the divine right of parliaments. The oil of anointing seems unawares to have dripped from the head of the one on to the heads of the many, and given sacredness to them also and to their decrees.
Category: Philosophy
[ First published in The Reader for June 10, 1865 .] A Hindoo, who, before beginning his day’s work, salaams to a bit of plastic clay, out of which, in a few moments, he has extemporized a god in his own image, is an object of amazement to the European. We read with surprise bordering on scepticism of worship done by machinery, and of prayers which owe their supposed efficacy to the motion given by the wind to the papers they are written on. When told how certain of the Orientals, if displeased with their wooden deities, take them down ...
Category: Philosophy
This series of twelve letters was published in The Nonconformist in 1842-43. In 1843 the letters were reprinted under the present title by W. Brittain of London and sold for fourpence. Things of the first importance—principles influencing all the transactions of a country—principles involving the weal or woe of nations, are very generally taken for granted by society. When a certain line of conduct, however questionable may be its policy—however momentous may be its good or evil results, has been followed by our ancestors, it usually happens that the great masses of mankind continue the same course of action, without ...
Category: Philosophy
Philosophical politicians usually define government, as a body whose province it is, to provide for the “general good.” But this practically amounts to no definition at all, if by a definition is meant a description, in which the limits of the thing described are pointed out. It is necessary to the very nature of a definition, that the words in which it is expressed should have some determinate meaning; but the expression “general good,” is of such uncertain character, a thing so entirely a matter of opinion, that there is not an action that a government could perform, which might ...
Category: Philosophy
From preceding arguments it was inferred, that if the administration of justice had been recognised as the only duty of the state, a national church would not have existed, that restrictions upon commerce could never have been enacted, and that a poor law would be inadmissible. As the last conclusion will not meet with such general approbation as its predecessors, it is deemed requisite to enter more fully into the evidence that may be adduced in support of it: and the Nonconformist being the organ of a political body, who profess to act upon principle and not upon expediency, and ...
Category: Philosophy
My last letter, entering as it did rather deeply into the poor law question, might almost be considered by some of your readers, as a digression from the ostensible object of this essay, although a very necessary one to the establishment of the principle advocated. I must now, however, still further trespass upon their patience, in the endeavour to answer the query proposed to me—” Has not every man a right to a maintenance out of the soil?” for this, after all, is the pith of the question submitted. 3 Before proceeding, it may be observed, that the burden of ...
Category: Philosophy
“That it is the duty of the state to adopt measures for protecting the health, as well as the property, of its subjects,” is the fundamental principle espoused by the Eastern Medical Association of Scotland. The majority of the medical profession hold the same opinion; a respectable portion of the public at large apparently agree with them; and, judging by the enactments that have from time to time been made, the state itself admits the truth of the doctrine. The position is a very plausible one. Some of the arguments urged on its behalf appear, at first sight, decisive. And ...
Category: Philosophy
It will probably be objected to the proposed theory of government, that if the administration of justice were the only duty of the state, it would evidently be out of its power to regulate our relations with other countries, to make treaties with foreign powers, to enter into any kind of international arrangement whatever, or to levy wars that might be absolutely necessary. So much of the objection as relates to the absence of power to make treaties, may be disregarded. Commerce, or war, are nearly always, directly or indirectly, the subjects of negotiation between governments, and as free trade ...
Category: Philosophy
Colonisation may possibly appear to some, to be a stumbling-block in their way to the desirable conclusion, that the administration of justice is the only duty of the state. We may anticipate the question—What would the colonies do without our governance and protection? I think facts will bear me out in replying—Far better than they do with them. The subject naturally ranges itself under three heads—the interests of the mother country, of the emigrants, and of the aborigines. First, then, the interests of the mother country. The records of ancient nations have ever, shown that the riches of a community, ...
Category: Philosophy
The question of state interference has been hitherto examined, only in those departments of its application, in which its existing effects are visible—viz., in commerce, religion, charity, war, and colonisation. In all of them that interference has been deprecated. It now remains to consider those social institutions which, though at present prospering in their original unfettered simplicity, are threatened by schemes for legislative supervision. Of these the first in importance stands—education. It is clear that a system of national instruction is excluded by our definition. It cannot be comprehended under the administration of justice. A man can no more call ...
Category: Philosophy
An overwhelming prejudice in favour of ancient and existing usages has ever been, and probably will long continue to be, one of the most prominent characteristics of humanity. No matter how totally inconsistent with the existing condition of society—no matter how utterly unreasonable, both in principle and practice—no matter how eminently absurd, in every respect, such institutions or customs may be—still, if they have but the countenance of fashion or antiquity—if they have but been patronised and handed down to us by our forefathers—their glaring inconsistencies, defects, and puerilities, are so completely hidden by the radiant halo wherewith a blind ...
Category: Philosophy
Had our governors always taken care, duly to perform their original, and all-important functions—had the administration of justice ever stood pre-eminent in their eyes—had it at all times been considered as the one thing needful—and had no other questions ever been entertained at its expense, then might their interference, in matters with which they had no concern, have been more excusable. But it is not so. To the long list of their sins of commission, we have to add the sin of omission; and most grievously has the nation suffered from their neglect, as well as from their officiousness. Describe ...
Category: Philosophy
A few remarks upon an important collateral topic, in so far as it is affected by the solution of the question in hand, may not be here out of place. The enfranchisement of the working classes is the topic alluded to. With that large class of men, whose conclusions are determined by the dictates of expediency, rather than by the demands of justice, one of the objections to an investment of power in the hands of the people, is this—” Society is a complicated machine; the interests of its members are many and various, and so mysteriously connected and intertwined ...
Category: Philosophy
A brief review of the arguments that have been set forth in the foregoing letters may serve to place the general question more distinctly before the mind. Having shown that the proposed definition of state duties was in exact accordance with the primitive requirements of society—was, in fact, theoretically derived from them, and that its derivation did not countenance the universal interference now permitted; an attempt was made to exhibit some of the chief advantages that would arise out of the restoration of our various social institutions to their original freedom from legislative control; in the course of which it ...
Category: Philosophy
[ First published in the Edinburgh Review for October 1854 .] Believers in the intrinsic virtues of political forms, might draw an instructive lesson from the politics of our railways. If there needs a conclusive proof that the most carefully-framed constitutions are worthless, unless they be embodiments of the popular character—if there needs a conclusive proof, that governmental arrangements in advance of the time will inevitably lapse into congruity with the time; such proof may be found over and over again repeated in the current history of joint-stock enterprises. As devised by Act of Parliament, the ad­min­i­stra­tions of our public ...
Category: Philosophy
Shakspeare’s simile for adversity― Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous, Wears yet a precious jewel in his head, might fitly be used also as a simile for a disagreeable truth. Repulsive as is its aspect, the hard fact which dissipates a cherished illusion, is presently found to contain the germ of a more salutary belief. The experience of every one furnishes instances in which an opinion long shrunk from as seemingly at variance with all that is good, but finally accepted as irresistible, turns out to be fraught with benefits. It is thus with self-knowledge: much as we dislike ...
Category: Philosophy
[ First published in The Westminster Review for January 1858 .] A mong unmitigated rogues, mutual trust is impossible. Among people of absolute integrity, mutual trust would be unlimited. These are truisms. Given a nation made up of liars and thieves, and all trade among its members must be carried on either by barter or by a currency of intrinsic value: nothing in the shape of promises -to-pay can pass in place of actual payments; for, by the hypothesis, such promises being never fulfilled, will not be taken. On the other hand, given a nation of perfectly honest men—men as ...
Category: Note
. . . because of this ignorance of the primitiveness of their instincts, of the urgency of their needs, of the impatience of their desires, the people show a preference towards summary forms of authority. The thing they are looking for is not legal guarantees, of which they do not have any idea and whose power they do not understand; they do not care for intricate mechanisms or for checks and balances for which, on their own account, they have no use; it is a boss in whose word they confide, a leader whose intentions are known to the people ...