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It serves to show
that instinct in animals does not act with stronger impulse than
the principles of society and civilisation operate in man. Under all
discouragements, he pursues his object, and yields to nothing but
impossibilities.




CHAPTER III. OF THE OLD AND NEW SYSTEMS OF GOVERNMENT

Nothing can appear more contradictory than the principles on which the
old governments began, and the condition to which society, civilisation
and commerce are capable of carrying mankind. Government, on the old
system, is an assumption of power, for the aggrandisement of itself; on
the new, a delegation of power for the common benefit of society.
The former supports itself by keeping up a system of war; the latter
promotes a system of peace, as the true means of enriching a nation.
The one encourages national prejudices; the other promotes universal
society, as the means of universal commerce. The one measures its
prosperity, by the quantity of revenue it extorts; the other proves its
excellence, by the small quantity of taxes it requires.

Mr. Burke has talked of old and new whigs. If he can amuse himself with
childish names and distinctions, I shall not interrupt his pleasure. It
is not to him, but to the Abbe Sieyes, that I address this chapter. I
am already engaged to the latter gentleman to discuss the subject of
monarchical government; and as it naturally occurs in comparing the old
and new systems, I make this the opportunity of presenting to him my
observations. I shall occasionally take Mr. Burke in my way.

Though it might be proved that the system of government now called the
New, is the most ancient in principle of all that have existed, being
founded on the original, inherent Rights of Man: yet, as tyranny and
the sword have suspended the exercise of those rights for many centuries
past, it serves better the purpose of distinction to call it the new,
than to claim the right of calling it the old.

The first general distinction between those two systems, is, that the
one now called the old is hereditary, either in whole or in part;
and the new is entirely representative. It rejects all hereditary
government:

First, As being an imposition on mankind.

Secondly, As inadequate to the purposes for which government is
necessary.

With respect to the first of these heads--It cannot be proved by what
right hereditary government could begin; neither does there exist
within the compass of mortal power a right to establish it. Man has no
authority over posterity in matters of personal right; and, therefore,
no man, or body of men, had, or can have, a right to set up hereditary
government. Were even ourselves to come again into existence, instead of
being succeeded by posterity, we have not now the right of taking from
ourselves the rights which would then be ours. On what ground, then, do
we pretend to take them from others?

All hereditary government is in its nature tyranny. An heritable crown,
or an heritable throne, or by what other fanciful name such things may
be called, have no other significant explanation than that mankind are
heritable property. To inherit a government, is to inherit the people,
as if they were flocks and herds.

With respect to the second head, that of being inadequate to the
purposes for which government is necessary, we have only to consider
what government essentially is, and compare it with the circumstances to
which hereditary succession is subject.

Government ought to be a thing always in full maturity. It ought to
be so constructed as to be superior to all the accidents to which
individual man is subject; and, therefore, hereditary succession, by
being subject to them all, is the most irregular and imperfect of all
the systems of government.

We have heard the Rights of Man called a levelling system; but the
only system to which the word levelling is truly applicable, is the
hereditary monarchical system. It is a system of mental levelling.
It indiscriminately admits every species of character to the same
authority. Vice and virtue, ignorance and wisdom, in short, every
quality good or bad, is put on the same level. Kings succeed each other,
not as rationals, but as animals. It signifies not what their mental or
moral characters are. Can we then be surprised at the abject state of
the human mind in monarchical countries, when the government itself is
formed on such an abject levelling system?--It has no fixed character.
To-day it is one thing; to-morrow it is something else. It changes with
the temper of every succeeding individual, and is subject to all the
varieties of each. It is government through the medium of passions and
accidents. It appears under all the various characters of childhood,
decrepitude, dotage, a thing at nurse, in leading-strings, or in
crutches. It reverses the wholesome order of nature. It occasionally
puts children over men, and the conceits of nonage over wisdom and
experience. In short, we cannot conceive a more ridiculous figure of
government, than hereditary succession, in all its cases, presents.

Could it be made a decree in nature, or an edict registered in heaven,
and man could know it, that virtue and wisdom should invariably
appertain to hereditary succession, the objection to it would be
removed; but when we see that nature acts as if she disowned and sported
with the hereditary system; that the mental character of successors, in
all countries, is below the average of human understanding; that one is
a tyrant, another an idiot, a third insane, and some all three together,
it is impossible to attach confidence to it, when reason in man has
power to act.

It is not to the Abbe Sieyes that I need apply this reasoning; he has
already saved me that trouble by giving his own opinion upon the
case. "If it be asked," says he, "what is my opinion with respect to
hereditary right, I answer without hesitation, That in good theory, an
hereditary transmission of any power of office, can never accord with
the laws of a true representation. Hereditaryship is, in this sense, as
much an attaint upon principle, as an outrage upon society. But let
us," continues he, "refer to the history of all elective monarchies and
principalities: is there one in which the elective mode is not worse
than the hereditary succession?"

As to debating on which is the worst of the two, it is admitting both
to be bad; and herein we are agreed. The preference which the Abbe has
given, is a condemnation of the thing that he prefers. Such a mode of
reasoning on such a subject is inadmissible, because it finally amounts
to an accusation upon Providence, as if she had left to man no other
choice with respect to government than between two evils, the best of
which he admits to be "an attaint upon principle, and an outrage upon
society."

Passing over, for the present, all the evils and mischiefs which
monarchy has occasioned in the world, nothing can more effectually
prove its uselessness in a state of civil government, than making it
hereditary. Would we make any office hereditary that required wisdom and
abilities to fill it? And where wisdom and abilities are not necessary,
such an office, whatever it may be, is superfluous or insignificant.

Hereditary succession is a burlesque upon monarchy. It puts it in the
most ridiculous light, by presenting it as an office which any child or
idiot may fill. It requires some talents to be a common mechanic; but
to be a king requires only the animal figure of man--a sort of breathing
automaton. This sort of superstition may last a few years more, but it
cannot long resist the awakened reason and interest of man.

As to Mr. Burke, he is a stickler for monarchy, not altogether as a
pensioner, if he is one, which I believe, but as a political man. He
has taken up a contemptible opinion of mankind, who, in their turn, are
taking up the same of him. He considers them as a herd of beings that
must be governed by fraud, effigy, and show; and an idol would be as
good a figure of monarchy with him, as a man. I will, however, do him
the justice to say that, with respect to America, he has been very
complimentary. He always contended, at least in my hearing, that the
people of America were more enlightened than those of England, or of
any country in Europe; and that therefore the imposition of show was not
necessary in their governments.

Though the comparison between hereditary and elective monarchy,
which the Abbe has made, is unnecessary to the case, because the
representative system rejects both: yet, were I to make the comparison,
I should decide contrary to what he has done.

The civil wars which have originated from contested hereditary
claims, are more numerous, and have been more dreadful, and of longer
continuance, than those which have been occasioned by election. All the
civil wars in France arose from the hereditary system; they were either
produced by hereditary claims, or by the imperfection of the hereditary
form, which admits of regencies or monarchy at nurse. With respect to
England, its history is full of the same misfortunes. The contests
for succession between the houses of York and Lancaster lasted a whole
century; and others of a similar nature have renewed themselves
since that period. Those of 1715 and 1745 were of the same kind. The
succession war for the crown of Spain embroiled almost half Europe. The
disturbances of Holland are generated from the hereditaryship of the
Stadtholder. A government calling itself free, with an hereditary
office, is like a thorn in the flesh, that produces a fermentation which
endeavours to discharge it.

But I might go further, and place also foreign wars, of whatever kind,
to the same cause. It is by adding the evil of hereditary succession
to that of monarchy, that a permanent family interest is created, whose
constant objects are dominion and revenue. Poland, though an elective
monarchy, has had fewer wars than those which are hereditary; and it is
the only government that has made a voluntary essay, though but a small
one, to reform the condition of the country.

Having thus glanced at a few of the defects of the old, or hereditary
systems of government, let us compare it with the new, or representative
system.

The representative system takes society and civilisation for its basis;
nature, reason, and experience, for its guide.

Experience, in all ages, and in all countries, has demonstrated that it
is impossible to control Nature in her distribution of mental powers.
She gives them as she pleases.



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