The Elements of Law/Part II/Chapter 24

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The Elements of Law
by Thomas Hobbes
Part II, Chapter 24

Chapter 24: The Incommodities of Several Sorts of Government Compared[edit]

1. Having set forth the nature of a person politic, and the three sorts thereof, democracy, aristocracy, and monarchy; in this chapter shall be declared, the conveniences, and inconveniences, that arise from the same, both in general, and of the said several sorts in particular. And first, seeing a body politic is erected only for the ruling and governing of particular men, the benefit and damage thereof consisteth in the benefit or damage of being ruled. The benefit is that for which a body politic was instituted, namely, the peace and preservation of every particular man, than which it is not possible there can be a greater, as hath been touched before, Part I. chap. XIV, sect. 12. And this benefit extendeth equally both to the sovereign, and to the subjects. For he or they that have the sovereign power, have but the defence of their persons, by the assistance of the particulars; and every particular man hath his defence by their union in the sovereign. As for other benefits which pertain not to their safety and sufficiency, but to their well and delightful being, such as are superfluous riches, they so belong to the sovereign, as they must also be in the subject; and so to the subject, as they must also be in the sovereign. For the riches and treasure of the sovereign, is the dominion he hath over the riches of his subjects. If therefore the sovereign provide not so as that particular men may have means, both to preserve themselves, and also to preserve the public; the common or sovereign treasure can be none. And on the other side, if it were not for a common and public treasure belonging to the sovereign power, men's private riches would sooner serve to put them into confusion and war, than to secure or maintain them. Insomuch, as the profit of the sovereign and subject goeth always together. That distinction therefore of government, that there is one government for the good of him that governeth, and another for the good of them that be governed; whereof the former is despotical (that is lordly); the other, a government of freemen, is not right; no more is the opinion of them that hold it to be no city, which consisteth of a master and his servants. They might as well say, it were no city, that consisted in a father and his own issue, how numerous soever they were. For to a master that hath no children, the servants have in them all those respects, for which men love their children; for they are his strength and his honour; and his power is no greater over them, than over his children.

2. The inconvenience arising from government in general to him that governeth, consisteth partly in the continual care and trouble about the business of other men, that are his subjects; and partly, in the danger of his person. For the head always is that part, not only where the care resideth, but also against which the stroke of an enemy most commonly is directed. To balance this incommodity, the sovereignty, together with the necessity of this care and danger, comprehendeth so much honour, riches, and means whereby to delight the mind, as no private man's wealth can attain unto. The inconveniences of government in general to a subject are none at all, if well considered; but in appearance there be two things that may trouble his mind, or two general grievances. The one is loss of liberty; the other the uncertainty of meum and tuum. For the first, it consisteth in this, that a subject may no more govern his own actions according to his own discretion and judgment, or, (which is all one) conscience, as the present occasions from time to time shall dictate to him; but must be tied to do according to that will only, which once for all he had long ago laid up, and involved in the wills of the major part of an assembly, or in the will of some one man. But this is really no inconvenience. For, as it hath been shewed before, it is the only means by which we have any possibility of preserving ourselves; for if every man were allowed this liberty of following his conscience, in such difference of consciences, they would not live together in peace an hour. But it appeareth a great inconvenience to every man in particular, to be debarred of this liberty, because every one apart considereth it as in himself, and not as in the rest; by which means, liberty appeareth in the likeness of rule and government over others; for where one man is at liberty, and the rest bound, there that one hath government. Which honour, he that understandeth not so much, demanding by the name simply of liberty, thinketh it a great grievance and injury to be denied it. For the second grievance concerning meum and tuum, it is also none, but in appearance only. It consisteth in this, that the sovereign power taketh from him that which he used to enjoy, knowing no other propriety, but use and custom. But without such sovereign power, the right of men is not propriety to any thing, but a community; no better than to have no right at all, as hath been shewed Part I. chap. XIV, sect. 10. Propriety therefore being derived from the sovereign power, is not to be pretended against the same; especially when by it every subject hath his propriety against every other subject, which when sovereignty ceaseth, he hath not, because in that case they return to war amongst themselves. Those levies therefore which are made upon men's estates, by the sovereign authority, are no more but the price of that peace and defence which the sovereignty maintaineth for them. If this were not so, no money nor forces for the wars or any other public occasion, could justly be levied in the world; for neither king, nor democracy, nor aristocracy, nor the estates of any land, could do it, if the sovereignty could not. For in all those cases, it is levied by virtue of the sovereignty; nay more, by the three estates here, the land of one man may be transferred to another, without crime of him from whom it was taken, and without pretence of public benefit; as hath been done. And this without injury, because done by the sovereign power; for the power whereby it is done, is no less than sovereign, and cannot be greater. Therefore this grievance for meum and tuum is not real; unless more be exacted than is necessary. But it seemeth a grievance, because to them that either know not the right of sovereignty, or to whom that right belongeth, it seemeth an injury; and injury, how light soever the damage, is always grievous, as putting us in mind of our disability to help ourselves; and into envy of the power to do us wrong.

3. Having spoken of the inconveniences of the subject, by government in general, let us consider the same in the three several sorts thereof, namely, democracy, aristocracy, and monarchy; whereof the two former are in effect but one. For (as I have shewed before) democracy is but the government of a few orators. The comparison therefore will be between monarchy and aristocracy; and to omit that the world, as it was created, so also it is governed by one God Almighty; and that all the ancients have preferred monarchy before other governments, both in opinion, because they feigned a monarchical government amongst their gods; and also by their custom, for that in the most ancient times all people were so governed; and that paternal government, which is monarchy, was instituted in the beginning from the creation; and that other governments have proceeded from the dissolution thereof, caused by the rebellious nature of mankind, and be but pieces of broken monarchies cemented by human wit; I will insist only in this comparison upon the inconveniences that may happen to the subjects, in consequence to each of these governments.

4. And first it seemeth inconvenient, there should be committed so great a power to one man, as that it might be lawful to no other man or men to resist the same; and some think it inconvenient eo nomine, because he hath the power. But this reason we may not by any means admit, for it maketh it inconvenient to be ruled by Almighty God, who without question hath more power over every man, than can be conferred upon any monarch. This inconvenience therefore must be derived, not from the power, but from the affections and passions which reign in every one, as well monarch as subject; by which the monarch may be swayed to use that power amiss. And because an aristocracy consisteth of men, if the passions of many men be more violent when they are assembled together, than the passions of one man alone, it will follow, that the inconvenience arising from passion will be greater in an aristocracy, than a monarchy. But there is no doubt, when things are debated in great assemblies, but every man delivering his opinion at large, without interruption, endeavoureth to make whatsoever he is to set forth for good, better; and what he would have apprehended as evil, worse, as much as is possible; to the end his counsel may take place; which counsel also is never without aim at his own benefit, or honour: every man's end being some good to himself. Now this cannot be done without working upon the passions of the rest. And thus the passions of those that are singly moderate, are altogether vehement; even as a great many coals, though but warm asunder, being put together inflame one another.

5. Another inconvenience of monarchy is this: that the monarch, besides the riches necessary for the defence of the commonwealth, may take so much more from the subjects, as may enrich his children, kindred and favourites, to what degree he pleaseth; which though it be indeed an inconvenience, if he should so do; yet is the same both greater in an aristocracy, and also more likely to come to pass; for there not one only, but many have children, kindred, and friends to raise; and in that point they are as twenty monarchs for one, and likely to set forward one another's designs mutually, to the oppression of all the rest. The same also happeneth in a democracy, if they all do agree; otherwise they bring in a worse inconvenience, (viz.) sedition.

6. Another inconvenience of monarchy, is the power of dispensing with the execution of justice; whereby the family and friends of the monarch, may with impunity, commit outrages upon the people, or oppress them with extortion. But in aristocracies, not only one, but many have power of taking men out of the hands of justice; and no man is willing his kindred or friends should be punished according to their demerits. And therefore they understand amongst themselves without farther speaking, as a tacit covenant: Hodie mihi, cras tibi.

7. Another inconvenience of monarchy, is the power of altering laws; concerning which, it is necessary that such a power be, that the laws may be altered, according as men's manners change, or as the conjuncture of all circumstances within and without the commonwealth shall require; the change of law being then inconvenient, when it proceedeth from the change, not of the occasion, but of the minds of him or them, by whose authority the laws are made. Now it is manifest enough of itself, that the mind of one man is not so variable in that point, as are the decrees of an assembly. For not only they have all their natural changes, but the change of any one man be enough, with eloquence and reputation, or by solicitation and faction, to make that law to-day, which another by the very same means, shall abrogate to-morrow.

8. Lastly, the greatest inconvenience that can happen to a commonwealth, is the aptitude to dissolve into civil war. and to this are monarchies much less subject, than any other governments. For where the union, or band of a commonwealth, is one man, there is no distraction; whereas in assemblies, those that are of different opinions, and give different counsel, are apt to fall out amongst themselves, and to cross the designs of commonwealth for one another's sake: and when they cannot have the honour of making good their own devices, they yet seek the honour to make the counsels of their adversaries to prove vain. And in this contention, when the opposite factions happen to be anything equal in strength, they presently fall to war. Wherein necessity teacheth both sides, that an absolute monarch, (viz.) a general, is necessary both for their defence against one another, and also for the peace of each faction within itself. But this aptitude to dissolution, is to be understood for an inconvenience in such aristocracies only where the affairs of state are debated in great and numerous assemblies, as they were anciently in Athens, and in Rome; and not in such as do nothing else in great assemblies, but choose magistrates and counsellors, and commit the handling of state affairs to a few; such as is the aristocracy of Venice at this day. For these are no more apt to dissolve from this occasion, than monarchies, the counsel of state being both in the one and the other alike.