The Elements of Law/Part II/Chapter 27

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Chapter 27: Of the Causes of Rebellion[edit]

1. Hitherto of the causes why, and the manner how, men have made commonwealths. In this chapter I shall show briefly, by what causes, and in what manner, they be again destroyed; not meaning to say anything concerning the dissolution of a commonwealth from foreign invasions, which is as it were the violent death thereof, I shall speak only of sedition, which is also the death of the commonwealth, but like to that which happeneth to a man from sickness and distemper. To dispose men to sedition three things concur. The first is discontent; for as long as a man thinketh himself well, and that the present government standeth not in his way to hinder his proceeding from well to better; it is impossible for him to desire the change thereof. The second is pretence of right; for though a man be discontent, yet if in his own opinion there be no just cause of stirring against, or resisting the government established, nor any pretence to justify his resistance, and to procure aid, he will never show it. The third is hope of success; for it were madness to attempt without hope, when to fail is to die the death of a traitor. Without these three: discontent, pretence, and hope, there can be no rebellion; and when the same are all together, there wanteth nothing thereto, but a man of credit to set up the standard, and to blow the trumpet.

2. And as for discontent, it is of two sorts: for it consisteth either in bodily pain present or expected, or else in trouble of the mind (which is the general division of pleasure and pain, Part I. chap. VII, sect. 9). The presence of bodily pain disposeth not to sedition; the fear of it doth. As for example: when a great multitude, or heap of people, have concurred to a crime worthy of death, they join together, and take arms to defend themselves for fear thereof. So also the fear of want, or in present want the fear of arrests and imprisonment, dispose to sedition. And therefore great exactions, though the right thereof be acknowledged, have caused great seditions. As in the time of Henry VII. the seditions of the Cornish men that refused to pay a subsidy, and, under the conduct of the Lord Audley, gave the King battle upon Blackheath; and that of the northern people, who in the same king's time, for demanding a subsidy granted in parliament, murdered the Earl of Northumberland in his house.

3. Thirdly, the other sort of discontent which troubleth the mind of them who otherwise live at ease, without fear of want, or danger of violence, ariseth only from a sense of their want of that power, and that honour and testimony thereof, which they think is due unto them. For all joy and grief of mind consisting (as hath been said, Part I. chap. IX, sect. 21) in a contention for precedence to them with whom they compare themselves; such men must needs take it ill, and be grieved with the state, as find themselves postponed to those in honour, whom they think they excel in virtue and ability to govern. And this is it for which they think themselves regarded but as slaves. Now seeing freedom cannot stand together with subjection, liberty in a commonwealth is nothing but government and rule, which because it cannot be divided, men must expect in common; and that can be no where but in the popular state, or democracy. And Aristotle saith well (lib. 6, cap. 2 of his Politics), The ground or intention of a democracy, is liberty; which he confirmeth in these words: For men ordinarily say this: that no man can partake of liberty, but only in a popular commonwealth. Whosoever therefore in a monarchical estate, where the sovereign power is absolutely in one man, claimeth liberty, claimeth (if the hardest construction should be made thereof) either to have the sovereignty in his turn, or to be colleague with him that hath it, or to have the monarchy changed into a democracy. But if the same be construed (with pardon of that unskilful expression) according to the intention of him that claimeth, then doth he thereby claim no more but this, that the sovereign should take notice of his ability and deserving, and put him into employment and place of subordinate government, rather than others that deserve less. And as one claimeth, so doth another, every man esteeming his own desert greatest. Amongst all those that pretend to, or are ambitious of such honour, a few only can be served, unless it be in a democracy; the rest therefore must be discontent. And so much of the first thing that disposeth to rebellion, namely, discontent, consisting in fear and ambition.

4. The second thing that disposeth to rebellion, is pretence of right. And that is when men have an opinion, or pretend to have an opinion: that in certain cases they may lawfully resist him or them that have the sovereign power, or deprive him or them of the means to execute the same. Of which pretences there be six special cases. One is, when the command is against their conscience, and they believe it is unlawful for a subject at the command of the sovereign power to do any action, which he thinketh in his own conscience not lawful for him to do, or to omit any action, which he thinketh not lawful for him to omit. Another is, when the command is against the laws, and they think the sovereign power in such sort obliged to his own laws, as the subject is; and that when he performeth not his duty, they may resist his power. A third is, when they receive commands from some man or men, and a supersedeas to the same from others, and think the authority is equal, as if the sovereign power were divided. A fourth is, when they are commanded to contribute their persons or money to the public service, and think they have a propriety in the same distinct from the dominion of the sovereign power; and that therefore they are not bound to contribute their goods and persons, no more than every man shall of himself think fit. A fifth, when the commands seem hurtful to the people; and they think, every one of them, that the opinion and sense of the people is the same with the opinion of himself, and those that consent with him; calling by the name of people, any multitude of his own faction. The sixth is, when the commands are grievous; and they account him that commandeth grievous things, a tyrant; and tyrannicide, that is, the killing of a tyrant, not only lawful, but also laudable.

5. All these opinions are maintained in the books of the dogmatics, and divers of them taught in public chairs, and nevertheless are most incompatible with peace and government, and contradictory to the necessary and demonstrable rules of the same. And for the first, namely, that a man may lawfully do or omit any thing against his conscience, and from whence arise all seditions concerning religion and ecclesiastical government, it hath been plainly declared in the two last chapters, that such opinion is erroneous. For those two chapters have been wholly spent, to prove, that Christian religion not only forbiddeth not, but also commandeth, that in every commonwealth, every subject should in all things to the uttermost of his power obey the commands of him or them that is the sovereign thereof; and that a man in so obeying, doth according to his conscience and judgment, as having deposited his judgment in all controversies in the hands of the sovereign power; and that this error proceedeth from the ignorance of what and by whom God Almighty speaketh.

6. As for the second opinion which is: that the sovereign is in such sort obliged to his own laws, as the subject is; the contrary thereof hath been showed, Part II. chap. XX sections 7-12, by which it appeareth that the sovereign power is not to be resisted; that it carrieth the sword both of war and justice; that it hath the right of deciding all controversies, both judicial and deliberative; that it hath the making of all the laws civil; that it appointeth magistrates and public ministers, and that it implieth a universal impunity. How can he or they be said to be subject to the laws which they may abrogate at their pleasure, or break without fear of punishment? And this error seemeth to proceed from this, that men ordinarily understand not aright, what is meant by this word law, confounding law and covenant, as if they signified the same thing. But law implieth a command; covenant is but a promise. And not every command is a law, but only (Part I. chap. XIII, sect. 6) when the command is the reason we have of doing the action commanded. And then only is the reason of our actions in the command, when the omitting is therefore hurtful, because the action was commanded, not because it was hurtful of itself; and doing contrary to a command, were not at all hurtful, if there were not a right in him that commandeth to punish him that so doth. He or they that have all punishments in their own disposing, cannot be so commanded, as to receive hurt for disobeying, and consequently no command can be a law unto them. It is an error therefore to think: that the power which is virtually the whole power of the commonwealth, and which in whomsoever it resideth, is usually called supreme or sovereign, can be subject to any law but that of God Almighty.

7. The third. opinion: that the sovereign power may be divided, is no less an error than the former, as hath been proved, Part II. chap. XX, sect. 15. And if there were a commonwealth, wherein the rights of sovereignty were divided, we must confess with Bodin, Lib. II. chap. I. De Republica, that they are not rightly to be called commonwealths, but the corruption of commonwealths. For if one part should have power to make the laws for all, they would by their laws, at their pleasure, forbid others to make peace or war, to levy taxes, or to yield fealty and homage without their leave; and they that had the right to make peace and war, and command the militia, would forbid the making of other laws, than what themselves liked. And though monarchies stand long, wherein the right of sovereignty hath seemed so divided, because monarchy of itself is a durable kind of government; yet monarchs have been thereby divers times thrust out of their possession. But the truth is, that the right of sovereignty is such, as he or they that have it, cannot, though they would, give away any part thereof, and retain the rest. As for example: if we should suppose the people of Rome to have had the absolute sovereignty of the Roman state, and to have chosen them a council by the name of the senate, and that to this senate they had given the supreme power of making laws, reserving nevertheless to themselves, in direct and express terms, the whole right and title of the sovereignty (which may easily happen amongst them that see not the inseparable connexion between the sovereign power and the power of making laws), I say, this grant of the people to the senate is of no effect, and the power of making laws is in the people sill. For the senate understanding it to be the will and intention of the people, to retain the sovereignty, ought not to take that for granted, which was contradictory thereto, and passed by error. For, Part I. chap. XIII, sect. 9, in contradictory promises, that which is directly promised, is preferred before that which is opposite thereunto by consequence; because the consequence of a thing is not always observed, as is the thing itself. The error concerning mixed government hath proceeded from want of understanding of what is meant by this word body politic, and how it signifieth not the concord, but the union of many men. And though in the charters of subordinate corporations, a corporation be declared to be one person in law, yet the same hath not been taken notice of in the body of a commonwealth or city, nor have any of those innumerable writers of politics observed any such union.

8. The fourth opinion (viz.): that subjects have their meum, tuum, and suum, in property, not only by virtue of the sovereign power over them all, distinct from one another, but also against the sovereign himself, by which they would pretend to contribute nothing to the public, but what they please, hath been already confuted, by proving the absoluteness of the sovereignty; and more particularly, Part II. chap. XXIV, sect. 2; and ariseth from this: that they understand not ordinarily, that before the institution of sovereign power meum and tuum implied no propriety, but a community, where every man had right to every thing, and was in state of war with every man.

9. The fifth opinion: that the people is a distinct body from him or them that have the sovereignty over them, is an error already confuted, Part II. chap. XXI, sect. 11, where it is showed, that when men say: the people rebelleth, it is to be understood of those particular persons only, and not of the whole nation. And when the people claimeth any thing otherwise than by the voice of the sovereign power, it is not the claim of the people, but only of those particular men, that claim in their own persons; and this error ariseth from the equivocation of the word people.

10. Lastly, for the opinion, that tyrannicide is lawful, meaning by a tyrant any man in whom resideth the right of sovereignty, it is no less false and pernicious to human society, than frequent in the writings of those moral philosophers, Seneca and others, so greatly esteemed amongst us. For when a man hath the right of sovereignty, he cannot justly be punished, as hath been often showed already, and therefore much less deposed, or put to death. And howsoever he might deserve punishment, yet punishment is unjust without judgment preceding, and judgment unjust without power of judicature, which a subject hath not over his sovereign. But this doctrine proceedeth from the Schools of Greece, and from those that writ in the Roman state, in which not only the name of a tyrant, but of a king, was hateful.

11. Besides discontent, to the disposing of a man to rebellion, and pretence, there is required, in the third place, hope of success, which consisteth in four points: 1. That the discontented have mutual intelligence; 2. that they have sufficient number; 3. that they have arms; 4. that they agree upon a head. For these four must concur to the making of one body of rebellion, in which intelligence is the life, number the limbs, arms the strength, and a head the unity, by which they are directed to one and the same action.

12. The authors of rebellion, that is, the men that breed these dispositions to rebel in others, of necessity must have in them these three qualities: 1. To be discontented themselves; 2. to be men of mean judgment and capacity; and 3. to be eloquent men or good orators. And as for their discontent, from whence it may proceed, hath been already declared. And for the second and third, I am to show now, first, how they may stand together; for it seemeth a contradiction, to place small judgment and great eloquence, or, as they call it, powerful speaking, in the same man: and then in what manner they both concur to dispose other men to sedition.

13. It was noted by Sallust, that in Catiline (who was author of the greatest sedition that ever was in Rome) there was Eloquentiae satis, sapientiae parum; eloquence sufficient, but little wisdom. And perhaps this was said of Catiline, as he was Catiline: but it was true of him as an author of sedition. For the conjunction of these two qualities made him not Catiline, but seditious. And that it may be understood, how want of wisdom, and store of eloquence, may stand together, we are to consider, what it is we call wisdom, and what eloquence. And therefore I shall here again remember some things that have been said already, Part I. chap. V, VI. It is manifest that wisdom consisteth in knowledge. Now of knowledge there are two kinds; whereof the one is the remembrance of such things, as we have conceived by our senses, and of the order in which they follow one another. And this knowledge is called experience; and the wisdom that proceedeth from it, is that ability to conjecture by the present, of what is past, and to come, which men call prudence. This being so, it is manifest presently, that the author of sedition, whosoever he be, must not be prudent. For if he consider and take his experiences aright, concerning the success which they have had, who have been the movers and authors of sedition, either in this or any other state, he shall find that of one man that hath thereby advanced himself to honour, twenty have come to a reproachful end. The other kind of knowledge is the remembrance of the names or appellations of things, and how every thing is called, which is, in matters of common conversation, a remembrance of pacts and covenants of men made amongst themselves, concerning how to be understood of one another. And this kind of knowledge is generally called science, and the conclusions thereof truth. But when men remember not how things are named, by general agreement, but either mistake and misname things, or name them aright by chance, they are not said to have science, but opinion; and the conclusions thence proceeding are uncertain, and for the most part erroneous. Now that science in particular from which proceed the true and evident conclusions of what is right and wrong, and what is good and hurtful to the being and well-being of mankind, the Latins call sapientia, and we by the general name of wisdom. For generally, not he that hath skill in geometry, or any other science speculative, but only he that understandeth what conduceth to the good and government of the people, is called a wise man. Now that no author of sedition can be wise in this acceptation of the word, is sufficiently proved, in that it hath been already demonstrated, that no pretence of sedition can be right or just; and therefore the authors of sedition must be ignorant of the right of state, that is to say, unwise. It remaineth therefore, that they be such, as name things not according to their true and generally agreed-upon names; but call right and wrong, good and bad, according to their passions, or according to the authorities of such as they admire, as Aristotle, Cicero, Seneca, and others of like authority, who have given the names of right and wrong, as their passions have dictated; or have followed the authority of other men, as we do theirs. It is required therefore in an author of sedition, that he think right, that which is wrong; and profitable, that which is pernicious; and consequently that there be in him sapientiae parum, little wisdom.

14. Eloquence is nothing else but the power of winning belief of what we say; and to that end we must have aid from the passions of the hearer. Now to demonstration and teaching of the truth, there are required long deductions, and great attention, which is unpleasant to the hearer; therefore they which seek not truth, but belief, must take another way, and not only derive what they would have to be believed, from somewhat believed already, but also by aggravations and extenuations make good and bad, right and wrong, appear great or less, according as it shall serve their turns. And such is the power of eloquence, as many times a man is made to believe thereby, that he sensibly feeleth smart and damage, when he feeleth none, and to enter into rage and indignation, without any other cause, than what is in the words and passion of the speaker. This considered, together with the business that he hath to do, who is the author of rebellion, (viz.) to make men believe that their rebellion is just, their discontents grounded upon great injuries, and their hopes great; there needeth no more to prove, there can be no author of rebellion, that is not an eloquent and powerful speaker, and withal (as hath been said before) a man of little wisdom. For the faculty of speaking powerfully, consisteth in a habit gotten of putting together passionate words, and applying them to the present passions of the hearer.

15. Seeing then eloquence and want of discretion concur to the stirring of rebellion, it may be demanded, what part each of these acteth therein? The daughters of Pelias, king of Thessaly, desiring to restore their old decrepit father to the vigour of his youth, by the counsel of Medea chopped him in pieces, and set him a boiling with I know not what herbs in a cauldron, but could not make him revive again. So when eloquence and want of judgment go together, want of judgment, Like the daughters of Pelias, consenteth, through eloquence, which is as the witchcraft of Medea, to cut the commonwealth in pieces, upon pretence or hope of reformation, which when things are in combustion, they are not able to effect.