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Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke:
On Patriotism, 1730-1754

1730. Impossibility of Universal Empire. All the inhabitants of some other planet may have been, perhaps, from their creation united in one great society, speaking the same language, and living under the same government; or too perfect by their nature to need the restraint of any. But mankind is constituted very differently and although the natural law of our whole species be the same, yet we are by nature incapable, on many accounts, of uniting under one form of government, or of submitting to one rule of life....1733. A Dissertation on Parties. If liberty be that delicious and wholesome fruit, on which the British nation hath fed for so many ages, and to which we owe our riches, our strength, and all the advantages we boast of; the British constitution is the tree that bears this fruit, and will continue to bear it, as long as we are careful to fence it in, and trench it round, against the beasts of the field, and the insects of the earth. To speak without a figure, our constitution is a system of government suited to the genius of our nation, and even to our situation. The experience of many hundred years hath shown, that by preserving this constitution inviolate, or by drawing it back to the principles on which it was originally founded, whenever it shall be made to swerve from them, we may secure to ourselves, and to our latest posterity, the possession of that liberty which we have long enjoyed. What would we more? What other liberty than this do we seek? And if we seek no other, is not this marked out in such characters, as he that runs may read? As our constitution therefore ought to be, what it seldom is, the rule of government, so let us make the conformity, or repugnancy of things to this constitution, the rule by which we accept them as favorable, or reject them as dangerous to liberty. They who talk of liberty in Britain on any other principles than those of the British constitution, talk impertinently at best, and much charity is requisite to believe no worse of them. But they who distinguish between practicable and impracticable liberty, in order to insinuate what they mean, or they mean nothing, that the liberty established by the true scheme of our constitution is of the impracticable kind; and they who endeavor, both in speculation and practice, to elude and pervert the forms, and to ridicule and explode the spirit of this constitution: these men are enemies, open and avowed enemies to it, and by consequence to British liberty, which cannot be supported on any other bottom.... 1736. On The Spirit of Patriotism. The service of our country is no chimerical, but a real duty. He who admits the proofs of any other moral duty, drawn from the constitution of human nature, or from the moral fitness and unfitness of things, must admit them in favor of this duty, or be reduced to the most absurd inconsistency. When he has once admitted the duty on these proofs, it will be no difficult matter to demonstrate to him, that his obligation to the performance of it is in proportion to the means and the opportunities he has of performing it; and that nothing can discharge him from this obligation as long as he has these means and these opportunities in his power, and as long as his country continues in the same want of his services. These obligations, then, to the public service may become obligations for life on certain persons. No doubt they may: and shall this consideration become a reason for denying or evading them? On the contrary, sure it should become a reason for acknowledging and fulfilling them, with the greatest gratitude to the Supreme Being, who has made us capable of acting so excellent a part, and with the utmost benevolence to mankind.Superior talents, and superior rank among our fellow-creatures, whether acquired by birth, or by the course of accidents, and the success of our own industry, are noble prerogatives. Shall he, who possesses them, repine at the obligation they lay him under of passing his whole life in the noblest occupation of which human nature is capable? To what higher station, to what greater glory can any mortal aspire, than to be, during the whole course of his life, the support of good, the control of bad government, and the guardian of public liberty? . . . A life dedicated to the service of our country admits the full use, and no life should admit the abuse of pleasures; the least are consistent with a constant discharge of our public duty, the greatest arise from it. The common, the sensual pleasures to which nature prompts us, and which reason therefore does not forbid, though she should always direct, are so far from being excluded out of a life of business, that they are sometimes necessary in it, and are always heightened by it; those, of the table, for instance, may be ordered so as to promote that which the elder Cato calls vitae conjunctionem. In the midst of public duties, private studies, and an extreme old age, he found time to frequent the sodalitates, or clubs of friends, at Rome, and to sit up all night with his neighbors in the country of the Sabines. Cato's virtue often glowed with wine; and the love of women did not hinder Caesar from forming and executing the greatest projects that ambition ever suggested. But if Caesar, while he labored to destroy the liberties of his country, enjoyed these inferior pleasures of life, which a man who labors to save those liberties may enjoy as well as he; there are superior pleasures in a busy life, that Caesar never knew; those, I mean, that arise from a faithful discharge of our duty to the commonwealth. Neither Montaigne in writing his essays, nor Des Cartes in building new worlds, nor Burnet in framing an antediluvian earth, no, nor Newton in discovering and establishing the true laws of nature on experiment and a sublimer geometry, felt more intellectual joys, than he feels who is a real patriot, who bends all the force of his understanding, and directs all his thoughts and actions to the good of his country. When such a man forms a political scheme, and adjusts various and seemingly independent parts in it to one great and good design, he is transported by imagination, or absorbed in meditation, as much and as agreeably as they: and the satisfaction, that arises from the different importance of these objects in every step of the work, is vastly in his favor....1738. The Idea of a Patriot King. Now, we are subject by the constitution of human nature, and therefore by the will of the Author of this and every other nature, to two laws. One given immediately to all men by God, the same to all, and obligatory alike on all. The other given to man by man; and therefore not the same to all, nor obligatory alike on all: founded indeed on the same principles, but varied by different applications of them to times, to characters, and to a number, which may be reckoned infinite, of other circumstances. By the first, I mean the universal law of reason; and by the second, the particular law or constitution of laws, by which every distinct community has chosen to be governed....The true image of a free people, governed by a Patriot King, is that of a patriarchal family, where the head and all the members are united by one common interest, and animated by one common spirit: and where, if any are perverse enough to have another, they will be soon borne down by the superiority of those who have the same; and far from making a division they will but confirm the union of the little state. That to approach as near as possible to these ideas of perfect government, and social happiness under it, is desirable in every state, no man will be absurd enough to deny. The sole question is, therefore, how near to them it is possible to attain? For, if this attempt be not absolutely unpracticable, all the views of a Patriot King will be directed to make it succeed. Instead of abetting the divisions of his people, he will endeavor to unite them, and to be himself the center of their union; instead of putting himself at the head of one party in order to govern his people, he will put himself at the head of his people in order to govern, or more properly to subdue, all parties.Now, to arrive at this desirable union, and to maintain it, will be found more difficult in some cases than in others, but absolutely impossible in none, to a wise and good prince. If his people are united in their submission to him, and in their attachment to the established government, he must not only espouse but create a party, in order to govern by one: and what should tempt him to pursue so wild a measure? A prince, who aims at more power than the constitution gives him, may be so tempted; because he may hope to obtain in the disorders of the state what cannot be obtained in quiet times; and because contending parties will give what a nation will not. Parties, even before they degenerate into absolute factions, are still numbers of men associated together for certain purposes, and certain interests, which are not, or which are not allowed to be those of the community by others. A more private or personal interest comes but too soon and too often, to be superadded, and to grow predominant in them; and when it does so whatever occasions or principles began to form them the same logic prevails in them that prevails in every church. The interest of the state is supposed to be that of the party, as the interest of religion is supposed to be that of the church and, with this pretense or prepossession, the interest of the state becomes, like that of religion a remote consideration, is never pursued for its own sake, and is often sacrificed to the other. A king, therefore, who has ill designs to carry on must endeavor to divide a united people; and blending or seeming to blend his interests with that of a party, he may succeed perhaps, and his party and he may share the spoils of a ruined nation: but such a party is then become a faction, such a king is a tyrant, and such a government is a conspiracy. A Patriot King must renounce his character, to have such designs; or act against his own designs, to pursue such methods. Both are too absurd to be supposed. It remains, therefore, that as all the good ends of governments are most attainable in a united state, and as the divisions of a people can serve to bad purpose alone, the king we suppose here will deem the union of his subjects his greatest advantage, and will think himself happy to find that established which he would have employed the whole labor of his life to bring about....I am reasonable enough to suppose, that, without altering human nature, he may give a check to this course of human affairs, in his own kingdom at least; that he may defeat the designs and break the spirit of faction, instead of partaking in one, and assuming the other and that, if he cannot render the union of his subjects universal, he may render it so general, as to answer all the ends of good government, private security, public tranquillity, wealth, power, and fame. If these ends were ever answered, they were so, surely, in this country in the days of our Elizabeth. She found her kingdoms full of factions, and factions of another consequence and danger than these of our days, whom she would have dispersed with a puff of her breath. She could not reunite them it is true: the papist continued a papist, the puritan a puritan; one furious, the other sullen. But she united the great body of the people in her and their common interest, she inflamed them with one national spirit; and, thus armed, she maintained tranquillity at home, and carried succor to her friends and terror to her enemies abroad. There were cabals at her court, and intrigues among her ministers. It is said too, that she did not dislike that there should be such. But these were kept within her court. They could not creep abroad, to sow division among her people: and her greatest favorite, the Earl of Essex, paid the price of attempting it with his head. Let our great doctors in politics, who preach so learnedly on the trite text Divide et impera, compare the conduct of Elizabeth in this respect with that of her successor, who endeavored to govern his kingdom by the notions of a faction that he raised, and to manage his parliament by undertakers; and they must be very obstinate indeed, if they refuse to acknowledge that a wise and good prince can unite a divided people, though a weak and wicked prince cannot; and that the consequences of national union are glory and happiness to the prince and to the people; while those of disunion bring shame and misery on both, and entail them too on posterity....Now, though the true interest of several states may be the same in many respects yet is there always some difference to be perceived, by a discerning eye, both in these interests and in the manner of pursuing them; a difference that arises from the situation of countries, from the character of people, from the nature of government, and even from that of climate and soil; from circumstances that are, like these, permanent, and from others that may be deemed more accidental. To illustrate all this by example would be easy, but long I shall content myself therefore to mention, in some instances only, the difference that arises, from the causes referred to, between the true interest of our country, and that of some or all our neighbors on the Continent: and leave others to extend and apply in their own thoughts the comparison I shall hint at rather than enlarge upon. The situation of Great Britain, the character of her people, and the nature of her government, fit her for trade and commerce. Her climate and her soil make then necessary to her well-being. By trade and commerce we gew a rich and powerful nation, and by their decay we are growing poor and impotent. As trade and commerce enrich, so they fortify, our country. The sea is our barrier, ships are our fortresses, and the mariners, that trade and commerce alone can furnish, are the garrisons to defend them France lies under great disadvantages in trade and commerce, by the nature of her government. Her advantages in situation are as great at least as ours. Those that arise from the temper and character of her people are a little different perhaps, and yet upon the equivalent. Those of her climate and her soil are superior to ours and indeed to those of any European nation. The United Provinces have the same advantages that we have in the nature of their government, more perhaps in the temper and character of their people, less to be sure in their situation, climate, and soil. But without descending into a longer detail of the advantages and disadvantages attending each of these nations in trade and commerce, it is sufficient for my present purpose to observe, that Great Britain stands in a certain middle between the other two, with regard to wealth and power arising from these springs. A less, and a less constant, application to the improvement of these may serve the ends of France; a greater is necessary in its country and a greater still in Holland. The French may improve their natural wealth and power by the improvement of trade and commerce. We can have no wealth, nor power by consequence, as Europe is now constituted, without the improvement of them, nor in any degree but proportionably to this improvement. The Dutch cannot subsist without them. They bring wealth to other nations, and are necessary to the well being of them; but they supply the Dutch with food and raiment, and are necessary even to their being.The result of what has been said in in general, that the wealth and power of all nations depending so much on their trade and commerce, and every nation being, like the three I have mentioned, in such different circumstances of advantage or disadvantage in the pursuit of this common interest; a good government, and therefore the government of a Patriot King, will be directed constantly to make the most of every advantage that nature has given, or art can procure, toward the improvement of trade and commerce. And this is one of the principal criterions by which we are to judge, whether governors are in the true interest of the people or not.It results, in particular, that Great Britain might improve her wealth and power in a proportion superior to that of any nation who can be deemed her rival, if the advantages she has were as wisely cultivated as they will be in the reign of a Patriot King. To be convinced more thoroughly of this truth, a very short process of reasoning will suffice. Let any man, who has knowledge enough for it, first compare the natural state of Great Britain, and of the United Provinces, and then their artificial state together; that is, let him consider minutely the advantages we have by the situation, extent, and nature of our island, over the inhabitants of a few salt marshes gained on the sea, and hardly defended from it; and after that, let him consider how nearly those provinces have raised themselves to an equality of wealth and power with the kingdom of Great Britain. From whence arises this difference of improvement? It arises plainly from hence: the Dutch have been, from the foundation of their commonwealth, a nation of patriots and merchants. The spirit of that people has not been diverted from these two objects, the defense of their liberty, and the improvement of their trade and commerce which have been carried on by them with uninterrupted and unslackened application, industry, order, and economy. In Great Britain the case has not been the same, in either respect; but here we confine ourselves to speak of the last alone.Trade and commerce, such as they were in those days, had been sometimes and in some instances, before the reign of Queen Elizabeth, encouraged and improved, but the great encouragements were given, the great extensions and improvements were made, by that glorious princess. To her we owe the spirit of domestic and foreign trade, which is not quite extinguished. It was she who gave that rapid motion to our whole mercantile system, which is not entirely ceased. They both flagged under her successor; were not revived under his son; were checked, diverted, clogged, and interrupted during our civil wars and began to exert new vigor after the Restoration, in a long course of peace; but met with new difficulties, too, from the confirmed rivalry of the Dutch, and the growing rivalry of the French. To one of these the pusillanimous character of James the First gave many scandalous occasions; and the other was favored by the conduct of Charles the Second, who never was in the true interest of the people he governed. From the revolution to the death of Queen Anne, however trade and commerce might be aided and encouraged in other respects, they were necessarily subjected to depredations abroad, and overloaded by taxes at home; during the course of two great wars. From the accession of the late king to this hour, in the midst of a full peace, the debts of the nation continue much the same, the taxes have been increased, and for eighteen years of this time we have tamely suffered continual depredations fmm the most contemptible maritime power in Europe, that of Spain. A Patriot King will neither neglect, nor sacrifice his country's interest . . . No other interest, neither a foreign nor a domestic, neither a public nor a private, will influence his conduct in government.... To give ease and encouragement to manufactory at home, to improve and keep in heart the national colonies, like so many farms of the mother country, will be principal and constant parts of the attention of such a prince. The wealth of the nation he will most justly esteem to be his wealth, the power his power, the security and the honor, his security and honor....1754. A National Religion.To make government effectual to all the good purposes of it, there must be a religion; this religion must be national; and this national religion must be maintained in reputation and reverence; all other religions or sects must be kept too low to become the rivals of it. These are, in my apprehension, first principles of good policy.

Source:Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text has been modernized by Prof. Arkenberg.

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© Paul Halsall, November 1998
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