An Essay on the History of Civil Society – Part V

An Essay on the History of Civil Society – Part V

Part Fifth.

Of the Decline of Nations.

Section I

Of supposed National Eminence and of the Vicissitudes of Human

No nation is so unfortunate as to think itself inferior to
the rest of mankind: few are even willing to put up with the
claim to equality. The greater part having chosen themselves, as
at once, the judges and the models of what is excellent in their
kind, are first in their own opinion, and give to others
consideration or eminence, so far only as they approach to their
own condition. One nation is vain of the personal character, or
of the learning, of a few of its members; another, of its policy,
its wealth, its tradesmen, its gardens, and its buildings; and
they who have nothing to boast, are vain, because they are
ignorant. The Russians, before the reign of Peter the Great,
thought themselves possessed of every national honour, and held
the Nenei, or dumb nations, (the name which they bestowed on
their western neighbours of Europe), in a proportional degree of
contempt.(1*) The map of the world, in China, was a square plate,
the greater part of which was occupied by the provinces of this
great empire, leaving on its skirts a few obscure corners, into
which the wretched remainder of mankind were supposed to be
driven. ‘If you have not the use of our letters, nor the
knowledge of our books,’ said the learned Chinese to the European
missionary, ‘what literature, or what science, can you have?(2*)
The term polished, if we may judge from its etymology,
originally referred to the state of nations in respect to their
laws and government. In its later applications, it refers no less
to their proficiency in the liberal and mechanical arts, in
literature, and in commerce. But whatever may be its application,
it appears, that if there were a name still more respectable than
this, every nation, even the most barbarous, or the most
corrupted, would assume it; and bestow its reverse where they
conceived a dislike, or apprehended a difference. The names of
alien, or foreigner, are seldom pronounced without some degree of
intended reproach. That of barbarian, in use with one arrogant
people, and that of gentil, with another, only served to
distinguish the stranger, whose language and pedigree differed
from theirs.
Even where we pretend to found our opinions on reason, and to
justify our preference of one nation to another, we frequently
bestow our esteem on circumstances which do not relate to
national character, and which have little tendency to promote the
welfare of mankind. Conquest, or great extent of territory,
however peopled, and great wealth, however distributed or
employed, are titles upon which we indulge our own, and the
vanity of other nations, as we do that of private men on the
score of their fortunes and honours. We even sometimes contend,
whose capital is the most overgrown; whose king has the most
absolute power; and at whose court the bread of the subject is
consumed in the most senseless riot. These indeed are the notions
of vulgar minds; but it is impossible to determine, how far the
notions of vulgar minds may lead mankind.
There have certainly been very few examples of states, who
have, by arts or policy, improved the original dispositions of
human nature, or endeavoured, by wise and effectual precautions,
to prevent its corruption. Affection, and force of mind, which
are the band and the strength of communities, were the
inspiration of God, and original attributes in the nature of man.
The wisest policy of nations, except in a very few instances, has
tended, we may suspect, rather to maintain the peace of society,
and to repress the external effects of bad passions, than to
strengthen the disposition of the heart itself to justice and
goodness. It has tended, by introducing a variety of arts, to
exercise the ingenuity of men, and by engaging them in a variety
of pursuits, inquiries, and studies, to inform, but frequently to
corrupt the mind. It has tended to furnish matter of distinction
and vanity; and by incumbering the individual with new subjects
of personal care, to substitute the anxiety he entertains for
himself, instead of the confidence and the affection he should
entertain for his fellow-creatures.
Whether this suspicion be just or no, we are come to point at
circumstances tending to verify, or to disprove it: and if to
understand the real felicity of nations be of importance, it is
certainly so likewise, to know what are those weaknesses, and
those vices, by which men not only mar this felicity, but in one
age forfeit all the external advantages they had gained in a
The wealth, the aggrandizement and power of nations, are
commonly the effects of virtue; the loss of these advantages, is
often a consequence of vice.
Were we to suppose men to have succeeded in the discovery and
application of every art by which states are preserved, and
governed; to have attained, by efforts of wisdom and magnanimity,
the admired establishments and advantages of a civilized and
flourishing people; the subsequent part of their history,
containing, according to vulgar apprehension, a full display of
those fruits in maturity, of which they had till then carried
only the blossom, and the first formation, should, still more
than the former, merit our attention, and excite our admiration.
The event, however, has not corresponded to this expectation.
The virtues of men have shone most during their struggles, not
after the attainment of their ends. Those ends themselves, though
attained by virtue, are frequently the causes of corruption and
vice. Mankind, in aspiring to national felicity, have substituted
arts which increase their riches, instead of those which improve
their nature. They have entertained admiration of themselves,
under the titles of civilized and of polished, where they should
have been affected with shame; and even where they have for a
while acted on maxims tending to raise, to invigorate, and to
preserve the national character, they have, sooner or later, been
diverted from their object, and fallen a prey to misfortune, or
to the neglects which prosperity itself had encouraged.
War, which furnishes mankind with a principal occupation of
their restless spirit, serves, by the variety of its events, to
diversify their fortunes. While it opens to one tribe or society,
the way to eminence, and leads to dominion, it brings another to
subjection, and closes the scene of their national efforts.The
celebrated rivalship of Carthage and Rome was, in both parties,
the natural exercise of an ambitious spirit, impatient of
opposition, or even of equality. The conduct and the fortune of
leaders, held the balance for some time in suspense; but to
whichever side it had inclined, a great nation was to fall; a
seat of empire, and of policy, was to be removed from its place;
and it was then to be determined, whether the Syriac or the Latin
should contain the erudition that was, in future ages, to occupy
the studies of the learned.
States have been thus conquered from abroad, before they gave
any signs of internal decay, even in the midst of prosperity, and
in the period of their greatest ardour for national objects.
Athens, in the height of her ambition, and of her glory, received
a fatal wound, in striving to extend her maritime power beyond
the Grecian seas. And nations of every description, formidable by
their rude ferocity, respected for their discipline and military
experience, when advancing, as well as when declining, in their
strength, fell a prey, by turns, to the ambition and arrogant
spirit of the Romans. Such examples may excite and alarm the
jealousy and caution of states; the presence of similar dangers
may exercise the talents of politicians and statesmen; but mere
reverses of fortune are the common materials of history, and must
long since have ceased to create our surprise.
Did we find, that nations advancing from small beginnings,
and arrived at the possession of arts which lead to dominion,
became secure of their advantages, in proportion as they were
qualified to gain them; that they proceeded in a course of un.
interrupted felicity, till they were broke by external
calamities; and that they retained their force, till a more
fortunate or vigorous power arose to depress them; the subject in
speculation could not be attended with many difficulties, nor
give rise to many reflections. But when we observe among nations
a kind of spontaneous return to obscurity and weakness; when, in
spite of perpetual admonitions of the danger they run, they
suffer themselves to be subdued, in one period, by powers which
could not have entered into competition with them in a former,
and by forces which they had often baffled and despised; the
subject becomes more curious, and its explanation more difficult.
The fact itself is known in a variety of different examples.
The empire of Asia was, more than once, transferred from the
greater to the inferior power. The states of Greece, once so
warlike, felt a relaxation of their vigour, and yielded the
ascendant they had disputed with the monarchs of the east, to the
forces of an obscure principality, become formidable in a few
years, and raised to eminence under the conduct of a single man.
The Roman empire, which stood alone for ages; which had brought
every rival under subjection, and saw no power from whom a
competition could be feared, sunk at last before an artless and
contemptible enemy. Abandoned to inroad, to pillage, and at last
to conquest, on her frontier, she decayed in all her extremities,
and shrunk on every side. Her territory was dismembered, and
whole provinces gave way, like branches fallen down with age, not
violently torn by superior force. The spirit with which Marius
had baffled and repelled the attacks of barbarians in a former
age, the civil and military force with which the consul and his
legions had extended this empire, were now no more. The Roman
greatness, doomed to sink as it rose, by slow degrees, was
impaired in every encounter. It was reduced to its original
dimensions, within the compass of a single city; and depending
for its preservation on the fortune of a siege, it was
extinguished at a blow; and the brand, which had filled the world
with its flames, sunk like a taper in the socket.
Such appearances have given rise to a general apprehension,
that the progress of societies to what we call the heights of
national greatness, is not more natural, than their return to
weakness and obscurity is necessary and unavoidable. The images
of youth, and of old age, are applied to nations; and
communities, like single men, are supposed to have a period of
life, and a length of thread, which is spun by the fates in one
part uniform and strong, in another weakened and shattered by
use; to be cut, when the destined aera is come, and to make way
for a renewal of the emblem in the case of those who arise in
succession. Carthage, being so much older than Rome, had felt her
decay, says Polybius, so much the sooner. and the survivor too,
he foresaw, carried in her bosom the seeds of mortality.
The image indeed is apposite, and the history of mankind
renders the application familiar. But it must be obvious, that
the case of nations, and that of individuals, are very different.
The human frame has a general course; it has, in every
individual, a frail contexture, and a limited duration; it is
worn by exercise, and exhausted by a repetition of its functions.
But in a society, whose constituent members are renewed in every
generation, where the race seems to enjoy perpetuated youth, and
accumulating advantages, we cannot, by any parity of reason,
expect to find imbecilities connected with mere age and length of
The subject is not new, and reflections will croud upon every
reader. The notions, in the mean time, which we entertain, even
in speculation, upon a subject so important, cannot be entirely
fruitless to mankind; and however little the labours of the
speculative may influence the conduct of men, one of the most
pardonable errors a writer can commit, is to believe that he is
about to do a great deal of good. But leaving the care of effects
to others, we proceed to consider the grounds of inconstancy
among mankind, the sources of internal decay, and the ruinous
corruptions to which nations are liable, in the supposed
condition of accomplished civility.

Section II.

Of the Temporary Efforts and Relaxations of the National Spirit.

From what we have already observed on the general
characteristics of human nature, it has appeared, that man is not
made for repose. In him, every amiable and respectable quality is
an active power, and every subject of commendation an effort. If
his errors and his crimes are the movements of an active being,
his virtues and his happiness consist likewise in the employment
of his mind; and all the lustre which he casts around him, to
captivate or engage the attention of his fellow-creatures, like
the flame of a meteor, shines only while his motion continues:
the moments of rest and of obscurity are the same. We know, that
the talks assigned him frequently may exceed, as well as come
short of his powers; that he may be agitated too much, as well as
too little; but cannot ascertain a precise medium between the
situations in which he would be harassed, and those ‘in which he
would fall into languor. We know, that he may be employed on a
great variety of subjects, which occupy different passions; and
that, in consequence of habit, he becomes reconciled to very
different scenes. All we can determine in general is, that
whatever be the subjects with which he is engaged, the frame of
his nature requires him to be occupied, and his happiness
requires him to be just.
We are now to inquire, why nations cease to be eminent; and
why societies which have drawn the attention of mankind by great
examples of magnanimity, conduct, and national success, should
sink from the height of their honours, and yield, in one age, the
palm which they had won in a former. Many reasons will probably
occur. One may be taken from the fickleness and inconstancy of
mankind, who become tired of their pursuits and exertions, even
while the occasions that gave rise to those pursuits, in some
measure continue: Another, from the change of situations, and the
removal of objects which served to excite their spirit.
The public safety, and the relative interests of states;
political establishments, the pretensions of party, commerce, and
arts, are subjects which engage the attention of nations. The
advantages gained in some of these particulars, determine the
degree of national prosperity. The ardour and vigour with which
they are at any one time pursued, is the measure of a national
spirit. When those objects cease to animate, nations may be said
to languish; when they are during any considerable time
neglected, states must decline, and their people degenerate.
In the most forward, enterprising, inventive, and industrious
nations, this spirit is fluctuating; and they who continue
longest to gain advantages, or to preserve them, have periods of
remissness, as well as of ardour. The desire of public safety,
is, at all times, a powerful motive of conduct; but it operates
most, when combined with occasional passions, when provocations
inflame, when successes encourage, or mortifications exasperate.
A whole people, like the individuals of whom they are
composed, act under the influence of temporary humours, sanguine
hopes, or vehement animosities. They are disposed, at one time,
to enter on national struggles with vehemence; at another, to
drop them from mere lassitude and disgust. In their civil debates
and contentions at home, they are occasionally ardent or remiss.
Epidemical passions arise or subside, on trivial, as well as
important, grounds. Parties are ready, at one time, to take their
names, and the pretence of their oppositions, from mere caprice
or accident; at another time, they suffer the most serious
occasions to pass in silence. If a vein of literary genius be
casually opened, or a new subject of disquisition be started,
real or pretended discoveries suddenly multiply, and every
conversation is inquisitive and animated. If a new source of
wealth be found, or a prospect of conquest be offered, the
imaginations of men are inflamed, and whole quarters of the globe
are suddenly engaged in ruinous or in successful adventures.
Could we recall the spirit that was exerted, or enter into
the views that were entertained, by our ancestors, when they
burst, like a deluge, from their ancient seats, and poured into
the Roman empire, we should probably, after their first
successes, at least, find a ferment in the minds of men, for
which no attempt was too arduous, no difficulties insurmountable.
The subsequent ages of enterprise in Europe, were those in
which the alarm of enthusiasm was rung, and the followers of the
cross invaded the East, to plunder a country, and to recover a
sepulchre; those in which the people in different states
contended for freedom, and assaulted the fabric of civil or
religious usurpation; that in which having found means to cross
the Atlantic, and to double the cape of Good Hope, the
inhabitants of one half the world were let loose on the other,
and parties from every quarter, wading in blood, and at the
expence of every crime, and of every danger, traversed the earth
in search of gold.
Even the weak and the remiss are roused to enterprise, by the
contagion of such remarkable ages; and states which have not in
their form the principles of a continued exertion, either
favourable or adverse to the welfare of mankind, may have
paroxysms of ardour, and a temporary appearance of national
vigour. In the case of such nations, indeed, the returns of
moderation are but a relapse to obscurity, and the presumption of
one age is turned to dejection in that which succeeds.
But in the case of states that are fortunate in their
domestic policy, even madness itself may, in the result of
violent convulsions, subside into wisdom; and a people return to
their ordinary mood, cured of their follies, and wiser by
experience: or, with talents improved, in conducting the very
scenes which frenzy had opened, they may then appear best
qualified to pursue with success the object of nations. Like the
ancient republics, immediately after some alarming sedition, or
like the kingdom of Great Britain, at the close of its civil
wars, they retain the spirit of activity, which was recently
awakened, and are equally vigorous in every pursuit, whether of
policy, learning, or arts. From having appeared on the brink of
ruin, they pass to the greatest prosperity.
Men engage in pursuits with degrees of ardour not
proportioned to the importance of their object. When they are
stated in opposition, or joined in confederacy, they only wish
for pretences to act. They forget, in the heat of their
animosities, the subject of their controversy; or they seek, in
their formal reasonings concerning it, only a disguise for their
passions. When the heart is inflamed, no consideration can
repress its ardour; when its fervour subsides, no reasoning can
excite, and no eloquence awaken, its former emotions.
The continuance of emulation among states, must depend on the
degree of equality by which their forces are balanced; or on the
incentives by which either party, or all, are urged to continue
their struggles. Long intermissions of war, suffer, equally in
every period of civil society, the military spirit to languish.
The reduction of Athens by Lysander, struck a fatal blow at the
institutions of Lycurgus; and the quiet possession of Italy,
happily, perhaps, for mankind, had almost put an end to the
military progress of the Romans. After some years of repose,
Hannibal found Italy unprepared for his onset, and the Romans in
a disposition likely to drop, on the banks of the Po, that
martial ambition, which, being roused by the sense of a new
danger, afterwards carried them to the Euphrates and the Rhine.
States even distinguished for military prowess, sometimes lay
down their arms from lassitude, and are weary of fruitless
contentions: but if they maintain the station of independent
communities, they will have frequent occasions to recall, and
exert their vigour. Even under popular governments, men sometimes
drop the consideration of their political rights, and appear at
times remiss or supine; but if they have reserved the power to
defend themselves, the intermission of its exercise cannot be of
long duration. Political rights, when neglected, are always
invaded; and alarms from this quarter must frequently come to
renew the attention of parties. The love of learning, and of
arts, may change its pursuits, or droop for a season; but while
men are possessed of freedom, and while the exercises of
ingenuity are not superseded, the public may proceed, at
different times, with unequal fervour; but its progress is seldom
altogether discontinued, or the advantages gained in one age are
seldom entirely lost to the following.
If we would find the causes of final corruption, we must
examine those revolutions of state that remove or with-hold the
objects of every ingenious study, or liberal pursuit; that
deprive the citizen of occasions to act as the member of a
public; that crush his spirit; that debase his sentiments, and
disqualify his mind for affairs.

Section III.

Of Relaxations in the National Spirit incident to Polished

Improving nations, in the course of their advancement, have
to struggle with foreign enemies, to whom they bear an extreme
animosity, and with whom, in many conflicts, they contend for
their existence as a people. In certain periods too, they feel in
their domestic policy inconveniencies and grievances, which beget
an eager impatience; and they apprehend reformations and new
establishments, from which they have sanguine hopes of national
happiness. In early ages, every art is imperfect, and susceptible
of many improvements. The first principles of every science are
yet secrets to be discovered, and to be successively published
with applause and triumph.
We may fancy to ourselves, that in ages of progress, the
human race, like scouts gone abroad on the discovery of fertile
lands, having the world open before them, are presented at every
step with the appearance of novelty. They enter on every new
ground with expectation and joy: They engage in every enterprise
with the ardour of men, who believe they are going to arrive at
national felicity, and permanent glory; and forget past
disappointments amidst the hopes of future success. From mere
ignorance; rude minds are intoxicated with every passion; and
partial to their own condition, and to their own pursuits, they
think that every scene is inferior to that in which they are
placed. Roused alike by success, and by misfortune, they are
sanguine, ardent, and precipitant; and leave to the more knowing
ages which succeed them, monuments of imperfect skill, and of
rude execution in every art; but they leave likewise the marks of
a vigorous and ardent spirit, which their successors are not
always qualified to sustain, or to imitate.
This may be admitted, perhaps, as a fair description of
prosperous societies, at least during certain periods of their
progress. The spirit with which they advance may be unequal, in
different ages, and may have its paroxysms, and intermissions,
arising from the inconstancy of human passions, and from the
casual appearance or removal of occasions that excite them. But
does this spirit, which for a time continues to carry on the
project of civil and commercial arts, find a natural pause in the
termination of its own pursuits? May the business of civil
society be accomplished, and may the occasion of farther exertion
be removed? Do continued disappointments reduce sanguine hopes,
and familiarity with objects blunt the edge of novelty? Does
experience itself cool the ardour of the mind? May the society be
again compared to the individual? And may it be suspected,
although the vigour of a nation, like that of a natural body,
does not waste by a physical decay, that yet it may sicken for
want of exercise, and die in the close of its own exertions? May
societies, in the completion of all their designs, like men in
years, who disregard the amusements, and are insensible to the
passions, of youth, become cold and indifferent to objects that
used to animate in a ruder age? And may a polished community be
compared to a man, who having executed his plan, built his house,
and made his settlement; who having, in short, exhausted the
charms of every subject, and wasted all his ardour, sinks into
languor and listless indifference? If so, we have found at least
another simile to our purpose. But it is probable, that here too,
the resemblance is imperfect; and the inference that would
follow, like that of most arguments drawn from analogy, tends
rather to amuse the fancy, than to give any real information on
the subject to which it refers.
The materials of human art are never entirely exhausted, and
the applications of industry are never at an end. The national
ardour is not, at any particular time, proportioned to the
occasion there is for activity; nor curiosity to the extent of
subject that remains to be studied.
The ignorant and the artless, to whom objects of science are
new, and who are worst furnished with the conveniencies of life,
instead of being more active, and more curious, are commonly more
quiescent, and less inquisitive, than the knowing and the
polished. When we compare the particulars which occupy mankind in
their rude and in their polished condition, they will be found
greatly multiplied and enlarged in the last. The questions we
have put, however, deserve to be answered; and if, in the
advanced ages of society, we do not find the objects of human
pursuit removed, or greatly diminished, we may find them at least
changed; and in estimating the national spirit, we may find a
negligence in one part, but ill compensated by the growing
attention which is paid to another.
It is true, in general, that in all our pursuits, there is a
termination of trouble, and a point of repose to which we aspire.
We would remove this inconvenience, or gain that advantage, that
our labours may cease. When I have conquered Italy and Sicily,
says Pyrrhus, I shall then enjoy my repose. This termination is
proposed in our national as well as in our personal exertions;
and in spite of frequent experience to the contrary, is
considered at a distance as the height of felicity. But nature
has wisely, in most particulars, baffled our project; and placed
no where within our reach this visionary blessing of absolute
ease. The attainment of one end is but the beginning of a new
pursuit; and the discovery of one art is but a prolongation of
the thread by which we are conducted to further inquiries, and
only hope to escape from the labyrinth.
Among the occupations that may be enumerated, as tending to
exercise the invention, and to cultivate the talents of men, are
the pursuits of accommodation and wealth, including all the
different contrivances which serve to increase manufactures, and
to perfect the mechanical arts. But it must be owned, that as the
materials of commerce may continue to be accumulated without any
determinate limit, so the arts which are applied to improve them,
may admit of perpetual refinements. No measure of fortune, or
degree of skill, is found to diminish the supposed necessities of
human life; refinement and plenty foster new desires, while they
furnish the means, or practise the methods, to gratify them.
In the result of commercial arts, inequalities of fortune are
greatly increased, and the majority of every people are obliged
by necessity, or at least strongly incited by ambition and
avarice, to employ every talent they possess. After a history of
some thousand years employed in manufacture and commerce, the
inhabitants of China are still the most laborious and industrious
of any people on the surface of the earth.
Some part of this observation may be extended to the elegant
and literary arts. They too have their materials, which cannot be
exhausted, and proceed from desires which cannot be satiated. But
the respect paid to literary merit is fluctuating, and matter of
transient fashion. When learned productions accumulate, the
acquisition of knowledge occupies the time that might be bestowed
on invention. The object of mere learning is attained with
moderate or inferior talents, and the growing list of pretenders
diminishes the lustre of the few who are eminent. When we only
mean to learn what others have taught, it is probable, that even
our knowledge will be less than that of our masters. Great names
continue to be repeated with admiration, after we have ceased to
examine the foundations of our praise: and new pretenders are
rejected, not because they fall short of their predecessors, but
because they do not excel them; or because, in reality, we have,
without examination, taken for granted the merit of the first,
and cannot judge of either.
After libraries are furnished, and every path of ingenuity is
occupied, we are, in proportion to our admiration of what is
already done, prepossessed against farther attempts, We become
students and admirers, instead of rivals; and substitute the
knowledge of books, instead of the inquisitive or animated spirit
in which they were written.
The commercial and lucrative arts may continue to prosper,
but they gain an ascendant at the expence of other pursuits. The
desire of profit stifles the love of perfection. interest cools
the imagination, and hardens the heart; and, recommending
employments in proportion as they are lucrative, and certain in
their gains, it drives ingenuity, and ambition itself, to the
counter and the workshop.
But apart from these considerations, the separation of
professions, while it seems to promise improvement of skill, and
is actually the cause why the productions of every art become
more perfect as commerce advances; yet in its termination, and
ultimate effects, serves, in some measure, to break the bands of
society, to substitute form in place of ingenuity, and to
withdraw individuals from the common scene of occupation, on
which the sentiments of the heart, and the mind, are most happily
Under the distinction of callings, by which the members of
polished society are separated from each other, every individual
is supposed to possess his species of talent, or his peculiar
skill, in which the others are confessedly ignorant; and society
is made to consist of parts, of which none is animated with the
spirit of society itself. ‘We see in the same persons,’ said
Pericles, ‘an equal attention to private and to public affairs;
and in men who have turned to separate professions, a competent
knowledge of what relates to the community; for we alone consider
those who are inattentive to the state, as perfectly
insignificant.’ This encomium on the Athenians, was probably
offered under an apprehension, that the contrary was likely to be
charged by their enemies, or might soon take place. It happened
accordingly, that the business of state, as well as of war, came
to be worse administered at Athens, when these, as well as other
applications, became the objects of separate professions; and the
history of this people abundantly shewed, that men ceased to be
citizens, even to be good poets and orators, in proportion as
they came to be distinguished by the profession of these, and
other separate crafts.
Animals less honoured than we, have sagacity enough to
procure their food, and to find the means of their solitary
pleasures; but it is reserved for man to consult, to persuade, to
oppose, to kindle in the society of his fellow-creatures, and to
lose the sense of his personal interest or safety, in the ardour
of his friendships and his oppositions.
When we are involved in any of the divisions into which
mankind are separated, under the denominations of a country, a
tribe, or an order of men any way affected by common interests,
and guided by communicating passions, the mind recognises its
natural station; the sentiments of the heart, and the talents of
the understanding, find their natural exercise. Wisdom,
vigilance, fidelity, and fortitude, are the characters requisite
in such a scene, and the qualities which it tends to improve.
In simple or barbarous ages, when nations are weak, and beset
with enemies, the love of a country, of a party, or a faction,
are the same. The public is a knot of friends, and its enemies
are the rest of mankind. Death, or slavery, are the ordinary
evils which they are concerned to ward off; victory and dominion,
the objects to which they aspire. Under the sense of what they
may suffer from foreign invasions, it is one object, in every
prosperous society, to increase its force, and to extend its
limits. I n proportion as this object is gained, security
increases. They who possess the interior districts, remote from
the frontier, are unused to alarms from abroad. They who are
placed on the extremities, remote from the seats of government,
are unused to hear of political interests; and the public becomes
an object perhaps too extensive, for the conceptions of either.
They enjoy the protection of its laws, or of its armies; and they
boast of its splendor, and its power; but the glowing sentiments
of public affection, which, in small states, mingle with the
tenderness of the parent and the lover, of the friend and the
companion, merely by having their object enlarged, lose great
part of their force.
The manners of rude nations require to be reformed. Their
foreign quarrels, and domestic dissensions, are the operations of
extreme and sanguinary passions. A state of greater tranquillity
hath many happy effects. But if nations pursue the plan of
enlargement and pacification, till their members can no longer
apprehend the common ties of society, nor be engaged by affection
in the cause of their country, they must err on the opposite
side, and by leaving too little to agitate the spirits of men,
bring on ages of languor, if not of decay.
The members of a community may, in this manner, like the
inhabitants of a conquered province, be made to lose the sense of
every connection, but that of kindred or neighbourhood; and have
no common affairs to transact, but those of trade: Connections,
indeed, or transactions, in which probity and friendship may
still take place; but in which the national spirit, whose ebbs
and flows we are now considering, cannot be exerted.
What we observe, however, on the tendency of enlargement to
loosen the bands of political union, cannot be applied to nations
who, being originally narrow, never greatly extended their
limits, nor to those who, in a rude state, had already the
extension of a great kingdom, In territories of considerable
extent, subject to one government, and possessed of freedom, the
national union, in rude ages, is extremely imperfect. Every
district forms a separate party; and the descendents of different
families are opposed to one another, under the denomination of
tribes or of clans: they are seldom brought to act with a steady
concert; their feuds and animosities give more frequently the
appearance of so many nations at war, than of a people united by
connections of policy, They acquire a spirit, however, in their
private divisions, and in the midst of a disorder, otherwise
hurtful, of which the force, on many occasions, redounds to the
power of the state.
Whatever be the national extent, civil order, and regular
government, are advantages of the greatest importance; but it
does not follow, that every arrangement made to obtain these
ends, and which may, in the making, exercise and cultivate the
best qualities of men, is therefore of a nature to produce
permanent effects, and to secure the preservation of that
national spirit from which it arose.
We have reason to dread the political refinements of ordinary
men, when we consider, that repose, or inaction itself, is in a
great measure their object; and that they would frequently model
their governments, not merely to prevent injustice and error, but
to prevent agitation and bustle; and by the barriers they raise
against the evil actions of men, would prevent them from acting
at all. Every dispute of a free people, in the opinion of such
politicians, amounts to disorder, and a breach of the national
peace. What heart-burnings? What delay to affairs? What want of
secrecy and dispatch? What defect of police? Men of superior
genius sometimes seem to imagine, that the vulgar have no title
to act, or to think. A great prince is pleased to ridicule the
precaution by which judges in a free country are Confined to the
strict interpretation of law.(3*)
We easily learn to contract our opinions of what men may, in
consistence with public order, be safely permitted to do. The
agitations of a republic, and the licence of its members, strike
the subjects of monarchy with aversion and disgust. The freedom
with which the European is left to traverse the streets and the
fields, would appear to a Chinese a sure prelude to confusion and
anarchy. ‘Can men behold their superior and not tremble? Can they
converse without a precise and written ceremonial? What hopes of
peace, if the streets are not barricaded at an hour? What wild
disorder, if men are permitted in any thing to do what they
please?’ If the precautions which men thus take against each
other be necessary to repress their crimes, and do not arise from
a corrupt ambition, or from cruel jealousy in their rulers, the
proceeding itself must be applauded, as the best remedy of which
the vices of men will admit. The viper must be held at a
distance, and the tyger chained. But if a rigorous policy,
applied to enslave, not to restrain from crimes, has an actual
tendency to corrupt the manners, and to extinguish the spirit of
nations; if its severities be applied to terminate the agitations
of a free people, not to remedy their corruptions; if forms be
often applauded as salutary, because they tend merely to silence
the voice of mankind, or be condemned as pernicious, because they
allow this voice to be heard; we may expect that many of the
boasted improvements of civil society, will be mere devices to
lay the political spirit at rest, and will chain up the active
virtues more than the restless disorders of men.
If to any people it be the avowed object of policy, in all
its internal refinements, to secure the person and the property
of the subject, without any regard to his political character,
the constitution indeed may be free, but its members may likewise
become unworthy of the freedom they possess, and unfit to
preserve it. The effects of such a constitution may be to immerse
all orders of men in their separate pursuits of pleasure, which
they may now enjoy with little disturbance; or of gain, which
they may preserve without any attention to the Commonwealth. If
this be the end of political struggles, the design, when
executed, in securing to the individual his estate, and the means
of subsistence, may put an end to the exercise of those very
virtues that were required in conducting its execution. A man
who, in concert with his fellow-subjects, contends with
usurpation in defence of his estate or his person, may find an
exertion of great generosity, and of a vigorous spirit; but he
who, under political establishments, supposed to be fully
confirmed, betakes him, because he is safe, to the mere enjoyment
of fortune, has in fact turned to a source of corruption the very
advantages which the virtues of the other procured. Individuals,
in certain ages, derive their protection chiefly from the
strength of the party to which they adhere; but in times of
corruption, they flatter themselves, that they may continue to
derive from the public that safety which, in former ages, they
must have owed to their own vigilance and spirit, to the warm
attachment of their friends, and to the exercise of every talent
which could render them respected, feared, or beloved. In one
period, therefore, mere circumstances serve to excite the spirit,
and to preserve the manners of men; in another, great wisdom and
zeal for the good of mankind on the part of their leaders, are
required for the same purposes.
Rome, it may be thought, did not die of a lethargy, nor
perish by the remission of her political ardours at home. Her
distemper appeared of a nature more violent and acute. Yet if the
virtues of Cato and of Brutus found an exercise in the dying hour
of the republic, the neutrality, and the cautious retirement of
Atticus, found its security in the same tempestuous season; and
the great body of the people lay undisturbed, below the current
of a storm, by which the superior ranks of men were destroyed. In
the minds of the people, the sense of a public was defaced; and
even the animosity of faction had subsided: they only could share
in the commotion, who were the soldiers of a legion, or the
partisans of a leader. But this state fell not into obscurity for
want of eminent men. If at the time of which we speak, we look
only for a few names distinguished in the history of mankind,
there is no period at which the list was more numerous. But those
names became distinguished in the contest for dominion, not in
the exercise of equal rights: the people was corrupted; the
empire of the known world stood in need of a master.
Republican governments, in general, are in hazard of ruin
from the ascendant of particular factions, and from the mutinous
spirit of a populace, who being corrupted, are no longer fit to
share in the administration of state. But under other
establishments, where liberty may be more successfully attained
if men are corrupted, the national vigour declines from the abuse
of that very security which is procured by the supposed
perfection of public order.
A distribution of power and office; an execution of law, by
which mutual incroachments and molestations are brought to an
end; by which the person and the property are, without friends,
without cabal, without obligation, perfectly secured to
individuals, does honour to the genius of a nation; and could not
have been fully established, without those exertions of
understanding and integrity, those trials of a resolute and
vigorous spirit, which adorn the annals of a people, and leave to
future ages a subject of just admiration and applause. But if we
suppose that the end is attained, and that men no longer act, in
the enjoyment of liberty, from liberal sentiments, or with a view
to the preservation of public manners; if individuals think
themselves secure without any attention or effort of their own;
this boasted advantage may be found only to give them an
opportunity of enjoying, at leisure, the conveniencies and
necessaries of life; or, in the language of Cato, teach them to
value their houses, their villas, their statues, and their
pictures, at a higher rate than they do the republic. They may be
found to grow tired in secret of a free constitution, of which
they never cease to boast in their conversation, and which they
always neglect in their conduct.
The dangers to liberty are not the subject of our present
consideration; but they can never be greater from any cause than
they are from the supposed remissness of a people, to whose
personal vigour every constitution, as it owed its establishment,
so must continue to owe its preservation. Nor is this blessing
ever less secure than it is in the possession of men who think
that they enjoy it in safety, and who therefore consider the
public only as it presents to their avarice a number of lucrative
employments; for the sake of which they may sacrifice those very
rights which render themselves objects of management or
From the tendency of these reflections, then, it should
appear, that a national spirit is frequently transient, not on
account of any incurable distemper in the nature of mankind, but
on account of their voluntary neglects and corruptions. This
spirit subsisted solely, perhaps, in the execution of a few
projects, entered into for the acquisition of territory or
wealth; it comes, like a useless weapon, to be laid aside after
its end is attained.
Ordinary establishments terminate in a relaxation of vigour,
and are ineffectual to the preservation of states; because they
lead mankind to rely on their arts, instead of their virtues, and
to mistake for an improvement of human nature, a mere accession
of accommodation, or of riches. Institutions that fortify the
mind, inspire courage, and promote national felicity, can never
tend to national ruin.
Is it not possible, amidst our admiration of arts, to find
some place for these? Let statesmen, who are intrusted with the
government of nations, reply for themselves. It is their business
to shew, whether they climb into stations of eminence, merely to
display a passion for interest, which they had better indulge in
obscurity; and whether they have capacity to understand the
happiness of a people, the conduct of whose affairs they are so
willing to undertake.

Section IV.

The same subject continued.

Men frequently, while they study to improve their fortunes,
neglect themselves; and while they reason for their country,
forget the considerations that most deserve their attention.
Numbers, riches, and the other resources of war, are highly
important: but nations consist of men; and a nation consisting of
degenerate and cowardly men, is weak; a nation consisting of
vigorous, public-spirited, and resolute men, is strong, The
resources of war, where other advantages are equal, may decide a
contest; but the resources of war, in hands that cannot employ
them, are of no avail.
Virtue is a necessary constituent of national strength:
capacity, and a vigorous understanding, are no less necessary to
sustain the fortune of states. Both are improved by discipline,
and by the exercises in which men are engaged. We despise, or we
pity, the lot of mankind, while they lived under uncertain
establishments, and were obliged to sustain in the same person,
the character of the senator, the statesman, and the soldier.
Polished nations discover, that any one of these characters is
sufficient in one person; and that the ends of each, when
disjoined, are more easily accomplished. The first, however, were
circumstances under which nations advanced and prospered; the
second were those in which the spirit relaxed, and the nation
went to decay.
We may, with good reason, congratulate our species on their
having escaped from a state of barbarous disorder and violence,
into a state of domestic peace and regular policy; when they have
sheathed the dagger, and disarmed the animosities of civil
contention; when the weapons with which they contend are the
reasonings of the wise, and the tongue of the eloquent. But we
cannot, mean-time, help to regret, that they should ever proceed,
in search of perfection, to place every branch of administration
behind the counter, and come to employ, instead of the statesman
and warrior, the mere clerk and accountant.
By carrying this system to its height, men are educated, who
could copy for Caesar his military instructions, or even execute
a part of his plans; but none who could act in all the different
sCenes for which the leader himself must be qualified, in the
state and in the field, in times of order or of tumult, in times
of division or of unanimity. none who could animate the council
when deliberating on ordinary occasions, or when alarmed by
attacks from abroad.
The policy of China is the most perfect model of an
arrangement, at which the ordinary refinements of government are
aimed; and the inhabitants of this empire possess, in the highest
degree, those arts on which vulgar minds make the felicity and
greatness of nations to depend. The state has acquired, in a
measure unequalled in the history of mankind, numbers of men, and
the other resources of war. They have done what we are very apt
to admire; they have brought national affairs to the level of the
meanest capacity; they have broke them into parts, and thrown
them into separate departments; they have clothed every
proceeding with splendid ceremonies, and majestical forms; and
where the reverence of forms cannot repress disorder, a rigorous
and severe police, armed with every species of corporal
punishment, is applied to the purpose. The whip, and the cudgel,
are held up to all orders of men; they are at once employed, and
they are dreaded by every magistrate. A mandarine is whipped, for
having ordered a pickpocket to receive too few or too many blows.
Every department of state is made the object of a separate
profession, and every candidate for office must have passed
through a regular education; and, as in the graduations of the
university, must have obtained by his proficiency, or his
standing, the degree to which he aspires. The tribunals of state,
of war, and of the revenue, as well as of literature, are
conducted by graduates in their different studies: but while
learning is the great road to preferment, it terminates, in being
able to read, and to write; and the great object of government
consists in raising, and in consuming the fruits of the earth.
With all these resources, and this learned preparation, which is
made to turn these resources to use, the state is in reality
weak; has repeatedly given the example which we seek to explain;
and among the doctors of war or of policy, among the millions who
are set apart for the military profession, can find none of its
members who are fit to stand forth in the dangers of their
country, or to form a defence against the repeated inroads of an
enemy reputed to be artless and mean.
It is difficult to tell how long the decay of states might be
suspended by the cultivation of arts on which their real felicity
and strength depend; by cultivating in the higher ranks those
talents for the council and the field, which cannot, without
great disadvantage, be separated; and in the body of a people,
that zeal for their country, and that military character, which
enable them to take a share in defending its rights.
Times may come, when every proprietor must defend his own
possessions, and every free people maintain their own
independence. We may imagine, that against such an extremity, an
army of hired troops is a sufficient precaution; but their own
troops are the very enemy against which a people is sometimes
obliged to fight. We may flatter ourselves, that extremities of
this sort, in any particular case, are remote; but we cannot, in
reasoning on the general fortunes of mankind, avoid putting the
case, and referring to the examples in which it has happened. It
has happened in every instance where the polished have fallen a
prey to the rude, and where the pacific inhabitant has been
reduced to subjection by military force.
If the defence and government of a people be made to depend
on a few, who make the conduct of state or of war their
profession; whether these be foreigners or natives; whether they
be called away of a sudden, like the Roman legion from Britain;
whether they turn against their employers, like the army of
Carthage, or be overpowered and dispersed by a stroke of fortune,
the multitude of a cowardly and undisciplined people must, on
such an emergence, receive a foreign or a domestic enemy, as they
would a plague or an earthquake, with hopeless amazement and
terror, and by their numbers, only swell the triumphs, and enrich
the spoil of a conqueror.
Statesmen and leaders of armies, accustomed to the mere
observance of forms, are disconcerted by a suspension of
customary rules; and on sight grounds despair of their country.
They were qualified only to go the rounds of a particular track;
and when forced from their stations, are in reality unable to act
with men. They only took part in formalities, of which they
understood not the tendency; and together with the modes of
procedure, even the very state itself, in their apprehension, has
ceased to exist. The numbers, possessions, and resources of a
great people, only serve, in their view, to constitute a scene of
hopeless confusion and terror.
In rude ages, under the appellations of a community, a
people, or a nation, was understood a number of men; and the
state, while its members remained, was accounted entire. The
Scythians, while they Jed before Darius, mocked at his childish
attempt; Athens survived the devastations of Xerxes; and Rome, in
its rude state, those of the Gauls. With polished and mercantile
states, the case is sometimes reversed. The nation is a
territory, cultivated and improved by its owners; destroy the
possession, even while the master remains, the state is undone.
That weakness and effeminacy of which polished nations are
sometimes accused, has its place probably in the mind alone. The
strength of animals, and that of man in particular, depends on
his feeding, and the kind of labour to which he is used.
Wholesome food, and hard labour, the portion of many in every
polished and commercial nation, secure to the public a number of
men endued with bodily strength, and inured to hardship and toil.
Even delicate living, and good accommodation, are not found
to enervate the body. The armies of Europe have been obliged to
make the experiment; and the children of opulent families, bred
in effeminacy, or nursed with tender care, have been made to
contend with the savage. By imitating his arts, they have
learned, like him, to traverse the forest; and, in every season,
to subsist in the desert. They have, perhaps, recovered a lesson,
which it has cost civilized nations many ages to unlearn, That
the fortune of a man is entire while he remains possessed of
It may be thought, however, that few of the celebrated
nations of antiquity, whose fate has given rise to so much
reJection on the vicissitudes of human affairs, had made any
great progress in those enervating arts we have mentioned; or
made those arrangements from which the danger in question could
be supposed to arise. The Greeks, in particular, at the time of
their fall under the Macedonian yoke, had certainly not carried
the commercial arts to so great a height as is common with the
most flourishing and prosperous nations of Europe. They had still
retained the form of independent republics; the people were
generally admitted to a share in the government; and not being
able to hire armies, they were obliged, by necessity, to bear a
part in the defence of their country. By their frequent wars and
domestic commotions, they were accustomed to danger, and were
familiar with alarming situations: they were accordingly still
accounted the best soldiers and the best statesmen of the known
world. The younger Cyrus promised himself the empire of Asia by
means of their aid; and after his fall, a body of ten thousand,
although bereft of their leaders, baffled, in their retreat, all
the military force of the Persian empire. The victor of Asia did
not think himself prepared for that conquest, till he had formed
an army from the subdued republics of Greece.
It is, however, true, that in the age of Philip, the military
and political spirit of those nations appears to have been
considerably impaired, and to have suffered, perhaps, from the
variety Of interests and pursuits, as well as of pleasures, with
which their members came to be occupied: they even made a kind of
separation between the civil and military character. Phocion, we
are told by Plutarch, having observed that the leading men of his
time followed different courses, that some applied themselves to
civil, others to military affairs, determined rather to follow
the examples of Themistocles, Aristides, and Pericles, the
leaders of a former age, who were equally prepared for either.
We find in the orations of Demosthenes, a perpetual reference
to this state of manners. We find him exhorting the Athenians,
not only to declare war, but to arm themselves for the execution
of their own military plans, We find that there was an order of
military men, who easily passed from the service of one state to
that of another; and who, when they were neglected from home,
turned away to enterprises on their own account. There were not,
perhaps, better warriors in any former age; but those warriors
were not attached to any state; and the settled inhabitants of
every city thought themselves disqualified for military service.
The discipline of armies was perhaps improved; but the vigour of
nations was gone to decay. When Philip, or Alexander, defeated
the Grecian armies, which were chiefly composed of soldiers of
fortune, they found an easy conquest with the other inhabitants:
and when the latter, afterwards supported by those soldiers,
invaded the Persian empire, he seems to have left little martial
spirit behind him; and by removing the military men, to have
taken precaution enough, in his absence, to secure his dominion
over this mutinous and refractory people.
The subdivision of arts and professions, in certain examples,
tends to improve the practice of them, and to promote their ends.
By having separated the arts of the clothier and the tanner, we
are the better supplied with shoes and with cloth. But to
separate the arts which form the citizen and the statesman, the
arts of policy and war, is an attempt to dismember the human
character, and to destroy those very arts we mean to improve. By
this separation, we in effect deprive a free people of what is
necessary to their safety; or we prepare a defence against
invasions from abroad, which gives a prospect of usurpation, and
threatens the establishment of military government at home.
We may be surprised to find the beginning of certain
military instructions at Rome, referred to a time no earlier than
that of the Cimbric war. It was then, we are told by Valerius
Maximus, that Roman soldiers were made to learn from gladiators
the use of a sword: and the antagonists of Phyrrhus and of
Hannibal were, by the account of this writer, still in need of
instruction in the first rudiments of their trade. They had
already, by the order and choice of their incampments, impressed
the Grecian invader with awe and respect; they had already, not
by their victories, but by their national vigour and firmness,
under repeated defeats, induced him to sue for peace. But the
haughty Roman, perhaps, knew the advantage of order and of union,
without having been broke to the inferior arts of the mercenary
soldier; and had the courage to face the enemies of his country,
without having practised the use of his weapon under the fear of
being whipped. He could ill be persuaded, that a time might come,
when refined and intelligent nations would make the art of war to
consist in a few technical forms; that citizens and soldiers
might come to be distinguished as much as women and men; that the
citizen would become possessed of a property which he would not
be able, or required, to defend; that the soldier would be
appointed to keep for another what he would be taught to desire,
and what he would be enabled to seize for himself; that, in
short, one set of men were to have an interest in the
preservation of civil establishments, without the power to defend
them; that the other were to have this power, without either the
inclination or the interest.
This people, however, by degrees came to put their military
force on the very footing to which this description alludes.
Marius made a capital change in the manner of levying soldiers at
Rome: He filled his legions with the mean and the indigent, who
depended on military pay for subsistence; he created a force
which rested on mere discipline alone, and the skill of the
gladiator; he taught his troops to employ their swords against
the constitution of their country, and set the example of a
practice which was soon adopted and improved by his successors.
The Romans only meant by their armies to incroach on the
freedom of other nations, while they preserved their own. They
forgot, that in assembling soldiers of fortune, and in suffering
any leader to be master of a disciplined army, they actually
resigned their political rights, and suffered a master to arise
for the state. This people, in short, whose ruling passion was
depredation and conquest, perished by the recoil of an engine
which they themselves had erected against mankind.
The boasted refinements, then, of the polished age, are not
divested of danger. They open a door, perhaps, to disaster, as
wide and accessible as any of those they have shut. If they build
walls and ramparts, they enervate the minds of those who are
placed to defend them; if they form disciplined armies, they
reduce the military spirit of entire nations; and by placing the
sword where they have given a distaste to civil establishments,
they prepare for mankind the government of force.
It is happy for the nations of Europe, that the disparity
between the soldier and the pacific citizen can never be so great
as it became among the Greeks and the Romans. In the use of
modern arms, the novice is made to learn, and to practise with
ease, all that the veteran knows; and if to teach him were a
matter of real difficulty, happy are they who are not deterred by
such difficulties, and who can discover the arts which tend to
fortify and preserve, not to enervate and ruin their country.

Section V.

Of National Waste.

The strength of nations consists in the wealth, the numbers,
and the character, of their people. The history of their progress
from a state of rudeness, is, for the most part, a detail of the
struggles they have maintained, and of the arts they have
practised, to strengthen, or to Secure themselves. Their
conquests, their population, and their commerce, their civil and
military arrangements, their skill in the construction of
weapons, and in the methods of attack and defence; the very
distribution of tasks, whether in private business or in public
affairs, either tend to bestow, or promise to employ with
advantage, the constituents of a national force, and the
resources of war.
If we suppose, that together with these advantages, the
military character of a people remains, or is improved, it must
follow, that what is gained in civilization, is a real increase
of strength; and that the ruin of nations could never take its
rise from themselves. Where states have stopped short in their
progress, or have actually gone to decay, we may suspect, that
however disposed to advance, they have found a limit, beyond
which they could not proceed; or from a remission of the national
spirit, and a weakness of character, were unable to make the most
of their resources, and natural advantages. On this supposition,
from being stationary, they may begin to relapse, and by a
retrograde motion, in a succession of ages, arrive at a state of
greater weakness, than that which they quitted in the beginning
of their progress; and with the appearance of better arts, and
superior conduct, expose themselves to become a prey to
barbarians, whom, in the attainment, or the height of their
glory, they had easily baffled or despised.
Whatever may be the natural wealth of a people, or whatever
may be the limits beyond which they cannot improve on their
stock, it is probable, that no nation has ever reached those
limits, or has been able to postpone its misfortunes, and the
effects of misconduct, until its fund of materials, and the
fertility of its soil, were exhausted, or the numbers of its
people were greatly reduced. The same errors in policy, and
weakness of manners, which prevent the proper use of resources,
likewise check their increase, or improvement.
The wealth of the state consists in the fortune of its
members. The actual revenue of the state is that share of every
private fortune, which the public has been accustomed to demand
for national purposes. This revenue cannot be always proportioned
to what may be supposed redundant in the private estate, but to
what is, in some measure, thought so by the owner; and to what he
may be made to spare, without intrenching on his manner of
living, and without suspending his projects of expence, or of
commerce. It should appear, therefore, that any immoderate
increase of private expence is a prelude to national weakness:
government, even while each of its subjects consumes a princely
estate, may be straitened in point of revenue, and the paradox be
explained by example, That the public is poor, while its members
are rich.
We are frequently led into error by mistaking money for
riches; we think that a people cannot be impoverished by a waste
of money which is spent among themselves. The fact is, that men
are impoverished, only in two ways; either by having their gains
suspended, or by having their substance consumed; and money
expended at home, being circulated, and not consumed, cannot, any
more than the exchange of a tally, or a counter, among a certain
number of hands, tend to diminish the wealth of the company among
whom it is handed about. But while money circulates at home, the
necessaries of life, which are the real constituents of wealth,
may be idly consumed; the industry which might be employed to
increase the stock of a people, may be suspended, or turned to
Great armies, maintained either at home or abroad, without
any national object, are so many mouths unnecessarily opened to
waste the stores of the public, and so many hands with-held from
the arts by which its profits are made. Unsuccessful enterprises
are so many ventures thrown away, and losses sustained,
proportioned to the capital employed in the service. The
Helvetii, in order to invade the Roman province of Gaul, burnt
their habitations, dropt their instruments of husbandry, and
consumed, in one year, the savings of many. The enterprise failed
of success, and the nation was undone.
States have endeavoured, in some instances, by pawning their
credit, instead of employing their capital, to disguise the
hazards they ran. They have found, in the loans they raised, a
casual resource, which encouraged their enterprises. They have
seemed, by their manner of erecting transferable funds, to leave
the capital for purposes of trade, in the hands of the subject,
while it is actually expended by the government. They have, by
these means, proceeded to the execution of great national
projects, without suspending private industry, and have left
future ages to answer, in part, for debts contracted with a view
to future emolument. So far the expedient is plausible, and
appears to be just. The growing burden too, is thus gradually
laid; and if a nation be to sink in some future age, every
minister hopes it may still keep afloat in his own. But the
measure, for this very reason, is, with all its advantages,
extremely dangerous, in the hands of a precipitant and ambitious
administration, regarding only the present occasion, and
imagining a state to be inexhaustible, while a capital can be
borrowed, and the interest be paid.
We are told of a nation, who, during a certain period,
rivalled the glories of the ancient world, threw off the dominion
of a master armed against them with the powers of a great
kingdom, broke the yoke with which they had been oppressed, and
almost within the course of a century, raised, by their industry
and national vigour, a new and formidable power, which struck the
former potentates of Europe with awe and suspense, and turned the
badges of poverty with which they set out, into the ensigns of
war and dominion. This end was attained by the great efforts of a
spirit awaked by oppression, by a successful pursuit of national
wealth, and by a rapid anticipation of future revenue. But this
illustrious state is supposed, not only in the language of a
former section, to have preoccupied the business; they have
sequestered the inheritance of many ages to come.
Great national expence, however, does not imply the necessity
of any national suffering. While revenue is applied with success,
to obtain some valuable end; the profits of every adventure,
being more than sufficient to repay its costs, the public should
gain, and its resources should continue to multiply. But an
expence, whether sustained at home or abroad, whether a waste of
the present, or an anticipation of future, revenue, if it bring
no proper return, is to be reckoned among the causes of national


1. Shralenberg.

2. Gemelli Carceri.

3. Memoirs of Brandenberg.


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