Epilogue: Securing the Republic

[Volume 1, Page 658]

CHAPTER 18 | Document 2

James Harrington, Commonwealth of Oceana 37--38, 103


But the tillage bringing up a good soldiery brings up a good commonwealth which [Bacon], in the praise of Panurgus, did not [understand], nor Panurgus in deserving that praise. For where the owner of the plough comes to have the sword, too, he will use it in defense of his own; whence it has happened that the people of Oceana, in proportion to their property, have been always free. And the genius of this nation has ever had some resemblance with that of ancient Italy, which was wholly addicted to commonwealths, and where Rome came to make the greatest account of her rustic tribes and to call her consuls from the plough. For, in the way of parliaments, which was the government of this realm, men of country lives have been still entrusted with the greatest affairs, and the people have constantly had an aversion from the ways of the court; ambition, loving to be gay and to fawn, has been a gallantry looked upon as having something in it of the livery and husbandry or the country way of life, though of a grosser spinning, as the best stuff of a commonwealth according to Aristotle (Agricolarum democratica respublica optima), such a one being the most obstinate assertress of her liberty and the least subject to innovation or turbulency. Wherefore till the foundations (as will be hereafter shown) were removed, this people was observed to be the least subject to shakings and turbulency of any. Whereas commonwealths upon which the city life has had the stronger influence, as Athens, have seldom or never been quiet, but at best are found to have injured their own business by overdoing it. Whence the urban tribes of Rome consisting of the turba forensis, libertines that had received their freedom by manumission, were of no reputation in comparison of the rustics. It is true that with Venice it may seem to be otherwise, in regard the gentlemen (for so are all such called as have right unto that government) are wholly addicted to the city life; but then the turba forensis, the secretaries, cittadini, with the rest of the populace, are wholly excluded. Otherwise a commonwealth, consisting but of one city, would doubtless be stormy, in regard that ambition would be every man's trade; but where it consists of a country, the plough in the hands of the owner finds him a better calling and produces the most innocent and steady genius of a commonwealth, such as is that of Oceana.

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A people (says Machiavelli) that is corrupt is not capable of a commonwealth. But in showing what a corrupt people is, he has either involved himself or me, nor can I otherwise come out of the labyrinth than by saying that, the balance altering, a people as to the foregoing government must of necessity be corrupt. But corruption in this sense signifies no more than that the corruption of one government (as in natural bodies) is the generation of another. Wherefore, if the balance alter from monarchy, the corruption of the people in this case is that which makes them capable of a commonwealth. But whereas I am not ignorant that the corruption which he means is in manners, this also is from the balance. For the balance swaying from monarchical into popular abates the luxury of the nobility and, enriching the people, brings the government from a more private to a more public interest, which coming nearer, as has been shown, to justice and right reason, the people upon a like alteration is so far from such corruption of manners as should render them incapable of a commonwealth, that [Volume 1, Page 659] of necessity they must thereby contract such reformation of manners as will bear no other kind of government. On the other side, where the balance changes from popular to oligarchical or monarchical, the public interest with the reason and justice included in the same becomes more private, luxury is introduced in the place of temperance, and servitude in that of freedom. Which causes such a corruption of manners both in the nobility and the people as, by the example of Rome in the time of the triumvirate, is more at large discovered by the author to have been altogether incapable of a commonwealth.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 1, Chapter 18, Document 2
The University of Chicago Press