HAVING lately seen a book entitled Patriarcha,[1] written by Sir Robert Filmer, concerning the universal and undistinguished right of all kings, I thought a time of leisure might be well employed in examining his doctrine, and the questions arising from it; which seem so far to concern all mankind, that, besides the influence upon our future life, they may be said to comprehend all that in this world deserves to be cared for. If he say true, there is but one government in the world that can have anything of justice in it: and those who have hitherto been esteemed the best and wisest of men, for having constituted commonwealths or kingdoms; and taken much pains so to proportion the powers of several magistracies, that they might all concur in procuring the publick good; or so to divide the powers between the magistrates and people, that a well-regulated harmony might be preserved in the whole, were the most unjust and foolish of all men. They were not builders, but overthrowers of governments: Their business was to set up aristocratical, democratical or mixed governments, in opposition to that monarchy which by the immutable laws of God and nature is imposed upon mankind; or presumptuously to put shackles upon the monarch, who by the same laws is to be absolute and uncontrolled: They were rebellious and disobedient sons, who rose up against their father; and not only refused to hearken to his voice, but made him bend to their will. In their opinion, such only deserved to be called good men, who endeavoured to be good to mankind; or to that country to which they were more particularly related: and in as much as that good consists in a felicity of estate, and perfection of person, they highly valued such as had endeavoured to make men better, wiser and happier. This they understood to be the end for which men enter'd into societies: And, tho Cicero says, that commonwealths were instituted for the obtaining of justice, he contradicts them not, but comprehends all in that word; because 'tis just that whosoever receives a power, should employ it wholly for the accomplishment of the ends for which it was given. This work could be performed only by such as excelled in virtue; but lest they should deflect from it, no government was thought to be well constituted, unless the laws prevailed above the commands of men;[2] and they were accounted as the worst of beasts, who did not prefer such a condition before a subjection to the fluctuating and irregular will of a man.

If we believe Sir Robert, all this is mistaken. Nothing of this kind was ever left to the choice of men. They are not to enquire what conduces to their own good: God and nature have put us into a way from which we are not to swerve: We are not to live to him, nor to ourselves, but to the master that he hath set over us. One government is established over all, and no limits can be set to the power of the person that manages it. This is the prerogative, or, as another author of the same stamp calls it, the Royal Charter granted to kings by God. They all have an equal right to it; women and children are patriarchs; and the next in blood, without any regard to age, sex, or other qualities of the mind or body, are fathers of as many nations as fall under their power. We are not to examine, whether he or she be young or old, virtuous or vicious, sober minded or stark mad; the right and power is the same in all. Whether virtue be exalted or suppressed; whether he that bears the sword be a praise to those that do well, and a terror to those that do evil; or a praise to those that do evil, and a terror to such as do well, it concerns us not; for the king must not lose his right, nor have his power diminished on any account. I have been sometimes apt to wonder, how things of this nature could enter into the head of any man: Or, if no wickedness or folly be so great, but some may fall into it, I could not well conceive why they should publish it to the world. But these thoughts ceased, when I considered that a people from all ages in love with liberty, and desirous to maintain their own privileges, could never be brought to resign them, unless they were made to believe that in conscience they ought to do it; which could not be, unless they were also persuaded to believe, that there was a law set to all mankind which none might transgress, and which put the examination of all those matters out of their power. This is our author's work. By this it will appear whose throne he seeks to advance, and whose servant he is, whilst he pretends to serve the king. And that it may be evident he hath made use of means suitable to the ends proposed for the service of his great master, I hope to shew that he hath not used one argument that is not false, nor cited one author whom he hath not perverted and abused. Whilst my work is so to lay open these snares that the most simple may not be taken in them, I shall not examine how Sir Robert came to think himself a man fit to undertake so great a work, as to destroy the principles, which from the beginning seem to have been common to all mankind; but only weighing the positions and arguments that he allegeth, will, if there be either truth or strength in them, confess the discovery comes from him that gave us least reason to expect it, and that in spite of the ancients, there is not in the world a piece of wood out of which a Mercury may not be made.[3]

[1] []

[2] Potentiora legum quam hominum imperia. Tacit. []

[3] []

Next | Contents | Text Version