Xenophon in blaming the Disorders of Democracies, favours Aristocracies, not Monarchies.

IN the next place our author introduces Xenophon, disallowing popular governments: Cites Rome and Athens as places where the best men thriv'd worst, and the worst best; and condemns the Romans for making it capital to pass sentence of death, banishment, loss of liberty, or stripes upon any citizen of Rome.[1] But lest his fraud in this should be detected, he cites no precise passage of any author, alleges few examples, and those mistaken; never tells us what that law was, when made, or where to be found; whereas I hope to prove, that he has upon the whole matter abominably prevaricated, and advanced things that he knows to be either impertinent or false.

1. To this end we are in the first place to consider, whether Xenophon speaks of popular governments simply, or comparatively: if simply, 'tis confess'd that a pure democracy can never be good, unless for a small town; if comparatively, we must examine to what he compares it: We are sure it was not to absolute monarchy; there was no such thing amongst the Greeks established by law: The little tyrants who had enslaved their own countries, as Jason, Phaereus, Phalaris, and the like, had no pretence to it, and were accounted as the worst of beasts: None but such as in all bestiality were like to them, did ever speak or think well of them: Xenophon's opinion in this point, may be easily found out by what pass'd between his master Plato and the Sicilian tyrant;[2] and the matter will not be mended by referring to his own experience: He had seen the vast monarchy of Persia torn in pieces by the fury of two brothers, and more than a million of men brought to fight upon their private quarrel: Instead of that order, stability and strength which our author ascribes to absolute monarchy as the effect of wisdom and justice, he knew, that by filling one man with pride and cruelty, it brought unspeakable miseries upon all others, and infected them with all the vices that accompany slavery: Men lived like fishes; the great ones devour'd the small; and as appeared by Tissaphernes, Pharnabazus, and others with whom he had to deal, the worst and basest were made to be the greatest: The satraps insulted over those of meaner rank, with an insolence and cruelty that equal'd the depth of their servile submission to their proud master.[3] Luxury and avarice reigned in all: many great nations were made to live for the service of one man, and to foment his vices. This produced weakness and cowardice; no number of those slaves were able to stand against a few free Grecians. No man knew this better than Xenophon, who after the death of Cyrus the younger, and the treacherous murder of Clearchus, and other officers that commanded the Greeks who had served him, made his retreat from Babylon to the Hellespont with ten thousand foot, and passed over the bellies of all that dared to oppose him.[4] He would never have spent his life in exciting his countrymen to attempt the conquest of Asia, nor persuaded Agesilaus to put himself at the head of the enterprize, if he had thought there was such admirable order, stability and strength in that monarchy, and in the Greeks nothing but giddiness of spirit, and so much learning as made them seditious:[5] Nor could he, being a wise man and an excellent captain, have conceived such a design, if he had not by experience found that liberty inspir'd his countrymen with such solid virtue, and produced such stability, good order and strength, that with small numbers of them he might hope to overthrow the vain pomp of the barbarians, and to possess himself of their riches, tho they could bring more than a hundred men to fight against one; which design being interrupted in his time by domestick wars, was soon after his death accomplished by Alexander.

But that Xenophon's meaning may be better understood, 'tis good to consider, that he spoke of such governments as were then in use among the Greeks; which tho mixed, yet took their denomination from the prevailing part: so that the Dorians, who placed the power chiefly in the hands of a few chosen men, were said to be governed aristocratically; and the lonians giving more power to the common people, democratically:[6] And he, tho an Ionian, either through friendship to Agesilaus, conversation with the Spartans, or for other reasons best known to himself, preferr'd the government of Sparta, or some other which he thought he could frame, and desir'd to introduce, before that of Athens; as Cimon, Thucydides, and many other excellent men of that city are said to have done: And if I acknowledge they were in the right, and that Athens was more subject to disorder, and had less stability than Sparta, I think it will be of little advantage to absolute monarchy.

2. The Athenians did banish some worthy men, and put others to death; but our author, like the Devil, never speaking truth, unless to turn it into a lie, prevaricates in his report of them. The temporary banishment which they called ostracism, was without hurt or dishonour, never accounted as a punishment, nor intended for any other end, than to put a stop to the too eminent greatness of a man, that might prove dangerous to the city; and some excellent persons who fell under it, were soon recalled and brought home with glory. But I am not solicitous whether that reason be sufficient to justify it or not: We are upon a general thesis relating to the laws of God and nature; and if the Athenians, by a fancy of their own, did make an imprudent use of their liberty, it cannot prejudice the publick cause. They who make the worst of it can only say, that by such means they, for a time, deprived themselves of the benefits they might have received from the virtues of some excellent men, to the hurt of none but themselves; and the application of it as an injustice done to Themistocles is absolutely false: He was a man of great wit, industry and valour, but of uncertain faith, too much addicted to his own interest, and held a most dangerous correspondence with the Persians, who then threatened the destruction of Greece.[7] Through envy and spite to Aristides, and to increase his own power, he raised dangerous factions in the city; and being summoned to render an account of his proceedings, he declined the judgment of his country, fled to their enemies, and justly deserved the sentence pronounc'd against him. Some among them were unjustly put to death, and above all Socrates; but the people, who, deceived by false witnesses (against whom neither the laws of God or man have ever prescrib'd a sufficient defence), had condemned him, did so much lament their crime, when the truth was discovered to them, that I doubt whether a more righteous judgment had given better testimony of their righteous intentions. But our author's impudence appears in the highest excess, in imputing the death of Phocion to the popular state of Athens: Their forces had been broken in the Sicilian War; the city taken, and the principal men slain by Lysander; the remains of the most worthy destroy'd by the thirty tyrants set up by him; their ill-recovered liberty overthrown by the Macedonians, and the death of Phocion compassed by Polyperchon, who with foreign soldiers, slaves, vagabonds, and outlaws, overpower'd the people.

The proceedings of Rome may be more compleatly justified: Coriolanus was duly condemn'd, he set too great a price upon his own valour, and arrogated to himself a power in Rome, which would hardly have been endur'd in Corioli: His violence and pride overbalanced his services; and he that would submit to no law, was justly driven out from the society which could subsist only by law. Quintius was not unlike him, and Manlius Capitolinus far worse than either. Their virtues were not to be consider'd when they departed from them. Consideration ought to be had of human frailty, and some indulgence may be extended to those who commit errors, after having done important services; but a state cannot subsist, which compensating evil actions with good, gives impunity to the most dangerous crimes, in remembrance of any services whatever. He that does well, performs his duty, and ought always to do so: Justice and prudence concur in this; and 'tis no less just than profitable, that every action be considered by itself, and such a reward or punishment allotted to it, as in nature and proportion it doth best deserve.

This, as I suppose, is enough for their cases; but relates not to those of Mamercus, Camillus, Livius Salinator, and Aemilius Paulus; their virtue was compleat, they were wrongfully sentenc'd. But the best princes, senate or people that ever was in the world, by the deceit of evil men, may and have been drawn out of the way of justice: Yet of all the states that are known to us, none was ever so free from crimes of malice and wilful injustice; none was ever guilty of so few errors as that of Rome; and none did ever give better testimonies of repentance, when they were discovered, than the Romans did by the veneration they shew'd to those worthy persons, and the honours they conferr'd upon them afterwards. Mamercus was made dictator, to repair the unjust mark of infamy laid upon him by the censors. Camillus being recall'd from his banishment, often enjoyed the same honour, and died the most reverenced man that had ever been in that city. Livius Salinator was not only made consul after he had been fined, but the people (as it were to expiate the guilt of having condemn'd him) suffer'd that asperity of speech and manners, which might have persuaded such as had been less confident of his virtue and their own, that he desir'd to be reveng'd, tho it were with the ruin of the city. They dealt in the like manner with Aemilius Paulus, repairing the injury of a fine unduly impos'd. Their generosity in leaving the tribunes in the forum, with their accusation against Scipio Africanus, and following him to celebrate an annual sacrifice in the capitol, in commemoration of his victory against Hannibal, was no less admirable than the greatness of his mind, who thought his virtue should be so well known, that no account ought to be expected from him; which was an error proceeding from a noble root, but not to be borne in a well-govern'd commonwealth.[8] The laws that aim at the publick good, make no distinction of persons; and none can be exempted from the penalties of them, otherwise than by approved innocence, which cannot appear without a trial: He that will not bend his mind to them, shakes off the equality of a citizen, and usurps a power above the law, to which no man submits upon any other condition, than that none should be exempted from the power of it. And Scipio being the first Roman that thus disdained the power of the law, I do not know whether the prejudice brought upon the city by so dangerous an example, did not outweigh all the services he had done: Nevertheless the people contented with his retirement to his own house, and afterwards convinc'd of his innocence, would probably (if he had not died in a few months) have brought him back with the honours that fate reserved for his ashes.

I do not at present remember any other eminent men, who can be said in any respect to have thrived ill, whilst the people and senate of Rome acted freely; and if this be not sufficient to clear the point, I desire to know the names of those worst men that thrived best. If they may have been judged to thrive, who were frequently advanced to the supreme magistracies, and enjoy'd the chief honours; I find no men so eminent as Brutus, Publicola, Quinctius Cincinnatus, and Capitolinus, the two Fabii surnamed Maximi, Corvinus, Torquatus, Camillus, and the like: and if these were the worst men that Rome produced in those ages, valour, wisdom, industry in the service of their country, and a most entire love to it must have been the worst of qualities; and I presume our author may have thought them so, since they were invincible obstacles to the introduction of that divine monarchy which Appius Claudius the decemvir, Manlius Capitolinus, Spurius Cassius, Sp. Maelius, and some others may be thought to have affected.

However, these instances are not to be understood as they are simply in themselves, but comparatively with what has happen'd in other places under absolute monarchies: for our inquiry is not after that which is perfect, well knowing that no such thing is found among men; but we seek that human constitution which is attended with the least, or the most pardonable inconveniences. And if we find that in the space of three hundred years, whilst the senate, people, and legally created magistrates governed Rome, not one worthy man was put to death, not above five or six condemned to fines by the beguiled people, and those injuries repair'd by the most honourable satisfaction that could be given; so that virtue continued ever flourishing; the best men that could be found were put into the chief commands, and the city was filled with more excellent men than were ever known to be in any other place: And on the other side, if the emperors so soon as the government was changed, made it their business to destroy the best, and so far succeeded in their design, that they left none; and never failed to advance the worst, unless it fell out as to Queen Catherine de Medici, who is said never to have done any good but by mistake, and some few may have proved better than was intended; it will appear, that our author's assertions are in the utmost degree false. Of this we need no better witness than Tacitus. The civil wars, and the proscriptions upon which he touches, are justly to be attributed to that monarchy which was then setting up, the only question being who should be the monarch, when the liberty was already overthrown. And if any eminent men escaped, it was much against the will of those who had usurped the power: He acknowledges his histories to be a continued relation of the slaughter of the most illustrious persons, and that in the times of which he writes, virtue was attended with certain destruction. After the death of Germanicus and his eldest children, Valerius Asiaticus, Seneca, Corbulo, and an infinite number more who were thought most to resemble them, found this to be true at the expence of their lives: Nero, in pursuance of the same tyrannical design, murder'd Helvidius and Thrasea, that he might tear up virtue by the roots:[9] Domitian spared none willingly that had either virtue or reputation; and tho Trajan, with perhaps some other, might grow up under him in the remote provinces, yet no good man could escape who came under his eye, and was so eminent as to be observed by him. Whilst these, who were thought to be the best men that appear'd in the Roman empire, did thrive in this manner, Sejanus, Macro, Narcissus, Pallas, Tigellinus, Icetus, Vinius, Laco, and others like to them, had the power of the empire in their hands. Therefore, unless mankind has been mistaken to this day, and that these, who have hitherto been accounted the worst of villains, were indeed the best men in the world, and that those destroy'd by them, who are thought to have been the best, were truly the worst, it cannot be denied that the best men, during the liberty of Rome, thrived best; that good men suffer'd no indignity, unless by some fraud imposed upon the well-meaning people; and that so soon as the liberty was subverted, the worst men thrived best. The best men were exposed to so many calamities and snares, that it was thought a matter of great wonder to see a virtuous man die in his bed: and if the account were well made, I think it might appear, that every one of the emperors before Titus shed more noble and innocent blood than Rome and all the commonwealths in the world have done whilst they had the free enjoyment of their own liberty. But if any man in favour of our author seek to diminish this vast disproportion between the two differing sorts of government, and impute the disorders that happen'd in the time of the Gracchi, and others, whilst Rome was struggling for her liberty, to the government of a commonwealth, he will find them no more to be compar'd with those that fell out afterwards, than the railings of a turbulent tribune against the senate, to the villainies and cruelties that corrupted and dispeopled the provinces from Babylon to Scotland: And whereas the state never fail'd to recover from any disorders, as long as the root of liberty remain'd untouch'd, and became more powerful and glorious than ever, even after the wars of Marius and Sulla; when that was destroy'd, the city fell into a languishing condition, and grew weaker and weaker, till that and the whole empire was ruin'd by the barbarians.

3. Our author, to shew that his memory is as good as his judgment, having represented Rome in the times of liberty as a publick slaughterhouse, soon after blames the clemency of their laws; whereas 'tis impossible that the same city could at the same time be guilty of those contrary extremities; and no less certain, that it was perfectly free from them both. His assertion seems to be grounded upon Caesar's speech (related by Sallust) in favour of Lentulus and Cethegus companions of Catiline:[10] but tho he there endeavoured to put the best colour he could upon their cause, it signified only thus much, that a Roman citizen could not be put to death, without being heard in publick; which law will displease none that in understanding and integrity may not be compared to Filmer and his followers. 'Tis a folly to extend it farther; for 'tis easily proved that there was always a power of putting citizens to death, and that it was exercised when occasion required. The laws were the same in the time of the kings, and when that office was executed by consuls, excepting such changes as are already mention'd. The lex perduellionis[11] cited by Livy in the case of Horatius who had kill'd his sister, continued in force from the foundation to the end of that government: the condemnation was to death, the words of the sentence these, caput obnubito, infelici arbore reste suspendito; verberato intra pomaerium vel extra pomaerium.[12] He was tried by this law upon an appeal made to the people by his father, and absolved admiratione magis virtutis quam jure causae;[13] which could not have been, if by the law no citizen might be put to death. The sons of Brutus were condemn'd to death in publick, and executed with the Aquilii and Vitellii their companions in the same conspiracy: Manlius Capitolinus was put to death by the vote of the people: Titus Manlius by the command of his father Torquatus, for fighting without order: Two legions were decimated by Appius Claudius: Spurius Maelius refusing to appear before the dictator, was killed by Servilius Ahala general of the horse, and pronounced jure caesum:[14] Quintus Fabius was by Papirius the dictator condemn'd to die, and could not have been saved but by the intercession and authority of the people. If this be not so, I desire to be informed what the senate meant by condemning Nero to be put to death more majorum,[15] if more majorum no citizen might be put to death: Why the consuls, dictators, military tribunes, decemviri, caused rods and axes to be carried before them, as well within as without the city, if no use was to be made of them. Were they only vain badges of a power never to be executed; or upon whom was the supreme power signified by them, to be exercised within and without the city, if the citizens were not subject to it? 'Tis strange that a man who had ever read a book of matters relating to the affairs of Rome, should fancy these things; or hope to impose them upon the world, if he knew them to be foolish, false, and absurd. But of all the marks of a most supine stupidity that can be given by a man, I know no one equal to this of our author, who in the same clause wherein he says no citizen could be put to death or banished, adds, that the magistrates were upon pain of death forbidden to do it; for if a magistrate might be put to death for banishing a citizen, or causing him to be executed, a citizen might be put to death; for the magistrates were not strangers, but citizens. If this was not so, he must think that no crime was capital, but the punishment of capital crimes; or that no man was subject to the supreme power, but he that was created for the execution of it. Yet even this will not stop the gap; for the law that condemned the magistrate to die, could be of no effect, if there were no man to execute it; and there could be none if the law prohibited it, or that he who did it was to die for it: And this goes on to infinity. For if a magistrate could not put a citizen to death, I suppose a citizen could not put to death a magistrate; for he also is a citizen. So that upon the whole matter we may conclude, that malice is blind, and that wickedness is madness. 'Tis hard to say more in praise of popular governments than will result from what he says against them: his reproaches are praises, and his praises reproaches. As government is instituted for the preservation of the governed, the Romans were sparing of blood, and are wisely commended by Livy for it: Nulli unquam populo mitiores placuere poenae;[16] which gentleness will never be blamed, unless by those who are pleased with nothing so much as the fury of those monsters, who with the ruin of the best part of mankind, usurp'd the dominion of that glorious city. But if the Romans were gentle in punishing offences, they were also diligent in preventing them: the excellence of their discipline led the youth to virtue, and the honours they received for recompence confirmed them in it. By this means many of them became laws to themselves; and they who were not the most excellent, were yet taught so much of good, that they had a veneration for those they could not equal, which not only served to incite them to do well according to their talents, but kept them in such awe as to fear incurring their ill opinion by any bad action, as much as by the penalty of the law. This integrity of manners made the laws as it were useless; and whilst they seemed to sleep, ignorant persons thought there were none: But their discipline being corrupted by prosperity, those vices came in which made way for the monarchy; and wickedness being placed in the throne, there was no safety for any but such as would be of the same spirit, and the empire was ruined by it.

[1] [Patriarcha, ch. 18.]

[2] [Xenophon, Hiero, dialogue between the poet Simonides (not Plato) and Hiero, tyrant of Syracuse in Sicily.]

[3] [Satraps were Persian provincial governors.]

[4] [Xenophon, Anabasis.]

[5] [Patriarcha, ch. 15.]

[6] [Dorians and Ionians were two ethnic branches of Greeks. Sparta was Doric, Athens Ionic.]

[7] Plut. in vita Themist. [Plutarch, Life of Themistocles.]

[8] T. Liv. [Livy, History of Rome, bk. 4, ch. 31 (Mamercus); bk. 7, ch. 1 (Camillus); bk. 27, ch. 34 and bk. 29, ch. 37 (Salinator); bk. 38, ch. 31 (Aemilius Paulus).]

[9] Ipsam exscindere virtutem. Tacit. [Tacitus, Annals, bk. 26, ch. 21.]

[10] Salust. Bell. Catilin. [Sallust, Catilinarian War, ch. 51.]

[11] []

[12] T. Liv. I. 1. [Livy, History of Rome, bk. 1, ch. 26.]

[13] [Ibid.]

[14] [Ibid.]

[15] [Tacitus, Annals. bk. 14, ch. 48.]

[16] [Livy, History of Rome, bk. 1, ch. 28.]