Coeur de Noir (ravens_hearth) wrote in freestate,
Coeur de Noir

Excerpts from "Cato's Letters"

"All men are born free; Liberty is a gift which they receive from God himself; nor can they alienate the same by consent, though possibly they may forfeit it by crimes. . . . The right of the magistrate arises only from the right of private men to defend themselves, to repel injuries, and to punish those who commit them: that right being conveyed by the society to their public representative, he can execute the same no further than the benefit and security of that society requires he should. When he exceeds his commission, his acts are as extrajudicial as are those of any private officer usurping an unlawful authority; that is, they are void; and every man is answerable for the wrong which he does. A power to do good can never become a warrant for doing evil."

"Indeed, liberty is the divine source of all human happiness. To possess, in security, the effects of our industry, is the most powerful and reasonable incitement to be industrious: And to be able to provide for our children, and to leave them all that we have, is the best motive to beget them. But where property is precarious, labour will languish. The privileges of thinking, saying, and doing what we please, and of growing as rich as we can, without any other restriction, than that by all this we hurt not the public, nor one another, are the glorious privileges of liberty; and its effects, to live in freedom, plenty, and safety."

"It is a mistaken notion in government, that the interest of the majority is only to be consulted, since in society every man has a right to everyman's assistance in the enjoyment and defense of his private property; otherwise the greater number may sell the lesser, and divide their estates amongst themselves; and so, instead of a society, where all peaceable men are protected, become a conspiracy of the many against a minority. With as much equity may one man wantonly dispose of all, and violence may be sanctified by mere Power."

"Only the checks put upon magistrates make nations free; and only the want of such makes them slaves. They are free, where their magistrates are confined within certain bounds set them by the people. . . . And they are slaves, where the magistrates choose their own rules, and follow their lust and humours; than which a more dreadful curse can befall no people. . . and therefore most nations in the world are undone, and those nations only who bridle their governors do not wear chains."

"We know, by infinite examples and experience, that men possessed of Power, rather than part with it, will do any thing, even the worst and the blackest to keep it; and scarce ever any man upon earth went out of it as long as he could carry everything his own way in it. . . . This seems certain, that the good of the world, or of their people, was not one of their motives either for continuing in Power, or for quitting it. It is the nature of Power to be ever encroaching, and converting every extraordinary power, granted at particular times, and upon particular occasions, into an ordinary power, to be used at all times, and when there is no occasion; nor does it ever part willingly with any advantage."

“Tyrants . . . reduce mankind to the condition of brutes, and make that Reason, which God gave them, useless to them: They deprive them even of the blessings of nature, starve them in the midst of plenty, and frustrate the natural bounty of the earth to men; so that Nature smiles in vain where tyranny frowns: The very hands of men, given them by Nature for their support, are turned by tyrants into the instruments of their misery, by being employed in vile drudgeries or destructive wars, to gratify the lust and vanity of their execrable lords. . . .
Tyrants . . . are supported by general ruin’ they live by the destruction of mankind; and as fraud and villainy, and every species or violence and cruelty, are the props of their throne; so they measure their own happiness, and security, and strength, by the misery and weakness of their people. . . . That wealth, which dispersed amongst their subjects, and circulated in trade and commerce, would employ, increase, and enrich them . . . is barbarously robbed from the people, and engrossed by these their oppressors. . . .
Alas! Power encroaches daily upon Liberty, with a success too evident; and the balance between hem is almost lost. Tyranny has engrossed almost the whole earth, and striking at mankind root and branch, makes the world a slaughterhouse; and will certainly go on to destroy, till it is either destroyed itself, or, which is most likely, has left nothing else to destroy.”

“There has always such a constant and certain fund of corruption and malignity in human nature, that is has been rare to find that man, whose views and happiness did not center in the gratification of his appetites, and worse appetites, his luxury, his pride, his avarice, and lust of power, and who considered any public trust reposed in him, with any other view, than as the means to satiate such unruly and dangerous desires! And this has been most eminently true of Great Men, and those who aspired to dominion. They were first made great for the sake of the public, and afterwards at its expense. And if they had been content to have been moderate traitors, mankind would have been still moderately happy; but their ambition and treason observing no degrees, there was no degree of vileness and misery which the poor people did not feel.
The appetites therefore of men, especially of Great Men, are carefully to be observed and stayed, or else they will never stat themselves. The experience of every age convinces us, that we must not judge of men by what they ought to do, but by what they will do; and all history affords but few instances of men trusted with great power without abusing it, when with security they could.”

“It is foolish to say, that this doctrine can be mischievous to society, at least in any proportion to the wild ruin and fatal calamities which must befall, and do befall the world, when the contrary doctrine is maintained: For, all bodies of men subsisting upon their own substance, or upon the profits of their trade and industry, find their account so much in ease and peace, and have justly such terrible apprehensions of civil disorders, which destroy everything that they enjoy; that they always bear a thousand injuries before they return one, and stand under the burdens as long as they can bear them. . . .
What with the force of education, and the reverence which people are taught, and have been always used to pay to princes; what with the perpetual harangues of flatterers, the gaudy pageantry and outside of Power, and its gilded ensigns, always glittering in their eyes; what with the execution of the laws in the sole power of the prince; what with all the regular magistrates, pompous guards and standing troops, with the fortified towns, the artillery, and all the magazines of war, at his disposal; besides large revenues, and multitudes of followers and dependents, to support and abet all that he does: Obedience to authority is so well secured, that it is wild to imagine, that any number of men, formidable enough to disturb a settled State, can unite together and hope to overturn it, till the public grievances are so enormous, the oppression so great, and the disaffection so universal, that there can be no question remaining, whether their calamities to be real or imaginary, and whether the magistrate has protected or endeavoured to destroy his people.”

--John Trenchard & Thomas Gordon, written 1720 - 1723
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