IN the preceding divisions of this work the ground has been sufficiently
cleared to enable us to proceed, with considerable explicitness and
satisfaction, to the practical detail: in other words, to attempt the
tracing out that application of the laws of general justice which may
best conduce to the gradual improvement of mankind.
It has appeared that an enquiry concerning the principles and conduct of
social intercourse is the most important topic upon which the mind of
man can be exercised;1 that, upon these principles, well or ill
conceived, and the manner in which they are administered, the vices and
virtues of individuals depend;2 that political institution, to be good,
must have constant relation to the rules of immutable justice;3 and that
those rules, uniform in their nature, are equally applicable to the
whole human race.4
The different topics of political institution cannot perhaps be more
perspicuously distributed than under the four following heads:
provisions for general administration; provisions for the intellectual
and moral improvement of individuals; provisions for the administration
of criminal justice; and provisions for the regulation of property.
Under each of these heads it will be our business, in proportion as we
adhere to the great and cornprehensivc principles already established,
rather to clear away abuses than to recommend further and more precise
regulations, rather to simplify than to complicate. Above all we should
not forget that government is, abstractedly taken, an evil, an
usurpation upon the private judgement and individual conscience of
mankind; and that, however we may be obliged to admit it as a necessary
evil for the present, it behoves us, as the friends of reason and the
human species, to admit as little of it as possible, and carefully to
observe, whether, in consequence of the gradual illumination of the
human mind, that little may not hereafter be diminished.
And first we are to consider the different provisions that may be
made for general administration; including, under the phrase general
administration, all that shall be found necessary, of what has usually
been denominated, legislative and executive power. Legislation has
already appeared to be a term not applicable to human society.5 Men
cannot do more than declare and interpret law; nor can there be an
authority so paramount as to have the prerogative of making that to be
law which abstract and immutable justice had not made to be law
previously to that interposition. But it might, notwithstanding this, be
found necessary that there should be an authority empowered to declare
those general principles, by which the equity of the community will be
regulated, in particular cases upon which it may be compelled to decide.
The question concerning the reality and extent of this necessity, it is
proper to reserve for after considerations.6 Executive power
consists of two very distinct parts: general deliberations relative to
particular emergencies, which, so far as practicability is concerned,
may be exercised either by one individual or a body of individuals, such
as peace and war, taxation,7 and the selection of proper periods for
convoking deliberative assemblies: and particular functions, such as
those of financial detail, or minute superintendence, which cannot be
exercised unless by one or a small number of persons.
In reviewing these several branches of authority, and considering the persons to whom they may be most properly confided, we cannot perhaps do better than adopt the ordinary distribution of forms of government into monarchy, aristocracy and democracy. Under each of these heads we may enquire into the merits of their respective principles, first absolutely, and upon the hypothesis of their standing singly for the whole administration; and secondly, in a limited view, upon the supposition of their constituting one branch only of the system of government. It is usually alike incident to them all, to confide the minuter branches of executive detail to inferior agents.
One thing more it is necessary to premise. The merits of each of the
three heads I have enumerated are to be considered negatively. The
corporate duties of mankind are the result of their irregularities and
follies in their individual capacity. If they had no imperfection, or if
men were so constituted, as to be sufficiently, and sufficiently early,
coffected by persuasion alone, society would cease from its functions.
Of consequence, of the three forms of government, and their
compositions, that is the best which shall least impede the activity and
application of our intellectual powers. It was in the recollection of
this truth that I have preferred the term political institution to that
of government, the former appearing to be sufficiently expressive of
that relative form, whatever it be, into which individuals would fall,
when there was no need of force to direct them into their proper
channel, and were no refractory members to correct.
Book II, Chap. II.
Book I., Chap. VI, VII.
Book III, Chap. VII. Book II.
Book 111, Chap. V.
Book VII, Chap. VIII.
I state the article of taxation as a branch of executive government, since it is not, like law or the declaration of law, a promulgating of some general principle, but is a temporary regulation for some particular emergence.