Superphysics Superphysics
Essay 5

Origin of Governments: Obedience, Justice, Liberty

by David Hume
5 minutes  • 898 words
Table of contents

A man, who is born in a family, is compelled to maintain society from:

  • necessity
  • natural inclination, and
  • habit

To further progress, he establishes political society in order to administer justice. Without justice, there can be no peace, safety, nor mutual intercourse among them. Therefore, the only purpose of the vast apparatus of our government is to distribute justice, or, in other words, support the 12 judges.

The following are needed for their part of administration:

  • kings and parliaments
  • fleets and armies
  • officers of the court and revenue
  • ambassadors
  • ministers
  • privy-counsellors

The clergy’s duty is to inculcate morality. Other than that, they have no use.

All men know the necessity of:

  • justice to maintain peace and order.
  • peace and order to maintain society.

Despite this strong and obvious necessity, it is impossible to keep men faithfully within justice.

People are usually tempted to get immediate but unlawful gain. This great weakness is incurable in human nature. Men must, therefore, try to palliate what they cannot cure.

They must institute some persons, called magistrates, whose peculiar job is to:

  • point out the decrees of equity
  • punish transgressors
  • correct fraud and violence
  • oblige men, however reluctant, to consult their own real and permanent interests.

Thus, Obedience is a new duty invented to support Justice.

From their very nature, the factitious duty of obedience and the primitive duty of justice have a feeble hold on the human mind. Peculiar interests may overcome either or both.

  • The bad neighbour must be led by his selfish interest to be a bad citizen.
  • The magistrate himself might be negligent, partial, or unjust.

Experience, however, proves, that there is between the cases.

However, there is a great difference between the importance of obedience and that of justice.

The order in society is much better maintained by a government than be private people. Our duty to the magistrate is more natural than our duty to our fellow-citizens.

The love of dominion is so strong. This causes disorders which lead people to need the impartial administration of justice. Those people who become the first administrators by the people’s consent must have superior valour, force, integrity, or prudence – these command respect and confidence.

After government is established, a regard to birth, rank, and station has a mighty influence over men, and enforces the decrees of the magistrate. The leader exclaims against every disorder.

  • He summons all his partizans and all men of probity to help him correct it.
  • He is readily followed by people in this.
  • He soon acquires the power of rewarding these services.
  • In time, he establishes subordinate ministers and a military force who an immediate interest to support his authority.
  • Habit soon turns this interest into obedience.
  • Once used to obedience, men never think of departing from this path.

Obedience naturally supports justice. However, men are not expected to discover their connection beforehand, or foresee how they work. Normally, government commences more casually and more imperfectly.

The leadership of one man over many probably began during a state of war, where:

  • the superiority of courage and genius is seen,
  • the unanimity and concert are most needed, and
  • the pernicious effects of disorder are most sensibly felt.

War is common among savage tribes. Its long continuance forced the people to submission. The chieftain the arbiter if had much equity, prudence, and valour. He could gradually establish his authority by mixting force and consent.

This gave benefit to the people. If his son had the same good qualities, government advanced to maturity and perfection. But it was still in a feeble state, until the magistrate had a revenue. This would enable him to:

  • give rewards, and
  • inflict punishments Before that period, each exertion of his influence must have been particular, and founded on the peculiar circumstances.

After that, submission was no longer a matter of choice. Instead, it was exacted by the authority of the supreme magistrate.

There is a perpetual struggle between Authority and Liberty in all governments. Neither of them can ever absolutely prevail. A great sacrifice of liberty must necessarily be made in every government.

Yet even the authority which confines liberty can never and should never become absolute.

  • The sultan is master of the life and fortune of any individual. But he will not be permitted to impose new taxes on his subjects.
  • A French monarch can impose taxes at pleasure. But it is dangerous for him to attempt the lives and fortunes of individuals.

In most countries, religion is also commonly a very intractable principle. Other principles or prejudices frequently resist all the authority of the civil magistrate. The civil magistrate’s power is founded on opinion.

It can never subvert other opinions, equally rooted with that of his title to dominion.

Perfect liberty is the separation of powers under an authority, with the laws known to all

A government is free if:

  • it splits power among several members and their united authority is greater or equal to the monarch,
  • its members act according to general and equal laws that are known to all the members and their subjects.

In this sense, liberty is the perfection of civil society. But still, authority is essential to its very existence.

Authority might challenge liberty because of the constant disputes that it creates.

This can be done when the authority to preserve society challenged by the liberty which only adds to the perfection of government.

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