Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
The Basis of Social Order
By Algernon Sidney (16231683)
From Discourses on Government
THE WEAKNESS in which we are born renders us unable to attain the good of ourselves: we want help in all things, especially in the greatest. The fierce barbarity of a loose multitude, bound by no law, and regulated by no discipline, is wholly repugnant to it. Whilst every man fears his neighbour, and has no other defence than his own strength, he must live in that perpetual anxiety, which is equally contrary to that happiness, and that sedate temper of mind, which is required for the search of it. The first step towards the cure of this pestilent evil is for many to join in one body, that every one may be protected by the united force of all; and the various talents that men possess, may by good discipline be rendered useful to the whole: as the meanest piece of wood or stone, being placed by a wise architect, conduces to the beauty of the most glorious building. But every man bearing in his own breast affections, passions, and vices, repugnant to this end, and no man owing any submission to his neighbour, none will subject the correction or restriction of themselves to another, unless he also submit to the same rule. They are rough pieces of timber or stone, which it is necessary to cleave, saw, or cut: this is the work of a skilful builder, and he only is capable of erecting a great fabric, who is so. Magistrates are political architects; and they only can perform the work incumbent on them, who excel in political virtues. Nature, in variously framing the minds of men, according to the variety of uses, in which they may be employed, in order to the institution and preservation of civil societies, must be our guide, in allotting to every one his proper work. And Plato, observing this variety, affirms that the laws of nature cannot be more absurdly violated than by giving the government of a people to such as do not excel others in those arts and virtues that tend to the ultimate ends for which governments are instituted. And this means those who are slaves by nature, or rendered so by their vices, as often set above those that God and nature had fitted for the highest commands; and societies, which subsist only by order, fall into corruption, when all order is so preposterously inverted.