S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
But in all despotic governments, though a particular prince may favour arts and letters, there is a natural degeneracy of mankind, as you may observe from Augustuss reign, how the Romans lost themselves by degrees until they fell to an equality with the most barbarous nations that surrounded them. Look upon Greece under its free states, and you would think its inhabitants lived in different climates and under different heavens from those at present, so different are the geniuses which are formed under Turkish slavery, and Grecian liberty.
Besides poverty and want, there are other reasons that debase the minds of men who live under slavery, though I look on this as the principal. This natural tendency of despotic power to ignorance and barbarity, though not insisted upon by others, is, I think, an unanswerable argument against that form of government, as it shows how repugnant it is to the good of mankind, and the perfection of human nature, which ought to be the great ends of all civil institutions.
An honest private man often grows cruel and abandoned when converted into an absolute prince. Give a man power of doing what he pleases with impunity, you extinguish his fear, and consequently overturn in him one of the great pillars of morality. This too we find confirmed by matter of fact. How many hopeful heirs-apparent to grand empires, when in the possession of them have become such monsters of lust and cruelty as are a reproach to human nature!
The simplest form of government is despotism, where all the inferior orbs of power are moved merely by the will of the Supreme, and all that are subjected to them directed in the same manner, merely by the occasional will of the magistrate. This form, as it is the most simple, so it is infinitely the most general. Scarcely any part of the world is exempted from its power. And in those few places where men enjoy what they call liberty, it is continually in a tottering situation, and makes greater and greater strides to that gulf of despotism which at last swallows up every species of government.
Many of the greatest tyrants on the records of history have begun their reigns in the fairest manner. But the truth is, this unnatural power corrupts both the heart and the understanding. And to prevent the least hope of amendment, a king is ever surrounded by a crowd of infamous flatterers, who find their account in keeping him from the least light of reason, till all ideas of rectitude and justice are utterly erased from his mind.
In this kind of government human nature is not only abused and insulted, but it is actually degraded and sunk into a species of brutality. The consideration of this made Mr. Locke say, with great justice, that a government of this kind was worse than anarchy: indeed, it is so abhorred and detested by all who live under forms that have a milder appearance, that there is scarcely a rational man in Europe that would not prefer death to Asiatic despotism.
This distemper of remedy, grown habitual, relaxes and wears out, by a vulgar and prostituted use, the spring of that spirit which is to be exerted on great occasions. It was in the most patient period of Roman servitude that themes of tyrannicide made the ordinary exercise of boys at school,cum perimit sævos classis numerosa tyrannos.
That writer is too well read in men not to know how often the desire and design of a tyrannic domination lurks in the claim of an extravagant liberty. Perhaps in the beginning it always displays itself in that manner. No man has ever affected power which he did not hope from the favour of the existing government in any other mode.
The ordinary sophism by which misrule is defended is, when truly stated, this:The people must continue in slavery because slavery has generated in them all the vices of slaves. Because they are ignorant, they must remain under a power which has made and which keeps them ignorant. Because they have been made ferocious by misgovernment, they must be misgoverned forever. If the system under which they live were so mild and liberal that under its operation they had become humane and enlightened, it would be safe to venture on a change. But as this system has destroyed morality, and prevented the development of the intellect,as it has turned men, who might under different training have formed a virtuous and happy community, into savage and stupid wild beasts,therefore it ought to last forever.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Mirabeau, July, 1832.
Whoever argues in defence of absolute power in a single person, though he offers the old plausible plea that it is his opinion, which he cannot help unless he be convinced, ought to be treated as the common enemy of mankind.