Paradox I

 That an absolute Tyranny is the best Government.

Since that power is the very life and essence of every government, and those governments are the most perfect, that have the most power, and that that power is most intense, which resides in one, and more weak and faint which is dispersed among a many, since that all people hate to be governed by their equals, and therefore chose to put themselves under an umpire, it must needs follow that lordly or absolute monarchy is the best and most natural government. For if all governments, if they do not at first begin with monarchy, yet in process of time they grow up from republics[1] into monarchies as into more perfect estates, and all monarchies turn into tyrannies, after a very little time, why may we not infer that all other governments are imperfect species till they be consummated and made tyrannical?

If we conceive that most correspondent to the law of nature, which most nations do agree in (though in other things they dissent) and that we see upon all the globe very few and little republics, but many and vast kingdoms, we may deduce from thence that most people do desire to be under the sway of one, who, if he be not endued with a supreme and unlimited power, is rather their servant than their prince, and it is but ridiculous to think that so great a part of mankind, would be content to obey their slaves.

Nor doth it proceed from cowardice: for we see the old and modern Persians, the stoutest septentrional Nations, the Turks, Scithians, and Muscovites at this day pride themselves so much in this government that they adore their emperors as gods. Nor doth it proceed from stupidity, for the wisest and politest[2] nations have embraced it, and though some politicians have termed it but the privation[3] or disease of government, yet[4] many more have accounted it the only[5] best way of rule, and that from the course and order of nature, which in every kind forms a supremacy, as the eagle among birds, the lion among beasts, the vine among vegetables,[6] and the ruby among stones. Nay, and divines of all sorts (except some Jesuits[7] and Independents[8]) unanimously conclude that all government must be obeyed without resistance. Now they assume that royalty is the only government that God hath ordained and is pleased with – kings being ectypes of him and bearing his name – and therefore they ought to be obeyed without resistance, and none ought to lift their hands against them. Now if none ought to be the least disobedient, and that rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, they invest an absolute power in them who they say are not to be controlled, for if they might be controlled, it should be for the imposition of some unjust commands, which, if subjects might actually disobey and call to account, all the world would be filled with confusion and rebellion. But, say they, kings are only answerable to God whose vicegerents they are, and not subordinate to any human power, and above all law, which evinced, whatsoever they do is lawful and not examinable.

Besides, what more contrary to the ease and order of the people than the multiplicity of laws, litigious interpretations of them, and obstreperous lawyers? But all this is cut off and saved, when the fountain of law is in one breast, and the people may presently know the resolution and interpretation from one that cannot do wrong. For all law being in the king, and he by maxim not capable of doing any wrong, whatever he doth must be just and right; and what greater happiness to a people than granting them speedy justice?

The proportion of every man’s spirit may be measured by his wishes. Now the greatest souls aim at nothing so much as at rule, and at no rule in comparison of that over men. Now, if virtue and excellent endowments cannot be truly rewarded with anything that is evil, and nature never teaches any man useless inclinations, it must follow that superiority seems to be set as a whetstone and reward of virtue. And what soul would not disdain to govern, where he is pounded up with servile restrictions, and limited by those who were borne to obey him? Caesar chose rather to be the first of a village than the second in Rome; and would not he, think we, choose rather to have been Duke of one street of Florence than a ridiculous[9] pageant to all the[10] dominion of Venice?

Now, for the happiness of a state, what better way to it than peace, and what better way of preservation of peace, than by having continually ready armed force, which may quell every insurrection, and stifle it in the birth, and yet serve for outward magnificence and attendance upon the prince? What better plantation[11] of wealth than to have a court entertained with all delights and glittering in all the spoils both of the sea and mines, and as it were triumphing in all the productions and curiosities of art? And yet this without princes courts is vainly expected.

Rome had never known Nero’s golden house, had it not been for Nero; nor the great Arch, had Trajan never lived; nor had Spain ever dreamt of an Escorial,[12] if it[13] had wanted a Philip. And yet these things[14] are among their chiefest and lasting glories. Besides what better way to keep a kingdom quiet than by employing the poorer sort of people, upon such works as the prince shall either fancy or delight in? Thus we see the pyramids at this day remaining, the fame of the place whereon they stand. And we read of the Horti pensiles of Babilon et cetera, none of which had ever been done or known, had not the care and noble wisdom of the king employed the people that way, who else might have sunk into luxury, or snorted themselves into implacable enmities.

Besides, all the wisdom of the politicians could never shape out but three kinds of government: democracy, which is nothing but dregs and confusion, and an audacious licence to do everything, and indeed an interstice of government rather than government; aristocracy, when only the nobles have the reign in their hands and are so apt to burst into factions that it could not thrive nor prosper anywhere; Aristotle indeed in his Politics mentions some few obscure ones, and we know but one extant at this day; and monarchy, which is the only perfect system of government, which indeed includes optimacy within itself; for a prince must have counsellors, who if they were guardians to him, and might impose their advice, what a repugnant, inconsistent, contrary thing were a monarch to himself. But, if the last judgement of everything be to be left to him, and no man can so absolutely rule his understanding, but that it must be somewhat swayed and biased by his will, it will follow that it is necessary to the very essence of a prince to have his own will free and uncontrollable, and then what a poor thing is a prince, if he be not obeyed!

Besides, since all particulars do ascend and dissolve into universals, there must among so many private fathers, be one public father, to be the great archetype of all the rest. And if private fathers have such entire authority over their sons – nay which the Romans and some wise nations had power of life and death over their children – it is but equitable that public fathers should have analogical authority over those who stand bound to them in that relation.

You will say, they may be vicious persons. But their vices are only as private men, and cannot render them in their public capacity either less just or less skilful. Besides, they stand open to the eyes and envy of all men, and so every little slip of theirs may be observed and blazed, which, if they had been private persons, had been as obscure as midnight. Or put the case their vices be high and big, they seldom want superior virtues to cloud and shadow them. For everything being in great and high souls excessive, it is impossible for them to keep a mediocrity in their vices, which are commonly illustriously great, and rather matter of observation than hate or scorn: for the grandeza[15] and gayety of them exempt[16] them from those poor ridiculous consequences which fall on the slips of more mean and sordid natures.

And you will say, they may be ravenous: great fires must have great store of fuel great magnificences that cannot stoop to thrift, must stray to gain, and who should better supply the head with spirits than the lower parts of the same body? Besides, the public loss is nothing all this while, for it is in the same country, only gathered into one hand and gloriously spent, whereas otherwise it might have been insensibly misled away in a many, and princes what they draw up from their subjects in vapours, they return down to them in showers and enrich and fatten the places where ever they reside.

And in case they sometimes fall heavy on private persons, it is but exercising that severity which the law provides against vice, and then it is work of excellent justice. Or if happily the parties be innocent and blameless, we should account him but a bad citizen that would not redeem a public burden with his own private sufferings and cheerfully resign up his estate when the commonwealth should either gain or save so much by it.

But then, you may object, they are usurpers, no man envies reward to danger, and what greater danger than for a man with all his relations and interests to encounter a present power, which if they overthrow, it is fit they should enjoy the fruits of it? And then coming by this means engages them to a great wariness, and to many flatteries and obligations of the people, which otherwise they would have neglected. And they must also walk providently, least they leave holes for others to creep in at upon them, as they did upon their predecessors, withal it hath been known that a many princes have sweetened and disguised the memory of their access to government by making many excellent laws and provisions in their several dominions, which hereditary and successive princes (confident of their titles and strengthened by the stock of their ancestors reputation) either omit, to do the contrary.

You will say further that the rays of these suns will but quicken bad humours and beget abundance of insecta and monsters, and among all monsters none so eminently evil as flatterers and favourites. But I pray you, will you not give people that do great things leave to enjoy the poorest reward the relation and report of them? Or in case they did nothing memorable, would you not allow them that groan under the burden of public affairs so small a diversion and entertainment as flattery? Which indeed, soberly considered, is so necessary to allay the miseries of life that the most unfortunate men, when[17] they[18] want others to do it to them, do it for themselves, and pleasantly chase away all ugly thoughts and ideas by their happy feeding themselves with a few lovely dreams.

For favourites, will you deny them the privilege of private persons to make choice of their own privados?[19] Or if you suffer them to make choice, will you strangle their friendships, denying a mutual interchange and correspondence of courtesies? Or will you be so injurious to good parts, as where you see them anywhere brightly break forth deny to entertain them? And what more powerful provocation of virtue than the aim and design of the particular affections and endearments of a prince, which seldom pitch[20] in any body wherein they do not find somewhat like themselves, that is, divine?

In a word, since the very heathens could see that royalty streamed forth immediately from Jove himself, and that royalty is but a dull languid thing if it be clogged with the least restriction, that monarchy which enjoys the most perfect liberty is the most majestic and excellent and is clothed with the greatest abundance of names and attributes. And since duality is the very damn of division and the utter destroyer of all prerogative, it is but just that all sovereignty reside in one. And even those philosophers which stand most stoutly for the infinity of worlds do also consent and acknowledge that there is but one God.



[1] republciks A27 B27 C27

[2] politeſt A74 B74] ☞ most ☜ politick C74

[3] privation A78 C78] privalian B78

[4] yet A79 C79 by B79]

[5] only A81 C81 onely B81]

[6] Vegetables A89 C89 the tables B89]

[7] J*ſuits A93] Jeſuits B93] Jeſuits C93

[8] People advocating Independency, i.e., a system in which churches were independent of external authorities. Such vision had regained momenum in the 1640s and was reflected in Parliament, where the Independents formed a substantial group against a national church.

[9] ***ous A190] *idiculous B190] ridiculous C190

[10] ***e A191] all the B191] all the C191 (probably a handwritten correction)

[11] plentation A207 B207] plantation C207 (probably a handwritten correction)

[12] Eſicuriall A225] Epicuriall B225] Eſtcuriall C225; both variants in A and C are corrected in the errata page as “eſcurial”.

[13] he A226 B226] it C226

[14] The word “these” is added in the corrigenda of A and C; things A227 B227] ☞ these ☜ things C227

[15] “Grandeur, greatness, magnificence” (OED, s.v.)

[16] The verb in A, B and C is here in the singular probably because “grandeza” and “gayety” are treated as a hendiadys.

[17] whey A472 B472] whey C472; in C the last letter is probaly corrected by hand into “n”, in line with the corrigenda at the end of the volume.

[18] The catchword anticipating this word has a typo in both A and B: then A471 B471]. In C the catchword is correct, probably as a result of a handwritten correction.

[19] “Intimate private friend or confident” (OED s.v.).

[20] pith A504 B504] pitch C504