Discources Concerning Government (Excerpts)


Discourses Concerning Government (Excerpts)

 By Algernon Sidney


[Sidney, Algernon. Discourses Concerning Government. Edited by Thomas G. West. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund. 1996. 9/26/2016. http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/223. Used with permission of the Online Library of Liberty. Chapter 1, Sections 1, 2, 10, 11, 18; Chapter 2, Sections 1, 3, 5, 20; Chapter 3, Sections 9,  11, 33.]

Numbers in brackets within the text refer to page numbers in the Liberty Fund’s text of the Discourses. Text in single brackets are other insertions of the Liberty Fund. Text in double brackets are insertions of this site’s editor.



 SECTION 1: Introduction.

Having lately seen a book entitled Patriarcha,[1] written by Sir Robert Filmer, concerning the universal and undistinguished right of all kings, I thought a time of leisure might be well employed in examining his doctrine, and the questions arising from it; which seem so far to concern all mankind, that, besides the influence upon our future life, they may be said to comprehend all that in this world deserves to be cared for. If he say true, there is but one government in the world that can have anything of justice in it: and those who have hitherto been esteemed the best and wisest of men, for having constituted commonwealths [6] or kingdoms; and taken much pains so to proportion the powers of several magistracies, that they might all concur in procuring the publick good; or so to divide the powers between the magistrates and people, that a well-regulated harmony might be preserved in the whole, were the most unjust and foolish of all men. They were not builders, but overthrowers of governments: Their business was to set up aristocratical, democratical or mixed governments, in opposition to that monarchy which by the immutable laws of God and nature is imposed upon mankind; or presumptuously to put shackles upon the monarch, who by the same laws is to be absolute and uncontrolled: They were rebellious and disobedient sons, who rose up against their father; and not only refused to hearken to his voice, but made him bend to their will. In their opinion, such only deserved to be called good men, who endeavoured to be good to mankind; or to that country to which they were more particularly related: and in as much as that good consists in a felicity of estate, and perfection of person, they highly valued such as had endeavoured to make men better, wiser and happier. This they understood to be the end for which men enter’d into societies: And, tho Cicero says, that commonwealths were instituted for the obtaining of justice, he contradicts them not, but comprehends all in that word; because ’tis just that whosoever receives a power, should employ it wholly for the accomplishment of the ends for which it was given. This work could be performed only by such as excelled in virtue; but lest they should deflect from it, no government was thought to be well constituted, unless the laws prevailed above the commands of men;[2] and they were accounted as the worst of beasts, who did not prefer such a condition before a subjection to the fluctuating and irregular will of a man.

If we believe Sir Robert, all this is mistaken. Nothing of this kind was ever left to the choice of men. They are not to enquire what conduces to their own good: God and nature have put us into a way from which we are not to swerve: We are not to live to him, nor to ourselves, but to the master that he hath set over us. One government is established over all, and no limits can be set to the power of the person that manages it. This is the prerogative, or, as another author of the same stamp calls it, the Royal Charter granted to kings by God. They all have an equal right to it; women and children are patriarchs; and the next in blood, without any regard to age, sex, or other qualities of the mind or body, are fathers [7] of as many nations as fall under their power. We are not to examine, whether he or she be young or old, virtuous or vicious, sober minded or stark mad; the right and power is the same in all. Whether virtue be exalted or suppressed; whether he that bears the sword be a praise to those that do well, and a terror to those that do evil; or a praise to those that do evil, and a terror to such as do well, it concerns us not; for the king must not lose his right, nor have his power diminished on any account. I have been sometimes apt to wonder, how things of this nature could enter into the head of any man: Or, if no wickedness or folly be so great, but some may fall into it, I could not well conceive why they should publish it to the world. But these thoughts ceased, when I considered that a people from all ages in love with liberty, and desirous to maintain their own privileges, could never be brought to resign them, unless they were made to believe that in conscience they ought to do it; which could not be, unless they were also persuaded to believe, that there was a law set to all mankind which none might transgress, and which put the examination of all those matters out of their power. This is our author’s work. By this it will appear whose throne he seeks to advance, and whose servant he is, whilst he pretends to serve the king. And that it may be evident he hath made use of means suitable to the ends proposed for the service of his great master, I hope to shew that he hath not used one argument that is not false, nor cited one author whom he hath not perverted and abused. Whilst my work is so to lay open these snares that the most simple may not be taken in them, I shall not examine how Sir Robert came to think himself a man fit to undertake so great a work, as to destroy the principles, which from the beginning seem to have been common to all mankind; but only weighing the positions and arguments that he allegeth, will, if there be either truth or strength in them, confess the discovery comes from him that gave us least reason to expect it, and that in spite of the ancients, there is not in the world a piece of wood out of which a Mercury may not be made.[3]


SECTION 2: The common Notions of Liberty are not from School Divines, but from Nature.

In the first lines of his book he seems to denounce war against mankind, endeavouring to overthrow the principle of liberty in which God created us, and which includes the chief advantages of the life we enjoy, as well as the greatest helps towards the felicity, that is the end of our hopes in the other. To this end he absurdly imputes to the School[4] divines[5] that which was taken up by them as a common notion, written in the heart of every man, denied by none, but such as were degenerated into beasts, from whence they might prove such points as of themselves were less evident.[6] Thus did Euclid lay down certain axioms, which none could deny that did not renounce common sense, from whence he drew the proofs of such propositions as were less obvious to the understanding; and they may with as much reason be accused of paganism, who say that the whole is greater than a part, that two halfs make the whole, or that a straight line is the shortest way from point to point, as to say, that they who in politicks lay such foundations, as have been taken up by Schoolmen and others as undeniable truths, do therefore follow them, or have any regard to their authority. Tho the Schoolmen were corrupt, they were neither stupid nor unlearned: They could not but see that which all men saw, nor lay more approved foundations, than, that man is naturally free; that he cannot justly be deprived of that liberty without cause, and that he doth not resign it, or any part of it, unless it be in consideration of a greater good, which he proposes to himself. But if he doth unjustly impute the invention of this to School divines, he in some measure repairs his fault in saying, This hath been fostered by all succeeding papists for good divinity: The divines of the reformed churches have entertained it, and the common people everywhere tenderly embrace it. That is to say, all Christian divines, whether reformed or unreformed, do approve it, and the people everywhere magnify it, as the height of human felicity. But Filmer and such as are like to him, being neither reformed nor unreformed Christians, nor of the people, can have no title to Christianity; and, in as much as they set themselves against that which is the height of human felicity, they declare themselves enemies to all that are concern’d in it, that is, to all mankind.

But, says he, They do not remember that the desire of liberty was the first [9] cause of the fall of man: and I desire it may not be forgotten, that the liberty asserted is not a licentiousness of doing what is pleasing to everyone against the command of God; but an exemption from all human laws, to which they have not given their assent. If he would make us believe there was anything of this in Adam’s sin, he ought to have proved, that the law which he transgressed was imposed upon him by man, and consequently that there was a man to impose it; for it will easily appear that neither the reformed or unreformed divines, nor the people following them, do place the felicity of man in an exemption from the laws of God, but in a most perfect conformity to them. Our Saviour taught us not to fear such as could kill the body, but him that could kill and cast into hell: And the Apostle tells us that we should obey God rather than man.[7] It hath been ever hereupon observed, that they who most precisely adhere to the laws of God, are least solicitous concerning the commands of men, unless they are well grounded; and those who most delight in the glorious liberty of the sons of God,[8] do not only subject themselves to him, but are most regular observers of the just ordinances of man, made by the consent of such as are concerned according to the will of God.

. . .


SECTION 10: Such as enter into Society, must in some degree diminish their Liberty.

Reason leads . . . to this: No one man or family is able to provide that which is requisite for their convenience or security, whilst everyone has an equal right to everything, and none acknowledges a superior to determine the controversies, that upon such occasions must continually arise, and will probably be so many and great, that mankind cannot bear them. Therefore tho I do not believe that Bellarmine said, a commonwealth could not exercise its power;[9] for he could not be ignorant, that Rome and Athens did exercise theirs, and that all the regular kingdoms in the world are commonwealths; yet there is nothing of absurdity in saying, that man cannot continue in the perpetual and entire fruition of the liberty that God hath given him. The liberty of one is thwarted by that of another; and whilst they are all equal, none will yield to any, otherwise than by a general consent. This is the ground of all [31] just governments; for violence or fraud can create no right; and the same consent gives the form to them all, how much soever they differ from each other. Some small numbers of men, living within the precincts of one city, have, as it were, cast into a common stock, the right which they had of governing themselves and children, and by common consent joining in one body, exercised such power over every single person as seemed beneficial to the whole; and this men call perfect democracy. Others chose rather to be governed by a select number of such as most excelled in wisdom and virtue; and this, according to the signification of the word, was called aristocracy: Or when one man excelled all others, the government was put into his hands under the name of monarchy. But the wisest, best, and far the greatest part of mankind, rejecting these simple species, did form governments mixed or composed of the three, as shall be proved hereafter, which commonly received their respective denomination from the part that prevailed, and did deserve praise or blame, as they were well or ill proportioned.

It were a folly hereupon to say, that the liberty for which we contend, is of no use to us, since we cannot endure the solitude, barbarity, weakness, want, misery and dangers that accompany it whilst we live alone, nor can enter into a society without resigning it; for the choice of that society, and the liberty of framing it according to our own wills, for our own good, is all we seek. This remains to us whilst we form governments, that we ourselves are judges how far ’tis good for us to recede from our natural liberty; which is of so great importance, that from thence only we can know whether we are freemen or slaves; and the difference between the best government and the worst, doth wholly depend upon a right or wrong exercise of that power. If men are naturally free, such as have wisdom and understanding will always frame good governments: But if they are born under the necessity of perpetual slavery, no wisdom can be of use to them; but all must forever depend on the will of their lords, how cruel, mad, proud or wicked soever they be.


SECTION 11: No Man comes to command many, unless by Consent or by Force.

But because I cannot believe God hath created man in such a state of misery and slavery as I just now mentioned; by discovering the vanity of our author’s whimsical patriarchical kingdom, I am led to a certain conclusion, that every father of a family is free and exempt from the domination of any other, as the seventy two that went from Babel were. ’Tis hard to comprehend how one man can come to be master of many, equal to himself in right, unless it be by consent or by force. If by consent, we are at an end of our controversies: Governments, and the magistrates that execute them, are created by man. They who give a being to them, cannot but have a right of regulating, limiting and directing them as best pleaseth themselves; and all our author’s assertions concerning the absolute power of one man, fall to the ground: If by force, we are to examine how it can be possible or justifiable. This subduing by force we call conquest. . . . [But] no right can come by conquest, unless there were a right of making that conquest, which, by reason of the equality that our author confesses to have been amongst the heads of families, and as I have proved goes into infinity, can never be on the aggressor’s side. No man can justly impose anything upon those who owe him nothing. . . .


SECTION 18: If a right of Dominion were esteemed Hereditary according to the Law of Nature, a multitude of destructive and inextricable Controversies would thereupon arise.

There being no such thing therefore, according to the law of nature, as an hereditary right to the dominion of the world, or any part of it; nor one man that can derive to himself a title from the first fathers of mankind, by which he can rightly pretend to be preferred before others to that command, or a part of it, and none can be derived from Nimrod, or other usurpers, who had none in themselves; we may justly spare our [58] pains of seeking farther into that matter. But as things of the highest importance can never be too fully explained; it may not be amiss to observe, that if mankind could be brought to believe that such a right of dominion were by the law of God and nature hereditary, a great number of the most destructive and inextricable controversies must thereupon arise, which the wisdom and goodness of God can never enjoin, and nature, which is reason, can never intend; but at present I shall only mention two, from whence others must perpetually spring. First if there be such a law, no human constitution can alter it: No length of time can be a defence against it: All governments that are not conformable to it are vicious and void even in their root, and must be so forever: That which is originally unjust may be justly overthrown. We do not know of any (at least in that part of the world in which we are most concerned) that is established, or exercised with an absolute power, as by the authors of those opinions is esteemed inseparable from it: Many, as the empire, and other states, are directly contrary; and on that account can have no justice in them. It being certain therefore that he or they who exercise those governments have no right: that there is a man to whom it doth belong, and no man knowing who he is, there is no one man who has not as good a title to it as any other: There is not therefore one who hath not a right, as well as any, to overthrow that which hath none at all. He that hath no part in the government may destroy it as well as he that has the greatest; for he neither has that which God ordained he should have, nor can shew a title to that which he enjoys from that original prerogative of birth, from whence it can only be derived.

. . .

In the second place, tho all men’s genealogies were extant, and fully verified, and it were allowed that the dominion of the world, or every part of it did belong to the right heir of the first progenitor, or any other to whom the first did rightly assign the parcel, which is under question; yet it were impossible for us to know who should be esteemed the true [59] heir, or according to what rule he should be judged so to be: for God hath not by a precise word determined it, and men cannot agree about it, as appears by the various laws and customs of several nations, disposing severally of hereditary dominions.

. . .


[76] [77]

SECTION I: That ’tis natural for Nations to govern, or to chuse Governors; and that Virtue only gives a natural preference of one man above another, or reason why one should be chosen rather than another.

In this chapter our author fights valiantly against Bellarmine and Suarez, seeming to think himself victorious, if he can shew that either of them hath contradicted the other, or himself;[10] but being no way concerned in them, I shall leave their followers to defend their quarrel. . . . He also attacks Plato and Aristotle, upon whose opinions I set a far greater value, in as much as they seem to have penetrated more deeply into the secrets of human nature;[11] and not only to have judged more rightly of the interests of mankind, but also to have comprehended in their writings the wisdom of the Grecians, with all that they had learnt from the Phoenicians, Egyptians and Hebrews[12]; which may lead us to the discovery of the truth we seek. If this be our work, the question is not, whether it be a paradox, or a received opinion, that people naturally govern, or chuse governors, but whether it be true or not; for many paradoxes are true, and the most gross errors have often been most common. Tho I hope to prove, that what he calls a paradox, is not only true; but a truth planted in the hearts of men, and acknowledged so to be by all that have hearkened to the voice of nature, and disapproved by none, but such as through wickedness, stupidity, or baseness of spirit, seem to have degenerated into the worst of beasts, and to have retained nothing of men, but the outward shape, or the ability of doing those mischiefs which they have learnt from their master the Devil.

We have already seen, that the patriarchical power resembles not the regal in principle or practice: that the beginning and continuance of regal power was contrary to, and inconsistent with the patriarchical: that the first fathers of mankind left all their children independent on each other, and in an equal liberty of providing for themselves: that every man continued in this liberty, till the number so increased, that they became troublesome and dangerous to each other; and finding no other remedy to the disorders growing, or like to grow among them, joined many families into one civil body, that they might the better provide for the conveniency, safety, and defence of themselves and their children. This was a collation of every man’s private right into a publick stock; and no one having any other right than what was common to all, except it were that of fathers over their children, they were all equally free when their fathers were dead; and nothing could induce them to join, and lessen that natural liberty by joining in societies, but the hopes of a publick advantage.


Such as were wise and valiant procured it, by setting up regular governments, and placing the best men in the administration; whilst the weakest and basest fell under the power of the most boisterous and violent of their neighbours. Those of the first sort had their root in wisdom and justice, and are called lawful kingdoms or commonwealths; and the rules by which they are governed, are known by the name of laws. These governments have ever been the nurses of virtue: The nations living under them have flourished in peace and happiness, or made wars with glory and advantage: whereas the other sort springing from violence and wrong, have ever gone under the odious title of tyrannies; and by fomenting vices, like to those from whence they grew, have brought shame and misery upon those who were subject to them. This appears so plainly in Scripture, that the assertors of liberty want no other patron than God himself; and his word so fully justifies what we contend for, that it were not necessary to make use of human authority, if our adversaries did not oblige us to examine such as are cited by them. This, in our present case, would be an easy work, if our author had rightly marked the passages he would make use of, or had been faithful in his interpretation or explication of such as he truly cites; but failing grossly in both, ’tis hard to trace him.

He cites the 16th chapter of the third book of Aristotle’s Politicks, and I do not find there is more than twelve;[13] or tho that wound might be cured, by saying the words are in the twelfth, his fraud in perverting the sense were unpardonable, tho the other mistake be passed over. ’Tis true that Aristotle doth there seem to doubt whether there be any such thing as one man naturally a lord over many citizens, since a city consists of equals: but in the whole scope of that chapter, book, and his other writings, he fully shews his doubt did not arise from an imagination that one man could naturally inherit a right of dominion over many not descended from him; or that they were born under a necessity of being slaves to him (for such fancies can proceed only from distemper’d brains) but that civil societies aiming at the publick good, those who by nature were endowed with such virtues or talents as were most beneficial to them, ought to be preferred. And nothing can be more contrary to the frantick whimsy of our author, who fancies an hereditary prerogative of dominion inherent in a person as father of a people, or heir, or to be reputed heir of the first father, when ’tis certain he is not, but that either [80] he or his predecessor came in by election or usurpation, than to shew that ’tis only wisdom, justice, valour, and other commendable virtues, which are not hereditary, that can give the preference; and that the only reason why it should be given, is, that men so qualified can better than others accomplish the ends for which societies are constituted: For tho, says he, all are equally free, all are not equally endowed with those virtues that render liberty safe, prosperous, and happy. That equality which is just among equals, is just only among equals; but such as are base, ignorant, vicious, slothful, or cowardly, are not equal in natural or acquired virtues, to the generous, wise, valiant, and industrious; nor equally useful to the societies in which they live: they cannot therefore have an equal part in the government of them; they cannot equally provide for the common good; and ’tis not a personal, but a publick benefit that is sought in their constitution and continuance. There may be a hundred thousand men in an army, who are all equally free; but they only are naturally most fit to be commanders or leaders, who most excel in the virtues required for the right performance of those offices; and that, not because ’tis good for them to be raised above their brethren, but because ’tis good for their brethren to be guided by them, as ’tis ever good to be governed by the wisest and the best. If the nature of man be reason, detur digniori [[“let it be given to the one who is worthier”]], in matters of this kind, is the voice of nature; and it were not only a deviation from reason, but a most desperate and mischievous madness, for a company going to the Indies, to give the guidance of their ship to the son of the best pilot in the world, if he want the skill required to that employment, or to one who was maliciously set to destroy them; and he only can have a right grounded upon the dictates of nature, to be advanced to the helm, who best knows how to govern it, and has given the best testimonies of his integrity and intentions to employ his skill for the good of those that are embarked. But as the work of a magistrate, especially if he be the supreme, is the highest, noblest, and most difficult that can be committed to the charge of a man, a more excellent virtue is required in the person who is to be advanced to it, than for any other; and he that is most excellent in that virtue, is reasonably and naturally to be preferred before any other. Aristotle having this in his view, seems to think, that those who believed it not to be natural for one man to be lord of all the citizens, since a city consists of equals, had not observed that inequality of endowments, virtues and abilities in men, which render some more fit than others, for the performance of their duties, and the work intended; but it will not be found, as I suppose, that he did ever dream of a natural superiority, that any man could ever have in a civil [81] society, unless it be such a superiority in virtue, as most conduces to the publick good.[14]

He confirms this in proceeding to examine the different sorts of governments, according to the different dispositions of nations; and is so bold to say, that a popular government is the best for a people, who are naturally generous and warlike: that the government of a few suits best with those, among whom a few men are found to excel others in those virtues that are profitable to societies; and that the government of one is good, when that one does so far surpass all others in those virtues, that he hath more of them than all the rest of the people together: and for the same reason that induced him to believe that equality is just amongst equals, he concludes inequality of power to be most unjust, unless there be inequality of merit; and equality of power to be so also, when there is inequality of virtue, that being the only rule by which every man’s part ought to be regulated.[15]

But if it be neither reasonable nor just that those who are not equal in virtue should be made equal in power, or that such as are equal in virtue should be unequal in power, the most brutal and abominable of all extravagancies is to make one or a few, who in virtue and abilities to perform civil functions are inferior to others, superior to all in power; and the miseries suffered by those nations, who inverting the laws of nature and reason, have placed children, or men of no virtue in the government, when men that excelled in all virtues were not wanting, do so far manifest this truth, that the pains of proving it may be spared.

’Tis not necessary for me to inquire, whether it be possible to find such a man as Aristotle calls naturâ regem, [[“king by nature”]] or whether he intended to recommend Alexander to the world, for the man designed by God and nature to be king over all, because no man was equal to him in the virtues that were beneficial to all. For pursuing my position, that virtue only can give a just and natural preference, I ingenuously confess, that when such a man, or race of men as he describes, shall appear in the world, they carry the true marks of sovereignty upon them: We ought to believe, that God has raised them above all, whom he has made to excel all: It were an impious folly to think of reducing him into the ordinary level of mankind, whom God has placed above it. ’Twere better for us to be guided by him, than to follow our own judgment; nay, I could almost say, ’twere better to serve such a master, than to be free. But this will [82] be nothing to the purpose, till such a man, or succession of men do appear; and if our author would persuade us, that all mankind, or every particular, is obliged to a perpetual subjection to one man or family, upon any other condition, he must do it by the credit of those who favour his design more than Aristotle.

I know not who that will be, but am confident he will find no help from Plato: for if his principles be examined, by which a grave author’s sense is best comprehended, it will appear, that all his books of laws, and of a commonwealth,[16] are chiefly grounded upon this, that magistrates are chosen by societies, seeking their own good; and that the best men ought to be chosen for the attaining of it: whereas his whole design of seeking which is the best form of government, or what laws do most conduce to its perfection and permanency (if one rule were by nature appointed for all, and none could justly transgress it; if God had designed an universal lord over the whole world, or a particular one over every nation, who could be bound by no law), were utterly absurd; and they who write books concerning political matters, and take upon them to instruct nations how to govern themselves, would be found either foolishly to misspend their time, or impiously to incite people to rebel against the ordinance of God. If this can justly be imputed to Plato, he is not the wise man he is supposed to have been; and can less deserve the tide of divine, which our author gives him: but if he remain justly free from such censures, it must be confessed, that whilst he seeks what is good for a people, and to convince them by reason that it is so, he takes it for granted, that they have a liberty of chusing that which appears to be the best to them. He first says, that this good consists in the obtaining of justice; but farther explaining himself, he shews that under the name of justice, he comprehends all that tends to their perfection and felicity; in as much as every people, by joining in a civil society, and creating magistrates, doth seek its own good; and ’tis just, that he or they who are created, should, to the utmost of their power, accomplish the end of their creation, and lead the people to justice, without which there is neither perfection nor happiness: That the proper act of justice is to give to everyone his due; to man that which belongs to man, and to God that which is God’s. But as no man can be just, or desire to be so, unless he know that justice is good; nor know that it is good, unless he know that original justice and goodness, through which all that is just is just, and all that is good is good, ’tis impossible for any man to perform the part of a good magistrate, unless he have the knowledge of God; or to bring [83] a people to justice, unless he bring them to the knowledge of God, who is the root of all justice and goodness.[17] If Plato therefore deserve credit, he only can duly perform the part of a good magistrate, whose moral virtues are ripened and heightened by a superinduction of divine knowledge. The misery of man proceeds from his being separated from God: This separation is wrought by corruption; his restitution therefore to felicity and integrity, can only be brought about by his reunion to the good from which he is fallen. Plato looks upon this as the only worthy object of man’s desire; and in his Laws and Politicks he intends not to teach us how to erect manufactures, and to increase trade or riches; but how magistrates may be helpful to nations in the manner beforementioned, and consequently what men are fit to be magistrates. . . .

The weakness in which we are born, renders us unable to attain this 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 everyone 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 that are 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 ’tis necessary to cleave, saw, or cut: This is the work of a skillful builder, and he only is capable of erecting a great fabrick, 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 [84] of uses in which they may be employ’d, 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. By this means those who are slaves by nature, or rendered so by their vices, are 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, and the most extreme confusion introduced. This is an evil that Solomon detested: Folly is set in great dignity, and the rich sit in low places: I have seen servants upon horses, and princes walking as servants upon the earth.[18] They who understand Solomon’s language, will easily see, that the rich, and the princes he means, are such only who are rich in virtue and wisdom, and who ought to be preferred for those qualities: And when he says, a servant that reigneth is one of the three things the earth cannot bear, he can only mean such as deserve to be servants; for when they reign, they do not serve, but are served by others: which perfectly agrees with what we learn from Plato, and plainly shews, that true philosophy is perfectly conformable with what is taught us by those who were divinely inspired. Therefore tho I should allow to our author, that Aristotle, in those words, It seems to some, not to be natural for one man to be lord of all the citizens, since the city consists of equals,[19] did speak the opinion of others rather than his own; and should confess that he and his master Plato, did acknowledge a natural inequality among men, it would be nothing to his purpose: for the inequality, and the rational superiority due to some, or to one, by reason of that inequality, did not proceed from blood or extraction, and had nothing patriarchical in it; but consisted solely in the virtues of the persons, by which they were rendered more able than others to perform their duty, for the good of the society. Therefore if these authors are to be trusted, whatsoever place a man is advanced to in a city, ’tis not for his own sake, but for that of the city; and we are not to ask who was his father, but what are his virtues in relation to it. This induces a necessity of distinguishing between a simple and a relative inequality; for if it were possible for a man to have great virtues, and yet no way beneficial to the society of which he is, or to have some one vice that renders them useless, he could have no pretence to a magistratical power more than any other. They who are equally free, may equally enjoy their freedom; but the [85] powers that can only be executed by such as are endowed with great wisdom, justice and valour, can belong to none, nor be rightly conferred upon any, except such as excel in those virtues. And if no such can be found, all are equally by turns to participate of the honours annexed to magistracy; and law, which is said to be written reason, cannot justly exalt those, whom nature, which is reason, hath depressed, nor depress those whom nature hath exalted. It cannot make kings slaves, nor slaves kings, without introducing that evil, which, if we believe Solomon, and the spirit by which he spoke, the earth cannot bear.[20] This may discover what lawgivers deserve to be reputed wise or just; and what decrees or sanctions ought to be reputed laws. Aristotle proceeding by this rule, rather tells us, who is naturally a king, than where we should find him; and after having given the highest praises to this true natural king and his government, he sticks not to declare that of one man, in virtue equal or inferior to others, to be a mere tyranny, even the worst of all, as it is the corruption of the best (or, as our author calls it, the most divine), and such as can be fit only for those barbarous and stupid nations, which, tho bearing the shape of men, are little different from beasts. Whoever therefore will from Aristotle’s words infer, that nature has designed one man, or succession of men, to be lords of every country, must shew that man to be endowed with all the virtues, that render him fit for so great an office, which he does not bear for his own pleasure, glory or profit, but for the good of those that are under him; and if that be not done, he must look after other patrons than Aristotle for his opinion.

Plato does more explicitly say, that the civil or politick man, the shepherd, father, or king of a people, is the same, designed for the same work, enabled to perform it by the excellency of the same virtues, and made perfect by the infusion of the divine wisdom. This is Plato’s monarch, and I confess, that wheresoever he does appear in the world, he ought to be accounted as sent from God for the good of that people. His government is the best that can be set up among men; and if assurance can be given, that his children, heirs or successors, shall forever be equal to him in the above-mentioned virtues, it were a folly and a sin to bring him under the government of any other, or to an equality with them, since God had made him to excel them all; and ’tis better for them to be ruled by him, than to follow their own judgment. This is that which gives him the preference: He is wise through the knowledge of the truth, and thereby becomes good, happy, pure, beautiful and perfect. The divine light shining forth in him, is a guide to others; and he is a fit leader of a people to the good [86] that he enjoys.[21] If this can be expressed by words in fashion, this is his prerogative; this is the royal charter given to him by God; and to him only, who is so adapted for the performance of his office. He that should pretend to the same privileges, without the same abilities to perform the works for which they are granted, would exceed the folly of a child, that takes upon him a burden which can only be borne by a giant; or the madness of one who presumes to give physick, and understands not the art of a physician, thereby drawing guilt upon himself, and death upon his patient. It were as vain to expect that a child should carry the giant’s burden, and that an ignorant man should give wholsome physick, as that one who lives void of all knowledge of good, should conduct men to it. Whensoever therefore such a man, as is above-described, does not appear, nature and reason instruct us to seek him or them who are most like to him; and to lay such burdens upon them as are proportionable to their strength; which is as much as to say, to prefer every man according to his merit, and assign to every one such works as he seems able to accomplish.

But that Plato and Aristotle may neither be thought unreasonably addicted to monarchy; nor, wholly rejecting it, to have talked in vain of a monarch, that is not to be found; ’tis good to consider that this is not a fiction. Moses, Joshua, Samuel, and others, were such as they define; and were made to be such, by that communion with God which Plato requires: And he in all his writings, intending the institution of such a discipline as should render men happy, wise and good, could take no better way to bring his countrymen to it, than by shewing them that wisdom, virtue, and purity only could make a natural difference among men.

’Tis not my work to justify these opinions of Plato and his scholar Aristotle: They were men, and, tho wise and learned, subject to error. If they erred in these points, it hurts not me, nor the cause I maintain, since I make no other use of their books, than to shew the impudence and prevarication of those, who gather small scraps out of good books, to justify their assertions concerning such kings as are known amongst us; which being examined, are found to be wholly against them; and if they were followed, would destroy their persons and power.

. . .


SECTION 3: Government is not instituted for the good of the Governor, but of the Governed; and Power is not an Advantage, but a Burden.

The follies with which our author endeavours to corrupt and trouble the world, seem to proceed from his fundamental mistakes of the ends for which governments are constituted; and from an opinion, that an excessive power is good for the governor, or the diminution of it a prejudice: whereas common sense teaches, and all good men acknowledge, that governments are not set up for the advantage, profit, pleasure or glory of one or a few men, but for the good of the society. For this reason Plato and Aristotle find no more certain way of distinguishing between a lawful king and a tyrant, than that the first seeks to procure the common good, and the other his own pleasure or profit; and doubt not to declare, that he who according to his institution was the first, destroys his own being, and degenerates into the latter, if he deflect from that rule: He that was the best of men, becomes the worst; and the father or shepherd of the people makes himself their enemy. And we may from hence collect, that in all controversies concerning the power of magistrates, we are not to examine what conduces to their profit or glory, but what is good for the publick.

. . .


SECTION 5: Freemen join together and frame greater or lesser Societies, and give such Forms to them as best please themselves.

. . . [Filmer then] raises a question, Whether the supreme power be so in the people, that there is but one and the same power in all the people of the world; so that no power can be granted, unless all men upon the earth meet, and agree to chuse a governor:[22] I think it deserves to be answered, and might do it by proposing a question to him; Whether in his opinion, the empire of the whole world doth, by the laws of God and nature, belong to one man, and who that man is? Or, how it came so to be divided, as we have ever known it to have been, without such an injury to the universal monarch, as can never be repaired? But intending to proceed more candidly, and not to trouble myself with Bellarmine or Suarez, I say, that they who place the power in a multitude, understand a multitude composed of [98] freemen, who think it for their convenience to join together, and to establish such laws and rules as they oblige themselves to observe: which multitude, whether it be great or small, has the same right, because ten men are as free as ten millions of men; and tho it may be more prudent in some cases to join with the greater than the smaller number, because there is more strength, it is not so always: But however every man must therein be his own judge, since if he mistake, the hurt is only to himself; and the ten may as justly resolve to live together, frame a civil society, and oblige themselves to laws, as the greatest number of men that ever met together in the world.

. . . By this means every number of men, agreeing together and framing a society, became a compleat body, having all power in themselves over themselves, subject to no other human law than their own. All those that compose the society, being equally free to enter into it or not, no man could have any prerogative above others, unless it were granted by the consent of the whole; and nothing obliging them to enter into this society, but the consideration of their own good; that good, or the opinion of it, must have been the rule, motive and end of all that they did ordain. ’Tis lawful therefore for any such bodies to set up one, or a few men to govern them, or to retain the power in themselves; and he or they who are set up, having no other power but what is so conferred upon them by that multitude, whether great or small, are truly by them made what they are; and by the law of their own creation, are to exercise those powers according to the proportion, and to the ends for which they were given.

These rights, in several nations and ages, have been variously executed, in the establishment of monarchies, aristocracies, democracies, or mixed governments, according to the variety of circumstances; and the governments have been good or evil, according to the rectitude or pravity of their institution, and the virtue and wisdom, or the folly and vices of those to whom the power was committed: but the end which was ever proposed, being the good of the publick, they only performed their duty, who procured it according to the laws of the society, which were equally valid as to their own magistrates, whether they were few or many.

. . .

This is as much as is required to establish the natural liberty of mankind in its utmost extent, and cannot be shaken by our author’s surmise, That a gap is thereby opened for every seditious multitude to raise a new commonwealth:[23] For till the commonwealth be established, no multitude can be seditious, because they are not subject to any humane law; and sedition implies an unjust and disorderly opposition of that power which is legally established; which cannot be when there is none, nor by him who is not a member of the society that makes it; and when it is made, such as entered into it, are obliged to the laws of it.

This shewing the root and foundation of civil powers, we may judge of the use and extent of them, according to the letter of the law, or the true intentional meaning of it; both which declare them to be purely human ordinances, proceeding from the will of those who seek their own good; and may certainly infer, that since all multitudes are composed of [105] such as are under some contract, or free from all, no man is obliged to enter into those contracts against his own will, nor obliged by any to which he does not assent: Those multitudes that enter into such contracts, and thereupon form civil societies, act according to their own will: Those that are engaged in none, take their authority from the law of nature; their rights cannot be limited or diminished by any one man, or number of men; and consequently whoever does it, or attempts the doing of it, violates the most sacred laws of God and nature.

. . .


SECTION 20: Man’s natural love to Liberty is temper’d by Reason, which originally is his Nature.

That our author’s book may appear to be a heap of incongruities and contradictions, ’tis not amiss to add to what has already been observed, that having asserted absolute monarchy to be the only natural government, he now says, that the nature of all people is to desire liberty without restraint.[24] But if monarchy be that power which above all restrains liberty, and subjects all to the will of one; this is as much as to say, that all people naturally desire that which is against nature; and by a wonderful excess of extravagance and folly to assert contrary propositions, that on both sides are equally absurd and false. For as we have already proved that no government is imposed upon men by God or nature, ’tis no less evident, that man being a rational creature, nothing can be universally natural to him, that is not rational. But this liberty without restraint being inconsistent with any government, and the good which man naturally [192] desires for himself, children and friends, we find no place in the world where the inhabitants do not enter into some kind of society or government to restrain it: and to say that all men desire liberty without restraint, and yet that all do restrain it, is ridiculous. The truth is, man is hereunto led by reason which is his nature. Everyone sees they cannot well live asunder, nor many together, without some rule to which all must submit. This submission is a restraint of liberty, but could be of no effect as to the good intended, unless it were general; nor general, unless it were natural. When all are born to the same freedom, some will not resign that which is their own, unless others do the like: This general consent of all to resign such a part of their liberty as seems to be for the good of all, is the voice of nature, and the act of men (according to natural reason) seeking their own good: And if all go not in the same way, according to the same form, ’tis an evident testimony that no one is directed by nature; but as a few or many may join together, and frame smaller or greater societies, so those societies may institute such an order or form of government as best pleases themselves; and if the ends of government are obtained, they all equally follow the voice of nature in constituting them.

Again, if man were by nature so tenacious of his liberty without restraint, he must be rationally so. The creation of absolute monarchies, which entirely extinguishes it, must necessarily be most contrary to it, tho the people were willing; for they thereby abjure their own nature. The usurpation of them can be no less than the most abominable and outrageous violation of the laws of nature that can be imagined: The laws of God must be in the like measure broken; and of all governments, democracy, in which every man’s liberty is least restrained, because every man hath an equal part, would certainly prove to be the most just, rational and natural; whereas our author represents it as a perpetual spring of disorder, confusion and vice. This consequence would be unavoidable, if he said true; but it being my fate often to differ from him, I hope to be excused if I do so in this also, and affirm, that nothing but the plain and certain dictates of reason can be generally applicable to all men as the law of their nature; and they who, according to the best of their understanding, provide for the good of themselves and their posterity, do all equally observe it. He that enquires more exactly into the matter may find, that reason enjoins every man not to arrogate to himself more than he allows to others, nor to retain that liberty which will prove hurtful to him; or to expect that others will suffer themselves to be restrain’d, whilst he, to their prejudice, remains in the exercise of that freedom which nature allows. He who would be exempted from this common rule, must shew for what reason he should be raised above his [193] brethren; and if he do it not, he is an enemy to them. This is not popularity, but tyranny; and tyrants are said exuisse hominem,[25] to throw off the nature of men, because they do unjustly and unreasonably assume to themselves that which agrees not with the frailty of human nature, and set up an interest in themselves contrary to that of their equals, which they ought to defend as their own. Such as favour them are like to them; and we know of no tyranny that was not set up by the worst, nor of any that have been destroy’d, unless by the best of men. . . .

. . .[V]icious wretches have in all times endeavour’d to put the power into the hands of one man, who might protect them in their villainies, and advance them to exorbitant riches or undeserved honours; whilst the best men trusting in their innocence, and desiring no other riches or preferments, than what they were by their equals thought to deserve, were contented with a due liberty, under the protection of a just law: and I must transcribe the histories of the world, or at least so much of them as concerns the tyrannies that have been set up or cast down, if I should here insert all the proofs that might be given of it. . . .



. . .


SECTION 9: Our own Laws confirm to us the enjoyment of our native Rights.

If that which our author calls divinity[26] did reach the things in dispute between us, or that the opinions of the fathers which he alleges, related to them, he might have spared the pains of examining our laws: for a municipal sanction were of little force to confirm a perpetual and universal law given by God to mankind, and of no value against it, since man cannot abrogate what God hath instituted, nor one nation free itself from a law that is given to all. But having abused the Scriptures, and the writings of the Fathers[27] (whose opinions are to be valued only so far as they rightly interpret them), he seems desirous to try whether he can as well put a false sense upon our law, and has fully compassed his design. According to his custom he takes pieces of passages from good books, and turns them directly against the plain meaning of the authors, expressed in the whole scope and design of their writings. To show that he intends to spare none, he is not ashamed to cite Bracton,[28] who of all our ancient law-writers is most opposite to his maxims. . . . His words are, Omnes sub eo, & ipse sub nullo, sed tantum sub Deo; All are under him, and he under none but God only. If he offend, since no writ can go out against him, their remedy is by petitioning him to amend his faults; which if he will not do, it is punishment enough for him to expect God as an avenger. Let none presume to look into his deeds, much less to oppose him. Here is a mixture of sense and nonsense, truth and falsehood, the words of Bracton with our author’s foolish inferences from them.[29] . . . I will not determine whether [Bracton] spoke properly or no as to England; but if he did not, all that he said being upon a false supposition, is nothing to our purpose. The same Bracton says, the king doth no wrong, in as much as he doth nothing but by law. The power of the king is the power of the law, a power of right not of wrong.[30] Again, If the king does injustice, he is not king.[31] In another place he has these words; The king therefore ought to exercise the [368] power of the law, as becomes the vicar and minister of God upon earth, because that power is the power of God alone; but the power of doing wrong is the power of the Devil, and not of God. And the king is his minister whose work he does: Whilst he does justice, he is the vicar of the Eternal King; but if he deflect from it to act unjustly, he is the minister of the Devil.[32] He also says that the king is singulis major, universis minor;[33] and that he who is in justitia exequenda omnibus major, in justitia recipienda cuilibet ex plebe fit aequalis.[34] I shall not say Bracton is in the right when he speaks in this manner; but ’tis a strange impudence in Filmer to cite him as a patron of the absolute power of kings, who does so extremely depress them. But the grossest of his follies is yet more pardonable than his detestable fraud in falsifying Bracton’s words, and leaving out such as are not for his purpose, which shew his meaning to be directly contrary to the sense put upon them. That this may appear, I shall set down the words as they are found in Bracton: Ipse autem rex non debet esse sub homine, sed sub Deo, & sub lege, quia lex facit regem. Attribuat ergo rex legi quod lex attribuit ei, id est dominationem & potestatem: Non est enim rex ubi dominatur voluntas & non lex; & quod sub lege esse debeat, cum sit Dei vicarius, evidenter apparet.[35] If Bracton therefore be a competent judge, the king is under the law; and he is not a king, nor God’s vicegerent unless he be so; and we all know how to proceed with those who being under the law, offend against it. For the law is not made in vain. In this case something more is to be done than petitioning; and ’tis ridiculous to say, that if he will not amend, ’tis punishment enough for him to expect God an avenger; for the same may be said of all malefactors. God can sufficiently punish thieves and murderers: but the future judgment, of which perhaps they have no belief, is not sufficient to restrain them from committing more crimes, nor to deter others from following their example. . . .

. . .


SECTION 11: That which is not just, is not Law; and that which is not Law, ought not to be obeyed.

Our author having for a long time pretended conscience, now pulls off his mask, and plainly tells us, that ’tis not on account of conscience, but for fear of punishment, or hopes of reward, that laws are to be obeyed. That familiar distinction of the Schoolmen, says he, whereby they subject kings to the directive, but not to the coactive [[or compulsory]] power of the law, is a confession, that kings are not bound by the positive laws of any nation, since the [381] compulsory power of laws is that which properly makes laws to be laws.[36] Not troubling myself with this distinction of the Schoolmen, nor acknowledging any truth to be in it, or that they are competent judges of such matters, I say, that if it be true, our author’s conclusion is altogether false; for the directive power of the law, which is certain, and grounded upon the inherent good and rectitude that is in it, is that alone which has a power over the conscience, whereas the coercive is merely contingent; and the most just powers commanding the most just things, have so often fallen under the violence of the most unjust men, commanding the most execrable villainies, that if they were therefore to be obeyed, the consciences of men must be regulated by the success of a battle or conspiracy, than which nothing can be affirmed more impious and absurd. . . . If this were so, the governments of the world might be justly called magna latrocinia;[37] and men laying aside all considerations of reason or justice, ought only to follow those who can inflict the greatest punishments, or give the greatest rewards. But since the reception of such opinions would be the extirpation of all that can be called good, we must look for another rule of our obedience, and shall find that to be the law, which being, as I said before, sanctio recta [[right sanction]], must be founded upon that eternal principle of reason and truth, from whence the rule of justice which is sacred and pure ought to be deduced, and not from the depraved will of man, which fluctuating according to the different interests, humors and passions that at several times reign in several nations, one day abrogates what had been enacted the other. The sanction therefore that deserves the name of a law, which derives not its excellency from antiquity, or from the dignity of the legislators, but from an intrinsick equity and justice,[38] ought to be made in pursuance of that universal reason to which all nations at all times owe an equal veneration and obedience. By this we may know whether he who has the power does justice or not: [382] Whether he be the minister of God to our good, a protector of good, and a terror to ill men; or the minister of the Devil to our hurt, by encouraging all manner of evil, and endeavouring by vice and corruption to make the people worse, that they may be miserable, and miserable that they may be worse. I dare not say I shall never fear such a man if he be armed with power: But I am sure I shall never esteem him to be the minister of God, and shall think I do ill if I fear him. If he has therefore a coercive power over me, ’tis through my weakness; for he that will suffer himself to be compell’d, knows not how to die.[39] If therefore he who does not follow the directive power of the law, be not the minister of God, he is not a king, at least not such a king as the Apostle commands us to obey: And if that sanction which is not just be not a law, and can have no obligation upon us, by what power soever it be established, it may well fall out, that the magistrate who will not follow the directive power of the law, may fall under the coercive, and then the fear is turned upon him, with this aggravation, that it is not only actual, but just. . . .

. . .


SECTION 33: The Liberty of a People is the gift of God and Nature.

If any man ask how nations come to have the power of doing these things, I answer, that liberty being only an exemption from the dominion of another, the question ought not to be, how a nation can come to be free, but how a man comes to have a dominion over it; for till the right of dominion be proved and justified, liberty subsists as arising from the nature and being of a man. Tertullian speaking of the emperors says, ab eo imperium a quo spiritus;[40] and we taking man in his first condition may justly say, ab eo libertas a quo spiritus; for no man can owe more than he has received. The creature having nothing, and being nothing but what the creator makes him, must owe all to him, and nothing to anyone from whom he has received nothing. Man therefore must be naturally free, unless he be created by another power than we have yet heard of. The obedience due to parents arises from hence, in that they are the instruments of our generation; and we are instructed by the light of reason, that we ought to make great returns to those from whom under God we have received all. When they die we are their heirs, we enjoy the same rights, and devolve the same to our posterity. God only who confers this right upon us, can deprive us of it: and we can no way understand that he does so, unless he had so declared by express [511] revelation, or had set some distinguishing marks of dominion and subjection upon men; and, as an ingenious person not long since said, caused some to be born with crowns upon their heads, and all others with saddles upon their backs.[41] This liberty therefore must continue, till it be either forfeited or willingly resigned. The forfeiture is hardly comprehensible in a multitude that is not entered into any society; for as they are all equal, and equals can have no right over each other,[42] no man can forfeit anything to one who can justly demand nothing, unless it may be by a personal injury, which is nothing to this case; because where there is no society, one man is not bound by the actions of another. All cannot join in the same act, because they are joined in none; or if they should, no man could recover, much less transmit the forfeiture; and not being transmitted, it perishes as if it had never been, and no man can claim anything from it.

’Twill be no less difficult to bring resignation to be subservient to our author’s purpose; for men could not resign their liberty, unless they naturally had it in themselves. Resignation is a publick declaration of their assent to be governed by the person to whom they resign; that is, they do by that act constitute him to be their governor. This necessarily puts us upon the inquiry, why they do resign, how they will be governed, and proves the governor to be their creature; and the right of disposing the government must be in them, or they who receive it can have none. This is so evident to common sense, that it were impertinent to ask who made Carthage, Athens, Rome or Venice to be free cities. Their charters were not from men, but from God and nature. . . . ’Tis agreed by mankind, that subjection and protection are relative; and that he who cannot protect those that are under him, in vain pretends to a dominion over them. The only ends for which governments are constituted, and obedience render’d to them, are the obtaining of justice and protection; and they who cannot provide for both, give the people a right of taking such ways as best please themselves, in order to their own safety.

The matter is yet more clear in relation to those who never were in any society, as at the beginning, or renovation of the world after the Flood; or who upon the dissolution of the societies to which they did once belong, or by some other accident have been obliged to seek new habitations. . . .

’Tis in vain to say, that wheresoever they came, the land did belong to somebody, and that they who came to dwell there must be subject to the laws of those who were lords of the soil, for that is not always true in fact. Some come into desert countries that have no lord, others into such as are thinly peopled, by men who knowing not how to improve their land, do either grant part of it upon easy terms to the new comers, or grow into a union with them in the enjoyment of the whole; and histories furnish us with infinite examples of this nature.

. . .

[1] [The notes to the present edition refer to Robert Filmer, Patriarcha and Other Political Writings, edited by Peter Laslett (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1949), based on one of the two surviving early manuscripts. Filmer’s Patriarcha was first published in 1680, eleven years after its author’s death. It was probably written around 1630. The book was divided into three chapters and 46 numbered sections. Sidney’s Discourses accordingly has three chapters, but 98 sections. . . .]

[2] Potentiora legum quam hominum imperia. Tacit. [“The rule of laws is more powerful than that of men.” Actually in Livy, History of Rome, 14 vols. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, Loeb Classical Library, 1922–1959), bk. 2, ch. 1. Subsequent citations will refer to these standard editions as “Loeb.”]

[3] [According to a proverb, not every block of wood is good enough to make a statue of the god Mercury.]

[4]  [[For Sidney, “School” describes persons or ideas belonging to or originating in medieval scholasticism, the tradition of philosophy and theology that took place in the universities of Europe throughout the Middle Ages and into the early modern period. “Schoolmen” refers to philosophers and theologians (“divines” in Sidney’s language) that participated in this tradition. The early modern philosophical project that later became known as the Enlightenment began with René Descartes as an explicit rejection of scholasticism, or at least scholasticism as it existed in universities around the year 1600. Thomas Aquinas and the thinkers described in the section of this site on the Late Medieval Transformations of natural law are examples of scholastic thinkers.]]

[5] [[theologians]]

[6] [Sidney’s quotations from Filmer in this section are from Patriarcha, ch. 1 (“The Natural Freedom of Mankind, a New, Plausible, and Dangerous Opinion”), pp. 53–54 of Laslett’s edition.]

[7] [Luke 12:4; Acts 5:29.]

[8] [[Romans 8:21.]]

[9] [Patriarcha, ch. 2, p. 56.]

[10] [Chapter II of the 1680 edition of Filmer was entitled, “It is unnatural for the People to Govern, or Choose Governours” and comprised chapters 11–21 of Filmer’s manuscript. Sidney’s Chapter II thus answers that part of Patriarcha. (Filmer’s chapters 8–10, in which Grotius, Selden, and the civil law are treated, were not printed in the 1680 edition, which may have been based on an early manuscript revised later by Filmer. Therefore Sidney does not discuss these chapters.) Suarez and Bellarmine, as well-known Catholic writers, had no prestige in Protestant England. Filmer’s chapter 11 is “Suarez’ Dispute against the Regality of Adam. Families Diversely Defined, Suarez Contradicting Bellarmine” (pp. 74–78).]

[11] [Patriarcha, ch. 12 (“Aristotle Agrees with the Scripture, Deducing Royal Authority from the Fatherhood”), pp. 78–80.]

[12] [[Since the earliest days of Christianity, many Christians believed that many insights that the pagan Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle had into human nature and philosophy in general must have derived from their reading of or from some exposure to the ideas contained in the Jewish (Hebrew) scriptures (the Old Testament). There is little evidence that Plato or Aristotle did in fact study the Jewish scriptures directly.]]

[13] [Patriarcha, ch. 12, p. 79. Filmer and Sidney are both correct. Book 3 of Aristotle’s Politics is sometimes divided into 12, sometimes into 18 chapters. The quotation used by Filmer is at 1287a.]

[14] [Aristotle, Politics, bk. 3, 1282B–1283a.]

[15] [Aristotle, Politics, bk. 3, 1288a.]

[16] Plato de Leg. & de Republ. [Plato, Laws and Republic.]

[17] Plato de Leg. [Several of these points are made in Laws, bk. 4.]

[18] Eccl. 10:7.

[19] [Aristotle, Politics, bk. 3, 1287a.]

[20] [Proverbs 30:21–22.]

[21] Plato in Alcib. 1. 1, 2. [Sidney paraphrases such passages as Alcibiades I, 133e–134e, and Alcibiades II, 145e–l47b and 150a, in Plato, Charmides, Alcibiades I, II (Loeb, 1927).]

[22] [Patriarcha, ch. 13 (“Of Election of Kings by the Major Part of the People, by Proxy, by Silent Acceptation”), p. 81.]

[23] [Patriarcha, ch. 13, p. 81.]

[24] [Patriarcha, ch. 15, p. 84; ch. 18, p. 89.]

[25] [To have laid aside the man.]

[26] [[theology]]

[27] [[The first bishops, priests, and other figures in early Christianity to expound in writing on the content of Christian faith, after the death of the Apostles (whose own writings became the New Testament). Famous Fathers of the Church include Augustine, Ambrose, Jerome, Gregory the Great, John Chrysostom, Basil the Great, Gregory Nazianzen, Gregory of Nyssa, and Origen.]]

[28] [[Henry de Bracton, “leading medieval English jurist and author of De legibus et consuetudinibus Angliae (c. 1235; ‘On the Laws and Customs of England’), one of the oldest systematic treatises on the common law” (Encyclopedia Britannica Online, s. v. “Henry de Bracton,” https://www.britannica.com/biography/Henry-de-Bracton).]]

[29] [In fact, the words quoted are entirely Bracton’s, On the Laws and Customs of England, fol. 5, p. 33. Sidney erred because in the 1680 edition of Patriarcha the Latin words are italicized while the rest of the quotation is not.]

[30] Potestas regis est potestas legis, potestas juris non injuriae. Bract. de Leg. Angl. [Bracton, On the Laws and Customs of England, fol. 107, p. 305.]

[31] Qui si facit injuriam, non est rex. Ibid.

[32] Exercere igitur debet rex potestatem juris sicut Dei vicarius & minister in terra, quia illa potestas solius Dei est, potestas autem injuriae diaboli est non Dei; & cujus horum opera fecerit rex, ejus minister erit: igitur dum facit justitiam, vicarius est regis aeterni: minister autem diaboli dum declinet ad injuriam. Ibid. l. 3. [Fol. 107, p. 305.]

[33] [“Greater than the individual (citizens)” … “less than the whole (people).”]

[34] [“(He who is) greater than all in exacting justice, becomes equal to any of the common people in receiving justice.” Fol. 107, p. 305.]

[35] [“The king himself, however, ought not to be subject to man but to God and to the law, since the law makes him king. Therefore, the king should bestow upon the law what the law bestows upon him, namely rule and power: for where mere will rules and not law, there is no king; and it is readily apparent that he ought to be under the law, since he is the vicar of God.” Fol. 5, p. 33.]

[36] [Patriarcha, ch. 23, pp. 101–102.]

[37] [“Robbery on a grand scale.” Augustine, City of God, bk. 4, ch. 4.]

[38] Tertul. [Tertullian, Apology, ch. 4, sec. 10.]

[39] Qui cogi potest nescit mori. [Seneca, The Madness of Hercules, li. 426.]

[40] [“Dominion comes from the same source as one’s spirit.” Tertullian, Apology, ch. 30. The Latin phrase that follows substitutes “liberty” for “dominion.”]

[41] [Richard “Hannibal” Rumbold, like Sidney a politically active republican, was to say something similar when executed for treason in 1685—as did Thomas Jefferson in a famous letter to Roger Weightman June 24, 1826.]

[42] Par in parem non habet imperium. [Bracton, On the Laws and Customs of England, fol. 5, p. 33.]

Original Author Sort: 
Sidney, Algernon