Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
The Political Wisdom of Girls
By James Harrington (16111677)
MANKIND then must either be less just than the creature, or acknowledge also his common interest to be common right. And if reason be nothing else but interest, and the interest of mankind be the right interest, then the reason of mankind must be right reason. Now compute well; for if the interest of popular government come the nearest to the interest of mankind, then the reason of popular government must come the nearest to right reason.
But it may be said that the difficulty remains yet; for be the interest of popular government right reason, a man does not look upon reason as it is right or wrong in itself, but as it makes for him or against him. Wherefore, unless you can show such orders of a government as, like those of God in Nature, shall be able to constrain this or that creature to shake off that inclination which is more peculiar to it, and take up that which regards the common good or interest, all this is to no more end than to persuade every man in a popular government not to carve himself of that which he desires most, but to be mannerly at the public table, and give the best from himself to decency and the common interest. But that such orders may be established as may, nay must, give the upper hand in all cases to common right or interest, notwithstanding the nearness of that which sticks to every man in private, and this in a way of equal certainty and facility, is known even to girls, being no other than those that are of common practice with them in divers cases. For example, two of them have a cake yet undivided, which was given between them: that each of them therefore might have that which is due, divide, says one to the other, and I will choose; or let me divide, and you shall choose. If this be but once agreed upon, it is enough; for the divident, dividing unequally, loses, in regard that the other takes the better half; wherefore she divides equally, and so both have right. O the depth of the wisdom of God! and yet by the mouths of babes and sucklings has He set forth His strength; that which great philosophers are disputing upon in vain, is brought to light by two harmless girls, even the whole mystery of a commonwealth, which lies only in dividing and choosing. Nor has God (if His works in Nature be understood) left so much to mankind to dispute upon as who shall divide and who choose, but distributed them for ever into two orders, whereof the one has the natural right of dividing, and the other of choosing. For example:
A commonwealth is but a civil society of men: let us take any number of men (as twenty) and immediately make a commonwealth. Twenty men (if they be not all idiots, perhaps if they be) can never come so together but there will be such a difference in them, that about a third will be wiser, or at least less foolish than all the rest; these upon acquaintance, though it be but small, will be discovered, and, as stags that have the largest heads lead the herd; for while the six, discoursing and arguing one with another, show the eminence of their parts, the fourteen discover things that they never thought on; or are cleared in divers truths which had formerly perplexed them. Wherefore, in matter of common concernment, difficulty, or danger, they hang upon their lips, as children upon their fathers; and the influence thus acquired by the six, the eminence of whose parts are found to be a stay and comfort to the fourteen, is the authority of the fathers. Wherefore this can be no other than a natural aristocracy diffused by God throughout the whole body of mankind to this end and purpose; and therefore such as the people have not only a natural but a positive obligation to make use of as their guides; as where the people of Israel are commanded to take wise men, and understanding, and known among their tribes, to be made rulers over them. The six then approved of, as in the present case, are the senate, not by hereditary right, or in regard of the greatness of their estates only, which would tend to such power as might force or draw the people, but by election for their excellent parts, which tends to the advancement of the influence of their virtue or authority that leads the people. Wherefore the office of the senate is not to be commanders, but counsellors of the people; and that which is proper to counsellors is first to debate, and afterward to give advice in the business whereupon they have debated, whence the decrees of the senate are never laws, nor so called; and these being maturely framed, it is their duty to propose in the case to the people. Wherefore the senate is no more than the debate of the commonwealth. But to debate, is to discern or put a difference between things that, being alike, are not the same; or it is separating and weighing this reason against that, and that reason against this, which is dividing.
The senate then having divided, who shall choose? Ask the girls: for if she that divided must have chosen also, it had been little worse for the other in case she had not divided at all, but kept the whole cake to herself, in regard that being to choose too she divided accordingly. Wherefore if the senate have any farther power than to divide, the commonwealth can never be equal. But in a commonwealth consisting of a single council, there is no other to choose than that which divided; whence it is, that such a council fails not to scramblethat is, to be factious, there being no other dividing of the cake in that case but among themselves.
Nor is there any remedy but to have another council to choose. The wisdom of the few may be the light of mankind; but the interest of the few is not the profit of mankind, nor of a commonwealth. Wherefore, seeing we have granted interest to be reason, they must not choose lest it put out their light. But as the council dividing consists of the wisdom of the commonwealth, so the assembly or council choosing should consist of the interest of the commonwealth: as the wisdom of the commonwealth is in the aristocracy, so the interest of the commonwealth is in the whole body of the people. And whereas this, in case the commonwealth consist of a whole nation, is too unwieldy a body to be assembled, this council is to consist of such a representative as may be equal, and so constituted, as can never contract any other interest than that of the whole people; the manner whereof, being such as is best shown by exemplification, I remit to the model. But in the present case, the six dividing, and the fourteen choosing, must of necessity take in the whole interest of the twenty.