Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
Inequality in Commonwealths
By James Harrington (1611–1677)
From Oceana

UPON these three last orders the Archon seemed to be haranguing at the head of his army in this manner:
    “My dear Lords and excellent Patriots,—
  “A government of this make is a commonwealth for increase. Of those for preservation, the inconveniences and frailties have been shown; their roots are narrow, such as do not run, have no fibres, their tops weak and dangerously exposed to the weather, except you chance to find one, as Venice, planted in a flower-pot, and if she grows, she grows top-heavy, and falls too. But you cannot plant an oak in a flower-pot; she must have earth for her root, and heaven for her branches.
        Imperium Oceano, famam quæ terminet astris. 1
  “Rome was said to be broken by her own weight, but poetically; for that weight by which she was pretended to be ruined, was supported in her emperors by a far slighter foundation. And in the common experience of good architecture, there is nothing more known than that buildings stand the firmer and the longer for their own weight, nor ever swerve through any other internal cause than that their materials are corruptible; but the people never die, nor, as a political body, are subject to any other corruption than that which derives from their government. Unless a man will deny the chain of causes, in which he denies God, he must also acknowledge the chain of effects; wherefore there can be no effect in Nature that is not from the first cause, and those successive links of the chain without which it could not have been. Now except a man can show the contrary in a commonwealth, if there be no cause of corruption in the first make of it, there can never be any such effect. Let no man’s superstition impose profaneness upon this assertion; for as man is sinful, but yet the universe is perfect, so may the citizen be sinful, and yet the commonwealth be perfect. And as man, seeing the world is perfect, can never commit any such sin as shall render it imperfect, or bring it to a natural dissolution, so the citizen, where the commonwealth is perfect, can never commit any such crime as will render it imperfect, or bring it to a natural dissolution. To come to experience: Venice, notwithstanding we have found some flaws in it, is the only commonwealth in the make whereof no man can find a cause of dissolution; for which reason we behold her (though she consists of men that are not without sin) at this day with one thousand years upon her back, yet for any internal cause, as young, as fresh, and free from decay, or any appearance of it, as she was born; but whatever in Nature is not sensible of decay by the course of a thousand years, is capable of the whole age of Nature; by which calculation, for any check that I am able to give myself, a commonwealth, rightly ordered, may for any internal causes be as immortal or long-lived as the world. But if this be true, those commonwealths that are naturally fallen, must have derived their ruin from the rise of them. Israel and Athens died not natural but violent deaths, in which manner the world itself is to die. We are speaking of those causes of dissolution which are natural to government; and they are but two, either contradiction or inequality. If a commonwealth be a contradiction, she must needs destroy herself; and if she be unequal, it tends to strife, and strife to ruin. By the former of these fell Lacedemon, by the latter Rome. Lacedemon being made altogether for war, and yet not for increase, her natural progress became her natural dissolution, and the building of her own victorious hand too heavy for her foundation, so that she fell indeed by her own weight. But Rome perished through her native inequality, which how it inveterated the bosoms of the senate and the people each against other, and even to death, has been shown at large.”  3
Note 1. Imperium Oceano, etc. = which is to bound her empire only by the ocean, her fame only by the stars. [back]

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