Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
The Virtues of Liberty
By Algernon Sidney (16231683)
From Discourses on Government
THE SECRET counsels of God are impenetrable; but the ways by which He accomplishes His designs are often evident. When He intends to exalt a people, He fills both them and their leaders with the virtues suitable to the accomplishment of His end; and takes away all wisdom and virtue from those He resolves to destroy. The pride of the Babylonians and Assyrians fell through the baseness of Sardanapalus; and the great city was taken while Belshazzar lay drunk amongst his whores. The empire was transported to the Persians and Grecians by the valour of Cyrus, Alexander, and the brave armies that followed them. Histories furnish us with innumerable examples of this kind: but I think none can be found of a cowardly, weak, effeminate, foolish, ill-disciplined people, that have ever subdued such as were eminent in strength, wisdom, valour, and good discipline; or that those qualities have been found or subsisted anywhere, unless they were cultivated and nourished by a well-ordered government. If this, therefore, were found among the Romans, and not in the kingdoms they overthrew, they had the order and stability which the monarchies had not; and the strength and virtue, by which they obtained such success, was the product of them. But if this virtue, and the glorious effects of it, did begin with liberty, it also expired with the same. The best men that had not fallen in battle were gleaned up by the proscriptions, or circumvented for the most part by false and frivolous accusations. Mankind is inclined to vice, and the way to virtue is so hard, that it wants encouragement; but when all honours, advantages, and preferments are given to vice, and despised virtue finds no other reward than hatred, persecution, and death, there are few who will follow it.