States Visited

Monday, December 22, 2008

Time well spent...

As part of my continuing research on the development of our original form of government - the Constitution, I came across this gem from Montesquieu in which he quotes the Greek philosopher Xenophon that lived ca. 431-355 BC. The Banquet which he quotes is usually referred to today as Xenophon's Symposium.

"We find in Xenophon's Banquet a very lively description of a republic in which the people abused their equality. Each guest gives in his turn the reason why he is satisfied. 'Content I am,' says Chamides, 'because of my poverty. When I was rich, I was obliged to pay my court to informers, knowing I was more liable to be hurt by them than capable of doing them harm. The republic constantly demanded some new tax of me; and I could not decline paying. Since I have grown poor, I have acquired authority; nobody threatens me; I rather threaten others. I can go or stay where I please. The rich already rise from their seats and give me the way. I am a king, I was before a slave: I paid taxes to the republic, now it maintains me: I am no longer afraid of losing: but I hope to acquire.'"

It is hard to believe that a philosopher writing more than 2,300 years ago had a better understanding of the dangers of the path we are currently taking than those currently in Washington, but that certainly seems to be the case. But Montesquieu had some thoughts of his own:

"The people fall into this misfortune when those in whom they confide, desirous of concealing their own corruption, endeavour to corrupt them. To disguise their own ambition, they speak to them only of the grandeur of the state; to conceal their own avarice, they incessantly flatter theirs. The corruption will increase among the corruptors, and likewise among those who are already corrupted. The people will divide the public money among themselves, and, having added the administration of affairs to their indolence, will be for blending their poverty with the amusements of luxury. But with their indolence and luxury, nothing but the public treasure will be able to satisfy their demands."

"We must not be surprised to see their suffrages given for money. It is impossible to make great largesses to the people without great extortion: and to compass this, the state must be subverted. The greater the advantages they seem to derive from their liberty, the nearer they approach towards the critical moment of losing it. Petty tyrants arisewho have all the vices of a single tyrant. The small remains of liberty soon become insupportable; a single tyrant starts up, and the people are stripped of everything, even of the profits of their corruption."

Given the amount of attention given to Nostradamus for having written exceptionally vague pieces of gibberish that might, possibly, after a night of heavy drinking, seem to bear some relation to relatively recent events, we should positively be building churches and proclaiming sainthood for Xenophon and Montesquieu. Except that it doesn't fit with the world-view of the current establishment; therefore, it is unlikely that many of you (and me) have even heard of Montesquieu and Xenophon, much less read their writings. If their absence from your high school education doesn't seem strange, consider that none other than Thomas Jefferson thought enough of the writings of Montesquieu to personally translate and publish Antoine Louis Claude Destutt de Tracey's A Commentary and Review of Montesquieu's Spirit of the Laws.

Bah, what did he know anyway?

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