Analysis and explanation of those quotes


Ninth Edition

Lee A. Jacobus

A World of Ideas

Essential Readings for College Writers

with e-Pages

Jacobu s


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Explore great ideas from great writers. A World of Ideas will introduce you to important thinkers whose ideas have shaped civilizations throughout history — from Plato to Adam Smith, from Virginia Woolf to Judith Butler, and from Machiavelli to Martin Luther King Jr. These essential readings are accompanied by questions, examples, and suggestions that will help you understand and respond critically to ideas — and teach you how to communicate your own ideas effectively in your college writing.

This book has e-Pages and more! Use the code printed on the inside back cover of this book to get automatic access to readings and images — available only online. Note: If your code does not work, it might be expired.

You can purchase access to e-Pages for A World of Ideas at ideas/epages.

You’ve got more help — including free videos about writing, reliable research links to help you get started, and models for citing sources — at /worldof ideas.

ISBN 978-1-4576-0436-2


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LEE A. JACOBUS University of Connecticut

BEDFORD/ST. MARTIN’S Boston ♦ New York

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Acknowledgments and copyrights appear at the back of the book on pages 942–46, which constitute an extension of the copyright page. It is a violation of the law to reproduce these selections by any means whatsoever without the written permission of the copyright holder.

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Among the pleasures of editing A World of Ideas are the discus- sions I have had over the years with students and teachers who have used the book in their writing classes. A student once wrote to tell me that the book meant a great deal to her and that her experience with it impelled her to wonder what originally inspired me to assemble the first edition. I explained that my teaching of first-year writing has always inclined toward ideas that serious writers and thinkers have explored and contemplated throughout the ages; early on, I could not find a composition reader that introduced students to the important thinkers whose writing I believe should be basic to everyone’s educa- tion. As a result of that need, A World of Ideas took shape and has con- tinued to grow and develop through nine editions, attracting a wide audience of teachers and students who value the thought-provoking ideas that affect the way we interpret the world.

In preparing the ninth edition of A World of Ideas, I have ben- efited, as usual, from the suggestions of hundreds of users of earlier editions. The primary concern of both teachers and students is that the book remain centered on the tradition of important ideas and on the writers whose work has had a lasting influence on society. To that end, I have chosen writers whose ideas are central to our most important and lasting concerns. A new edition offers the opportunity to reevaluate old choices and make new ones that expand and deepen what has always been the fundamental purpose of this composition reader: to provide college students in first-year writing courses with a representative sampling of important ideas examined by men and women who have shaped the way we think today.

The selections in this volume are of the highest quality. Each was chosen because it clarifies important ideas and can sustain discus- sion and stimulate good writing. Unlike most composition readers, A World of Ideas presents substantial excerpts from the work of each of


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its authors. The selections are presented as they originally appeared; only rarely are they edited and marked with ellipses. They average fif- teen to twenty pages in length, and their arguments are presented com- pletely, as the authors wrote them. Developing a serious idea in writing takes time and a willingness to experiment. Most students are willing to read deeply into the work of important thinkers to grasp their ideas bet- ter because the knowledge yielded by the effort is vast and rewarding.

Additionally, this edition of A World of Ideas is also presented in a new format—a combination of the print book and e-Pages, online materials that include one reading per chapter as well as color ver- sions of all the works of art in the “Visualizing” features. The readings that appear in e-Pages are “favorites” that have appeared in past edi- tions of A World of Ideas; making them accessible online allows us to give your students more material without increasing the cost or size of the text. The e-Page versions of the “Visualizing” works of art are in full color, giving students the opportunity to view these images in richer detail and thus to better appreciate their subtleties, the particu- lars of which often lend these paintings much of their significance.

A Text for Readers and Writers

Because students perceive writers such as Plato and Thoreau as serious and important, they take more seriously the writing course that uses texts by these authors: such students learn to read more attentively, think more critically, and write more effectively. But more important, this may be a student’s only opportunity to encoun- ter the thinkers whose ideas have shaped civilization. No other com- position reader offers a comparable collection of important readings along with the supportive apparatus students need to understand, analyze, and respond to them.

Classic Readings. A World of Ideas draws its fifty-six selections (forty-eight in print and eight in e-Pages) from the writing of some of the world’s most important thinkers. Those writers with selections that remain from the eighth edition are Hannah Arendt, Aristotle, Francis Bacon, Carl Becker, Andrew Carnegie, Marcus Tullius Cicero, Charles Darwin, René Descartes, Frederick Douglass, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Sigmund Freud, John Kenneth Galbraith, Howard Gardner, Germaine Greer, Thomas Jefferson, Carl Jung, Martin Luther King Jr., Lao-tzu, Niccolò Machiavelli, Karl Marx, Margaret Mead, John Stuart Mill, Iris Murdoch, Friedrich Nietzsche, Plato, Robert B. Reich, Jean- Jacques Rousseau, Adam Smith, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Henry David Thoreau, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Virginia Woolf.

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A Focus on Eight Great Ideas. A World of Ideas’ unique struc- ture highlights seminal ideas as developed by great thinkers through- out history and facilitates cross-disciplinary comparisons. Each of the eight parts of the book focuses on one great idea—democracy, gov- ernment, ethics and morality, wealth and poverty, education, gender and culture, language, and discoveries and the mind. Part introduc- tions ground students in the history of each idea and connect the philosophies of individual writers.

“Evaluating Ideas: An Introduction to Critical Reading.” This introduction demonstrates a range of methods students can adopt to participate in a meaningful dialogue with each selection. This dialogue—an active, questioning approach to texts and ideas—is one of the keys to critical reading. In the introduction, a portion of Ma chiavelli’s “The Qualities of the Prince” is annotated to help stu- dents follow the key ideas of the piece and to model for students a critical reading process that they can adapt to other essays in the book. The introduction encourages students to mark what they think are the most interesting and important ideas in an essay and high- light or underline all sentences that they might want to quote in an essay of their own.

“Writing about Ideas: An Introduction to Rhetoric.” In the ninth edition, this section, which now immediately follows “Evalu- ating Ideas: An Introduction to Critical Reading,” has been much expanded, with an emphasis on developing thesis statements, using rhetorical methods of development, and thinking critically to construct a strong argument. Many new examples based on current selections in the ninth edition help students find fruitful approaches to the material. This section explains how a reader can make annotations while reading critically and then use those anno- tations to write effectively in response to the ideas presented in any selection in the book. “Writing about Ideas” draws on the annota- tions of the Machiavelli selection illustrated in “Evaluating Ideas: An Introduction to Critical Reading.” A sample student essay on Machiavelli, using the techniques taught in the context of read- ing and writing, gives students a model for moving from a critical response to a selection to writing their own material. In addition, this section helps students understand how they can apply some of the basic rhetorical principles discussed throughout the book.

Selection Headnotes. Each selection is preceded by a detailed headnote on the author’s life and work and by comments about the primary ideas presented in the reading. The most interesting rhetorical

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aspects of the selection are identified and discussed to help students see how the writer’s rhetorical techniques can achieve specific effects.

Prereading Questions. To emphasize critical thinking, reading, and writing, prereading questions precede every selection. The con- tent of the selections is challenging, and these prereading questions can help students in first-year writing courses overcome minor dif- ficulties in understanding the author’s meaning. These brief questions are designed to help students focus on central issues during their first reading of each selection.

Extensive Apparatus. At the end of each selection is a group of discussion questions designed for use inside or outside the classroom. Questions for Critical Reading focus on key issues and ideas and can be used to stimulate general class discussion and critical thinking. Sugges- tions for Critical Writing help students practice some of the rhetorical strategies employed by the author of a given selection. These sugges- tions ask for personal responses, as well as complete essays that involve research. A number of these assignments, labeled “Connections,” pro- mote critical reading by requiring students to connect particular pas- sages in a selection with a selection by another writer, either in the same part of the book or in another part. The variety of connections is intriguing—Lao-tzu with Machiavelli, Aristotle with Andrew Carnegie, Adam Smith with Thomas Jefferson, Julius K. Nyerere with the fram- ers of the Constitution, Francis Bacon with Howard Gardner, Kwame Anthony Appiah with Iris Murdoch and Michael Gazzaniga, Susanne K. Langer with Noam Chomsky, James Baldwin with Jonathan Kozol, Judith Butler with Margaret Mead, and many more.

The “Visualizing” Feature Encourages Students to Apply Great Ideas to Great Works of Art. Immediately preceding the selections in each part, a well-known painting is accompanied by a commentary that places the work historically and aesthetically and prepares students to make thoughtful connections between the work and the thinkers who follow. For example, “Visualizing Gender and Culture” features Mary Cassatt’s painting In the Loge along with a brief caption and a discus- sion of the work’s exploration of gender roles. The Seeing Connections questions that follow each of the readings ask students to relate a given text to the work of art. Other featured works of art include, but are not limited to, Howard Chandler Christy’s painting Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States for “Visualizing Democracy,” Eugène Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People for “Visualizing Government,” Salvador Dalí’s The Persistence of Memory for “Visualizing Discoveries and the Mind,” and Wosene Worke Kosrof ’s The Color of Words IX— from his series WordPlay—for “Visualizing Language.”

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Instructor’s Resource Manual. I have prepared an extensive manual, Resources for Teaching A WORLD OF IDEAS, that contains further background on the selections, examples from my own class- room responses to the selections, and more suggestions for classroom discussion and student writing assignments. Sentence outlines for the selections—which have been carefully prepared by Michael Hennessy, Carol Verberg, Ellen Troutman, Ellen Darion, and Jon Marc Smith— can be photocopied or downloaded from the book’s companion Web site,, and given to students. The idea for these sentence outlines came from the phrase outlines that Darwin created to precede each chapter of On the Origin of Species. These outlines may be used to discuss the more difficult selections and to provide additional guidance for students. At the end of the manual, brief bibliographies are provided for all fifty-five authors. These bibli- ographies may be photocopied or downloaded and distributed to stu- dents who wish to explore the primary selections in greater depth.

New in the Ninth Edition

The ninth edition offers a number of new features to help students engage and interact with the texts as they learn to ana- lyze ideas and develop their own thoughts in writing.

Selections and Images Available in e-Pages. As mentioned above, the new edition features online readings—“favorites” from past editions such as Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “On Education” and Stephen L. Carter’s “The Separation of Church and State”—and full-color versions of the art- work included in the book. Students receive access automatically with the purchase of a new book. If the activation code printed in the inside cover of the student edition is revealed, it might be expired. Students can purchase access at the Student Site. Instructors don’t need an access code; they can access the e-Pages at the Student Site. They can also use the free tools accompanying the e-Pages to upload a syllabus, readings, and assignments to share with the class. Visit /worldofideas/epages for more information.

New Essential Readings. The selections in A World of Ideas explore the key ideas that have defined the human experience and shaped civiliza- tion. Of the fifty-six selections, twenty-six are new to this edition, includ- ing works by Aristotle, James Madison, the Founding Fathers, Alexis de Tocqueville, Julius K. Nyerere, Benazir Bhutto, Stephen L. Carter, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Michael Gazzaniga, Milton and Rose Fried- man, Hsün Tzu, Maria Montessori, John Dewey, Carter G. Woodson, Jonathan Kozol, Howard Gardner, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Judith Butler,

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Karen Horney, Susanne K. Langer, Mario Pei, James Baldwin, Bill Bryson, Neil Postman, Noam Chomsky, and Alexander Pope.

Three New Foundational Ideas. The selections in the three new parts—“Democracy,” “Education,” and “Language”—cover con- siderable historical periods and attitudes toward their subjects. All three of these new sections contain ideas that affect every one of us in a number of important ways. Democracy, for example, is in many respects one of the most important ideas of modern times. With political struggles unfolding in developing countries, whose citizens are voting for the first time and writing their own constitutions, few documents could be more important for students to know well than the U.S. Constitution, which appears in this book for the first time. Likewise, the work of James Madison and others in the Federalist Papers points toward political struggles ongoing in modern democra- cies. The section on education introduces students to ideas by Hsün tzu, Maria Montessori, John Dewey, and Carter G. Woodson that are still relevant to our schools. The section on language introduces some of the modern ideas about language being “hardwired” in our brains, and it explores some theories of language origin and the development of words from authors such as Mario Pei and Susanne K. Langer.

More “Connections” Questions. Throughout the book, students are asked to make connections and comparisons between writers addressing the same great idea within the same great idea topic and between writers addressing different ideas, helping to stimulate com- parative critical thinking and writing.

Increased Coverage of Developing Theses and Arguments. “Writing about Ideas: An Introduction to Rhetoric” now immediately follows “Evaluating Ideas: An Introduction to Critical Reading” at the beginning of the book, and this section has been expanded to provide support for developing thesis statements, using rhetorical methods of development, and using critical thinking to develop a strong argument. New student writing examples based on selections in the ninth edition help students understand how to approach the material and discuss it meaningfully.

Digital Resources for A World of Ideas

A World of Ideas offers more than just a great text. Online you’ll find both free and affordable premium resources to help stu- dents get even more out of the book and your course. You’ll also find convenient instructor resources, such as downloadable sample syllabi, classroom activities, and even a nationwide community of teachers. To learn more about or order any of the products

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below, contact your Bedford/St. Martin’s sales representative, e-mail sales support ([email protected]), or visit the Web site at

Take Advantage of What the Web Can Do with New e-Pages for A World of Ideas. Favorite readings from past editions give your students even more important thinkers to help them explore ideas, and color images from the “Visualizing” features give your students a better look at works of art that relate to great ideas. To access this fea- ture, go to

A Fully Updated Student Site Gives Students More Ways to Explore A World of Ideas. At, students will find links to full-text documents of historical and philo- sophical interest, more information on each selection’s author and his or her ideas, and the book’s e-Pages, which are accessible through a code included in the book. Instructors will find the helpful instructor’s manual, which includes a sentence outline for every selection.

Let Students Choose Their Format. Students can now purchase A World of Ideas in popular e-book formats for computers, tablets, and e-readers. For more details, visit

VideoCentral is a growing collection of videos for the writing class that captures real-world, academic, and student writers talking about how and why they write. VideoCentral can be packaged for free with A World of Ideas. An activation code is required. To order Video- Central packaged with the print book, use ISBN 978-1-4576-4342-2.

Re:Writing Plus gathers all of the Bedford/St. Martin’s premium digital content for composition into one online collection. It includes hundreds of model documents, the first ever peer-review game, and VideoCentral. Re:Writing Plus can be purchased separately or packaged with the print book at a significant discount. An activation code is required. To order Re:Writing Plus packaged with A World of Ideas, use ISBN 978-1-4576-4338-5.

Teaching Ce ntral ( offers the entire list of Bedford/St. Martin’s print and online professional resources in one place. You’ll find landmark reference works, source- books on pedagogical issues, award-winning collections, and practical advice for the classroom—all free for instructors.

Bits ( collects creative ideas for teaching a range of composition topics in an easily searchable blog. A community of

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teachers—leading scholars, authors, and editors—discuss revision, research, grammar and style, technology, peer review, and much more. Take, use, adapt, and pass the ideas around. Then, come back to the site to comment or share your own suggestion.

Bedford Coursespacks allow you to easily integrate our most popular content into your own course management system. For details, visit


I am grateful to a number of people who made important sug- gestions for earlier editions, among them Shoshana Milgram Knapp of Virginia Polytechnic and State University and Michael Hennessy of Texas State University–San Marcos. I want to thank Jon Marc Smith of Texas State University–San Marcos and Chiara Sulprizio of the Loyola Marymount University for assisting with the instructor’s manual for the eighth edition. I also remain grateful to Michael Bybee of St. John’s College in Santa Fe for suggesting many fascinating pieces by Eastern thinkers, all of which he has taught to his own students. Thanks to him, this edition includes Lao-tzu.

Like its predecessors, the ninth edition is indebted to a great many creative people at Bedford/St. Martin’s, whose support is invalu- able. I want to thank Charles Christensen, former president, whose concern for the excellence of this book and whose close attention to detail were truly admirable. I appreciate as always the advice of Joan E. Feinberg, copresident of Macmillan Higher Education, and Denise Wydra, president of Bedford/St. Martin’s, whose suggestions were timely and excellent. Nancy Perry, editorial director, Custom Pub- lishing, New York; Karen Henry, editor in chief, English; and Steve Scipione, executive editor, offered many useful ideas and suggestions as well, especially in the early stages of development, and kept their sharp eyes on the project throughout. My editor for the eighth edi- tion, Maura Shea, is the professional’s professional. My editor for the current edition, Alicia Young, has been a steady guiding hand, dis- cussing material with me and providing help where necessary and when timely. She has been an inspiration in dealing with sometimes intractable problems and responding with encouragement and the kind of help only the best editors can provide.

Assisting her were a number of hardworking individuals, includ- ing Charlotte Christy and Bethany Gordon. Anne Noonan, production editor, also helped with innumerable important details and sugges- tions. Mary Lou Wilshaw-Watts, copyeditor, improved the prose

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and watched out for inconsistencies. Thanks also to several staff members and researchers: Jenn Kennett cleared text permissions, Donna Dennison found the cover art and designed the cover, and Linda Finigan secured all the new photographs. In earlier edi- tions, I had help from Diane Kraut, Maura Shea, Sarah Cornog, Rosemary Winfield, Michelle Clark, Professor Mary W. Cornog, Ellen Kuhl, Mark Reimold, Andrea Goldman, Beth Castrodale, Jonathan Burns, Mary Beth McNulty, Beth Chapman, Mika De Roo, and Greg Johnson. I feel I had a personal relationship with each of them. I also want to thank the students—quite a few of them—who wrote me directly about their experiences reading the first eight editions. I have attended carefully to what they told me, and I am warmed by their high regard for the material in this book.

Earlier editions named hundreds of users of this book who sent their comments and encouragement. I would like to take this oppor- tunity to thank them again. In addition, the following professors were generous with criticism, praise, and detailed recommendations for the ninth edition: D. Michelle Adkerson, Nashville State Community College; Geraldine Cannon Becker, University of Maine at Fort Kent; Aaron Bradford, Folsom Lake College and Pasadena City College; David Elias, Eastern Kentucky University; Jim Ewing, Fresno City College; Michele Giargiari, Bunker Hill Community College; Susan Gorman, Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences; Deana Holifield, Pearl River Community College; Shelley Kelly, College of Southern Nevada; Christina Lovin, Eastern Kentucky University; Pam Mathis, North Arkansas College; Aggie Mendoza, Nashville State Community College; Sandra Pyle, Point Park University; Robert Royar, Morehead State University; Sam Ruddick, Bunker Hill Community College; Ron Schwartz, Pierce College; Michele Singletary, Nashville State Community College; Jon Marc Smith, Texas State University– San Marcos; Roberta Stagnaro, San Diego State University; Andrea Van Nort, United States Air Force Academy; Paul Walker, Murray State University; Martha Willoughby, Pearl River Community College; and our reviewers at Chaffey College, Pasadena City College, and Mon- mouth University who wish to remain anonymous. I want to mention particularly the past experiences I had visiting Professor Elizabeth Deis and the faculty and students of Hampden-Sydney College in connec- tion with their writing and humanities programs. Professors James Kenkel and Charlie Sweet were gracious in welcoming me to Eastern Kentucky University for workshops and classes using A World of Ideas. These were delightful and fruitful experiences that helped me shape the book. I am grateful to all who took part in these workshops.

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When the first edition of A World of Ideas was published, the notion that students in first-year composition courses should be able to read and write about challenging works by great thinkers was a radical one. In fact, no other composition reader at the time included selections from such important thinkers as Hannah Arendt, Aristotle, Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Marx, Plato, Charles Darwin, or Mary Woll- stonecraft. I had expected a moderate response from a small number of people. Instead, teachers and students alike sent me a swarm of mail commending the book for the challenge it provided and the insights they gained.

One of the first letters I received was from a young woman who had read the book after she graduated from college. She said she had heard of the thinkers included in A World of Ideas but in her college career had never read any of their works. Reading them now, she said, was long overdue. Another student wrote me an elaborate letter in which he demonstrated that every one of the selections in the book had been used as the basis of a Star Trek episode. He sagely connected every selection to a specific episode and convinced me that whoever was writing Star Trek had read some of the world’s most important thinkers. Other students have written to tell me that they found them- selves using the material in this book in other courses, such as psy- chology, philosophy, literature, and history, among others. In many cases, these students were the only ones among their peers who had read the key authors in their discipline.

Sometimes you will have to read the selections in A World of Ideas more than once. Works by influential thinkers, such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, James Baldwin, Judith Butler, Adam Smith, Sigmund Freud, Francis Bacon, Iris Murdoch, and Noam Chomsky, can be very challenging. But do not let the challenge discourage you. In “Evaluat- ing Ideas: An Introduction to Critical Reading,” I suggest methods for


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annotating and questioning texts that are designed to help you keep track of what you read and to help you master the material. In addi- tion, each selection is accompanied by a headnote on the author’s life and work, comments about the primary ideas presented in the selec- tion, and a host of questions to help you overcome minor difficulties in understanding the author’s meaning. Some students have written to tell me that their first reading of the book was off-putting, but most of them have written later to tell me how they eventually overcame their initial fear that the selections would be too difficult for them. Ulti- mately, these students agreed with me that this material is important enough to merit their absolute attention.

The purpose of A World of Ideas is to help you learn to write better by giving you something really significant to think and write about. The selections not only are avenues into some of the most seri- ous thought on their subjects but also are stimulating enough to sus- tain close analysis and to produce many good ideas for writing. For example, when you think about democracy, it helps to know what Aristotle said about it while Athens enjoyed it, just as it is important to know what the United States Constitution says that puts democ- racy into law. Elizabeth Cady Stanton defends the rights of women in her “Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions,” pointing always to the social injustices that she documents. Frederick Douglass speaks from the perspective of a former slave when he cries out against the injustice of an institution that existed in the Americas for hundreds of years. And a hundred years after Douglass, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. sent his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” still demanding justice for African Americans and freedom seekers everywhere. The questions of ethics that still haunt us are treated by Iris Murdoch in relation to religion and by Kwame Anthony Appiah in relation to situ- ational and virtue ethics, each of which concentrates on the relation of ones’ character to one’s ethical behavior. All these writers place their views in the larger context of a universal dialogue on the subject of justice. When you write, you add your own voice to the conversation. By commenting on the selections, expressing and arguing a position, and pointing out contradictions or contrasts among texts, you are par- ticipating in the world of ideas.

Keep in mind that I prepared A World of Ideas for my own stu- dents, most of whom work their way through college and do not take the idea of earning an education lightly. For that reason, I felt I owed them the opportunity to encounter the very best minds I could put them in touch with. Anything less seemed to me a missed opportu- nity. I hope you, like so many other writing students, find this book both educational and inspiring.

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Preface iii

To the Student xiii

EVALUATING IDEAS: An Introduction to Critical Reading 1

WRITING ABOUT IDEAS: An Introduction to Rhetoric 13




HOWARD CHANDLER CHRISTY, Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States [IMAGE; AVAILABLE IN COLOR IN E-PAGES]


In 1939, the House of Representatives commissioned Christy—a renowned American artist—to paint a portrait of one of the most auspicious moments in his country’s history: the signing of the Constitution of the United States.

ARISTOTLE Democracy and Oligarchy 59

Having lived in Athens during the period of its democracy, Aristotle had considerable insight into the political structures that existed


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in ancient Greece. His analysis of the choice between democracy— rule by the people—and oligarchy—rule by a wealthy few— remains relevant to this day.

THE FOUNDING FATHERS The Constitution of the United States of America 75

This landmark document of United States history was the result of the founding fathers meeting in Philadelphia in 1787 to ratify a con- stitution that established a strong federal government that took into account special issues of the states.

JAMES MADISON Federalist No. 51: On the Separation of Departments of Power 109

The Federalist Papers, written by James Madison, John Jay, and Alexander Hamilton before the ratification of the Con- stitution, argued for a federal government to help consolidate the interests of the states. Here, Madison establishes means by which the federal government can balance powers so as to avoid tyranny.

ALEXIS DE TOCQUEVILLE Government by Democracy in America 121

Tocqueville, a French aristocrat, traveled extensively in the United States in the 1830s and was struck by the sense of equality ex- pressed by nearly every American he encountered. His Democracy in America remains one of the most profound and astute commen- taries on American democracy.

CARL BECKER Ideal Democracy 143

In an essay written in 1941, at democracy’s lowest hour in the West, Becker reminds us that “Democracy is in some sense an eco- nomic luxury,” but that we must nonetheless recognize its value and persist in its defense.

JULIUS K. NYERERE One-Party Government 165

Nyerere, the first president of Tanzania, tells us that there was no room for the adversarial structure of two political parties when his country was emerging from recent colonial control. Unity was

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the most important issue to bring Tanzania into the modern world, and Nyerere insists that democracy is possible under such conditions.

BENAZIR BHUTTO Islam and Democracy 177

The former prime minister of Pakistan, Bhutto explains why there is no impediment preventing Islamic nations from adopting a democratic form of government while also recognizing the difficul- ties that extremists have posed for representative governments in the Islamic world.

STEPHEN L. CARTER The Separation of Church and State

Carter, a legal scholar, examines the contemporary anxiety over the separation of church and state and maintains that the provi- sion of freedom of religion in the U.S. Constitution was designed to protect individual religions from the state, not to protect the state from religion.






Liberty Leading the People commemorates the three-day July Revolution of 1830, which overthrew Charles X of France, the last of the Bourbon kings. Delacroix’s painting has been described as the first political painting of modern art.

LAO-TZU Thoughts from the Tao-te Ching 203

In recommending that a ruler practice judicious inactivity rather than wasteful busyness, the ancient Chinese philosopher mini- mizes the power of the state over the individual.

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NICCOLÒ MACHIAVELLI The Qualities of the Prince 219

In this excerpt from the most notorious political treatise of all time, Machiavelli, a veteran of intrigue in Florence’s Medici court, recommends unscrupulous tactics for the ruler who wishes to secure power for himself and stability in his domain.

JEAN-JACQUES ROUSSEAU The Origin of Civil Society 237

The French philosopher Rousseau speculates that members of a society forfeit individual freedoms for the greater good of all and stresses a revolutionary view—equality before the law.

THOMAS JEFFERSON The Declaration of Independence 259

In this primary document of modern democratic government, Jefferson justifies the right of the American colonies to dissolve their bonds with a tyrannical monarchy and to construct a free nation of independent souls in its stead.

ELIZABETH CADY STANTON Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions 269

Stanton draws on her experience as a feminist and on Thomas Jefferson’s model to show that, one hundred years after the Dec- laration of Independence, half of America still waited to be freed from tyranny.

HANNAH ARENDT Total Domination 279

Arendt, a historian and political theorist, argues that terror is necessary for the state to achieve total domination over the individual and that the concentration camp represents the most intense form of terror a state can exert in modern society.

MARCUS TULLIUS CICERO The Defense of Injustice

Cicero, the great Roman orator and legendary champion of jus- tice, plays devil’s advocate as he powerfully argues that in some circumstances justice is inexpedient and problematic for a state to provide.


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Joseph Wright’s painting depicts—in reverential, almost religious tones—a group of observers’ varied reactions to the life-and-death experiment happening before them. Some onlookers show concern for the bird being experimented upon, but ultimately, scientific curiosity wins out.

HENRY DAVID THOREAU Civil Disobedience 301

A man who lived by his ideals of justice, Thoreau explains how and why it is not only reasonable but also sometimes essential to disobey unjust laws imposed by the state.

FREDERICK DOUGLASS From Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave 327

One of the most eloquent orators of the nineteenth century, Fred- erick Douglass reveals how an indomitable spirit reacted to a sys- tem of law that sanctioned slavery, treated people as chattel, and denied justice for them and their offspring into perpetuity.

FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE Morality as Anti-Nature 343

Nietzsche, one of modernism’s most influential thinkers, argues that rules of morality and ethics set down by religions force indi- viduals to adhere to principles that deny their human nature.

IRIS MURDOCH Morality and Religion 359

Murdoch, one of the twentieth century’s most distinguished au- thors, questions whether there can be morality without religion and whether, if evil is conquered, the concept of morality would remain.

MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. Letter from Birmingham Jail 375

King, a minister and civil rights leader, advocates nonviolent action as a means of changing the unconscionable practices of racial segre- gation and of achieving justice for all.


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KWAME ANTHONY APPIAH The Case against Character 397

Appiah examines the question of whether “virtue” resides in char- acter or actions and considers the development of situationist ethics—the examination of people’s behavior in situations in which ethical choices are decidedly unclear.

MICHAEL GAZZANIGA Toward a Universal Ethics 415

Gazzaniga, a famous neuroscientist who has examined brain physi- ology and the genetics of brain development, considers the possibility that some people are genetically disposed toward unethical behavior.

ARISTOTLE The Aim of Man

Aristotle describes the search for the highest good, which he defines as happiness. In the process of defining the good, he relates it to the idea of virtuous behavior, living an ethical and moral life. For him, the concept of morality is communal, not just individual.






Tanner was an African American painter of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. His portrait of an older man and a young child in prayer, which was probably drawn from life, infuses a hum- ble scene with dignity and hope.

ADAM SMITH Of the Natural Progress of Opulence 441

This excerpt from the classic work on modern capitalism The Wealth of Nations explores the economic relationship between rural areas and cities in an attempt to understand the “natural” steps to wealth.

KARL MARX The Communist Manifesto 453

Marx, the most thorough critic of laissez-faire capitalism, traces the dehumanizing progress of the nineteenth-century bourgeois


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economic structure and heralds its downfall at the hands of a united international proletariat.

ANDREW CARNEGIE The Gospel of Wealth 481

The great American industrialist and steel magnate argues that it is not only desirable but natural that some people in a free society should be enormously wealthy and that most should not. He also in- sists that great personal wealth is held in trust for the public and must be given away during one’s own lifetime to support worthy causes.

JOHN KENNETH GALBRAITH The Position of Poverty 499

Improving the plight of society’s poorest members is a central responsibility of today’s wealthy nations, says Galbraith, the most widely read economist of the past four decades.

ROBERT B. REICH Why the Rich Are Getting Richer and the Poor, Poorer 513

The former secretary of labor talks about the different categories of workers in the United States and the inevitable changes occur- ring as the U.S. economy is altered by globalization.


The Friedmans, noted conservative economists, consider the Decla- ration of Independence’s insistence that “all men are created equal.” Their view is that equality of opportunity is essential in a democracy, but that the equality of outcome is a denial of personal freedom.






This Rockwell painting—his most requested reproduction—depicts Ruby Bridges’ first day of school in New Orleans on November 14, 1960. Federal marshals escorted Ruby to protect her from angry pro- testers who opposed the integration of the previously all-white school.


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HSÜN TZU Encouraging Learning 543

Hsün tzu connects education with the lifelong quest for moral perfection—the eventual attainment of the Way, the right path in life— and posits that the ritual of study is essential to a student’s success.

JOHN DEWEY Thinking in Education 555

One of the most influential modern thinkers in education, Dewey champions experiential activities that deeply involve students in solv- ing problems perceived as genuine, not artificially posed by the teacher.

MARIA MONTESSORI The Montessori Method 571

Montessori, Italy’s first female medical doctor, transformed an inner-city school in Rome and demonstrated that respect for the child, cultivation of the child’s imagination, and instruction in reading could reach youngsters who were thought to be hopeless.

CARTER G. WOODSON The Mis-Education of the Negro 587

Woodson, widely considered the “father of black history,” devoted his skills to teaching and documenting his methods of instruction of African American students. He saw their history omitted from textbooks and was committed to remedying the situation.

JONATHAN KOZOL The Uses of “Diversity” 605

In a letter to a younger teacher, Kozol points out that the goal of promoting diversity in American schools, despite popular rhetoric, has failed miserably. He demonstrates this contention based on his own experiences visiting schools in various parts of the country.

HOWARD GARDNER Designing Education for Understanding 619

Rather than promote a wide range of subjects for elementary and secondary schools, Gardner proposes a program that emphasizes depth rather than breadth. Mastering the principles of math, sci- ence, the arts, and history is essential to promoting understanding that can be applied across disciplines and throughout a student’s life.


Emerson, the greatest of nineteenth-century American essayists, offers advice on education that derives both from his personal ex- perience and from his meditations on the subject. One of his most basic observations is that to be successful, education must respect the child and the child’s needs.


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Mary Cassatt, who left the United States to become an important impressionist painter in France, puts forth a bold statement about the complexities of gender and class expectations in her painting In the Loge (1878).

MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT Of the Pernicious Effects Which Arise from the Unnatural Distinctions Established in Society 653

In this excerpt from one of the first great works of feminism, Woll- stonecraft argues that the laws, property rights, and class distinctions of her day are mechanisms of control that deny women their liberty and demean their lives.

JOHN STUART MILL The Subjection of Women 669

Mill, one of the most distinguished philosophers of the Victorian age, cries out against a social system that denies education and opportunity to women. He clarifies the subjection of women in marriage and argues against wasting the talent of half of society, talent that he says is in great demand in the modern industrial age.

VIRGINIA WOOLF Shakespeare’s Sister 689

In this excerpt from A Room of One’s Own, her book-length essay on the role of women in history and society, Woolf imagina- tively reconstructs the environment of Shakespeare’s hypothetical sister and demonstrates how little opportunity she would have had in the sixteenth century.

MARGARET MEAD Sex and Temperament 707

The anthropologist Margaret Mead attacks the idea that there is a biological basis for what we may think of as a masculine or a feminine temperament. She illustrates her argument with examples from a number of societies whose views about masculinity and femininity are quite at odds with any that we might recognize in our own experience.


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GERMAINE GREER Masculinity 725

One of the most celebrated of modern feminists, Greer begins by establishing that masculinity is a social, not a biological, construct. She then offers a careful analysis of the specific qualities of mas- culinity that, while obviously controversial, can be easily verified or denied by reference to the day-to-day experience of the reader.

JUDITH BUTLER From Undoing Gender 739

Judith Butler calls the entire question of gender identification and gender essentialism into question, relating the story of a young boy’s mutilation in infancy that resulted in his being raised as a girl.

KAREN HORNEY The Distrust between the Sexes

Horney, the first major female psychoanalyst, looks at Freud’s theories and other cultures to establish her own theory of devel- opment that accounts for the tangled relations between the sexes.


LANGUAGE – 761 –




In this painting from his series WordPlay, Ethiopian artist Wosene Worke Kosrof manipulates characters from Amharic—an ancient Ethiopian language—to create new visual cues and meanings.

SUSANNE K. LANGER Language 769

Langer focuses on the ways in which people begin to learn language. She credits the infant’s lalling with great importance for learning. She also tells the story of the Wild Boy of Aveyron, who was found wandering in the forest unable to talk, and who ulti- mately was unable to learn language.

MARIO PEI Theories of Language Beginning 783

Pei proposes a number of possible ways in which language orig- inated but concedes that none of them can ever be proven. The origin of language is a mystery for scientists and linguists, but the


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theories of language origin that have evolved are significant and enlightening.

JAMES BALDWIN If Black English Isn’t a Language, Then Tell Me, What Is? 795

One of America’s most distinguished writers responds to an attack on black English by pointing to African Americans’ contributions to the English language. Baldwin argues that white language has defined black people for too long, and he demands that African Americans must define themselves through their own language.

BILL BRYSON Where Words Come From 805

Bryson introduces readers to a host of unusual words as a means of suggesting five ways in which words develop: some by error, some by borrowing, some by pure invention, some by adding or subtracting parts, and some by doing absolutely nothing.

NEIL POSTMAN The Word Weavers / The World Makers 825

Postman, a champion of semantics, explains that language creates our understanding of everything. He demonstrates how metaphor controls meaning and convinces the reader, explaining how our use of language essentially controls our understanding of our world.

NOAM CHOMSKY New Horizons in the Study of Language 843

The most famous modern linguistician, Chomsky argues that hu- mans are born with an inbuilt capacity to learn any language. Ergo, there must be an “initial state” of language inherent to the brain and from which all languages develop.

ALEXANDER POPE From An Essay on Criticism

The great eighteenth-century English poet Pope establishes clear principles for criticism that avoids special pleading, favoritism, nitpicking, and a failure to see the whole. In the process, he shows readers a language rich with imagery and formal beauty.







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The Persistence of Memory is one of the most well-known paint- ings of the twentieth century. Dalí’s surrealistic masterpiece rep- resents a dream state, an expedition into the unconscious interior of the mind.

PLATO The Allegory of the Cave 865

Plato, the founder of Western philosophy, talks about the nature of perception and the limits of the human mind, emphasizing the difficulties everyone encounters in discovering the truth about appearances.

FRANCIS BACON The Four Idols 879

A prominent figure in philosophy and politics during the reign of England’s Elizabeth I, Bacon describes the obstacles that hinder human beings’ efforts to understand the world around them and the mysteries of nature.

CHARLES DARWIN Natural Selection 897

The scrupulous habits of observation that culminated in the land- mark theory of evolution are everywhere evident in Darwin’s analysis of the ways species adapt to their natural environments.

SIGMUND FREUD The Oedipus Complex 915

After Freud posited the existence and functioning of the unconscious mind, one of his most important—and controversial— theories was the assertion that infants went through a stage in which they uncon- sciously wished to possess their opposite-sex parent all for themselves.

CARL JUNG The Personal and the Collective Unconscious 927

Jung proposes that as a cultural group we have a collective unconscious—an unconscious awareness and wishes that transcend the individual and represent the needs of the group to which we belong.

RENÉ DESCARTES Fourth Meditation: Of Truth and Error

Descartes, one of the great French philosophers, meditates on the na- ture of God and how he may learn to distinguish truth from error. He conducts his inquiry entirely through his reason, with no reference to the physical world of the senses, which, he feels, might introduce error.



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EVALUATING IDEAS An Introduction to Critical Reading

The selections in this book demand a careful and attentive reading. The authors, whose works have changed the way we view our world, our institutions, and ourselves, make every effort to communicate their views with clarity and style. But their views are complex and subtle, and we must train ourselves to read them sensitively, responsively, and criti- cally. Critical reading is basic for approaching the essays in this book. Indeed, it is fundamental for approaching any reading material that deserves serious attention.

Reading critically means reading actively: questioning the premises of the argument, speculating on the ways in which evidence is used, comparing the statements of one writer with those of another, and holding an inner dialogue with the author. These skills differ from the passive reception we employ when we watch tele vi sion or read light- weight materials. Being an active, participating reader makes it pos sible for us to derive the most from good books.

Critical reading involves most of the following pro cesses:

• Prereading Developing a sense of what the piece is about and what its general purposes seem to be.

• Annotating Using a pencil or a pen to mark those passages that seem important enough to return to later. Annotations establish a dialogue between you and the author.

• Questioning Raising issues that you feel need to be taken into consideration. These may be issues that you believe the author has treated either well or badly and that you feel are important. Questioning can be part of the annotation pro cess.

• Reviewing Rereading your annotations and underlinings in order to grasp the entire “picture” of what you’ve just read. Sometimes writing a summary of the piece as you review makes the meaning even clearer.

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• Forming your own ideas Reviewing what you have read, evaluating the way that the writer presents the issues, and developing your own views on the issues. This is the final step.



Before you read a par tic u lar selection, you may find it useful to turn to the beginning of the part in which it appears. There you will find an introduction discussing the broader issues and ques- tions central to all the selections in the part. This may help you focus your thoughts and formulate your opinions as you read the essays themselves.

Begin any selection in this book by reading its headnote. Each headnote supplies historical background on the writer, sets the intellectual stage for the ideas discussed in the essay, and comments on the writer’s main points. The second part of each headnote intro- duces the main rhetorical or stylistic methods that the writer uses to communicate his or her thoughts. In the pro cess of reading the headnote, you will develop an overview that helps prepare you for reading the essay.

This kind of preparation is typical of critical reading. It makes the task of reading more delightful, more useful, and much easier. A review of the headnote to Niccolò Machiavelli and part of his essay “The Qualities of the Prince” (p. 219) will illustrate the usefulness of such preparation. This essay appears in Part Two — “Govern- ment” — so the content can already be expected to be concerned with styles of government. The introduction to Machiavelli provides the following points, each followed here by the number of the paragraph in which it appears:

Machiavelli was an Italian aristocrat in Re nais sance Italy. (1)

Machiavelli describes the qualities necessary for a prince — that is, any ruler — to maintain power. (2)

A weak Italy was prey to the much stronger France and Spain at this time. (2)

Machiavelli recommends securing power by what ever means nec- essary and maintaining it. (3)

His concern for moralizing or acting out of high moral principle is not great. (3)

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An Introduction to Critical Reading 3

He supports questionable means of becoming and remaining prince. (3)

Machiavelli does not fret over the means used to achieve his ends and sometimes advocates repression, imprisonment, and torture. (3)

Machiavelli has been said to have a cynical view of human nature. (4)

His rhetorical method is to discuss both sides of an issue: cruelty and mercy, liberality and stinginess. (8)

He uses aphorisms to persuade the reader that he is saying some- thing wise and true. (9)

With these observations in mind, the reader knows that the selec- tion that follows will be concerned with governance in Re nais sance Italy. The question of ends versus means is central to Machiavelli’s discussion, and he does not idealize people and their general good- ness. Yet because of Machiavelli’s rhetorical methods, particularly his use of aphorism,1 the reader can expect that Machiavelli’s argument will be exceptionally persuasive.

Thus, as a critical reader, you will be well advised to keep track of these basic statements from the headnote. You need not accept all of them, but you should certainly be alert to the issues that will probably be central to your experience of the essay. Remember: it is just as reasonable to question the headnote as it is to question the essay itself.

Before reading the essay in detail, you might develop an overview of its meaning by scanning it quickly. In the case of “The Qualities of the Prince,” note the subheadings, such as “On Those Things for Which Men, and Particularly Princes, Are Praised or Blamed.” Check- ing each of the subheadings before you read the entire piece might provide you with a map or guide to the essay.

Each passage is preceded by two or three prereading questions. These are designed to help you keep two or three points in mind as you read. Each of these questions focuses your attention on an important idea or interpretation in the passage. For your reading of Machiavelli, the questions are as follows:

1. Why does Machiavelli praise skill in warfare in his opening pages? How does that skill aid a prince?

2. Is it better for a prince to be loved or to be feared?

In each case, a key element in Machiavelli’s argument is the center of each question. By watching for the answer to these questions,

1 aphorism A short, pithy statement of truth.

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you will find yourself focusing on some of the most important aspects of the passage.

Annotating and Questioning

As you read a text, your annotations establish a dialogue between you and the author. You can underline or highlight important state- ments that you feel help clarify the author’s position. They may be statements to which you will want to refer later. Think of them as serving one overriding purpose: to make it possible for you to review the piece and understand its key points without having to reread it entirely.

Your dialogue with the author will be most visible in the margins of the essay, which is one reason the margins in this book are so gen- erous. Take issue with key points or note your assent — the more you annotate, the more you free your imagination to develop your own ideas. My own methods involve notating both agreement and disa- greement. I annotate thoroughly, so that after a quick second glance I know what the author is saying as well as what I thought of the essay when I read it closely. My annotations help me keep the major points fresh in my mind.

Annotation keeps track both of what the author says and of what our responses are. No one can reduce annotation to a formula — we all do it differently — but it is not a passive act. Reading with a pencil or a pen in hand should become second nature. Without annotations, you often have to reread entire sections of an essay to remember an argument that once was clear and understandable but after time has become part of the fabric of the prose and thus “invisible.” Annotation is the conquest of the invisible; it provides a quick view of the main points.

When you annotate,

• Read with a pen or a pencil.

• Underline key sentences — for example, definitions and state- ments of purpose.

• Underline key words that appear often.

• Note the topic of paragraphs in the margins.

• Ask questions in the margins.

• Make notes in the margins to remind yourself to develop ideas later.

• Mark passages you might want to quote later.

• Keep track of points with which you disagree.

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An Introduction to Critical Reading 5

Some sample annotations follow, again from Niccolò Machiavel- li’s “The Qualities of the Prince.” A sixteenth- century text in transla- tion, The Prince is challenging to work with. My annotations appear in the form of underlinings and marginal comments and questions. Only the first few paragraphs appear here, but the entire essay is annotated in my copy of the book.

A Prince’s Duty Concerning Military Matters

A prince, therefore, must not have any other object nor any other thought, nor must he take anything as his profession but war, its institutions, and its discipline; because that is the only profes- sion which befits one who commands; and it is of such importance that not only does it maintain those who were born princes, but many times it enables men of private station to rise to that posi- tion; and, on the other hand, it is evident that when princes have given more thought to personal luxuries than to arms, they have lost their state. And the first way to lose it is to neglect this art; and the way to acquire it is to be well versed in this art.

Francesco Sforza became Duke of Milan from being a private citizen because he was armed; his sons, since they avoided the incon ve niences of arms, became private citizens after having been dukes. For, among the other bad effects it causes, being dis- armed makes you despised; this is one of those infa- mies a prince should guard himself against, as will be treated below: for between an armed and an unarmed man there is no comparison whatsoever, and it is not reasonable for an armed man to obey an unarmed man willingly, nor that an unarmed man should be safe among armed servants; since, when the former is suspicious and the latter are contemptuous, it is impossible for them to work well together. And therefore, a prince who does not understand military matters, besides the other misfor- tunes already noted, cannot be esteemed by his own soldiers, nor can he trust them.

He must, therefore, never raise his thought from this exercise of war, and in peacetime he must

The prince’s profession should be war.


Being disarmed makes you despised. Is this true?

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train himself more than in time of war; this can be done in two ways: one by action, the other by the mind. And as far as actions are concerned, besides keeping his soldiers well disciplined and trained, he must always be out hunting, and must accus- tom his body to hardships in this manner; and he must also learn the nature of the terrain, and know how mountains slope, how valleys open, how plains lie, and understand the nature of rivers and swamps; and he should devote much attention to such activities. Such knowledge is useful in two ways: first, one learns to know one’s own country and can better understand how to defend it; sec- ond, with the knowledge and experience of the ter- rain, one can easily comprehend the characteristics of any other terrain that it is necessary to explore for the first time; for the hills, valleys, plains, rivers, and swamps of Tuscany, for instance, have certain similarities to those of other provinces; so that by knowing the lay of the land in one province one can easily understand it in others. And a prince who lacks this ability lacks the most important quality in a leader; because this skill teaches you to find the enemy, choose a campsite, lead troops, organ- ize them for battle, and besiege towns to your own advantage.

[There follow the examples of Philopoemon, who was always observing terrain for its military usefulness, and a recommendation that princes read histories and learn from them. Three paragraphs are omitted.]

On Those Things for Which Men, and Particularly Princes, Are Praised or Blamed

Now there remains to be examined what should be the methods and procedures of a prince in dealing with his subjects and friends. And because I know that many have written about this, I am afraid that by writing about it again I shall be thought of as presumptuous, since in discussing this material I depart radically from the procedures

Training: action/ mind

Knowledge of terrain

Two benefits

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An Introduction to Critical Reading 7

of others. But since my intention is to write some- thing useful for anyone who understands it, it seemed more suitable to me to search after the effectual truth of the matter rather than its imag- ined one. And many writers have imagined for themselves republics and principalities that have never been seen nor known to exist in reality; for there is such a gap between how one lives and how one ought to live that anyone who abandons what is done for what ought to be done learns his ruin rather than his preservation: for a man who wishes to make a vocation of being good at all times will come to ruin among so many who are not good. Hence it is necessary for a prince who wishes to maintain his position to learn how not to be good, and to use this knowledge or not to use it accord- ing to necessity.

Leaving aside, therefore, the imagined things concerning a prince, and taking into account those that are true, I say that all men, when they are spo- ken of, and particularly princes, since they are placed on a higher level, are judged by some of these quali- ties which bring them either blame or praise. And this is why one is considered generous, another miserly (to use a Tuscan word, since “avaricious” in our language is still used to mean one who wishes to acquire by means of theft; we call “miserly” one who excessively avoids using what he has); one is consid- ered a giver, the other rapacious; one cruel, another merciful; one treacherous, another faithful; one effeminate and cowardly, another bold and coura- geous; one humane, another haughty; one lascivious, another chaste; one trustworthy, another cunning; one harsh, another lenient; one serious, another frivo- lous; one religious, another unbelieving; and the like. And I know that everyone will admit that it would be a very praiseworthy thing to find in a prince, of the qualities mentioned above, those that are held to be good, but since it is neither possible to have them nor to observe them all completely, be cause human nature does not permit it, a prince must be prudent enough to know how to escape the bad reputation of those vices that would lose the state for him, and must protect himself from those that

Those who are good at all times come to ruin among those who are not good.

Prince must learn how not to be good.

Note the prince’s reputation.

Prince must avoid reputation for the worst vices.

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will not lose it for him, if this is possible; but if he cannot, he need not concern himself unduly if he ignores these less serious vices. And, moreover, he need not worry about incurring the bad reputation of those vices without which it would be difficult to hold his state; since, carefully taking everything into account, one will discover that something which appears to be a virtue, if pursued, will end in his destruction; while some other thing which seems to be a vice, if pursued, will result in his safety and his well- being.


The pro cess of review, which takes place after a careful reading, is much more useful if you have annotated and underlined the text well. To a large extent, the review pro cess can be devoted to account- ing for the primary ideas that have been uncovered by your annotations and underlinings. For example, reviewing the Machiavelli annotations shows that the following ideas are crucial to Machiavelli’s thinking:

• The prince’s profession should be war, so the most successful princes are probably experienced in the military.

• If they do not pay attention to military matters, princes will lose their power.

• Being disarmed makes the prince despised.

• The prince should be in constant training.

• The prince needs a sound knowledge of terrain.

• Machiavelli says he tells us what is true, not what ought to be true.

• Those who are always good will come to ruin among those who are not good.

• To remain in power, the prince must learn how not to be good.

• The prince should avoid the worst vices in order not to harm his reputation.

• To maintain power, some vices may be necessary.

• Some virtues may end in destruction.

Putting Machiavelli’s ideas in this raw form does an injustice to his skill as a writer, but annotation is designed to result in such summary statements. We can see that there are some constant themes, such as the insistence that the prince be a military person. As the headnote

Some vices may be needed to hold the state. True?

Some virtues may end in destruction.

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An Introduction to Critical Reading 9

tells us, in Machiavelli’s day Italy was a group of rival city- states, and France, a larger, united nation, was invading these states one by one. Machiavelli dreamed that one powerful prince, such as his favorite, Cesare Borgia, could fight the French and save Italy. He emphasized the importance of the military because he lived in an age in which war was a constant threat.

Machiavelli anticipates the complaints of pacifists — those who argue against war — by telling us that those who remain unarmed are despised. To demonstrate his point, he gives us examples of those who lost their positions as princes because they avoided being armed. He clearly expects these examples to be persuasive.

A second important theme pervading Machiavelli’s essay is his view on moral behavior. For Machiavelli, being in power is much more important than being virtuous. He is quick to admit that vice is not desirable and that the worst vices will harm the prince’s reputation. But he also says that the prince need not worry about the “less serious” vices. Moreover, the prince need not worry about incurring a bad reputation by practicing vices that are necessary if he wishes to hold his state. In the same spirit, Machiavelli tells us that there are some virtues that might lead to the destruction of the prince.

Forming Your Own Ideas

One of the most important reasons for critically reading the texts in this book is to enable you to develop your own positions on issues that these writers raise. Identifying and clarifying the main ideas is only the first step; the next step in critical reading is evaluating those ideas.

For example, you might ask whether Machiavelli’s ideas have any relevance for today. After all, he wrote nearly five hundred years ago and times have changed. You might feel that Machiavelli was relevant strictly during the Italian Re nais sance or, alternatively, that his prin- ciples are timeless and have something to teach every age. For most people, Machiavelli is a po liti cal philosopher whose views are useful anytime and anywhere.

If you agree with the majority, then you may want to examine Machiavelli’s ideas to see whether you can accept them. Consider just two of those ideas and their implications:

• Should rulers always be members of the military? Should they always be armed? Should the ruler of a nation first demonstrate competence as a military leader?

• Should rulers ignore virtue and practice vice when it is con ve nient?

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In his commentary on government, which is also included in Part Two, Lao- tzu offers different advice from Machiavelli because his assumptions are that the ruler ought to respect the rights of individu- als. For Lao- tzu the waging of war is an annoying, essentially wasteful activity. Machiavelli, on the other hand, never questions the useful- ness of war: to him, it is basic to government. As a critical reader, you can take issue with such an assumption, and in doing so you will deepen your understanding of Machiavelli.

If we were to follow Machiavelli’s advice, then we would choose American presidents on the basis of whether or not they had been good military leaders. Among those we would not have chosen might be Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Delano Roo- se velt. Those who were high- ranking military men include George Washington, Ulysses S. Grant, and Dwight D. Eisenhower. If you fol- lowed Machiavelli’s rhetorical technique of using examples to con- vince your audience, you could choose from either group to prove your case.

Of course, there are examples from other nations. It has been common since the 1930s to see certain leaders dressed in their mil- itary uniforms: Benito Mussolini (Italy), Adolf Hitler (Germany), Joseph Stalin (the Soviet Union), Idi Amin (Uganda), Muammar al- Qaddafi (Libya), Saddam Hussein (Iraq). These were all tyrants who tormented their citizens and their neighbors. That gives us some- thing to think about. Should a president dress in full military rega- lia all the time? Is that a good image for the ruler of a free nation to project?

Do you want a ruler, then, who is usually virtuous but embraces vice when it is necessary? This is a very difficult question to answer. President Richard Nixon tried to hide the Watergate break- in scandal, President Ronald Reagan did not reveal the details of the Iran- Contra scandal, President Bill Clinton lied about his relations with Monica Lewinsky, and George W. Bush misrepresented intelligence to invade Iraq. Yet all these presidents are noted for important achievements while in office. How might Machiavelli have handled these problems differently? How much truthfulness do we expect from our presi- dents? How much do we deserve?

These are only a few of the questions that are raised by my anno- tations in the few pages from Machiavelli examined here. Many other issues could be uncovered by these annotations and many more from subsequent pages of the essay. Critical reading can be a powerful means by which to open what you read to discovery and discussion.

Once you begin a line of questioning, the ways in which you think about a passage begin expanding. You find yourself with more ideas of your own that have grown in response to those you have

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An Introduction to Critical Reading 11

been reading about. Reading critically, in other words, gives you an enormous return on your investment of time. If you have the chance to investigate your responses to the assumptions and underlying premises of passages such as Machiavelli’s, you will be able to refine your thinking even further. For example, if you agree with Machiavelli that rulers should be successful military leaders for whom small vices may be useful at times, and you find yourself in a position to argue with someone who feels Machiavelli is mistaken in this view, then you will have a good opportunity to evaluate the soundness of your think- ing. You will have a chance to see your own assumptions and argu- ments tested.

In many ways, this entire book is about such opportunities. The essays that follow offer you powerful ideas from great thinkers. They invite you to participate in their thoughts, exercise your own knowl- edge and assumptions, and arrive at your own conclusions. Basically, that is the meaning of education.

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WRITING ABOUT IDEAS An Introduction to Rhetoric

Writing about ideas has several functions. First, it helps make our thinking available to others for examination. The writers whose works are presented in this book benefited from their first readers’ examinations and at times revised their work considerably as a result of such criticism. Writing about ideas also helps us refine what we think — even without criticism from others — because writing is a self- instructional experience. We learn by writing in part because writing clarifies our thinking. When we think silently, we con- struct phrases and then reflect on them; when we speak, we both utter these phrases and sort them out in order to give our audi- ence a tidier version of our thoughts. But spoken thought is diffi- cult to sustain because we cannot review or revise what we said an hour earlier. Writing has the advantage of permitting us to expand our ideas, to work them through completely and possibly to revise in the light of later discoveries. It is by writing that we truly gain con- trol over our ideas.


Filled with sophisticated discussions of important ideas, the selections in this volume endlessly stimulate our responses and our writing. Reading the works of great thinkers can also be chastening to the point of making us feel sometimes that they have said it all and there is no room for our own thoughts. However, the suggestions that follow will assist you in writing your response to the ideas of an important thinker.

Thinking Critically: Asking a Question. One of the most reli- able ways to start writing is to ask a question and then to answer it. In many ways, that is what the writers in this book have done again and

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again. James Madison begins his “Federalist No. 51” (p. 109) with a sim- ple question: “To what expedient then shall we finally resort, for main- taining in practice the necessary partition of power among the several departments, as laid down in the constitution?” This question gives him the focus he wants in establishing the principle that the power of a fed- eral government must not be concentrated in the hands of the president, the Congress, or the judiciary. His essay essentially answers his question. Adam Smith asks what the principles of accumulating wealth really are (p. 441) and proceeds to examine the economic system of his time in such detail that his views are still valued. He is associated with the capi- talist system as firmly as Marx is with the communist system. John Ken- neth Galbraith asks questions about why poverty exists in a prosperous nation such as the United States (p. 499). When Charles Darwin begins his meditation on the power of natural selection (p. 897), he starts with the most obvious question: “How will the struggle for existence . . . act in regard to variation? Can the principle of selection, which we have seen is so potent in the hands of man, apply in nature?” His previous discussion concerns the ways in which people can create variation in dogs by select- ing for desirable traits, just as they do for variations in horses, livestock, flowers, and all vegetables used for food. If people can create variability, what happens when nature does it? Such questioning is at the center of all critical thinking.

As a writer stimulated by other thinkers, you can use the same technique. For example, turn back to the Machiavelli excerpt anno- tated in “Evaluating Ideas: An Introduction to Critical Reading” (p. 5). All the annotations can easily be turned into questions. Any of the following questions, based on the annotations and our brief sum- mary of the passage, could be the basis of an essay:

• Should a leader be armed?

• Is it true that an unarmed leader is despised?

• Will those leaders who are always good come to ruin among those who are not good?

• To remain in power, must a leader learn how not to be good?

One technique is to structure an essay around the answer to such a question. Another is to develop a series of questions and to answer each of them in various parts of an essay. Yet another tech- nique is to use the question indirectly — by answering it, but not in an obvious way. In “Why the Rich Are Getting Richer and the Poor, Poorer” (p. 513), for example, Robert B. Reich answers a question we may not have asked. In the pro cess he examines the nature of our cur- rent economy to see what it promises for different sectors of the popu- lation. His answer to the question concerns the shift in labor from

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An Introduction to Rhetoric 15

manufacturing to information, revealing that “symbolic analysts” have the best opportunities in the future to amass wealth.

Many kinds of questions can be asked of a passage even as brief as the sample from Machiavelli. For one thing, we can limit our- selves to our annotations and go no further. But we also can reflect on larger issues and ask a series of questions that constitute a fuller inquiry. Out of that inquiry we can generate ideas for our own writing.

Two important ideas are isolated in our annotations. The first is that the prince must devote himself to war. In modern times, this implies that a president or other national leader must put matters of defense first — that a leader’s knowledge, training, and concerns must revolve around warfare. Taking that idea in general, we can develop other questions that, stimulated by Machiavelli’s selection, can be used to generate essays:

• Which modern leaders would Machiavelli support?

• Would Machiavelli approve of our current president?

• Do military personnel make the best leaders?

• Should our president have a military background?

• Could a modern state survive with no army or military weapons?

• What kind of a nation would we have if we did not stockpile nuclear weapons?

These questions derive from “The prince’s profession should be war,” the first idea that we isolate in the annotations. The next group of questions comes from the second idea, the issue of whether a leader can afford to be moral:

• Can virtues cause a leader to lose power?

• Is Machiavelli being cynical about morality, or is he being realistic (as he claims he is)? (We might also ask if Machiavelli uses the word realistic as a synonym for cynical.)

• Do most American leaders behave morally?

• Do most leaders believe that they should behave morally?

• Should our leaders be moral all the time?

• Which vices can we permit our leaders to have?

• Are there any vices we want our leaders to have?

• Which world leaders behave most morally? Are they the ones we most respect?

• Could a modern government govern well or at all if it were to behave morally in the face of immoral adversaries?

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One reason for reading Machiavelli is to help us confront broad and serious questions. One reason for writing about these ideas is to help clarify our own positions on such important issues.

Using Suggestions for Writing. Every selection in this book is followed by a number of questions and a number of writing assign- ments. The questions are designed to help clarify the most important issues raised in the piece. Unlike the questions derived from annota- tion, their purpose is to stimulate a classroom discussion so that you can benefit from hearing others’ thoughts on these issues. Naturally, subjects for essays can arise from such discussion, but the discussion is most important for refining and focusing your ideas. The writing assignments, on the other hand, are explicitly meant to provide a use- ful starting point for producing an essay of five hundred to one thou- sand words.

A sample suggestion for writing about Machiavelli follows:

Machiavelli advises the prince to study history and reflect on the actions of great men. Do you support such advice? Machiavelli mentions a number of great leaders in his essay. Which leaders would you recommend a prince should study? How do you think Machiavelli would agree or disagree with your recommendations?

Like most of the suggestions for writing, this one can be approached in several ways. It can be broken down into three parts. The first question is whether it is useful to study, as Machiavelli does, the per- for mance of past leaders. If you agree, then the second question asks you to name some leaders whose behavior you would recommend studying. If you do not agree, you can point to the per for mance of some past leaders and explain why their study would be pointless today. Finally, the third question asks how you think Machiavelli would agree or disagree with your choices.

To deal successfully with this suggestion for writing, you could begin by giving your reasons for recommending that a po liti cal leader study “the actions of great men.” George Santayana once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” That is, we study history in order not to have to live it over again. If you believe that a study of the past is important, the first part of an essay can answer the question of why such study could make a politician more successful.

The second part of the suggestion focuses on examples. In the sample from Machiavelli in “Evaluating Ideas,” we omitted the exam- ples, but in the complete essay they are very important for bringing Machiavelli’s point home. Few things can convince as completely as examples, so the first thing to do is to choose several leaders

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An Introduction to Rhetoric 17

to work with. If you have studied a world leader, such as Indira Gandhi, Winston Churchill, Franklin Delano Roo se velt, or Margaret Thatcher, you could use that figure as one of your examples. If you have not done so, then use the research library’s sections on history and politics to find books or articles on one or two leaders and read them with an eye to establishing their usefulness for your argument. An Inter net search can help you gather information efficiently. Con- sult the Internet resources created specially for this book at www The central question you would seek to answer is how a specific world leader could benefit from studying the behavior and conduct of a modern leader.

The third part of the suggestion for writing — how Machiavelli would agree or disagree with you — is highly speculative. It invites you to look through the selection to find quotations or comments that indicate probable agreement or disagreement on Machiavelli’s part. You can base your argument only on what Machiavelli says or implies, and this means that you will have to reread his essay to find evidence that will support your view.

In a sense, this part of the suggestion establishes a procedure for working with the writing assignments. Once you clarify the parts of the assignment and have some useful questions to guide you, and once you determine what research, if any, is necessary, the next step is to reread the selection to find the most appropriate information to help you write your own essay. One of the most important activities in learning how to write from these selections is to reread while pay- ing close attention to the annotations that you’ve made in the mar- gins of the essays. It is one way in which reading about significant ideas differs from reading for entertainment. Important ideas demand reflection and reconsideration. Rereading provides both.


Questioning the Text

In many ways, the authors of the selections that follow respond to important questions. Sometimes, as with Darwin’s essay, there is one question that controls the entire piece, but in many of the selections there is a range of questions that seem to arise from other questions. That is the nature of inquiry, and it helps not only to shape the essay but also to focus our attention as we read it. By observing the nature of the texts that you read and the ways in which questions function as touchstones for the author, you can soon see how valuable the act of questioning can be for you as a writer. The selections in this book

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are often controversial and demand a response. When you question a text, you are responding to it and your response can be used to develop ideas of your own that can be the basis for your own writing.

Useful Questions. The following questions can be applied to virtually any important material that you read.

• What are the most important ideas presented in this selection?

• Is this article an argument or is it simply an observation of fact?

• What is the main point being presented here?

• What seems to be the author’s purpose in writing this piece?

• Is the author’s purpose explicit?

• What claim or claims does the author make?

• What specifically supports the author’s claims?

• Does the author omit arguments and evidence that might contra- dict the claims?

• Does the author satisfactorily analyze and reject contradictory arguments?

• To what extent is there a bias for or against a position in the author’s argument?

• What assumptions does the author make about his subject matter?

• Has the author provided clear support for the argument in terms of evidence, example, or expert testimony?

• Which details in the argument are the most important? Are they convincing?

• How significant is this argument for me personally? For society generally?

Questioning Freud. At the beginning of “The Oedipus Com- plex” (p. 915) by Sigmund Freud, three questions suggest points that the reader might use to focus attention on the essay:

• What is the Oedipus complex?

• How does it express itself in dreams?

• How do the examples of Oedipus Rex and Hamlet illustrate the Oedipus complex?

But these questions are not the same ones you might ask yourself after reading the essay. The most important question you would probably ask is

• Is Freud right? Is there such a thing as an Oedipus complex?

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An Introduction to Rhetoric 19

Freud himself is answering a question indirectly: What is the cause of neurosis in the people he has psychoanalyzed? In response, he says that most mental illness arises from the role parents play in a person’s child- hood. Psychoneurotic children experience an unconscious love for their opposite-sex parent and a hatred for their same-sex parent. In the Greek drama, for which the complex is named, Oedipus kills his father and marries his mother. In the Elizabethan drama by Shakespeare, Hamlet has an unnatural concern for his mother and kills the king, his step- father. Here is how Freud opens his discussion:

In my experience, which is already extensive, the chief part in the mental lives of all children who later become psychoneurot- ics is played by their parents. Being in love with the one parent and hating the other are among the essential constituents of the stock of psychical impulses which is formed at that time and which is of such importance in determining the symptoms of the later neurosis. It is not my belief, however, that psychoneu- rotics differ sharply in this respect from other human beings who remain normal — that they are able, that is, to create some- thing absolutely new and peculiar to themselves. It is far more probable — and this is confirmed by occasional observations on normal children — that they are only distinguished by exhibiting on a magnified scale feelings of love and hatred to their parents which occur less obviously and less intensely in the minds of most children. (para. 1)

Sample Questions. Here are a few questions that naturally arise from reading Freud’s opening paragraph:

• Is Freud’s claim that parents play a major role in the neuroses of their children?

• Do children seem to grow up hating one parent and loving the other?

• Does my experience help support Freud’s views, or does it con- tradict them?

• When they grow up, are psychoneurotics who suffer from the Oedipus complex likely to kill one of their parents?

• Could Freud’s “occasional observations” of children confirm the wide-ranging claim that he makes?

• How do normal children seem to differ from neurotic children?

Once you have read the entire passage, you will formulate other questions that should help you develop ideas of your own as to whether or not what Freud says makes good sense to you. Oedipus complex is a term that is used often, and sometimes used irresponsibly,

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so it is important for you to decide how valid Freud’s thinking is. Once you have read Freud’s entire discussion — an argument that employs important examples to support its claim that parents play a major role in the neuroses of their children — you will want to con- sider the examples carefully. Here are some questions that might be useful after reading the essay:

• Does a discussion of fictitious characters help us understand a cause of neurosis?

• Is Hamlet a neurotic who fits Freud’s description?

• Did Oedipus’s parents cause his problems?

• Is Oedipus a neurotic?

• If Oedipus and Hamlet are clearly neurotic, does that prove Freud’s theory?

You could probably add more questions to these two lists, and if you do, you will be helping yourself not only to better understand the selection but also to better approach writing something of your own about the piece.

A Sample Beginning for a Brief Essay on Freud. The follow- ing paragraphs are the beginning of an essay in response to Freud’s theory of the Oedipus complex. A few of the questions above are implied in this sample.

My Oedipus Complex

Freud’s theory of the Oedipus Complex is a bit unsettling for me.

I grew up knowing that I loved my father more than I loved my mother.

It was not a really major difference, but it was noticeable to my

younger brother, who says he can relate to our mother more than to our

father. According to Freud, that seems to be the pattern of the Oedipus

complex, but neither I nor my brother have mental problems. Should

I be worried? Should my brother be worried? I hope not, but I’m not

entirely sure. After reading about Oedipus and Hamlet, I realize that

they are extreme cases, what Freud says is on “a magnified scale.” There

is nothing magnified about my relation with my dad, who drove me to

school and met my roommates and took us to dinner and then went

home. My mother stayed home with my brother, Tim, and that’s what

usually happens.

But there have been some things that I see now may be problems

that my brother may have that I don’t have. For example, Tim no longer

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An Introduction to Rhetoric 21

goes with Dad to fish or to hunt in spring and fall. Now I can see how

disappointed Dad has been to see that Tim does not want to do some of

the same things he does. Mom likes to go to plays, which I don’t usually

have time for, so Tim goes with her, and I think he really enjoys them.

Dad and I would rather go to a movie, and when I was in middle school

we used to see action adventure films that Mom didn’t like. Dad and I are

more interested in the same kinds of things than are Tim and Mom, who

like different things. Is this normal, or should I be worried that sometime

in the future Tim will suddenly explode and let go on Dad? Or that I will

on Mom? Should I be frightened?

–Alice F.

The rest of the essay examines Alice’s and Tim’s relationships with their parents and compares them with Freud’s examples. Alice aimed at establishing what she thought were normal patterns of behavior toward parents by questioning some of her roommates and by discussing how the literary examples Freud chose were convincing on one level but how they needed to be balanced with Alice’s own experience.

Questioning Galbraith. Alice’s essay was primarily a response to a theory that she was trying to understand in personal terms. The following is an examination of a social problem that faces many countries.

John Kenneth Galbraith in “The Position of Poverty” (p. 507) establishes some positions that he uses to clarify how poverty works in a modern society. He argues that in a society in which the majority is poor, politicians will support reform and major help for those in poverty. But in a society such as ours, in which the poor are a minor- ity, politicians will not support reform but will instead focus on the concerns of the majority. Galbraith’s point is that we are an affluent society, and thus our political focus is more on the welfare of the rich than on that of the poor.

Then, he meditates on the way in which an affluent society will respond to poverty. One key paragraph points to his hopes:

An affluent society that is also both compassionate and rational would, no doubt, secure to all who needed it the minimum income essential for decency and comfort. The corrupting effect on the human spirit of unearned revenue has unquestionably been exaggerated as, indeed, have the character-building values of hunger and privation. To secure to each family a minimum income, as a normal function of the society, would help ensure

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that the misfortunes of parents, deserved or otherwise, were not visited on their children. It would help ensure that pov- erty was not self-perpetuating. Most of the reaction, which no doubt would be adverse, is based on obsolete attitudes. When poverty was a majority phenomenon, such action could not be afforded. A poor society, as this essay has previously shown, had to enforce the rule that the person who did not work could not eat. And possibly it was justified in the added cruelty of apply- ing the rule to those who could not work or whose efficiency was far below par. An affluent society has no similar excuse for such rigor. It can use the forthright remedy of providing income for those without. Nothing requires such a society to be compas- sionate. But it no longer has a high philosophical justification for callousness. (para. 17)

Sample Questions. Certain issues in this paragraph are important enough to sustain a considerable response because they concern some of the basic views held by many people in developed countries. As a start, consider the questions that this paragraph raises:

• What does it mean for a society to be compassionate and rational?

• Who would receive a minimum income? How would it be dis- tributed?

• Should people who do not work be given an income?

• Could our society afford to pay the poor?

• If it did pay the poor not to work, would fewer people choose to work?

• Would paying poor people without jobs encourage the children of the poor not to work?

• Would the poor be more likely to improve their position if they knew the society could not or would not help them?

• Does giving people handouts create long-term dependency that may be passed on to the children of the poor?

A Sample Beginning for a Brief Essay on Galbraith. Gal- braith argues earlier in his essay that as our society is affluent it has a responsibility to the poor in large part because it can easily afford to help and by doing so could possibly eradicate poverty. Of course, not everyone agrees with this view, and there are strong arguments on both sides of the issue. In the beginning of the following brief essay,

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An Introduction to Rhetoric 23

some other specific questions lead the author to a consideration of Galbraith’s views:

• Is Galbraith’s suggestion a form of socialism?

• Would Galbraith’s suggestion result in a society’s becoming less affluent?

• What are the chances that the poor would become resentful of rather than grateful to the society?

• How would following Galbraith’s suggestion affect the values associated with individualism, as opposed to those associated with collectivism?

The paragraphs below establish the view of an opinionated writer who has given thought to Galbraith’s suggestion and boldly questions the text.

Paying the Poor

John Kenneth Galbraith’s view is that society ought to “secure to all

who needed it the minimum income essential for decency and comfort”

(para. 17). This view is idealistic but hardly possible to put into action.

For one thing, Galbraith sounds like Karl Marx, who said, “From each

according to his ability and to each according to his needs.” Marx was

talking about communism, and that experiment has failed with disastrous

results. He suggested that people who had means should give some of

their wealth to those who did not have means. What he ignored is that

the means of any society — its wealth — had to be created by someone,

and that usually signifies that wealthy people did the creating. What

happened in Russia is that the society became the opposite of what Gal-

braith says our society is. It was not an affluent society. If we do what

Galbraith says, then maybe we too would become a nonaffluent society.

I have two problems with what Galbraith says. First, I think that the

thing that makes our society affluent is initiative. The individual values that

tend to produce wealth might be smothered if the individual knew that his or

her wealth was going to people who were not earning a living. The second

problem I see is that if people know they are going to get a paycheck

from the government, they will probably not even try to do anything for

themselves. They will become dependents and drag down the society. In

his essay, Andrew Carnegie says that “civilization took its start from the

day that the capable, industrious workman said to his incompetent and

lazy fellow, ‘If thou dost not sow, thou shalt not reap,’ and thus ended

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primitive Communism by separating the drones from the bees” (para. 7).

Many of the poor are incompetent, and some are lazy, but Galbraith is

right in saying that there are some social forces that increase poverty.

So while something has to be done to prevent starvation, giving people

paychecks for no work is not the way.

–Kevin S.

This writer took issue with Galbraith from the start, all the while admitting that something had to be done to help the poor. His views are more in line with Andrew Carnegie’s because he admired the way Carnegie worked to improve society by creating libraries and other socially beneficial institutions. But in Andrew Carnegie’s time, jobs were plentiful and the causes of poverty were somewhat different from what they might be today. The overall society was less affluent, but there was a brand-new population of the superwealthy, and Carnegie was in some measure speaking directly to them.

Both Alice and Kevin asked questions about their respective texts, and in doing so, each of them established a foundation on which a successful essay could be built.

Creating a Thesis Statement

One of the most important steps in writing an essay is creating your thesis. Sometimes you will be able to approach your first draft with a thesis in mind, and sometimes you will not discover your thesis until you have reread the selection you are responding to as well as your own first draft.

Your thesis statement is an assertion that will be made good by the specifics of your piece of writing. The specifics may include references to facts, to the opinions of other important writers, or to your analysis of the text itself. What would not be among the specif- ics would be your own unsupported opinion. Your thesis statement makes a claim that you back up with careful use of evidence and testimony.

Your thesis may come at the beginning of your essay, as is typical, or it may appear in the middle or at the end. Some professional writ- ers spread their thesis throughout the essay as a series of claims, but the best way to start a brief essay is by telling your reader what you are asserting and how you plan to support those assertions.

In the selections in this book you will find several different kinds of thesis statements that demonstrate the range and complexity of theses.

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An Introduction to Rhetoric 25

• A thesis that states a position In “The Origin of Civil Society” (p. 237), Jean-Jacques Rousseau opens with one of the most famous assertions in history: “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.” This dramatic assertion precedes his discussion of how social order developed from its primitive beginnings to the circumstances of the kinds of governments he observes in his own world. Defending this position is his job in this essay.

• A thesis that establishes a cause Henry David Thoreau offers a cause for his refusal to obey certain laws: “The government itself, which is only the mode which the people have chosen to execute their will, is equally liable to be abused and per- verted before the people can act through it.” This is only one of several thesis statements Thoreau makes in the first paragraph of “Civil Disobedience” (p. 301), an essay explaining why he rejects certain laws. Behind this assertion is his earlier state- ment: “That government is best which governs not at all.” The rest of his essay is a discussion of his complaints against the laws he cannot ethically obey while still maintaining his own moral position.

• A thesis that states an opinion In “The Gospel of Wealth” (p. 481), Andrew Carnegie asserts, “The problem of our age is the proper administration of wealth, so that the ties of brotherhood may still bind together the rich and poor in harmonious relationship.” Carnegie’s first sentence expresses his opinion that the “admin- istration of wealth” is the “problem of our age.” With so many problems of any age, this statement will need a great deal of sup- port from Carnegie’s analysis of the recent events and the circum- stances of his time.

• A thesis that analyzes circumstance For this example, we turn to a passage by Virginia Woolf: “But for women, I thought, looking at the empty shelves, these difficulties were infinitely more for- midable. In the first place, to have a room of her own, let alone a quiet room or a sound-proof room, was out of the question, unless her parents were exceptionally rich or very noble, even up to the beginning of the nineteenth century.” This statement, Woolf’s famous “A Room of Her Own” declaration in “Shake- speare’s Sister” (p. 689), comes very deep in her essay (para. 12), after her careful discussion of the history of Shakespeare’s time and her analysis of the difficulties any woman of genius would have had trying to become a noted author of important books or plays.

• A thesis that defines a condition Germaine Greer’s “Masculinity” (p. 725) begins with her thesis statement, “Masculinity is to maleness

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as femininity is to femaleness. That is to say that maleness is the natural condition, the sex if you like, and masculinity is the cul- tural construct, the gender.” She offers a definition that will need a good deal of example and reference to authorities and their con- clusions regarding the possibility that masculinity is a social con- struct, not a natural condition.

• A thesis that establishes a conclusion In “The Personal and the Col- lective Unconscious” (p. 927), Carl Jung explores the uncon- scious mind through dream analysis and waits until the end to state his thesis, which he feels is a reasonable conclusion to his discussion: “I have therefore advanced the hypothesis that at its deeper levels the unconscious possesses collective contents in a relatively active state. That is why I speak of the collective uncon- scious.” The collective unconscious, he says earlier in the piece, contains archetypal patterns that most people in a given culture will experience in their dreams. In the larger body of his work, he asserts that these archetypes are universal and inherited as part of our mental biology.

Your Thesis Statement. Generally, your own thesis statement will be more direct and assertive than those of the writers in this book. One of the best ways for you to start is by creating a thesis state- ment that establishes your writing aims. A good modern thesis state- ment tells your reader what to expect from your essay and controls the scope and focus of your writing, making it easier for you and your reader to know what you are trying to say and when you are finished saying it.

Your thesis identifies your subject and what you want to say about it. Put in a slightly different way, your thesis identifies what is to be argued, explained, or focused on in your writing. It may tell your reader what your approach is and give a hint of your conclu- sions. In a sense, it acts as a signpost for your writing, guiding your reader throughout the rest of your essay.

Suggestions for Formulating a Thesis. Most of the time, creating a strong, clear thesis before writing is not a luxury but a necessity. Good writers realize that as it develops a thesis statement is dynamic, not carved in stone, not static and permanent. Just as every aspect of your writing is subject to review and revision, the thesis is capable of being recast, again and again, especially if you change your position as you argue your case. In that situation, your changed position would dictate that a new thesis statement be written.

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An Introduction to Rhetoric 27

You have several choices regarding the form of your thesis state- ment. For one, you may wish to break it into several sentences or craft it as a self-contained, single sentence. Further, you may choose to state your thesis plainly and openly — especially if your primary purpose is to be clear in what you are writing — or you may choose to imply it. To some extent, the choice of whether ot not to use a strong thesis statement depends on your purpose as a writer. A clearly formulated thesis statement is most useful when your purpose is to persuade or to inform. An implied thesis is more commonly used in an expressive piece of writing in which the end purpose of informing or persuading is either secondary or omitted. Whatever your purpose, the concept of the thesis statement should be regarded as dynamic. There is not just one kind of thesis any more than there is just one place to state it.

Sample Theses. A thesis needs defense, elaboration, example, support, and development. For that reason, the thesis is not always a declarative factual statement. Rather, it is a statement that permits you to explore the issues that interest you and identify the key ele- ments that will constitute your essay. A thesis can be stated in a single sentence or in a group of sentences or phrases. The point is that it shows what your concerns are and how you plan to approach discuss- ing them.

The following sample thesis statements are appropriate for brief essays. They all stake some kind of claim and have the potential to be developed into full-length pieces of writing.

• Because of his willingness to break the law in a cause that he felt was just, it is clear that Henry David Thoreau would have cham- pioned the cause of Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

• While Friederich Nietzsche may be correct in saying that our concept of morality is anti-nature, what he neglects to consider is that humans do not live in a state of nature: we live in a civiliza- tion that would collapse without morality.

• Margaret Mead says that gender-linked temperaments develop because society reinforces them and essentially imposes them on individuals. That may be true to some extent, but my observa- tions, and those of Judith Butler, suggest that there is a significant genetic factor that has to be taken into account.

• Andrew Carnegie would be very pleased with the distribution of wealth in our country today because it is approximately the same as it was in his time. He would have specifically approved of the decisions of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett to give away

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their wealth posthumously to benefit the public. Here are my suggestions for how their money should be spent.

• The question of whether or not democracy will become unsuc- cessful again, as Carl Becker suggests may happen, is extremely important to consider because some of the same conditions that deprived Athens of its democracy seem to be at work today. I want to examine several of those conditions and explain why they are threats to our democracy.

• The writer who I feel is most in sympathy with Iris Murdoch’s views on morality and religion is Martin Luther King Jr. King, even more often than Murdoch, refers to religion and the Bible, which essentially agrees with Murdoch’s view on the existence of evil. By examining the details of King’s writing, I will show how close he is to Murdoch’s position on morality.

Supporting Your Thesis. Each of these statements is flexible enough to appear at the beginning of an essay, within the first para- graph or somewhere deeper in the piece. Each has the advantage of implying what is to follow. In the first case, the writer’s job is to ana- lyze Thoreau’s views in order to connect them with Stanton’s. The fact that they both lived at the same time will help with the argument, but the challenge is to show that Thoreau felt women should enjoy the equality that Stanton felt was the only just position that society could take. The writer’s thesis needs support to make it effective. Here are some points from Thoreau’s essay that support the thesis:

• When Stanton declares that laws forbidding women to take prominent places in society are unnatural and therefore have no force, Thoreau plainly agrees, having himself written that unjust laws exist and that we have a choice of whether to obey them.

• Stanton calls for change and Thoreau agrees with her when he says, “Abolitionists should at once effectually withdraw their support, both in person and property, from the government of Massachusetts, and not wait till they constitute a majority of one before they suffer the right to prevail through them” (para. 20). Stanton’s view is that the time for action is now, not later, and in that, Thoreau agrees.

• Thoreau begins his essay by quoting John L. O’Sullivan, “That government is best which governs least.” Stanton might agree with that idea but amend it to say, “That government is best that governs all equally.” Thoreau would certainly applaud that idea.

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An Introduction to Rhetoric 29

These examples are happy ones in that they help the writer shape the remainder of the essay. However, every thesis statement repre- sents a claim, and in order to make the claim stick, the writer has to provide warrants that support the claim. In other words, what are the truths that warrant a writer’s claim that Henry David Thoreau would have been likely to support Elizabeth Cady Stanton? The rest of the essay must answer that question.

A successful thesis must be accompanied by

• Evidence that supports the thesis, either from the selection or from outside sources, either factual or drawn from the opinions of experts,

• Statements and testimony from authoritative texts that address the thesis concept,

• Careful and balanced analysis of the text of the author in question,

• Discussion and analysis of counterarguments that might alter the thesis.

No matter how it is supported, you must realize that your thesis state- ment is dynamic: it can change. The best thesis statements will estab- lish your purpose and restrict the scope of your essay. A good thesis statement will also reveal some of your conclusions and clarify your approach to your subject. And ultimately, the whole purpose of the thesis is to give you — and your reader — a clear sense of direction for your writing.


Every selection in this book — whether by Francis Bacon or Mar- garet Mead, Frederick Douglass or Karl Marx — employs specific rhe- torical techniques that help the author communicate important ideas. Each introduction identifies the special rhetorical techniques used by the writer, partly to introduce you to the way in which such tech- niques are used.

Rhetoric is a general term used to discuss effective writing tech- niques. For example, an interesting rhetorical technique that Mach- iavelli uses is illustration by example, usually to prove his points. Francis Bacon (p. 879) uses the technique of enumeration by parti- tioning his essay into four sections. Enumeration is especially useful when the writer wishes to be very clear or to cover a subject point by point, using each point to accumulate more authority in the discussion. Martin Luther King Jr. (p. 375) uses the technique of allusion, reminding the religious leaders who were his audience

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that St. Paul wrote similar letters to help early Christians better understand the nature of their faith. By alluding to the Bible and St. Paul, King effectively reminds his audience that they all were serving God.

A great many more rhetorical techniques may be found in these readings. Some of the techniques are familiar because many of us already use them, but we study them to understand their value and to use them more effectively. After all, rhetorical techniques make it possible for us to communicate the significance of important ideas. Many of the authors in this book would surely admit that the effect of their ideas actually depends on the way they are expressed, which is a way of saying that they depend on the rhetorical methods used to express them.

Most of the rhetorical methods used in these essays are discussed in the introductions to the individual selections. Several represent exceptionally useful general techniques. These are methods of devel- opment and represent approaches to developing ideas that contrib- ute to the fullness and completeness of an essay. You may think of them as techniques that can be applied to any idea in almost any situ- ation. They can expand on the idea, clarify it, express it, and demon- strate its truth or effectiveness. Sometimes a technique may be direct, sometimes indirect. Sometimes it calls attention to itself, sometimes it works behind the scenes. Sometimes it is used alone, sometimes in conjunction with other methods. The most im portant techniques are explained and then illustrated with examples from the selections in the book.

Development by Definition. Definition is essential for two purposes: to make certain that you have a clear grasp of your con- cepts and that you communicate a clear understanding to your reader. Definition goes far beyond the use of the dictionary in the manner of “According to Webster’s, . . .” Such an approach is facile because complex ideas are not easily reduced to dictionary definitions. A more useful strategy is to offer an explanation followed by an example. Because some of the suggestions for writing that follow the selections require you to use definition as a means of writing about ideas, the following tips should be kept in mind:

• Definition can be used to develop a paragraph, a section, or an entire essay.

• It considers questions of function, purpose, circumstance, origin, and implications for different groups.

• Explanations and examples make all definitions more complete and effective.

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An Introduction to Rhetoric 31

Many of the selections are devoted almost entirely to the act of definition. For example, in “The Position of Poverty” (p. 499),” John Kenneth Galbraith begins by defining the two kinds of poverty that he feels characterize the economic situation of the poor — case poverty and insular poverty. He defines case poverty in this paragraph:

Case poverty is commonly and properly related to some characteristic of the individuals so afflicted. Nearly everyone else has mastered his environment; this proves that it is not intractable. But some quality peculiar to the individual or family involved — mental deficiency, bad health, inability to adapt to the discipline of industrial life, uncontrollable procreation, alcohol, discrimination involving a very limited minority, some educa- tional handicap unrelated to community shortcoming, or perhaps a combination of several of these handicaps — has kept these indi- viduals from participating in the general well- being. (para. 7)

When he begins defining insular poverty, however, he is unable to produce a neat single- paragraph definition. He first establishes that insular poverty describes a group of people alienated from the majority for any of many reasons. Next, he spends five paragraphs discussing what can produce such poverty — migration, racial preju- dice, and lack of education. When working at the level of serious- ness that characterizes his work, Galbraith shows us that definition works best when it employs full description and complex, detailed discussion.

An essay on the annotated selection from Machiavelli might define a number of key ideas. For example, to argue that Machiavelli is cynical in suggesting that his prince would not retain power if he acted morally, we would need to define what it means to be cyni- cal and what moral behavior means in po liti cal terms. When we argue any point, it is important to spend time defining key ideas.

Martin Luther King Jr., in “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (p. 375), takes time to establish some key definitions so that he can speak forcefully to his audience:

Let us consider a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make bind- ing on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal. (para. 17)

This is an adequate definition as far as it goes, but most serious ideas need more extensive definition than this passage gives us. And

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King does go further, providing what Machiavelli does in his essay: ex amples and explanations. Every full definition will profit from the extension of understanding that an explanation and example will provide. Consider this paragraph from King:

Let me give another explanation. A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up that state’s seg- regation laws was demo cratically elected? Throughout Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties in which, even though Negroes constitute a majority of the population, not a single Negro is registered. Can any law enacted under such cir- cumstances be considered demo cratically structured? (para. 18)

King makes us aware of the fact that definition is complex and capable of great subtlety. It is an approach that can be used to develop a paragraph or an essay.

The following excerpt is by a student writer whose an essay is developed using the method of definition. Using Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s distinction between natural liberty and civil liberty (p. 237), the writer tries to establish exactly what those different kinds of liberties are.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau makes an interesting distinction between

two kinds of liberty. The first is connected with the origin of society,

which Rousseau takes to be the family, and it is called natural liberty.

I take this to mean the kind of liberty we feel when we are alone in

nature, or when we live in the country in a very remote place. Natural

liberty is the freedom we feel when we alone determine what is permit-

ted in terms of behavior and what is not. On the other hand, the sec-

ond kind of liberty is called civil liberty and that is the kind of liberty

we experience when we live in a city or a group. In the second case,

everyone has to give up a bit of individual freedom in order to “fit in”

to society. In today’s society we can see interesting examples of both

kinds of liberty.

–Rashida G.

In this case, the writer goes on to discuss aspects of Libertarian poli- tics and how they connect with ideas that Rousseau developed. She also uses her personal experience of a train ride during which other passengers behaved in ways that annoyed her but that they felt enti- tled to. Ultimately, she discusses the idea of liberties in conflict with each other.

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An Introduction to Rhetoric 33

Development by Comparison. Comparison is a natural oper- ation of the mind. We rarely talk for long about any topic without comparing it with something else. We are fascinated with compari- sons between ourselves and others and come to know ourselves better as a result of such comparisons. Machiavelli, for example, compares the armed with the unarmed prince and shows us, by means of exam- ples, the results of being unarmed.

Comparison usually includes the following:

• A definition of two or more elements to be compared (by ex ample, explanation, description, or any combination of these),

• Discussion of shared qualities,

• Discussion of unique qualities,

• A clear reason for making the comparison.

Virginia Woolf ’s primary rhetorical strategy in “Shakespeare’s Sister” (p. 689) is to invent a comparison between William Shakespeare and a fictional sister that he never had. Woolf ’s point is that if indeed Shakespeare had had a sister who was as brilliant and gifted as he was, she could not have become famous like her brother. The Elizabethan environment would have expected her to remain uneducated and to serve merely as a wife and mother. In the sixteenth century, men like William Shakespeare could go to London and make their fortune. Women, in comparison, were prisoners of social attitudes regarding their sex. As Woolf tells us,

He was, it is well known, a wild boy who poached rabbits, per- haps shot a deer, and had, rather sooner than he should have done, to marry a woman in the neighborhood, who bore him a child rather quicker than was right. That escapade sent him to seek his fortune in London. He had, it seemed, a taste for the theatre; he began by holding horses at the stage door. Very soon he got work in the theatre, became a successful actor, and lived at the hub of the universe, meeting everybody, know- ing everybody, practicing his art on the boards, exercising his wits in the streets, and even getting access to the palace of the queen. Meanwhile his extraordinarily gifted sister, let us sup- pose, remained at home. She was as adventurous, as imagina- tive, as agog to see the world as he was. But she was not sent to school. She had no chance of learning grammar and logic, let alone of reading Horace and Virgil. She picked up a book now and then, one of her brother’s perhaps, and read a few pages. But then her parents came in and told her to mend the stock- ings or mind the stew and not moon about with books and papers. (para. 7)

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Woolf’s comparison makes it clear that the social circumstances of the life of a woman in Shakespeare’s time worked so much against her personal desires and ambitions that it would be all but impos sible for her to achieve anything of distinction on the London stage — or in any other venue in which men dominated. Even though a woman was monarch of En gland, it was a man’s world.

A natural comparison can be made between Sigmund Freud’s “The Oedipus Complex” (p. 915) and Carl Jung’s “The Personal and Collective Unconscious” (p. 927). The following writer begins his essay trying to work out the comparison because he sees that these selections tend to reinforce each other even though Freud and Jung were often in disagreement.

Even though Carl Jung seems to be treating the idea of the

unconscious differently from Sigmund Freud, I think that they have

more in common than they seem to. For example, when Jung talks

about the collective unconscious containing archetypes that are sup-

posed to be universal, Freud seems to be talking about just such an

archetype. His discussion of the Oedipus complex seems to me to be

the pattern he describes — of the child loving one parent and hat-

ing the other — to be a basic archetype of human behavior. I may be

wrong, but if it is not an archetype, what is it? Both Sophocles and

Shakespeare, almost two thousand years apart, came up with basically

the same idea. Jung does not refer to Freud’s examples, but he sees

archetypes the way Freud does. They both think the archetypes are

built in to us as people.

–Brian J.

Development by Example. Examples make abstract ideas concrete. When Machiavelli talks about looking at history to learn po liti cal lessons, he cites specific cases and brings them to the atten- tion of his audience, the prince. Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Inde pen dence (p. 259) devotes most of his text to examples of the unacceptable behavior of the En glish king toward the colonies. Elizabeth Cady Stanton (p. 269) follows his lead and does the same, beginning her list of examples of gender discrimination with the assertion that “The history of mankind is a history of repeated inju- ries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world” (para. 3). Then she lists the facts just as did Jefferson. Every selection in this book

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An Introduction to Rhetoric 35

offers examples either to convince us of the truth of a proposition or to deepen our understanding of a statement.

Examples need to be chosen carefully because the burden of proof and of explanation and clarity often depends on them. When the sample suggestion given earlier for writing on Machiavelli’s essay asks who among modern world leaders Machiavelli would approve, it is asking for carefully chosen examples. When doing research for an essay, it is important to be sure that your example or examples really suit your purposes.

Examples can be used in several ways. One is to do as Charles Darwin (p. 897) does and present a large number of examples that force readers to a given conclusion. This indirect method is some- times time- consuming, but the weight of numerous examples can be effective. A second method, such as Machiavelli’s, also can be effec- tive. By making a statement that is controversial or questionable and that can be tested by example, you can lead your audience to draw a reasonable conclusion.

When using examples, keep these points in mind:

• Choose a few strong examples that support your point.

• Be concrete and specific — naming names, citing events, and giv- ing details where necessary.

• Develop each example as fully as possible, and point out its rel- evance to your position.

In some selections, such as Darwin’s discussion of natural selection, the argument hinges entirely on examples, and Darwin cites one example after another. Carl Jung (p. 927), however, con- centrates on a single example when he begins to explain the nature of the collective unconscious. He establishes that Sigmund Freud’s view of the nature of the unconscious mind is centered on the personal and is a result of the repression of material that he calls “incompatible” to the conscious mind of the individual. During childhood bad things happen and we repress them as we grow up. Sometimes these repressions cause psychic damage and sometimes they do not. Usually they surface in dreams that are personal in nature. But Jung is sure that the unconscious is collective and not only personal. As a way of arguing his case, he presents us with an example of a “father complex” that could be virtually universal in nature:

Casting about in my mind for an example to illustrate what I have just said, I have a particularly vivid memory of a woman patient with a mild hysterical neurosis which, as we expressed it in those

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days, had its principal cause in a “father complex.” By this we wanted to denote the fact that the patient’s peculiar relationship to her father stood in her way. She had been on very good terms with her father, who had since died. It was a relationship chiefly of feeling. In such cases it is usually the intellectual function that is developed, and this later becomes the bridge to the world. Accord- ingly our patient became a student of philosophy. Her energetic pursuit of knowledge was motivated by her need to extricate her- self from the emotional entanglement with her father. (para. 5)

Jung develops this example extensively. This paragraph is more than a page and a half long and Jung continues his discussion of the example for another page because he sees it as a key to his argument.

Considering the claim that Robert B. Reich (p. 513) makes about symbolic analysts, the following writer develops his ideas about what work those analysts do and who in his immediate college environ- ment would qualify as symbolic analysts. This paragraph is within an essay that explores the idea of the symbolic analyst and takes the posi- tion that Reich is accurate in his analysis.

Symbolic analysts work with ideas, not with their hands. But as

Robert B. Reich says, there are higher and lower symbolic analysts and

their economic success will be different depending on who they are.

Reich talks about some analysts getting incredibly rich, and I think he

means analysts like Mark Zuckerberg, who worked with computer symbols

and came up with the idea for Facebook. Some of my friends who major

in computer science expect that they may be able to develop ideas that

will make them rich or at least help them find good jobs as coders. But

there are other symbolic analysts like my friends who major in history.

They also analyze symbols, but I’m not sure there will be a good market

for their talents even though they know a lot and enjoy what they do.

I think they might have to get an MBA or a law degree, both of which

would make them symbolic analysts who can earn a living.

–Hector D.

Development by Analysis of Cause and Effect. People are interested in causes. We often ask what causes something, as if understanding the cause will somehow help us accept the result. Yet cause and effect can be subtle. With definition, comparison, and exam- ple, we can feel that the connections between a specific topic and our main points are reasonable. With cause and effect, however, we need to reason out the cause. Be warned that development by analysis

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An Introduction to Rhetoric 37

of cause and effect requires you to pay close attention to the terms and situations you write about. Because it is easy to be wrong about causes and effects, their relationship must be examined thoughtfully. After an event has occurred, only a hypothesis about its cause may be pos- sible. In the same sense, if no effect has been observed, only speculation about outcomes with various plans of action may be possible. In both cases, reasoning and imagination must be employed to establish a rela- tionship between cause and effect.

The power of the rhetorical method of development through cause and effect is such that you will find it in every section of this book, in the work of virtually every author. Keep in mind these sug- gestions for using it to develop your own thinking:

• Clearly establish in your own mind the cause and the effect you wish to discuss.

• Develop a good line of reasoning that demonstrates the relation- ship between the cause and the effect.

• Be sure that the cause- effect relationship is real and not merely apparent.

In studying nature, scientists often examine effects in an effort to discover causes. Darwin, for instance, sees the comparable structure of the skeletons of many animals of different species and makes every effort to find the cause of such similarity (p. 897). His answer is a theory: evolution. Andrew Carnegie (p. 481), the defender of wealth and modern capitalism, praises the results of the modern industrial model of manufacture. He reminds us that in former times most manufacture was conducted at home and in small shops in an environment that was stable and suffered little change or upheaval.

But the inevitable result of such a mode of manufacture was crude articles at high prices. To-day the world obtains commod- ities of excellent quality at prices which even the generation pre- ceding this would have deemed incredible. In the commercial world similar causes would have produced similar results, and the race is benefited thereby. The poor enjoy what the rich could not before afford. What were the luxuries have become the neces- saries of life. The laborer has now more comforts than the farmer had a few generations ago. The farmer has more luxuries than the landlord had, and is more richly clad and better housed. The landlord has books and pictures rarer, and appointments more artistic, than the King could then obtain. (para. 4)

Carnegie’s examples of laborer, farmer, and landlord stand for the lower, middle, and upper classes in a modern society. He then shows

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that the modern industrial mode of manufacture has benefited not just one class, but everyone, from the poor to the rich.

Everywhere in this collection authors rely on cause and effect to develop their thoughts. Thomas Jefferson (p. 259) establishes the rela- tionship between abuses by the British and America’s need to sever its colonial ties. Karl Marx (p. 453) establishes the capitalist economic system as the cause of the oppression of the workers who produce the wealth enjoyed by the rich. John Kenneth Galbraith (p. 499) is concerned with the causes of poverty, which he feels is an anomaly in modern society. Henry David Thoreau (p. 301) establishes the causes that demand civil disobedience as an effect. John Stuart Mill (p. 669) believes traditional Western values support the subordina- tion of women.

John Kenneth Galbraith’s “The Position of Poverty” (p. 499) led the writer of the following paragraph to consider what causes poverty in her immediate environment. She relies on Galbraith’s distinctions but sees her world a bit differently from the way Galbraith describes society.

When I was reading John Kenneth Galbraith’s essay “The Posi-

tion of Poverty,” I did not feel that his two distinctions, case poverty

and insular poverty, were enough to explain the kind of poverty that I

have witnessed in my home community. For one thing, I have worked

in the Shoreline Food Bank in the summers and when I’m home during

the holiday breaks and I see something different. I’m going to major in

economics, so I have been watching the way our local companies ship

jobs overseas, and I talk with people who have lost jobs in our area when

their company outsources their jobs and they have to come to the food

bank to make ends meet. These are not people with special problems, as

with case poverty, and they are not all minorities, who suffer from insular

poverty. This is a new kind of poverty caused by companies not caring

about their workers.

–Sheila B.

This writer is especially sensitive to the issues that Galbraith discusses because her experiences in her community and her professional ambi- tions help her see poverty as a local problem.

Development by Analysis of Circumstances. Everything we discuss exists as certain circumstances. Traditionally, the discus- sion of circumstances has had two parts. The first examines what is

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An Introduction to Rhetoric 39

possible or impossible in a given situation. Whenever you try to con- vince your audience to take a specific course of action, it is helpful to show that given the circumstances, no other action is possible. If you disagree with a course of action that people may intend to follow because none other seems possible, however, you may have to dem- onstrate that another is indeed possible.

The second part of this method of development analyzes what has been done in the past: if something was done in the past, then it may be possible to do it again in the future. A historical survey of a situation often examines circumstances.

When using the method of analysis of circumstances to develop an idea, keep in mind the following tips:

• Clarify the question of possibility and impossibility.

• Review past circumstances so that future ones can be determined.

• Suggest a course of action based on an analysis of possibility and past circumstances.

• Establish the present circumstances, listing them if necessary. Be detailed, and concentrate on facts.

Martin Luther King Jr. examines the circumstances that led to his imprisonment and the writing of “Letter from Birming- ham Jail” (p. 375). He explains that “racial injustice engulfs this community,” and he reviews the “hard brutal facts of the case.” His course of action is clearly stated and reviewed. He explains why some demonstrations were postponed and why his or gan- iz ation and others have been moderate in demands and actions. But he also examines the possibility of using nonviolent action to help change the inequitable social circumstances that existed in Birmingham. His examination of past action goes back to the Bible and the actions of the Apostle Paul. His examination of contempo- rary action is based on the facts of the situation, which he carefully enumerates. He concludes his letter by inviting the religious lead- ers to whom he addresses himself to join him in a righ teous move- ment for social change.

Machiavelli is also interested in the question of possibility, because he is trying to encourage his ideal prince to follow a pre- scribed pattern of behavior. As he constantly reminds us, if the prince does not do so, it is possible that he will be deposed or killed. Taken as a whole, “The Qualities of the Prince” (p. 219) is a recitation of the circumstances that are necessary for success in politics. Machiavelli establishes this in a single paragraph:

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Therefore, it is not necessary for a prince to have all of the above- mentioned qualities, but it is very necessary for him to appear to have them. Furthermore, I shall be so bold as to assert this: that having them and practicing them at all times is harm- ful; and appearing to have them is useful; for instance, to seem merciful, faithful, humane, forthright, religious, and to be so; but his mind should be disposed in such a way that should it become necessary not to be so, he will be able and know how to change to the contrary. And it is essential to understand this: that a prince, and especially a new prince, cannot observe all those things by which men are considered good, for in order to maintain the state he is often obliged to act against his promise, against charity, against humanity, and against religion. And therefore, it is neces- sary that he have a mind ready to turn itself according to the way the winds of Fortune and the changeability of affairs require him; and, as I said above, as long as it is possible, he should not stray from the good, but he should know how to enter into evil when necessity commands. (para. 23)

This is the essential Machiavelli, the Machiavelli who is often thought of as a cynic. He advises his prince to be virtuous but says that it is not always possible to be so. Therefore, the prince must learn how not to be good when “necessity commands.” The circumstances, he tells us, always determine whether it is possible to be virtuous. A charitable reading of this passage must conclude that his advice is at best amoral.

Many of the essays in this collection rely on an analysis of circumstances. Frederick Douglass (p. 327) examines the cir- cumstances of slavery and freedom. When Karl Marx reviews the changes in economic history in The Communist Manifesto (p. 453), he examines the circumstances under which labor functions:

The feudal system of industry, under which industrial production was monopolized by closed guilds, now no longer sufficed for the growing wants of the new market. The manu- facturing system took its place. The guild- masters were pushed on one side by the manufacturing middle- class: division of labor between the different corporate guilds vanished in the face of division of labor in each single workshop. (para. 14)

Robert B. Reich (p. 513) examines the circumstances of our con- temporary economy. He determines, among other things, that the wages of in- person servers — bank tellers, retail salespeople, restau- rant employees, and others — will continue to be low despite the great demand for such workers. Not only are these workers easily replaced, but automation has led to the elimination of jobs — including

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An Introduction to Rhetoric 41

bank teller jobs made redundant by automatic tellers and by bank- ing with personal computers and routine factory jobs replaced by automation. Under current circumstances, these workers will lose out to the “symbolic analysts” who know how to make their specialized knowledge work for them and who cannot be easily replaced.

The question about the lack of outstanding men in politics that Alexis de Tocqueville raises in “Government by Democracy in America” (p. 121) led the writer of the following excerpt to consider whether what Tocqueville said in 1835 is true today.

People have been complaining about politicians in Washington, saying

that they are not getting anything done and that we don’t have the leader-

ship that we did in the 1980s or even in the 1990s. Alexis de Tocqueville

says, “the most outstanding men in the United States are rarely summoned

to public office.” I think he may be right. For example, anyone who runs

for a major public office has to expect that the opponents will run attack

ads that will do everything to ruin that person’s reputation. What person

seeking public office is so moral and upright that some dirt can’t be found

that could be used to make that person look bad? I think, for example,

that there have been some politicians who could have won office who

refuse to run because of the possibility that they will be hurt and their

family hurt in the process. What surprises me is that Tocqueville seems

aware of the effects of dirty politics in his own time and now we have

even more ways of attacking “outstanding men” running for office.

–Linda R.

Development by Analysis of Quotations. Not all the essays in this collection rely on quotations from other writers, but many do. “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (p. 375), for example, relies on quo- tations from the Bible. In that piece, Martin Luther King Jr. implies his analysis of the quotations because the religious leaders to whom he writes know the quotations well. By invoking the quotations, King gently chides the clergy, who ought to be aware of their relevance. In a variant on using quotations, Robert B. Reich (p. 513) relies on information taken from various government reports. He includes the information in his text and supplies numerous footnotes indicating the sources, which are usually authoritative and convincing.

When you use quotations, remember these pointers:

• Quote accurately, and avoid distorting the original context.

• Unless the quotation is absolutely self- evident, offer your own clarifying comments.

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• To help your audience understand why you have chosen a spe- cific quotation, establish its function in your essay.

When Germaine Greer (p. 725) undertakes her study of the social construction of masculinity, one of her most interesting rhe- torical techniques is to use quotations from a number of sources that help make her case. For one thing, she sprinkles brief quotations throughout the essay, such as Bertrand de Jouvenel’s “A man feels himself more of a man when he is imposing himself and making others the instruments of his will.” She does not comment on these quotations, but simply inserts them for us to ponder. But she also uses some quotations that she then analyzes, such as the comment from a U.S. Navy officer that begins with “Warriors kill” (para. 10) and goes on to declare that men are warriors and women are not. Greer analyzes the paragraph and uses its own statements to decon- struct it and show that by its own terms women can function in the army as well as men can. Greer is an English professor and thus has considerable experience analyzing texts that make claims that cannot be substantiated. Her method of textual analysis is accepted practice among scholars and helps her convince the reader of her argument.

Kwame Anthony Appiah (p. 397) uses quotations in an inter- esting variety of ways. He frequently refers to other authorities and quotes from their work, but in his selection “The Case Against Character,” he does something very unusual and quotes an entire short story by the fiction writer Lydia Davis. The story is short enough to be included in his first sentence and it helps illustrate Appiah’s focus on the “virtuous person” and the nature of the vir- tuous character. His analysis of the story leads to the statement, “A virtuous act is one that a virtuous person would do, done for the reasons a virtuous person would do it.” In other words, virtuous acts arise from virtuous character. For comparison, Appiah then refers to Aristotle’s Ethics and quotes extensively from Rosalind Hursthouse’s On Virtue Ethics, which essentially questions whether virtue arises from character. Moreover, Appiah goes on to refer to Aristotle’s term eudaimonia, which he defines as flourishing and which other ethicists sometimes define as happiness. Appiah then examines in depth the concepts implied by that crucial word and analyzes the ways Aristotle uses it to connect the ethical issues of virtue with human character in an effort to see if character is the fundamental issue or not.

In the process of his analysis and discussion of the ethical issues connected with virtue, Appiah refers to many sources and quotes them to clarify his argument. He even goes so far as to refer to the

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An Introduction to Rhetoric 43

popular film Schindler’s List, which portrays a German business- man who works for the Nazis building war material while shield- ing more than one thousand Jews from the death camps. Examining the character of Schindler, a man widely regarded as heroic, Appiah says that he “was mercenary, arrogant, hypocritical, and calculating sometimes . . . but not always.” The question of virtue needs closer examination.

In your own writing you will find plenty of opportunity to cite passages from an author whose ideas have engaged your attention. In writing an essay in response to Machiavelli, Carl Jung, Germaine Greer, or any other author in the book, you may find yourself quot- ing and commenting in some detail on specific lines or passages. This is especially true if you find yourself disagreeing with a point. Your first job, then, is to establish what you disagree with — and usually it helps to quote, which is essentially a way of producing evidence.

Finally, it must be noted that only a few aspects of the rhetori- cal methods used by the authors in this book have been discussed here. Rhetoric is a complex art that warrants fuller study. But the points raised here are important because they are illustrated in many of the texts you will read, and by watching them at work you can begin to learn to use them yourself. By using them you will be able to achieve in your writing the fullness and purposiveness that mark mature prose.


Most of the selections in this book are constructed as arguments, although they take a variety of forms. Some assume a hostile audi- ence, some a friendly audience. Some assume their subject is con- troversial, some assume they are primarily uncovering the truth, and some are simply being informative by explaining something complex. Machiavelli’s selection from The Prince argues for a strongman politi- cal leader. In her analysis of Nazism, Hannah Arendt argues that ter- ror is necessary for the state to achieve total domination over the peo- ple. Henry David Thoreau argues for civil disobedience as a means of achieving justice. It is one of the most powerful arguments for justice that any American has written. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” is itself one of the premier arguments in favor of nonviolent action. Its presentation of reasoned argument is outstand- ing. Andrew Carnegie argues that the wealthy must give their money back to the community in their lifetimes so they can see that their money is well spent.

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Karl Marx’s The Communist Manifesto is still relevant long after the demise of communism. His arguments against globalization are prob- ably the most telling for today’s audience. John Kenneth Galbraith’s argument in “The Position of Poverty” is that our economy must address the plight of the poor, not the “plight” of the rich. Robert B. Reich also addresses globalization and argues that the people who will prosper in our economy are the “symbolic analysts” who can interpret and master texts. One of the most impressive arguments in the book is Virginia Woolf ’s insistence that if Shakespeare’s imaginary “gifted sister” had the same advantages of education and independence that Shakespeare enjoyed she might have become as accomplished and as well-known. Woolf knew that the mores of the age in which Shake- speare lived denied both education and independence for women and assigned them to supporting roles in the family. What Woolf argued for was equality, something still wanting in her own society. In reality, Woolf is arguing not so much for Shakespeare’s sister as for herself and other women in her own age. John Stuart Mill in his essay on the subjec- tion of women in the nineteenth century is arguing much the same case as Woolf is.

Iris Murdoch conducts an experimental argument asking whether religion is essential for morality to be relevant. Can there be moral- ity without religion? By contrast, Nietzsche argues that many forms of morality are denials of our basic nature. He goes so far as to take on the Sermon on the Mount in the Bible, pointing out that it is unnatu- ral to kill the passions, by which he makes “particular reference to sexuality.” Nietzsche uses careful analysis of arguments against his position to make his point. Charles Darwin argues with masses of collected evidence to derive an argument in favor of natural selection and, thus, evolution.

Most of the selections use one or more of the three basic forms of argument. Classical arguments rely on facts and evidence as well as on logic and reasoning to convince the reader of a specific posi- tion. Andrew Carnegie’s argument in favor of unequal distribution of wealth is a case in point. He begins by remarking that the Sioux Indians make no distinction between the habitation or the dress of the rich or the poor. He argues that “civilized man” was once in that condition but that with industry and civilization comes wealth and inequality. Carnegie can tolerate these inequities, but he ultimately points to the fact that wealthy people are able to be philanthropists and improve the lot of everyone. And his argument extends to try- ing to convince the wealthy that they are merely stewards of wealth, not its owners. Their responsibility is to use it wisely for the benefit of society. In fact, Carnegie did exactly that, giving all his money to public service.

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An Introduction to Rhetoric 45

Henry David Thoreau refuses to support a government with which he does not agree, particularly when he sees it acting unjustly. As a result, in his classical argument he declares, “That government is best which governs not at all.” But he realizes that such a government can exist only when people are so good and so just that they do not need a government.

The second common form, like classical argument, is designed to convince someone of a specific position on a subject. This form, known as the Toulmin argument, has three parts:

• Claim: what you are trying to prove (often contained in the thesis statement),

• Support: the data — facts, observations, or conditions — you use to prove your claim, and

• Warrant: an assumption or belief that underlies the claim and is taken for granted.

Thomas Jefferson’s claim in the Declaration of Independence is that America deserves to be just that: independent from Britain. The extraordinary volume of support, or data, he presents demon- strates that King George III has become a tyrant and “is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.” His warrant is the underlying belief that “all men are created equal” and must be free, not victims of a tyr- anny. Jefferson has a great deal at stake here. He proposes rebellion and independence from a much more powerful nation and there- fore must be convincing, especially to the Americans themselves, most of whom emigrated from Great Britain and felt they owed it allegiance. If other Americans were not convinced by his argument, his life was forfeit.

The third form, the Rogerian argument, differs in that it does not appear to try to convince an audience of a specific position that must be accepted. Instead, the Rogerian argument tries to find a common ground on the subject that most people would agree with. Thus, this kind of argument does not seem to be an argument at all. It usually functions by establishing basic positions that most people would find nonthreatening, and in the process, such arguments appear to be simple discussions. That is the case with Judith Butler’s essay from Undoing Gender. The underlying question in her discussion of the surgical mishaps perpetrated on her case study, David, who had been so badly maimed surgically when young that he was raised as a girl, is whether gender is a socialization or an “essentialism.” The argument is not designed to press us toward accepting that gen- der is established by the society in which we live or that, regard- less of society, gender is somehow innate and decreed by biology.

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The complexity of David’s childhood, including the intervention of those who continued to study his development and who directed much of his growth and tried to craft his sense of self, makes the example very difficult to pin down. That is Butler’s point. Because she is not contentious, we are able to consider the example of David without having to accept one view or another. What we come away with is a sense of how very difficult the entire issue of gender assignment is.

Whatever the form, the structure of most argument will follow this pattern:

Beginning of an argument

• Identify the subject and its importance.

• Suggest (or imply) how you plan to argue your case.

Middle of an argument

• Explain the main points of your argument with accompanying evidence.

• Argue each point in turn with the analysis of evidence.

• Rebut arguments against your position.

Conclusion of an argument

• Review the claims basic to your argument.

• Summarize your arguments, what they imply, and what you then conclude.

The following sample essay, “The Qualities of the President,” modeled on Machiavelli’s “The Qualities of the Prince” (p. 219) is an ex ample of a Rogerian argument. The author reviews examples of the behavior of various kinds of modern leaders and then develops com- mon ground with the reader to foster agreement on the qualities that seem most desirable in a modern president. The writer is not confron- tational and does not demand absolute agreement but instead offers an exploration of the subject while nonetheless driving to a reasonable conclusion.


The following sample essay is based on the first several para- graphs of Machiavelli’s “The Qualities of the Prince” that were anno- tated in “Evaluating Ideas: An Introduction to Critical Reading”

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An Introduction to Rhetoric 47

(pp. 1–11). The essay is based on the annotations and the questions that were developed from them:

• Should a leader be armed?

• Is it true that an unarmed leader is despised?

• Will those leaders who are always good come to ruin among those who are not good?

• To remain in power, must a leader learn how not to be good?

Not all these questions are addressed in the essay, but they serve as a starting point and a focus for writing. The methods of devel opment that are discussed above form the primary rhetori- cal techniques of the essay, and each method that is used is labeled in the margin. The sample essay does two things simultaneously: it attempts to clarify the meaning of Machiavelli’s advice, and then it attempts to apply that advice to a contemporary circumstance. Nat- urally, the essay could have chosen to discuss only the Re nais sance situation that Machiavelli describes, but to do so would have required specialized knowledge of that period. In this sample essay, the ques- tions prompted by the annotations serve as the basis of the discussion.

The Qualities of the President

Machiavelli’s essay, “The Qualities of the Prince,” has a number of

very worrisome points. The ones that worry me most have to do with the

question of whether it is reasonable to expect a leader to behave virtu-

ously. I think this is connected to the question of whether the leader

should be armed. Machiavelli emphasizes that the prince must be armed

or else face the possibility that someone will take over the government.

When I think about how that advice applies to modern times, particularly

in terms of how our president should behave, I find Machiavelli’s position

very different from my own.

First, I want to discuss the question of being armed. That is where

Machiavelli starts, and it is an important concern. In Machiavelli’s time,

the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, it was common for men

to walk in the streets of Florence wearing a rapier for protection. The

possibility of robbery or even attack by rival po liti cal groups was great in

those days. Even if he had a bodyguard, it was still important for a prince

to know how to fight and to be able to defend himself. Machiavelli seems

to be talking only about self- defense when he recommends that the



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prince be armed. In our time, sadly, it too is important to think about

protecting the president and other leaders.

In recent years there have been many assassination attempts on

world leaders, and our president, John F. Kennedy, was killed in Dallas

in 1963. His brother Robert was killed when he was campaigning for

the presidency in 1968. Also in 1968 Martin Luther King Jr. was killed

in Memphis because of his belief in racial equality. In the 1980s Pope

John Paul II was shot by a would- be assassin, as was President Ronald

Reagan. They both lived, but Indira Gandhi, the leader of India, was shot

and killed in 1984. This is a frightening record. Probably even Machiavelli

would have been appalled. But would his solution — being armed — have

helped? I do not think so.

For one thing, I cannot believe that if the pope had a gun he would

have shot his would- be assassin, Ali Acga. The thought of it is almost silly.

Martin Luther King Jr., who constantly preached the value of nonviolence,

logically could not have shot at an assailant. How could John F. Kennedy

have returned fire at a sniper? Robert Kennedy had bodyguards, and both

President Reagan and Indira Gandhi were protected by armed guards. The

presence of arms obviously does not produce the desired effect: security.

The only thing that can produce that is to reduce the visibility of a leader.

The president could speak on tele vi sion or, when he must appear in public,

use a bulletproof screen. The opportunities for would- be assassins can

be reduced. But the thought of an American president carry ing arms is


The question of whether a president should be armed is to some extent

symbolic. Our president stands for America, and if he were to appear in press

conferences or state meetings wearing a gun, he would give a symbolic

message to the world: look out, we’re dangerous. Cuba’s Fidel Castro often

appeared in a military uniform with a gun during his presidency, and when he

spoke at the United Nations in 1960, he was the first, and I think the only,

world leader to wear a pistol there. I have seen pictures of Benito Mussolini

and Adolf Hitler appearing in public in military uniform, but never in business

suits. The same was true of the Libyan leader Muammar al- Qaddafi and Iraq’s

Saddam Hussein. Today when a president or a head of state is armed there is

often reason to worry. The current leaders of Russia usually wear suits, but

Joseph Stalin always wore a military uniform. His rule in the Soviet Union was

marked by the extermination of whole groups of people and the imprisonment

of many more. We do not want an armed president.




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An Introduction to Rhetoric 49

Yet Machiavelli plainly says, “among the other bad effects it causes,

being disarmed makes you despised . . . for between an armed and an

unarmed man there is no comparison whatsoever” (para. 2). The problem with

this statement is that it is more relevant to the sixteenth century than to the

twenty-first. In our time the threat of assassination is so great that being

armed would be no sure protection, as we have seen in the case of the assas-

sination of President Sadat of Egypt, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. On the

other hand, the pope, like Martin Luther King Jr., would never have appeared

with a weapon, and yet it can hardly be said they were despised. If anything,

the world’s respect for them is enormous. America’s president also commands

the world’s respect, as does the prime minister of Great Britain. Yet neither

would ever think of being armed. If what Machiavelli said was true in the

early 1500s, it is pretty clear that it is not true today.

All this basically translates into a question of whether a leader

should be virtuous. I suppose the definition of virtuous would differ with

different people, but I think of it as holding a moral philosophy that you

try to live by. No one is ever completely virtuous, but I think a president

ought to try to be so. That means the president ought to tell the truth,

since that is one of the basic virtues. The cardinal virtues — which were

the same in Machiavelli’s time as in ours — are justice, prudence, forti-

tude, and temperance. In a president, the virtue of justice is absolutely a

must or else what America stands for is lost. We definitely want our presi-

dent to be prudent, to use good judgment, particularly in this nuclear age,

when acts of imprudence could get us blown up. Fortitude, the ability to

stand up for what is right, is a must for our president. Temperance is also

important; we do not want an alcoholic for a president, nor do we want

anyone with excessive bad habits.

It seems to me that a president who was armed or who emphasized

arms in the way Machiavelli appears to mean would be threatening injus-

tice (the way Stalin did) and implying intemperance, like many armed

world leaders. When I consider this issue, I cannot think of any vice that

our president ought to possess at any time. Injustice, imprudence, cow-

ardice, and intemperance are, for me, unacceptable. Maybe Machiavelli

was thinking of deception and lying as necessary evils, but they are a

form of injustice, and no competent president — no president who was

truly virtuous — would need them. Prudence and fortitude are the two

virtues most essential for diplomacy. The president who has those virtues

will govern well and uphold our basic values.

Use of quotations




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The range of this essay is controlled and expresses a viewpoint that is focused and coherent. This essay of about one thousand words illustrates each method of development discussed in the text and uses each one to further the argument. The writer disagrees with one of Machiavelli’s positions and presents an argument based on personal opinion that is bolstered by example and by analysis of current po liti- cal conditions as they compare with those of Machiavelli’s time. A longer essay could have gone more deeply into issues raised in any single paragraph and could have studied more closely the views of a specific president, such as President Ronald Reagan, who opposed stricter gun control laws even after he was shot.

The range of the selections in this volume is great, constituting a significant introduction to important ideas in many areas. These read- ings are especially useful for stimulating our own thoughts and ideas. There is an infinite number of ways to approach a subject, but observ- ing how writers apply rhetorical methods in their work is one way to begin our own development as writers. Careful analysis of each selec- tion can guide our exploration of these writers, who encourage our learning and reward our study.

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The Founding Fathers

James Madison

Alexis de Tocqueville

Carl Becker

Julius K. Nyerere

Benazir Bhutto

Stephen L. Carter

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Democracy . . . is a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder; and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequals alike. – PLATO (424/423–348/347 B.C.E.)

The tyranny of a prince in an oligarchy is not so dangerous to the public welfare as the apathy of a citizen in a democracy. – CHARLES DE MONTESQUIEU (1689–1755)

Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word, equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude. – ALEXIS DE TOCQUEVILLE (1805–1859)

As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. – ABRAHAM LINCOLN (1809–1865)

It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried. – WINSTON CHURCHILL (1874–1965)

Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education. – FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT (1882–1945)

Democracy is good. I say this because other systems are worse. – JAWAHARLAL NEHRU (1889–1964)

I swear to the Lord/I still can’t see/why Democracy means/every- body but me. – LANGSTON HUGHES (1902–1967)

The idea of democracy has a considerable history. It seems to have begun as a flourishing political system in ancient Greece; it was already a well-known approach to government when Aristotle was writing about it in the fourth century B.C.E. Aristotle’s own teacher, Plato, had discussed it in his great book The Republic (380 B.C.E.) but was wary of it because he feared the tyranny of the majority. Instead, Plato preferred a government with a philosopher king, someone who was wise and benevolent. But Aristotle disagreed with a good many things that Plato said, and in his view, government by the majority, the people, was more desirable than government by a minority, the rich and successful. His views are carefully developed in his analysis and definition of the systems of government and the classes of people who would be ruled in a democracy. What he says is worth listening to carefully, since he understands the nature of democracy firsthand, having lived when Athens represented the brightest light of democratic


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government and having witnessed its loss because of Athens’s bank- rupting and unnecessary wars. Athens was not the only Greek democ- racy, but it remains for us the model and the original on which all other iterations of democracy are based.

Up until the colonies in America broke away from Great Brit- ain, they had been governed by the king and his administrators in Whitehall and the Royal Court. There were local governors who answered to the king, and each colony had a sense of its own spe- cial character, but all the colonies paid taxes and maintained special economic relations with Britain. The idea of establishing a demo- cratic government did not come into being until the colonies rose up against the unfair governance of King George III and fought for their independence.

James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay began writing the Federalist, now known as the Federalist Papers, as essays that were then published in New York newspapers early in 1787, before the con- vention gathered in Philadelphia for the ratification of the Constitu- tion. In the selection included in this collection, “Federalist No. 51,” James Madison discusses the separation of the main sources of power in the federal government. He discusses the executive, the two parts of the legislative, and the judiciary, explaining why they must be inde- pendent if all power is not to fall into the hands of one segment of government. He sees that all three elements of government must have power but that they must be able to act without restriction by the other parts of government. This system was novel in its time, and the essays of the Federalist were among the most powerful forces that helped the Constitution become the law of the land. Madison himself was among those who provided the first ten amendments, known as the Bill of Rights, that helped satisfy the reluctant among convention attendees.

Late in 1787, ten years after the Declaration of Independence, James Madison and the framers of the United States Constitution gathered to ratify the document that had been carefully and clearly written to create a nation out of a group of states that thought of themselves as independent entities. They had earlier created the Articles of Confederation, but that document had proved useless to the new nation because it made cooperation among the states essen- tially voluntary, and many states refused to pay their share of the costs of the Revolutionary War as well as the costs of maintaining a central government. In other words, there was no strong federal government — and until the Constitution was ratified, the federal republican form of government in existence today could only be imag- ined. The Constitution obligated the states to support a central govern- ment, but at the same time attended to the special needs of states, such as Virginia, which hesitated to sign due to concerns over maintaining


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slavery and importing slaves. A great number of compromises, many unhappy and in some ways contrary to the democratic principle, were made in the interests of ratification and formation of a federal govern- ment that could preserve the nation.

Alexis de Tocqueville visited the United States in 1831 after a brief career in politics in France. He was born shortly after the French Revolution (1789) and, while himself an aristocrat, was completely aware that in France and elsewhere the old system of government that was dependent on rule by the aristocracy was quickly being replaced. He saw that the common people were moving into a position of power in France, and when he came to the United States, he was surprised that democracy worked in a way that did not oppress the rich or the wellborn. Equality is a word that he uses frequently in his famous book, Democracy in America (1835). He has much to say about how the system works, but what is most interesting is how much he understood about how democracy worked in America after his few years wandering the nation. He was in touch with the rich, the poor, the Native Americans, the African slaves, and the various social classes among the nation’s workers and the nation’s politicians. He saw the Senate and the House of Representatives and was surprised at the dif- ference between the men who populated each part of our legislature.

Tocqueville studied the political system with great care and reported on it in enormous detail, not only describing the circum- stances that he observed but also offering his own views on the mer- its of the system and the likelihood that it would last. He was deeply impressed by the feeling that the government was essentially separate from the daily lives of most Americans and that they seemed to con- duct themselves with a great deal of independence. As a result of what he saw, he felt the people valued individuality very highly and that the main political power in America was in the hands of the states.

Carl Becker’s essay “Ideal Democracy” was written in a time of crisis, during the Great Depression of the 1930s and the rule of abso- lute dictators such as Benito Mussolini in Italy, Francisco Franco in Spain, Joseph Stalin in Russia, and Adolf Hitler in Germany, all of whom were dealing harshly with their own people while threatening a world war. The presence of these dangerous and murderous dicta- tors made Becker fearful that democracy was under threat throughout Europe and elsewhere, and he feared for the continuation of democ- racy in the United States. The possibility of a great war was clear to Becker as he wrote, and he feared that with the rise of fascism and communism the prestige of democracy had suffered terribly. In his essay, Becker defines and clarifies the goals of democracy and helps us understand its historical place in world governments.

Julius K. Nyerere, president of Tanzania from 1961 to 1989, took office in Tanganyika, a British colony, at a time when it was essentially

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a collection of tribes and scattered villages with no history of a cen- tral government beyond what had been provided by the colonizing Germans before World War I and the British thereafter. Nyerere was exceptional in that he was the first Tanganyikan to go to a British univer- sity. He was educated in Edinburgh and became a teacher in his native country. On the eve of Tanganyika’s independence, he took a leadership role and became the country’s first president. As president, Nyerere con- centrated on providing education, improving the country’s infrastruc- ture, and trying to attack the nation’s persistent poverty. When Zanzibar was incorporated into Tanganyika, the new nation was renamed Tan- zania. In his essay “One-Party Government,” Nyerere explains the tra- ditional means by which Africans made political decisions, essentially by holding a conference of peers talk until a consensus was reached. Nyerere regards this as equivalent to a one-party system — people talk, then agree. This, he says, is the African approach to democracy, and he sees it as comparable to the democratic concepts of Aristotle and others.

Benazir Bhutto, twice prime minister of Pakistan, explains in her essay “Islam and Democracy” why the teachings of the Quran, the holy book of Muslims, are receptive to democracy, diversity, equal- ity, and fairness. She recognizes at once that most Westerners will not expect Islam to produce democratic governments because of what the West considers religious restrictions, but she insists that the religion does not limit the possibility of the existence of democracies in Mus- lim nations. However, she also recognizes that, while Pakistan has a constitution that insists on democracy, there are few if any Mus- lim democracies. She has a number of theories about why this is so, and she outlines them in her essay. Her greatest fears center on the extremists among Muslims, those who attacked her when she first returned to Pakistan and who, shortly after, would kill her in a sui- cide bombing. It is especially interesting to read what she said in 2008 now that a number of Muslim nations have experienced upheavals in the name of trying to establish some form of democratic government.

This chapter also contains a selection in e-pages (available online at from Stephen L. Carter. In his essay “The Separation of Church and State,” Carter addresses the relationship of government to religion from the point of view of a lawyer committed to the preservation of religious freedom. He reviews some of the contemporary concerns that inform the debates regarding prayer in public schools and federal funding of religious organizations that perform public service. One important point he makes at the beginning of his essay is that the First Amendment’s “establishment clause” separating church and state was designed by the country’s founders as a means of protecting religion from the state, not the state from religion. From this basic premise, Carter argues a power ful case.


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Howard Chandler Christy (1873–1952) was primarily an illustra- tor famous for his pictures of “Christy Girls,” images similar to the popular “Gibson Girls” of the 1920s. He came to prominence for his illustrations of the Spanish-American War of 1898, when Teddy Roosevelt charged up San Juan Hill in Cuba; his patriotic posters and advertisements became ubiquitous in the early years of the twentieth century. During World War I, Christy’s poster of a girl in a naval uni- form saying, “Gee!! I Wish I Were a Man” was famous throughout the country. In 1939, the House of Representatives wanted to com- mission a painting to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution. Christy was a very popular painter with Con- gress because his work had been uniformly patriotic for decades, and his murals — some featuring racy images of women — were in many famous places, such as the landmark Café des Artistes in New York City (they are still there, despite the café’s name having changed to Leopard des Artistes in 2011).

There was some controversy over the expense of the painting and some time was lost in deciding to go ahead with the project. But even- tually the money was raised, the research for the painting — which reputedly took more than five years — was brought to an end, and Christy began work in the sail loft of the Washington Navy Yard in early July 1939. Christy’s painting, titled Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States, is 18 × 26 feet with a frame that brings it to 20 × 30 feet in size, and he presented it in late October 1940. (To see Christy’s painting in color, go to /worldofideas/epages.) It now hangs in the east grand staircase of the House of Representatives, the most famous painting in the House.

Christy set about to represent all the signers of the Constitution, although there were more people present at the moment he memo- rialized than are represented in his painting. His efforts to be his- torically accurate went so far as to cause him to visit Independence Hall so he could get a sense of what the light had been like when the Constitution was signed. There had been fifty-five delegates at the Convention, but only thirty-nine signed, while three refused to sign and the others had left early. Christy searched for the best early portraits of the signers so he could represent them clearly, and he also researched the furniture present at the signing and managed to get some of the original clothing, such as George Washington’s trou- sers, to help him with accuracy. There were two signers whose por- traits he could not find, and in Christy’s painting they are obscured by other delegates. Even the flags on the right wall are historically accurate and painted from life.

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George Washington stands tall on the right, with Richard Dobbs Spaight of North Carolina leaning over the desk signing in front of him. Below, Benjamin Franklin sits prominently, with Alexander Hamilton looking over his shoulder. James Madison is seated between Franklin and William Blount of North Carolina who stands behind Spaight. Thomas Jefferson was not present, but to represent him, Christy included some books from Jefferson’s library that Christy borrowed from the rare book collection of the Library of Congress. (For a detailed who’s who, go to http:// and follow the directions.) Christy’s painting is the most famous representa- tion of the signing of the Constitution, but it has an odd quality: in his effort to represent every signer, he has composed most of them looking at the viewer, as if posing for a photograph. Artis- tic license aside, undoubtedly the signers realized how important this moment was for history and their country.

As you read the essays in this part, think about how Christy’s painting relates to the authors in this section on democracy. Ques- tions following each selection will ask you to comment on how the author’s ideas seem to be illuminated by the painting.


Representatives, Washington, D.C.


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ARISTOTLE Democracy and Oligarchy

ARISTOTLE (384–322 B.C.E.) is the great inheritor of Plato’s influence in philosophical thought. He was a student at the Acad- emy of Plato in Athens from age seventeen to thirty-seven, and by all accounts he was Plato’s most brilliant pupil. He did not agree with Plato on all issues, however, and seems to have broken with his master around the time of Plato’s death (347 B.C.E.). In cer- tain of his writings, he is careful to disagree with the Platonists while insisting on his friendship with them. In The Politics, for example, Aristotle does not give much thought to Plato’s theories of the best kind of government described in The Republic because they were based on the best person governing the best people. In a sense, those theories omit the possibility of either democracy or oligarchy.

One interesting point concerning Aristotle’s career is that, when he became a teacher, his most distinguished student was Alexander the Great, the youthful ruler who spread Greek values and laws throughout the rest of the known world. Much specula- tion has centered on just what Aristotle might have taught Alexan- der about politics. The emphasis on the virtue of the warrior class in this segment of the Politics suggests that it may have been a great deal. A surviving fragment of a letter from Aristotle to Alexander suggests that he advised Alexander to become the leader of the Greeks and the master of the barbarians.

In his discussion of democracy and oligarchy, Aristotle is care- ful to present all the qualities that he feels are essential to defining each term. He speaks carefully about distinctions between the rich and the poor in a society, observing that there will always be a small number of wealthy people and a large number of poor people in any community. What Aristotle calls an oligarchy is a government run by a small number of people chosen essentially because they are rich.

From the Politics.

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A democracy is governed by the will of the majority, and in most soci- eties, the majority is poor. Aristotle realizes that these definitions are basic and do not cover all the possibilities for either form of gov- ernment. In the course of his discussion, he reviews many of the pos- sibilities and characteristics of democracy and oligarchy, including that a democracy can work if the rich and the poor are considered equal before the law. Aristotle is careful to point out the importance of the law as being supreme and as helping government by ensuring that the majority avoids excesses and injustice.

Late in this passage, he also considers governments that are var- iations of democracy and oligarchy, but his view is that these two forms of government are at the root of all variations of government and that it is important to understand them if one is to comprehend the choices society faces in governance. When one reads the Politics, it is important to remember that Aristotle experienced a number of different forms of government in Athens. Twenty years before he was born, Athens had been a model democracy for almost a hun- dred years, but after the Peloponnesian Wars ended in 404 B.C.E., Athens was governed by the Thirty Oligarchs, thirty people cho- sen by three thousand aristocratic Athenians. That government lasted only a year, and in its place Athens restored a limited form of democracy. Once again, Athens lost its democratic form of gov- ernment in 322 B.C.E., the same year Aristotle died in exile.

In another of his writings, the Nichomachean Ethics, he tells us that the well-ordered state — the pride of the Greek way of life — is of such noble value that other values must take second place to it. Because cur- rent thought somewhat agrees with this view, Aristotle sounds pecu- liarly modern in this passage. Unlike the Christian theorists of the Middle Ages, the theorists of the Islamic insurgence, or the theorists of the Judaic scriptures, Aristotle does not put divinity or godliness first. He is a practical man whose concerns are with the life that human beings know here on earth. When he considers, for instance, the ques- tion of whether a man can be happy before he dies (tragedy can always befall the happy man), Aristotle is thoroughly practical and does not point to happiness in heaven as a substitute for happiness on earth.

Aristotle’s Rhetoric

Even though Aristotle is the author of the single most influen- tial treatise on rhetoric, this document does not have as eloquent a style as might be expected, which has suggested to some that the manuscript was taken from the lecture notes of a student. But, of course, Aristotle does use certain important techniques that demon- strate his awareness of rhetorical effect. Most characteristically, he dedicates himself entirely to being categorical. He concentrates on

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the categories of governments, focusing on two but admitting that there may be many more and naming five others (para. 11). In the process of writing, he carefully describes each major category of gov- ernment and considers its potential for producing a happy state.

In terms of style, Aristotle is at a disadvantage — or perhaps the modern world is — because he addresses an audience who has thought very deeply on the issues of politics. As such, his style is rig- orous and complex. Fortunately, nothing he says here is beyond the grasp of the careful reader, although modern readers often expect to be provided with a good many concrete examples to help them under- stand abstract principles. Aristotle purposely avoids using examples so as not to limit too sharply the truths he aims to impart. He also fre- quently uses aphorisms to focus the reader’s attention, such as when he says that it shouldn’t be assumed “that democracy is simply that form of government in which the greater number are sovereign.”

Aristotle’s most prominent rhetorical technique is definition. His overall goal in this work is to define both democracy and oligarchy. But once having done so, and having considered alternatives to these forms of government, Aristotle returns to categorization by consid- ering the kinds of people who make up the state. In the process of doing so, he uses an analogy comparing the different parts of the state (by which he means the different kinds of people) with “the different species of animals” (para. 4). For him, the different species represent different categories that need to be discussed. In paragraph 4, he iden- tifies husbandmen, who produce food; mechanics; traders engaged in buying and selling; serfs, or laborers; warriors, or those who dispense justice; the wealthy; and magistrates and officers. The interests of all of these people must be served by the state, and while Aristotle exam- ines the distinctions between democracy and oligarchy, he clearly implies that the rights of free Athenians are his concern, not the rights of Athenian slaves. Democracy, in its beginning, already limited its participants according to their capacity to qualify as citizens.


The following prereading questions may help you anticipate key issues in the discussion of Aristotle’s “Democracy and Oligarchy.” Keeping them in mind during your first reading of the selection should help focus your attention.

• How does Aristotle define democracy?

• What is the best relationship of the wealthy to the poor in government by the majority?

• Which form of government does Aristotle think will contribute most to general happiness?

ARISTOTLE: Democracy and Oligarchy 61

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Democracy and Oligarchy 1The reason why there are many forms of government is that every

state contains many elements. In the first place we see that all states are made up of families, and in the multitude of citizens there must be some rich and some poor, and some in a middle condition; the rich are heavy-armed, and the poor not. Of the common people, some are husbandmen, and some traders, and some artisans. There are also among the notables differences of wealth and property — for exam- ple, in the number of horses which they keep, for they cannot afford to keep them unless they are rich. And therefore in old times the cities whose strength lay in their cavalry were oligarchies, and they used cavalry in wars against their neighbors; as was the practice of the Eretrians and Chalcidians, and also of the Magnesians on the river Maeander, and of other peoples in Asia. Besides differences of wealth there are differences of rank and merit, and there are some other ele- ments which were mentioned by us when in treating of aristocracy we enumerated the essentials of a state. Of these elements, sometimes all, sometimes the lesser and sometimes the greater number, have a share in the government. It is evident then that there must be many forms of government, differing in kind, since the parts of which they are com- posed differ from each other in kind. For a constitution is an organi- zation of offices, which all the citizens distribute among themselves, according to the power which different classes possess, for example the rich or the poor, or according to some principle of equality which includes both. There must therefore be as many forms of government as there are modes of arranging the offices, according to the superiori- ties and the differences of the parts of the state.

2There are generally thought to be two principal forms: as men say of the winds that there are but two — north and south, and that the rest of them are only variations of these, so of governments there are said to be only two forms — democracy and oligarchy. For aristocracy is considered to be a kind of oligarchy, as being the rule of a few, and the so-called constitutional government to be really a democracy, just as among the winds we make the west a variation of the north, and the east of the south wind. Similarly of musical modes there are said to be two kinds, the Dorian and the Phrygian;1 the other arrange- ments of the scale are comprehended under one or other of these two. About forms of government this is a very favorite notion. But in either case the better and more exact way is to distinguish, as I have done, the one or two which are true forms, and to regard the others

1 Dorian and Phrygian Greek musical modes; two different classes of musical scales with intervals different from modern scales.

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ARISTOTLE: Democracy and Oligarchy 63

as perversions, whether of the most perfectly attempered mode or of the best form of government: we may compare the severer and more overpowering modes to the oligarchical forms, and the more relaxed and gentler ones to the democratic.

3It must not be assumed, as some are fond of saying, that democracy is simply that form of government in which the greater number are sov- ereign, for in oligarchies, and indeed in every government, the majority rules; nor again is oligarchy that form of government in which a few are sovereign. Suppose the whole population of a city to be 1,300, and that of these 1,000 are rich, and do not allow the remaining 300 who are poor, but free, and in all other respects their equals, a share of the gov- ernment — no one will say that this is a democracy. In like manner, if the poor were few and the masters of the rich who outnumber them, no one would ever call such a government, in which the rich majority have no share of office, an oligarchy. Therefore we should rather say that democ- racy is the form of government in which the free are rulers, and oligar- chy in which the rich; it is only an accident that the free are the many and the rich are the few. Otherwise a government in which the offices were given according to stature, as is said to be the case in Ethiopia, or according to beauty, would be an oligarchy; for the number of tall or good-looking men is small. And yet oligarchy and democracy are not sufficiently distinguished merely by these two characteristics of wealth and freedom. Both of them contain many other elements, and therefore we must carry our analysis further, and say that the government is not a democracy in which the freemen, being few in number, rule over the many who are not free, as at Apollonia, on the Ionian Gulf, and at Thera; (for in each of these states the nobles, who were also the earliest settlers, were held in chief honor, although they were but a few out of many). Neither is it a democracy when the rich have the government because they exceed in number; as was the case formerly at Colophon, where the bulk of the inhabitants were possessed of large property before the Lydian War.2 But the form of government is a democracy when the free, who are also poor and the majority, govern, and an oligarchy when the rich and the noble govern, they being at the same time few in number.

4I have said that there are many forms of government, and have explained to what causes the variety is due. Why there are more than those already mentioned, and what they are, and whence they arise, I will now proceed to consider, starting from the principle already admitted, which is that every state consists, not of one, but of many parts. If we were going to speak of the different species

2 Lydian War Possibly a reference to the Trojan War, which was in Lydia, now Turkey.

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of animals, we should first of all determine the organs which are indispensable to every animal, as for example some organs of sense and the instruments of receiving and digesting food, such as the mouth and the stomach, besides organs of locomotion. Assuming now that there are only so many kinds of organs, but that there may be differences in them — I mean different kinds of mouths, and stom- achs, and perceptive and locomotive organs — the possible combina- tions of these differences will necessarily furnish many varieties of animals. (For animals cannot be the same which have different kinds of mouths or of ears.) And when all the combinations are exhausted, there will be as many sorts of animals as there are combinations of the necessary organs. The same, then, is true of the forms of govern- ment which have been described; states, as I have repeatedly said, are composed, not of one, but of many elements. One element is the food-producing class, who are called husbandmen; a second, the class of mechanics who practice the arts without which a city cannot exist; — of these arts some are absolutely necessary, others contrib- ute to luxury or to the grace of life. The third class is that of traders, and by traders I mean those who are engaged in buying and sell- ing, whether in commerce or in retail trade. A fourth class is that of the serfs or laborers. The warriors make up the fifth class, and they are as necessary as any of the others, if the country is not to be the slave of every invader. For how can a state which has any title to the name be of a slavish nature? The state is independent and self- sufficing, but a slave is the reverse of independent. Hence we see that this subject, though ingeniously, has not been satisfactorily treated in the Republic.3 Socrates says that a state is made up of four sorts of people who are absolutely necessary; these are a weaver, a husbandman, a shoemaker, and a builder; afterwards, finding that they are not enough, he adds a smith, and again a herdsman, to look after the necessary animals; then a merchant, and then a retail trader. All these together form the complement of the first state, as if a state were established merely to supply the necessaries of life, rather than for the sake of the good, or stood equally in need of shoemakers and of husbandmen. But he does not admit into the state a military class until the country has increased in size, and is beginning to encroach on its neighbor’s land, whereupon they go to war. Yet even amongst his four original citizens, or whatever be the number of those whom he associates in the state, there must be some one who will dispense justice and determine what is just. And as the soul may be said to be more truly part of an animal than the body, so the higher parts

3 Republic Plato’s political book, written around 380 B.C.E., which preferred a government run by the best people rather than democracy.

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of states, that is to say, the warrior class, the class engaged in the administration of justice, and that engaged in deliberation, which is the special business of political common sense — these are more essential to the state than the parts which minister to the necessar- ies of life. Whether their several functions are the functions of differ- ent citizens, or of the same — for it may often happen that the same persons are both warriors and husbandmen — is immaterial to the argument. The higher as well as the lower elements are to be equally considered parts of the state, and if so, the military element at any rate must be included. There are also the wealthy who minister to the state with their property; these form the seventh class. The eighth class is that of magistrates and of officers; for the state cannot exist without rulers. And therefore some must be able to take office and to serve the state, either always or in turn. There only remains the class of those who deliberate and who judge between disputants; we were just now distinguishing them. If presence of all these elements, and their fair and equitable organization, is necessary to states, then there must also be persons who have the ability of statesmen. Differ- ent functions appear to be often combined in the same individual; for example, the warrior may also be a husbandman, or an artisan; or, again, the counselor a judge. And all claim to possess political ability, and think that they are quite competent to fill most offices. But the same persons cannot be rich and poor at the same time. For this rea- son the rich and the poor are regarded in an especial sense as parts of a state. Again, because the rich are generally few in number, while the poor are many, they appear to be antagonistic, and as the one or the other prevails they form the government. Hence arises the com- mon opinion that there are two kinds of government — democracy and oligarchy.

5I have already explained that there are many forms of constitu- tion, and to what causes the variety is due. Let me now show that there are different forms both of democracy and oligarchy, as will indeed be evident from what has preceded. For both in the common people and in the notables various classes are included; of the com- mon people, one class are husbandmen, another artisans; another traders, who are employed in buying and selling; another are the seafaring class, whether engaged in war or in trade, as ferrymen or as fishermen. (In many places any one of these classes forms quite a large population; for example, fishermen at Tarentum and Byzantium, crews of triremes at Athens, merchant seamen at Aegina and Chios, ferrymen at Tenedos.) To the classes already mentioned may be added day laborers, and those who, owing to their needy circum- stances, have no leisure, or those who are not of free birth on both sides; and there may be other classes as well. The notables again

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may be divided according to their wealth, birth, virtue, education, and similar differences.

6Of forms of democracy first comes that which is said to be based strictly on equality. In such a democracy the law says that it is just for the poor to have no more advantage than the rich; and that nei- ther should be masters, but both equal. For if liberty and equality, as is thought by some, are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be best attained when all persons alike share in the government to the utmost. And since the people are the majority, and the opinion of the majority is decisive, such a government must necessarily be a democ- racy. Here then is one sort of democracy. There is another, in which the magistrates are elected according to a certain property qualification, but a low one; he who has the required amount of property has a share in the government, but he who loses his property loses his rights. Another kind is that in which all the citizens who are under no disqualification share in the government, but still the law is supreme. In another, every- body, if he be only a citizen, is admitted to the government, but the law is supreme as before. A fifth form of democracy, in other respects, the same, is that in which, not the law, but the multitude, have the supreme power, and supersede the law by their decrees. This is a state of affairs brought about by the demagogues. For in democracies which are sub- ject to the law the best citizens hold the first place, and there are no demagogues; but where the laws are not supreme, there demagogues spring up. For the people becomes a monarch, and is many in one; and the many have the power in their hands, not as individuals, but col- lectively. Homer says that “it is not good to have a rule of many,” but whether he means this corporate rule, or the rule of many individuals, is uncertain. At all events this sort of democracy, which is now a mon- arch, and no longer under the control of law, seeks to exercise monar- chical sway, and grows into a despot; the flatterer is held in honor; this sort of democracy being relatively to other democracies what tyranny is to other forms of monarchy. The spirit of both is the same, and they alike exercise a despotic rule over the better citizens. The decrees of the demos correspond to the edicts of the tyrant; and the demagogue is to the one what the flatterer is to the other. Both have great power; — the flatterer with the tyrant, the demagogue with democracies of the kind which we are describing. The demagogues make the decrees of the peo- ple override the laws, by referring all things to the popular assembly. And therefore they grow great, because the people have all things in their hands, and they hold in their hands the votes of the people, who are too ready to listen to them. Further, those who have any complaint to bring against the magistrates say, “let the people be judges”; the peo- ple are too happy to accept the invitation; and so the authority of every office is undermined. Such a democracy is fairly open to the objection

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that it is not a constitution at all; for where the laws have no authority, there is no constitution. The law ought to be supreme over all, and the magistracies should judge of particulars, and only this should be con- sidered a constitution. So that if democracy be a real form of govern- ment, the sort of system in which all things are regulated by decrees is clearly not even a democracy in the true sense of the word, for decrees relate only to particulars.

7These then are the different kinds of democracy.

8Of oligarchies, too, there are different kinds: — one where the prop- erty qualification for office is such that the poor, although they form the majority, have no share in the government, yet he who acquires a quali- fication may obtain a share. Another sort is when there is a qualifica- tion for office, but a high one, and the vacancies in the governing body are filled by co-optation. If the election is made out of all the qualified persons, a constitution of this kind inclines to an aristocracy, if out of a privileged class, to an oligarchy. Another sort of oligarchy is when the son succeeds the father. There is a fourth form, likewise hereditary, in which the magistrates are supreme and not the law. Among oligarchies this is what tyranny is among monarchies, and the last-mentioned form of democracy among democracies; and in fact this sort of oligarchy receives the name of a dynasty (or rule of powerful families).

9These are the different sorts of oligarchies and democracies. It should however be remembered that in many states the constitution which is established by law, although not democratic, owing to the education and habits of the people may be administered democrati- cally, and conversely in other states the established constitution may incline to democracy, but may be administered in an oligarchical spirit. This most often happens after a revolution: for governments do not change at once; at first the dominant party are content with encroaching a little upon their opponents. The laws which existed previously continue in force, but the authors of the revolution have the power in their hands.

10From what has been already said we may safely infer that there are so many different kinds of democracies and of oligarchies. For it is evident that either all the classes whom we mentioned must share in the government, or some only and not others. When the class of husbandmen and of those who possess moderate fortunes have the supreme power, the government is administered according to law. For the citizens being compelled to live by their labor have no leisure; and so they set up the authority of the law, and attend assemblies only when necessary. They all obtain a share in the government when they have acquired the qualification which is fixed by the law — the

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absolute exclusion of any class would be a step toward oligarchy; hence all who have acquired the property qualification are admitted to a share in the constitution. But leisure cannot be provided for them unless there are revenues to support them. This is one sort of democ- racy, and these are the causes which give birth to it. Another kind is based on the distinction which naturally comes next in order; in this, every one to whose birth there is no objection is eligible, but actually shares in the government only if he can find leisure. Hence in such a democracy the supreme power is vested in the laws, because the state has no means of paying the citizens. A third kind is when all freemen have a right to share in the government, but do not actually share, for the reason which has been already given; so that in this form again the law must rule. A fourth kind of democracy is that which comes latest in the history of states. In our own day, when cities have far outgrown their original size, and their revenues have increased, all the citizens have a place in the government, through the great preponder- ance of the multitude; and they all, including the poor who receive pay, and therefore have leisure to exercise their rights, share in the administration. Indeed, when they are paid, the common people have the most leisure, for they are not hindered by the care of their prop- erty, which often fetters the rich, who are thereby prevented from tak- ing part in the assembly or in the courts, and so the state is governed by the poor, who are a majority, and not by the laws. So many kinds of democracies there are, and they grow out of these necessary causes.

11Of oligarchies, one form is that in which the majority of the citi- zens have some property, but not very much; and this is the first form, which allows to any one who obtains the required amount the right of sharing in the government. The sharers in the government being a numerous body, it follows that the law must govern, and not individu- als. For in proportion as they are further removed from a monarchical form of government, and in respect of property have neither so much as to be able to live without attending to business, nor so little as to need state support, they must admit the rule of law and not claim to rule themselves. But if the men of property in the state are fewer than in the former case, and own more property, there arises a second form of oligarchy. For the stronger they are, the more power they claim, and having this object in view, they themselves select those of the other classes who are to be admitted to the government; but, not being as yet strong enough to rule without the law, they make the law represent their wishes. When this power is intensified by a further diminution of their numbers and increase of their property, there arises a third and further stage of oligarchy, in which the governing class keep the offices in their own hands, and the law ordains that the son shall succeed the father. When, again, the rulers have great wealth and numerous friends, this sort of family despotism approaches a monarchy; individuals rule

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and not the law. This is the fourth sort of oligarchy, and is analogous to the last sort of democracy.

12There are still two forms besides democracy and oligarchy; one of them is universally recognized and included among the four prin- cipal forms of government, which are said to be (1) monarchy, (2) oligarchy, (3) democracy, and (4) the so-called aristocracy or govern- ment of the best. But there is also a fifth, which retains the generic name of polity or constitutional government; this is not common, and therefore has not been noticed by writers who attempt to enumerate the different kinds of government; like Plato, in their books about the state, they recognize four only. The term aristocracy is rightly applied to the form of government which is described in the first part of our treatise; for that only can be rightly called aristocracy which is a gov- ernment formed of the best men absolutely, and not merely of men who are good when tried by any given standard. In the perfect state the good man is absolutely the same as the good citizen; whereas in other states the good citizen is only good relatively to his own form of government. But there are some states differing from oligarchies and also differing from the so-called polity or constitutional government; these are termed aristocracies, and in them magistrates are certainly chosen, both according to their wealth and according to their merit. Such a form of government differs from each of the two just now mentioned, and is termed an aristocracy. For indeed in states which do not make virtue the aim of the community, men of merit and repu- tation for virtue may be found. And so where a government has regard to wealth, virtue, and numbers, as at Carthage, that is aristocracy; and also where it has regard only to two out of the three, as at Lacedae- mon, to virtue and numbers, and the two principles of democracy and virtue temper each other. There are these two forms of aristocracy in addition to the first and perfect state, and there is a third form, viz. [namely] the constitutions which incline more than the so-called pol- ity towards oligarchy.

13I have yet to speak of the so-called polity and of tyranny. I put them in this order, not because a polity or constitutional government is to be regarded as a perversion any more than the above-mentioned aristocracies. The truth is, that they all fall short of the most perfect form of government, and so they are reckoned among perversions, and the really perverted forms are perversions of these, as I said in the original discussion. Last of all I will speak of tyranny, which I place last in the series because I am inquiring into the constitutions of states, and this is the very reverse of a constitution.

14Having explained why I have adopted this order, I will proceed to consider constitutional government; of which the nature will be

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clearer now that oligarchy and democracy have been defined. For polity or constitutional government may be described generally as a fusion of oligarchy and democracy; but the term is usually applied to those forms of government which incline toward democracy, and the term aristocracy to those which incline toward oligarchy, because birth and education are commonly the accompaniments of wealth. Moreover, the rich already possess the external advantages the want of which is a temptation to crime, and hence they are called noble- men and gentlemen. And inasmuch as aristocracy seeks to give predominance to the best of the citizens, people say also of oligar- chies that they are composed of noblemen and gentlemen. Now it appears to be an impossible thing that the state which is governed not by the best citizens but by the worst should be well-governed, and equally impossible that the state which is ill-governed should be governed by the best. But we must remember that good laws, if they are not obeyed, do not constitute good government. Hence there are two parts of good government; one is the actual obedience of citi- zens to the laws, the other part is the goodness of the laws which they obey; they may obey bad laws as well as good. And there may be a further subdivision; they may obey either the best laws which are attainable to them, or the best absolutely.

15The distribution of offices according to merit is a special char- acteristic of aristocracy, for the principle of an aristocracy is virtue, as wealth is of an oligarchy, and freedom of a democracy. In all of them there of course exists the right of the majority, and whatever seems good to the majority of those who share in the government has authority. Now in most states the form called polity exists, for the fusion goes no further than the attempt to unite the freedom of the poor and the wealth of the rich, who commonly take the place of the noble. But as there are three grounds on which men claim an equal share in the government, freedom, wealth, and virtue (for the fourth or good birth is the result of the two last, being only ancient wealth and virtue), it is clear that the admixture of the two elements, that is to say, of the rich and poor, is to be called a polity or constitu- tional government; and the union of the three is to be called aristoc- racy or the government of the best, and more than any other form of government, except the true and ideal, has a right to this name.

16Thus far I have shown the existence of forms of states other than monarchy, democracy, and oligarchy, and what they are, and in what aristocracies differ from one another, and polities from aristocra- cies — that the two latter are not very unlike is obvious.

17Next we have to consider how by the side of oligarchy and democracy the so-called polity or constitutional government springs

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up, and how it should be organized. The nature of it will be at once understood from a comparison of oligarchy and democracy; we must ascertain their different characteristics, and taking a por- tion from each, put the two together, like the parts of an indenture. Now there are three modes in which fusions of government may be effected. In the first mode we must combine the laws made by both governments, say concerning the administration of justice. In oligar- chies they impose a fine on the rich if they do not serve as judges, and to the poor they give no pay; but in democracies they give pay to the poor and do not fine the rich. Now (1) the union of these two modes is a common or middle term between them, and is therefore characteristic of a constitutional government, for it is a combination of both. This is one mode of uniting the two elements. Or (2) a mean may be taken between the enactments of the two: thus democracies require no property qualification, or only a small one, from members of the assembly, oligarchies a high one; here neither of these is the common term, but a mean between them. (3) There is a third mode, in which something is borrowed from the oligarchical and some- thing from the democratical principle. For example, the appointment of magistrates by lot is thought to be democratical, and the election of them oligarchical; democratical again when there is no property qualification, oligarchical when there is. In the aristocratical or consti- tutional state, one element will be taken from each — from oligarchy the principle of electing to offices, from democracy the disregard of qualification. Such are the various modes of combination.

18There is a true union of oligarchy and democracy when the same state may be termed either a democracy or an oligarchy; those who use both names evidently feel that the fusion is complete. Such a fusion there is also in the mean; for both extremes appear in it. The Lacedaemonian constitution, for example, is often described as a democracy, because it has many democratical features. In the first place the youth receive a democratical education. For the sons of the poor are brought up with the sons of the rich, who are educated in such a manner as to make it possible for the sons of the poor to be educated like them. A similar equality prevails in the follow- ing period of life, and when the citizens are grown up to manhood the same rule is observed; there is no distinction between the rich and poor. In like manner they all have the same food at their public tables, and the rich wear only such clothing as any poor man can afford. Again, the people elect to one of the two greatest offices of state, and in the other they share; for they elect the Senators and share in the Ephoralty. By others the Spartan constitution is said to be an oligarchy, because it has many oligarchical elements. That all offices are filled by election and none by lot, is one of these

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oligarchical characteristics; that the power of inflicting death or ban- ishment rests with a few persons is another; and there are others. In a well attempered polity there should appear to be both elements and yet neither; also the government should rely on itself, and not on foreign aid, and on itself not through the good will of a majority — they might be equally well-disposed when there is a vicious form of government — but through the general willingness of all classes in the state to maintain the constitution.

19Enough of the manner in which a constitutional government, and in which the so-called aristocracies ought to be framed.


1. According to Aristotle, what seem to be the markers of wealth in Athens?

2. What does the presence of heavy armament and of the cavalry imply for rule by oligarchy?

3. Aristotle admits that there are “many forms of government” (para. 1). What, then, is his explanation for primarily considering only two?

4. In paragraph 4, Aristotle says that some classes are more essential to the state than others. What are they, and do you agree?

5. How important is the idea of equality in a democracy? See paragraph 6.

6. In paragraph 9, Aristotle says the law, not individuals, must govern. What are his reasons?

7. Who can vote in Aristotle’s democracy?


1. The concept of majority rule is central to Aristotle’s discussion of democracy. Explain his views on this question and examine what he says about the limitations of majority rule. Does his thinking on major- ity rule cause you to change your own ideas about it? What are the strengths and weaknesses of majority rule in a modern democracy?

2. In paragraph 4, Aristotle talks about the different elements in the state, referring to nine classes of people: husbandmen, traders, the military, lawyers, and others. Do these different groups still constitute the mod- ern state in the way in which Aristotle describes them? Why does he consider these different elements when talking about government? Do you feel he is justified in doing so? What are the most important differ- ent “elements” in the state as you understand them?

3. CONNECTIONS Aristotle says, “Because the rich are generally few in number, while the poor are many, they appear to be antagonistic, and as the one or the other prevails they form the government” (para. 4).

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Do you find that Aristotle is correct about the relationship between the rich and the poor in our modern democracies? Aristotle implies that when the rich govern, we have an oligarchy, and when the poor gov- ern, we have a democracy. Does this view correlate with your observa- tions about government? Compare Aristotle’s view with that of Andrew Carnegie in “The Gospel of Wealth” (p. 481). Why does he raise the issue of class warfare between the rich and the poor? Would Carnegie welcome a benevolent oligarchy?

4. CONNECTIONS In paragraph 3, Aristotle discusses the ques- tion of how we calculate majority in a democracy in which the majority rules. He points to a variety of such majorities. If the majority in a democracy were to profess a single religion, should then the precepts of that religion guide the entire democracy? Consider Stephen Carter’s “The Separation of Church and State” ( How would Carter react to such a suggestion? How would a religious majority, even if it were tolerant of other religions, operate in a democracy in a man- ner that might restrict religious minorities? What protection does Carter feel minority religions need?

5. In paragraph 6, Aristotle says, “Of forms of democracy first comes that which is said to be based strictly on equality.” What does he seem to mean by equality? What, in terms of government, do you think the term equality means today? Is it possible to have a democracy without equality? Why would equality be such an important issue in any form of government? What is your definition of equality? Do you think equal- ity is possible in a modern state?

6. In discussing some of the dangers of majority rule in a democracy, Aris- totle raises the issue of the possibility of creating a demagogue. What does he mean? What is a demagogue, and how could a democracy produce one? What harm might a demagogue cause a democratic state? What examples of modern demagogues speak to the issues Aristotle raises?

7. Aristotle makes a clear distinction between the minority wealthy class and the majority poor class. When only the wealthy have power, the state is an oligarchy. When the poor have power, the state is a democ- racy. How would Aristotle’s theories be altered if he considered a numerous middle class between the rich and the poor? When the mid- dle class is the majority of the population, how does that affect the dis- tinction between democracy and oligarchy? Would a dominant middle class produce a democracy or an oligarchy?

8. SEEING CONNECTIONS How might Aristotle have responded to the painting by Howard Chandler Christy of the signing of the Consti- tution of the United States (p. 57) ? How many different “elements” of society are represented in this painting? Would Aristotle have assumed that the government being formed was a democracy or an oligarchy? Research the men who signed the Constitution. How well did they represent the elements of society of the newly formed country?

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THE FOUNDING FATHERS The Constitution of the

United States of America

BEFORE THE COMPOSITION and ratification of the Consti- tution of the United States in 1788, the colonies had bound together in a loose confederation in opposition to England. The Continen- tal Congress was given the responsibilities of conducting the war against England and carrying on relations with foreign nations. In addition, the Articles of Confederation, finally ratified in 1781 when no longer relevant, authorized a postal system and a means of regu- lating trade. Each state had its own constitution and complied only voluntarily with the requests of the Continental Congress. Several states even refused to pay taxes to fund the war with Britain.

The Constitution took only a year to be written and agreed on by all the states, but the process was extremely difficult and required con- siderable negotiation and compromise. The issue of greatest impor- tance was the question of how strong the federal government should be. The states were split internally by those who fostered Federalism and those who fostered Anti-Federalism. The Anti-Federalists were worried about their civil rights and the possibilities of corruption in government. They promoted states’ rights, whereas the Federalists insisted that the laws enacted by Congress were for all people, not just for the states as separate entities. James Madison, Alexander Hamil- ton, and John Jay wrote the Federalist Papers, a series of eighty-five essays that argued for a form of republicanism that separated the leg- islative, executive, and judicial branches of government so that there would be a balance of powers. The essays were published in newspa- pers between 1787 and 1788. After vigorous debate and the addition of the first ten amendments, usually referred to as the Bill of Rights, the Constitution was ratified by all thirteen states.

One of the issues at stake in the debates was the question of slav- ery and whether it should to be protected by federal law. From 1775

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to 1788, Pennsylvania, New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Jersey either abolished slavery or began the process of abolish- ing it. The Northwest Territories (what would one day become states such as Ohio and Michigan) were prohibited from maintaining slav- ery. The fact that the word slave or slavery never appears in the first seven articles of the Constitution implies how sensitive the subject was for some of the founders. But slaves were taken into account when it came to taxation in Article I, Section 2, because the population of a state determined its representation. For tax purposes, the population of a state included “the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three-fifths of all other Persons.” A slave was counted as three-fifths of a person. In that sense, the Constitution defended and enabled slavery by protecting it under property laws.

Another troubling issue facing the framers of the Constitution was the fear that a pure democracy would prove to be a danger that might destroy the new country. Obviously, those who met with the Continental Congress, those who signed the Declaration of Independ- ence, and those who signed and ratified the Constitution were men of means and often had considerable education. They were sometimes considered by their countrymen and -women to be smooth-talking, self-interested elites who did not always act for the common good. In 1786, veteran of the Revolutionary War and western Massachusetts farmer Daniel Shays raised some 2,500 men in revolt against the heavy taxation Massachusetts instituted to pay for the war and other debts. This uprising, called Shays’s Rebellion, frightened those concerned with creating the Constitution. Samuel Adams urged the rebels to wait until the next vote, but they were too distressed to be contained. The governor, who had once protested British taxation, put the rebellion down harshly, in part because it represented the threat of a popu- lar (democratic) uprising that challenged the elected government’s authority. This rebellion may have had a hand in helping the Federal- ists establish a republican structure in which democratic voters elect representatives whose votes enact laws. The Senate guaranteed the rights of states by allotting two senators for each state, and the House protected the rights of the most populous states by including propor- tional representation. The Electoral College was instituted as a hedge against pure democracy: the states choose the electors, who in turn choose the president. The judiciary was to be selected by the Senate, although today the Supreme Court is selected by the president and approved by the Senate.

These basic issues concerning how democracy would work in the new America were on the minds of those who worked to form its government, from the first to the last.

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The Rhetoric of the Constitution

The Constitution was the product of compromise and of sev- eral different minds and hands. A committee of style was formed to normalize the content of the document, and the result is its struc- ture of three primary and four secondary articles. Article I and its sections describe the nature and powers of Congress. Article II and its sections describe the nature and powers of the presidency, and Article III describes the nature and powers of the Supreme Court. The next four articles describe specific powers conferred on the various branches of government. The first ten amendments outline the rights and responsibilities of citizens in the nation. The form of the Constitution resembles a legal document because it is the law of the land, and its form and structure emphasize its powers.

However, unlike what we might expect to see in a legal document, the Constitution is written in plain English with little or no flourish of any kind. In the eighteenth century, all educated people were tutored rigorously in Latin and Greek. As a result, the literature of that age has a highly Latinized English writing style: polysyllabic words and somewhat obscure vocabulary are commonplace, and long, periodic sentences in which the main idea comes at the very end are the norm. But in the Constitution, most of the words are simple and most of the sentences are short and to the point. Little effort was made to produce a stylish literary document, but great effort was expended to write prose that was clear, intelligible, and unambiguous.

In that sense, the style of the Constitution was designed to communicate with the common man as much as with the country’s educated founders. At the time the Constitution was composed, a large portion of the country was uneducated except in the most basic rudiments of reading and writing. If the Constitution had been framed in highly elaborate prose, farmers and tradesmen in the outlying districts (people like Daniel Shays) would not have trusted the document at all. But with its straightforward style and the addition of the first ten amendments, the Constitution was understandable and adopted more quickly than it might otherwise have been.


The following prereading questions may help you anticipate key issues in the discussion of the Constitution. Keeping them in mind during your first reading should help focus your attention.

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• How do the three branches of government differ?

• What are the legislative powers of Congress?

• The first ten amendments are called the Bill of Rights. What rights do they protect?

The Constitution of the United States of America (Proposed By Convention September 17, 1789

Effective March 4, 1789) We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect

Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Bless- ings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Article I.


All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Repre- sentatives.


The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States, and the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Elec- tors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature.

No Person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the Age of twenty-five Years, and been seven Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State in which he shall be chosen.

[Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding

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to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Serv- ice for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three-fifths of all other Persons.]* The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct. The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative; and until such enumeration shall be made, the State of New Hampshire shall be entitled to choose three, Mas- sachusetts eight, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations one, Con- necticut five, New York six, New Jersey four, Pennsylvania eight, Delaware one, Maryland six, Virginia ten, North Carolina five, South Carolina five, and Georgia three.

When vacancies happen in the Representation from any State, the Executive Authority thereof shall issue Writs of Election to fill such Vacancies.

The House of Representatives shall choose their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.


The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Sena- tors from each State, [chosen by the Legislature thereof,]* for six Years; and each Senator shall have one Vote.

Immediately after they shall be assembled in Consequence of the first Election, they shall be divided as equally as may be into three Classes. The Seats of the Senators of the first Class shall be vacated at the Expiration of the second Year, of the second Class at the Expira- tion of the fourth Year, and of the third Class at the Expiration of the sixth Year, so that one-third may be chosen every second Year; [and if Vacancies happen by Resignation, or otherwise, during the Recess of the Legislature of any State, the Executive thereof may make tem- porary Appointments until the next Meeting of the Legislature, which shall then fill such Vacancies.]*

No Person shall be a Senator who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty Years, and been nine Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State for which he shall be chosen.

* Language in brackets has been changed by amendment.

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The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided.

The Senate shall choose their other Officers, and also a President pro tempore, in the Absence of the Vice President, or when he shall exercise the Office of President of the United States.

The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two-thirds of the Members present.

Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust, or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment, and Punishment, according to Law.


The Times, Places, and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legisla- ture thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of choosing Senators.

The Congress shall assemble at least once in every Year, and such Meeting shall be [on the first Monday in December,]* unless they shall by Law appoint a different Day.


Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns, and Qualifica- tions of its own Members, and a Majority of each shall constitute a Quorum to do Business; but a smaller Number may adjourn from day to day, and may be authorized to compel the Attendance of absent Members, in such Manner, and under such Penalties as each House may provide.

Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behavior, and, with the Concurrence of two-thirds, expel a Member.

Each House shall keep a Journal of its Proceedings, and from time to time publish the same, excepting such Parts as may in their Judgment require Secrecy; and the Yeas and Nays of the Members of

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either House on any question shall, at the Desire of one-fifth of those Present, be entered on the Journal.

Neither House, during the Session of Congress, shall, without the Consent of the other, adjourn for more than three days, nor to any other Place than that in which the two Houses shall be sitting.


The Senators and Representatives shall receive a Compensation for their Services, to be ascertained by Law, and paid out of the Treas- ury of the United States. They shall in all Cases, except Treason, Fel- ony, and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either Houses, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.

No Senator or Representative shall, during the Time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil Office under the Authority of the United States, which shall have been created, or the Emolu- ments whereof shall have been increased during such time; and no Person holding any Office under the United States, shall be a Member of either House during his Continuance in Office.


All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Rep- resentatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.

Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representa- tives and the Senate, shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the President of the United States; If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his Objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the Objections at large on their Journal, and proceed to reconsider it. If after such Reconsidera- tion two-thirds of that House shall agree to pass the Bill, it shall be sent, together with the Objections, to the other House, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two-thirds of that House, it shall become a Law. But in all such Cases the Votes of both Houses shall be determined by Yeas and Nays, and the Names of the Persons voting for and against the Bill shall be entered on the Jour- nal of each House respectively. If any Bill shall not be returned by the President within ten Days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the Same shall be a Law, in like Manner as if

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he had signed it, unless the Congress by their Adjournment prevent its Return, in which Case it shall not be a Law.

Every Order, Resolution, or Vote to which the Concurrence of the Senate and House of Representatives may be necessary (except on a question of Adjournment) shall be presented to the President of the United States; and before the Same shall take Effect, shall be approved by him, or being disapproved by him, shall be repassed by two-thirds of the Senate and House of Representatives, according to the Rules and Limitations prescribed in the Case of a Bill.


The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts, and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts, and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

To borrow Money on the credit of the United States;

To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the sev- eral States, and with the Indian Tribes;

To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;

To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;

To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States;

To establish Post Offices and post Roads;

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;

To constitute Tribunals inferior to the supreme Court;

To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offenses against the Law of Nations;

To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

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To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;

To provide and maintain a Navy;

To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;

To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections, and repel Invasions;

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Mili- tia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respec- tively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Leg- islature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings; — And

To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carry- ing into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.


The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a Tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceed- ing ten dollars for each Person.

The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be sus- pended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.

No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed.

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[No Capitation, or other direct, Tax shall be laid, unless in Pro- portion to the Census or Enumeration herein before directed to be taken.]*

No Tax or Duty shall be laid on Articles exported from any State.

No Preference shall be given by any Regulation of Commerce or Revenue to the Ports of one State over those of another: nor shall Ves- sels bound to, or from, one State, be obliged to enter, clear, or pay Duties in another.

No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be pub- lished from time to time.

No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, with- out the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or for- eign State.


No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confedera- tion; grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal; coin Money; emit Bills of Credit; make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts; pass any Bill of Attainder, ex post facto Law, or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts, or grant any Title of Nobility.

No State shall, without the Consent of the Congress, lay any Imposts or Duties on Imports or Exports, except what may be absolutely necessary for executing it’s inspection Laws: and the net Produce of all Duties and Imposts, laid by any State on Imports or Exports, shall be for the Use of the Treasury of the United States; and all such Laws shall be subject to the Revision and Control of the Congress.

No State shall, without the Consent of Congress, lay any Duty of Tonnage, keep Troops, or Ships of War in time of Peace, enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State, or with a foreign Power, or engage in War, unless actually invaded, or in such immi- nent Danger as will not admit of delay.

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Article II.


The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his Office during the Term of four Years, and, together with the Vice President, chosen for the same Term, be elected, as follows:

Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Sen- ators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.

[The Electors shall meet in their respective States, and vote by Ballot for two Persons, of whom one at least shall not be an Inhabitant of the same State with themselves. And they shall make a List of all the Per- sons voted for, and of the Number of Votes for each; which List they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the Seat of the Govern- ment of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate. The President of the Senate shall, in the Presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the Certificates, and the Votes shall then be counted. The Person having the greatest Number of Votes shall be the President, if such Number be a Majority of the whole Number of Electors appointed; and if there be more than one who have such Major- ity, and have an equal Number of Votes, then the House of Representa- tives shall immediately choose by Ballot one of them for President; and if no Person have a Majority, then from the five highest on the List the said House shall in like Manner choose the President. But in choosing the President, the Votes shall be taken by States, the Representation from each State having one Vote; A quorum for this Purpose shall consist of a Member or Members from two-thirds of the States, and a Majority of all the States shall be necessary to a Choice. In every Case, after the Choice of the President, the Person having the greatest Number of Votes of the Electors shall be the Vice President. But if there should remain two or more who have equal Votes, the Senate shall choose from them by Ballot the Vice President.]*

The Congress may determine the Time of choosing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.

No Person except a natural-born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall

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be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any person be eligi- ble to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty-five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.

[In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the Same shall devolve on the Vice President, and the Congress may by Law provide for the Case of Removal, Death, Resignation, or Ina- bility, both of the President and Vice President, declaring what Officer shall then act as President, and such Officer shall act accordingly, until the Disability be removed, or a President shall be elected.]*

The President shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation, which shall neither be increased nor diminished dur- ing the Period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them.

Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation: — “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”


The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.

He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two-thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Con- sent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise pro- vided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments.

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The President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.


He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient; he may, on extraordinary Occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them, and in Case of Disagreement between them, with Respect to the Time of Adjournment, he may adjourn them to such Time as he shall think proper; he shall receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers; he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed, and shall Com- mission all the Officers of the United States.


The President, Vice President, and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Con- viction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

Article III.


The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behavior, and shall at stated Times, receive for their Services, a Compensation, which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office.


The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority; — to all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls; — to all Cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction; — to Controversies to which the United States shall be a Party; — to Controversies between two or more States; — [between a State and Citizens of another State; — ]* between Citizens of different States, — between Citizens of the same State claiming Lands under Grants of different States, [and between a State, or the Citizens thereof; — and foreign States, Citizens, or Subjects.]*

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In all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, and those in which a State shall be Party, the supreme Court shall have original Jurisdiction. In all the other Cases before men- tioned, the supreme Court shall have appellate Jurisdiction, both as to Law and Fact, with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make.

The Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment; shall be by Jury; and such Trial shall be held in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed; but when not committed within any State, the Trial shall be at such Place or Places as the Congress may by Law have directed.


Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Com- fort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.

The Congress shall have Power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted.

Article IV.


Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State. And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof.


The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States. A Person charged in any State with Treason, Felony, or other Crime, who shall flee from Justice, and be found in another State, shall on Demand of the execu- tive Authority of the State from which he fled, be delivered up, to be removed to the State having Jurisdiction of the Crime.

[No Person held to Service or Labor in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labor, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labor may be due.]*

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New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new State shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or Parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress.

The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all need- ful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State.


The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened) against domestic Violence.

Article V.

The Congress, whenever two-thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two-thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three-fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three-fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.

Article VI.

All Debts contracted and Engagements entered into, before the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be as valid against the United States under this Constitution, as under the Confederation.

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the

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supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judi- cial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

Article VII.

The Ratification of the Conventions of nine States, shall be suf- ficient for the Establishment of this Constitution between the States so ratifying the Same.

Done in Convention by the Unanimous Consent of the States present the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven and of the Independence of the United States of America the Twelfth In Witness whereof We have hereunto subscribed our Names,

Go. Washington — Presidt: and deputy from Virginia


John Langdon Nicholas Gilman


Nathaniel Gorham Rufus King


Wm. Saml. Johnson Roger Sherman


Alexander Hamilton


Wil: Livingston David Brearley

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Wm. Paterson Jona: Dayton


B Franklin Thomas Mifflin Robt Morris Geo. Clymer Thos. FitzSimons Jared Ingersoll James Wilson Gouv Morris


Geo: Read Gunning Bedford jun John Dickinson Richard Bassett Jaco: Broom


James McHenry Dan of St. Thos. Jenifer Danl Carroll


John Blair James Madison Jr.


Wm. Blount Richd. Dobbs Spaight Hu Williamson


J. Rutledge Charles Cotesworth Pinckney Charles Pinckney Pierce Butler

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William Few Abr Baldwin

Attest William Jackson Secretary In Convention Monday September 17th, 1787. Present The States of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Mr. Hamilton from

New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.

Resolved, That the preceeding Constitution be laid before the United States in

Congress assembled, and that it is the Opinion of this Convention, that it should afterwards be submitted to a Convention of Delegates, chosen in each State by the People thereof, under the Recommendation of its Legislature, for their Assent and Ratification; and that each Convention assenting to, and ratifying the Same, should give Notice thereof to the United States in Congress assembled. Resolved, That it is the Opinion of this Convention, that as soon as the Conventions of nine States shall have ratified this Constitution, the United States in Congress assembled should fix a Day on which Electors should be appointed by the States which shall have ratified the same, and a Day on which the Electors should assemble to vote for the President, and the Time and Place for commencing Pro- ceedings under this Constitution.

That after such Publication the Electors should be appointed, and the Senators and Representatives elected: That the Electors should meet on the Day fixed for the Election of the President, and should transmit their Votes certified, signed, sealed, and directed, as the Constitution requires, to the Secretary of the United States in Congress assembled, that the Senators and Representatives should convene at the Time and Place assigned; that the Senators should appoint a President of the Senate, for the sole Purpose of receiving, opening and counting the Votes for President; and, that after he shall be chosen, the Congress, together with the President, should, without Delay, proceed to execute this Constitution.

By the unanimous Order of the Convention

Go. Washington-Presidt: W. JACKSON Secretary.

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Preamble to the Bill of Rights


THE Convention of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to pre- vent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the benefi- cent ends of its institution.

RESOLVED by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, two-thirds of both Houses concurring, that the following Articles be proposed to the Leg- islatures of the several States, as amendments to the Constitution of the United States, all, or any of which Articles, when ratified by three- fourths of the said Legislatures, to be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of the said Constitution; viz.

ARTICLES in addition to, and Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America, proposed by Congress, and ratified by the Legislatures of the several States, pursuant to the fifth Article of the original Constitution.

(Note: The first 10 amendments to the Constitution were ratified December 15, 1791, and form what is known as the “Bill of Rights.”)

Amendment I.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of reli- gion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the free- dom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Amendment II.

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

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Amendment III.

No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a man- ner to be prescribed by law.

Amendment IV.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Amendment V.

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infa- mous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a wit- ness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, with- out due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Amendment VI.

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.

Amendment VII.

In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and

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no fact tried by a jury shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Amendment VIII.

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Amendment IX.

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Amendment X.

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Consti- tution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.


Amendment XI.

Passed by Congress March 4, 1794. Ratified February 7, 1795.

(Note: A portion of Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution was modified by the Eleventh Amendment.)

The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.

Amendment XII.

Passed by Congress December 9, 1803. Ratified June 15, 1804.

(Note: A portion of Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution was changed by the Twelfth Amendment.)

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The Electors shall meet in their respective states, and vote by bal- lot for President and Vice-President, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves; they shall name in their ballots the person voted for as President, and in distinct bal- lots the person voted for as Vice-President, and they shall make dis- tinct lists of all persons voted for as President, and of all persons voted for as Vice-President, and of the number of votes for each, which lists they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the seat of the government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate; — the President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted; — The person having the greatest number of votes for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed; and if no person have such majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as Presi- dent, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by bal- lot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote; a quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two-thirds of the states, and a majority of all the states shall be neces- sary to a choice. [And if the House of Representatives shall not choose a President whenever the right of choice shall devolve upon them, before the fourth day of March next following, then the Vice-President shall act as President, as in case of the death or other constitutional disability of the President. — ]* The person having the greatest number of votes as Vice-President, shall be the Vice-President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed, and if no person have a majority, then from the two highest numbers on the list, the Senate shall choose the Vice-President; a quorum for the pur- pose shall consist of two-thirds of the whole number of Senators, and a majority of the whole number shall be necessary to a choice. But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States.

Amendment XIII.

Passed by Congress January 31, 1865. Ratified December 6, 1865.

(Note: A portion of Article IV, Section 2 of the Constitution was changed by the Thirteenth Amendment.)

* Superseded by Section 3 of the Twentieth Amendment.

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Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punish- ment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.


Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Amendment XIV.

Passed by Congress June 13, 1866. Ratified July 9, 1868.

(Note: Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution was modified by Section 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment.)


All persons born or naturalized in the United States and sub- ject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.


Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, [being twenty-one years of age,]* and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear

* Changed by Section 1 of the Twenty-sixth Amendment.

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to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.


No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or mil- itary, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previ- ously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an execu- tive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.


The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be ques- tioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.


The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate leg- islation, the provisions of this article.

Amendment XV.

Passed by Congress February 26, 1869. Ratified February 3, 1870.


The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.


The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

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Amendment XVI.

Passed by Congress July 2, 1909. Ratified February 3, 1913.

(Note: Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution was modified by the Sixteenth Amendment.)

The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the sev- eral States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.

Amendment XVII.

Passed by Congress May 13, 1912. Ratified April 8, 1913.

(Note: Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution was modified by the Seventeenth Amendment.)

The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Sena- tors from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. The electors in each State shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures.

When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, That the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.

This amendment shall not be so construed as to affect the election or term of any Senator chosen before it becomes valid as part of the Constitution.

Amendment XVIII.

Passed by Congress December 18, 1917. Ratified January 16, 1919. Repealed by the Twenty-first Amendment, December 5, 1933.


After one year from the ratification of this article the manu- facture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the

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importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.


The Congress and the several States shall have concurrent power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.


This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress.

Amendment XIX.

Passed by Congress June 4, 1919. Ratified August 18, 1920.

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Amendment XX.

Passed by Congress March 2, 1932. Ratified January 23, 1933.

(Note: Article I, Section 4 of the Constitution was modified by Section 2 of this Amendment. In addition, a portion of the Twelfth Amendment was superseded by Section 3.)


The terms of the President and the Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January, and the terms of Senators and Rep- resentatives at noon on the 3d day of January, of the years in which such terms would have ended if this article had not been ratified; and the terms of their successors shall then begin.

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The Congress shall assemble at least once in every year, and such meeting shall begin at noon on the 3d day of January, unless they shall by law appoint a different day.


If, at the time fixed for the beginning of the term of the Presi- dent, the President elect shall have died, the Vice President elect shall become President. If a President shall not have been chosen before the time fixed for the beginning of his term, or if the President elect shall have failed to qualify, then the Vice President elect shall act as President until a President shall have qualified; and the Congress may by law pro- vide for the case wherein neither a President elect nor a Vice President shall have qualified, declaring who shall then act as President, or the manner in which one who is to act shall be selected, and such per- son shall act accordingly until a President or Vice President shall have qualified.


The Congress may by law provide for the case of the death of any of the persons from whom the House of Representatives may choose a President whenever the right of choice shall have devolved upon them, and for the case of the death of any of the persons from whom the Senate may choose a Vice President whenever the right of choice shall have devolved upon them.


Sections 1 and 2 shall take effect on the 15th day of October fol- lowing the ratification of this article.


This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of three- fourths of the several States within seven years from the date of its submission.

Amendment XXI.

Passed by Congress February 20, 1933. Ratified December 5, 1933.

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The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.


The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicat- ing liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.


This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by conventions in the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress.

Amendment XXII.

Passed by Congress March 21, 1947. Ratified February 27, 1951.


No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of President more than once. But this Article shall not apply to any person holding the office of President when this Article was proposed by Congress, and shall not prevent any person who may be holding the office of President, or acting as President, during the term within which this Article becomes operative from holding the office of President or act- ing as President during the remainder of such term.


This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of three- fourths of the several States within seven years from the date of its submission to the States by the Congress.

Amendment XXIII.

Passed by Congress June 16, 1960. Ratified March 29, 1961.

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The District constituting the seat of Government of the United States shall appoint in such manner as Congress may direct:

A number of electors of President and Vice President equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives in Congress to which the District would be entitled if it were a State, but in no event more than the least populous State; they shall be in addition to those appointed by the States, but they shall be considered, for the purposes of the election of President and Vice President, to be electors appointed by a State; and they shall meet in the District and perform such duties as provided by the twelfth article of amendment.


The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appro- priate legislation.

Amendment XXIV.

Passed by Congress August 27, 1962. Ratified January 23, 1964.


The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for Presi- dent or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay poll tax or other tax.


The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appro- priate legislation.

Amendment XXV.

Passed by Congress July 6, 1965. Ratified February 10, 1967. (Note: Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution was modified by the Twenty-fifth Amendment.)


In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President.

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Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.


Whenever the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his writ- ten declaration that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such powers and duties shall be discharged by the Vice President as Acting President.


Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Repre- sentatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Repre- sentatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice Presi- dent and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law pro- vide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their writ- ten declaration that the President is unable to discharge the pow- ers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.

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Amendment XXVI.

Passed by Congress March 23, 1971. Ratified July 1, 1971.

(Note: Amendment 14, Section 2 of the Constitution was modified by Section 1 of the Twenty-sixth Amendment.)


The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.


The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appro- priate legislation.

Amendment XXVII.

Originally proposed September, 25, 1789. Ratified May 7, 1992.

No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of representa- tives shall have intervened.


1. In Article I, Section 2, what is the difference between electors and people?

2. Who are the electors? What are their limits? Why are these limits in place? (See also the Twelfth Amendment.)

3. Who has powers of impeachment, and what is the process of impeach- ment?

4. To what extent is the House representative?

5. What does the Constitution say about who is a citizen of the new nation? Has anything changed regarding citizenship since 1791?

6. What limits are placed on the executive, the office of the presidency?

7. In your view, how strongly does the Constitution promote and protect democracy?

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1. If you could write the Twenty-eighth Amendment, what would it be? Give your reasons for the amendment and consider how likely it would be to be adopted by the states. What procedure would you fol- low to get the amendment considered and passed?

2. The Second Amendment says that the right of the people to bear arms “shall not be infringed.” Why does the Constitution say that the peo- ple have the right to bear arms? If a well-regulated militia is necessary, should not the Constitution demand that every capable citizen be armed and part of the militia? Should people who cannot carry out the respon- sibility of being part of the militia be given the right to bear arms? What does infringed mean? What are its limits and how does the Constitution use the word? To what extent does the responsibility of being part of a militia enter into modern discussions of this amendment?

3. The Twelfth Amendment (ratified in 1804) discusses the privileges and responsibilities of the electors who choose the president and vice pres- ident. Examine the details of this amendment and explain its inten- tion as if you were addressing someone who does not understand it. What protections are implied in this amendment? Are the purposes of democracy being served by the amendment? What were the writ- ers of the amendment fearful of when they drafted and ratified it? Do you approve of it? Be sure to consider what was originally written in Article II, Section 1.

4. Individual freedom was very important to the Anti-Federalists, and judging from earlier writings, it was important to the Federalists as well. What protections of individual freedoms are mentioned in the original seven articles of the Constitution? What protections follow in the amendments? What conclusions can you draw from where the most important freedoms are positioned in the document?

5. What issues are omitted from the Constitution? For instance, how are national elections to be conducted and monitored? What religious issues of great importance are omitted from discussion? Is a belief in God central to the Constitution? What moral issues are omitted from the Constitution?

6. In reviewing the original ten amendments designed as the Bill of Rights, which amendment do you feel is most important for protect- ing freedom? Which is least important? Do you feel that the purpose of these ten amendments is to guarantee our freedoms? Do they have a force behind them to guarantee our democratic government?

7. CONNECTIONS James Madison wrote the establishment clause that is the basis for our concept of the separation of church and state in the First Amendment. Madison, like Jefferson, Hamilton, and Franklin, was a Deist. How might his beliefs as a Deist have affected his posi- tion on the separation of church and state? Research Deism as it was understood in the eighteenth century in order to answer this question.

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Might Madison have been more worried about the power of the state over religion or the power of religion over the state? To what extent does Stephen Carter’s “The Separation of Church and State” ( take into account the possibility that Madison might have regarded religion less positively than Carter himself does?

8. CONNECTIONS Aristotle implied that there are different kinds of democracies. How does the democratic government implied in the Constitution differ from the description that Aristotle offers when he defines democracy? In what ways might he be said to have anticipated the kind of government produced by the Constitution?

9. SEEING CONNECTIONS What does Howard Chandler Christy’s Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States (p. 57) tell you about the makeup of the framers of the Constitution? Based on their appearance, what would you expect their views on producing a democratic government to be? Given that they are clearly people of means and wealth, what surprises did they include in the Constitu- tion? To what extent might a convention of impoverished people have produced a better Constitution? How would it have been different?

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JAMES MADISON Federalist No. 51: On the Separation

of Departments of Power

JAMES MADISON (1751–1836), one of the most important members of the convention that formed the Constitution, was born in Virginia and educated at Princeton University in New Jersey. Although he was not technically the author of the Constitution — no one man, as he said, was its author — his theories had a great deal to do with the ultimate formation of a republican government. Of the eighty-five “Federalist” essays (collectively known as the Federalist Papers) that were published in New York newspapers between Octo- ber 1787 and May 1788, Madison wrote twenty-nine. His purpose, along with that of Alexander Hamilton, who wrote fifty-one essays, and that of John Jay, who wrote five, was to argue for ratification of the Constitution by the states’ conventions. At the same time, these papers explored the individual theoretical issues that underlay the entire document. The Constitution was ratified on June 21, 1788.

While Madison did not fight in the Revolutionary War because of ill health, he was swept into political activity almost immediately after the Battle of Lexington and became a member of the Virginia State Assembly, where he met Thomas Jefferson. He was elected to the Continental Congress in 1780, at a time when the war seemed uncer- tain and the financial situation of the Congress was in serious straits. His views were central to the designs of government that began to pro- duce a financial solution — including imposing taxes and paying the national debt — that saved the Confederation, as the union was then called.

Madison inherited a considerable estate in Virginia that grew tobacco, and like more than half of the members of the Constitu- tional Convention, he owned a large number of slaves. As a member of the Continental Congress, he was on a committee to consider issues related to slavery in the new nation. He opposed a plan

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that would have delayed abolishing the importation of slaves until 1808, favoring instead a ban on importation beginning in 1788. The twenty years between these dates, he feared, would “produce all the mischief ” that could be “apprehended from the liberty to import slaves.” He complained of slavery as “that dreadful calamity which has so long afflicted our country” and joined with Jefferson to support the American Colonization Society, for the purpose of purchasing slaves and returning them to Africa.

Once the Constitution was ratified, Madison became a mem- ber of the House of Representatives and drafted nine of the first ten amendments in the Bill of Rights. These amendments were designed to reassure the states that individual rights and states’ rights would be protected beyond the original document. Later in life, Madison became secretary of state during Jefferson’s term as president. In 1803, Madison was instrumental in acquiring the Louisiana Purchase, which more than doubled the size of the nation at the cost of just three cents an acre. Madison was presi- dent of the United States from 1809 to 1817 and experienced the burning of the White House by the British during the War of 1812. Madison’s wife, the first lady Dolly Madison, was able to collect and remove some of the most important treasures from the White House before the British arrived with their torches. At the time, Madison was with his generals at the front, and he came back to the White House briefly before he, too, had to flee.

Because the war was so difficult to manage, Madison’s views on government changed. He realized the need for a national bank, which he had previously argued against, and he realized the need for a much stronger government than he had argued for in his earlier years.

Madison’s Rhetoric

Madison had sketched out the Virginia Plan, which the fram- ers of the Constitution used as the basis for their discussions in 1787, but in the process of discussion and revision, the document became less and less Madison’s own. He had been on the Commit- tee of Style for the Constitution, but the final document contained very little of Madison’s personal expression.

However, his entries in the Federalist Papers showcase Madi- son’s personal style as that of an eighteenth-century author. Having studied Greek, Latin, and even Hebrew in college, he had a deep understanding of the English language and its roots. Consequently, Madison’s prose in “Federalist No. 51” is subtle, demanding, and very formal. His primary audience was the New Yorkers who

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MADISON: Federalist No. 51 111

comprised the largest Anti-Federalist group of all the states. Natu- rally, the Federalist Papers, when published together, were dissemi- nated widely and affected citizens in all the states, but it is clear that they were aimed primarily at well-educated readers because they were the people most likely to decide for or against ratification.

Madison maintains an argument devoted more to explaining than to convincing his audience. His view is Federalist, as the name of his essay instantly reveals; therefore, his argument must answer some of the worries of Anti-Federalists. With regard to the three parts of government — the legislative, the executive, and the judicial — he claims that there is a “necessary partition of power” that must be main- tained if the government is to achieve its ends. He begins by indicating that, while he cannot develop his point in great detail, he has a number of “observations” that should clarify why these branches of government should be independent. The original title of this essay was a continua- tion of the subject of “Federalist No. 50”: “The meaning of the maxim, which requires a separation of the departments of power, examined and ascertained.” Basically, the essay is an examination of the question of the separation of powers.

He insists that “all the appointments for the supreme execu- tive, legislative, and judiciary magistracies, should be drawn from the same fountain of authority, the people, through channels hav- ing no communication whatever with one another” (para. 2). He recognizes that there may be some difficulties, particularly with the judiciary branch, but feels that issue can be overcome with the appropriate resources. Further, keeping the offices independent from one another in decisions about their pay will remove a con- spicuous threat to independence.

Ambition is another threat to the partition of powers, and in paragraph 4 he discusses the nature of politicians, admitting that there must be ways of governing, not just the governed, but the governors as well. Underlying all of Madison’s thinking is the con- cept of balancing powers, usually by ensuring that each branch of government has the power to “check on the other” (para. 5). As he explains, “experience has taught mankind” that depending on the people alone to check the power of any branch of government is not sufficient. Each branch must have power of its own to coun- ter the other branch. This principle is illustrated in the legisla- tive branch, which Madison admits is the most powerful and most important, but by dividing it into two parts, each elected by differ- ent means, even the legislature has checks and balances within it.

Having clarified these points, Madison relies on enumeration to examine two “considerations particularly applicable to the federal system of America” (para. 8). Each distinction is itself

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divided into sections. The first distinction seems to say that people are either governed by one government or by two, a federal and a state government. The expression of the people’s power will be dif- ferent in each case. In the second consideration, Madison compares a hereditary monarchy with the federal system, paying particular attention to how a minority population would prosper in each. He explains with a hypothetical example that the federal system has the single power of the monarch spread over so many different offices “as will render an unjust combination of a majority of the whole very improbable, if not impracticable” (para. 10).

Much of the last paragraph depends on the analysis of circum- stances that might be produced in the future government. Madison’s paragraphs in the earlier part of the essay are often brief, but this last paragraph is the longest by far, including a remarkable number of considerations all at once: the force of religion, the question of security, the nature of justice, the problem of stronger and weaker factions, and the protection of the weak. All of these are major issues and some, such as the question of how the government might keep factions under control, are treated in their own earlier Federalist essay. But seeing them piled up in one paragraph at the end of this essay makes the reader realize the scope of the entire question of government and how difficult it is to consider all issues at once.

Finally, one interesting rhetorical device Madison is known for is his ability to use aphorisms. For example, in this essay one of his most famous sayings appears in paragraph 4: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” “Justice is the end of government” appears in paragraph 10. Some aphorisms from his other works are “If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy” and “In no instance have . . . the churches been guardians of the liberties of the people.” And perhaps his most important saying is “Knowledge will forever govern igno- rance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”


The following prereading questions may help you anticipate key issues in the discussion of James Madison’s “Federalist No. 51.” Keeping them in mind during your first reading should help focus your attention.

• What are the three partitions of power Madison refers to?

• How can each partition keep from being overpowered by the others?

• Why must these three partitions maintain separate powers?

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Federalist No. 51: On the Separation of Departments of Power

1To what expedient then shall we finally resort, for main- taining in practice the necessary partition of power among the several departments, as laid down in the Constitution? The only answer that can be given is, that as all these exterior provisions are found to be inadequate, the defect must be supplied, by so contriving the interior structure of the government, as that its several constituent parts may, by their mutual relations, be the means of keeping each other in their proper places. Without pre- suming to undertake a full development of this important idea, I will hazard a few general observations, which may perhaps place it in a clearer light, and enable us to form a more correct judg- ment of the principles and structure of the government planned by the convention.

2In order to lay a due foundation for that separate and distinct exercise of the different powers of government, which, to a certain extent, is admitted on all hands to be essential to the preservation of liberty, it is evident that each department should have a will of its own; and consequently should be so constituted, that the members of each should have as little agency as possible in the appointment of the members of the others. Were this principle rigorously adhered to, it would require that all the appointments for the supreme exec- utive, legislative, and judiciary magistracies, should be drawn from the same fountain of authority, the people, through channels hav- ing no communication whatever with one another. Perhaps such a plan of constructing the several departments would be less dif- ficult in practice, than it may in contemplation appear. Some dif- ficulties, however, and some additional expense, would attend the execution of it. Some deviations, therefore, from the principle must be admitted. In the constitution of the judiciary department in par- ticular, it might be inexpedient to insist rigorously on the principle; first, because peculiar qualifications being essential in the members, the primary consideration ought to be to select that mode of choice which best secures these qualifications; secondly, because the per- manent tenure by which the appointments are held in that depart- ment, must soon destroy all sense of dependence on the authority conferring them.

3It is equally evident, that the members of each department should be as little dependent as possible on those of the others, for the emoluments annexed to their offices. Were the executive

MADISON: Federalist No. 51 113

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magistrate, or the judges, not independent of the legislature in this particular, their independence in every other, would be merely nominal.

4But the great security against a gradual concentration of the sev- eral powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department, the necessary constitutional means, and personal motives, to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man, must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal con- trols on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the gov- erned; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.

5This policy of supplying, by opposite and rival interests, the defect of better motives, might be traced through the whole system of human affairs, private as well as public. We see it particularly dis- played in all the subordinate distributions of power; where the con- stant aim is, to divide and arrange the several offices in such a manner as that each may be a check on the other; that the private interest of every individual may be a sentinel over the public rights. These inven- tions of prudence cannot be less requisite in the distribution of the supreme powers of the state.

6But it is not possible to give to each department an equal power of self-defense. In republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates. The remedy for this inconveniency is, to divide the legislature into different branches; and to render them, by different modes of election, and different principles of action, as little connected with each other, as the nature of their common functions, and their common dependence on the society, will admit. It may even be necessary to guard against dangerous encroachments by still fur- ther precautions. As the weight of the legislative authority requires that it should be thus divided, the weakness of the executive may require, on the other hand, that it should be fortified. An absolute negative on the legislature, appears, at first view, to be the natu- ral defense with which the executive magistrate should be armed.

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But perhaps it would be neither altogether safe, nor alone sufficient. On ordinary occasions, it might not be exerted with the requisite firmness; and on extraordinary occasions, it might be perfidiously abused. May not this defect of an absolute negative be supplied by some qualified connection between this weaker department, and the weaker branch of the stronger department, by which the lat- ter may be led to support the constitutional rights of the former, without being too much detached from the rights of its own department?

7If the principles on which these observations are founded be just, as I persuade myself they are, and they be applied as a criterion to the several state constitutions, and to the federal constitution, it will be found, that if the latter does not perfectly correspond with them, the former are infinitely less able to bear such a test.

8There are moreover two considerations particularly applicable to the federal system of America, which place that system in a very inter- esting point of view.

9First. In a single republic, all the power surrendered by the peo- ple, is submitted to the administration of a single government; and the usurpations are guarded against, by a division of the government into distinct and separate departments. In the compound repub- lic of America, the power surrendered by the people, is first divided between two distinct governments, and then the portion allotted to each subdivided among distinct and separate departments. Hence a double security arises to the rights of the people. The different gov- ernments will control each other; at the same time that each will be controlled by itself.

10Second. It is of great importance in a republic, not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers; but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part. Different inter- ests necessarily exist in different classes of citizens. If a majority be united by a common interest, the rights of the minority will be inse- cure. There are but two methods of providing against this evil: the one, by creating a will in the community independent of the major- ity, that is, of the society itself; the other, by comprehending in the society so many separate descriptions of citizens, as will render an unjust combination of a majority of the whole very improbable, if not impracticable. The first method prevails in all governments pos- sessing an hereditary or self-appointed authority. This, at best, is but a precarious security; because a power independent of the soci- ety may as well espouse the unjust views of the major, as the right- ful interests of the minor party, and may possibly be turned against both parties. The second method will be exemplified in the federal republic of the United States. Whilst all authority in it will be

MADISON: Federalist No. 51 115

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derived from, and dependent on the society, the society itself will be broken into so many parts, interests, and classes of citizens, that the rights of individuals, or of the minority, will be in little danger from interested combinations of the majority. In a free government, the security for civil rights must be the same as that for religious rights. It consists in the one case in the multiplicity of interests, and in the other, in the multiplicity of sects. The degree of security in both cases will depend on the number of interests and sects; and this may be presumed to depend on the extent of country and number of people comprehended under the same government. This view of the subject must particularly recommend a proper federal sys- tem to all the sincere and considerate friends of republican gov- ernment: since it shows, that in exact proportion as the territory of the union may be formed into more circumscribed confederacies, or states, oppressive combinations of a majority will be facilitated; the best security under the republican form, for the rights of every class of citizens, will be diminished; and consequently, the stabil- ity and independence of some member of the government, the only other security, must be proportionally increased. Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society. It ever has been, and ever will be, pursued, until it be obtained, or until liberty be lost in the pursuit. In a society, under the forms of which the stronger faction can readily unite and oppress the weaker, anarchy may as truly be said to reign, as in a state of nature, where the weaker indi- vidual is not secured against the violence of the stronger: and as, in the latter state, even the stronger individuals are prompted, by the uncertainty of their condition, to submit to a government which may protect the weak, as well as themselves: so, in the former state, will the more powerful factions or parties be gradually induced, by a like motive, to wish for a government which will protect all parties, the weaker as well as the more powerful. It can be little doubted, that if the state of Rhode Island was separated from the confederacy, and left to itself, the insecurity of rights under the popular form of government within such narrow limits, would be displayed by such reiterated oppressions of factious majorities, that some power altogether independent of the people, would soon be called for by the voice of the very factions whose misrule had proved the necessity of it. In the extended republic of the United States, and among the great variety of interests, parties, and sects, which it embraces, a coalition of a majority of the whole society could seldom take place upon any other principles, than those of justice and the general good: whilst there being thus less danger to a minor from the will of the major party, there must be less pre- text also, to provide for the security of the former, by introducing

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into the government a will not dependent on the latter: or, in other words, a will independent of the society itself. It is no less certain than it is important, notwithstanding the contrary opinions which have been entertained, that the larger the society, provided it lie within a practicable sphere, the more duly capable it will be of self- government. And happily for the republican cause, the practicable sphere may be carried to a very great extent, by a judicious modifica- tion and mixture of the federal principle.


1. How desirable is it to keep the three parts of government independent? Has it been difficult or easy to do so?

2. Does the fact that, like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, Madison owned slaves make his concern for freedom and justice any less important to us today?

3. Which of the three offices of government most needs to be fortified against the power of the others?

4. Madison says that the judiciary presents special problems in being independent. What does he mean? (See paragraph 2.)

5. Each state has a constitution of its own. Does this seem to pose a prob- lem to Madison? Or is it a benefit?

6. Madison mentions problems that may be caused by factions (para. 10). What is he worried about?

7. What might be the effect if the three branches of government were not completely independent of each other?


1. Argue the case that “[j]ustice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society.” Madison says these words in paragraph 10, and until that point in the essay he has hardly mentioned the concept of justice. How important is this notion in the essay? How important is it today? Has the government he recommended done well in providing the people with justice?

2. CONNECTIONS Compare the quality of writing and style in the Constitution with Madison’s in “Federalist No. 51.” Consider word choice, the nature and structure of the sentences, the organization of parts, the length and complexity of paragraphs, and the clarity of

MADISON: Federalist No. 51 117

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thought. How do differences of style affect your response to the ideas that each selection contains? What audiences seem to be addressed in each selection? Is the style of each selection appropriate for its audi- ence? Are they both appropriate for you?

3. Decide whether it is true that in a republican form of government the legislative branch has the most power. Does the division of the legislature into two segments, the House of Representatives and the Senate, help diminish legislative dominance over the executive and the judiciary? What is the import of the two different ways the segments are elected? How does that difference affect legislative dominance?

4. The relationship of the majority to the minority is a prime concern of Madison’s here and elsewhere in the Federalist Papers. He worries that there will be times when the majority will impose its will and act unjustly toward a minority. In paragraph 10, Madison says that one way to protect the rights of a minority is “by creating a will in the com- munity independent of the majority, that is, of the society itself.” Is he correct in his judgment? What does it mean to create will in the com- munity, and how could that be done? Do you have a sense that there is a will in our community that helps keep the majority from exercising its will over a minority?

5. Given what you can tell from the news, how well do the three branches of government maintain their independence today? Do they seem to operate the way Madison expected them to, as described in the Consti- tution? Does there seem to be any danger of one branch of government being overwhelmed by another? By two others? How well does the sys- tem work in actually governing the nation?

6. CONNECTIONS Stephen Carter’s argument in “The Separation of Church and State” ( depends in large measure on his interpretation of the establishment clause of the Constitution. That clause, along with the free exer- cise clause, appears in the First Amendment, which was written by James Madison. As with all amendments, this one must be inter- preted carefully. The establishment clause states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or pro- hibiting the free exercise thereof.” Examine Carter’s argument and decide whether or not he interprets these clauses in a reasonable manner. How would you interpret these clauses differently? Con- sidering that these clauses are the law of the land, do you feel they are as clear as they should be and that they are respected by the nation as they should be? Do they clearly establish a separation of church and state?

7. SEEING CONNECTIONS Examine the painting by Howard Chan- dler Christy of the signing of the Constitution of the United States (p. 57) . If possible, find out as much as you can about the status of each

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of the people in the painting — those who ratified the Constitution — and decide whether you think this group would belong to the major- ity or the minority in the nation at that time. How important would the protection of the minority population from the oppression of the majority population be for them? How would Madison’s suggestions for maintaining the independence of the three branches of govern- ment help guarantee their freedom from oppression? You may want to refer to Aristotle’s definitions of democracy and oligarchy and decide whether Madison is proposing a possible combination of those forms of government.

MADISON: Federalist No. 51 119

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ALEXIS DE TOCQUEVILLE Government by Democracy

in America

ALEXIS DE TOCQUEVILLE (1805–1859), a French aristo- crat, came to see what democracy had produced in America during the early decades of the nineteenth century, when the United States was expanding rapidly westward and developing both agricultural and industrial strength. His family had lived through the French Revolution (1789) and its murderous aftermath. His parents came close to being killed but fled to England for a few years until Napo- leon began his wars, which ended in 1814. When they returned to France, they helped Tocqueville begin a career in law that resulted in his appointment to a minor position in Versailles. He spent a good deal of time reading the works of Machiavelli, Montesquieu, Rousseau, and other major political thinkers and began writing in his early twenties. Tocqueville went on to enjoy more important offices in government, including in France’s parlement, where he supported the abolish- ment of slavery. However, the government in France in 1830 became unstable, and Tocqueville’s situation proved difficult. He applied for a position that allowed him to visit the United States as an inspector of American prisons.

He chose his best friend, Gustave de Beaumont, to accom- pany him, and they set out in 1831 to travel across the new nation. Tocqueville did visit some prisons and comment on them, but soon he saw his mission shift to the careful observation of the nature of the government and the people of the United States. Because of the violence of the French Revolution and the unstable governments that followed up to the time of his visit, he was profoundly aware that the world of the aristocracy was crumbling rapidly. Many aristocrats had

From Democracy in America.

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been guillotined during the French revolution and many more had been forced out of the country. The rise of a middle class in France in the first decades of the 1800s signaled a change that Tocqueville knew was permanent and imminent. His studies in the United States resulted in Democracy in America (1835; 1840), still one the most important analyses of the function of democracy as it had been imag- ined by the framers of the Constitution and the authors of the Feder- alist Papers.

Tocqueville arrived at a propitious time. There were twenty- four states in the Union and the population was thirteen million people. Andrew Jackson (1767–1849) had been elected president in 1829 and was probably the most democratic holder of that office. He had not enjoyed the level of education of the presidents before him nor had he been the heir of great landholdings, like James Madison or the scion of a brilliant family, like John Quincy Adams. He had been born in the backwoods of Carolina and some- how began the study of law in his teens. He rose in politics, took a commission in the War of 1812, and became famous for his defeat of the British at New Orleans. He was tough, immediate, and some- times coarse, but the country adored him.

In this environment, Tocqueville traveled freely across the country and recorded his observations. In the absence of an aristoc- racy, he marveled at the sense of equality that Americans had. He even went so far as to include a chapter in Democracy in America on the equality of women. In it he says, “I think that the social change which places father and son, servant and master and, in general, lower and upper classes on the same level, will gradually raise women to make them the equals of men.” But he also observed that Americans had a great sense of industry and a love of materialism. “To clear, cultivate, and transform the realm of this vast uninhab- ited continent of his, the American must have the daily support of some energetic passion which can only be the love of money. This love of money has, therefore, never been stigmatized in America and, provided that it does not exceed the limits set by the public order, it is held in high esteem.”

He was impressed by the apparent absence of the hand of government, the freedom that people enjoyed, and the essential practicality of the nation’s inhabitants. He was certain that the power of the federal government would diminish over time and felt there could never be a civil war in America — despite the fact that the Civil War began just twenty-one years after his second volume appeared. His opinion that civil war was unlikely was based on his view that the power of the states outweighed the

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TOCQUEVILLE: Government by Democracy in America 123

power of the federal government at that time: “If the sovereignty of the Union were to come into conflict with that of the states, one can readily foresee that it would be defeated; I doubt whether the fight would ever be undertaken in any serious fashion.” He felt this even though South Carolina threatened war while he was in America in 1832.

Tocqueville returned to France after almost two years in America. There he married and continued his career, taking part in politics during tumultuous times in France. He supported French incursion into Algeria, which he visited. He also visited Ireland in 1835 and deplored the conditions of the Irish tenant farmers in the period before the great famine of the 1840s. He took a leadership role following the French revolution of 1848 and in branches of the government in the 1850s. His last work, a study of recent French history, appeared after he died in 1859.

Tocqueville’s Rhetoric

Because this is a translation from the French, it is difficult for us to appreciate the directness and skill of Tocqueville’s style. However, his principles of organization are clear. He con- siders only a specific number of issues in this chapter from his book. First, he tackles the question of suffrage, or who can vote. He describes it as universal suffrage because any free male citi- zen could vote in the United States; there were no restrictions, as in Europe, for men of property, though women, African slaves, and Native Americans could not vote. But Tocqueville also notes that there seem to be fewer distinguished men in office than there were fifty years before, when the Constitution was being written. He implies that when everyone can vote — as opposed to just a limited group of electors — the common people do not choose dis- tinguished men. Tocqueville then develops this point by causal analysis, trying to find what it is that causes fewer men of out- standing quality to assume leadership.

He follows with a discussion of the circumstance of the inter- vals between elections. The shortness of the intervals between elec- tions, he says, keeps “society in a feverish excitement and public affairs in a continuous state of change” (para. 31). But if there is a long period between elections, the ousted party might try to seize power. Further, with the change that new elections bring, he sees an “instability” of American laws (para. 34). He, like Americans, does not see this as a “great weakness” (para. 34).

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Then, considering the “arbitrary power of magistrates,” he develops his ideas using a comparison between monarchies, limited monarchies, and democracy, with a reference to the power of New England magistrates, by which he means those “entrusted with the execution of the law.” In this section, he compares despotism and democracy by using examples of legis- lation in New England and continues with a discussion of lim- ited monarchies.

One complaint leads him to devote a section to what he sees as the lack of good record keeping by local governments. Tocqueville points to newspapers as being the only institutions that keep a record of social movements and social issues. As a social scientist, he is himself in the process of recording what he sees at work in America and, in a sense, tries to make up for this lack in contempo- rary government.

Finally, Tocqueville develops his last idea when he discusses the possibility that American democracy may be financially effi- cient. Again, he relies on comparison to decide whether democracy is inexpensive or overly expensive to maintain. This leads him to consider taxation and to reflect on the Aristotelian issue of classes of people. Tocqueville sees three classes: first are the wealthy, whose fortunes are considerable; second are the middle class, who hold only a slight fortune; and third are the general poor, who live on their labor and do not get rich. Tocqueville’s analysis of taxation under the government of each of these classes is fasci- nating. And like both Aristotle and James Madison, Tocqueville is led to consider the question of government by the majority or the minority. Obviously, this question remains central to ideas about democracy.


The following prereading questions may help you anticipate key issues in the discussion of Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Government by Democ- racy in America.” Keeping them in mind during your first reading should help focus your attention.

• How does universal suffrage affect the choice of who will govern?

• How might the frequency of elections affect the stability of the laws of the land?

• To what extent is a democratic form of government economically efficient?

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TOCQUEVILLE: Government by Democracy in America 125

Government by Democracy in America

1I realize that I am treading on live cinders. Every single word in this chapter is bound to bruise at some point the different parties which divide my country. Nonetheless I shall speak my thoughts.

2In Europe we find it difficult to assess the true character and the per- manent instincts of democracy because in Europe two opposed principles are in conflict; it is not precisely known how far this is due to the princi- ples themselves or to the passions aroused by the conflict.

3This is not the case in America where the people are in an unim- peded dominance with no dangers to fear nor wrongs to avenge.

4Therefore, in America, democracy follows its own inclinations. Its behavior is natural and its movements are free. That is where it must be judged. And who would find such a study more useful and interesting than ourselves since we are daily carried along by an irresistible move- ment, walking like blind men toward what may prove to be a tyranny perhaps or a republic, but surely toward a democratic social state?

Universal Suffrage

5I have previously mentioned that all the states of the Union had adopted universal suffrage. It is found in populations at different stages on the social ladder. I have had the chance to observe its effects in various places and among races of men whom language, religion, or customs turn into virtual strangers to each other, in Louisiana as well as in New England, in Georgia as in Canada. I have noted that universal suffrage was far from producing in America all the benefits or all the ills expected from it in Europe and that its results were in general other than is supposed.

The People’s Choice and the Instincts of American Democracy in Its Choices

In the United States the most outstanding men are rarely called upon to direct public affairs — Reasons for this — The envy which, in France, drives the lower classes against the upper classes is not a French instinct but a democratic one — Why, in America, eminent men often keep away from a political career of their own volition.

6Many people in Europe believe without saying so, or say so without believing it, that one of the great advantages of universal suffrage is

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to summon men worthy of public trust to the direction of public affairs. The people could not possibly govern on their own, so it is said, but they do always sincerely support the welfare of the state and their instinct unfailingly tells them which men are fired by a similar desire and thus are the most competent to wield power.

7For my part, I am bound to say, what I have seen in America does not give me any reason to think that this is the case. When I stepped ashore in the United States, I discovered with amazement to what extent merit was common among the governed but rare among the rulers. It is a permanent feature of the present day that the most outstanding men in the United States are rarely summoned to public office and one is forced to acknowledge that things have been like that as democracy has gone beyond its previous limits. The race of Ameri- can statesmen has strangely shrunk in size over the last half century.

8One can point out several reasons for this phenomenon. 9Whatever one does, it is impossible to raise the intelligence of a

nation above a certain level. It will be quite useless to ease the access to human knowledge, improve teaching methods, or reduce the cost of education, for men will never become educated nor develop their intelligence without devoting time to the matter.

10Therefore the inevitable limitations upon a nation’s intellectual progress are governed by how great or small is the ease with which it can live without working. This limitation is further off in certain coun- tries and nearer in others; for it not to exist at all, however, the people would need to be free of the physical cares of life. It would have to cease to be the people. Thus it is as difficult to imagine a society where all men are enlightened as a state where all the citizens are wealthy; those are two related difficulties. I willingly accept that the bulk of the population very sincerely supports the welfare of the country; I might go even further to state that in general the lower social classes seem to be less likely to confuse their personal interests with this support than the upper classes. But what they always lack, more or less, is the skill to judge the means to achieve this sincerely desired end. A long study and many different ideas indeed are needed to reach a precise picture of the character of one single individual! Would the masses succeed where greatest geniuses go astray? The people never find the time or the means to devote to this work. They have always to come to hasty judgments and to latch on to the most obvious of features. As a result, charlatans of all kinds know full well the secret of pleasing the people whereas more often than not their real friends fail to do so.

11Moreover, it is not always the ability to choose men of merit which democracy lacks but the desire and inclination to do so.

12One must not blind oneself to the fact that democratic institu- tions promote to a very high degree the feeling of envy in the human

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heart, not so much because they offer each citizen ways of being equal to each other but because these ways continuously prove inadequate for those who use them. Democratic institutions awaken and flatter the passion of equality without ever being able to satisfy it entirely. This complete equality every day slips through the people’s fingers at the moment when they think they have a hold on it; it flees, as Pascal1 says, in an eternal flight. The people become excited by the pursuit of this blessing, all the more priceless because it is near enough to be rec- ognized but too far away to be tasted. The chance of success enthuses them; the uncertainty of success frustrates them. Their excitement is followed by weariness and bitterness. So anything which exceeds their limitations in any way appears to them as an obstacle to their desires and all superiority, however legitimate, is irksome to their eyes.

13Many people suppose that this secret instinct which persuades the lower classes to remove the upper classes as far as they can from the direction of affairs is found only in France; that is wrong. The instinct I am mentioning is not French, it is democratic; political cir- cumstances may have given it a particularly bitter taste, but they do not bring it into being.

14In the United States, the people have no especial hatred for the upper classes of society; but they feel little goodwill for them and exclude them from power; they do not fear great talents but have little liking for them. Generally speaking, it is noticeable that anything which thrives without their support has trouble in winning their favor.

15While the natural instincts of democracy persuade the people to remove distinguished men from power, the latter are guided by no less an instinct to distance themselves from a political career, where it is so difficult for them to retain their complete autonomy or to make any progress without cheapening themselves. This thought is very naively expressed by Chancellor Kent. This celebrated author I speak of, having sung the praises of that part of the Constitution which grants the appointment of judges to the executive power, adds: “It is probable, in fact, that the most appropriate men to fill these places would have too much reserve in their manners and too much sever- ity in their principles ever to be able to gather the majority of votes at an election that rested on universal suffrage.” (Kent’s Commentaries on American Law, vol. I, p. 273.)

16That was what was being printed without contradiction in Amer- ica in the year 1830.

17I hold it proved that those who consider universal suffrage as a guarantee of the excellence of the choice made are under a complete delusion. Universal suffrage has other advantages but not that one.

1 Blaise Pascal (1623–1662) French mathematician and philosopher.

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Causes Which Are Able Partly to Correct These Instincts of Democracy

Contrary effects on nations as on men of great dangers — Why America saw so many men at the head of affairs fifty years ago — Influence of intel- ligence and customs upon the people’s choices — Example of New England — States of the Southwest — Influence of certain laws upon the people’s choices — Election by two stages — Its effect on the composition of the Senate.

18When great dangers threaten the state, the people often make a happy choice of those citizens best suited to save them.

19It has been noticed that, in the face of imminent danger, a man rarely remains at his normal level; he either rises well above him- self or dips well below. The same happens to nations. Extreme dan- gers, instead of lifting a nation, sometimes end by bringing it low; they arouse its passions without giving them direction and confuse its perceptions without clarification. The Jews were still slitting each other’s throats even in the midst of the smoking ruins of the Tem- ple. But more commonly, with nations as with men, extraordinary courage arises from the very imminence of the dangers. Then great characters stand out like those monuments hidden by the darkness of the night and seen suddenly in the glare of a conflagration. Genius no longer disdains to appear on the stage and the people, alarmed by the dangers facing them, momentarily forget their envious pas- sions. At such a time, it is not rare for famous names to emerge from the ballot box. I have said above that statesmen of modern America seem greatly inferior to those who appeared at the head of affairs fifty years ago. Circumstances, as well as laws, were responsible for that. When America was fighting the most just of causes, that of one nation escaping from another’s yoke; when it was a question of intro- ducing a new nation into the world, the spirits of all rose to reach the height of the goal to which their efforts aspired. In this general com- motion, outstanding men anticipated the nation’s call and the people embraced them and adopted them as their leaders. But such events take place at rare intervals and one must judge by the commonplace aspect of things.

20If fleeting events sometimes succeed in checking the passions aroused by democracy, the intelligence and customs of the commu- nity exercise a no less powerful but more lasting influence upon its inclinations. This is very obvious in the United States.

21In New England, where education and freedom are the daugh- ters of morality and religion, and where an already ancient and long-settled society has managed to shape its own maxims and cus- toms, the people, while they have avoided all the superiorities which

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wealth and birth have ever created among men, have become used to respecting intellectual and moral superiorities and to submit to them willingly. Therefore, New England democracy makes better choices than elsewhere.

22On the other hand, as one goes further south to those states where social ties are less ancient or less secure, where education is not so widespread and where the principles of morality, religion, and freedom are less happily combined, one observes that the aptitudes and virtues of government leaders are increasingly rare.

23Lastly, when we get right down to the new states of the Southwest where the body of society, formed yesterday, is still no more than a mass of adventurers and speculators, the observer is dismayed to see into what hands public authority has been entrusted and he wonders what force, independent of legislation and of men, will enable the state to grow and society to prosper.

24Certain laws have a democratic character, yet succeed in correct- ing partially democracy’s dangerous instincts.

25When you enter the House of Representatives in Washington, you are struck by the coarse appearance of this great assembly. Your eye often seeks in vain a single famous man. Almost all its members are unknown people whose names fail to stimulate any mental pic- ture. For the most part, they are village lawyers, businessmen or even men from the lowest classes. In a country where education is almost universal, it is claimed that the representatives of the people cannot always write correctly.

26A couple of paces away lies the Senate whose narrow precincts contain a large proportion of America’s famous men. There is hardly a single man who does not recall some recent claim to fame. They are eloquent lawyers, distinguished generals, able magistrates, well-known politicians. All the speeches which emanate from this assembly would bring glory to the greatest parliamentary debates of Europe.

27How does this curious contradiction come about? Why does the nation’s elite gather in this house rather than the other? Why does the first assembly attract so many coarse elements whereas the lat- ter has a monopoly of talents and intelligence? Yet both spring from the people, both are the product of universal suffrage and no voice has so far been raised in America to maintain that the Senate might be antagonistic to popular interests. So how does such a wide differ- ence arise? I know of only one explanation: the election for the House of Representatives is direct; the one for the Senate is in two stages. The whole citizen body appoints the legislature of each state and the federal constitution converts one by one these legislatures into elec- toral colleges, which return members to the Senate. Thus the sena- tors represent, albeit indirectly, the result of universal suffrage, for the

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legislature which appoints senators is not an aristocratic or privileged body deriving its electoral right from itself; it fundamentally depends upon the totality of citizens; it is generally elected by them every year and they are always able to control its choices by adding new mem- bers to its ranks. But it is enough that the will of the people has passed through this elected assembly for it to have become refined in some sense and to have emerged clad in a nobler and more beautiful form. Men thus elected, therefore, represent exactly the ruling majority of the nation but they represent only the highest concepts current in the com- munity, the generous instincts which fire its imagination and not the petty emotions which trouble or the vices which disgrace it.

28It is easy to see in the future a moment when American republics will be forced to extend the two tiers in their electoral system for fear of perishing wretchedly on the reefs of democracy.

29I have no scruple in confessing that I see in the two-stage elec- toral system the only means of placing the advantage of political lib- erty within the reach of all classes of society. Anyone hoping to turn this means into the exclusive weapon of one party, or anyone fearing such an outcome, seems to me to be making an equal mistake.

Influence Which American Democracy has Exercised on Electoral Laws

Elections at long intervals expose the state to violent crises — Frequency of elections keeps up a feverish agitation — Americans have opted for the latter of these disadvantages — Versatility of the law — Opinions of Hamilton, Madison, and Jefferson on this topic.

30When elections occur at long intervals, the state runs the risk of being overthrown each time. Then the parties make the utmost efforts to seize a prize which comes so rarely within their grasp and, since the outcome is almost beyond remedy for those candidates who lose, their ambition, pushed to the point of desperation, must be a source of fear. If, by contrast, the equal struggle is soon to be repeated, the losers retain their patience.

31When elections follow in rapid succession, their frequency keeps society in a feverish excitement and public affairs in a continuous state of change.

32Thus, on one side, the state risks the onset of unease or, on the other, revolution; the former system damages the quality of govern- ment, the latter threatens its existence.

33Americans have preferred to risk the first of these evils to the sec- ond. In this choice they have been guided more by instinct than reason,

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since democracy pushes its inclination for variety to the edge of pas- sion and the consequence is a strange changeability of legislation.

34Many Americans consider the instability of their laws as a neces- sary result of a system whose general effects are useful. Yet there is no one in the United States, I believe, who wishes to deny this instability or who does not regard it as a great weakness.

35Hamilton, having demonstrated the usefulness of a power which has been able to prevent or, at least, to impede the promulgation of bad laws, adds: “It may perhaps be said, that the power of preventing bad laws includes that of preventing good ones, and may be used to the one purpose as well as the other. But this objection will have little weight with those who can properly estimate the mischiefs of that inconstancy and mutability in the laws which form the greatest blemish in the char- acter and genius of our governments.” Form the greatest blemish in the character and genius of our government (The Federalist, No. 73).

36“The facility,” says Madison, “and excess of law-making seem to be the diseases to which our governments are most liable.” (The Feder- alist, No. 62).

37Jefferson himself, the greatest democrat to emerge from American democracy, has highlighted the same dangers.

38“The instability of our laws is really an immense evil,” he says. “I think it would be well to provide in our constitution that there shall always be a twelve-month between the engrossing a bill and passing it: that it should then be offered its passage without changing a word: and that if its circumstances should be thought to require a speedier passage, it should take two-thirds of both houses instead of a bare majority.”2

Civil Servants under the Control of American Democracy

Simplicity of American civil servants — Absence of uniforms — All officials are salaried — Political consequences of this fact — No public career in America — Results of this.

39American civil servants remain indistinguishable from the mass of the citizens; they have neither palaces nor guards, nor ceremonial uniforms. This simple government attire does not stem simply from a peculiar twist of the American character but from the basic principles of their society.

40In the eyes of democracy, the government is not a blessing but a necessary evil. Some powers must be granted to civil servants

2 Letter to Madison of 20 December 1787, M. Conseil’s translation. [Tocqueville’s note]

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for, without such power, what use would they be? But the exter- nal appearance of power is not vital for the conduct of affairs and is unnecessarily offensive to the public.

41The civil servants themselves are perfectly aware that they have gained the right to hold a superior position in relation to others, which they derive from their authority only if they place themselves on a level with the whole community through their way of life.

42I can imagine no one plainer in his behavior, more approachable, more sensitive to requests than an American civil servant.

43I like this unself-conscious approach of democratic government and I perceive something admirably manly in this inner strength which characterizes the office rather than the official, the man rather than the external symbols of power.

44As for the influence that uniforms exert, I believe that the impor- tance they have to carry in a century like ours is much exaggerated. I have not noticed American officials in the exercise of their authority greeted with any less respect or regard because they have nothing but their own merit to recommend them.

45On the other hand, I very much doubt whether a special gar- ment induces men in public life to respect themselves if they are not naturally disposed to do so, for I cannot believe that they have more regard for their clothes than their person.

46When I see some of our magistrates harassing or indulging their wit against litigants or shrugging their shoulders at the defense pleas or smiling smugly as the charges are listed, I should like to try to take their robes from them so as to find out whether, clothed as ordinary citizens, they might recall the natural dignity of the human race.

47Not one American public official wears uniform but they all receive a salary. This flows even more naturally than the preceding example from democratic principles. A democracy may surround its magistrates with pomp and cover them with gold and silk without directly compromising the principle of its existence. Such privileges are transitory and belong to the place not the man. But the creation of unpaid offices is to form a class of wealthy and independent officials; that is the core of an aristocracy. If the people still retain the right to choose, the exercise of that right has inevitable limitations.

48Whenever a democratic republic converts salaried offices to unpaid ones, I think one may conclude that it is veering toward monarchy. And whenever a monarchy begins to remunerate unpaid offices, it is a sure sign of progression toward a despotism or a republic.

49I, therefore, think that to change from salaried to unpaid offices is by itself the instigation of a real revolution.

50The complete absence of unpaid offices is for me one of the most obvious indications of the absolute sway American democracy

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holds. Services of whatever kind rendered to the public are rewarded so that everyone has not only the right but also the means of perform- ing such services.

51If all the citizens of democratic states are able to take up office, all are not tempted to canvas for them. The choice of the electorate is limited not by the qualifications for candidature but by the number and capability of the candidates.

52In nations where the principle of election is universally applied, properly speaking no public career exists. Men reach office to some degree by accident and have no guarantee of staying there. This is especially true with annual elections. The result is that in times of calm, public office offers little attraction to ambition. In the United States, men of moderate desires commit themselves to the twists and turns of politics. Men of great talent and passion in general avoid power to pursue wealth; it often comes about that only those who feel inadequate in the conduct of their own business undertake to direct the fortunes of the state.

53These reasons, quite as much as any poor decisions of democracy, have to account for the great number of coarse men holding public office. I do not know whether the people of the United States would choose men of superior qualities who might canvas their votes but it is certain that such men do not bid for office.

The Arbitrary Power of Magistrates3 under the Sway of American Democracy

Why the arbitrary power of magistrates is greater under absolute monarchies and democratic republics than in limited monarchies — Arbitrary power of magistrates in New England.

54Under two types of government, magistrates exercise consider- able arbitrary power, namely, under the absolute government of a sin- gle individual and under that of democracy.

55This same effect issues from almost analogous causes. 56In despotisms, no one’s fate is secure, whether they be public offi-

cials or ordinary individuals. The ruler, holding in his hand the lives, fortunes, and sometimes the honor of those he employs, believes he has nothing to fear from them and allows them great freedom of action because he feels sure they will never use it against him.

57In despotisms, the ruler is so enamored of his power that he fears the restrictions of his own regulations; he likes to see his agents

3 Here I mean the word magistrate in its widest sense: I apply it to all entrusted with the execution of the law. [Tocqueville’s note]

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acting in an almost random manner so as to be assured that he will never observe in them any inclination which runs against his wishes.

58In democracies, since the majority is able to remove power annu- ally from the hands of those entrusted with it, it has no fear of any abuse against itself. Since the majority has the power to indicate its wishes to its rulers from moment to moment, it prefers to leave them to their own efforts rather than bind them to inflexible rules which, by fettering them, would, to some extent, fetter the majority itself.

59Looking quite closely, one actually discovers that the arbitrary power of democratic magistrates is even greater than it would be in despotic states, where the ruler can punish at any time all the mis- takes he perceives. But he could not possibly flatter himself that he has spotted every mistake he ought to punish. On the other hand, in democracies, the sovereign power is both all-powerful and present everywhere. Thus we see that American officials are much freer in the sphere of action allotted to them by law than any European counter- part. Often they are merely shown the goal to be reached while being left free to choose their own means.

60In New England for example, the formation of the jury list is left to the selectmen of each township; the only rule imposed on them is as follows: they should choose juries from citizens who enjoy electoral rights and whose reputation is excellent.4

61In France, we would consider the life and liberty of men to be in danger, if we entrusted the exercise of such a formidable right to an official, whoever he was.

62In New England, these same magistrates are able to have the names of drunkards posted in taverns and to prevent the inhabitants of the town from supplying them with wine.5

63Such a moralistic power would appall people in the most absolute of monarchies; here, however, people have no difficulty in obeying.

64Nowhere has the law left greater scope to arbitrary power than in democratic republics because such power appears not to scare them.

4See the law of 27 February 1813 in the General Collection of the Laws of Mas- sachusetts, vol. 2, p. 331. It must be added that the jurors are subsequently drawn by lot from the lists. [Tocqueville’s note]

5Law of 28 February 1787, ibid., vol. 1, p. 302. Here is the text: “The select- men in each town shall cause to be posted up in the houses and shops of all tavern- ers, innholders, and retailers, within such towns, a list of the names of all persons reputed common drunkards, common tipplers, or common gamesters, misspending their time and estate in such houses. And every keeper of such house or shop, after notice given him, that shall be convicted before one or more Justices of the Peace, of entertaining or suffering any of the persons in such list, to drink or tipple, or game, in his or her house, or any of the dependencies thereof, or of selling them spiritous liquor, shall forfeit and pay the sum of thirty shillings.” [Tocqueville’s note]

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It may even be said that magistrates become freer as voting rights are wider spread and the duration of the magistracy is shortened.

65That is why it is so difficult to convert a democratic republic into a monarchy. Though they are not elected, magistrates normally retain the rights and the habits of elected magistrates. That leads to despotism.

66Only in limited monarchies does the law define the sphere of action around public officials while at the same time taking care to guide their every step. This fact is easily explained.

67In limited monarchies, power is divided between the people and the prince. Both have a vested interest in the stability of magistrates.

68The prince is unwilling to entrust the fate of public officials to the hands of the people for fear that they betray his authority; the people, from their point of view, are afraid that magistrates, being absolutely dependent upon the prince, might serve to oppress their liberty; thus they are, in a sense, left dependent upon no one.

69The same reason which persuades prince and people to make offi- cials independent induces them to seek guarantees against the abuse of that independence so that they do not turn it against the authority of the former or the liberty of the latter. Both agree, therefore, upon the necessity of marking out, in advance, a line of conduct for public officials and find it in both their interests to impose upon these offi- cials rules they cannot possibly disregard.

Administrative Instability in the United States

American society often leaves behind fewer records of its proceedings than a family does — Newspapers are the only historical monuments — How extreme administrative instability injures the art of government.

70Men reach power for one brief moment before disappearing in a crowd, which changes its appearance daily; the result is that the proceed- ings of American society often leave behind fewer records than a private family does. In a sense, public administration hands down its records via an oral tradition. Nothing is written or, if it is, it flies off in the slightest gust of wind like Sibylline leaves,6 to vanish without recall.

71The sole historical monuments in the United States are news- papers. If one number is missing, the chain of events is, as it were, broken; the present and the past are no longer connected. I am quite certain that in fifty years time it will be more difficult to gather together authentic documents about the details of American social life than about the administration of medieval France. And if a barbarian invasion happened to take the United States by surprise,

6 Sibylline leaves: A reference to the lost books of the Roman tracks, The Sibylline Books.

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in order to find out anything about the people who lived there one would have to turn to the history of other nations.

72Administrative instability has begun to permeate our thinking; I might almost say that today everyone has ended up with a taste for it. No one has any concern for what happened before his time. No methodical system is in force; no collecting of material takes place; no documents are gathered together when it would be easy to do so. When by chance they are in someone’s possession, little care is taken of them. Among my papers I have original documents given to me by public administrators to answer some of my inquiries. American society seems to live from hand to mouth like an army in the field. However, the skill of adminis- tration is assuredly a science and all sciences, in order to improve, need to group together the discoveries of the different generations as they fol- low each other. One man, in the brief span of his life, notes one fact, another conceives an idea; one man invents a method, another finds a formula; the human race collects en route these various fruits of individ- ual experiments and formulates the sciences. It is difficult for American administrators to learn anything from each other. Thus they bring to the conduct of society the enlightenment which they discover widespread in that society and not the knowledge which should be their own. So democracy, pushed to the limits, damages the art of government. In this context, it is better suited to a nation whose administrative education is already complete than to a nation uninitiated in public affairs.

73Moreover, this does not apply solely to the science of administra- tion. Democratic government, founded upon such a simple and natu- ral idea, nevertheless always implies the existence of a very civilized and educated society.7 At first sight, it may be imagined as belonging to the earliest ages of the world; a closer examination allows us to dis- cover that it had to come about last.

Public Expenses under the Rule of American Democracy

In all societies citizens divide into a certain number of classes — The instinct of each of these classes in the organization of state finances — Why public expenses must tend to increase when the people govern — What makes the extravagancies of democracy less of a fear in America — Use of public funds under a democracy.

74Is democratic government economical? First we must know with what we are comparing it.

75The question would be easy to solve if we set out to draw a parallel between a democratic republic and an absolute monarchy.

7 I do not need to say that I am referring here to the democratic government which applies to a nation and not that which applies to a small tribe. [Tocqueville’s note]

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Public expenses would be much higher in the former than in the latter. But such is the case for all free states compared with those which are not so. Despotism certainly brings ruin to men, more by preventing them from producing than by taking away the fruits of their labors; it dries up the source of wealth while it often respects wealth once acquired. On the other hand, freedom spawns a thou- sand times more goods than it destroys and, in nations where this is understood, the people’s resources always grow more quickly than taxes.

76At present, I am concerned to compare nations which are free and to establish the influence of democracy upon state finances in such nations.

77Societies, like other organized bodies, are shaped by certain fixed rules which they cannot sidestep and are made up of certain elements found in all places at all times.

78It will always be simple to divide each nation theoretically into three classes.

79The first is composed of the wealthy. The second will include those who are, in all respects, comfortably off without being wealthy. In the third are locked those who have only little or no property and who live primarily on the work provided by the first two.

80The individuals in these various categories may be more or less numerous according to the state of society, but it is impossible for these categories not to exist.

81Each one of these classes will bring to the handling of state finances certain instincts peculiar to itself.

82Let us suppose that the first alone makes the laws; it will probably concern itself but little with saving public money because a tax on a substantial fortune removes only part of the surplus without affecting it very much.

83On the other hand, let us grant that the middle classes alone make the law. You can count on it that they will not raise extrava- gant taxes because nothing is more disastrous than a heavy tax on a slight fortune.

84Government by the middle classes has to be, I do not say the most enlightened of free governments, nor especially the most gener- ous, but the most economical.

85Now, let me suppose that the lowest class is exclusively respon- sible for making the law; I see clearly opportunities for an increase rather than a decrease in public expenditure for two reasons:

86As most of the voters then have no taxable property, all the money expended in the interests of society can only profit them without ever harming them; those who do have a little property easily find means of fixing taxes so as to fall upon the wealthy and

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to profit the poor; this is something the wealthy could not possibly pursue were they to be in charge of the government.

87Countries where the poor 8 were exclusively responsible for law- making could not therefore expect much economy in public expenses, which will always be extensive, either because taxes cannot touch those who vote for them or because they are assessed so as not to touch them. In other words, democratic government is the only one where those who vote for the tax can evade the obligation to pay it.

88It is an empty objection to say that the interest of the people properly understood is to be careful with the fortunes of the wealthy because it would soon feel an ensuing constriction itself. Is it not also to the advantage of kings to make their subjects happy and of the nobility to know when it is appropriate to open their ranks? If a dis- tant advantage could prevail over the passions and needs of the pass- ing moment, neither tyrannical rules nor exclusive aristocracies would ever have come into being.

89Again, someone may stop me and say: Who has ever thought of making the poor solely responsible for lawmaking? Who? Those who introduced universal suffrage. Does the majority or the minority make the law? The majority, of course; and if I demonstrate that the poor always make up the majority, am I not right to add that in countries where they have the vote, they alone make the law?

90Now, certainly up to this time, in every nation of the world, those with no property or those whose property was too modest to allow them to live comfortably without working always comprised the greatest number. Therefore, universal suffrage really does entrust the government of society to the poor.

91The vexing influence occasionally exercised by the power of the people on state finances was very evident in certain democratic republics of the ancient world in which the public treasury was drained away to help the poorest citizens or to provide the people with games and public spectacles. It is true that the representative system was almost unknown in the ancient world. Nowadays, popular passions find it more difficult to thrive in public affairs; however, you can guarantee that in the long run, the delegate will always in the end conform to the opinions of his constituents and support their inclinations as well as their interests.

92However, the extravagancies of democracies are less a source of dread as the people become increasingly property-owning because

8 It should be understood that the word poor has here, as in the rest of the chapter, a relative meaning, not an absolute one. Poor men in America might often appear rich compared with their European counterparts; nevertheless one would be right to call them poor in comparison with those of their fellow citizens who are richer than they are. [Tocqueville’s note]

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then, on the one hand, the people need the money of the wealthy less, on the other, they will experience more difficulty in contriving a tax which will not touch the people themselves. In this respect, universal suffrage should be less dangerous in France than in England, where almost all taxable property is concentrated in a few hands. Amer- ica enjoys a situation more favorable than France because the great majority of citizens own something.

93Still more reasons exist for the possible increase of the financial budget in democracies.

94Under an aristocratic regime, those men who rule the affairs of state are free from all need because of their own position in society; satisfied with their lot, they look to society for power and reputa- tion; placed, as they are, above the dim mass of citizens, they do not always understand clearly how the general well-being must con- tribute to their own greatness. Not that they view the sufferings of the poor without pity; but they cannot feel their wretchedness as if they shared it themselves. Provided that the people appear to toler- ate their lot, they themselves are satisfied and expect nothing more from the government. Aristocracy thinks more about preservation than improvement.

95On the contrary, when public authority is in the hands of the people, they, as the sovereign power, seek out improvements in every quarter because of their own discontent.

96The spirit of improvement then infiltrates a thousand different areas; it delves into endless detail and above all advocates those sorts of improvements which cannot be achieved without payment; for its con- cern is to better the condition of the poor who cannot help themselves.

97Furthermore, an aimless restlessness permeates democratic socie- ties where a kind of everlasting excitement stimulates all sorts of inno- vations which almost always involve expense.

98In monarchies and aristocracies, the men of ambition flatter the sovereign’s normal taste for renown and power and thereby often drive him to spend a great deal of money.

99In democracies where the sovereign power is always in need of funds, its favors can hardly be won except by increasing its prosperity and that can almost never be achieved without money.

In addition, when the people start to reflect upon their own posi- tion, a host of needs arise which they had not felt at first and which cannot be satisfied except by having recourse to state assets. The result is that public expenditure seems to increase with the growth of civilization and that taxes rise as knowledge spreads.

There is one final reason which often makes democratic govern- ment more expensive than any other. Sometimes democracy aims to economize in its expenditure but fails to succeed because it has no skill



TOCQUEVILLE: Government by Democracy in America 139

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in managing money. As it frequently changes its mind and still more fre- quently its agents, its enterprises are badly conducted or remain incom- plete. Firstly, the state expends more than is warranted by the scope of the intended aim; secondly, its expenditure is unprofitable.


1. Tocqueville was amazed “to what extent merit was common among the governed but rare among the rulers” (para. 7). Is this true today?

2. Tocqueville says, “The people could not possibly govern on their own” (para. 6). What in his essay would convince you that his statement is right or wrong?

3. What does Tocqueville say about the effect of universal suffrage on American democracy?

4. What was the role of newspapers in Tocqueville’s time? Is it the same today?

5. How does Tocqueville describe civil servants?

6. Is Tocqueville correct when he says, “Whatever one does, it is impossi- ble to raise the intelligence of a nation above a certain level” (para. 9)? What are his concerns about education in the 1830s?

7. What does Tocqueville think about rule by the majority in a democracy?


1. Tocqueville feels all nations must contain three classes: the wealthy, whose fortunes are large; the comfortable, whose fortunes are small; and the poor, who have no fortune and must live by their labors alone. Does this breakdown reflect conditions today? How reasonable is Tocqueville’s understanding of how these three groups would vote on taxation? Do you think that if it was true in Tocqueville’s time it is true today? Would all three classes vote primarily for their own interests?

2. Tocqueville was disturbed by the fact that when he went into the House of Representatives he met no one who was famous or well- known. He felt that universal suffrage was responsible for that. He says that “it is not always the ability to choose men of merit which democ- racy lacks but the desire and inclination to do so” (para. 11). Do you agree with Tocqueville that universal suffrage works against choos- ing the most distinguished and accomplished candidate and toward choosing a mediocre candidate? What are his reasons for thinking so?

3. Because elected office is essentially insecure (one may lose an election), Tocqueville says that politics is not a calling that attracts the best men. As he puts it, “In the United States, men of moderate desires commit themselves to the twists and turns of politics. Men of great talent and passion in general avoid power to pursue wealth; it often comes about

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that only those who feel inadequate in the conduct of their own busi- ness undertake to direct the fortunes of the state” (para. 52). Argue either for or against his position using examples from selections in this book or from your own studies and experience.

4. In the section that discusses civil servants (paras. 39–53), Tocqueville makes a number of statements that may be controversial. Examine that section and explain why he is concerned about the ways in which civil servants are or are not paid and how they present themselves to the general public in the American democracy. How valid do you feel his arguments are?

5. CONNECTIONS The framers of the Constitution as well as James Madison in “Federalist No. 51” were concerned with the effects of a pure democracy. Tocqueville is similarly concerned, and in paragraph 89 he asks, “Does the majority or the minority make the law?” What is his conclusion regarding this question and how does his analysis affect his thinking about taxation and the economic efficiency of a democracy? With what parts of Tocqueville’s analysis would Madison take issue, and how would he correct his thinking? How well might Madison and Tocqueville have gotten along had they met?

6. In paragraph 72, while meditating on the failure of the new nation to pre- serve records of its past, Tocqueville says, “No one has any concern for what happened before his time.” Explain what you think Tocqueville means by this statement and see if you can validate or invalidate his view by reference to other selections in Part One. Or consider his statement in light of current national circumstances and your own experience and your experiences with other citizens. Is this statement reasonable and reflective of the way people feel today? How concerned are you that it might be true?

7. CONNECTIONS Read Stephen Carter’s “The Separation of Church and State” ( Religious lob- byists in Washington, D.C. argue for laws that affect the entire popula- tion, such as the laws that now ban stem cell research that uses fetal cells. Should Carter consider such lobbying activity a breach of the separation of church and state? Why would he defend such activity? Given Tocqueville’s respect for the American democracy he observed, how would he have reacted to the concept of lobbyists furthering religious interests in Congress? Elsewhere in Democracy in America, Tocqueville says, “Weird sects appear from time to time striving to open up extraordinary paths to eternal happiness. Religious insan- ity is very common in the United States” (Vol. 2; Ch. 12). Would Tocqueville be sympathetic to Carter’s argument?

8. SEEING CONNECTIONS The figures standing in Howard Chandler Christy’s painting of the signing of the U.S. Constitution (p. 57) in Phila- delphia in 1787 are portrayed as they were almost fifty years before the publication of Democracy in America. Does Tocqueville seem to empa- th ize with them? Does his view of democracy seem similar to theirs? Does he seem surprised that this group of men could have conceived of a democracy that functioned as it did in his time? What about it might have surprised him? What, if anything, about it surprised you?

TOCQUEVILLE: Government by Democracy in America 141

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CARL BECKER Ideal Democracy

CARL LOTUS BECKER (1873–1945), a distinguished historian, was John Wendell Anderson Professor of History at Cornell Univer- sity for most of his professional life. He was born in Iowa, in Black- hawk County, and studied at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, where he worked with one of the most distinguished and influential theorists of American history, Frederick Jackson Turner. Turner’s theories about the effect of the frontier on shaping the development and character of the United States became central to the way histori- ans viewed the nation’s growth. Becker took his doctorate at Colum- bia University, where he worked with James Harvey Robinson, one of the founders of the movement known as “the new history.”

The new history movement, of which Becker was one of the most notable members, broadened the meaning of history to include more than simply the political events of the past. The scientific, sociologi- cal, cultural, and intellectual achievements of society became central to historians as a result of Robinson’s and Becker’s work. Robinson and Becker established the New School for Social Research in New York City and Robinson became its first president.

Becker’s early work focused on the beginnings of the U.S. experi ment with democracy. He saw that the American Revolution was not only about independence but also about changing the basic form of government and abandoning the age-old institution of a king and court who governed without taking into account the will of the people. An early book, The United States; an Experiment in Democracy (1920), clarified his thinking on the nature of the Revo- lution and its purposes. He followed that with The Declaration of Independence, a Study in the History of Political Ideas (1922) and The Struggle for Independence. Part 1: The Eve of the Revolution (1926).

From Modern Democracy.

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The next year he published The Spirit of ’76 and Other Essays, with J. M. Clark and William E. Dodd.

Becker was president of the American Historical Association in 1931 when he delivered “Everyman His Own Historian,” a speech that has resonated with historians ever since. In a very carefully reasoned discussion, Becker proposed a view that seemed heretical to most of his audience. What he suggested is that it is difficult to define history in a way that makes it as absolute and as specific as a fact. In his speech, he contrasts facts and interpretations of facts in such a manner so as to conclude that everyone brings personal val- ues, opinions, commitments, and views to all history and, thus, every- one conceives of history in his or her own way. History, in other words, is not absolute, but relative. This was a revolutionary view, anticipating some of the postmodern thought of our own time.

While his scholarly work centered on the founding of the United States, especially the philosophical underpinnings of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence and their commitment to the val- ues that are expressed in that document, Becker’s best-known work is The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers (1932).

The founders of the United States — such as Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, Hamilton, and others — were themselves eighteenth- century thinkers, so Becker’s analysis of the thought, political and otherwise, of the French and English philosophers who established reason as their guide was central to his lifelong concerns for the American experiment. When he delivered the lectures at Yale Uni- versity that eventually became his book on eighteenth-century philosophers, the world faced many menaces. In 1932, the Great Depression threatened the fate of all capitalist nations. Commu- nism on one side and fascism on another had both created dictator- ships that endangered liberal thinkers everywhere. Both of these forces were vying for control of the political structure of the United States at the time of its greatest economic weakness.

Becker’s intent in his book was to show how the philosophical roots of the American Revolution’s determination to create a democ- racy were not only deep but also strong. The essentially humanistic thought of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment rejected the idea of a “city of God,” as proposed in the Middle Ages, just as it rejected the idea of a golden age of Rome or Greece, as proposed in the Renaissance. The Enlightenment instead established reason as one’s guide and a humanitarian principle as one’s goal. The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers became widely known and is still read with considerable respect today.

“Ideal Democracy” is the first of three Page-Barbour lectures delivered at the University of Virginia in 1940 and gathered into

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BECKER: Ideal Democracy 145

a book simply titled Modern Democracy (1941). Faced with the pros- pect of a major European war, Becker had begun to rethink some of his positions as expressed in his speech to the American Historical Association and moved toward a less relativistic position. He felt that moral principles should be central to anyone’s sense of his- tory, just as they are central to anyone’s conception of humanism. His views on ideal democracy are just that, ideal. He followed that lecture with others titled “The Reality” and “The Dilemma.” He lived in difficult and threatening times, much like those of the eighteenth- century men who founded our nation.

Becker’s Rhetoric

Becker uses a number of rhetorical approaches to clarify his views. The overarching technique is that of definition. His purpose in the entire lecture is to make evident the nature of democracy. He compares it with forms of government that depend on autoc- racy and the leadership of the few rather than the many. His defini- tion of democracy concludes that “[a] democratic government has always meant one in which the citizens, or a sufficient number of them to represent more or less effectively the common will, freely act from time to time, and according to established forms, to appoint or recall the magistrates and to enact or revoke the laws by which the community is governed” (para. 5). But then, he ends Part I of the lecture with a cautionary observation about the fact that in “our time . . . democracy as thus defined has suffered an astound- ing decline in prestige” (para. 6). We suffer a rhetorical shock find- ing that once a definition has been produced we fear it may not define our present condition.

Among Becker’s other devices is the rhetorical question. He asks at the end of Part I, “What are we to think of this sudden reversal in fortune and prestige? How explain it? What to do about it?” (para. 7). These are difficult questions and not necessarily answered by what follows. They are for us to ponder. Becker uses a form of enumeration by telling us that to survive, democracy needs certain conditions, each of which he describes for us: the need for communication (para. 11), economic security (para. 12), industrial prosperity (para. 13), ending by saying, “Democracy is in some sense an economic luxury” (para. 13). Added to these conditions, Becker reminds us that the citizens themselves must possess quali- ties that make democracy work: they must be “capable of managing their own affairs” (para. 14); be able to reconcile conflicts of inter- est; be rational; and, finally, be “men of goodwill.”

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A further rhetorical device Becker uses is comparison, as when he compares a modern democracy with a Greek city-state, such as Athens, the birthplace of modern democracy (para. 17). The com- parison with a private association — which Athens is more like than is our nation — is crucial because the private association usually contains people of similar status, character, and ambitions because it is self-selective. In a Greek city-state, which was small by modern standards, the citizens were linked by ethnicity, clan, and family. But in a modern democracy diversity is the norm, especially in a nation such as the United States was when it was first born. Becker points out the general success of democracy in “new” countries, as opposed to countries like France, England, and Germany.

Using the topic circumstance, Becker reviews history in Part III of the lecture as a way of exploring the question of progress. He describes the inclination of people to postulate utopias, ideal worlds that contrast with the desperate reality they experience, a result, he says, of the pessimism that haunted pre-Christian Europe (para. 22). The achievement of the humanistic eighteenth century made the mod- ern concept of progress possible. As he says, “the eighteenth-century world view, making man the measure of all things, mitigated if it did not destroy this sharp contrast between authority and obedience. God still reigned but he did not govern. He had, so to speak, granted his subjects a constitution and authorized them to interpret it as they would in the supreme court of reason” (para. 27).

Becker ends with testimonials from two authorities backing his basic views. First is a quotation from John Stuart Mill praising his own father’s faith in reason as a guide to happiness (para. 30); that is followed by a comment from historian James Bryce clarifying his ideal democracy (para. 31).

It is not surprising that the very issues Becker worries over regarding an ideal democracy in 1941 are just as much of a concern today, despite the obvious changes in our material circumstances.


The following prereading questions may help you anticipate key issues in the discussion of Carl Becker’s “Ideal Democracy.” Keeping them in mind during your first reading of the selection should help focus your attention.

• What is Becker’s fullest definition of democracy?

• What conditions are necessary for a democratic form of government to flourish?

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BECKER: Ideal Democracy 147

• What qualities must citizens of a democracy possess if democracy is to take root and survive?

• What are the aims and goals of good government, and how do they relate to the idea of democracy?

Ideal Democracy I

1I often find it difficult, when invited to speak before a university audience, to hit upon a proper subject. But the invitation to deliver the Page-Barbour lectures at the University of Virginia relieved me of that difficulty: the invitation itself, automatically so to speak, conven- iently laid the proper subject in my lap. For the University of Virginia is inseparably associated with the name of its famous founder; and no subject, it seemed to me, could be more appropriate for a historian on this occasion than one which had some connection with the ideas or the activities of Thomas Jefferson.

2Even so, you will rightly think, I had a sufficiently wide choice. Jefferson entertained so many ideas, was engaged in so many activi- ties! There was, indeed, scarcely anything of human interest that was alien to his curious and far-ranging intelligence. Nevertheless, his name is always associated with a certain general idea, a certain ideal. In devising his own epitaph, Jefferson himself selected, out of all his notable achievements, only three for which he wished to be especially remembered. Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, author of the Decla- ration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and Father of the University of Virginia. These were the things for which he wished to be remembered. Taken together and in their implications, they are the things for which he has been remembered: that is to say, they conveniently symbolize that way of looking at man and the life of man, that social philosophy, which we always think of when we think of him. The word which best denotes this social phi- losophy is democracy. I feel sure, therefore, that here, in this famous center of learning, you will not think it inappropriate for me to say something, something relevant if that be at all possible, about democ- racy — a subject so close to Jefferson’s heart and so insistently present in all our minds today.

3Democracy, like liberty or science or progress, is a word with which we are all so familiar that we rarely take the trouble to ask what we mean by it. It is a term, as the devotees of semantics say,

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which has no “referent” — there is no precise or palpable thing or object which we all think of when the word is pronounced. On the contrary, it is a word which connotes different things to differ- ent people, a kind of conceptual Gladstone bag which, with a little manipulation, can be made to accommodate almost any collection of social facts we may wish to carry about in it. In it we can as easily pack a dictatorship as any other form of government. We have only to stretch the concept to include any form of government supported by a majority of the people, for whatever reasons and by whatever means of expressing assent, and before we know it the empire of Napoleon, the Soviet regime of Stalin, and the Fascist systems of Mussolini and Hitler are all safely in the bag. But if this is what we mean by democracy, then virtually all forms of government are democratic, since virtually all governments, except in times of revo- lution, rest upon the explicit or implicit consent of the people. In order to discuss democracy intelligently it will be necessary, there- fore, to define it, to attach to the word a sufficiently precise meaning to avoid the confusion which is not infrequently the chief result of such discussions.

44All human institutions, we are told, have their ideal forms laid away in heaven, and we do not need to be told that the actual institutions conform but indifferently to these ideal counterparts. It would be possible then to define democracy either in terms of the ideal or in terms of the real form — to define it as government of the people, by the people, for the people; or to define it as gov- ernment of the people, by the politicians, for whatever pressure groups can get their interests taken care of. But as a historian I am naturally disposed to be satisfied with the meaning which, in the history of politics, men have commonly attributed to the word — a meaning, needless to say, which derives partly from the experi- ence and partly from the aspirations of mankind. So regarded, the term democracy refers primarily to a form of government, and it has always meant government by the many as opposed to gov- ernment by the one — government by the people as opposed to government by a tyrant, a dictator, or an absolute monarch. This is the most general meaning of the word as men have commonly understood it.

5In this antithesis there are, however, certain implications, always tacitly understood, which give a more precise meaning to the term. Peisistratus,1 for example, was supported by a majority of the peo- ple, but his government was never regarded as a democracy for all that. Caesar’s power derived from a popular mandate, conveyed

1 Peisistratus (605–525 B.C.E.) In 560 B.C.E. made himself the tyrant of Athens.

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BECKER: Ideal Democracy 149

through established republican forms, but that did not make his government any the less a dictatorship. Napoleon called his govern- ment a demo cratic empire, but no one, least of all Napoleon himself, doubted that he had destroyed the last vestiges of the democratic republic. Since the Greeks first used the term, the essential test of democratic government has always been this: the source of politi- cal authority must be and remain in the people and not in the ruler. A democratic government has always meant one in which the citizens, or a sufficient number of them to represent more or less effectively the common will, freely act from time to time, and according to established forms, to appoint or recall the magistrates and to enact or revoke the laws by which the community is governed. This I take to be the meaning which history has impressed upon the term democ- racy as a form of government. It is, therefore, the meaning which I attach to it in these lectures.

6The most obvious political fact of our time is that democracy as thus defined has suffered an astounding decline in prestige. Fifty years ago it was not impossible to regard democratic gov- ernment, and the liberties that went with it, as a permanent con- quest of the human spirit. In 1886 Andrew Carnegie2 published a book entitled Triumphant Democracy. Written without fear and without research, the book was not an achievement of the high- est intellectual distinction perhaps; but the title at least expressed well enough the prevailing conviction — the conviction that democracy had fought the good fight, had won the decisive bat- tles, and would inevitably, through its inherent merits, presently banish from the world the most flagrant political and social evils which from time immemorial had afflicted mankind. This convic- tion could no doubt be most easily entertained in the United States, where even the tradition of other forms of government was too remote and alien to color our native optimism. But even in Europe the downright skeptics, such as Lecky,3 were thought to be per- verse, and so hardheaded a historian as J. B. Bury4 could proclaim with confidence that the long struggle for freedom of thought had finally been won.

7I do not need to tell you that within a brief twenty years the pre- vailing optimism of that time has been quite dispelled. One Euro- pean country after another has, willingly enough it seems, abandoned whatever democratic institutions it formerly enjoyed for some form of

2 Andrew Carnegie (1835–1919) Scotch-born steel magnate, once the rich- est man in the world.

3 William Edward Hartpole Lecky (1838–1903) Prominent Irish historian. 4 J. B. Bury (1861–1927) Another prominent Irish historian.

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dictatorship. The spokesmen of Fascism and Communism announce with confidence that democracy, a sentimental aberration which the world has outgrown, is done for; and even the friends of democracy support it with declining conviction. They tell us that democracy, so far from being triumphant, is “at the cross roads” or “in retreat,” and that its future is by no means assured. What are we to think of this sudden reversal in fortune and prestige? How explain it? What to do about it?


8One of the presuppositions of modern thought is that institu- tions, in order to be understood, must be seen in relation to the con- ditions of time and place in which they appear. It is a little difficult for us to look at democracy in this way. We are so immersed in its present fortunes that we commonly see it only as a “close-up,” fill- ing the screen to the exclusion of other things to which it is in fact related. In order to form an objective judgment of its nature and sig- nificance, we must therefore first of all get it in proper perspective. Let us then, in imagination, remove from the immediate present scene to some cool high place where we can survey at a glance five or six thou- sand years of history, and note the part which democracy has played in human civilization. The view, if we have been accustomed to take democratic institutions for granted, is a bit bleak and disheartening. For we see at once that in all this long time, over the habitable globe, the great majority of the human race has neither known nor appar- ently much cared for our favorite institutions.

9Civilization was already old when democracy made its first notable appearance among the small city-states of ancient Greece, where it flourished brilliantly for a brief century or two and then disappeared. At about the same time something that might be called democracy appeared in Rome and other Italian cities, but even in Rome it did not survive the conquest of the world by the Roman Republic, except as a form of local administration in the cities of the empire. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries certain favorably placed medieval cities enjoyed a measure of self-government, but in most instances it was soon replaced by the dictatorship of military conquerors, the oligarchic control of a few families, or the encroach- ing power of autocratic kings. The oldest democracy of mod- ern times is the Swiss Confederation, the next oldest is the Dutch Republic. Parliamentary government in England does not antedate the late seventeenth century, the great American experiment is scarcely older. Not until the nineteenth century did democratic gov- ernment make its way in any considerable part of the world — in the

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great states of continental Europe, in South America, in Canada and Australia, in South Africa and Japan.

10From this brief survey it is obvious that, taking the experience of mankind as a test, democracy has as yet had but a limited and tem- porary success. There must be a reason for this significant fact. The reason is that democratic government is a species of social luxury, at best a delicate and precarious adventure which depends for suc- cess upon the validity of certain assumptions about the capacities and virtues of men, and upon the presence of certain material and intellectual conditions favorable to the exercise of these capacities and virtues. Let us take the material conditions first.

11It is a striking fact that until recently democracy never flourished except in very small states — for the most part in cities. It is true that in both the Persian and the Roman empires a measure of self-government was accorded to local communities, but only in respect to purely local affairs; in no large state as a whole was democratic government found to be practicable. One essential reason is that until recently the means of communication were too slow and uncertain to create the necessary solidarity of interest and similarity of information over large areas. The principle of representation was well enough known to the Greeks, but in practice it proved impracticable except in limited areas and for spe- cial occasions. As late as the eighteenth century it was still the com- mon opinion that the republican form of government, although the best ideally, was unsuited to large countries, even to a country no larger than France. This was the view of Montesquieu,5 and even of Rousseau.6 The view persisted into the nineteenth century, and English conservatives, who were opposed to the extension of the suffrage in England, consoled themselves with the notion that the American Civil War would confirm it — would demonstrate that government by and for the people would perish, if not from off the earth at least from large countries. If their hopes were confounded the reason is that the means of communication, figuratively speaking, were mak- ing large countries small. It is not altogether fanciful to suppose that, but for the railroad and the telegraph, the United States would today be divided into many small republics maneuvering for advantage and employing war and diplomacy for maintaining an unstable balance of power.

12If one of the conditions essential to the success of democratic government is mobility, ease of communication, another is a certain

5 Montesquieu (1689–1755) Important French thinker of the Enlightenment. 6 Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) French philosopher and political

thinker of the Enlightenment (see p. 237).

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measure of economic security. Democracy does not flourish in com- munities on the verge of destitution. In ancient and medieval times democratic government appeared for the most part in cities, the centers of prosperity. Farmers in the early Roman Republic and in the Swiss Cantons were not wealthy to be sure, but equality of pos- sessions and of opportunity gave them a certain economic security. In medieval cities political privilege was confined to the prosper- ous merchants and craftsmen, and in Athens and the later Roman Republic democratic government was found to be workable only on condition that the poor citizens were subsidized by the government or paid for attending the assemblies and the law courts.

13In modern times democratic institutions have, generally speak- ing, been most successful in new countries, such as the United States, Canada, and Australia, where the conditions of life have been easy for the people; and in European countries more or less in proportion to their industrial prosperity. In European countries, indeed, there has been a close correlation between the development of the industrial revolution and the emergence of democratic institutions. Holland and England, the first countries to experience the industrial revolu- tion, were the first also (apart from Switzerland, where certain pecu- liar conditions obtained) to adopt democratic institutions; and as the industrial revolution spread to France, Belgium, Germany, and Italy, these countries in turn adopted at least a measure of democratic gov- ernment. Democracy is in some sense an economic luxury, and it may be said that in modern times it has been a function of the develop- ment of new and potentially rich countries, or of the industrial revo- lution which suddenly dowered Europe with unaccustomed wealth. Now that prosperity is disappearing round every next corner, democ- racy works less well than it did.

14So much for the material conditions essential for the success of democratic government. Supposing these conditions to exist, demo- cratic government implies in addition the presence of certain capaci- ties and virtues in its citizens. These capacities and virtues are bound up with the assumptions on which democracy rests, and are available only insofar as the assumptions are valid. The primary assumption of democratic government is that its citizens are capable of managing their own affairs. But life in any community involves a conflict of individual and class interests, and a corresponding divergence of opinion as to the measures to be adopted for the common good. The divergent opinions must be somehow reconciled, the conflict of interests somehow com- promised. It must then be an assumption of democratic government that its citizens are rational creatures, sufficiently so at least to under- stand the interests in conflict; and it must be an assumption that they are men of goodwill, sufficiently so toward each other at least to make

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BECKER: Ideal Democracy 153

those concessions of individual and class interest required for effect- ing workable compromises. The citizens of a democracy should be, as Pericles7 said the citizens of Athens were, if not all originators at least all sound judges of good policy.

15These are what may be called the minimum assumptions and the necessary conditions of democratic government anywhere and at any time. They may be noted to best advantage, not in any state, but in small groups within the state — in clubs and similar private associa- tions of congenial and like-minded people united for a specific pur- pose. In such associations the membership is limited and select. The members are, or may easily become, all acquainted with each other. Everyone knows, or may easily find out, what is being done and who is doing it. There will of course be differences of opinion, and there may be disintegrating squabbles and intrigues. But on the whole, ends and means being specific and well understood, the problems of gover- nment are few and superficial; there is plenty of time for discussion; and since intelligence and goodwill can generally be taken for granted there is the disposition to make reasonable concessions and compro- mises. The analogy must be taken for what it is worth. States may not be the mystical blind Molochs8 of German philosophy, but any state is far more complex and intangible than a private association, and there is little resemblance between such associations and the democracies of modern times. Other things equal, the resemblance is closest in very small states, and it is in connection with the small city-states of ancient Greece that the resemblance can best be noted.

16The Greek states were limited in size, not as is often thought solely or even chiefly by the physiography of the country, but by some instinctive feeling of the Greek mind that a state is necessarily a natural association of people bound together by ties of kinship and a common tradition of rights and obligations. There must then, as Aris- totle said, be a limit.

For if the citizens of a state are to judge and distribute offices according to merit, they must know each other’s characters; where they do not possess this knowledge, both the elections to offices and the decisions in the law courts will go wrong. Where the population is very large they are manifestly settled by haphaz- ard, which clearly ought not to be. Besides, in overpopulous states foreigners and metics9 will readily acquire citizenship, for who will find them out?

7 Pericles (c. 495–429 B.C.E.) Athenian hero of the Peloponnesian War and builder of the Acropolis.

8 Molochs The forces of evil that demand obedience. 9 metics Resident aliens.

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17It obviously did not occur to Aristotle that metics and for- eigners should be free to acquire citizenship. It did not occur to him, or to any Greek of his time, or to the merchants of the self- governing medieval city, that a state should be composed of all the people inhabiting a given territory. A state was rather an incorpo- rated body of people within, but distinct from, the population of the community.

18Ancient and medieval democracies had thus something of the character of a private association. They were, so to speak, purely pragmatic phenomena, arising under very special conditions, and regarded as the most convenient way of managing the affairs of peo- ple bound together by community of interest and for the achievement of specific ends. There is no suggestion in Aristotle that democracy (polity) is intrinsically a superior form of government, no sugges- tion that it derives from a special ideology of its own. If it rests upon any superiority other than convenience, it is the superiority which it shares with any Greek state, that is to say, the superiority of Greek over barbarian civilization. In Aristotle’s philosophy it is indeed dif- ficult to find any clear-cut distinction between the democratic form of government and the state itself; the state, if it be worthy of the name, is always, whatever the form of government, “the government of free- men and equals,” and in any state it is always necessary that “the free- men who compose the bulk of the people should have absolute power in some things.” In Aristotle’s philosophy the distinction between good and bad in politics is not between good and bad types of gover- nment, but between the good and bad form of each type. Any type of government — monarchy, aristocracy, polity — is good provided the rulers aim at the good of all rather than at the good of the class to which they belong. From Aristotle’s point of view neither democracy nor dictatorship is good or bad in itself, but only in the measure that it achieves, or fails to achieve, the aim of every good state, which is that “the inhabitants of it should be happy.” It did not occur to Aris- totle that democracy (polity), being in some special sense in harmony with the nature of man, was every where applicable, and therefore des- tined by fate or the gods to carry throughout the world a superior form of civilization.

19It is in this respect chiefly that modern democracy differs from earlier forms. It rests upon something more than the minimum assumptions. It is reinforced by a full-blown ideology which, by endowing the individual with natural and imprescriptible rights, sets the democratic form of government off from all others as the one which alone can achieve the good life. What then are the essential tenets of the modern democratic faith?

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20The liberal democratic faith, as expressed in the works of eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century writers, is one of the formu- lations of the modern doctrine of progress. It will be well, therefore, to note briefly the historical antecedents of that doctrine.

21In the long history of man on earth there comes a time when he remembers something of what has been, anticipates something that will be, knows the country he has traversed, wonders what lies beyond — the moment when he becomes aware of himself as a lonely, differentiated item in the world. Sooner or later there emerges for him the most devastating of all facts, namely, that in an indif- ferent universe which alone endures, he alone aspires, endeavors to attain, and attains only to be defeated in the end. From that moment his immediate experience ceases to be adequate, and he endeavors to project himself beyond it by creating ideal worlds of semblance, Utopias of other time or place in which all has been, may be, or will be well.

22In ancient times Utopia was most easily projected into the unknown past, pushed back to the beginning of things — to the time of P’an Ku10 and the celestial emperors, to the Garden of Eden, or the reign of King Chronos11 when men lived like gods free from toil and grief. From this happy state of first created things there had obvi- ously been a decline and fall, occasioned by disobedience and human frailty, and decreed as punishment by fate or the angry gods. The mind of man was therefore afflicted with pessimism, a sense of guilt for having betrayed the divine purpose, a feeling of inadequacy for bringing the world back to its original state of innocence and purity. To men who felt insecure in a changing world, and helpless in a world always changing for the worse, the future had little to offer. It could be regarded for the most part only with resignation, mitigated by indi- vidual penance or well doing, or the hope of some miraculous inter- vention by the gods, or the return of the godlike kings, to set things right again, yet with little hope that from this setting right there would not be another falling away.

23This pervasive pessimism was gradually dispelled in the West- ern world, partly by the Christian religion, chiefly by the secular intellectual revolution occurring roughly between the fifteenth and the eighteenth centuries. The Christian religion gave assurance that the lost golden age of the past would be restored for the virtuous in

10 P’an Ku The first man in Chinese Taoist creation myths. 11 King Chronos King of the lost island of Atlantis, according to Greek legend.

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the future, and by proclaiming the supreme worth of the individ- ual in the eyes of God enabled men to look forward with hope to the good life after death in the Heavenly City. Meantime, the secu- lar intellectual revolution, centering in the matter-of-fact study of history and science, gradually emancipated the minds of men from resignation to fate and the angry gods. Accumulated knowledge of history, filling in time past with a continuous succession of credible events, banished all lost golden ages to the realm of myth, and ena- bled men to live without distress in a changing world since it could be regarded as not necessarily changing for the worse. At the same time, a more competent observation and measurement of the action of material things disclosed an outer world of nature, indifferent to man indeed, yet behaving, not as the unpredictable sport of the gods, but in ways understandable to human reason and therefore ultimately subject to man’s control.

24Thus the conditions were fulfilled which made it possible for men to conceive of Utopia, neither as a lost golden age of the past nor as a Heavenly City after death prepared by the gods for the vir- tuous, but as a future state on earth of man’s own devising. In a world of nature that could be regarded as amenable to man’s con- trol, and in a world of changing social relations that need not be regarded as an inevitable decline and fall from original perfection, it was possible to formulate the modern doctrine of progress: the idea that, by deliberate intention and rational direction, men can set the terms and indefinitely improve the conditions of their mundane existence.

25The eighteenth century was the moment in history when men first fully realized the engaging implications of this resplendent idea, the moment when, not yet having been brought to the harsh appraisal of experience, it could be accepted with unclouded opti- mism. Never had the universe seemed less mysterious, more open and visible, more eager to yield its secrets to commonsense ques- tions. Never had the nature of man seemed less perverse, or the mind of man more pliable to the pressure of rational persuasion. The essential reason for this confident optimism is that the marvels of scientific discovery disclosed to the men of that time a God who still functioned but was no longer angry. God the Father could be conceived as a beneficent First Cause who, having performed his essential task of creation, had withdrawn from the affairs of men, leaving them competently prepared and fully instructed for the task of achieving their own salvation. In one tremendous sentence Rous- seau expressed the eighteenth-century worldview of the universe and man’s place in it. “Is it simple,” he exclaimed, “is it natural that

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God should have gone in search of Moses in order to speak to Jean- Jacques Rousseau?”

26God had indeed spoken to Rousseau, he had spoken to all men, but his revelation was contained, not in Holy Writ interpreted by Holy Church, but in the great Book of Nature which was open for all men to read. To this open book of nature men would go when they wanted to know what God had said to them. Here they would find recorded the laws of nature and of nature’s God, disclosing a universe constructed according to a rational plan; and that men might read these laws aright they had been endowed with reason, a bit of the universal intelligence placed within the individual to make manifest to him the universal reason implicit in things and events. “Natural law,” as Volney12 so clearly and confidently put it, “is the regular and constant order of facts by which God rules the universe; the order which his wisdom presents to the sense and reason of men, to serve them as an equal and common rule of conduct, and to guide them, without distinction of race or sect, toward perfection and hap- piness.” Thus God had devised a planned economy, and had endowed men with the capacity for managing it: to bring his ideas, his conduct, and his institutions into harmony with the universal laws of nature was man’s simple allotted task.

27At all times political theory must accommodate itself in some fashion to the prevailing worldview, and liberal-democratic politi- cal theory was no exception to this rule. From time immemorial authority and obedience had been the cardinal concepts both of the prevailing worldview and of political and social theory. From time immemorial men had been regarded as subject to overruling authority — the authority of the gods, and the authority of kings who were themselves gods, or descended from gods, or endowed with divine authority to rule in place of gods; and from time immemorial obedience to such divine authority was thought to be the primary obligation of men. Even the Greeks, who were so little afraid of their gods that they could hobnob with them in the most friendly and engaging way, regarded mortals as subject to them; and when they lost faith in the gods they deified the state as the highest good and subordinated the individual to it. But the eighteenth- century worldview, making man the measure of all things, miti- gated if it did not destroy this sharp contrast between authority and obedience. God still reigned but he did not govern. He had, so

12 Constantin-François de Chasseboeuf, comte de Volney (1757–1820) French philosopher and historian.

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to speak, granted his subjects a constitution and authorized them to interpret it as they would in the supreme court of reason. Men were still subject to an overruling authority, but the subjection could be regarded as voluntary because self-imposed, and self-imposed because obedience was exacted by nothing more oppressive than their own rational intelligence.

28Liberal-democratic political theory readily accommodated itself to this change in the worldview. The voice of the people was now iden- tified with the voice of God, and all authority was derived from it. The individual instead of the state or the prince was now deified and endowed with imprescriptible rights; and since ignorance or neglect of the rights of man was the chief cause of social evils, the first task of political science was to define these rights, the second to devise a form of government suited to guarantee them. The imprescriptible rights of man were easily defined, since they were self-evident: “All men are created equal, [and] are endowed by their Creator with cer- tain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” From this it followed that all just governments would remove those artificial restraints which impaired these rights, thereby liberating those natural impulses with which God had endowed the individual as a guide to thought and conduct. In the intellectual realm, freedom of thought and the competition of diverse opinion would disclose the truth, which all men, being rational creatures, would progressively recognize and willingly follow. In the economic realm, freedom of enterprise would disclose the natural aptitudes of each individual, and the ensuing competition of interests would stim- ulate effort, and thereby result in the maximum of material advantage for all. Liberty of the individual from social constraint thus turned out to be not only an inherent natural right but also a preordained natu- ral mechanism for bringing about the material and moral progress of mankind. Men had only to follow reason and self-interest: something not themselves, God and Nature, would do whatever else was neces- sary for righteousness.

29Thus modern liberal-democracy is associated with an ideology which rests upon something more than the minimum assumptions essential to any democratic government. It rests upon a philosophy of universally valid ends and means. Its fundamental assumption is the worth and dignity and creative capacity of the individual, so that the chief aim of government is the maximum of individual self- direction, the chief means to that end the minimum of compulsion by the state. Ideally considered, means and ends are conjoined in the concept of freedom: freedom of thought, so that the truth may pre- vail; freedom of occupation, so that careers may be open to talent;

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BECKER: Ideal Democracy 159

freedom of self-government, so that no one may be compelled against his will.

30In the possibility of realizing this ideal the prophets and pro- tagonists of democracy exhibited an unquestioned faith. If their faith seems to us somewhat naive, the reason is that they placed a far greater reliance upon the immediate influence of goodwill and rational discussion in shaping the conduct of men than it is possible for us to do. This difference can be conveniently noted in a passage from the Autobiography of John Stuart Mill,13 in which he describes his father’s extraordinary faith in two things — representative government and complete freedom of discussion.

So complete was my father’s reliance on the influence of reason over the minds of mankind, whenever it was allowed to reach them, that he felt as if all would be gained if the whole population were taught to read, if all sorts of opinions were allowed to be addressed to them by word and writing, and if by means of the suffrage they could nominate a legislature to give effect to the opinions they adopted. He thought that when the legislature no longer represented a class interest, it would aim at the general interest, honestly and with adequate wisdom; since the people would be sufficiently under the guidance of educated intelligence, to make in general good choice of persons to represent them, and having done so to leave to those whom they had chosen a liberal discretion. Accordingly, aristocratic rule, the government of the few in any of its shapes, being in his eyes the only thing that stood between mankind and the administration of its affairs by the best wisdom to be found amongst them, was the object of his sternest disapprobation, and a democratic suffrage the principle article of his political creed.14

31The beliefs of James Mill were shared by the little group of Phil- osophical Radicals who gathered about him. They were, indeed, the beliefs of all those who in the great crusading days placed their hopes in democratic government as a panacea for injustice and oppres- sion. The actual working of democratic government, as these devoted enthusiasts foresaw it, the motives that would inspire men and the objects they would pursue in that ideal democracy which so many honest men have cherished and fought for, have never been better

13 John Stuart Mill (1806–1873) English philosopher and champion of utilitari- anism, which aims to provide the greatest good to the greatest number.

14 Autobiography (Columbia Press, 1924), p. 74. [Becker’s note]

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described than by James Bryce15 in his Modern Democracies. In this ideal democracy, says Bryce,

the average citizen will give close and constant attention to pub- lic affairs, recognizing that this is his interest as well as his duty. He will try to comprehend the main issues of policy, bringing to them an independent and impartial mind, which thinks first not of its own but of the general interest. If, owing to inevitable dif- ferences of opinion as to what are the measures needed for the general welfare, parties become inevitable, he will join one, and attend its meetings, but will repress the impulses of party spirit. Never failing to come to the polls, he will vote for his party can- didate only if satisfied by his capacity and honesty. He will be ready to . . . be put forward as a candidate for the legislature (if satisfied of his own competence), because public service is rec- ognized as a duty. With such citizens as electors, the legislature will be composed of upright and capable men, single-minded in their wish to serve the nation. Bribery in constituencies, cor- ruption among public servants, will have disappeared. Leaders may not always be single-minded, nor assemblies always wise, nor administrators efficient, but all will be at any rate honest and zealous, so that an atmosphere of confidence and good will will prevail. Most of the causes that make for strife will be absent, for there will be no privileges, no advantages to excite jealousy. Office will be sought only because it gives opportu- nity for useful public service. Power will be shared by all, and a career open to all alike. Even if the law does not — perhaps it cannot — prevent the accumulation of fortunes, these will be few and not inordinate, for public vigilance will close the ille- gitimate paths to wealth. All but the most depraved persons will obey and support the law, feeling it to be their own. There will be no excuse for violence, because the constitution will provide a remedy for every grievance. Equality will produce a sense of human solidarity, will refine manners, and increase brotherly kindness.16

32Such is the ideal form of modern democracy laid away in heaven. I do not need to tell you that its earthly counterpart resem- bles it but slightly. In the next lecture I shall discuss some of the circumstances that brought about so flagrant a discord between democracy as it was ideally projected and democracy as it actually functions today.

15 James Bryce (1838–1922) Irish historian who was a trustee for the Carnegie trust in Scotland.

16 I, 48. [Becker’s note]

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1. Becker says freedom of thought and the competition of diverse opinions will reveal the truth. How important is such freedom of thought and diversity for the survival of a democracy?

2. If a primary assumption in a democracy is that people should be ca pable of managing their own affairs, what is a government’s responsi- bility to those citizens who cannot do so?

3. From what you can tell of contemporary history, how important is “industrial prosperity” to the flourishing of democracy?

4. Most humans never experienced democracy and many today do not aspire to democracy. To what extent does that bring the concept of democracy into question?

5. In paragraph 3, Becker talks about “varieties” of democracies, includ- ing fascist Germany and the Soviet “regime of Stalin.” These govern- ments seem to have been supported by a majority of their citizens. Were they then true democracies?

6. How true is it that “virtually all forms of government are democratic, since virtually all governments, except in times of revolution, rest upon the explicit or implicit consent of the people” (para. 3)?

7. Does the concept of an ideal democracy need to be viewed in relation to a specific time and place, such as our own time and place? If so, what contemporary issues help us define democracy differently from, say, Becker’s definition?

8. Becker says that, given the circumstances of history, democracy “has as yet had but a limited and temporary success” (para. 10). What do you feel he means by this statement?


1. Becker talks about the problems of the limitations of communica- tion as having inhibited early democracies and having limited them to small self-contained city-states. How has the vast improvement in communications — by means of radio, television, cell phones, instant video, and print media — helped expand the concept of democracy and make it possible on a global scale? Consider the effect of the Internet and the blogosphere on spreading or maintaining democracy in movements such as the Arab Spring. Will modern communications systems make democracy more widespread? Why?

2. Becker says, “Democracy does not flourish in communities on the verge of destitution” (para. 12). Examine the reports in a major news- paper or newsmagazine and see to what extent your research validates

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or invalidates this view. Decide whether or not Becker’s judgment is accurate or merely prejudiced against desperately poor communities.

3. The question of whether or not democracy has suffered a decline in prestige is still relevant, even though the times in which Becker wrote were quite different from ours. If you think that democracy has suffered a further decline in prestige, write a brief essay that sets out your views on why it has done so. If possible, suggest some ways in which de mocracy could restore its prestige in the world. If you feel Becker is too pessimistic and that democracy is more prestigious now than when he wrote, defend that position. Try using some of Becker’s rhetorical devices: comparison, testimony, and definition.

4. Carefully examine Becker’s lecture and consider each effort he makes to come to a satisfactory definition of democracy. How many separate definitions do you find, and how do they differ from one another? Using Becker’s lecture as a starting point, and taking into account that more than sixty years have elapsed since he gave it, offer your own defi nition of democracy. Use examples from the way you see democ- racy working today in different countries and different situations. Do you find democracy at work in the institutions you have a daily experience with, such as church, school, businesses, corporations, and clubs?

5. In paragraphs 8, 9, and 10, Becker reviews the historical record con- cerning the existence and success of democracy over a considerable sweep of history. He concludes that democracy has had a “limited and temporary success.” After considering his ideas, do you feel that de mocracy may in fact become unsuccessful again, as it did in Athens? Why should you or any citizen fear that democracy might fail? What might be done to help prevent such a failure?

6. CONNECTIONS Andrew Carnegie in “The Gospel of Wealth” (p. 481) would praise Becker’s view that suggests democracy would not work in a destitute society. To what extent would Carnegie agree with Becker about the virtue and character of democracy? How might Carnegie wish to amend any of Becker’s definitions? Becker was a noted liberal and Carnegie a noted conservative. How do their views affect their respective attitudes toward the ideal of democracy? Carnegie is men- tioned specifically by Becker in paragraph 6, so it is clear that Becker took Carnegie’s views into consideration.

7. CONNECTIONS How would Stephen Carter (bedfordstmartins. com/worldofideasepages) have regarded the concept of separation of church and state in Becker’s concept of an ideal democracy? Like Aristotle, Becker says little about religion. Why would these thinkers omit such a serious subject? In what ways might an ideal democracy be threatened by powerful religious interests? Or, in what ways might powerful religious interests make an ideal democracy more secure? If Carter were to write a critique of Becker’s position, how might he have encouraged Becker to include religion in an ideal democracy?

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BECKER: Ideal Democracy 163

8. SEEING CONNECTIONS Given that the fact that Becker was a very careful student of the American Revolution and the subsequent sign- ing of the Constitution, how do you think he might have reacted to Howard Chandler Christy’s Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States (p. 57)? Write a brief essay that reassures Becker that the groundwork laid by the signers of the Constitution and the document itself will help democracy survive, even through dark hours, such as those that marked the time during which Becker was writing. What, in the visual organization of the paining, would have given him reason to be optimistic about democracy and its future? Is there anything in the painting that would have made him pessimistic about the future of democracy?

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JULIUS K. NYERERE One-Party Government

JULIUS K. NYERERE (1922–1999) was one of the first presidents of a former colony in East Africa and also one of the most respected leaders in Africa in the latter part of the twentieth century. Nyerere was born in a small village and followed village life until he had the opportunity to go to a local school. From there, he progressed rapidly and became the first Tanganyikan to attend a British university. He eventually earned his master’s degree from Edinburgh University and returned to Tanganyika to become a teacher. He was often referred to as Mwalimu (teacher in Swahili) Nyerere, even after he stopped teach- ing. He also helped create the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) and became its leader in 1954, working toward making Tanganyika — which had been a German colony before World War I and was a British protectorate when the TANU was formed — an indepen dent nation. He achieved his goal beginning in 1961 when Tanganyika gained self-governance from Britain, after which Nyerere became the nation’s first president. The country’s name was changed to Tanzania in 1964 when it merged with the archipelago of Zanzibar, a group of islands off the east coast of Tanganyika.

Nyerere governed for a little more than twenty years, basing his governing principles on Ujamaa, the Swahili term for familyhood. Ujamaa also came to stand for socialism, which was his governing principle while in office. When he stepped down in 1985, he turned over his government without a struggle, which was unusual in Africa at that time. Yet his experiment with socialism was not suc- cessful: the economy and infrastructure of Tanzania was described as being in shambles when Nyerere left office. But Nyerere did not regret his decision to rely on socialist ideals because he felt that socialism was essential to help the poor orient themselves to a new independence and the concept of nationalism. When he took

From Transition 2 (1961).

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office, the nation had over 120 tribes scattered across the country. Creating a sense of unity was chief among his goals.

Nyerere commented about socialism and his refusal to consider it a total failure during a PBS interview in 1996. He said that social- ism is people centered and more likely to help the poor. Capitalism, he said, was ruthless and unlikely to promote justice and freedom in a country in its infancy, like Tanzania was. His principles were designed to bring an undeveloped country into the modern world, and without a history of self-sufficiency or a sense of nationhood, Tanzania faced a challenge that Nyerere felt was unique and unlike anything that the developed world, especially Europe, would understand. He created what he called “African socialism,” which aimed to solve the problem of poverty and which he felt was cen- tral to ushering his nation into the modern world.

Like Benazir Bhutto (p. 177), Nyerere complained that the interests of the West in Africa were not always those that benefited the African people. The Cold War caused the West to back political figures who were often despotic. But even more important, he felt, was the fact that the original colonial powers had created the bor- ders of African nations in a manner that ignored the ethnic makeup of regions, which led to some very unfortunate catastrophes. Ethnic fighting between Hutus and Tutsis in neighboring Rwanda and Uganda killed thousands in 1994 and sent more than a million people into neighboring nations. Nyerere tried to help negotiate between the two groups, but he also demanded that Western pow- ers intervene to prevent the wholesale slaughter of either group. He complained bitterly that there was no help sent from the West.

Nyerere is notable for having left his office to a constitutionally elected successor, although he remained at the head of the party he created. He is also notable for having translated a number of Shakespeare’s plays into Swahili and for having written several books discussing the possibilities for democracy in modern Africa. Unlike other African leaders, many of whom were corrupt and lived in opulence, Nyerere was never charged with corruption and left office still a very modest man. He was voted a pension, which sustained him in his later years.

Nyerere’s Rhetoric

Nyerere’s prose is graceful and clear. He was a natural writer and in this selection establishes an argument in favor of what he felt was a reasonable version of democracy. His primary rhetorical technique is comparison, balancing the Western view that democracy must

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have a dialogic structure — with two parties opposing one another in order to produce a synthesis that satisfies most of the citizens — with the African view that political parties are unnecessary to democracy. References to authority bolster his argument: he opens his piece by likening African ideas of democracy with those of the Greeks, who did not have the parliamentary structure that, Nyerere says, makes Europeans see democracy as a form of opposition and resolution.

As he establishes his comparison between the two systems he identifies, he also employs the technique of definition. He defines the Greek sense of democracy as “government by discussion among equals” (para. 1), after which he uses a quote to define the African version of democracy as “ ‘ [t]he elders sit[ting] under the big tree and talk[ing] until they agree’ ” (para. 2). This, he insists, is the essential concept of African democracy. He follows with a discussion of the circumstances of European government: “Western parliamentary tra- dition and Western concepts of democratic institutions” (para. 3). He then offers another definition: “Basically democracy is govern- ment by discussion as opposed to government by force” (para. 4). These definitions and distinctions form the basis of his argument. His thesis is that one-party government can be democratic. His sup- port for his thesis lies in large measure in his ability to define democ- racy in such a way so as to eliminate parliamentary opposition and elevate general agreement among peers after adequate discussion of the issues. He explains that in the tribal tradition “African soci- ety was a society of equals” (para. 4). And, as he said earlier, when equals agree on something, that constitutes democracy.

Such an argument demands close examination. Nyerere is quick to establish that he is not arguing that “the two-party system is not democratic” (para. 6). Rather, he says, it is only one form of democracy. He then goes on to comment on the form of government with an interesting hypothetical example: if one political party in Britain were to win all the seats and thus create a one-party govern- ment, that party would still consider the nation to be a democracy. In some Western nations, such results have come close to that sce- nario and the country’s government has remained democratic.

As a way of making his position more secure, Nyerere refers to early Anglo-Saxon tradition, establishing the origin of the two-party system as a result of satisfying the needs of the haves and the have- nots. Considering the Aristotelian view that populations consist of the rich and the poor and that several forms of government respond to wealth and the lack of it, this argument is interesting. Nyerere’s view is that political parties establish themselves on the basis of wealth. One party wishes to conserve wealth while the other wishes to distribute it; thus, the parties are often in opposition.

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The point Nyerere makes is again comparative: in Africa, as opposed to Europe, the people are uniformly impoverished, so there is no basis for a two-party system.

Ending his discussion of the forms of democracy, he points out that in times of emergency in Western democracies, “opposi- tion parties sink their differences and join together” (para. 12), and his point is that “[t]his is our time of emergency” and in a time of emergency, “[t]here can be no room for difference or division” (para. 11). He underscores the import of both statements by using italics.

The remainder of his discussion treats what he calls the essen- tials of democracy, or “the freedom and the well-being of the indi- vidual” (para. 14). He maintains his emphasis on the individual as he considers the problems inherent in creating a nation that is emerging from colonialism and that is facing possibly “cynical” and “criminal” attempts by foreign governments to scuttle it. He restates his view that the creation of a new nation must be treated as a national emergency, “comparable almost to that of a country at war” (para. 20). However, he ends his essay by saying that there may come a time when “a genuine and responsible opposition” (para. 23) party may be appropriate for an African nation. He says that will depend on the will of the people.


The following prereading questions may help you anticipate key issues in the discussion of Julius K. Nyerere’s “One-Party Government.” Keeping them in mind during your first reading should help focus your attention.

• What is the African democratic tradition?

• Why is the Western democratic tradition of two oppositional parties inappropriate for an African nation?

• What are the basic elements of democratic government?

One-Party Government 1The African concept of democracy is similar to that of the ancient

Greeks from whose language the word democracy originated. To the Greeks, democracy meant simply “government by discussion

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among equals.” The people discussed and when they reached agree- ment the result was a “people’s decision.”

2Mr. Guy Blutton-Brock1 writing about Nyasaland described tra- ditional African democracy as: “The elders sit under the big tree and talk until they agree.” This “talking until you agree” is the essential of the traditional African concept of democracy.

3To minds molded by Western parliamentary tradition and West- ern concepts of democratic institutions, the idea of an organized opposition group has become so familiar, that its absence immediately raises the cry of “Dictatorship.” It is no good telling them that when a group of 100 equals have sat and talked together until they agreed where to dig a well (and “until they agreed” implies that they will have produced many conflicting arguments before they did eventually agree), they have practiced democracy. Proponents of Western parlia- mentary traditions will consider whether the opposition was organ- ized and therefore automatic, or whether it was spontaneous and therefore free. Only if it was automatic will they concede that here was democracy.

4Basically democracy is government by discussion as opposed to government by force, and by discussion between the people or their chosen representatives as opposed to a hereditary clique. Under the tribal system whether there was a chief or not, African society was a society of equals, and it conducted its business by discussion.

5It is true that this “pure” democracy — the totally unorganized “talking until you agree” can no longer be adequate; it is too clumsy a way of conducting the affairs of a large modern state. But the need to organize the “government by discussion” does not necessarily imply the need to organize an opposition group as part of the system.

6I am not arguing that the two-party system is not democratic. I am only saying it is only one form which democracy happens to have taken in certain countries, and that it is by no means essential. I am sure that even my friends in the Labour Party or the Conserva- tive Party in Britain would admit that if their party could succeed in winning all the seats, they would be perfectly happy to form a one- party government. They, the winning party that is, would not be likely to suspect themselves of having suddenly turned Britain into a dictatorship!

7Some of us have been over-ready to swallow unquestioningly the proposition that you cannot have democracy unless you have

1 Arthur Guy Blutton-Brock (1906–1995) Farmer and missionary who founded nonracial communities in Rhodesia and other African nations. He was a friend of Nyerere and named a national hero of Zimbabwe after his death.

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a second party to oppose the party in power. But, however difficult our friends in Britain and America may find it to accept what to them is a new idea — that democracy can exist where there is not formal opposition — I think we in Africa should think very carefully before we abandon our traditional attitude.

8It is often overlooked that the Anglo-Saxon tradition of a two- party system is a reflection of the society in which it evolved. Within that society, there was a struggle between the “haves” and the “have- nots” — each of whom organized themselves into political parties, one party associated with wealth and the status quo and the other with the masses of the people and change. Thus the existence of distinct classes in a society and the struggle between them resulted in the growth of the two-party system. But need this be accepted as the essential and only pattern of democracy?

9With rare exceptions the idea of class is something entirely for- eign to Africa. Here, in this continent, the Nationalist Movements are fighting a battle for freedom from foreign domination, not from domi- nation by any ruling class of our own. To us “the other Party” is the Colonial Power. In many parts of Africa this struggle has been won; in others it is still going on. But everywhere the people who fight the battle are not former overlords wanting to reestablish a lost author- ity, they are not a rich mercantile class whose freedom to exploit the masses is being limited by the colonial powers, they are the common people of Africa.

10Thus once the foreign power — “the other party” — has been expelled there is no ready-made division, and it is by no means cer- tain that democracy will adopt the same machinery and symbols as the Anglo-Saxon. Nor indeed is it necessarily desirable that it should do so.

11New nations like Tanganyika are emerging into independence as a result of a struggle for freedom from colonialism. It is a patri- otic struggle which leaves no room for differences, and which unites all elements in the country; and the Nationalist Movements — having united the people and led them to freedom — must inevita- bly form the first government of the new states. Once the first free government is formed, its supreme task lies ahead — the build- ing up of the country’s economy so as to raise the living standards of the people, the eradication of disease, and the banishment of ignorance and superstition. This, no less than the struggle against colonialism, calls for the maximum united effort by the whole country if it is to succeed. There can be no room for difference or division.

12In Western democracies it is an accepted practice that in times of emergency opposition parties sink their differences and join

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together in forming a national government. This is our time of emer- gency, and until our war against poverty, ignorance, and disease has been won — we should not let our unity be destroyed by a desire to follow somebody else’s “book of rules.”

13If these then are the forms of democracy, what are the essentials? 14First, the freedom and the well-being of the individual. Free-

dom alone is not enough; there can be a freedom which is merely the freedom to starve. True freedom must be freedom not only from bondage, from discrimination, and from indignity, but also freedom from all those things that hamper a people’s progress. It is the responsibility of the government in a democratic country to lead the fight against all these enemies of freedom. To do this the government, once freely elected, must also be free to govern in the best interests of the people, and without fear of sabotage. It is, there- fore, also the duty of the government to safeguard the unity of the country from irresponsible or vicious attempts to divide and weaken it, for without unity the fight against the enemies of freedom cannot be won.

When, then, you have the freedom and well-being of the individual; who has the right freely and regularly to join with his fellows in choos- ing the government of his country; and where the affairs of the country are conducted by free discussion, you have democracy.

15True democracy depends far more on the attitude of mind which respects and defends the individual than on the forms it takes. The form is useless without the attitude of the mind of which the form is an external expression. As with individuals, so with organized groups, this question of attitude is all-important. It is not enough to ask what attitude will an African govern- ment adopt towards an opposition, without also asking what attitude an opposition will adopt towards a popularly elected government.

16In the past all that was required of government was merely to maintain law and order within the country, and to protect it from external aggression. Today the responsibilities of govern- ments, whether “communist” or “free,” are infinitely wide. How- ever nearly its requirements of money and men may be met, no government today finds it easy to fulfill all its responsibilities to the people.

17These common problems of a modern state are no less formi- dable in young and underdeveloped countries. The very success of the nationalist movements in raising the expectations of the people, the modern means of communication which put the American and the British worker in almost daily contact with the African worker,

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the twentieth-century upsurge of the ordinary man and woman — all these deprive the new African governments of those advantages of time and ignorance which alleviated the growing pains of modern society for the governments of older countries.

18We must listen to the demands of the common man in Africa, intensified as they are by the vivid contrast between his own lot and that of others in more developed countries, and the lack of means at the disposal of the African governments to meet these demands, the lack of men, the lack of money, above all the lack of time. To all this add the very nature of the new countries themselves. They are usually countries without natural unity. Their “boundaries” enclose those artificial units carved out of Africa by grabbing colonial pow- ers without any consideration of ethnic groups or geographical reali- ties, so that these countries now include within their borders tribal groups which, until the coining of the European Powers, have never been under one government. To those, in the case of East and Cen- tral Africa, you must add the new tribes from Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. Here are divisions enough to pose a truly formidable task in nation building.

19As if the natural challenge was not enough, with the raising of each new flag come the intrigues of the international diplomacy of rivalry and all that goes with it; the cynical and the criminal attempts by pow- erful foreign governments to weaken the unity of any country whose government pursues policies which they do not like. Who does not know that foreign nations have again and again poured in money to back up any stooge who will dance to their political tune? As their sole purpose is to confuse the people and weaken the legal government for their own ends, they are quite indifferent to the fact that their chosen puppets have no following at all in the country itself.

20It should be obvious, then, why the governments of these new countries must treat the situation as one of national emergency, com- parable almost to that of a country at war.

21In the early days of nation building as in time of war the oppo- sition, if any, must act even more responsibly than an opposition in a more developed and more stable, a more unified and a better equipped country in times of peace. Given such a responsible oppo- sition I would be the first person to defend its right. But where is it? Too often the only voices to be heard in “opposition” are those of a few irresponsible individuals who exploit the very privileges of democracy — freedom of the press, freedom of association, freedom to criticize — in order to deflect the government from its responsibilities to the people by creating problems of law and order.

22The admitted function of any political opposition is to try and persuade the electorate to reject the existing government at the

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next election. This is “reasonable” in the case of a responsible opposi- tion with a definite alternative policy in which its members sincerely believe; but that sort of mature opposition is rare indeed in a newly independent state. Usually the irresponsible individuals I have men- tioned have neither sincerity, conviction, nor any policy at all save that of self-aggrandizement. They merely employ the catchphrases copied from the political language of older, stable countries, in order to engage the sympathy of the unthinking for their destructive tactics. Nor are the tactics they use those of a responsible democratic oppo- sition. In such circumstances the government must deal firmly and promptly with the troublemakers. The country cannot afford, during these vital early years of its life, to treat such people with the same degree of tolerance which may be safely allowed in a long-established democracy.

23This does not mean, however, that a genuine and responsible opposition cannot arise in time, nor that an opposition of that kind would be less welcome in Africa than it is in Europe or America. For myself, as I have said, I would be the first to defend its rights. But whether it does or does not arise depends entirely on the will of the people themselves and makes no difference at all to the free- dom of discussion and the equality in freedom which together make democracy.

24To those who wonder if democracy can survive in Africa my own answer then would be that far from it being an alien idea, democracy has long been familiar to the African. There is nothing in our tradi- tional attitude to discussion, and current dedication to human rights, to justify the claim that democracy is in danger in Africa. I see exactly the opposite: the principles of our nationalist struggle for human dig- nity, augmented as it were by our traditional attitude to discussion, should augur well for democracy in Africa.


1. In what sense are the ancient Greek and modern African understand- ings of democracy similar?

2. Is “discussing a governmental issue and coming to a satisfactory con- clusion” a good definition of democracy?

3. Why does Nyerere take issue with the two-party system in African democracies?

4. Does the question of the existence of different social classes affect European and African democracies differently? Do you agree with Nyerere’s views on class?

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5. What kinds of opposition groups does Nyerere complain of? Are such groups also present in Western democracies? How are they handled in the West?

6. What political forces have helped dictatorships survive in Africa?

7. Why is unity such an important issue to Nyerere? Is it an ideal for all democracies?


1. Nyerere points out that the Western democracies developed in reac- tion to class differences between the haves and the have-nots. There- fore, the two-party system in Britain, the United States, and elsewhere reflects this division. How true is this statement? What evidence would help support or refute such a statement? Does Aristotle’s consideration of different social classes support Nyerere’s view?

2. Do you agree that a one-party system can be democratic in nature? Which of Nyerere’s arguments convince or fail to convince you of his thesis — that one-party rule is potentially good? What do you think are the limitations of one-party rule? What are its advantages? Consider the questions of freedom and individual rights as well as unity and national pride as you formulate your answer.

3. Nyerere inherited a nation that was widely diverse. While the general population was Bantu, there were over one hundred different tribes scattered in small villages throughout the country. There were also considerable populations of Asians, Southeast Indians, and Europeans. What seem to be the problems caused by such diversity in relation to establishing a democracy? Why would less diversity make it easier (or more difficult) to establish a democracy in a new country?

4. CONNECTIONS In 1787, the United States faced a problem simi- lar to Nyerere’s because it was a colonial society made up of states with different priorities and needs. To what extent do the framers of the Constitution or James Madison in “Federalist No. 51” take into account issues similar to those that concern Nyerere? How different is their attitude toward establishing a democratic government? Does Nyerere account for those differences in his essay?

5. Nyerere says that democracy results “when a group of 100 equals have sat and talked together until they agreed where to dig a well” (para. 3). He also says that “ ‘[t]he elders sit under the big tree and talk until they agree’ ” (para. 2). Is this really what we mean by democracy? Elders are apparently chosen based on age. But if only the elders talk until they agree, is that representative democracy? In a sense does this not describe what happens in the U.S. Senate, where 104 elected elders sit and talk about legislation? Or does the Senate work differently than a congress of elders does?

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6. In paragraph 5, Nyerere says that the model of pure democracy — the system of talking until you agree — can no longer work. Why would he think so? What makes pure democracy so difficult to put into action today in either Africa or the West? What do you think the relationship is between population diversity and pure democracy? What happens when pure democracy is no longer possible? Does Nyerere discuss this problem in a way that gives you confidence in his hopes for a demo- cratic Tanzania?

7. CONNECTIONS Nyerere never mentions religion in relation to an African democracy, but he does stress unity in government in contrast with western-style political opposition. One-party government is based on tribal traditions of talking and coming to agreement. What are some of the basic differences and agreements between the views of Nyerere and Carter ( Would Nyerere find Carter’s views on the separation of church and state useful in sustaining new African democracies? Why does Nyerere not mention religion and why is Carter so concerned with it?

8. SEEING CONNECTIONS Examine Howard Chandler Christy’s Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States (p. 57). How would Nyerere use this painting as evidence for his views on the nature of democracy in Africa? Does the painting represent a commu- nion of equals talking among themselves about the Constitution? Do you think the process of ratifying the Constitution was democratic? Should it have been democratic? To what extent would the painting give Nyerere ammunition for his view that one-party government can be democratic?

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BENAZIR BHUTTO Islam and Democracy

BENAZIR BHUTTO (1953–2007) was the first woman prime minister of Pakistan and thus the first woman leader of an Islamic country. She was educated at Harvard University and Oxford Uni- versity, where much of her academic attention was focused on political science. Her father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (1928–1979), was prime minister of Pakistan, but after an unfair trial he was hanged on charges of murdering a political dissident. He was denied clem- ency by the dictator General Zia-ul-Haq (1924–1988), who also imprisoned Benazir Bhutto for more than six years in primitive conditions. She was eventually released in 1984 for medical rea- sons and permitted to travel out of the country.

In 1986, she returned to Pakistan after her younger brother was poisoned. Upon her return, she was met by some one million people and became active in the Pakistan People’s Party, which she had founded in 1982. She was elected prime minister in 1988 and held that office until 1990, when she was accused of corruption and replaced. She was elected again in 1993, however, and held the office until 1996. Both of her terms in office were filled with many struggles. She promoted socialist capitalism, fought against regula- tion, and dealt with numerous struggles within Pakistan as well as with Pakistan’s neighbor India. She was in voluntary exile in Dubai in 1998 when Pakistan acquired nuclear armaments to match those of India. Her enemies then accused her of corruption again and sentenced her to three years’ imprisonment. However, she main- tained her influence with the Pakistan People’s Party while she was abroad, and the party declared her its leader in 2002.

She returned to Pakistan in 2007 and was greeted by crowds, but her entourage was quickly attacked by a suicide bomber who killed 136 people. She survived because she had been traveling in an armored

From Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West.

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vehicle and ducked at the last moment. President Pervez Musharraf (b. 1943), who had granted Bhutto amnesty so that she could return to the country, declared a state of emergency and had Bhutto held for a time under house arrest. But in December of 2007, with the Pakistan People’s Party far ahead in the upcoming 2008 elections, Bhutto appeared at a major rally for the party and was shot by an assassin who, after shooting her, detonated a bomb that killed almost two dozen bystanders.

For most of her time in public service (and while in detention and exile), Benazir Bhutto represented a powerful voice in favor of democracy in Pakistan. She had a large and enthusiastic following. Her most formidable opponents were fundamentalist extremists, including those who, after several tries, ultimately succeeded in silencing her.

Bhutto’s Rhetoric

Bhutto wrote much of her book Reconciliation only a few months before she was assassinated and during periods of intense political activity and hopefulness for democracy in Pakistan. Yet her writing does not show signs of haste or anxiety. She begins with a review of Islamic religion and its receptiveness to demo- cratic values. She indirectly cites references to Islam’s religious book, the Quran, by pointing to the fact that “Muslims believe in the sovereignty of God” (para. 1) but then goes on to point out the responsibilities of humankind on earth to respect the “immutable principles of justice, truth, and equality” (para. 1). In other words, the principles of Islam lead people to create a “just society on earth on which they will be judged in the hereafter” (para. 2).

Knowing, of course, that terrorists had threatened violence for years and indeed had even attacked her, she insists that such actions are irreligious: “They must not sin by taking innocent life, for God alone has the right to give and take life” (para. 2). Thus, terrorists pervert their religion when they kill. Interestingly, Bhutto twice mentions that it is a sin to take innocent life, leaving one to wonder about whether the death of others — those who are far from innocent — can be justified. A fatwa, a religious edict often invoked for the purpose of killing someone, was leveled against her, but she says that such an edict will not protect an assassin on the day of judgment. However, she does not explain the right of a religious leader to issue a fatwa or how it is permitted by Islam.

Bhutto first establishes the principles of her religion and its implementation in secular life and then offers a remarkable piece of testimony to bolster her view that democracy and Islam are compat- ible: she quotes the preamble of the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan,

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much of which was written by her father and passed “unani- mously” by Pakistan’s Parliament. Some of the basic issues are also covered by the U.S. Constitution, but Pakistan’s Constitution also includes concerns and issues that do not appear in the U.S. ver- sion. Still, the document’s design is used to try to convince us that her original premise, her thesis, is sound.

Bhutto makes a clear distinction between the spiritual agenda of Islam and the political agenda of those who are angry at the West; as she says, “[r]eligion is being exploited” (para. 8) by those who become terrorists. She spends some time dealing with the term secularism, which she says is a “rhetorical trap” (para. 7) for Muslims. For someone from the West, secularism means a sepa- ration from religious issues. But for Muslims that is a nonissue. Their issues are freedom, equal-opportunity education for both sexes, and independence of the judiciary. She uses an interesting rhetorical question, “Who can doubt” (para. 8), when she asserts that Islam has been distorted. Of course, there is much doubt, and a careful analysis of the situation will either remove doubt or rein- force it depending on circumstances.

Bhutto reviews much current history, including the Russian expedition in Afghanistan and the rise of the mujahideen — the warriors who fought and defeated the Russians and who continue to fight Western influences in Afghanistan. Mujahideen literally means “those who wage jihad,” or religious war. She fears that extremists may direct themselves toward disabling Pakistan and taking over its nuclear facilities. In speaking of the nuclear capac- ity of Pakistan, Bhutto says that the Quran promotes education and “encourages knowledge and scientific experimentation” (para. 16).

In the second part of her discussion, she lays out an argument that suggests that the West has somehow made it difficult, if not impossible, for Pakistan and other Muslim countries to fulfill their goal to become democratic. Because the West has colonized coun- tries such as Pakistan and India, it has supported dictators who have made a point of giving the West access to oil and other impor- tant resources. While encouraging civil rights in countries where the West has no immediate interests or needs, it tolerates despot- ism and the deprivation of rights in countries whose resources it needs. This, she says, “has been a major impediment to the growth of democracy in Islamic nations” (para. 21).

She hopes to prove her argument by using the testimony of President George W. Bush (para. 26) supporting “America’s belief in human dignity” while at the same time supporting “Pakistan’s military dictator, General Musharraf ” (para. 27). She follows this with more testimony from an article in the New York Times Magazine (para. 28).

BHUTTO: Islam and Democracy 179

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Finally, she concludes with evidence from Freedom House’s surveys of the level of freedom enjoyed in nations around the world. Freedom House is credentialed by Bhutto’s reference to its founders, Eleanor Roosevelt and Wendell Willkie, a Democrat and a Republican who worked together for the common good in an effort to be as politically unbiased as possible. The statistics she reveals are not as encouraging as we might wish, and the difference between Arab and non-Arab Muslims is significant, although she does not explain why such a difference should exist.

Her point, finally, is that the West is somewhat responsible for the lack of democracy in Muslim countries. The religion of Islam is not the root of the problem; however, the exploitation of reli- gion by extremists remains a very significant and ongoing problem. Indeed, Benazir Bhutto paid with her life for the principles she believed in: democracy and equality.


The following prereading questions may help you anticipate key issues in the discussion of Benazir Bhutto’s “Islam and Democracy.” Keeping them in mind during your first reading should help focus your attention.

• Why do some people assume democracy will not work in Islamic countries?

• Why does Bhutto feel democracy and Islam are compatible?

• What does Bhutto say about the role of the West in supporting democ- racy in Islamic countries?

Islam and Democracy 1Some people assert that democracy will not work in an Islamic

country because Muslims believe in the sovereignty of God and thus cannot accept man’s law. God is Master of the Universe, of the known and unknown. Humans share two relationships: one with God and one with one another. They are custodians of God’s trust, the earth, which has been placed in their care, as they are created by God. God has sent his principles to humans through thousands of Prophets, including Moses, Abraham, Jesus, and Mohammad (who is the last messenger), to instruct us how we should conduct

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our lives and the principles by which we should conduct our soci- eties. The immutable principles of justice, truth, and equality must not be transgressed if we are to gain entrance to everlasting life in Paradise.

2Thus humans must seek and apply knowledge, must use rea- son, must consult and build a consensus for a just society on earth on which they will be judged in the hereafter. They must not sin by taking innocent life, for God alone has the right to give and take life. Anyone who interferes in God’s work by taking a life commits the most heinous crime in Islam.

3The terrorists who attacked me with two bomb blasts on Octo- ber 19, 2007, when I returned to Pakistan to a historic reception, committed the most heinous crime of murder by taking the lives of 179 innocent people. So too does anyone who attacks innocent peo- ple, whether in the World Trade Center, the tubes in London, or the resorts of Bali, Indonesia.

4I am told that the terrorists who made the bombs and conspired to kill me took a fatwa, or religious edict, to sanctify the terrorist attacks. However, on the Day of Judgment, such an edict will be of no help. God has ordained that each individual will have to account individu- ally for his actions without intercession from any other individual.

5Under the Constitution of Pakistan, authored by my father and passed unanimously by Pakistan’s Parliament in 1973, the democratic right to Muslim governance is recognized. The Constitution of 1973 states, in its preamble:

Whereas sovereignty over the entire Universe belongs to Almighty Allah alone, and the authority to be exercised by the people of Pakistan within the limits prescribed by Him is a sacred trust;

And whereas it is the will of the people of Pakistan to estab- lish an order:

Wherein the State shall exercise its powers and authority through the chosen representatives of the people;

Wherein the principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tol- erance, and social justice, as enunciated by Islam, shall be fully observed;

Wherein the Muslims shall be enabled to order their lives in the individual and collective spheres in accordance with the teachings and requirements of Islam as set out in the Holy Quran and Sunnah;1

Wherein adequate provision shall be made for the minori- ties freely to profess and practice their religions and develop their cultures;

1 Holy Quran and Sunnah The Quran, the holy book of Islam, is Allah’s word as revealed to the prophet Muhammad; the Sunnah is a record of the sayings of Muhammad.

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Wherein the territories now included in or in accession with Pakistan and such other territories as may hereafter be included in or accede to Pakistan shall form a Federation wherein the units will be autonomous with such boundaries and limitations on their powers and authority as may be prescribed;

Therein shall be guaranteed fundamental rights, includ- ing equality of status, of opportunity and before law, social, eco- nomic, and political justice, and freedom of thought, expression, belief; faith, worship, and association, subject to law and public morality;

Wherein adequate provision shall be made to safeguard the legitimate interests of minorities and backward and depressed classes;

Wherein the independence of the judiciary shall be fully secured;

Wherein the integrity of the territories of the Federation, its independence and all its rights, including its sovereign rights on land, sea, and air, shall be safeguarded;

So that the people of Pakistan may prosper and attain their rightful and honored place amongst the nations of the World and make their full contribution towards international peace and progress and happiness of humanity:

Now, therefore, we, the people of Pakistan, Cognisant of our responsibility before Almighty Allah and

men; Cognisant of the sacrifices made by the people in the cause

of Pakistan; Faithful to the declaration made by the Founder of Pakistan,

Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah,2 that Pakistan would be a democratic State based on Islamic principles of social justice;

Dedicated to the preservation of democracy achieved by the unremitting struggle of the people against oppression and tyranny;

Inspired by the resolve to protect our national and political unity and solidarity by creating an egalitarian society through a new order;

Do hereby, through our representatives in the National Assembly, adopt, enact, and give to ourselves, this Constitution.

6Thus we can see that there is a perfect constitutional template for democratic governance in the Muslim world. But the current poor relations between much of the West and much of the Islamic world may suggest the need for new terminology if we are to real- ize the vision. The word secular, used to denote separation of state and religion in the Western world, often means “atheism,” or rejection

2 Mohammad Ali Jinnah (1876–1948) Indian politician who struggled since the 1920s to create a separate Muslim state and managed to create Pakistan in 1947.

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of God, when translated into other languages, including into Urdu in Pakistan.

7Instead of terms such as secularism, the director of the Study of Muslim Civilizations at the Aga Khan University in London, Dr. Abdou Filali-Ansary,3 believes that we should refer directly to the individual building blocks of democracy — free elections, an inde- pendent judiciary, respect for women’s and minority rights, the rule of law, and fundamental freedoms — to describe the true meaning of a democratic society. We shouldn’t be talking secularism, which to Muslims is a clouded, misleading, and sometimes contentious term. Instead of using terms that fall into the rhetorical trap set by extremists to discredit the elements of modern democratic society, we should rather stress elements such as freedom to travel, freedom to work, opportunity for education for both sexes, the independence of the judiciary, and a robust civil society. These issues, more than the term secularism, connote the compatibility of Islam and demo- cratic values.

8Who can doubt that Islam — as a religion and as a value struc- ture — has been distorted and manipulated for political reasons by militants and extremists and dictators. The establishment of the Afghan mujahideen by Zia4 in the 1980s is an example. (After all, the jihad in Afghanistan aimed to rid the country of Soviet occupa- tion, not reject modernity, technology, and pluralism, and to estab- lish “strategic depth” in Pakistan. That was a political agenda of Zia.) Islam is now being used for purely political purposes by a group of people who are angry with the West. Religion is being exploited and manipulated for a political agenda, not a spiritual agenda.

9The militants seethe with anger, but their anger is always tied to their political agenda. First, they were angry that the West had aban- doned three million Afghan refugees and stopped all assistance to them after the Soviets left Afghanistan. Second, they are angry that their offer to the government of Pakistan to send one hundred “battle- hardened mujahideen to help in the Kashmir uprising of 1989 was rejected. Third, they wanted King Fahd5 of Saudi Arabia to turn to their “battle-hardened mujahideen” to protect Saudi Arabia after Iraqi president Saddam Hussein6 invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990.

3 Abdou Filali-Ansary Professor of Islamic studies active in the Muslim Reformist tradition.

4 Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq (1924–1988) Dictator of Pakistan from 1979 until his death.

5 King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud (1923–2005) Ruler of Saudi Arabia from 1982–2005.

6 Saddam Hussein (1937–2006) Absolute ruler of Iraq from 1979–2003.

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He refused. Fourth, they went off to fight in Bosnia when the region was engulfed in war (from 1993 to 1996 I lobbied President Bill Clinton, Prime Minister John Major, and other European leaders to intervene to bring the conflict to an end). Fifth, they tried to exploit the Chechen nationalist movement. Sixth, with the fall of my govern- ment, they turned their attention to Kashmir and tried to take over the nationalist Kashmiri movement from 1997 onward.

10Muslim extremists systematically targeted historical nationalist movements to gain credibility and launch themselves into the Muslim heartland with a view to piggybacking off nationalist movements to advance their agenda. However, most Muslims were suspicious and not welcoming of their extreme interpretation of Islam. Thus it was only in Afghanistan, already softened by years of resistance by Afghan mujahideen, that Muslim extremists were able to establish the Taliban dictatorship.

11Driven out of Afghanistan after the September 2001 attacks on the United States, they returned to Pakistan, where the journey had begun with General Zia-ul-Haq in 1980.

12After the United States invaded Iraq, these same extremists turned their attention to that country. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi7 went off to fight in Iraq. Presumably others did, too. Again they used reli- gious propaganda to kill, maim, and effectively divide one of the richest Muslim countries, Iraq, into a land of carnage and blood- shed. Sunnis and Shias, who had lived peacefully side by side for centuries, began to kill each other, and Iraq began to fall apart. It is quite easy (and typical) for Muslim extremists to blame the Ameri- cans for the sectarian civil war that rages in Iraq today, when actu- ally it is a long-standing tension between Muslim communities that has been exacerbated and militarized to create the chaos under which extremists thrive.

13Iraq is not the only goal of the extremists. Pakistan too is in great danger. Pro-Taliban forces have taken over the tribal areas of Paki- stan. They occupy the Swat Valley. They have been ceded Waziristan by the Musharraf 8 regime. They are moving into the settled areas of Pakistan. Their apparent next goal is the cities of my country, includ- ing our capital, Islamabad. They thrive on dictatorship; they thrive on terror; they provoke chaos to exploit chaos.

14I returned to Pakistan on October 18, 2007, with the goal of moving my country from dictatorship to democracy. I hoped that

7 Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (1966–2006) An al-Qaeda terrorist. 8 Pervez Musharraf (b. 1943) A general who took control of the Pakistani

government by coup in 1999 and ruled as president until 2008, when he went into self-imposed exile. He has been threatened with arrest if he returns to Pakistan.

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this transition could take place during the scheduled elections of 2008. I feared that otherwise the extremists would march toward Islamabad. Islamabad is near the town of Kahuta, where Pakistan’s nuclear program is being carried out.

15It is my fear that unless extremism is eliminated, the people of Pakistan could find themselves in a contrived conflict deliberately triggered by the militants (or other “Islamists”) who now threaten to take over Pakistan’s nuclear assets. Having a large Muslim nation fall into chaos would be dangerous; having the only nuclear-armed Muslim nation fall into chaos would be catastrophic. My people could end up being bombed, their homes destroyed, and their children orphaned simply because a dictator has focused all his attention and all of the nation’s resources on containing democrats instead of con- taining extremists, and then has used the crisis that he has created to justify those same policies that caused the crisis. It may sound convo- luted, but there is certainly method to the madness.

16This is such a tragedy, especially because Islam is clearly not only tolerant of other religions and cultures but internally tolerant of dis- sent. Allah tells us over and over again, through the Quran, that he created people of different views and perspectives to see the world in different ways and that diversity is good. It is natural and part of God’s plan. The Quran’s message is open to and tolerant of women’s full participation in society, it encourages knowledge and scientific experimentation, and it prohibits violence against innocents and sui- cide, despite terrorists’ claims to the contrary.

17Not only is Islam compatible with democracy, but the message of the Quran empowers the people with rights (democracy), demand- ing consultation between rulers and ruled (parliament), and requiring that leaders serve the interests of the people or be replaced by them (accountability).

18Islam was sent as a message of liberation. The challenge for modern-day Muslims is to rescue this message from the fanatics, the bigots, and the forces of dictatorship. It is to give Muslims back the freedom God ordained for humankind to live in peace, in justice, in equality, in a system that is answerable to the people on this earth accepting that it is God who will judge us on the Day of Judgment.

19It is by accepting that temporal and spiritual accountability are two separate issues that we can provide peace, tranquillity, and opportunity. There are two judgments: the judgment of God’s crea- tures in this world through a democratic system and the judgment by God when we leave this world. The extremists and militants who seek to hijack Islam aim to make their own judgments. In their fail- ure lies the future of all Muslims and the reconciliation of Islam and the West.

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Islam and Democracy: History and Practice

20Conventional wisdom would have us believe that democracy has failed to develop in the Muslim world because of Islam itself. Accord- ing to this theory, somehow Islam and democracy are mutually exclu- sive because Islam is rooted in an authoritarianism that promotes dic- tatorship. I reject this thinking as convenient and simplistic, grounded in neither theology nor experience. As a Muslim who has lived under both democracy and dictatorship, I know that the reasons are far more complex.

21The so-called incompatibility of Islam and democratic governance is used to divert attention from the sad history of Western political intervention in the Muslim world, which has been a major impedi- ment to the growth of democracy in Islamic nations.

22The actions of the West in the second half of the nineteenth century and most of the twentieth century often deliberately blocked any reasonable chance for democratic development in Muslim-majority countries. It is so discouraging to me that the actions of the West in the pursuit of its various short-term strate- gic goals have been counterproductive, often backfiring. Western policies have often preserved authoritarianism and contained the growth of nascent democratic movements in the developing world, specifically in the Islamic world. Western nations’ efforts to dis- rupt democratic tides — initially for economic reasons and then for political ones — have fueled and exacerbated tensions between the West and Islam.

23Despite often grand rhetoric to the contrary, there has been little real Western support for indigenous democratic movements. Indeed, too often there has been outright support for dictatorships. Both during the Cold War and now in the current battle with inter- national terrorism, the shadow between Western rhetoric and West- ern actions has sowed the seeds of Muslim public disillusionment and cynicism. The double standards have fueled extremism and fanaticism. It accounts, at least in part, for the precipitous drop in respect for the West in the Muslim world. This trend is true even in pro-Western Muslim countries such as Turkey. When I was grow- ing up, I thought of Western nations as inspirations for freedom and development. I still do, but I’m afraid I’m in a shrinking minority of Muslims.

24There is an abundance of other examples that manifest the inconsistency of Western support for democracy in the Muslim world: specifically, Western actions that undermined democratic institutions, democratic movements, and democratically elected

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governments in countries that the West considered critical to other policy objectives. The countries range from large to small, from very important to relatively insignificant. What is remarkable is the clear pattern of Western action: perceived pragmatic self-interest trumping the values of democracy, almost without exception. In a nation that is not relatively strategically important, such as Burma, the West will enforce its democratic creed quite enthusiastically, organizing trade embargoes and other forms of political isolation. But in places that are viewed as strategically important for economic or geopolitical factors, the West’s commitment to democracy can often be more platitude than policy.

25I raise this as not just a strategic inconsistency but a true moral dilemma for the West, especially the United States. On one level the West speaks of democracy almost in the context of the values of religion, using rhetoric about liberty being a “God-given” right. And Western nations often take that standard abroad, preach- ing democratic values like missionaries preaching religion. The problem arises, of course, in its selective application to bilateral foreign policy relationships. I have always believed, and have publicly argued, that the selective application of morality is inher- ently immoral.

26If dictatorship is bad, then dictators are bad — not just dictators who are impotent and irrelevant but also those who are powerful allies in fighting common enemies. The West makes human rights the centerpiece of its foreign policy selectively. The West also stands four- square with struggling democracies selectively. In his second inaugu- ral address, President George W. Bush said:

We will encourage reform in other governments by making clear that success in our relations will require the decent treatment of their own people. America’s belief in human dignity will guide our policies, yet rights must be more than the grudging conces- sions of dictators; they are secured by free dissent and the par- ticipation of the governed. In the long run, there is no justice without freedom, and there can be no human rights without human liberty.

27President Bush’s words notwithstanding, Washington supported Pakistan’s military dictator, General Musharraf, whom it considered a key ally in the war against terrorism, even as it simultaneously supported democracy in neighboring Afghanistan and in Iraq in the Middle East.

28I am not the only one, of course, who has pointed to strategic and moral inconsistencies in the application of Western political values

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abroad. Recently Noah Feldman wrote in the New York Times Magazine that “a republic that supports democratization selectively is another matter. President Bush’s recent speech to the United Nations, in which he assailed seven repressive regimes, was worthy of applause — but it also opened the door to the fair criticism that he was silent about the dozens of places where the United States col- ludes with dictators of varying degrees of nastiness.” Feldman specifi- cally cites my homeland of Pakistan as one example but goes on to criticize American support for Hosni Mubarak9 of Egypt as Mubarak cracks down on the press and other political parties. Feldman adds that “Saudi Arabia — one [of the United States’] most powerful and durable allies — hasn’t moved beyond the largely symbolic local council elections that it held two years ago.” The United States, berat- ing Burma and Iran for their undemocratic brutality, has had little to say about U.S. allies. Again, the selective application of morality is criticized as immoral in many nations whose people are also striving for democracy.

29There is a clear relationship between dictatorship and religious fanaticism that cannot be ignored. Carl Gershman,10 the president of the National Endowment for Democracy, has referred to it as a rela- tionship between autocrats and the Islamists. To the extent that inter- national support for tyrannies within Islamic states has resulted in the hostility of the people of these countries to the West — and cyni- cism about the West’s true commitment to democracy and human rights — some might say that the West has unintentionally created its own Frankenstein monster.

30I cannot dispute that there have been few sustained democra- cies in the Islamic world. But the responsibility does not lie in the text of the Muslim Holy Book. It is a responsibility shared by two significant elements that have come together in the context of envi- ronmental conditions inhospitable to the establishment, nurturing, and maintenance of democratic institutions in Muslim-majority societies.

31The first element — the battle within Islam — is the purport- edly theological fight among factions of Islam that also often seeks raw political and economic power at the expense of the people. The second element — the responsibility of the West — includes a long colonial period that drained developing countries of both natu- ral and human resources. During this time the West showed a cold indifference toward supporting democracy among Muslim states and

9 Hosni Mubarak (b. 1928) President of Egypt (1981–2011). 10 Carl Gershman (b. 1943) President of the National Endowment for

Democracy since its founding in 1984.

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leaders for reasons that were either economic (oil) or political (anti- communism).

32We cannot minimize the fault line that has existed within Muslim nations, a fault line of internal factionalism, disrespect for minority rights, and interventionist and often dysfunctional military institutions. These elements have often been accompanied by the presence of authoritarian political leadership. There is obviously a shared responsibility for democracy’s weakness in Muslim-majority states, but there can be no disputing the fact that democratic gov- ernance in Muslim countries lags far behind that in most other parts of the world.

33A useful context for the history of democracy within Muslim countries is provided by a brief review of current categorizations of political rights and civil liberties around the world. It will then be possible to objectively compare the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds on standards and criteria of democratic development. Cen- tral to this analysis is something that I have always believed and strongly endorse: that freedom and liberty are universal values that can be applied across cultures, societies, religions, ethnic groups, and individual national experiences. Democracy is not an inher- ently Western political value; it is a universal value. Liberty means as much to someone from Indonesia as it does to someone from Louisiana.

34Freedom House (which was founded at the beginning of World War II by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Wendell Willkie,11 the Republican candidate whom her husband had just defeated for the presidency) is an international nongovernmental organization (NGO) dedicated to promoting democracy, human rights, and freedom around the world. Each year it engages scholars from around the world to categorize governments on a scale of political rights rang- ing from “totally free” to “not free.” This useful analytical tool is based on analyses of electoral processes, political pluralism and par- ticipation, and how the government functions. Countries are scored on a numerical scale that ranges from one to seven, with the high- est number representing the lowest level of freedom. This number is then used to determine one of three ratings: free, partly free, or not free. In some cases, additional variables are used to supplement the data. For example, for traditional monarchies international scholars are additionally asked if the system provides for genuine, meaningful

11 Eleanor Roosevelt (1884–1962) Social activist and wife of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt; Wendell Willkie (1892–1944) Roosevelt’s opponent for the presidency in 1940.

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consultation with the people, encourages public discussion of policy choices, and permits petitioning the ruler.

35The analysis is especially useful in evaluating political systems in predominantly Muslim monarchies, because it integrates the ele- ments of legitimate secular government with the citizen consultation enshrined in the Quran. The disparities in Freedom House ratings between the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds are dramatic and sta- tistically significant, but not particularly surprising. It is important to remember, of course, that Muslim nations are very different from Western nations in national experience. Specifically, Islamic law gen- erally has a role in government, whether in secular Islamic states such as Kazakhstan or religiously ideological countries such as the Islamic Republic of Iran.

36Of the forty-five predominantly Muslim states, only Indonesia, Mali, and Senegal are considered free. Eighteen Muslim nations are considered partly free: Afghanistan, Albania, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Comoros, Djibouti, Gambia, Jordan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Sierra Leone, Turkey, and Yemen.

37Twenty-four predominantly Muslim nations are labeled not free: Azerbaijan, Brunei, Egypt, Palestine, Guinea, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kaza- khstan, Libya, Maldives, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Soma- lia, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, and Western Sahara.

38The mean score for political rights (on a scale of 1 to 7, with 1 being the highest level of rights) in the Muslim world is 5.24, com- pared to 2.82 for the non-Muslim world. The mean score for civil lib- erties in Muslim countries is 4.78, compared to 2.71 for non-Muslim countries. These are significant differences. I believe that these differ- ences are not the result of theology but rather a product of both West- ern manipulation and internal Muslim politicization of Islam.

39One frequently overlooked detail in the analysis of Freedom House scores is the difference between Arab and non-Arab Muslim- majority countries. In “An ‘Arab’ More than ‘Muslim’ Electoral Gap,” Alfred Stephan and Graeme Robertson use two different indi- ces of levels of political rights to compare these two types of Muslim- majority countries. The study contrasts the scores of countries in the Freedom House study and also in the Polity IV Indexes relative to GDP from 1972 to 2000, when the competitiveness of an election was questioned. (The Polity IV Project codes and compiles information on the regulation and competitiveness of political participation.)

40The authors differentiate between “underachievers” and “over- achievers” in electoral competitiveness, defined by such criteria as

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whether the government was selected by reasonably fair elections and whether the democratically elected government actually wields politi- cal power.

41Stephan and Robertson found that a non-Arab Muslim-majority country was astoundingly “almost 20 times more likely to be ‘elec- torally competitive’ than an Arab Muslim-majority country.” Of the forty-seven Muslim-majority countries that they studied, the Arab Muslim countries formed “the largest single readily identifiable group among all those states that ‘underachieve,’ ” but the world’s thirty-one Muslim-majority non-Arab countries form the largest bloc that “greatly overachieves” in electoral competitiveness. In studying the thirty-eight countries in the world that suffer from extreme pov- erty, they found “ no comparative Muslim gap whatsoever when it comes to political rights.” Their findings suggest that the success of democracy within certain states has less to do with whether a country has a Muslim majority than was previously thought by Western ana- lysts. The result shatters the hypothesis that religion is a key variable related to democracy and that Islam and democracy are inconsistent. It relegates the Islam-democracy incompatibility theory to the level of mythology.

42Democracies do not spring up fully developed overnight, nor is there necessarily a bright line between democratic governance and autocracy. More typical, democracy can be seen on a continuum. Civil society and democratic institutions such as political parties and NGOs tend to develop slowly over time, one critical step at a time.

43True democracy is defined not only by elections but by the dem- ocratic governance that should follow. The most critical elements of democratic governance go beyond just free and fair elections to the protection of political rights for those in political opposition, the open function of a civil society and free press, and an independ- ent judiciary. Far too often in the developing world — including the Islamic developing world — elections are viewed as zero-sum games. The electoral process is democratic, but that’s where democ- racy ends. What follows is tantamount to one-party authoritarian rule. This is the opposite of true democratic governance, which is predicated on shared constitutional power and responsibility. And because democratic governance rests on a continuum of experience, the length of that experience is directly related to the sustainability of democratic governance itself. In other words, the longer demo- cratic governance is maintained, the stronger the democratic system becomes.

44A democracy that is more than two hundred years old is not in serious danger of interruption or of suspension of constitutional

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norms. It has a two-century-old firewall of democratic history and practice to protect itself from extraconstitutional abuse of power. A nation without such a long history of democracy and democratic institutions — political parties; a popularly elected, legitimate, sover- eign parliament; NGOs; free media; and an independent judiciary — is vulnerable to the suspension of the democratic order. We must think of a new democracy like a seedling that must be nourished, watered, fed, and given time to develop into a mighty tree. Thus, when dem- ocratic experiments are prematurely interrupted or disrupted, the effects can be, if not permanent, certainly long lasting. Internal or external interruptions of democracy (both elections and governance) can have effects that ripple and linger over generations.

45We must be realistic and pragmatic about democracy. John F. Kennedy once referred to himself as an “idealist without illusions.” To me this is a useful description as I think in particular of my country moving from the brutality of dictatorship to the civility of democracy. When confronted with tyranny, one is tempted to go to the barricades directly, when pragmatism would dictate exhausting other potential (and peaceful) remedies. As I have grown in maturity and experience, I remain as strongly committed to the cause but more patient in find- ing means to achieve goals peacefully.

46The colonial experience of many Muslim countries had con- tributed to their difficulties in sustaining democracy. In the absence of adequate support and without the time and commitment needed to build a democratic infrastructure, they failed to strengthen their electoral and governing processes. Many of the countries dis- cussed in this chapter were exposed to democratic values, demo- cratic ideals, and the gradual development of political and social institutions while under colonial rule or shortly thereafter. How- ever, their nascent democratic seeds were often smothered by the strategic interests of Western powers (often working with ele- ments within their own societies) before they flowered into viable democratic systems.


1. How effective is Bhutto’s use of examples? Which example is most powerful?

2. How does Bhutto see the relationship between the spiritual and the worldly obligations of Muslims?

3. When Bhutto says it is a sin to take innocent life, do you think she implies that taking a life that is not innocent is somehow acceptable?

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4. What seem to be some of the basic religious beliefs that Bhutto credits as Islamic in the early part of her essay? How different are they from the beliefs of other religions?

5. What does the suggestion that the Quran promotes diversity have to do with the possibility of Islam’s supporting democracies?

6. Why would people today feel that Islam might not support a demo- cratic government?

7. How convincing is Bhutto in this selection? Besides the Quran, what other sources does she use to bolster her argument?


1. In paragraph 15, Bhutto raises the question of extremists getting con- trol of Pakistan’s nuclear plants and their nuclear weapons. How seri- ous is this possibility? How worried does she seem about this possi- bility? How worried are you? What should be done if there is such a threat, and who should respond to the threat?

2. In paragraph 29, Bhutto says that “the West has unintentionally cre- ated its own Frankenstein monster.” What does she mean by this state- ment? Examine her position in the paragraphs before and after this comment (which she has often used in speeches). How well has she supported her argument? What methods has she used to support the argument? Do you feel that she is correct, or are you not convinced?

3. CONNECTIONS Compare the preamble of Pakistan’s Constitution with the Constitution of the United States. On what issues do the two documents agree? What seem to be the primary differences between these constitutions? What issues are included in Pakistan’s Constitu- tion that are not present in the U.S. Constitution? What is important in the U.S. Constitution that is either omitted from or of lesser impor- tance in the Pakistan Constitution? Does the excerpt from Pakistan’s Constitution convince you that its intention is to produce a democratic government?

4. Bhutto says that dictators who are favored by the West help extremists, especially by uniting them in their dislike of the United States. How do dictators help the causes of extremists in Muslim countries? Bhutto talks a good deal about Afghanistan and the Taliban. Research the cur- rent situation in Afghanistan and its history since the Russian invasion. Then decide whether or not Afghanistan is a good example for Bhutto to use in her complaint that the West must bear a share of the respon- sibility for the presence of dictators in Muslim countries.

5. What are the realistic choices for the West in its dealings with nations such as Saudi Arabia, which has a great deal of oil but little in the way of civil rights? Women, for instance, cannot drive cars. There are no elec- tions for a president or prime minister nor for a parliament. Before he

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was overthrown, Hosni Mubarak ruled Egypt with an iron hand and denied thousands of people their civil rights, but he guaranteed the security of Israel and kept the Suez Canal open for international trade and military shipping. Should the West demand that these nations become democratic and respect human civil rights? If they don’t follow through, what should the West do?

6. Read the Quran for evidence to support Bhutto’s claim that the Muslim holy book supports diversity, equality of men and women, civil rights, and a democratic approach to government. Argue a case in favor of Bhutto’s position or against it. Use testimony from the Quran to bolster your argument.

7. CONNECTIONS Bhutto quotes from Pakistan’s constitution: “Wherein the principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance, and social justice, as enunciated by Islam, shall be fully observed” (para. 5). Would Carter ( think it possible that a nation with an official religion could separate religion from the state? How could a democracy that did not separate religion from the state continue to be democratic? Would Carter sup- port a state that did not separate religion from government? Would Bhutto? Would you?

8. SEEING CONNECTIONS If Benazir Bhutto had looked at Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States, by Howard Chan- dler Christy (p. 57), what would she have thought of the men in the painting? Would she have felt they were sympathic to the values of the Quran that she discusses in the beginning of her selection? Would the painting have given her a sense of hope for the future of Pakistan or other Muslim countries? What might she have felt was missing from the painting? What hopes for the future might she have had after studying the painting?

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Lao- tzu

Niccolò Machiavelli

Jean- Jacques Rousseau

Thomas Jefferson

Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Hannah Arendt

Marcus Tullius Cicero

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He who exercises government by means of his virtue may be compared to the north polar star, which keeps its place and all the stars turn towards it.

–CONFUCIUS (551–479 B.C.E.)

When a government becomes powerful it is destructive, extrava- gant, and violent; it is an usurer which takes bread from innocent mouths and deprives honorable men of their substance, for votes with which to perpetuate itself.


All the ills of mankind, all the tragic misfortunes that fill the his- tory books, all the po liti cal blunders, all the failures of the great leaders have arisen merely from a lack of skill at dancing.

–MOLIÈRE (1622–1673)

Society in every state is a blessing, but Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one.

–THOMAS PAINE (1737–1809)

No government can be long secure without formidable opposition. –BENJAMIN DISRAELI (1804–1881)

A government is the most dangerous threat to man’s rights: it holds a legal monopoly on the use of physical force against legally disarmed victims.

–AYN RAND (1902–1982)

At the core of any idea of government is the belief that indi- viduals need an organized allocation of authority to protect their well- being. However, throughout history the form of that alloca- tion of authority has undergone profound shifts, and each succes- sive type of government has inspired debates and defenses. The first civilizations in Mesopotamia and Egypt (4000–3000 B.C.E.) were theocracies ruled by a high priest. Gradually these po liti- cal systems evolved into monarchies in which a king whose role was separate from that of the religious leaders held power. During the sixth century B.C.E. the Greek city- state Athens developed the first demo cratic system wherein male citizens (but not women or slaves) could elect a body of leaders. As these forms of government developed, so too did the concept of government as the center of law and administration. However, governments and ideas of gov- ernments (actual or ideal) have not followed a straight path. His- tory has witnessed constant oscillations between various forms and functions of government, from tyrannies to republics. In turn,


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these governments and their relation to the individual citizen have been the focus of many great thinkers.

In this section, the thinkers represented have concentrated on both the role and form of government. Lao- tzu reflects on the ruler who would, by careful management, maintain a happy citizenry. Mach- iavelli places the survival of the prince above all other considerations of government and, unlike Lao- tzu, ignores the concerns and rights of the individual. For Machiavelli, power is the issue, and maintaining it is the sign of good government. Rousseau’s emphasis on the social contract focuses on the theory that citizens voluntarily submit to governance in the hope of gaining greater personal freedom.

Whereas governing well concerns most of these thinkers, the forms of government concern others. Thomas Jefferson struggled with the monarchical form of government, as did Rousseau before him, and envisioned a republic that would serve the people. Kings were a threatened species in eighteenth- century Eu ro pe, and with Jefferson’s aid, they became extinct in the United States. Elizabeth Cady Stanton argued for equality of women using the model of the Declaration of Independence to bolster her position. Hannah Arendt was convinced that the totalitarian governments of the twentieth century needed con- centration camps in order to practice total domination.

Lao- tzu, whose writings provide the basis for Taoism, one of three major Chinese religions, was interested primarily in po liti cal systems. His work, the Tao- te Ching, has been translated loosely as “The Way of Power.” One thing that becomes clear from reading his work — especially the selections presented here — is his concern for the well- being of the people in any government. He does not recommend specific forms of government (monarchic, representa- tive, demo cratic) or advocate election versus the hereditary transfer of power. But he does make it clear that the success of the existing forms of government (in his era, monarchic) depends on good rela- tions between the leader and the people. He refers to the chief of state as Master or Sage, implying that one obligation of the governor is to be wise. One expression of that wisdom is the willingness to permit things to take their natural course. His view is that the less the Master needs to do — or perhaps the less government needs to intervene — the happier the people will be.

Niccolò Machiavelli was a pragmatic man of the Re nais sance in Italy. As a theoretician and as a member of the po liti cal court, he understood government from the inside and carefully examined its philosophy. Because his writings stress the importance of gain- ing and holding power at any cost, Machiavelli’s name has become synonymous with po liti cal cunning. However, a careful reading of his work as a reflection of the instability of his time shows that his


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advice to wield power ruthlessly derived largely from his fear that a weak prince would lose the city- state of Florence to France or to another powerful, plundering nation. His commitment to a powerful prince is based on his view that in the long run strength will guaran- tee the peace and happiness of the citizen for whom in de pen dence is otherwise irrelevant. Therefore, Machiavelli generally ignores ques- tions concerning the comfort and rights of the individual.

In contrast, Jean- Jacques Rousseau is continually concerned with the basic questions of personal freedom and liberty. A fundamental principle in “The Origin of Civil Society” is that the individual’s agree- ment with the state is designed to increase the individual’s freedoms, not to diminish them. Rousseau makes this assertion while at the same time admitting that the individual forfeits certain rights to the body politic in order to gain overall freedom. Moreover, Rousseau describes civil society as a body politic that expects its rulers — including the monarch — to behave in a way designed to benefit the people. Such a view in eighteenth- century France was rev- olutionary. The ruling classes at that time treated the people with great contempt, and the monarch rarely gave any thought to the well- being of the common people. Rousseau’s advocacy of a republican form of government in which the monarch served the people was a radi- cal view and would find its ultimate expression de cades later in the French Revolution.

Thomas Jefferson’s views were also radical for his time. Armed with the philosophy of Rousseau and others, his Declaration of In de- pen dence advocates the eradication of the monarch entirely. Not everyone in the colonies agreed with this view. Indeed, his po liti cal opponents, such as Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, were far from certain such a view was correct. In fact, some efforts were made to install George Washington as king (he refused). In the Declaration of In de pen dence, Jefferson reflects Rousseau’s philosophy by empha- sizing the right of the individual to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” and the obligation of government to serve the people by protecting those rights.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton relies on the rhetorical device of parody in her “Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions.” Modeled directly on Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, Stanton’s appeal serves as a reminder that Jefferson spoke only of men’s independence, not that of women. Her demands are no less reasonable than Jeffer- son’s, and it is a source of embarrassment to her that she has to redress such an omission after so much time has elapsed since Jefferson’s declaration was adopted.

The issues of freedom, justice, and individual rights were all vir- tually irrelevant in the totalitarian regimes that served as the focus

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of Hannah Arendt’s work. Arendt argued that the fascist states, especially Nazi Germany, and the communist states, especially the Soviet Union, represented a form of government in which individual rights were sacrificed for the good of “the state.” In “Total Domina- tion,” Arendt argues that the power of totalitarian states depends on the use of terror to enforce the state’s ideology. The result is a form of government that eclipses the tyrannical extremes Rousseau and Jefferson sought to eradicate and exceeds even Machiavelli’s imagin- ings of absolute power.

This chapter also contains a selection in e-pages (available online at from Marcus Tullius Cicero. Cicero presents a dialogue with a character, Philus, whose assignment is to create an argument in favor of injustice. As a great rhetorician and orator, Cicero plays an interesting game in asking someone whose personal views are strongly in favor of justice to argue against it. The procedure is interesting for us because we can see more clearly the virtue of justice by examining in detail the arguments against it. Philus does a creditable job by relying on arguments already developed by another philosopher, Carneades. His appeal is to the strength of the state and the need for the individual to yield to collective values. The result is an argument for injustice that is dangerous because we might be convinced by it.


Eugène Delacroix (1798–1863) was considered the greatest of the romantic painters of France. His use of color and subject mat- ter moved away from the earlier classicists who dominated the late eighteenth century. He painted subjects from recent history, such as Massacre at Chios, which expressed sympathy for the Greek cause in their war of independence from the Turks. His painting The Barque of Dante (1822) made him a controversial figure in France, so when he painted Liberty Leading the People in his early thirties, he was already a celebrity. There was no classical or mythic figure of liberty to use from ancient Greek or Roman history, so Delacroix looked back only as far as the French Revolution (1798) and in the process mythicized for all time the force of liberty and the responsibility of government to the people it serves.

His painting was a political document in itself. (To see this painting in color, go to It presents a heroic female figure, the epitome of mythic Liberty — whose image in various manifestations appears on coins around the world — struggling with authority in an effort to achieve a truly

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representative government and surrounded by the common peo- ple of France. This painting became a rallying cry for reformers around the world and is widely reprinted in poster form through- out Europe and the Western Hemisphere. It symbolizes the com- mon cause people have to overthrow dictatorship or tyranny. It also commemorates the revolutionary action of citizens who barricaded Parisian streets in their fight against a government that they eventu- ally overthrew.

Because of its powerful visual structure — with Liberty in the center, the tricolor flag of freedom above, and citizens of all social orders and ages rallying to the cause — this painting may be consid- ered the most dramatic visual argument for democracy and independ- ence of Delacroix’s time, or any time.

The Italian historian and art critic Giulio Carlo Argan declared this the first political painting of modern art. It is an allegorical representation of the three-day revolution in July 1830 in which the Bourbon king, Charles X, was overthrown. The Bourbons were the family who ruled France prior to the French Revolution (1789). King Louis XVI was executed during the Revolution and

EUGÈNE DELACROIX, LIBERTY LEADING THE PEOPLE, 1830. Oil on canvas, 8'6" × 10'10", Louvre, Paris

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Napoleon became emperor. After his defeat in 1814, Napoleon went into exile and the victorious allies reinstated the throne for the Bour- bons with the intention of their respecting a constitutional monar- chy on the model of England’s. That worked under Louis XVIII, but when his brother Charles X took the throne, he said he would rather “hew wood” than be a king modeled after the king of England. His imperious ways undid most of the positive achievements of the French Revolution, and in 1830, the people rose and demanded his resignation.

The painting is both allegorical and realistic, but there has never been a suggestion that Delacroix represented a specific street or moment during the 1830 July Revolution, despite the suggestion that he himself was involved in the action. His point was that Liberty would come to the barricades wherever and whenever the people’s struggle was just. The painting conspicuously includes middle and poorer classes of citizens as a way of emphasizing the people’s movement to reject the autocratic government of the Bourbon king. Liberty, a power- ful woman carrying the tricolor of the republic (which the Bourbons had abandoned) also carries a bayonetted musket indicating her will- ingness to fight for a republican form of government. Her Phrygian hat was a style worn often during the revolution of 1789 and itself symbolized liberty. She may also have been a model for the Statue of Liberty, a gift from France to the United States in 1886. The man with the top hat to the left may be a self-portrait of the artist, Delacroix, who was a member of la Garde nationale, or French National Guard, and whose studio was in the neighborhood where much of the fight- ing occurred. The boy with the two pistols is said to have been a rep- resentation from life.

The painting was purchased by the French government as a reminder of the Revolution for the post-Bourbon, “citizen king,” Louis-Phillipe. It hung for a while in the palace, but its message of violence in the streets against the government finally condemned it to removal. It was later brought to the Louvre. The painting is massive, a fact apparent even in the accommodating Louvre, and it stands as a reminder that the people have a vested interest in government — that in modern times they cannot be ignored nor barred from speaking out. It is still one of the most visited paint- ings in the Louvre in Paris and one of the most reproduced of all modern paintings.

As you read the essays in this part, think about how Delacroix’s painting, with its principle of government by and for the people at all costs, relates to each writer’s philosophy of government. Following each selection, a Seeing Connections question asks you to directly compare the writer’s ideas with Delacroix’s work.

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LAO- TZU Thoughts from the Tao- te Ching

THE AUTHOR of the Tao- te Ching (in En glish often pro- nounced “dow deh jing”) is unknown, although the earliest texts ascribe the work to Lao- tzu (sixth century B.C.E.), whose name can be translated as “Old Master.” However, nothing can be said with certainty about Lao- tzu (lou9 dzu9) as a historical figure. One tradi- tion holds that he was named Li Erh and born in the state of Ch’u in China at a time that would have made him a slightly older con- temporary of Confucius (551–479 B.C.E.). Lao- tzu was said to have worked in the court of the Chou dynasty for most of his life. When he decided to leave the court to pursue a life of contemplation, the keeper of the gate urged him to write down his thoughts before he went into a self- imposed exile. Legend has it that he wrote the Tao- te Ching and then left the state of Ch’u, never to be seen again.

Lao- tzu’s writings offered a basis for Taoism, a religion offi- cially founded by Chang Tao- ling in about 150 C.E. However, the Tao- te Ching is a philosophical document as much about good government as it is about moral behavior. The term Tao cannot be easily understood or easily translated. In one sense it means “the way,” but it also means “the method,” as in “the way to enlight- enment” or “the way to live.” Some of the chapters of the Tao- te Ching imply that the Tao is the allness of the universe, the ultimate reality of existence, and perhaps even a synonym for God. The text is marked by numerous complex ambiguities and paradoxes. It constantly urges us to look beyond ourselves, beyond our circum- stances, and become one with the Tao — even though it cannot tell us what the Tao is.

The Tao- te Ching has often been called a feminine treatise be cause it emphasizes the creative forces of the universe and frequently employs the imagery and meta phor of the womb — for

From Tao-te Ching. Translated by Stephen Mitchell.

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example, “The Tao is called the Great Mother.” The translator, Stephen Mitchell, translates some of the pronouns associated with the Master as “she,” with the explanation that Chinese has no equivalent for the male- and female- gendered pronouns and that “of all the great world religions the teaching of Lao- tzu is by far the most female.”

The teachings of Lao- tzu are the opposite of the materialist quest for power, dominance, authority, and wealth. Lao- tzu takes the view that possessions and wealth are leaden weights of the soul, that they are meaningless and trivial, and that the truly free and enlight- ened person will regard them as evil. Because of his antimaterialist view, his recommendations may seem ironic or unclear, especially when he urges politicians to adopt a practice of judicious inaction. Lao- tzu’s advice to politicians is not to do nothing but to intercede only when it is a necessity and then only inconspicuously. Above all, Lao- tzu counsels avoiding useless activity: “the Master / acts without doing anything / and teaches without saying anything.” Such a state- ment is difficult for modern Westerners to comprehend, although it points to the concept of enlightenment, a state of spiritual peace and fulfillment that is central to the Tao- te Ching.

Lao- tzu’s po liti cal philosophy minimizes the power of the state — especially the power of the state to oppress the people. Lao- tzu takes the question of the freedom of the individual into account by asserting that the wise leader will provide the people with what they need but not annoy them with promises of what they do not need. Lao- tzu argues that by keeping people una- ware that they are being governed, the leader allows the people to achieve good things for themselves. As he writes, “If you want to be a great leader, / you must learn to follow the Tao. / Stop trying to control. / Let go of fixed plans and concepts, / and the world will govern itself” (Verse 57); or in contrast, “If a country is governed with repression, / the people are depressed and crafty” (Verse 58).

To our modern ears this advice may or may not sound sensi- ble. For those who feel government can solve the problems of the people, it will seem strange and unwise. For those who believe that the less government the better, the advice will sound sane and powerful.

The Rhetoric of the Tao- te Ching

Traditionally, Lao- tzu is said to have written the Tao- te Ching as a guide for the ruling sage to follow. In other words, it is a handbook

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for politicians. It emphasizes the virtues that the ruler must possess, and in this sense the Tao- te Ching invites comparison with Machia- velli’s efforts to instruct his ruler.

The visual form of the text is poetry, although the text is not metrical or image laden. Instead of thoroughly developing his ideas, Lao- tzu uses a traditional Chinese form that resem- bles the aphorism, a compressed statement weighty with mean- ing. Virtually every statement requires thought and reflection. Thus, the act of reading becomes an act of cooperation with the text.

One way of reading the text is to explore the varieties of interpretation it will sustain. The act of analysis requires patience and willingness to examine a statement to see what lies beneath the surface. Take, for example, one of the opening state- ments:

The Master leads by emptying people’s minds and filling their cores, by weakening their ambition and toughening their resolve. He helps people lose everything they know, everything they desire, and creates confusion in those who think that they know.

This passage supports a number of readings. One centers on the question of the people’s desire. “Emptying people’s minds” implies eliminating desires that lead the people to steal or compete for power. “Weakening their ambition” implies helping people direct their powers toward the attainable and useful. Such a text is at odds with Western views that support advertisements for expensive com- puters, DVD players, luxury cars, and other items that generate ambition and desire in people.

In part because the text resembles poetry, it needs to be read with attention to innuendo, subtle interpretation, and possible hid- den meanings. One of the rhetorical virtues of paradox is that it forces the reader to consider several sides of an issue. The result- ing confusion yields a wider range of possibilities than would arise from a self- evident statement. Through these complicated mes- sages, Lao- tzu felt he was contributing to the spiritual enlighten- ment of the ruling sage, although he had no immediate hope that his message would be put into action. A modern state might have a difficult time following Lao- tzu’s philosophy, but many individuals

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have tried to attain peace and contentment by leading lives accord- ing to its principles.


The following prereading questions may help you anticipate key issues in the discussion of Lao- tzu’s “Thoughts from the Tao- te Ching.” Keeping them in mind during your first reading of the selection should help focus your attention.

• What is the Master’s attitude toward action?

• The Tao is “the way” — how are we to understand its meaning? What does it mean to be in harmony with the Tao?

• According to Lao- tzu, why is moderation important in government?

Thoughts from the Tao- te Ching 3

1If you overesteem great men, people become powerless. If you overvalue possessions, people begin to steal.

2The Master leads by emptying people’s minds and filling their cores, by weakening their ambition and toughening their resolve. He helps people lose everything they know, everything they desire, and creates confusion in those who think that they know.

3Practice not- doing, and everything will fall into place.


4When the Master governs, the people are hardly aware that he exists.

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Next best is a leader who is loved. Next, one who is feared. The worst is one who is despised.

5If you don’t trust the people, you make them untrustworthy.

6The Master doesn’t talk, he acts. When his work is done, the people say, “Amazing: we did it, all by ourselves!”


7When the great Tao is forgotten, goodness and piety appear. When the body’s intelligence declines, cleverness and knowledge step forth. When there is no peace in the family, filial piety begins. When the country falls into chaos, patriotism is born.


8Throw away holiness and wisdom, and people will be a hundred times happier. Throw away morality and justice, and people will do the right thing. Throw away industry and profit, and there won’t be any thieves.

9If these three aren’t enough, just stay at the center of the circle and let all things take their course.


10The heavy is the root of the light. The unmoved is the source of all movement.

11Thus the Master travels all day without leaving home. However splendid the views, she stays serenely in herself.

12Why should the lord of the country flit about like a fool?

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If you let yourself be blown to and fro, you lose touch with your root. If you let restlessness move you, you lose touch with who you are.


13Do you want to improve the world? I don’t think it can be done.

14The world is sacred. It can’t be improved. If you tamper with it, you’ll ruin it. If you treat it like an object, you’ll lose it.

15There is a time for being ahead, a time for being behind; a time for being in motion, a time for being at rest; a time for being vigorous, a time for being exhausted; a time for being safe, a time for being in danger.

16The Master sees things as they are, without trying to control them. She lets them go their own way, and resides at the center of the circle.


17Whoever relies on the Tao in governing men doesn’t try to force issues or defeat enemies by force of arms. For every force there is a counterforce. Violence, even well intentioned, always rebounds upon oneself.

18The Master does his job and then stops. He understands that the universe is forever out of control, and that trying to dominate events goes against the current of the Tao. Because he believes in himself, he doesn’t try to convince others. Because he is content with himself,

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he doesn’t need others’ approval. Because he accepts himself, the whole world accepts him.


19Weapons are the tools of violence; all decent men detest them.

20Weapons are the tools of fear; a decent man will avoid them except in the direst necessity and, if compelled, will use them only with the utmost restraint. Peace is his highest value. If the peace has been shattered, how can he be content? His enemies are not demons, but human beings like himself. He doesn’t wish them personal harm. Nor does he rejoice in victory. How could he rejoice in victory and delight in the slaughter of men?

21He enters a battle gravely, with sorrow and with great compassion, as if he were attending a funeral.


22The Tao never does anything, yet through it all things are done.

23If powerful men and women could center themselves in it, the whole world would be transformed by itself, in its natural rhythms. People would be content with their simple, everyday lives, in harmony, and free of desire.

24When there is no desire, all things are at peace.


25The Master doesn’t try to be powerful; thus he is truly powerful.

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The ordinary man keeps reaching for power; thus he never has enough.

26The Master does nothing, yet he leaves nothing undone. The ordinary man is always doing things, yet many more are left to be done.

27The kind man does something, yet something remains undone. The just man does something, and leaves many things to be done. The moral man does something, and when no one responds he rolls up his sleeves and uses force.

28When the Tao is lost, there is goodness. When goodness is lost, there is morality. When morality is lost, there is ritual. Ritual is the husk of true faith, the beginning of chaos.

29Therefore the Master concerns himself with the depths and not the surface, with the fruit and not the flower. He has no will of his own. He dwells in reality, and lets all illusions go.


30When a country is in harmony with the Tao, the factories make trucks and tractors. When a country goes counter to the Tao, warheads are stockpiled outside the cities.

31There is no greater illusion than fear, no greater wrong than preparing to defend yourself, no greater misfortune than having an enemy.

32Whoever can see through all fear will always be safe.


33The great Way is easy, yet people prefer the side paths.

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Be aware when things are out of balance. Stay centered within the Tao.

34When rich speculators prosper while farmers lose their land; when government officials spend money on weapons instead of cures; when the upper class is extravagant and irresponsible while the poor have nowhere to turn — all this is robbery and chaos. It is not in keeping with the Tao.


35If you want to be a great leader, you must learn to follow the Tao. Stop trying to control. Let go of fixed plans and concepts, and the world will govern itself.

The more prohibitions you have, 36 the less virtuous people will be. The more weapons you have, the less secure people will be. The more subsidies you have, the less self- reliant people will be.

37Therefore the Master says: I let go of the law, and people become honest. I let go of economics, and people become prosperous. I let go of religion, and people become serene. I let go of all desire for the common good, and the good becomes common as grass.


38If a country is governed with tolerance, the people are comfortable and honest. If a country is governed with repression, the people are depressed and crafty.

39When the will to power is in charge, the higher the ideals, the lower the results. Try to make people happy, and you lay the groundwork for misery.

LAO- TZU: Thoughts from the Tao- te Ching 211

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Try to make people moral, and you lay the groundwork for vice.

40Thus the Master is content to serve as an example and not to impose her will. She is pointed, but doesn’t pierce. Straightforward, but supple. Radiant, but easy on the eyes.


41For governing a country well there is nothing better than moderation.

42The mark of a moderate man is freedom from his own ideas. Tolerant like the sky, all- pervading like sunlight, firm like a mountain, supple like a tree in the wind, he has no destination in view and makes use of anything life happens to bring his way.

43Nothing is impossible for him. Because he has let go, he can care for the people’s welfare as a mother cares for her child.


44Governing a large country is like frying a small fish. You spoil it with too much poking.

45Center your country in the Tao and evil will have no power. Not that it isn’t there, but you’ll be able to step out of its way.

46Give evil nothing to oppose and it will disappear by itself.


47When a country obtains great power, it becomes like the sea:

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all streams run downward into it. The more powerful it grows, the greater the need for humility. Humility means trusting the Tao, thus never needing to be defensive.

48A great nation is like a great man: When he makes a mistake, he realizes it. Having realized it, he admits it. Having admitted it, he corrects it. He considers those who point out his faults as his most benevolent teachers. He thinks of his enemy as the shadow that he himself casts.

49If a nation is centered in the Tao, if it nourishes its own people and doesn’t meddle in the affairs of others, it will be a light to all nations in the world.


50The ancient Masters didn’t try to educate the people, but kindly taught them to not- know.

51When they think that they know the answers, people are difficult to guide. When they know that they don’t know, people can find their own way.

52If you want to learn how to govern, avoid being clever or rich. The simplest pattern is the clearest. Content with an ordinary life, you can show all people the way back to their own true nature.


53All streams flow to the sea because it is lower than they are. Humility gives it its power.

54If you want to govern the people, you must place yourself below them.

LAO- TZU: Thoughts from the Tao- te Ching 213

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If you want to lead the people, you must learn how to follow them.

55The Master is above the people, and no one feels oppressed. She goes ahead of the people, and no one feels manipulated. The whole world is grateful to her. Because she competes with no one, no one can compete with her.


56Some say that my teaching is nonsense. Others call it lofty but impractical. But to those who have looked inside themselves, this nonsense makes perfect sense. And to those who put it into practice, this loftiness has roots that go deep.

57I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures. Simple in actions and in thoughts, you return to the source of being. Patient with both friends and enemies, you accord with the way things are. Compassionate toward yourself, you reconcile all beings in the world.


58When taxes are too high, people go hungry. When the government is too intrusive, people lose their spirit.

59Act for the people’s benefit. Trust them; leave them alone.


60If a country is governed wisely, its inhabitants will be content. They enjoy the labor of their hands and don’t waste time inventing labor- saving machines.

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Since they dearly love their homes, they aren’t interested in travel. There may be a few wagons and boats, but these don’t go anywhere. There may be an arsenal of weapons, but nobody ever uses them. People enjoy their food, take plea sure in being with their families, spend weekends working in their gardens, delight in the doings of the neighborhood. And even though the next country is so close that people can hear its roosters crowing and its dogs barking, they are content to die of old age without ever having gone to see it.


1. According to Lao- tzu, what must the ruler provide the people with if they are to be happy? See especially Verse 66.

2. To what extent does Lao- tzu concern himself with individual happiness?

3. How would you describe Lao- tzu’s attitude toward the people?

4. Why does Lao- tzu think the world cannot be improved? See Verse 29.

5. Which statements made in this selection do you feel support a materi- alist view of experience? Can they be reconciled with Lao- tzu’s overall thinking in the selection?

6. What are the limits and benefits of the expression: “Practice not- doing, / and everything will fall into place”? See Verse 3.

7. To what extent is Lao- tzu in favor of military action? What seem to be his views about the military? See Verse 31.

8. The term Master is used frequently in the selection. What can you tell about the character of the Master?


1. The term the Tao is used often in this selection. Write a short essay that defines what Lao- tzu seems to mean by the term. If you were a politician and had the responsibility of governing a state, how would you follow the Tao as it is implied in Lao- tzu’s statements? Is the Tao restrictive? Difficult? Open to interpretation? How well do you think it would work?

2. Write a brief essay that examines the following statements from the perspective of a young person today:

The more prohibitions you have, the less virtuous people will be.

LAO- TZU: Thoughts from the Tao- te Ching 215

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The more weapons you have, the less secure people will be. The more subsidies you have, the less self- reliant people will be. (Verse 57)

To what extent do you agree with these statements, and to what extent do you feel they are statements that have po liti cal importance? Do peo- ple in the United States seem to agree with these views, or do they dis- agree? What are the most visible po liti cal consequences of our nation’s position regarding these ideas?

3. Some people have asserted that the American po liti cal system bene- fits the people most when the following views of Lao- tzu are carefully applied:

Therefore the Master says: I let go of the law, and people become honest. I let go of economics, and people become prosperous. I let go of religion, and people become serene. I let go of all desire for the common good, and the good becomes common as grass. (Verse 57)

In a brief essay, decide to what extent American leaders follow these precepts. Whether you feel they do or not, do you think that they should follow these precepts? What are the likely results of their being put into practice?

4. Some of the statements Lao- tzu makes are so packed with meaning that it would take pages to explore them. One example is “When they think that they know the answers, / people are difficult to guide.” Take this statement as the basis of a short essay and, in reference to a personal experience, explain the significance of this statement.

5. What does Lao- tzu imply about the obligation of the state to the indi- vidual it governs and about the obligation of the individual to the state? Is one much more important than the other? Using the texts in this selection, establish what you feel is the optimum balance in the relationship between the two.

6. CONNECTIONS How sympathetic might Cicero (bedfordstmartins .com/worldofideas/epages) be to Lao-tzu regarding the moderation of action in government? Philus, in Cicero’s selection, argues for a govern ment that tolerates some injustice. How does Lao-tzu’s vision of government disable such an argument? Would you rather be governed by Lao-tzu’s version of government or Philus’s? Explain your position regarding these two writers’ views of government

7. CONNECTIONS Compare Lao- tzu’s view of government with that of Machiavelli in the next selection. Consider what seem to be the ulti- mate purposes of government, what seem to be the obligations of the leader to the people being led, and what seems to be the main work of

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the state. What comparisons can you make between Lao- tzu’s Master and Machiavelli’s prince?

8. SEEING CONNECTIONS How would Lao-tzu have described the action in Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People (p. 200)? Would he have been sympathetic to the efforts of the French people trying to remove an unpopular king in 1830? To what extent would he have approved of the representation of Liberty holding a musket with a bayonet? Which figure in the painting would Lao-tzu have felt the most sympathy for? What might Lao-tzu’s message to Delacroix have been if it had been possible for him to communicate with the painter?

LAO- TZU: Thoughts from the Tao- te Ching 217

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NICCOLÒ MACHIAVELLI The Qualities of the Prince

NICCOLÒ MACHIAVELLI (1469–1527) was an aristocrat whose fortunes wavered according to the shifts in power in Florence. Re nais- sance Italy was a collection of powerful city- states, which were some- times volatile and unstable. When Florence’s famed Medici princes were returned to power in 1512 after eighteen years of banishment, Machia- velli did not fare well. He was suspected of crimes against the state and imprisoned. Even though he was not guilty, he had to learn to support himself as a writer instead of continuing his career in civil ser vice.

His works often contrast two forces: luck (one’s fortune) and character (one’s virtues). His own character outlasted his bad luck in regard to the Medicis, and he was returned to a position of respon- sibility. The Prince (1513), his most celebrated work, was a general treatise on the qualities the prince (that is, ruler) must have to main- tain his power. In a more par tic u lar way, it was directed at the Medi- cis to encourage them to save Italy from the predatory incursions of France and Spain, whose troops were nibbling at the crumbling Ital- ian principalities and who would, in time, control much of Italy.

The chapters presented here contain the core of the philosophy for which Machiavelli became famous. His instructions to the prince are curiously devoid of any high- sounding moralizing or any encour- agement to be good as a matter of principle. Instead, Machiavelli recommends a very practical course of action for the prince: secure power by direct and effective means. It may be that Machiavelli fully expects that the prince will use his power for good ends — certainly he does not recommend tyranny. But he also supports using ques- tionable means to achieve the final end of becoming and remaining the prince. Although Machiavelli recognizes that there is often a conflict between the ends and the means used to achieve them, he does not fret over the possible problems that may accompany the

From The Prince. Translated by Peter Bondanella and Mark Musa.

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use of “unpleasant” means, such as punishment of upstarts or the use of repression, imprisonment, and torture.

Through the years, Machiavelli’s view of human nature has come under criticism for its cynicism. For instance, he suggests that a morally good person would not remain long in any high office because that person would have to compete with the mass of people, who, he says, are basically bad. Machiavelli constantly tells us that he is describing the world as it really is, not as it should be. Perhaps Machiavelli is correct, but people have long condemned the way he approves of cunning, deceit, and outright lying as means of staying in power.

The contrast between Machiavelli’s writings and Lao- tzu’s opin- ions in the Tao- te Ching is instructive. Lao- tzu’s advice issues from a detached view of a universal ruler; Machiavelli’s advice is very personal, embodying a set of directives for a specific prince. Machiavelli expounds on a litany of actions that must be taken; Lao- tzu, on the other hand, advises that judicious inaction will produce the best results.

Machiavelli’s Rhetoric

Machiavelli’s approach is less poetic and more pragmatic than Lao- tzu’s. Whereas Lao- tzu’s tone is almost biblical, Machiavelli’s is that of a how- to book, relevant to a par tic u lar time and a par tic- u lar place. Yet, like Lao- tzu, Machiavelli is brief and to the point. Each segment of the discussion is terse and eco nom ical.

Machiavelli announces his primary point clearly, refers to his- torical pre ce dents to support his point, and then explains why his position is the best one by appealing to both common sense and historical experience. When he suspects the reader will not share his view wholeheartedly, he suggests an alternate argument and then explains why it is wrong. This is a very forceful way of present- ing one’s views. It gives the appearance of fairness and thorough- ness — and, as we learn from reading Machiavelli, he is very much concerned with appearances. His method also gives his work full- ness, a quality that makes us forget how brief it really is.

Another of his rhetorical methods is to discuss opposite pair- ings, including both sides of an issue. From the first he explores a number of oppositions — the art of war and the art of life, liberal- ity and stinginess, cruelty and clemency, the fox and the lion. The method may seem simple, but it is important because it employs two of the basic techniques of rhetoric — comparison and contrast.

The aphorism is another of Machiavelli’s rhetorical weapons. An aphorism is a saying — a concise statement of a principle — that

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MACHIAVELLI: The Qualities of the Prince 221

has been accepted as true. Familiar examples are “A penny saved is a penny earned” and “There is no fool like an old fool.” Machia- velli tells us, “A man who wishes to make a vocation of being good at all times will come to ruin among so many who are not good.”

Such definite statements have several important qualities. One is that they are pithy: they seem to say a great deal in a few words. Another is that they appear to contain a great deal of wis- dom, in part because they are delivered with such certainty and in part because they have the ring of other aphorisms that we accept as true. Because they sound like aphorisms, they gain a claim to (unsubstantiated) truth, and we tend to accept them much more readily than perhaps we should. This may be why the speeches of con temporary politicians (modern versions of the prince) are often sprinkled with such expressions and illustrates why Machiavelli’s rhetorical technique is still reliable, still effective, and still worth studying.


The following prereading questions may help you anticipate key is- sues in the discussion of Niccolò Machiavelli’s “The Qualities of the Prince.” Keeping them in mind during your fi rst reading of the selection should help focus your attention.

• Why does Machiavelli praise skill in warfare in his opening pages? How does that skill aid a prince?

• Is it better for a prince to be loved or to be feared?

The Qualities of the Prince A Prince’s Duty Concerning Military Matters

1A prince, therefore, must not have any other object nor any other thought, nor must he take anything as his profession but war, its institutions, and its discipline; because that is the only profes- sion which befits one who commands; and it is of such importance that not only does it maintain those who were born princes, but many times it enables men of private station to rise to that position;

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and, on the other hand, it is evident that when princes have given more thought to personal luxuries than to arms, they have lost their state. And the first way to lose it is to neglect this art; and the way to acquire it is to be well versed in this art.

2Francesco Sforza1 became Duke of Milan from being a private citizen because he was armed; his sons, since they avoided the incon- ve niences of arms, became private citizens after having been dukes. For, among the other bad effects it causes, being disarmed makes you despised; this is one of those infamies a prince should guard him- self against, as will be treated below: for between an armed and an unarmed man there is no comparison whatsoever, and it is not rea- sonable for an armed man to obey an unarmed man willingly, nor that an unarmed man should be safe among armed servants; since, when the former is suspicious and the latter are contemptuous, it is impossible for them to work well together. And therefore, a prince who does not understand military matters, besides the other misfor- tunes already noted, cannot be esteemed by his own soldiers, nor can he trust them.

3He must, therefore, never raise his thought from this exercise of war, and in peacetime he must train himself more than in time of war; this can be done in two ways: one by action, the other by the mind. And as far as actions are concerned, besides keeping his sol- diers well disciplined and trained, he must always be out hunting, and must accustom his body to hardships in this manner; and he must also learn the nature of the terrain, and know how mountains slope, how valleys open, how plains lie, and understand the nature of rivers and swamps; and he should devote much attention to such activities. Such knowledge is useful in two ways: first, one learns to know one’s own country and can better understand how to defend it; second, with the knowledge and experience of the terrain, one can easily comprehend the characteristics of any other terrain that it is necessary to explore for the first time; for the hills, valleys, plains, rivers, and swamps of Tuscany,2 for instance, have certain similari- ties to those of other provinces; so that by knowing the lay of the land in one province one can easily understand it in others. And a prince who lacks this ability lacks the most important quality in a leader; because this skill teaches you to find the enemy, choose a

1 Francesco Sforza (1401–1466) Became duke of Milan in 1450. He was, like most of Machiavelli’s examples, a skilled diplomat and soldier. His court was a model of Re nais sance scholarship and achievement.

2 Tuscany Florence is in the region of Italy known as Tuscany.

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MACHIAVELLI: The Qualities of the Prince 223

campsite, lead troops, organize them for battle, and besiege towns to your own advantage.

4Philopoemon, Prince of the Achaeans,3 among the other praises given to him by writers, is praised because in peacetime he thought of nothing except the means of waging war; and when he was out in the country with his friends, he often stopped and reasoned with them: “If the enemy were on that hilltop and we were here with our army, which of the two of us would have the advantage? How could we attack them without breaking formation? If we wanted to retreat, how could we do this? If they were to retreat, how could we pursue them?” And he pro- posed to them, as they rode along, all the contingencies that can occur in an army; he heard their opinions, expressed his own, and backed it up with arguments; so that, because of these continuous deliberations, when leading his troops no unforeseen incident could arise for which he did not have the remedy.

5But as for the exercise of the mind, the prince must read histories and in them study the deeds of great men; he must see how they con- ducted themselves in wars; he must examine the reasons for their vic- tories and for their defeats in order to avoid the latter and to imitate the former; and above all else he must do as some distinguished man before him has done, who elected to imitate someone who had been praised and honored before him, and always keep in mind his deeds and actions; just as it is reported that Alexander the Great imitated Achilles; Caesar, Alexander; Scipio, Cyrus.4 And anyone who reads the life of Cyrus written by Xenophon then realizes how important in the life of Scipio that imitation was to his glory and how much, in purity, goodness, humanity, and generosity, Scipio conformed to those characteristics of Cyrus that Xenophon had written about.

6Such methods as these a wise prince must follow, and never in peaceful times must he be idle; but he must turn them diligently to his advantage in order to be able to profit from them in times of

3 Philopoemon (252?–182 B.C.E.), Prince of the Achaeans Philopoemon, from the city- state of Megalopolis, was a Greek general noted for skillful diplomacy. He led the Achaeans, a group of Greek states that formed the Achaean League, in sev- eral important expeditions, notably against Sparta. His cruelty in putting down a Spar- tan uprising caused him to be reprimanded by his superiors.

4 Cyrus (585?–529? B.C.E.) Cyrus II (the Great), Persian emperor. Cyrus and the other figures featured in this sentence — Alexander the Great (356–323 B.C.E.); Achilles, hero of Homer’s Iliad; Julius Caesar (100?–44 B.C.E.); and Scipio Africanus (236–184/3 B.C.E.), legendary Roman general — are all examples of politicians who were also great military geniuses. Xenophon (431–350? B.C.E.) was one of the earliest Greek historians; he chroni- cled the lives and military exploits of Cyrus and his son- in- law Darius.

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adversity, so that, when Fortune changes, she will find him prepared to withstand such times.

On Those Things for Which Men, and Particularly Princes, Are Praised or Blamed

7Now there remains to be examined what should be the methods and procedures of a prince in dealing with his subjects and friends. And because I know that many have written about this, I am afraid that by writing about it again I shall be thought of as presumptuous, since in discussing this material I depart radically from the procedures of oth- ers. But since my intention is to write something useful for anyone who understands it, it seemed more suitable to me to search after the effectual truth of the matter rather than its imagined one. And many writers have imagined for themselves republics and principalities that have never been seen nor known to exist in reality; for there is such a gap between how one lives and how one ought to live that anyone who abandons what is done for what ought to be done learns his ruin rather than his preservation: for a man who wishes to make a vocation of being good at all times will come to ruin among so many who are not good. Hence it is necessary for a prince who wishes to maintain his position to learn how not to be good, and to use this knowledge or not to use it according to necessity.

8Leaving aside, therefore, the imagined things concerning a prince, and taking into account those that are true, I say that all men, when they are spoken of, and particularly princes, since they are placed on a higher level, are judged by some of these qualities which bring them either blame or praise. And this is why one is considered gener- ous, another miserly (to use a Tuscan word, since “avaricious” in our language is still used to mean one who wishes to acquire by means of theft; we call “miserly” one who excessively avoids using what he has); one is considered a giver, the other rapacious; one cruel, another mer- ciful; one treacherous, another faithful; one effeminate and cowardly, another bold and courageous; one humane, another haughty; one las- civious, another chaste; one trustworthy, another cunning; one harsh, another lenient; one serious, another frivolous; one religious, another unbelieving; and the like. And I know that everyone will admit that it would be a very praiseworthy thing to find in a prince, of the quali- ties mentioned above, those that are held to be good, but since it is neither possible to have them nor to observe them all completely, because human nature does not permit it, a prince must be prudent enough to know how to escape the bad reputation of those vices that would lose the state for him, and must protect himself from those that

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MACHIAVELLI: The Qualities of the Prince 225

will not lose it for him, if this is possible; but if he cannot, he need not concern himself unduly if he ignores these less serious vices. And, moreover, he need not worry about incurring the bad reputation of those vices without which it would be difficult to hold his state; since, carefully taking everything into account, one will discover that some- thing which appears to be a virtue, if pursued, will end in his destruc- tion; while some other thing which seems to be a vice, if pursued, will result in his safety and his well- being.

On Generosity and Miserliness

9Beginning, therefore, with the first of the above- mentioned quali- ties, I say that it would be good to be considered generous; neverthe- less, generosity used in such a manner as to give you a reputation for it will harm you; because if it is employed virtuously and as one should employ it, it will not be recognized and you will not avoid the reproach of its opposite. And so, if a prince wants to maintain his reputation for generosity among men, it is necessary for him not to neglect any possible means of lavish display; in so doing such a prince will always use up all his resources and he will be obliged, eventually, if he wishes to maintain his reputation for generosity, to burden the people with excessive taxes and to do everything pos sible to raise funds. This will begin to make him hateful to his subjects, and, becoming impoverished, he will not be much esteemed by anyone; so that, as a consequence of his generosity, having offended many and rewarded few, he will feel the effects of any slight unrest and will be ruined at the first sign of danger; recognizing this and wishing to alter his policies, he immediately runs the risk of being reproached as a miser.

10A prince, therefore, unable to use this virtue of generosity in a manner which will not harm himself if he is known for it, should, if he is wise, not worry about being called a miser; for with time he will come to be considered more generous once it is evident that, as a result of his parsimony, his income is sufficient, he can defend himself from anyone who makes war against him, and he can under- take enterprises without overburdening his people, so that he comes to be generous with all those from whom he takes nothing, who are countless, and miserly with all those to whom he gives nothing, who are few. In our times we have not seen great deeds accomplished except by those who were considered miserly; all others were done away with. Pope Julius II,5 although he made use of his reputation

5 Pope Julius II (1443–1513) Giuliano della Rovere, pope from 1503 to 1513. Like many of the popes of the day, Julius II was also a diplomat and a gen eral.

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for generosity in order to gain the papacy, then decided not to main- tain it in order to be able to wage war; the present King of France6 has waged many wars without imposing extra taxes on his subjects, only because his habitual parsimony has provided for the additional expen- ditures; the present King of Spain,7 if he had been considered generous, would not have engaged in nor won so many campaigns.

11Therefore, in order not to have to rob his subjects, to be able to defend himself, not to become poor and contemptible, and not to be forced to become rapacious, a prince must consider it of little impor- tance if he incurs the name of miser, for this is one of those vices that permits him to rule. And if someone were to say: Caesar with his generosity came to rule the empire, and many others, because they were generous and known to be so, achieved very high positions; I reply: you are either already a prince or you are on the way to becoming one; in the first instance such generosity is damaging; in the second it is very necessary to be thought generous. And Caesar was one of those who wanted to gain the principality of Rome; but if, after obtaining this, he had lived and had not moderated his expenditures, he would have destroyed that empire. And if someone were to reply: there have existed many princes who have accom- plished great deeds with their armies who have been reputed to be generous; I answer you: a prince either spends his own money and that of his subjects or that of others; in the first case he must be eco nom ical; in the second he must not restrain any part of his generosity. And for that prince who goes out with his soldiers and lives by looting, sacking, and ransoms, who controls the property of others, such generosity is necessary; otherwise he would not be fol- lowed by his troops. And with what does not belong to you or to your subjects you can be a more liberal giver, as were Cyrus, Cae- sar, and Alexander; for spending the wealth of others does not lessen your reputation but adds to it; only the spending of your own is what harms you. And there is nothing that uses itself up faster than generosity, for as you employ it you lose the means of employing it, and you become either poor or despised or, in order to escape pov- erty, rapacious and hated. And above all other things a prince must guard himself against being despised and hated; and generosity leads you to both one and the other. So it is wiser to live with the reputa- tion of a miser, which produces reproach without hatred, than to be

6 present King of France Louis XII (1462–1515). He entered Italy on a suc- cessful military campaign in 1494.

7 present King of Spain Ferdinand V (1452–1516). A studied politician; he and Queen Isabella (1451–1504) financed Christopher Columbus’s voyage to the New World in 1492.

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MACHIAVELLI: The Qualities of the Prince 227

forced to incur the reputation of rapacity, which produces reproach along with hatred, because you want to be considered as generous.

On Cruelty and Mercy and Whether It Is Better to Be Loved Than to Be Feared or the Contrary

12Proceeding to the other qualities mentioned above, I say that every prince must desire to be considered merciful and not cruel; nevertheless, he must take care not to misuse this mercy. Cesare Borgia8 was con- sidered cruel; nonetheless, his cruelty had brought order to Romagna,9 united it, restored it to peace and obedience. If we examine this care- fully, we shall see that he was more merciful than the Florentine people, who, in order to avoid being considered cruel, allowed the destruction of Pistoia.10 Therefore, a prince must not worry about the reproach of cruelty when it is a matter of keeping his subjects united and loyal; for with a very few examples of cruelty he will be more compassionate than those who, out of excessive mercy, permit disorders to continue, from which arise murders and plundering; for these usually harm the com- munity at large, while the executions that come from the prince harm one individual in par tic u lar. And the new prince, above all other princes, cannot escape the reputation of being called cruel, since new states are full of dangers. And Virgil, through Dido, states: “My difficult condition and the newness of my rule make me act in such a manner, and to set guards over my land on all sides.”11

13Nevertheless, a prince must be cautious in believing and in act- ing, nor should he be afraid of his own shadow; and he should pro- ceed in such a manner, tempered by prudence and humanity, so that too much trust may not render him imprudent nor too much distrust render him intolerable.

14From this arises an argument: whether it is better to be loved than to be feared, or the contrary. I reply that one should like to be both one and the other; but since it is difficult to join them together, it is much safer to be feared than to be loved when one of the two must be lacking. For one can generally say this about men: that they

8 Cesare Borgia (1476–1507) He was known for his brutality and lack of scruples, not to mention his exceptionally good luck. He was a firm ruler, son of Pope Alexander VI.

9 Romagna Region northeast of Tuscany; includes the towns of Bologna, Ferrara, Ravenna, and Rimini. Borgia united it as his base of power in 1501.

10 Pistoia (also known as Pistoria) A town near Florence, disturbed in 1501 by a civil war that could have been averted by strong repressive mea sures.

11 The quotation is from the Aeneid (2.563–64), the greatest Latin epic poem, written by Virgil (70–19 B.C.E.). Dido, a woman general, ruled Carthage.

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are ungrateful, fickle, simulators and deceivers, avoiders of danger, greedy for gain; and while you work for their good they are com- pletely yours, offering you their blood, their property, their lives, and their sons, as I said earlier, when danger is far away; but when it comes nearer to you they turn away. And that prince who bases his power entirely on their words, finding himself stripped of other preparations, comes to ruin; for friendships that are acquired by a price and not by greatness and nobility of character are purchased but are not owned, and at the proper moment they cannot be spent. And men are less hesitant about harming someone who makes him- self loved than one who makes himself feared because love is held together by a chain of obligation which, since men are a sorry lot, is broken on every occasion in which their own self- interest is con- cerned; but fear is held together by a dread of punishment which will never abandon you.

15A prince must nevertheless make himself feared in such a man- ner that he will avoid hatred, even if he does not acquire love; since to be feared and not to be hated can very well be combined; and this will always be so when he keeps his hands off the property and the women of his citizens and his subjects. And if he must take someone’s life, he should do so when there is proper justification and manifest cause; but, above all, he should avoid the property of others; for men forget more quickly the death of their father than the loss of their pat- rimony. Moreover, the reasons for seizing their property are never lacking; and he who begins to live by stealing always finds a reason for taking what belongs to others; on the contrary, reasons for taking a life are rarer and disappear sooner.

16But when the prince is with his armies and has under his com- mand a multitude of troops, then it is absolutely necessary that he not worry about being considered cruel; for without that reputa- tion he will never keep an army united or prepared for any combat. Among the praiseworthy deeds of Hannibal12 is counted this: that, having a very large army, made up of all kinds of men, which he com- manded in foreign lands, there never arose the slightest dissention, neither among themselves nor against their prince, both during his good and his bad fortune. This could not have arisen from anything other than his inhuman cruelty, which, along with his many other abilities, made him always respected and terrifying in the eyes of his soldiers; and without that, to attain the same effect, his other abilities

12 Hannibal (247–183 B.C.E.) An amazingly inventive military tactician who led the Carthaginian armies against Rome for more than fi fteen years. He crossed the Alps from Gaul (France) in order to surprise Rome. He was noted for use of the ambush and for “inhuman cruelty.”

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MACHIAVELLI: The Qualities of the Prince 229

would not have sufficed. And the writers of history, having consid- ered this matter very little, on the one hand admire these deeds of his and on the other condemn the main cause of them.

17And that it be true that his other abilities would not have been sufficient can be seen from the example of Scipio, a most extraor- dinary man not only in his time but in all recorded history, whose armies in Spain rebelled against him; this came about from nothing other than his excessive compassion, which gave to his soldiers more liberty than military discipline allowed. For this he was censured in the senate by Fabius Maximus,13 who called him the corruptor of the Roman militia. The Locrians,14 having been ruined by one of Scipio’s officers, were not avenged by him, nor was the arrogance of that officer corrected, all because of his tolerant nature; so that someone in the senate who tried to apologize for him said that there were many men who knew how not to err better than they knew how to correct errors. Such a nature would have, in time, damaged Scipio’s fame and glory if he had maintained it during the empire; but, living under the control of the senate, this harmful characteristic of his not only con- cealed itself but brought him fame.

18I conclude, therefore, returning to the problem of being feared and loved, that since men love at their own plea sure and fear at the plea sure of the prince, a wise prince should build his foundation upon that which belongs to him, not upon that which belongs to others: he must strive only to avoid hatred, as has been said.

How a Prince Should Keep His Word

19How praiseworthy it is for a prince to keep his word and to live by integrity and not by deceit everyone knows; nevertheless, one sees from the experience of our times that the princes who have accom- plished great deeds are those who have cared little for keeping their promises and who have known how to manipulate the minds of men by shrewdness; and in the end they have surpassed those who laid their foundations upon honesty.

20You must, therefore, know that there are two means of fight- ing: one according to the laws, the other with force; the first way is proper to man, the second to beasts; but because the first, in many cases, is not sufficient, it becomes necessary to have recourse to

13 Fabius Maximus (?–203 B.C.E.) Roman general who fought Hannibal. He was jealous of the younger Roman general Scipio.

14 Locrians Inhabitants of Locri, an Italian town settled by the Greeks in c. 680 B.C.E.

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the second. Therefore, a prince must know how to use wisely the natures of the beast and the man. This policy was taught to princes allegorically by the ancient writers, who described how Achilles and many other ancient princes were given to Chiron15 the Centaur to be raised and taught under his discipline. This can only mean that, hav- ing a half- beast and half- man as a teacher, a prince must know how to employ the nature of the one and the other; and the one without the other cannot endure.

21Since, then, a prince must know how to make good use of the nature of the beast, he should choose from among the beasts the fox and the lion; for the lion cannot defend itself from traps and the fox cannot protect itself from wolves. It is therefore necessary to be a fox in order to recognize the traps and a lion in order to frighten the wolves. Those who play only the part of the lion do not under- stand matters. A wise ruler, therefore, cannot and should not keep his word when such an observance of faith would be to his disadvan- tage and when the reasons which made him promise are removed. And if men were all good, this rule would not be good; but since men are a sorry lot and will not keep their promises to you, you likewise need not keep yours to them. A prince never lacks legitimate reasons to break his promises. Of this one could cite an endless number of mod- ern examples to show how many pacts, how many promises have been made null and void because of the infidelity of princes; and he who has known best how to use the fox has come to a better end. But it is necessary to know how to disguise this nature well and to be a great hypocrite and a liar: and men are so simpleminded and so controlled by their present necessities that one who deceives will always find another who will allow himself to be deceived.

22I do not wish to remain silent about one of these recent instances. Alexander VI16 did nothing else, he thought about nothing else, except to deceive men, and he always found the occasion to do this. And there never was a man who had more forcefulness in his oaths, who affirmed a thing with more promises, and who honored his word less; nevertheless, his tricks always succeeded perfectly since he was well acquainted with this aspect of the world.

23Therefore, it is not necessary for a prince to have all of the above-mentioned qualities, but it is very necessary for him to appear to have them. Furthermore, I shall be so bold as to assert this: that hav- ing them and practicing them at all times is harmful; and appearing to

15 Chiron A mythical figure, a centaur (half man, half horse). Unlike most centaurs, he was wise and benevolent; he was also a legendary physician.

16 Alexander VI (1431–1503) Roderigo Borgia, pope from 1492 to 1503. He was Cesare Borgia’s father and a corrupt but im mensely powerful pope.

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MACHIAVELLI: The Qualities of the Prince 231

have them is useful; for instance, to seem merciful, faithful, humane, forthright, religious, and to be so; but his mind should be disposed in such a way that should it become necessary not to be so, he will be able and know how to change to the contrary. And it is essential to under- stand this: that a prince, and especially a new prince, cannot observe all those things by which men are considered good, for in order to maintain the state he is often obliged to act against his promise, against charity, against humanity, and against religion. And therefore, it is necessary that he have a mind ready to turn itself according to the way the winds of Fortune and the changeability of affairs require him; and, as I said above, as long as it is possible, he should not stray from the good, but he should know how to enter into evil when necessity commands.

24A prince, therefore, must be very careful never to let anything slip from his lips which is not full of the five qualities mentioned above: he should appear, upon seeing and hearing him, to be all mercy, all faithfulness, all integrity, all kindness, all religion. And there is nothing more necessary than to seem to possess this last quality. And men in general judge more by their eyes than their hands; for everyone can see but few can feel. Everyone sees what you seem to be, few perceive what you are, and those few do not dare to contradict the opinion of the many who have the majesty of the state to defend them; and in the actions of all men, and especially of princes, where there is no impartial arbiter, one must consider the final result.17 Let a prince therefore act to seize and to maintain the state; his methods will always be judged honorable and will be praised by all; for ordinary people are always deceived by appear- ances and by the outcome of a thing; and in the world there is noth- ing but ordinary people; and there is no room for the few, while the many have a place to lean on. A certain prince18 of the present day, whom I shall refrain from naming, preaches nothing but peace and faith, and to both one and the other he is entirely opposed; and both, if he had put them into practice, would have cost him many times over either his reputation or his state.

On Avoiding Being Despised and Hated

25But since, concerning the qualities mentioned above, I have spoken about the most important, I should like to discuss the others briefly in this general manner: that the prince, as was noted above,

17 The Italian original, si guarda al fi ne, has often been mistranslated as “the ends justify the means,” something Machiavelli never wrote. [Translators’ note]

18 A certain prince Probably King Ferdinand V of Spain (1452–1516).

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should think about avoiding those things which make him hated and despised; and when he has avoided this, he will have carried out his duties and will find no danger whatsoever in other vices. As I have said, what makes him hated above all else is being rapacious and a usurper of the property and the women of his subjects; he must refrain from this; and in most cases, so long as you do not deprive them of either their property or their honor, the majority of men live happily; and you have only to deal with the ambition of a few, who can be restrained without difficulty and by many means. What makes him despised is being considered changeable, frivolous, effeminate, cowardly, irresolute; from these qualities a prince must guard himself as if from a reef, and he must strive to make everyone recognize in his actions greatness, spirit, dignity, and strength; and concerning the pri- vate affairs of his subjects, he must insist that his decision be irrevoca- ble; and he should maintain himself in such a way that no man could imagine that he can deceive or cheat him.

26That prince who projects such an opinion of himself is greatly esteemed; and it is difficult to conspire against a man with such a repu- tation and difficult to attack him, provided that he is understood to be of great merit and revered by his subjects. For a prince must have two fears: one, internal, concerning his subjects; the other, external, con- cerning foreign powers. From the latter he can defend himself by his good troops and friends; and he will always have good friends if he has good troops; and internal affairs will always be stable when exter- nal affairs are stable, provided that they are not already disturbed by a conspiracy; and even if external conditions change, if he is properly organized and lives as I have said and does not lose control of him- self, he will always be able to withstand every attack, just as I said that Nabis the Spartan19 did. But concerning his subjects, when external affairs do not change, he has to fear that they may conspire secretly: the prince secures himself from this by avoiding being hated or despised and by keeping the people satisfied with him; this is a necessary mat- ter, as was treated above at length. And one of the most powerful rem- edies a prince has against conspiracies is not to be hated by the masses; for a man who plans a conspiracy always believes that he will satisfy the people by killing the prince; but when he thinks he might anger them, he cannot work up the courage to undertake such a deed; for the problems on the side of the conspirators are countless. And expe- rience demonstrates that conspiracies have been many but few have been concluded successfully; for anyone who conspires cannot be

19 Nabis the Spartan Tyrant of Sparta from 207 to 192 B.C.E., routed by Philopoemon and the Achaean League.

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MACHIAVELLI: The Qualities of the Prince 233

alone, nor can he find companions except from amongst those whom he believes to be dissatisfied; and as soon as you have uncovered your intent to one dissatisfied man, you give him the means to make him- self happy, since he can have everything he desires by uncovering the plot; so much is this so that, seeing a sure gain on the one hand and one doubtful and full of danger on the other, if he is to maintain faith with you he has to be either an unusually good friend or a completely determined enemy of the prince. And to treat the matter briefly, I say that on the part of the conspirator there is nothing but fear, jeal- ousy, and the thought of punishment that terrifies him; but on the part of the prince there is the majesty of the principality, the laws, the defenses of friends and the state to protect him; so that, with the good will of the people added to all these things, it is impossible for anyone to be so rash as to plot against him. For, where usually a conspirator has to be afraid before he executes his evil deed, in this case he must be afraid, having the people as an enemy, even after the crime is per- formed, nor can he hope to find any refuge because of this.

27One could cite countless examples on this subject; but I want to satisfy myself with only one which occurred during the time of our fathers. Messer Annibale Bentivoglio, prince of Bologna and grand father of the present Messer Annibale, was murdered by the Canneschi20 family, who conspired against him; he left behind no heir except Messer Giovanni,21 then only a baby. As soon as this mur- der occurred, the people rose up and killed all the Canneschi. This came about because of the goodwill that the house of the Bentivoglio enjoyed in those days; this goodwill was so great that with Annibale dead, and there being no one of that family left in the city who could rule Bologna, the Bolognese people, having heard that in Florence there was one of the Bentivoglio blood who was believed until that time to be the son of a blacksmith, went to Florence to find him, and they gave him the control of that city; it was ruled by him until Messer Giovanni became of age to rule.

28I conclude, therefore, that a prince must be little concerned with conspiracies when the people are well disposed toward him; but when the populace is hostile and regards him with hatred, he must fear everyt hing and everyone. And well- organized states and wise princes have, with great diligence, taken care not to anger the nobles and to satisfy the common people and keep them contented; for this is one of the most important concerns that a prince has.

20 Canneschi Prominent family in Bologna. 21 Giovanni Bentivoglio (1443–1508) Former tyrant of Bologna. In sequence

he was a conspirator against, then a conspirator with, Cesare Borgia.

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1. The usual criticism of Machiavelli is that he advises his prince to be unscrupulous. Find examples for and against this claim.

2. Why do you agree or disagree with Machiavelli when he asserts that the great majority of people are not good? Does our government assume that to be true too?

3. Politicians — especially heads of state — are the contemporary counter- parts of the prince. To what extent should successful heads of modern states show skill in war? Is modern war similar to wars in Machiavelli’s era? If so, in what ways?

4. Clarify the advice Machiavelli gives concerning liberality and stingi- ness. Is this still good advice?

5. Are modern politicians likely to succeed by following all or most of Machiavelli’s recommendations? Why or why not?


1. In speaking of the prince’s military duties, Machiavelli says that “being disarmed makes you despised.” Choose an example or instance to strengthen your argument for or against this position. Is it possible that in modern society being defenseless is an advantage?

2. Find evidence within this excerpt to demonstrate that Machiavelli’s attitude toward human nature is accurate. Remember that the usual criticism of Machiavelli is that he is cynical — that he thinks the worst of people rather than the best. Find quotations from the excerpt that support either or both of these views; then use them as the basis for an essay analyzing Machiavelli’s views on human nature.

3. By referring to current events and leaders — either local, national, or international — decide whether Machiavelli’s advice to the prince is useful to the modern politician. Consider whether the advice is com- pletely useless or completely reliable or whether its value depends on specific conditions. First state the advice, then show how it applies (or does not apply) to specific politicians, and finally critique its general effectiveness.

4. Probably the chief ethical issue raised by The Prince is the question of whether the desired ends justify the means used to achieve them. Write an essay in which you take a stand on this question. Begin by defining the issue: What does the concept “the ends justify the means” actually mean? What difficulties may arise when unworthy means are used to achieve worthy ends? Analyze Machiavelli’s references to cir- cumstances in which questionable means were (or should have been) used to achieve worthy ends. Use historical or personal examples to give your argument substance.

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MACHIAVELLI: The Qualities of the Prince 235

5. CONNECTIONS One of Machiavelli’s most controversial statements is: “A man who wishes to make a vocation of being good at all times will come to ruin among so many who are not good.” How would Lao-tzu respond to this statement? How does the American po liti cal environ- ment in the current de cade support this statement? Under what condi- tions would such a statement become irrelevant?

6. CONNECTIONS When Machiavelli wrote The Prince, Cicero was studied in virtually every school in renaissance Italy. It is likely that Machiavelli would have not only read Cicero but would have valued his ideas highly. Write an essay that demonstrates conclusively that Machiavelli learned important lessons from the argument that Cic- ero presents in his “mouthpiece” Philus in “The Defense of Injustice” ( What assumptions does Philus make about government that agree with Machiavelli’s views about government?

7. CONNECTIONS For some commentators, the prince that Machia- velli describes resembles the kind of ruler Hannah Arendt deplores in her essay “Total Domination.” Examine Machiavelli’s views in terms of how his principles would result in a form of government similar to that which Arendt describes. Is terror a legitimate weapon for Machiavelli’s prince? How would Machiavelli rationalize the prince’s use of terror, should it become necessary?

8. SEEING CONNECTIONS How would Machiavelli respond to Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People (p. 200)? This painting represents a ragtag group of citizens armed and attempting to overthrow a “prince,” King Charles X of France. The citizens did indeed cause Charles to abdicate in favor of Louis-Philippe, called “the Citizen King” because he was not part of the royal family of the Bourbons who had produced the modern kings of France. How does the event represented in the painting figure in Machiavelli’s advice on how a prince should maintain power? Would Machiavelli have welcomed the idea of Liberty being the central figure in a painting like Delacroix’s?

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JEAN-JACQUES ROUSSEAU The Origin of Civil Society

JEAN-JACQUES ROUSSEAU (1712–1778) was the son of Suzanne Bernard and Isaac Rousseau, a watchmaker in Geneva, Switzerland. Shortly after his birth, Rousseau’s mother died, and a rash duel forced his father from Geneva. Rousseau was then apprenticed at age thirteen to an engraver, a master who treated him badly. He soon ran away from his master and found a home with a Catholic noblewoman who at first raised him as her son and then, when he was twenty, took him as her lover. In the pro- cess Rousseau converted from Calvinist Protestantism to Roman Catholicism. Eventually, he left Switzerland for Paris, where he won an important essay contest and became celebrated in society.

Over the course of his lifetime, Rousseau produced a wide variety of literary and musical works, including a novel, Emile (1762), an opera, The Village Soothsayer (1752), and an autobiography, The Confessions (published posthumously in 1789). The Social Contract (1762) was part of a never- completed longer work on po liti cal systems. In many ways Rousseau wrote in reaction to po liti cal thinkers such as Hugo Grotius and Thomas Hobbes, to whom he responds in the following selection. He contended that the Dutch philosopher and legal expert Grotius unquestioningly accepted the power of the aristocracy. He felt Grotius paid too much attention to what was rather than what ought to be. On the other hand, Hobbes, the English po liti cal philosopher, asserted that people had a choice of being free or being ruled. In other words, those who were members of civil society chose to give up their freedom and submit to the monarch’s rule. Either they relinquished their freedom, or they removed themselves from civil society to live a brutish existence.

Rousseau argued against Grotius by examining the way things ought to be. He argued against Hobbes by asserting that both the body

From Social Contract: Essays by Locke, Hume, and Rousseau. Translated by Gerald Hopkins.

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politic and the monarch were sovereign and that when people created a civil society they surrendered their freedom to themselves as a group. If one person acted as sovereign or lawgiver, then that lawgiver had the responsibility of acting in accord with the will of the people. In a sense, this view parallels some of the views of Lao- tzu in the Tao- te Ching.

Popularly referred to as a defender of republicanism, Rousseau looked to the Republic of Geneva, his birthplace, as a model of govern- ment. He also idealized the generally demo cratic government of smaller Swiss cantons, such as Neuchatel, which used a form of town meeting where people gathered face-to-face to settle important issues. Ironi- cally, Geneva put out a warrant for his arrest upon the publication of The Social Contract because although it praised Geneva’s republicanism, it also condemned societies that depended on rule by a limited aristoc- racy. Unfortunately for Rousseau, at that time Geneva was governed by a small number of aristocratic families. Rousseau was deprived of his citizenship and could not return to his native home.

Similarly, Rousseau’s controversial views were not easily received by those in power in France. After the publication of Emile offended the French parliament, Rousseau was forced to abandon his comfortable rustic circumstances — living on country estates pro- vided by patrons from the court — and spend the rest of his life in financial uncertainty. Ironically, in 1789, a decade after his death, Rousseau’s philosophy was adopted by supporters of the French Revolution in their bloody revolt against the aristocracy.

Rousseau’s Rhetoric

Rousseau’s method is in many ways antagonistic: he estab- lishes the views of other thinkers, counters them, and then offers his own ideas. An early example appears in the opening of para- graph 8: “Grotius denies that po liti cal power is ever exercised in the interests of the governed, and quotes the institution of slavery in support of his contention. His invariable method of arguing is to derive Right from Fact.” Among other things, Rousseau expects his readers to know who Grotius was and what he said. He also expects his readers to agree that Grotius derives “Right from Fact” by understanding that the fact of monarchy justifies it as being right. As Rousseau tells us, that kind of circular reasoning is espe- cially kind to tyrants because it justifies them by their existence.

Rousseau uses analysis and examination of detail as his main rhetorical approaches. Whether he examines the ideas of others or presents ideas of his own, he is careful to examine the bases of the argument and to follow the arguments to their conclusions.

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ROUSSEAU: The Origin of Civil Society 239

He does this very thoroughly in his section “Of Slavery,” in which he demonstrates that slavery is unacceptable no matter which of the current arguments are used to support it, including the widely held view that it was justifiable to enslave captured soldiers on the grounds that they owed their lives to their captors.

Rousseau also makes careful use of aphorism and analogy. His opening statement, “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains,” is an aphorism that has been often quoted. It is a power- ful and perplexing statement. How do people who are born free lose their freedom? Is it taken from them, or do they willingly surrender it? Rousseau spends considerable time examining this point.

The use of analogy is probably most striking in his comparison of government with the family. The force of the analogy reminds us that the members of a family are to be looked after by the family. As he tells us beginning in paragraph 5, the family is the only natural form of soci- ety. But instead of stopping there, he goes on to say that children are bound to the father only as long as they need him. Once they are able to be in de pen dent, they dissolve the natural bond and “return to a condi- tion of equal in de pen dence.” This analogy differs from the existing pop- u lar view that the monarch was like the father in a family and the people like his children; in fact, the analogy works against the legitimacy of the traditional monarchy as it was known in eighteenth- century France.

Rousseau also refers to other writers, using a rhetorical device known as testimony: he paraphrases the views of other authorities and moves on to promote his own. But in referring to other writers, Rous- seau is unusually clever. For example, in paragraph 10 he begins with the analogy of the shepherd as the ruler in this fashion: “Just as the shepherd is superior in kind to his sheep, so, too, the shepherds of men, or, in other words, their rulers, are superior in kind to their peoples. This, according to Philo, was the argument advanced by Caligula, the Emperor, who drew from the analogy the perfectly true conclusion that either Kings are Gods or their subjects brute beasts.” Caligula was a madman and an emperor guilty of enormous cruelty; from his point of view it may have seemed true that kings were gods. But Rousseau, in citing this questionable authority, disputes the validity of the analogy.

He argues as well against the view that might makes right in “Of the Right of the Strongest.” The value of the social contract, he explains, is to produce a society that is not governed by the mightiest and most ruthless and that permits those who are not mighty to live peacefully and unmolested. Thus, those who participate in the social contract give up certain freedoms but gain many more — among them the freedom not to be dominated by physical brutality.

Rousseau concentrates on the question of man in nature, or natural society. His view is that natural society is dominated by the

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strongest individuals but that at some point natural society breaks down. Thus, in order to guarantee the rights of those who are not the strongest, the po liti cal order must change. “Some form of asso- ciation” is developed “for the protection of the person and prop- erty of each constituent member.” By surrendering some freedom to the group as a whole — to “the general will” — the individuals in the group can expect to prosper more widely and to live more hap- pily. According to Rousseau, the establishment of a social contract ensures the stability of this form of civil society.


The following prereading questions may help you anticipate key issues in the discussion of Jean- Jacques Rousseau’s “The Origin of Civil Society.” Keeping them in mind as you read should help focus your attention.

• When Rousseau says, “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains,” does he seem to be referring literally to slaves in chains or more fi guratively to people in general?

• How convincing is Rousseau when he claims that the oldest form of government is the family?

• The “Social Contract” is one of Rousseau’s chief ideas. What does it seem to mean?

The Origin of Civil Society Note

1It is my wish to inquire whether it be possible, within the civil order, to discover a legitimate and stable basis of Government. This I shall do by con- sidering human beings as they are and laws as they might be. I shall attempt, throughout my investigations, to maintain a constant connection between what right permits and interest demands, in order that no separation may be made between justice and utility. I intend to begin without first proving the impor- tance of my subject. Am I, it will be asked, either prince or legislator that I take it upon me to write of politics? My answer is — No; and it is for that very reason that I have chosen politics as the matter of my book. Were I either the one or the other I should not waste my time in laying down what has to be done. I should do it, or else hold my peace.

2I was born into a free state and am a member of its sovereign body. My influence on public affairs may be small, but because I have a right to

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exercise my vote, it is my duty to learn their nature, and it has been for me a matter of constant delight, while meditating on problems of Government in general, to find ever fresh reasons for regarding with true affection the way in which these things are ordered in my native land.

The Subject of the First Book

3Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. Many a man believes himself to be the master of others who is, no less than they, a slave. How did this change take place? I do not know. What can make it legitimate? To this question I hope to be able to furnish an answer.

4 Were I considering only force and the effects of force, I should say: “So long as a People is constrained to obey, and does, in fact, obey, it does well. So soon as it can shake off its yoke, and succeeds in doing so, it does better. The fact that it has recovered its liberty by virtue of that same right by which it was stolen, means either that it is entitled to resume it, or that its theft by others was, in the first place, without justification.” But the social order is a sacred right which serves as a foundation for all other rights. This right, however, since it comes not by nature, must have been built upon conventions. To discover what these conventions are is the matter of our inquiry. But, before proceeding further, I must establish the truth of what I have so far advanced.

Of Primitive Societies

5The oldest form of society — and the only natural one — is the family. Children remain bound to their father for only just so long as they feel the need of him for their self- preservation. Once that need ceases the natural bond is dissolved. From then on, the children, freed from the obedience which they formerly owed, and the father, cleared of his debt of responsibility to them, return to a condition of equal in de pen dence. If the bond remain operative it is no longer something imposed by nature, but has become a matter of deliberate choice. The family is a family still, but by reason of convention only.

6This shared liberty is a consequence of man’s nature. Its first law is that of self- preservation: its first concern is for what it owes itself. As soon as a man attains the age of reason he becomes his own mas- ter, because he alone can judge of what will best assure his continued existence.

7We may, therefore, if we will, regard the family as the basic model of all po liti cal associations. The ruler is the father writ large: the

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people are, by analogy, his children, and all, ruler and people alike, alienate their freedom only so far as it is to their advantage to do so. The only difference is that, whereas in the family the father’s love for his children is sufficient reward to him for the care he has lavished on them, in the State, the plea sure of commanding others takes its place, since the ruler is not in a relation of love to his people.

8Grotius1 denies that po liti cal power is ever exercised in the inter- ests of the governed, and quotes the institution of slavery in support of his contention. His invariable method of arguing is to derive Right from Fact. It might be possible to adopt a more logical system of rea- soning, but none which would be more favorable to tyrants.

9According to Grotius, therefore, it is doubtful whether the term “human race” belongs to only a few hundred men, or whether those few hundred men belong to the human race. From the evidence of his book it seems clear that he holds by the first of these alternatives, and on this point Hobbes2 is in agreement with him. If this is so, then humanity is divided into herds of livestock, each with its “guardian” who watches over his charges only that he may ultimately devour them.

10Just as the shepherd is superior in kind to his sheep, so, too, the shepherds of men, or, in other words, their rulers, are superior in kind to their peoples. This, according to Philo,3 was the argument advanced by Caligula,4 the Emperor, who drew from the analogy the perfectly true conclusion that either Kings are Gods or their subjects brute beasts.

11The reasoning of Caligula, of Hobbes, and of Grotius is funda- mentally the same. Far earlier, Aristotle,5 too, had maintained that men are not by nature equal, but that some are born to be slaves, oth- ers to be masters.

12Aristotle was right: but he mistook the effect for the cause. Noth- ing is more certain than that a man born into a condition of slavery is a

1 Hugo Grotius (1583–1645) A Dutch lawyer who spent some time in exile in Paris. His fame as a child prodigy was considerable; his book on the laws of war (De jure belli ac Pacis) was widely known in Eu ro pe.

2 Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) An Englishman known as a materialist philos- opher who did not credit divine influence in politics. He became famous for Leviathan, a study of politics that treated the state as if it were a monster (leviathan) with a life of its own.

3 Philo (13? B.C.E.–47? C.E.) A Jew who absorbed Greek culture and who wrote widely on many subjects. His studies on Mosaic law were considered important.

4 Caligula (12–41 C.E.) Roman emperor of uncertain sanity. He loved his sis- ter Drusilla so much that he had her deified when she died. A military commander, he was assassinated by an officer.

5 Aristotle (384–322 B.C.E. See p. 6.) A student of Plato; his philosophical method became the dominant intellectual force in Western thought.

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slave by nature. A slave in fetters loses everything — even the desire to be freed from them. He grows to love his slavery, as the companions of Ulysses grew to love their state of brutish transformation.6

13If some men are by nature slaves, the reason is that they have been made slaves against nature. Force made the first slaves: coward- ice has perpetuated the species.

14I have made no mention of King Adam or of the Emperor Noah, the father of three great Monarchs7 who divided up the universe between them, as did the children of Saturn,8 whom some have been tempted to identify with them. I trust that I may be given credit for my moderation, since, being descended in a direct line from one of these Princes, and quite possibly belonging to the elder branch, I may, for all I know, were my claims supported in law, be even now the legitimate Sovereign of the Human Race.9 However that may be, all will concur in the view that Adam was King of the World, as was Robinson Crusoe of his island, only so long as he was its only inhabitant, and the great advantage of empire held on such terms was that the Monarch, firmly seated on his throne, had no need to fear rebellions, conspiracy, or war.

Of the Right of the Strongest

15However strong a man, he is never strong enough to remain mas- ter always, unless he transform his Might into Right, and Obedience into Duty. Hence we have come to speak of the Right of the Strong- est, a right which, seemingly assumed in irony, has, in fact, become established in principle. But the meaning of the phrase has never been adequately explained. Strength is a physical attribute, and I fail to see how any moral sanction can attach to its effects. To yield to the strong is an act of necessity, not of will. At most it is the result of a dictate of prudence. How, then, can it become a duty?

16Let us assume for a moment that some such Right does really exist. The only deduction from this premise is inexplicable gibberish. For to

6 state of brutish transformation This sentence refers to the Circe episode in Homer’s Odyssey (10, 12). Circe was a sorceress who, by means of drugs, enchanted men and turned them into swine. Ulysses (Latin name of Odysseus), king of Ithaca, is the central figure of the Odyssey.

7 the father of three great Monarchs Adam in the Bible (Gen. 4:1–25) fathered Cain, Abel, Enoch, and Seth. Noah’s sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, repop- ulated the world after the Flood (Gen. 6:9–9:19).

8 children of Saturn Saturn is a mythic god associated with the golden age of Rome and with the Greek god Cronus. It is probably the children of Cronus — Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, Demeter, and Hera — referred to here.

9 Sovereign of the Human Race Rousseau is being ironic; like the rest of us, he is descended from Adam (according to the Bible).

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admit that Might makes Right is to reverse the pro cess of effect and cause. The mighty man who defeats his rival becomes heir to his Right. So soon as we can disobey with impunity, disobedience becomes legitimate. And, since the Mightiest is always right, it merely remains for us to become possessed of Might. But what validity can there be in a Right which ceases to exist when Might changes hands? If a man be constrained by Might to obey, what need has he to obey by Duty? And if he is not constrained to obey, there is no further obli- gation on him to do so. It follows, therefore, that the word Right adds nothing to the idea of Might. It becomes, in this connection, com- pletely meaningless.

17Obey the Powers that be. If that means Yield to Force, the pre- cept is admirable but redundant. My reply to those who advance it is that no case will ever be found of its violation. All power comes from God. Certainly, but so do all ailments. Are we to conclude from such an argument that we are never to call in the doctor? If I am waylaid by a footpad at the corner of a wood, I am constrained by force to give him my purse. But if I can manage to keep it from him, is it my duty to hand it over? His pistol is also a symbol of Power. It must, then, be admitted that Might does not create Right, and that no man is under an obligation to obey any but the legiti- mate powers of the State. And so I continually come back to the question I first asked.

Of Slavery

18Since no man has natural authority over his fellows, and since Might can produce no Right, the only foundation left for legitimate authority in human societies is Agreement.

19If a private citizen, says Grotius, can alienate his liberty and make himself another man’s slave, why should not a whole people do the same, and subject themselves to the will of a King? The argu- ment contains a number of ambiguous words which stand in need of explanation. But let us confine our attention to one only — alienate. To alienate means to give or to sell. Now a man who becomes the slave of another does not give himself. He sells himself in return for bare subsistence, if for nothing more. But why should a whole people sell themselves? So far from furnishing subsist- ence to his subjects, a King draws his own from them, and from them alone. According to Rabelais,10 it takes a lot to keep a King.

10 François Rabelais (c. 1494–1553) French writer, author of Gargantua and Pantagruel, satires on politics and religion.

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Do we, then, maintain that a subject surrenders his person on condition that his property be taken too? It is difficult to see what he will have left.

20It will be said that the despot guarantees civil peace to his sub- jects. So be it. But how are they the gainers if the wars to which his ambition may expose them, his insatiable greed, and the vexatious demands of his Ministers cause them more loss than would any out- break of internal dissension? How do they benefit if that very condi- tion of civil peace be one of the causes of their wretchedness? One can live peacefully enough in a dungeon, but such peace will hardly, of itself, ensure one’s happiness. The Greeks imprisoned in the cave of Cyclops11 lived peacefully while awaiting their turn to be devoured.

21To say that a man gives himself for nothing is to commit oneself to an absurd and inconceivable statement. Such an act of surrender is ille- gitimate, null, and void by the mere fact that he who makes it is not in his right mind. To say the same thing of a whole People is tantamount to admitting that the People in question are a nation of imbeciles. Imbe- cility does not produce Right.

22Even if a man can alienate himself, he cannot alienate his children. They are born free, their liberty belongs to them, and no one but them- selves has a right to dispose of it. Before they have attained the age of reason their father may make, on their behalf, certain rules with a view to ensuring their preservation and well- being. But any such limitation of their freedom of choice must be regarded as neither irrevocable nor unconditional, for to alienate another’s liberty is contrary to the natural order, and is an abuse of the father’s rights. It follows that an arbitrary government can be legitimate only on condition that each successive generation of subjects is free either to accept or to reject it, and if this is so, then the government will no longer be arbitrary.

23When a man renounces his liberty he renounces his essential manhood, his rights, and even his duty as a human being. There is no compensation possible for such complete renunciation. It is incompatible with man’s nature, and to deprive him of his free will is to deprive his actions of all moral sanction. The conven- tion, in short, which sets up on one side an absolute authority, and on the other an obligation to obey without question, is vain and meaningless. Is it not obvious that where we can demand ev erything we owe nothing? Where there is no mutual obligation, no interchange of duties, it must, surely, be clear that the actions of the commanded cease to have any moral value? For how can it

11 cave of Cyclops The cyclops is a one- eyed giant cannibal whose cave is the scene of one of Odysseus’s triumphs in Homer’s Odyssey (9).

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be maintained that my slave has any “right” against me when ev erything that he has is my property? His right being my right, it is absurd to speak of it as ever operating to my disadvantage.

24Grotius, and those who think like him, have found in the fact of war another justification for the so- called “right” of slavery. They argue that since the victor has a right to kill his defeated enemy, the latter may, if he so wish, ransom his life at the expense of his liberty, and that this compact is the more legitimate in that it benefits both parties.

25But it is evident that this alleged right of a man to kill his ene- mies is not in any way a derivative of the state of war, if only because men, in their primitive condition of in de pen dence, are not bound to one another by any relationship sufficiently stable to produce a state either of war or of peace. They are not naturally enemies. It is the link between things rather than between men that constitutes war, and since a state of war cannot originate in simple personal relations, but only in relations between things, private hostility between man and man cannot obtain either in a state of nature where there is no gener- ally accepted system of private property, or in a state of society where law is the supreme authority.

26Single combats, duels, personal encounters are incidents which do not constitute a “state” of anything. As to those private wars which were authorized by the Ordinances of King Louis IX12 and suspended by the Peace of God, they were merely an abuse of Feudalism — that most absurd of all systems of government, so contrary was it to the principles of Natural Right and of all good polity.

27War, therefore, is something that occurs not between man and man, but between States. The individuals who become involved in it are enemies only by accident. They fight not as men or even as citi- zens, but as soldiers: not as members of this or that national group, but as its defenders. A State can have as its enemies only other States, not men at all, seeing that there can be no true relationship between things of a different nature.

28This principle is in harmony with that of all periods, and with the constant practice of every civilized society. A declaration of war is a warning, not so much to Governments as to their subjects. The foreigner — whether king, private person, or nation as a whole — who steals, murders, or holds in durance the subjects of another coun- try without first declaring war on that country’s Prince, acts not as an enemy but as a brigand. Even when war has been joined, the just

12 King Louis IX (1214–1270) King of France, also called St. Louis. He was considered an ideal monarch.

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Prince, though he may seize all public property in enemy territory, yet respects the property and possessions of individuals, and, in so doing, shows his concern for those rights on which his own laws are based. The object of war being the destruction of the enemy State, a com- mander has a perfect right to kill its defenders so long as their arms are in their hands: but once they have laid them down and have submitted, they cease to be enemies, or instruments employed by an enemy, and revert to the condition of men, pure and simple, over whose lives no one can any longer exercise a rightful claim. Sometimes it is possible to destroy a State without killing any of its subjects, and nothing in war can be claimed as a right save what may be necessary for the accom- plishment of the victor’s end. These principles are not those of Grotius, nor are they based on the authority of poets, but derive from the Nature of Things, and are founded upon Reason.

29The Right of Conquest finds its sole sanction in the Law of the Strongest. If war does not give to the victor the right to massacre his defeated enemies, he cannot base upon a non ex is tent right any claim to the further one of enslaving them. We have the right to kill our enemies only when we cannot enslave them. It follows, therefore, that the right to enslave cannot be deduced from the right to kill, and that we are guilty of enforcing an iniquitous exchange if we make a van- quished foeman purchase with his liberty that life over which we have no right. Is it not obvious that once we begin basing the right of life and death on the right to enslave, and the right to enslave on the right of life and death, we are caught in a vicious circle? Even if we assume the existence of this terrible right to kill all and sundry, I still maintain that a man enslaved, or a People conquered, in war is under no obli- gation to obey beyond the point at which force ceases to be operative. If the victor spares the life of his defeated opponent in return for an equivalent, he cannot be said to have shown him mercy. In either case he destroys him, but in the latter case he derives value from his act, while in the former he gains nothing. His authority, however, rests on no basis but that of force. There is still a state of war between the two men, and it conditions the whole relationship in which they stand to one another. The enjoyment of the Rights of War presupposes that there has been no treaty of Peace. Conqueror and conquered have, to be sure, entered into a compact, but such a compact, far from liqui- dating the state of war, assumes its continuance.

30Thus, in what ever way we look at the matter, the “Right” to enslave has no existence, not only because it is without legal valid- ity, but because the very term is absurd and meaningless. The words Slavery and Right are contradictory and mutually exclusive. Whether we be considering the relation of one man to another man, or of an individual to a whole People, it is equally idiotic to say — “You and

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I have made a compact which represents nothing but loss to you and gain to me. I shall observe it so long as it pleases me to do so — and so shall you, until I cease to find it con ve nient.”

That We Must Always Go Back to an Original Compact

31Even were I to grant all that I have so far refuted, the champions of despotism would not be one whit the better off. There will always be a vast difference between subduing a mob and governing a social group. No matter how many isolated individuals may submit to the enforced control of a single conqueror, the resulting relationship will ever be that of Master and Slave, never of People and Ruler. The body of men so controlled may be an agglomeration; it is not an association. It implies neither public welfare nor a body politic. An individual may conquer half the world, but he is still only an individual. His interests, wholly different from those of his subjects, are private to himself. When he dies his empire is left scattered and disintegrated. He is like an oak which crumbles and collapses in ashes so soon as the fire consumes it.

32“A People,” says Grotius, “may give themselves to a king.” His argument implies that the said People were already a People before this act of surrender. The very act of gift was that of a po liti cal group and presupposed deliberation. Before, therefore, we consider the act by which a People chooses their king, it were well if we considered the act by which a People is constituted as such. For it necessarily precedes the other, and is the true foundation on which all Societies rest.

33Had there been no original compact, why, unless the choice were unanimous, should the minority ever have agreed to accept the deci- sion of the majority? What right have the hundred who desire a mas- ter to vote for the ten who do not? The institution of the franchise is, in itself, a form of compact, and assumes that, at least once in its operation, complete unanimity existed.

Of the Social Pact

34I assume, for the sake of argument, that a point was reached in the history of mankind when the obstacles to continuing in a state of Nature were stronger than the forces which each individual could employ to the end of continuing in it. The original state of Nature, therefore, could no longer endure, and the human race would have perished had it not changed its manner of existence.

35Now, since men can by no means engender new powers, but can only unite and control those of which they are already possessed,

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there is no way in which they can maintain themselves save by coming together and pooling their strength in a way that will enable them to withstand any re sis tance exerted upon them from without. They must develop some sort of central direction and learn to act in concert.

36Such a concentration of powers can be brought about only as the consequence of an agreement reached between individuals. But the self- preservation of each single man derives primarily from his own strength and from his own freedom. How, then, can he limit these with- out, at the same time, doing himself an injury and neglecting that care which it is his duty to devote to his own concerns? This difficulty, inso- far as it is relevant to my subject, can be expressed as follows:

37“Some form of association must be found as a result of which the whole strength of the community will be enlisted for the protection of the person and property of each constituent member, in such a way that each, when united to his fellows, renders obedience to his own will, and remains as free as he was before.” That is the basic problem of which the Social Contract provides the solution.

38The clauses of this Contract are determined by the Act of Asso- ciation in such a way that the least modification must render them null and void. Even though they may never have been formally enun- ciated, they must be everywhere the same, and everywhere tacitly admitted and recognized. So completely must this be the case that, should the social compact be violated, each associated individual would at once resume all the rights which once were his, and regain his natural liberty, by the mere fact of losing the agreed liberty for which he renounced it.

39It must be clearly understood that the clauses in question can be reduced, in the last analysis, to one only, to wit, the complete aliena- tion by each associate member to the community of all his rights. For, in the first place, since each has made surrender of himself without reservation, the resultant conditions are the same for all: and, because they are the same for all, it is in the interest of none to make them onerous to his fellows.

40Furthermore, this alienation having been made unreservedly, the union of individuals is as perfect as it well can be, none of the associated members having any claim against the community. For should there be any rights left to individuals, and no common author- ity be empowered to pronounce as between them and the public, then each, being in some things his own judge, would soon claim to be so in all. Were that so, a state of Nature would still remain in being, the conditions of association becoming either despotic or in effec tive.

41In short, whoso gives himself to all gives himself to none. And, since there is no member of the social group over whom we do not

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acquire precisely the same rights as those over ourselves which we have surrendered to him, it follows that we gain the exact equiva- lent of what we lose, as well as an added power to conserve what we already have.

42If, then, we take from the social pact everything which is not essential to it, we shall find it to be reduced to the following terms: “each of us contributes to the group his person and the powers which he wields as a person under the supreme direction of the general will, and we receive into the body politic each individual as forming an indivisible part of the whole.”

43As soon as the act of association becomes a reality, it substitutes for the person of each of the contracting parties a moral and collective body made up of as many members as the constituting assembly has votes, which body receives from this very act of constitution its unity, its dispersed self, and its will. The public person thus formed by the union of individuals was known in the old days as a City, but now as the Republic or Body Politic. This, when it fulfills a passive role, is known by its members as The State, when an active one, as The Sov- ereign People, and, in contrast to other similar bodies, as a Power. In respect of the constituent associates, it enjoys the collective name of The People, the individuals who compose it being known as Citizens insofar as they share in the sovereign authority, as Subjects insofar as they owe obedience to the laws of the State. But these different terms frequently overlap, and are used indiscriminately one for the other. It is enough that we should realize the difference between them when they are employed in a precise sense.

Of the Sovereign

44It is clear from the above formula that the act of association implies a mutual undertaking between the body politic and its constituent members. Each individual comprising the former contracts, so to speak, with himself and has a twofold function. As a member of the sovereign people he owes a duty to each of his neighbors, and, as a Citizen, to the sovereign people as a whole. But we cannot here apply that maxim of Civil Law according to which no man can be held to an undertaking entered into with himself, because there is a great difference between a man’s duty to himself and to a whole of which he forms a part.

45Here it should be pointed out that a public decision which can enjoin obedience on all subjects to their Sovereign, by reason of the double aspect under which each is seen, cannot, on the contrary, bind the sovereign in his dealings with himself. Consequently, it is against the nature of the body politic that the sovereign should impose upon

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himself a law which he cannot infringe. For, since he can regard himself under one aspect only, he is in the position of an individual entering into a contract with himself. Whence it follows that there is not, nor can be, any fundamental law which is obligatory for the whole body of the People, not even the social contract itself. This does not mean that the body politic is unable to enter into engagements with some other Power, provided always that such engagements do not derogate from the nature of the Contract; for the relation of the body politic to a for- eign Power is that of a simple individual.

46But the body politic, or Sovereign, in that it derives its being sim- ply and solely from the sanctity of the said Contract, can never bind itself, even in its relations with a foreign Power, by any decision which might derogate from the validity of the original act. It may not, for instance, alienate any portion of itself, nor make submission to any other sovereign. To violate the act by reason of which it exists would be tantamount to destroying itself, and that which is nothing can pro- duce nothing.

47As soon as a mob has become united into a body politic, any attack upon one of its members is an attack upon itself. Still more important is the fact that, should any offense be committed against the body politic as a whole, the effect must be felt by each of its mem- bers. Both duty and interest, therefore, oblige the two contracting parties to render one another mutual assistance. The same individu- als should seek to unite under this double aspect all the advantages which flow from it.

48Now, the Sovereign People, having no existence, outside that of the individuals who compose it, has, and can have, no interest at variance with theirs. Consequently, the sovereign power need give no guarantee to its subjects, since it is impossible that the body should wish to injure all its members, nor, as we shall see later, can it injure any single individual. The Sovereign, by merely existing, is always what it should be.

49But the same does not hold true of the relation of subject to sov- ereign. In spite of common interest, there can be no guarantee that the subject will observe his duty to the sovereign unless means are found to ensure his loyalty.

50Each individual, indeed, may, as a man, exercise a will at vari- ance with, or different from, that general will to which, as citizen, he contributes. His personal interest may dictate a line of action quite other than that demanded by the interest of all. The fact that his own existence as an individual has an absolute value, and that he is, by nature, an in de pen dent being, may lead him to conclude that what he owes to the common cause is something that he renders of his own free will; and he may decide that by leaving the debt unpaid

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he does less harm to his fellows than he would to himself should he make the necessary surrender. Regarding the moral entity constituting the State as a rational abstraction because it is not a man, he might enjoy his rights as a citizen without, at the same time, fulfilling his duties as a subject, and the resultant injustice might grow until it brought ruin upon the whole body politic.

51In order, then, that the social compact may not be but a vain for- mula, it must contain, though unexpressed, the single undertaking which can alone give force to the whole, namely, that whoever shall refuse to obey the general will must be constrained by the whole body of his fellow citizens to do so: which is no more than to say that it may be necessary to compel a man to be free — freedom being that condition which, by giving each citizen to his country, guarantees him from all personal dependence and is the foundation upon which the whole po liti cal machine rests, and supplies the power which works it. Only the recognition by the individual of the rights of the commu- nity can give legal force to undertakings entered into between citizens, which, otherwise, would become absurd, tyrannical, and exposed to vast abuses.

Of the Civil State

52The passage from the state of nature to the civil state produces a truly remarkable change in the individual. It substitutes justice for instinct in his behavior, and gives to his actions a moral basis which formerly was lacking. Only when the voice of duty replaces physical impulse and when right replaces the cravings of appetite does the man who, till then, was concerned solely with himself, realize that he is under compulsion to obey quite different principles, and that he must now consult his reason and not merely respond to the promptings of desire. Although he may find himself deprived of many advantages which were his in a state of nature, he will recognize that he has gained others which are of far greater value. By dint of being exercised, his faculties will develop, his ideas take on a wider scope, his sentiments become enno- bled, and his whole soul be so elevated, that, but for the fact that misuse of the new conditions still, at times, degrades him to a point below that from which he has emerged, he would unceasingly bless the day which freed him forever from his ancient state, and turned him from a limited and stupid animal into an intelligent being and a Man.

53Let us reduce all this to terms which can be easily compared. What a man loses as a result of the Social Contract is his natural lib- erty and his unqualified right to lay hands on all that tempts him, provided only that he can compass its possession. What he gains is

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civil liberty and the own ership of what belongs to him. That we may labor under no illusion concerning these compensations, it is well that we distinguish between natural liberty which the individual enjoys so long as he is strong enough to maintain it, and civil liberty which is curtailed by the general will. Between possessions which derive from physical strength and the right of the first- comer, and own ership which can be based only on a positive title.

54To the benefits conferred by the status of citizenship might be added that of Moral Freedom, which alone makes a man his own master. For to be subject to appetite is to be a slave, while to obey the laws laid down by society is to be free. But I have already said enough on this point, and am not concerned here with the philosophical meaning of the word liberty.

Of Real Property

55Each individual member of the Community gives himself to it at the moment of its formation. What he gives is the whole man as he then is, with all his qualities of strength and power, and everything of which he stands possessed. Not that, as a result of this act of gift, such possessions, by changing hands and becoming the property of the Sovereign, change their nature. Just as the resources of strength upon which the City can draw are incomparably greater than those at the disposition of any single individual, so, too, is public possession when backed by a greater power. It is made more irrevocable, though not, so far, at least, as regards foreigners, more legitimate. For the State, by reason of the Social Contract which, within it, is the basis of all Rights, is the master of all its members’ goods, though, in its dealings with other Powers, it is so only by virtue of its rights as first occupier, which come to it from the individuals who make it up.

56The Right of “first occupancy,” though more real than the “Right of the strongest,” becomes a genuine right only after the right of property has been established. All men have a natural right to what is necessary to them. But the positive act which establishes a man’s claim to any par tic u lar item of property limits him to that and excludes him from all others. His share having been determined, he must confine himself to that, and no longer has any claim on the property of the community. That is why the right of “first occupancy,” however weak it be in a state of nature, is guaranteed to every man enjoying the status of citizen. Insofar as he benefits from this right, he withholds his claim, not so much from what is another’s, as from what is not specifically his.

57In order that the right of “first occupancy” may be legalized, the following conditions must be present. (1) There must be no one

ROUSSEAU: The Origin of Civil Society 253

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already living on the land in question. (2) A man must occupy only so much of it as is necessary for his subsistence. (3) He must take pos- session of it, not by empty ceremony, but by virtue of his intention to work and to cultivate it, for that, in the absence of legal title, alone constitutes a claim which will be respected by others.

58In effect, by according the right of “first occupancy” to a man’s needs and to his will to work, are we not stretching it as far as it will go? Should not some limits be set to this right? Has a man only to set foot on land belonging to the community to justify his claim to be its master? Just because he is strong enough, at one par tic u lar moment, to keep others off, can he demand that they shall never return? How can a man or a People take possession of vast territories, thereby excluding the rest of the world from their enjoyment, save by an act of criminal usurpation, since, as the result of such an act, the rest of humanity is deprived of the amenities of dwelling and subsist- ence which nature has provided for their common enjoyment? When Nuñez Balboa,13 landing upon a strip of coast, claimed the Southern Sea and the whole of South America as the property of the crown of Castille, was he thereby justified in dispossessing its former inhabit- ants, and in excluding from it all the other princes of the earth? Grant that, and there will be no end to such vain ceremonies. It would be open to His Catholic Majesty14 to claim from his Council Chamber possession of the whole Universe, only excepting those portions of it already in the own ership of other princes.

59One can understand how the lands of individuals, separate but contiguous, become public territory, and how the right of sov- ereignty, extending from men to the land they occupy, becomes at one real and personal — a fact which makes their own ers more than ever dependent, and turns their very strength into a guarantee of their fidelity. This is an advantage which does not seem to have been con- sidered by the monarchs of the ancient world, who, claiming to be no more than kings of the Persians, the Scythians, the Macedonians, seem to have regarded themselves rather as the rulers of men than as the masters of countries. Those of our day are cleverer, for they style themselves kings of France, of Spain, of En gland, and so forth. Thus, by controlling the land, they can be very sure of controlling its inhabitants.

60The strange thing about this act of alienation is that, far from depriving its members of their property by accepting its surrender,

13 Nuñez Balboa (1475–1519) Spanish explorer who discovered the Pacific Ocean.

14 His Catholic Majesty A reference to the king of Spain, probably Ferdinand II of Aragon (1452–1516).

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the Community actually establishes their claim to its legitimate own- ership, and changes what was formerly mere usurpation into a right, by virtue of which they may enjoy possession. As own ers they are Trustees for the Commonwealth. Their rights are respected by their fellow citizens and are maintained by the united strength of the com- munity against any outside attack. From ceding their property to the State — and thus, to themselves — they derive nothing but advantage, since they have, so to speak, acquired all that they have surrendered. This paradox is easily explained once we realize the distinction between the rights exercised by the Sovereign and by the Own er over the same piece of property, as will be seen later.

61It may so happen that a number of men begin to group them- selves into a community before ever they own property at all, and that only later, when they have got possession of land sufficient to maintain them all, do they either enjoy it in common or parcel it between themselves in equal lots or in accordance with such scale of proportion as may be established by the sovereign. However this acquisition be made, the right exercised by each individual over his own par tic u lar share must always be subordinated to the overrid- ing claim of the Community as such. Otherwise there would be no strength in the social bond, nor any real power in the exercise of sovereignty.

62I will conclude this chapter, and the present Book, with a remark which should serve as basis for every social system: that, so far from destroying natural equality, the primitive compact substitutes for it a moral and legal equality which compensates for all those physical inequalities from which men suffer. However unequal they may be in bodily strength or in intellectual gifts, they become equal in the eyes of the law, and as a result of the compact into which they have entered.


1. Examine Rousseau’s analogy of the family as the oldest and only natu- ral form of government. Do you agree that the analogy is useful and that its contentions are true? Which aspects of this natural form of gov- ernment do not work to help us understand the basis of government?

2. Rousseau seems to accept the family as a patriarchal structure. How would his views change if he accepted it as a matriarchal structure? How would they change if he regarded each member of the family as absolutely equal in authority from birth?

3. What does it mean to reason from what is fact instead of from what is morally right?

ROUSSEAU: The Origin of Civil Society 255

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4. What features of Rousseau’s social contract are like those of a legal contract? How does a person contract to be part of society?

5. What distinctions can be made among natural, moral, and legal equal- ity? Which kind of equality is most important to a social system?


1. When Rousseau wrote, “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains,” the institution of slavery was widely practiced and justified by many authorities. Today slavery has been generally abolished. How is this statement relevant to people’s condition in society now? What are some ways in which people relinquish their in de pen dence or freedom?

2. Clarify the difference between your duty to yourself and your duty to society (your social structure — personal, local, national). Establish your duties in relation to each structure. How can these duties conflict with one another? How does the individual resolve the conflicts?

3. Do you agree with Rousseau when he says, “All men have a natural right to what is necessary to them”? What is necessary to all people, and in what sense do they have a right to what is necessary? Who should provide those necessities? Should necessities be provided for everyone or only for people who are unable to provide for themselves? If society will not provide these necessities, does the individual have the right to break the social contract by means of revolution?

4. What seems to be Rousseau’s opinion regarding private property or the own ership of property? Beginning with paragraph 59, Rousseau distin- guishes between monarchs with sovereignty over people and those with sovereignty over a region, such as France, Italy, or another country. What is Rousseau’s view of the property that constitutes a state and who actually owns it? He mentions that the rights of individual own ers must give way to the rights of the community in general. What is your response to this view?

5. Rousseau makes an important distinction between natural liberty and civil liberty. People in a state of nature enjoy natural liberty, and when they bind themselves together into a body politic, they enjoy civil lib- erty. What are the differences? Define each kind of liberty as carefully as you can, and take a stand on whether you feel civil liberty or natural liberty is superior. How is the conflict between the two forms of liberty felt today?

6. CONNECTIONS Rousseau suggests that the family structure is the model for a civil society’s government. If that is true, how valid is Philus’s argument for injustice in Cicero’s “The Defense of Injustice” ( Does a family structure provide a good enough model for modern government? Is injustice

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commonly experienced in a family structure? Is injustice in the family a useful parallel to help us understand injustice in government? Why might Rousseau take issue with Philus’s argument? Why should he take issue?

7. CONNECTIONS Rousseau’s thinking emphasizes the role played by the common people in any civil society. How does that emphasis compare with Machiavelli’s thinking? Consider the attitudes each writer has toward the essential goodness of people and the essential responsi- bilities of the monarch or government leader. In what ways is Rousseau closer in thinking to Lao- tzu than to Machiavelli?

8. SEEING CONNECTIONS Rousseau could not have seen Delacroix’s painting Liberty Leading the People (p. 200), but he would definitely have had a strong opinion about it if he had. Would he have thought the Liberty leading these people was natural liberty or civil liberty? What details in the painting convince you one way or the other? Would Rousseau have approved of the action going on in the painting or would he have condemned it? What are your reasons for believing this? Shape your essay as an argument defending a clear position.

ROUSSEAU: The Origin of Civil Society 257

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THOMAS JEFFERSON The Declaration of In de pen dence

THOMAS JEFFERSON (1743–1826) authored one of the most memorable statements in American history: the Declaration of Indepen dence. He composed the work in 1776 under the watchful eyes of Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and the rest of the Conti- nental Congress, who spent two and a half days going over every word. Although the substance of the document was developed in committee, Jefferson, because of the grace of his writing style, was selected to craft the actual wording.

Jefferson rose to eminence in a time of great po liti cal upheaval. By the time he took a seat in the Virginia legislature in 1769, the colony was already on the course toward revolution. His pamphlet “A Summary View of the Rights of British America” (1774) brought him to the attention of those who were agitating for in de pen dence and established him as an ardent republican and revolutionary. In 1779 he was elected governor of Virginia. After the Revolutionary War he moved into the national po liti cal arena as the first secretary of state (1790–1793). He then served as John Adams’s vice president (1797–1801) and was himself elected president in 1800. Perhaps one of his greatest achievements dur- ing his two terms (1801–1809) in office was his negotiation of the Louisiana Purchase, in which the United States acquired from France 828,000 square miles of land west of the Mississippi for about $15 million.

One of the fundamental paradoxes of Jefferson’s personal and po liti cal life has been his attitude toward slavery. Like most wealthy Virginians, Jefferson owned slaves. However, in 1784 he tried to abolish slavery in the western territories that were being added to the United States. His “Report on Government for the Western Territory” failed by one vote. Historians have pointed out that Jefferson probably had an affair with Sally Hemmings, a mixed- race slave, and fathered children with her.

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However unclear his personal convictions, many of Jefferson’s accomplishments, which extend from politics to agriculture and mechanical invention, still stand. One of the most versatile Ameri- cans of any generation, he wrote a book, Notes on Virginia (1782); designed and built Monticello, his famous homestead in Virginia; and in large part founded and designed the University of Virginia (1819).

Despite their revolutionary nature, the ideas Jefferson expre s- sed in the Declaration of In de pen dence were not entirely original. Rousseau’s republican philosophies greatly influenced the work. When Jefferson states in the second paragraph that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,” he reflects Rousseau’s emphasis on the po liti- cal equality of men and on protecting certain fundamental rights (see Rousseau, beginning with para. 39, p. 249). Jefferson also wrote that “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” This is one of Rous- seau’s primary points, although it was Jefferson who immortalized it in these words.

Jefferson’s Rhetoric

Jefferson’s techniques include the use of the periodic sentence, which was especially typical of the age. The first sentence of the Declaration of In de pen dence is periodic — that is, it is long and care- fully balanced, and the main point comes at the end. Such sentences are not pop u lar today, although an occasional periodic sentence can still be powerful in contemporary prose. Jefferson’s first sentence says (in paraphrase): When one nation must sever its relations with a parent nation . . . and stand as an in de pen dent nation itself . . . the causes ought to be explained. Moreover, the main body of the Dec- laration of In de pen dence lists the “causes” that lead to the final and most important element of the sentence. Causal analysis was a method associated with legal thought and reflects Jefferson’s train- ing in eighteenth- century legal analysis. One understood things best when one understood their causes.

The periodic sentence demands certain qualities of balance and parallelism that all good writers should heed. The first sentence in paragraph 2 demonstrates both qualities. The balance is achieved by making each part of the sentence roughly the same length. The parallelism is achieved by linking words in deliberate repetition for effect (they are in italicized type in the following analysis). Note how the “truths” mentioned in the first clause are enumerated in

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JEFFERSON: The Declaration of In de pen dence 261

the succession of noun clauses beginning with “that”; “Rights” are enumerated in the final clause:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

Parallelism is one of the greatest stylistic techniques available to a writer sensitive to rhetoric. It is a natural technique: many untrained writers and speakers develop it on their own. The perio- dicity of the sentences and the balance of their parallelism suggest thoughtfulness, wisdom, and control.

Parallelism creates a natural link to the useful device of enu- meration, or listing. Many writers using this technique establish their purpose from the outset — “I wish to address three impor- tant issues . . .” — and then number them: “First, I want to say . . . Sec ond . . . ,” and so on. Jefferson devotes paragraphs 3 through 29 to enumerating the “causes” he mentions in paragraph 1. Each one constitutes a separate paragraph; thus, each has separate weight and importance. Each begins with “He” or “For” and is therefore in par- allel structure. The technique of repetition of the same words at the beginning of successive lines is called anaphora. Jefferson’s use of anaphora here is one of the best known and most effective in all literature. The “He” referred to is Britain’s king George III (1738– 1820), who is never mentioned by name. Congress is opposed not to a personality but to the sovereign of a nation that is oppressing the United States and a tyrant who is not dignified by being named. The “For” introduces grievous acts the king has given his assent to; these are offenses against the colonies.

However, Jefferson does not develop the causes in detail. We do not have specific information about what trade was cut off by the British, what taxes were imposed without consent, or how King George waged war or abdicated government in the colonies. Presumably, Jefferson’s audience knew the details and was led by the twenty- seven paragraphs to observe how numerous the causes were. And all are serious; any one alone was enough cause for rev- olution. The effect of Jefferson’s enumeration is to illustrate the patience of the colonies up to this point and to tell the world that the colonies have finally lost patience on account of the reasons listed. The Declaration of In de pen dence projects the careful medi- tations and decisions of exceptionally calm, patient, and reason- able people.

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The following prereading questions may help you anticipate key issues in the discussion of Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of In de pen dence. Keep- ing them in mind during your first reading of the selection should help focus your attention.

• Under what conditions may a people alter or abolish their government?

• Why does Jefferson consider King George a tyrant?

The Declaration of In de pen dence In Congress, July 4, 1776

The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America

1When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the po liti cal bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of man- kind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

2We hold these truths to be self- evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalien- able Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the gov- erned. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destruc- tive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experi- ence hath shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their

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JEFFERSON: The Declaration of In de pen dence 263

duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

3He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and nec- essary for the public good.

4He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

5He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Repre sen ta tion in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and for- midable to tyrants only.

6He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncom- fortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Rec ords, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his mea sures.

7He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

8He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

9He has endeavored to prevent the population of these States;1 for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and rais- ing the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

10He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

11He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

12He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our People, and eat out their substance.

13He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies with- out the Consent of our legislature.

1 prevent the population of these States This meant limiting migration to the colonies, thus controlling their growth.

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14He has affected to render the Military in de pen dent of and supe- rior to the Civil Power.

15He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction for- eign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their acts of pretended Legislation:

16For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us: 17For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from Punishment for

any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

18For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world: 19For imposing taxes on us without our Consent: 20For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury: 21For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offenses: 22For abolishing the free System of En glish Laws in a neighboring

Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

23For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

24For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with Power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

25He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

26He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

27He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenar- ies to complete the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

28He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the execu- tioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

29He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes, and conditions.

30In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free People.

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JEFFERSON: The Declaration of In de pen dence 265

3131Nor have We been wanting in attention to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their leg- islature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settle- ment here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanim- ity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

32We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of Amer- ica, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, sol- emnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and In de pen dent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all po liti cal connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and In de pen- dent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, con- tract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which In de pen dent States may of right do. And for the sup- port of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the Protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.


1. What laws of nature does Jefferson refer to in paragraph 1?

2. What do you think Jefferson feels is the function of government (para. 2)?

3. What does Jefferson say about women? Is there any way you can deter- mine his views from reading this document? Does he appear to favor a patriarchal system?

4. Find at least one use of parallel structure in the Declaration (see p. 260 in the section on Jefferson’s rhetoric for a description of parallelism). What key terms are repeated in identical or equivalent constructions, and to what effect?

5. Which causes listed in paragraphs 3 through 29 are the most serious? Are any trivial? Which ones are serious enough to cause a revolution?

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6. What do you consider to be the most graceful sentence in the entire Declaration? Where is it placed in the Declaration? What purpose does it serve there?

7. In what ways does the king’s desire for stable government interfere with Jefferson’s sense of his own in de pen dence?


1. Jefferson defines the inalienable rights of a citizen as “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Do you think these are indeed inalienable rights? Answer this question by including some sentences that use par- allel structure and repeat key terms in similar constructions. Be certain that you define each of these rights both for yourself and for our time.

2. Write an essay discussing what you feel the function of government should be. Include at least three periodic sentences (underline them). You may first want to establish Jefferson’s view of government and then compare or contrast it with your own.

3. Jefferson envisioned a government that allowed its citizens to exercise their rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Has Jefferson’s revolutionary vision been achieved in America? Begin with a definition of these three key terms: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Then, for each term use examples — drawn from current events, your own experience, American history — to take a clear and well- argued stand on whether the nation has achieved Jefferson’s goal.

4. Slavery was legal in America in 1776, and Jefferson reluctantly owned slaves. He never presented his plan for gradual emancipation of the slaves to Congress because he realized that Congress would never approve it. But Jefferson and Franklin did finance a plan to buy slaves and return them to Africa, where in 1821 returning slaves founded the nation of Liberia. Agree or disagree with the following statement and defend your position: the own ership of slaves by the people who wrote the Declaration of In de pen dence invalidates it. You may wish to read the relevant chapters on Jefferson and slavery in Merrill D. Peterson’s Thomas Jefferson and the New Nation (1970).

5. What kind of government does Jefferson seem to prefer? In what ways would his government differ from that of the king he is reacting against? Is he talking about an entirely different system or about the same system but with a different kind of “prince” at the head? How would Jefferson protect the individual against the whim of the state, while also protecting the state against the whim of the individual?

6. CONNECTIONS Write an essay in which you examine the ways in which Jefferson agrees or disagrees with Lao- tzu’s conception of human nature and of government. How does Jefferson share Lao- tzu’s

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JEFFERSON: The Declaration of In de pen dence 267

commitment to judicious inactivity? What evidence is there that the king subscribes to it? Describe the similarities and differences between Jefferson’s views and those of Lao- tzu.

7. CONNECTIONS Thomas Jefferson would clearly disagree with Cicero’s argument (, even though Jefferson read Cicero and admired him greatly. Assuming that Jefferson read Cicero and examined Philus’s argument carefully, how might he react? Write the counterargument that you think Jefferson would have developed against Philus’s position. You may choose either Jefferson’s rhetorical strategies or Cicero’s, or you may argue in a direct fashion.

8. CONNECTIONS What principles does Jefferson share with Jean- Jacques Rousseau? Compare the fundamental demands of the Dec- laration of In de pen dence with Rousseau’s conceptions of liberty and in de pen dence. How would Rousseau have reacted to this declaration?

9. SEEING CONNECTIONS Jefferson wrote in 1776, thirteen years before the French Revolution and the execution of the French king. He was hardly thinking of overthrowing the British government, but rather he was merely establishing the United States as an independent nation. The citizens in Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People (p. 200) in 1830 were intent on ridding themselves of a king (as was Jefferson), not killing him. How likely is it that Jefferson might have taken this painting and used it as a poster for the American Revolution (assum- ing, of course, that it had been available at that time)? What details in the Declaration of Independence reinforce your belief that Jefferson would or would not have been comfortable with the painting?

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ELIZABETH CADY STANTON Declaration of Sentiments

and Resolutions

ELIZABETH CADY STANTON (1815–1902) was exception- ally intelligent, and because her lawyer father was willing to indulge her gifts, she was provided the best education a woman in her time in America could expect. Born and raised in Johnstown, New York, she was one of six children, five girls and one boy, Eleazar, in whom all the hopes of the family rested. When Eleazar died after graduat- ing from college, Elizabeth strove to replace him in the admiration of her father. She studied Greek so successfully that she was admit- ted as the only young woman in the local secondary school, where she demonstrated her abilities — which on the whole were superior to those of the boys with whom she studied.

Nonetheless, she did not win the esteem she hoped for. Her father, although he loved and cared for her, continually told her he wished she had been born a boy. In Johnstown, as elsewhere, women had few rights and rather low expectations. The question of educa- tion was a case in point: it was a profound exception for Elizabeth Cady to go to school with boys or even to study what they studied. She had no hopes of following in their paths because all the profes- sions they aimed for were closed to women. This fact was painfully brought home to her when she finished secondary school. All the boys she studied with went on to Union College in Schenectady, but she was barred from attending the all- male institution. Instead, she attended the much inferior Troy Female Seminary, run by a pioneer of American education, Emma Willard (1787–1870).

Troy was as good a school as any woman in America could attend; yet it emphasized a great many traditional womanly pursuits as well as the principles of Calvinism, which Elizabeth Cady came to

From the History of Woman Suffrage.

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believe were at the root of the problem women had in American soci- ety. In the 1830s, women did not have the vote; if they were married, they could not own property; and they could not sue for divorce no matter how ugly their marital situation. A husband expected a dowry from his wife, and he could spend it exactly as he wished: on gam- bling, carousing, or speculating. Not until 1848, the year of the Seneca Falls Convention, did New York pass laws to change this situation.

Elizabeth Cady married when she was twenty- four years old. Her husband, Henry Stanton, was a prominent abolitionist and journal- ist. He had little money, and the match was not entirely blessed by Elizabeth’s father. In characteristic fashion she had the word obey struck from the marriage vows; thus, she had trouble finding a preacher who would adhere to her wishes. And, preferring never to be known as Mrs. Stanton, she was always addressed as Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Early on, the couple settled in Boston, where Elizabeth found considerable intellectual companionship and stimulation. Good ser- vants made her house hold tasks minimal. But soon Henry Stanton’s health demanded that they move to Seneca Falls, New York, where there were few servants of any caliber and where there were few people of intellectual in de pen dence to stimulate her. Her lot in life became much like that of any house wife, and she could not abide it.

After a discussion at tea with a number of like- minded women, she proposed a woman’s convention to discuss their situation. On July 14, 1848 (a year celebrated for revolutions in every major capi- tal of Eu ro pe), the following notice appeared in the Seneca County Courier, a semiweekly journal:

Seneca Falls Convention

WOMAN’S RIGHTS CONVENTION. — A Convention to discuss the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of woman, will be held in the Wesleyan Chapel, at Seneca Falls, N.Y., on Wednesday and Thursday, the 19th and 20th of July, current; commencing at 10 o’clock A.M. During the first day the meeting will be exclusively for women, who are earnestly invited to attend. The public gener- ally are invited to be present on the second day, when Lucretia Mott, of Philadelphia, and other ladies and gentlemen, will address the convention.

On the appointed day, less than a week after the notice, car- riages and other vehicles tied up the streets around the Wesleyan Chapel with a large number of interested people. The first shock was that the chapel was locked, and the first order of business

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STANTON: Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions 271

was for a man to climb through an open window to unlock the doors. The chapel was filled immediately, but not only with women. Many men were present, including Frederick Douglass, and the women decided that because they were already there, the men could stay.

The convention was a significant success, establishing a pattern that has been repeated frequently since. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, in her declaration, figured as a radical in the assembly, proposing unheard- of reforms such as granting women the vote, which most of the moderates in the assembly could not agree on. For a while the assembly wished to omit the question of the vote, but Stanton by presenting it as her first statement in the declaration, made it clear that without the right to vote on legislation and legislators, women would never be able to change the status quo. Eventually, with the help of Douglass and others, the convention accepted her position, and the women’s movement in America was under way.

Stanton’s Rhetoric

Because the Seneca Falls Declaration is modeled directly on Jefferson’s Declaration of In de pen dence, we cannot get a good idea of Stanton’s rhetorical gifts. However, by relying on Jefferson, she exercised a powerful wit (for which her other writing is well known) by reminding her audience that when the Declaration of Indepen dence was uttered, no thought was given to half its poten- tial audience — women. Thus, the Seneca Falls Declaration is a par- ody, and it is especially effective in the way it parodies its model so closely.

The same periodic sentences, parallelism, and balance are used and largely to the same effect. She employed the same profusion of one- paragraph utterances and exactly the same opening for each of them. Stanton played a marvelous trick, however. In place of the tyrannical foreign King George — Jefferson’s “He” — she has put the tyrant man. Because of the power of her model, her declaration gathers strength and ironically undercuts the model.

The most interesting aspect of Stanton’s rhetorical struc- ture has to do with the order in which she includes the abuses and wrongs that she asks to be made right. She begins with the vote, just as Jefferson began with the law. Both are essential to the entire argument, and both are the key to change. Whereas Jefferson demands an entirely new government, Elizabeth Cady Stanton ends by demanding the “equal participation” of women with men in the government they have already won.

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The following prereading questions may help you anticipate key issues in the discussion of Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions. Keeping them in mind during your first reading of the selec- tion should help focus your attention.

• What power has man had over women, according to Stanton?

• What is Stanton’s attitude toward just and unjust laws?

Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions

Adopted by the Seneca Falls Convention, July 19–20, 1848

1When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one portion of the family of man to assume among the people of the earth a position different from that which they have hitherto occu- pied, but one to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes that impel them to such a course.

2We hold these truths to be self- evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with cer- tain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the gov- erned. Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of those who suffer from it to refuse alle- giance to it, and to insist upon the institution of a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they were accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and unsurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their duty to throw off such government, and to provide new

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STANTON: Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions 273

guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of the women under this government, and such is now the necessity which constrains them to demand the equal station to which they are entitled.

3The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usur- pations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

4He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise.

5He has compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of which she had no voice.

6He has withheld from her rights which are given to the most ignorant and degraded men — both natives and foreigners.

7Having deprived her of this first right of a citizen, the elective franchise, thereby leaving her without repre sen ta tion in the halls of legislation, he has oppressed her on all sides.

8He has made her, if married, in the eye of the law, civilly dead. 9He has taken from her all right in property, even to the wages

she earns. 10He has made her, morally, an irresponsible being, as she can com-

mit many crimes with impunity, provided they be done in the presence of her husband. In the covenant of marriage, she is compelled to prom- ise obedience to her husband, he becoming to all intents and purposes, her master — the law giving him power to deprive her of her liberty, and to administer chastisement.

11He has so framed the laws of divorce, as to what shall be the proper causes, and in case of separation, to whom the guardianship of the children shall be given, as to be wholly regardless of the happiness of women — the law, in all cases, going upon a false supposition of the supremacy of man, and giving all power into his hands.

12After depriving her of all rights as a married woman, if single, and the own er of property, he has taxed her to support a govern- ment which recognizes her only when her property can be made profitable to it.

13He has monopolized nearly all the profitable employments, and from those she is permitted to follow, she receives but a scanty remu- neration. He closes against her all the avenues to wealth and distinc- tion which he considers most honorable to himself. As a teacher of theology, medicine, or law, she is not known.

14He has denied her the facilities for obtaining a thorough educa- tion, at colleges being closed against her.

15He allows her in Church, as well as State, but a subordinate posi- tion, claiming Apostolic authority for her exclusion from the ministry,

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and, with some exceptions, from any public participation in the affairs of the Church.

16He has created a false public sentiment by giving to the world a different code of morals for men and women, by which moral delin- quencies which exclude women from society, are not only tolerated, but deemed of little account in man.

17He has usurped the prerogative of Jehovah himself, claiming it as his right to assign for her a sphere of action, when that belongs to her conscience and to her God.

18He has endeavored, in every way that he could, to destroy her confidence in her own powers, to lessen her self- respect, and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life.

19Now, in view of this entire disfranchisement of one- half the people of this country, their social and religious degradation — in view of the unjust laws above mentioned, and because women do feel themselves aggrieved, oppressed, and fraudulently deprived of their most sacred rights, we insist that they have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of the United States.

20In entering upon the great work before us, we anticipate no small amount of misconception, misrepre sen ta tion, and ridicule; but we shall use every instrumentality within our power to effect our object. We shall employ agents, circulate tracts, petition the State and National legislatures, and endeavor to enlist the pulpit and the press in our behalf. We hope this Convention will be followed by a series of Conventions embracing every part of the country.

21[The following resolutions were discussed by Lucretia Mott, Thomas and Mary Ann McClintock, Amy Post, Catharine A. F. Stebbins, and others, and were adopted:]

22WHEREAS, The great precept of nature is conceded to be, that “man shall pursue his own true and substantial happiness.” Blackstone1 in his Commentaries remarks, that this law of Nature being coeval2 with man- kind, and dictated by God himself, is of course superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe, in all countries and at all times; no human laws are of any validity if contrary to this, and such of them as are valid, derive all their force, and all their validity, and all their author- ity, mediately and immediately, from this original; therefore,

23Resolved, That such laws as conflict, in any way, with the true and substantial happiness of woman, are contrary to the great

1 Sir William Blackstone (1723−1780) The most influential of English legal scholars. His Commentaries of the Laws of England (4 vols., 1765−1769) form the basis of the study of law in England.

2 being coeval Existing simultaneously.

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STANTON: Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions 275

precept of nature and of no validity, for this is “superior in obligation to any other.”

24Resolved, That all laws which prevent woman from occupying such a station in society as her conscience shall dictate, or which place her in a position inferior to that of man, are contrary to the great pre- cept of nature, and therefore of no force or authority.

25Resolved, That woman is man’s equal — was intended to be so by the Creator, and the highest good of the race demands that she should be recognized as such.

26Resolved, That the women of this country ought to be enlightened in regard to the laws under which they live, that they may no longer publish their degradation by declaring themselves satisfied with their present position, nor their ignorance, by asserting that they have all the rights they want.

27Resolved, That inasmuch as man, while claiming for himself intel- lectual superiority, does accord to woman moral superiority, it is pre- eminently his duty to encourage her to speak and teach, as she has an opportunity, in all religious assemblies.

28Resolved, That the same amount of virtue, delicacy, and refine- ment of behavior that is required of woman in the social state, should also be required of man, and the same transgressions should be vis- ited with equal severity on both man and woman.

29Resolved, That the objection of indelicacy and impropriety, which is so often brought against woman when she addresses a public audi- ence, comes with a very ill- grace from those who encourage, by their attendance, her appearance on the stage, in the concert, or in feats of the circus.

30Resolved, That woman has too long rested satisfied in the cir- cumscribed limits which corrupt customs and a perverted applica- tion of the Scriptures have marked out for her, and that it is time she should move in the enlarged sphere which her great Creator has assigned her.

31Resolved, That it is the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise.

32Resolved, That the equality of human rights results necessarily from the fact of the identity of the race in capabilities and responsibilities.

33Resolved, therefore, That, being invested by the Creator with the same capabilities, and the same consciousness of responsibility for their exercise, it is demonstrably the right and duty of woman, equally with man, to promote every righ teous cause by every righ teous means; and especially in regard to the great subjects of morals and religion, it is self- evidently her right to participate with her brother in teaching them, both in private and in public, by writing and by speaking, by any instrumentalities proper to be used, and in any assemblies proper to be held; and this being a self- evident truth

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growing out of the divinely implanted principles of human nature, any custom or authority adverse to it, whether modern or wearing the hoary sanction of antiquity, is to be regarded as a self- evident false- hood, and at war with mankind.

34[At the last session Lucretia Mott3 offered and spoke to the fol- lowing resolution:]

35Resolved, That the speedy success of our cause depends upon the zealous and untiring efforts of both men and women, for the over- throw of the monopoly of the pulpit, and for the securing to woman an equal participation with men in the various trades, professions, and commerce.

3 Lucretia Mott (1793–1880) One of the found ers of the 1848 convention at which these resolutions were presented. She was one of the earliest and most important of the feminists who struggled to proclaim their rights. She was also a prominent abolitionist.


1. Stanton begins her declaration with a diatribe against the govern- ment. To what extent is the government responsible for the wrongs she enumerates?

2. Exactly what is Stanton taking issue with? What are the wrongs that have been done? Do they seem important to you?

3. How much of the effect of the selection depends on the parody of the Declaration of In de pen dence?

4. Which of the individual declarations is most important? Which is least important?

5. Are any of the declarations serious enough to warrant starting a revolution?

6. Why do you think the suggestion that women deserve the vote was so hard to put across at the convention?


1. Make a careful comparison between this declaration and Jefferson’s Declaration of In de pen dence. What are the similarities? What are the differences? Why would Stanton’s declaration be particularly more distinguished because it is a parody of such a document? What weak- nesses might be implied because of the close resemblance?

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STANTON: Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions 277

2. Write an essay that is essentially a declaration in the same style Stanton uses. Choose a cause carefully and follow the same pattern that Stanton does in the selection. Establish the appropriate relationship between gov- ernment and the cause you are interested in defending or promoting.

3. To what extent is it useful to petition a government to redress the centuries of wrongs done to women? Is it the government’s fault that women were treated so badly? Is the government able to have a signifi- cant effect on helping to change the unpleasant circumstances of women? Is it appropriate or inappropriate for Stanton to attack government in her search for equality?

4. The Declaration of In de pen dence was aimed at justifying a war. Is the question of war anywhere implied in Stanton’s address? If war is not the question, what is? Is there any substitute for war in Stanton’s essay?

5. Read down the list of declarations and resolutions that Stanton enu- merates. Have all of these issues been dealt with in our times? Would such a declaration as this still be appropriate, or has the women’s movement accomplished all its goals?

6. Examine the issues treated in paragraph 16, concerning “a different code of morals” for men and women. Explain exactly what Stanton meant by that expression, and consider how different things are today from what they were in Stanton’s day.

7. CONNECTIONS To what extent do you think Henry David Thoreau (p. 301) would have agreed with Stanton? What aspects of her declara- tion would he have found most useful for his own position? Would he have urged women to practice civil disobedience on behalf of women’s rights, or would he have accepted the general point of view of his time and concerned himself only with the in de pen dence of men?

8. CONNECTIONS Stanton uses Jefferson’s rhetorical model for her “Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions,” which defends the rights of women to contribute to governmental decisions. Write a short essay that represents the way Stanton might have analyzed Cicero’s “The Defense of Injustice” ( for the positive virtues of justice revealed in the ironic argument that Philus presents. What, for Stanton, are the most important points that Philus makes? How sympathetic is she to Cicero’s ironic project?

9. SEEING CONNECTIONS Would the prominence of woman in Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People (p. 200) have helped reinforce Stanton’s hopes for the liberation of women in her own time? What in the painting would she have reacted positively to and what could she have used in her own declaration of sentiments? Would the paint- ing have made a good advertisement for her cause, or would it have harmed her cause? Imagine the conversation that might have taken place between her and Delacroix had they stood together in front of this painting. What would they have said to each other?

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HANNAH ARENDT Total Domination

HANNAH ARENDT (1906–1975) was born and educated in Germany, earning her doctorate from the University of Heidelberg when she was twenty- two years old. She left Germany for Paris after Hitler came to power in 1933 and early in the development of Nazi ideology. In New York City she worked with Jewish relief groups and in 1940 married Heinrich Bluecher, a professor of philosophy. Arendt joined the faculty of the University of Chicago in 1963 and then taught as a visiting professor at a number of universities, even- tually settling at the New School for Social Research in New York.

The Origins of Totalitarianism, from which this selection is excerpted, was first published in 1951 and solidified Arendt’s repu- tation as an important po liti cal philosopher. She began work on the book in 1945, after Nazism was defeated in Eu ro pe, and finished most of it by 1949, during the period of growing tension between the United States and the Soviet Union that began the Cold War. Much of the book analyzes the politics of ideology in fascist and communist countries. Arendt went on to write a number of other influential works, such as The Human Condition (1958) and Crises of the Republic (1972), both of which address the problems she saw connected with a decline in moral values in modern society. One of her most controversial books, Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963), exam- ines Adolf Eichmann, head of the Gestapo’s Jewish section, who was tried and executed in Jerusalem. She observed that the nature of Eichmann’s evil was essentially banal — that his crime involved going along with orders without taking the time to assess them critically. Her last work, The Life of the Mind, was not completed, although two of its planned three volumes were published posthu- mously in 1978.

From The Origins of Totalitarianism.

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“Total Domination” is part of one of the last chapters in The Ori- gins of Totalitarianism. The first part of the book sets forth a brief history of modern anti- Semitism because the rise of totalitarianism in Germany was based in large part on Hitler’s belief that the Aryan race was biologically and morally more evolved than all other races. In this selection Arendt shows how the totalitarian state derives its power from propagating a set of ideas, or ideology, such as the view that one race is superior to all others. Once that premise is accepted, she demonstrates, then any and all atrocities against people of other races can be permitted and promoted.

In two instances, describing the ideology of German fascism and the ideology of Soviet communism, Arendt demonstrates the ways in which the uncritical ac cep tance of an ideology provides the core of power for totalitarian states. In the case of Germany, racism led to the theory that if some races are inferior and debased then they must be destroyed for the good of humanity — a theory that was put into brutal practice by the Nazis. Arendt shows how this view derives from a misunderstanding of Darwin’s theories of the survival of the fittest (see Darwin’s “Natural Selection,” p. 897). In the case of the Soviet Union, totalitarianism depended on the “scientific” theory of history put forth by Karl Marx (see Marx’s “Communist Manifesto,” p. 453) that insisted on class struggle and the need of the most “progressive class” to destroy the less progressive classes. Marx was referred to as the “Darwin of history” in part because his views reflected the same scientific logic as Darwin’s theories of biol- ogy. According to Arendt, both the Nazi and communist totalitarian regimes claimed those laws of biology or history as the justification for their own brutal acts of terror.

Arendt’s Rhetoric

Arendt is a careful rhetorician. She works in a logical fashion to analyze basic principles to see how they control the outcome of events. In this case, the outcome is the totalitarian institution of the concen- tration camp in which human dignity is destroyed. For the totali- tarian government, the terror and torment of concentration camps demonstrate “that everything is possible” (para. 1), even though it might seem impossible to reduce a person to a thing. Total domina- tion, as she states, is designed to reduce the diversity and complexity of humanity to a single reaction to terror and pain.

Interestingly, Arendt can find no economic virtue in maintain- ing huge numbers of people in concentration camps. Occasionally in the Soviet Union, inmates’ labor was of value, but some 60 percent

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ARENDT: Total Domination 281

or more of the inmates died under the harsh labor conditions. In Nazi Germany the work done in the concentration camps was of such poor quality that it usually had to be done again. Further, dur- ing World War II, German resources that might have been used to fight the war were diverted to the concentration camps, which functioned as extermination centers even while Germany reeled under potential defeat. In other words, the concentration camps were self- defeating in every important way except that they demon- strated to a populace that total domination was possible.

One important rhetorical principle at work in this essay is the essential definition of total domination by the pro cess of describing the circumstances of the concentration camps as well as the ratio- nale for their construction. The Nazis knew, and Hitler had already trumpeted the news to the world in his book Mein Kampf (My Strug- gle), that if a lie was big enough, large numbers of people would believe it even if it stood against common sense. “The Big Lie” has become a common principle of modern po liti cal science. Likewise, if the enormity of the crime is great enough, it is not likely that people will believe it actually occurred. Therefore, it should not have been a surprise that the few people who had escaped the camps before the war were not believed. They told their stories, but even future victims of the camps refused to believe they existed. Western governments thought the accounts of the concentration camps were monstrous exaggerations.

Throughout the book from which this passage comes, Arendt insists that the essence of totalitarianism is terror and that with- out it the totalitarian state collapses. The concentration camps are the “laboratories” in which absolute terror dominates and that represent total domination. Individual liberty and freedom are erased by the terror of total domination, and in this sense the values that Rousseau and Jefferson argue for are irrelevant. In some states, such as the one Machiavelli imagined (p. 219), terror might be useful for controlling the opposition, but in the totalitar- ian state it controls everyone. As Arendt states, “a victory of the concentration- camp system would mean the same inexorable doom for human beings as the use of the hydrogen bomb would mean the doom of the human race” (para. 14).


The following prereading questions may help you anticipate key issues in the discussion of Hannah Arendt’s “Total Domination.” Keeping them

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in mind during your first reading of the selection should help focus your attention.

• What is the role of terror in the totalitarian state?

• Why is total domination necessary in a totalitarian state?

• What happens to human beings in concentration camps?

Total Domination 1The concentration and extermination camps of totalitarian

regimes serve as the laboratories in which the fundamental belief of totalitarianism that everything is possible is being verified. Com- pared with this, all other experiments are secondary in importance — including those in the field of medicine whose horrors are recorded in detail in the trials against the physicians of the Third Reich — although it is characteristic that these laboratories were used for experiments of every kind.

2Total domination, which strives to organize the infinite plural- ity and differentiation of human beings as if all of humanity were just one individual, is possible only if each and every person can be reduced to a never- changing identity of reactions, so that each of these bundles of reactions can be exchanged at random for any other. The problem is to fabricate something that does not exist, namely, a kind of human species resembling other animal species whose only “freedom” would consist in “preserving the species.” Totalitarian domination attempts to achieve this goal both through ideological indoctrination of the elite formations1 and through absolute terror in the camps; and the atrocities for which the elite formations are ruthlessly used become, as it were, the practical application of the ideological indoctrination — the testing ground in which the latter must prove itself — while the appalling spectacle of the camps themselves is supposed to furnish the “theoretical” verifi- cation of the ideology.

3The camps are meant not only to exterminate people and degrade human beings, but also serve the ghastly experiment of eliminating, under scientifically controlled conditions, spontaneity itself as an expression of human behavior and of transforming the human per- sonality into a mere thing, into something that even animals are not;

1 elite formations By this term Arendt seems to mean the SS men and camp guards.

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for Pavlov’s dog,2 which, as we know, was trained to eat not when it was hungry but when a bell rang, was a perverted animal.

4Under normal circumstances this can never be accomplished, because spontaneity can never be entirely eliminated insofar as it is connected not only with human freedom but with life itself, in the sense of simply keeping alive. It is only in the concentration camps that such an experiment is at all possible, and therefore they are not only “la société la plus totalitaire encore réalisée”3 (David Rousset) but the guiding social ideal of total domination in general. Just as the stability of the totalitarian regime depends on the isolation of the fictitious world of the movement from the outside world, so the experiment of total domi- nation in the concentration camps depends on sealing off the latter against the world of all others, the world of the living in general, even against the outside world of a country under totalitarian rule. This isolation explains the peculiar unreality and lack of credibility that characterize all reports from the concentration camps and constitute one of the main difficulties for the true understanding of totalitarian domination, which stands or falls with the existence of these concen- tration and extermination camps; for, unlikely as it may sound, these camps are the true central institution of totalitarian or gan iz ation al power.

5There are numerous reports by survivors. The more authentic they are, the less they attempt to communicate things that evade human understanding and human experience — sufferings, that is, that transform men into “uncomplaining animals.” None of these reports inspires those passions of outrage and sympathy through which men have always been mobilized for justice. On the con- trary, anyone speaking or writing about concentration camps is still regarded as suspect; and if the speaker has resolutely returned to the world of the living, he himself is often assailed by doubts with regard to his own truthfulness, as though he had mistaken a night- mare for reality.

6This doubt of people concerning themselves and the real- ity of their own experience only reveals what the Nazis have always known: that men determined to commit crimes will find it expedi- ent to organize them on the vastest, most improbable scale. Not only

2 Pavlov’s dog Between 1898 and 1930, the Russian psychologist Ivan Petrovich Pavlov (1849–1936) trained a dog to associate the sound of a ringing bell with food. Eventually the dog’s reflex was to salivate at the sound of the bell even when there was no food.

3 la société . . . réalisée “The most totalitarian society yet achieved.” David Rousset (1912–1997) survived the concentration camps and wrote The Other King- dom (1947) about his experience.

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because this renders all punishments provided by the legal system inadequate and absurd; but because the very immensity of the crimes guarantees that the murderers who proclaim their innocence with all manner of lies will be more readily believed than the victims who tell the truth. The Nazis did not even consider it necessary to keep this dis- covery to themselves. Hitler circulated millions of copies of his book in which he stated that to be successful, a lie must be enormous — which did not prevent people from believing him as, similarly, the Nazis’ proclamations, repeated ad nauseam,4 that the Jews would be exterminated like bedbugs (i.e., with poison gas), prevented anybody from not believing them.

7There is a great temptation to explain away the intrinsically incredible by means of liberal rationalizations. In each one of us, there lurks such a liberal, wheedling us with the voice of common sense. The road to totalitarian domination leads through many intermediate stages for which we can find numerous analogies and pre ce dents. The extraordinarily bloody terror during the initial stage of totalitarian rule serves indeed the exclusive purpose of defeating the opponent and rendering all further opposition impossible; but total terror is launched only after this initial stage has been overcome and the regime no longer has anything to fear from the opposition. In this context it has been frequently remarked that in such a case the means have become the end, but this is after all only an admission, in paradoxical disguise, that the category “the end justifies the means” no longer applies, that terror has lost its “purpose,” that it is no longer the means to frighten people. Nor does the explanation suffice that the revolution, as in the case of the French Revolution, was devouring its own children, for the terror continues even after everybody who might be described as a child of the revolution in one capacity or another — the Russian factions, the power centers of party, the army, the bureaucracy — has long since been devoured. Many things that nowadays have become the specialty of totalitarian government are only too well known from the study of history. There have almost always been wars of aggression; the massacre of hostile populations after a vic- tory went unchecked until the Romans mitigated it by introducing the parcere subjectis;5 through centuries the extermination of native peo- ples went hand in hand with the colonization of the Americas, Aus- tralia, and Africa; slavery is one of the oldest institutions of mankind and all empires of antiquity were based on the labor of state- owned slaves who erected their public buildings. Not even concentration

4 ad nauseam To the point of sickness. 5 parcere subjectis A Roman policy of lenience and mercy toward those they


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camps are an invention of totalitarian movements. They emerge for the first time during the Boer War,6 at the beginning of the century, and continued to be used in South Africa as well as India for “undesir- able elements”; here, too, we first find the term “protective custody” which was later adopted by the Third Reich. These camps correspond in many respects to the concentration camps at the beginning of total- itarian rule; they were used for “suspects” whose offenses could not be proved and who could not be sentenced by ordinary pro cess of law. All this clearly points to totalitarian methods of domination; all these are elements they utilize, develop, and crystallize on the basis of the nihilistic principle that “everything is permitted,” which they inher- ited and already take for granted. But wherever these new forms of domination assume their authentically totalitarian structure they tran- scend this principle, which is still tied to the utilitarian motives and self- interest of the rulers, and try their hand in a realm that up to now has been completely unknown to us: the realm where “everything is possible.” And, characteristically enough, this is precisely the realm that cannot be limited by either utilitarian motives or self- interest, regardless of the latter’s content.

8What runs counter to common sense is not the nihilistic princi- ple that “everything is permitted,” which was already contained in the nineteenth- century utilitarian conception7 of common sense. What common sense and “normal people” refuse to believe is that everything is possible. We attempt to understand elements in present or recol- lected experience that simply surpass our powers of understanding. We attempt to classify as criminal a thing which, as we all feel, no such category was ever intended to cover. What meaning has the concept of murder when we are confronted with the mass production of corpses? We attempt to understand the behavior of concentration- camp inmates and SS- men psychologically, when the very thing that must be real- ized is that the psyche can be destroyed even without the destruction of the physical man; that, indeed, psyche, character, and individuality seem under certain circumstances to express themselves only through the rapidity or slowness with which they disintegrate. The end result in any case is inanimate men, i.e., men who can no longer be psycho- logically understood, whose return to the psychologically or otherwise

6 Boer War (1899–1902) The British established concentration camps in which some forty thousand people died during their war against the Transvaal and the Orange Free State — which were then controlled by the Boers, who were descended from earlier Dutch settlers — in what is now South Africa.

7 utilitarian conception Utilitarianism, often known for its doctrine of the greatest good for the greatest number, was a nineteenth- century philosophy rooted in what people felt was essentially common sense.

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intelligibly human world closely resembles the resurrection of Lazarus.8 All statements of common sense, whether of a psychological or so cio log- i cal nature, serve only to encourage those who think it “superficial” to “dwell on horrors.”

9If it is true that the concentration camps are the most consequential institution of totalitarian rule, “dwelling on horrors” would seem to be indispensable for the understanding of totalitarianism. But recollection can no more do this than can the uncommunicative eyewitness report. In both these genres there is an inherent tendency to run away from the experience; instinctively or rationally, both types of writer are so much aware of the terrible abyss that separates the world of the liv- ing from that of the living dead, that they cannot supply anything more than a series of remembered occurrences that must seem just as incredible to those who relate them as to their audience. Only the fearful imagination of those who have been aroused by such reports but have not actually been smitten in their own flesh, of those who are consequently free from the bestial, desperate terror which, when confronted by real, present horror, inexorably paralyzes everything that is not mere reaction, can afford to keep thinking about horrors. Such thoughts are useful only for the perception of po liti cal contexts and the mobilization of po liti cal passions. A change of personality of any sort what ever can no more be induced by thinking about hor- rors than by the real experience of horror. The reduction of a man to a bundle of reactions separates him as radically as mental disease from everything within him that is personality or character. When, like Lazarus, he rises from the dead, he finds his personality or char- acter unchanged, just as he had left it.

10Just as the horror, or the dwelling on it, cannot affect a change of character in him, cannot make men better or worse, thus it can- not become the basis of a po liti cal community or party in a narrower sense. The attempts to build up a Eu ro pe an elite with a program of intra- Eu ro pe an understanding based on the common Eu ro pe an experience of the concentration camps have found ered in much the same manner as the attempts following the First World War to draw po liti cal conclusions from the international experience of the front generation.9 In both cases it turned out that the experiences them- selves can communicate no more than nihilistic banalities. Po liti cal consequences such as postwar pacifism, for example, derived from the general fear of war, not from the experiences in war. Instead of

8 Lazarus From the Bible ( John 11:18–48). Jesus, urged by Martha, resur- rected Lazarus, who had been dead for four days.

9the front generation The generation that fought or experienced the fi ghting in World War I (1914–1918).

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producing a pacifism devoid of reality, the insight into the structure of modern wars, guided and mobilized by fear, might have led to the realization that the only standard for a necessary war is the fight against conditions under which people no longer wish to live — and our experiences with the tormenting hell of the totalitarian camps have enlightened us only too well about the possibility of such condi- tions. Thus the fear of concentration camps and the resulting insight into the nature of total domination might serve to invalidate all obso- lete po liti cal differentiations from right to left and to introduce beside and above them the po liti cally most important yardstick for judging events in our time, namely: whether they serve totalitarian domina- tion or not.

11In any event, the fearful imagination has the great advantage to dissolve the sophistic- dialectical10 interpretations of politics which are all based on the superstition that something good might result from evil. Such dialectical acrobatics had at least a semblance of justifica- tion so long as the worst that man could inflict upon man was murder. But, as we know today, murder is only a limited evil. The murderer who kills a man — a man who has to die anyway — still moves within the realm of life and death familiar to us; both have indeed a necessary connection on which the dialectic is founded, even if it is not always conscious of it. The murderer leaves a corpse behind and does not pretend that his victim has never existed; if he wipes out any traces, they are those of his own identity, and not the memory and grief of the persons who loved his victim; he destroys a life, but he does not destroy the fact of existence itself.

12The Nazis, with the precision peculiar to them, used to register their operations in the concentration camps under the heading “under cover of the night (Nacht und Nebel).” The radicalism of mea sures to treat people as if they had never existed and to make them disap- pear in the literal sense of the word is frequently not apparent at first glance, because both the German and the Russian system are not uni- form but consist of a series of categories in which people are treated very differently. In the case of Germany, these different categories used to exist in the same camp, but without coming into contact with each other; frequently, the isolation between the categories was even stricter than the isolation from the outside world. Thus, out of racial considerations, Scandinavian nationals during the war were quite dif- ferently treated by the Germans than the members of other peoples, although the former were outspoken enemies of the Nazis. The latter

10 sophistic- dialectical Arendt seems to be referring to Marxist commu- nist views that pit two mighty historical forces — like good and evil — against one another. Her point is that such a dialectic is artifi cial and dangerous.

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in turn were divided into those whose “extermination” was immedi- ately on the agenda, as in the case of the Jews, or could be expected in the predictable future, as in the case of the Poles, Russians, and Ukrainians, and into those who were not yet covered by instructions about such an over all “final solution,” as in the case of the French and Belgians. In Russia, on the other hand, we must distinguish three more or less in de pen dent systems. First, there are the authen- tic forced- labor groups that live in relative freedom and are sentenced for limited periods. Secondly, there are the concentration camps in which the human material is ruthlessly exploited and the mortality rate is extremely high, but which are essentially organized for labor purposes. And, thirdly, there are the annihilation camps in which the inmates are systematically wiped out through starvation and neglect.

13The real horror of the concentration and extermination camps lies in the fact that the inmates, even if they happen to keep alive, are more effectively cut off from the world of the living than if they had died, because terror enforces oblivion. Here, murder is as impersonal as the squashing of a gnat. Someone may die as the result of system- atic torture or starvation, or because the camp is overcrowded and superfluous human material must be liquidated. Conversely, it may happen that due to a shortage of new human shipments the danger arises that the camps become depopulated and that the order is now given to reduce the death rate at any price. David Rousset called his report on the period in a German concentration camp “Les Jours de Notre Mort,”11 and it is indeed as if there were a possibility to give permanence to the pro cess of dying itself and to enforce a condition in which both death and life are obstructed equally effectively.

14It is the appearance of some radical evil, previously unknown to us, that puts an end to the notion of developments and trans- formations of qualities. Here, there are neither po liti cal nor his- torical nor simply moral standards but, at the most, the realization that something seems to be involved in modern politics that actu- ally should never be involved in politics as we used to understand it, namely all or nothing — all, and that is an undetermined infinity of forms of human living- together, or nothing, for a victory of the concentration- camp system would mean the same inexorable doom for human beings as the use of the hydrogen bomb would mean the doom of the human race.

15There are no parallels to the life in the concentration camps. Its horror can never be fully embraced by the imagination for the very reason that it stands outside of life and death. It can never be fully

11 Les Jours . . . Mort Literally, the days of our death.

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reported for the very reason that the survivor returns to the world of the living, which makes it impossible for him to believe fully in his own past experiences. It is as though he had a story to tell of another planet, for the status of the inmates in the world of the living, where nobody is supposed to know if they are alive or dead, is such that it is as though they had never been born. Therefore all parallels create confusion and distract attention from what is essential. Forced labor in prisons and penal colonies, banishment, slavery, all seem for a moment to offer helpful comparisons, but on closer examination lead nowhere.

16Forced labor as a punishment is limited as to time and intensity. The convict retains his rights over his body; he is not absolutely tortured and he is not absolutely dominated. Banishment banishes only from one part of the world to another part of the world, also inhabited by human beings; it does not exclude from the human world altogether. Throughout history slavery has been an institu- tion within a social order; slaves were not, like concentration- camp inmates, withdrawn from the sight and hence the protection of their fellow men; as instruments of labor they had a definite price and as property a definite value. The concentration- camp inmate has no price, because he can always be replaced; nobody knows to whom he belongs, because he is never seen. From the point of view of normal society he is absolutely superfluous, although in times of acute labor shortage, as in Russia and in Germany during the war, he is used for work.

17The concentration camp as an institution was not established for the sake of any possible labor yield; the only permanent eco- nomic function of the camps has been the financing of their own supervisory apparatus; thus from the economic point of view the concentration camps exist mostly for their own sake. Any work that has been performed could have been done much better and more cheaply under different conditions. Especially Russia, whose concentration camps are mostly described as forced- labor camps because Soviet bureaucracy has chosen to dignify them with this name, reveals most clearly that forced labor is not the primary issue; forced labor is the normal condition of all Russian workers, who have no freedom of movement and can be arbitrarily drafted for work to any place at any time. The incredibility of the horrors is closely bound up with their economic uselessness. The Nazis carried this uselessness to the point of open anti- utility when in the midst of the war, despite the shortage of building material and rolling stock, they set up enormous, costly extermination factories and transported millions of people back and forth. In the eyes of a strictly utilitarian world the obvious contradiction between these

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acts and military expediency gave the whole enterprise an air of mad unreality.

18This at mo sphere of madness and unreality, created by an appar- ent lack of purpose, is the real iron curtain which hides all forms of concentration camps from the eyes of the world. Seen from out- side, they and the things that happen in them can be described only in images drawn from a life after death, that is, a life removed from earthly purposes. Concentration camps can very aptly be divided into three types corresponding to three basic Western conceptions of a life after death: Hades, Purgatory, and Hell. To Hades correspond those relatively mild forms, once pop u lar even in nontotalitarian coun- tries, for getting undesirable elements of all sorts — refugees, stateless persons, the asocial, and the unemployed — out of the way; as DP camps,12 which are nothing other than camps for persons who have become superfluous and bothersome, they have survived the war. Purgatory is represented by the Soviet Union’s labor camps, where neglect is combined with chaotic forced labor. Hell in the most literal sense was embodied by those types of camp perfected by the Nazis, in which the whole of life was thoroughly and systematically organ- ized with a view to the greatest possible torment.

19All three types have one thing in common: the human masses sealed off in them are treated as if they no longer existed, as if what happened to them were no longer of any interest to anybody, as if they were already dead and some evil spirit gone mad were amusing himself by stopping them for a while between life and death before admitting them to eternal peace.

12 DP camps Displaced Persons camps. These camps were common in Eu ro pe after World War II.


1. Why are concentration camps described as “laboratories” for the totali- tarian regime?

2. What is the importance of the concentration camps’ goal of removing human spontaneity?

3. In what sense are the concentration camps “the true central institution of totalitarian or gan iz ation al power” (para. 4)?

4. Arendt implies that the experience of the concentration camp has the effect of “a mental disease.” Why would that be so?

5. How is murder different from the mass death that characterizes the concentration camps?

6. Why is the concentration camp “useful” to the totalitarian government?

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1. Examine the economic issues Arendt raises that are involved in the establishment and operation of concentration camps in a totalitarian state. Decide whether a totalitarian state, whose goal is to achieve total domination, would be able to derive economic advantage from con- centration camps. Why would this be an important issue? If there were a considerable economic advantage to maintaining concentration camps, would that fact make them any less terrifying?

2. Arendt reflected the fears of her own time in this essay. For her the most terrifying and immediate totalitarian governments were those of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. What evidence do you see in our con- temporary world that might suggest totalitarianism is not completely “dead”? Do you perceive any threatening totalitarian governments any- where in the world today? How do they seem to function and to inter- act with other nations?

3. Should you establish that a government is functioning as a totalitarian state today, do you feel it is a moral imperative that you do everything possible to overthrow that state? Would it be ethical and moral to go to war against such a state even if it did not immediately threaten you? Would it be ethical and moral for you to turn your back on a totalitar- ian state and ignore its operation so that it could achieve the kind of total domination Arendt describes?

4. CONNECTIONS How would Machiavelli interpret Arendt’s discus- sion of ends and means in paragraph 8? Would Machiavelli have recom- mended concentration camps to his prince as a means of maintaining power? If a prince believed that concentration camps would be the means by which a state could achieve stability and power, would he be right in assuming that the stability and power thus achieved were worthwhile ends? Do you think Machiavelli would have accepted a totalitarian prince?

5. CONNECTIONS Cicero is ironic in proposing a defense of injus- tice ( because he did not expect his audience to take him seriously. However, it is not always easy for people to detect irony, so it is altogether possible that some readers assumed Philus’s argument was also Cicero’s. Which features of Philus’s argument would the governments described by Arendt have accepted as sound and reasonable? How do governments behave when they treat injustice as necessary and reasonable? John Milton said “necessity is the tyrant’s plea.” Why do tyrants feel injustice is some- times necessary?

6. SEEING CONNECTIONS What would Arendt’s position be regard- ing Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People (p. 204)? Would she have applauded the revolutionary action of the painting or would she have ridiculed it as being naive and insufficient to cope with a totalitarian state? Consider her position regarding the use of violence. A number

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of governments have been recently overthrown, and others threatened, because of the people’s perception that they were oppressive and mov- ing toward totalitarianism. Choose among the following recently over- thrown leaders and research their career in order to decide how closely they satisfy Arendt’s conditions of total domination: Muammar Gadaffi, in Libya; Hosni Mubarak, in Egypt; Saddam Hussein, in Iraq. You may also wish to examine the governments of states whose leaders are still in power: Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (North Korea); Myan- mar; Yemen; Syria. Do any of those countries qualify as totalitarian?

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Henry David Thoreau

Frederick Douglass

Friedrich Nietz sche

Iris Murdoch

Martin Luther King Jr.

Kwame Anthony Appiah

Michael Gazzaniga


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A system of morality which is based on relative emotional values is a mere illusion, a thoroughly vulgar conception which has nothing sound in it and nothing true. – SOCRATES (469–399 B.C.E.)

God considered not action, but the spirit of the action. It is the intention, not the deed, wherein the merit or praise of the doer consists. – PETER ABELARD (1079–1142)

If men were born free, they would, so long as they remained free, form no conception of good and evil. – BARUCH SPINOZA (1632–1677)

All morality depends upon our sentiments; and when any action or quality of the mind pleases us after a certain manner we say it is virtuous; and when the neglect or nonper for mance of it displeases us after a like manner, we say that we lie under an obligation to perform it. – DAVID HUME (1711–1776)

There are no whole truths; all truths are half- truths. It is trying to treat them as whole truths that plays the de vil. –ALFRED NORTH WHITEHEAD (1861–1947)

To set up as a standard of public morality a notion which can neither be defined nor conceived is to open the door to every kind of tyranny. – SIMONE WEIL (1909–1943)

The establishment of ethical principles that translate into moral behavior constitutes a major step forward for civilization. To be sure, ancient civilizations maintained rules and laws governing behavior, and in some cases those rules were written down and adhered to by the majority of citizens. But the move that major religions made was to go beyond simple rules or laws — to penetrate deeper layers of emotion to make people want to behave well toward each other. The writers and writings in this section have all examined the nature of morality and have come to some interesting conclusions, focusing on various aspects of the ethical nature of humankind.

Henry David Thoreau was among the New Englanders who stood firm against slavery and demanded its abolition. Thoreau felt his ethical position threatened by the government’s demanding a tax that would go toward supporting laws that he regarded as immoral. But the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, which was passed a year after


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Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” was first published, had grown even fiercer in demanding that every citizen turn in runaway slaves or face punishment. Thoreau influenced many later thinkers and activists who also struggled against injustice and a social failure of ethics, such as Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.

One victim of what we now think of as immoral behavior was Frederick Douglass, who escaped from slavery by using a decep- tion that his owners considered unethical. Douglass’s life was filled with moral conundrums that even now give us pause. But he was a remarkable man who fled slavery and became one of the most famous Americans of his age. When he amassed enough money, he actually bought his freedom from the family who had owned him. While that seems like an ethical act, some people felt that it was not at all ethical — that since he was not a piece of property he should not have paid his “owners” for a right all should unequivocally enjoy: freedom.

Friedrich Nietz sche, a nineteenth- century philosopher and critic of all social institutions, approaches the question of ethics from a completely unexpected angle. In “Morality as Anti- Nature” he argues that the moral and ethical views of traditional religions are “anti- life.” He believes religious injunctions stifle individuals’ natural behaviors and promote values of death rather than of life. He speculates that religion condemns certain behaviors in order to protect those who are too weak to protect themselves, and that the strong, whom Nietz sche calls “Supermen,” are condemned to obey commandments that rob them of the vitality of existence. His complaint is that religions punish everyone for the sins of the few because the few are weak and unable to control themselves. Nietz sche’s views have been very influential in modern thought, especially during the last de cades of the nineteenth and the whole of the twentieth century.

Iris Murdoch, one of the twentieth century’s most distinguished writers, spent part of her life as an Oxford don teaching philosophy. Her major interests were ethics and morals; in “Morality and Religion” she addresses the question, Can there be morality without religion? Murdoch explores the issues of virtue and duty, both of which she sees as aspects of what we think of as moral behavior, and connects them with the ideals of institutional religion. She then goes on to examine guilt, usually thought of as a religious concept, and the ques- tion of sin. That leads her to consider how religion conceives of the struggle of good and evil, aiming as it does to conquer evil through moral behavior. But a paradox arises: If evil can be totally conquered, can there still be a system of morals or a behavior that needs to be called ethical? Murdoch’s method is to keep us questioning basic issues until we begin to grasp their significance.

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Like Thoreau, Martin Luther King Jr. was also imprisoned for breaking a law his conscience deemed immoral and unjust. In his struggle against the Jim Crow laws enforcing segregation in the South, King acted on his belief that the individual can and should fight against laws that are immoral. King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” provides a masterful and moving definition of what makes laws immoral and unjust. Furthermore, King develops the concept of nonviolent demon- stration as a method by which people can protest unjust laws.

Kwame Anthony Appiah examines the nature of ethics itself. His excursion into virtue theory tries to work out the relationship between the agent of a good act and the act itself. Is an act virtuous because it is performed by a virtuous character, or is it virtuous in and of itself ? The question of character is at the root of his “The Case against Character,” but in the process of presenting his argument, Appiah examines evidence from many thinkers on the relationship between a person’s character and the virtue of that person’s actions. As he exam- ines this relationship, he demonstrates how complex the issue is and how important it is not to take the question of virtue for granted.

When Michael Gazzaniga begins his examination of the nature of ethical behavior in “Toward a Universal Ethics,” he brings to bear his extensive experience in brain physiology. He has not only dissected brains but has also written extensively about their various features, especially the nature of the separate left and right hemispheres and their special adaptations. Gazzaniga consults a number of evolution- ary neuroscientists who study the brain to see which predilections are inherent. We take the inborn talents of geniuses as examples of brains being “hardwired” to start with, but Gazzaniga ponders the possibility that there may be a moral center in the brain and that, if he is right, there could be a universal ethics that applies to all people regardless of culture or upbringing. In his view, before neuroscience developed a significant knowledge of the functions of the brain, all we knew about ethical and moral philosophy came from people telling “stories.” These stories are religious and ethical in import, but they have no sci- entific basis. Gazzaniga brings science to bear on ethics.

This chapter also contains a selection in e-Pages (available online at from Aristotle. In the fourth century B.C.E., Aristotle wrote a treatise on ethics aimed at instructing his son Nichomachus. The Nichomachean Ethics is the single most famous ancient document that attempts to clarify the nature of ethical behavior and its effect on the individual. In the selection from the Ethics included in the e-Pages, Aristotle focuses on defining the good in life, not in the abstract, but in terms of the individual’s obliga- tion to participate in statecraft — what we might call politics. Aristotle also felt that in a democracy it is everyone’s duty to understand

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the principles by which people can live happily and well. Once he has defined it as the ultimate good he proceeds to examine the nature of human happiness, and eventually he connects it to virtuous conduct (para. 23). In the process, he examines virtuous conduct in an effort to enlighten his son on the kind of behavior that is likely to reward him with the most happiness and the best life.

Each of these selections offers insights into the ethical underpin- nings of modern culture. They clarify the nature of the good and the moral. If our ultimate goal is happiness, then the path to that goal must go through the precincts of ethical and moral behavior.


Joseph Wright of Derby (1734–1797) was born and raised in Derby (pronounced “darby”), England, and after a few years in Italy centered himself as an artist there and in Liverpool, England. He is thought to be the first great painter of the industrial revolution, paint- ing the portraits of the important industrialists based in Liverpool. He also painted scenes from a variety of industrial and commercial sites, always looking for a moment of drama in the scene. He was particularly adept at chiaroscuro — the technique of balancing strongly contrast- ing lights and darks — often using a single light source to highlight profound juxtapositions between the action, usually at the center of the canvas, and the inaction, at the periphery.

Originally, the philosophical disciplines of aesthetics and ethics were closely related and considered together because they both involve the question of choice. Art involves making judgments and decisions about beauty and pleasure, while ethics involves making choices about behavior, moral or otherwise. Chiaroscuro in a narrative painting can be used to imply an impending ethical decision because the sharp representation of light and dark stands as an emblem for the choice between moral and immoral behavior.

Wright’s paintings of blacksmiths’ shops, iron forges, and other industrial sites often featured brilliant fires illuminating workers whose postures were reminiscent of Greek and Roman deities in clas- sical paintings. Even the furnaces were suggestive of the furnace of Vulcan in Roman myth. But at the same time he was painting these pictures, Wright also painted The Hermit Studying Anatomy (1771–73) and The Alchymist (1771), depicting the title figure trying to change base metal into gold but instead discovering phosphorous, which pro- duces the brilliant light in the scene. Alchemy was long discredited by this time, but it remained as a reminder that science was born from such practices and progressed slowly and through unexpected paths.

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These paintings seem to be connected with Wright’s occasional attendance at the Lunar Society in Birmingham, which tried to rec- oncile the religious and ethical resistance to the birth of science. His physician, Erasmus Darwin (1731–1802), of whom Wright painted a noted portrait, was one of the principal organizers of the society. The Lunar Society, which met regularly from 1765 to 1813, convened for dinner on the night of the full moon because the extra light made it easier for people to get home.

Commentators on Wright’s work have speculated on the depth of his interest in either industrial progress or the development of science. They suggest that, while he may have been interested in both, he was also paying attention to the developments in the world in which he lived. In a sense, he was keeping up with the times.

Wright’s most famous painting is An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump (1768), in the National Gallery in London (to see the painting in color, go to It portrays a traveling scientist who performs experiments in the homes of wealthy patrons who are interested in seeing what the latest scientific develop- ments are. The air pump was still a novelty in Wright’s time, but it is clear that this scientist is a showman, almost like a traveling magician,


Oil on canvas, 6' × 8'. The National Gallery of London.

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and therefore something of an entertainer. The experiment involves tak- ing the air out of the glass bowl in which a white cockatoo has been placed. The process creates a vacuum, which will kill the bird, thus demonstrating that oxygen is essential to life.

The audience is the homeowner and his family members, all of whom have a distinct reaction to what is happening. The scientist apparently does not permit the bird to die, but stops the experiment just short of death. The scientist’s assistant, the boy in the far right of the painting, seems about to lower a birdcage in which to place the revived cockatoo, whose wing is outstretched to show that it is animate again. The moon outside the window is an allusion to the Lunar Society, which promoted public education in the development of science.

The range of psychological responses to the experiment is wide. The older man at the lower right adopts the posture of a thought- ful philosopher pondering the circumstances of the scene. The young woman next to him cannot look because she cannot abide the death of the bird, while the man in front of her calls her attention to it with his pointing hand, as if saying everything is all right. The small girl near the center, in the brightest light, looks upward with a fearful expres- sion. The man seated to the left is simply curious and dispassionate; perhaps he is the pragmatic homeowner. Next to him is a small boy who watches with intent expectation. The two young people to the far left are often described as lovers and are clearly much more interested in each other than in the experiment.

The light source comes from a lamp behind a beaker with a por- tion of a human skull in it, suggesting that the scientist has performed an earlier demonstration, perhaps of anatomy. Of course, like Yorick’s skull in Hamlet, this detail implies the mortality of those in the room. The scientist seems to be staring directly out at us. His left hand is in the process of restoring the air to the bowl, while his right arm halts the action of the pump. The circular, gemlike composition of the lit portion is reminiscent of similarly lit religious paintings, perhaps commenting on the ultimate compatibility of religion and science.

In the selections that follow, think about how Joseph Wright of Derby’s painting, with its curious range of responses to the dove’s situation, sheds light on the moral and ethical positions of each of the authors in this section. Following each selection a Seeing Connections question asks you to compare the writer’s ideas with Wright’s painting.

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HENRY DAVID THOREAU Civil Disobedience

HENRY DAVID THOREAU (1817–1862) began keeping a journal when he graduated from Harvard in 1837. The journal was preserved and published, and it shows us the seriousness, determi- nation, and elevation of moral values characteristic of all his work. He is best known for Walden (1854), a record of his departure from the warm congeniality of Concord, Massachusetts, and the home of his close friend Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882), for the com- parative “wilds” of Walden Pond, where he built a cabin, planted a garden, and lived simply. In Walden, Thoreau describes the dead- ening influence of own ership and extols the vitality and spiritual uplift that come from living close to nature. He also argues that civi- lization’s comforts sometimes rob a person of in de pen dence, integ- rity, and even conscience.

Thoreau and Emerson were prominent among the group of writers and thinkers who were referred to as the Transcendentalists. They believed in something that transcended the limits of sensory experience — in other words, something that transcended material- ism. Their philosophy was based on the works of Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), the German idealist philosopher; Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834), the En glish poet; and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832), the German dramatist and thinker. These writers praised human intuition and the capacity to see beyond the limits of common experience.

The Transcendentalists’ philosophical idealism carried over into the social concerns of the day, expressing itself in works such as Walden and “Civil Disobedience,” which was published with the title “Re sis tance to Civil Government” in 1849, a year after the pub- lication of Karl Marx’s The Communist Manifesto (p. 453). Although Thoreau all but denies his idealism in “Civil Disobedience,”

Originally published as “Resistance to Civil Government,” 1849.

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it is obvious that after spending a night in the Concord jail, he real- izes he cannot quietly accept his government’s behavior in regard to slavery. He begins to feel that it is not only appropriate but imperative to disobey unjust laws.

In Thoreau’s time the most flagrantly unjust laws were those that supported slavery. The Transcendentalists strongly opposed slavery and spoke out against it. Abolitionists in Massachusetts har- bored escaped slaves and helped them move to Canada and freedom. The Fugitive Slave Act, enacted in 1850, the year after “Civil Disobe- dience” was published, made Thoreau a criminal because he refused to comply with Massachusetts civil authorities when in 1851 they began returning escaped slaves to the South as the law required.

“Civil Disobedience” was much more influential in the twentieth century than it was in the nineteenth. Mohandas Gandhi (1869– 1948) claimed that while he was editor of an Indian newspaper in South Africa, it helped to inspire his theories of nonviolent re sis- tance. Gandhi eventually implemented these theories against the British Empire and helped win in de pen dence for India. In the 1960s, Martin Luther King Jr. applied the same theories in the fight for racial equality in the United States. Thoreau’s essay once again found widespread adherents among the many young men who resisted being drafted into the military to fight in Vietnam because they believed that the war was unjust.

“Civil Disobedience” was written after the Walden experience (which began on July 4, 1845, and ended on September 6, 1847). Thoreau quietly returned to Emerson’s home and “civilization.” His refusal in 1846 to pay the Massachusetts poll tax — a “per head” tax imposed on all citizens to help support what he considered an unjust war against Mexico — landed him in the Concord jail. He spent just one day and one night there — his aunt paid the tax for him — but the expe- rience was so extraordinary that he began examining it in his journal.

Thoreau’s Rhetoric

Thoreau maintained his journal throughout his life and eventu- ally became convinced that writing was one of the few professions by which he could earn a living. He made more money, however, from lecturing on the lyceum circuit. The lyceum, a New En gland insti tution, was a town adult education program, featuring important speakers such as the very successful Emerson and foreign lecturers. Admission fees were very reasonable, and in the absence of other pop u lar entertainment, the lyceum was a major proving ground for speakers interested in promoting their ideas.

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“Civil Disobedience” was first outlined in rough- hewn form in the journal, where the main ideas appear and where experiments in phrasing began. (Thoreau was a constant reviser.) Then in February 1848, Thoreau delivered a lecture on “Civil Disobedience” at the Concord Lyceum urging people of conscience to actively resist a gov- ernment that acted badly. Finally, the piece was prepared for publi- cation in Aesthetic Papers, an intellectual journal edited by Elizabeth Peabody (1804–1894), the sister- in- law of another important New En gland writer, Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804–1864). There it was refined again, and certain important details were added.

“Civil Disobedience” bears many of the hallmarks of the spo- ken lecture. For one thing, it is written in the first person and addresses an audience that Thoreau expects will share many of his sentiments but certainly not all his conclusions. His message is to some extent anarchistic, virtually denying an unjust government any authority or respect.

Modern po liti cal conservatives generally take his opening quote — “That government is best which governs least” — as a rallying cry against governmental interference in everyday affairs. Such con- servatives usually propose reducing government inter ference by reduc- ing the government’s capacity to tax wealth for unpop u lar causes. In fact, what Thoreau opposes is simply any government that is not totally just, totally moral, and totally respectful of the individual.

The easiness of the pace of the essay also derives from its origi- nal form as a speech. Even such locutions as “But to speak practi- cally and as a citizen” (para. 3) connect the essay with its origins. Although Thoreau was not an overwhelming orator — he was short and somewhat homely, an unprepossessing figure — he ensured that his writing achieved what some speakers might have accom- plished by means of gesture and theatrics.

Thoreau’s language is marked by clarity. He speaks directly to every issue, stating his own position and recommending the position he feels his audience, as reasonable and moral people, should accept. One impressive achievement in this selection is Thoreau’s capacity to shape memorable, virtually aphoristic statements that remain “quot- able” generations later, beginning with his own quotation from the words of John L. O’Sullivan: “That government is best which governs least.” Thoreau calls it a motto, as if it belonged on the great seal of a government or on a coin. It contains an interesting and impressive rhetorical flourish — the device of repeating “govern” and the near rhyme of “best” with “least.”

His most memorable statements show considerable attention to the rhetorical qualities of balance, repetition, and pattern. “The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what

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Such attention to phrasing is typical of speakers whose expressions must catch and retain the attention of listeners. Audiences do not have the advantage of referring to a text, so the words they hear must be forceful.

Thoreau relies also on analogy — comparing men with machines, people with plants, even the citizen with states considering secession from the Union. His analogies are effective and thus worth examining in some detail. He draws on the analysis of circumstance throughout the essay, carefully examining government actions to determine their qualities and their results. His questions include comments on poli- tics (para. 1), on the Bible (para. 23), on Confucius (para. 24), and finally on his contemporary Daniel Webster (1782–1852) (para. 42), demonstrating a wide range of influences but avoiding the pedantic tone that can come from using quotations too liberally or from cit- ing obscure sources. This essay is simple, direct, and uncluttered. Its enduring influence is in part due to the clarity and grace that charac- terize Thoreau’s writing at its best. Its power derives from Thoreau’s demand that citizens act on the basis of conscience.


The following prereading questions may help you anticipate key issues in the discussion of Henry David Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience.” Keeping

I think right” (para. 4) uses the word right in two senses: first, as a matter of personal volition; second, as a matter of moral rectitude. One’s right, in other words, becomes the opportunity to do right. “For it matters not how small the beginning may seem to be: what is once well done is done forever” (para. 21) also relies on repeti- tion for its effect and balances the concept of a beginning with its capacity to reach out into the future. The use of the rhetorical device of chiasmus, a criss- cross relationship between key words, marks “Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison” (para. 22). Here is the pattern:

imprisons . . . unjustly

just man . . . prison

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them in mind during your first reading of the selection should help focus your attention.

• What kind of government does Thoreau think would be most ethical and moral?

• What is the individual’s ethical responsibility regarding supporting the government when it is wrong?

• How does Thoreau deal with unjust laws that seem immoral?

Civil Disobedience 1I heartily accept the motto — “That government is best which gov-

erns least,”1 and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe — “That government is best which governs not at all”; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have. Government is at best but an expedient; but most govern- ments are usually, and all governments are sometimes, inexpedient. The objections which have been brought against a standing army, and they are many and weighty, and deserve to prevail, may also at last be brought against a standing government. The standing army is only an arm of the standing government. The government itself, which is only the mode which the people have chosen to execute their will, is equally liable to be abused and perverted before the people can act through it. Witness the present Mexican war,2 the work of comparatively a few individuals using the standing government as their tool; for in the outset the people would not have consented to this mea sure.

2This American government — what is it but a tradition, a recent one, endeavoring to transmit itself unimpaired to posterity but each instant losing some of its integrity? It has not the vitality and force of a single living man; for a single man can bend it to his will. It is a sort of wooden gun to the people themselves. But it is not the less neces- sary for this; for the people must have some complicated machinery or other, and hear its din, to satisfy that idea of government which they

1 “. . . governs least” John L. O’Sullivan (1813–1895) wrote in the United States Magazine and Demo cratic Review (1837) that “all government is evil, and the parents of evil. . . . The best government is that which governs least.” Thomas Jefferson wrote, “That government is best which governs the least, because its people discipline themselves.” Both comments echo the Tao- te Ching.

2 the present Mexican war (1846–1848) The war was extremely unpop u lar in New En gland because it was an act of a bullying government anxious to grab land from a weaker nation. The United States had annexed Texas in 1845, precipitating a retaliation from Mexico.

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have. Governments show thus how successfully men can be imposed on, even impose on themselves, for their own advantage. It is excel- lent, we must all allow. Yet this government never of itself furthered any enterprise but by the alacrity with which it got out of its way. It does not keep the country free. It does not settle the West. It does not educate. The character inherent in the American people has done all that has been accomplished; and it would have done somewhat more if the government had not sometimes got in its way. For government is an expedient by which men would fain succeed in letting one another alone; and, as has been said, when it is most expedient the governed are most let alone by it. Trade and commerce, if they were not made of India- rubber, would never manage to bounce over the obstacles which legislators are continually putting in their way; and, if one were to judge these men wholly by the effects of their actions and not partly by their intentions, they would deserve to be classed and punished with those mischievous persons who put obstructions on the railroads.

3But to speak practically and as a citizen, unlike those who call themselves no- government men, I ask for, not at once no govern- ment, but at once a better government. Let every man make known what kind of government would command his respect, and that will be one step toward obtaining it.

4After all, the practical reason why, when the power is once in the hands of the people, a majority are permitted, and for a long period continue, to rule is not because they are most likely to be in the right, nor because this seems fairest to the minority but because they are physically the strongest. But a government in which the majority rule in all cases cannot be based on justice, even as far as men understand it. Can there not be a government in which majorities do not virtually decide right and wrong but conscience? — in which majorities decide only those questions to which the rule of expediency is applicable? Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience then? I think that we should be men first and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right. It is truly enough said that a corporation has no conscience; but a corporation of conscientious men is a corporation with a conscience. Law never made men a whit more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well- disposed are daily made the agents of injustice. A common and natural result of an undue respect for law is that you may see a file of soldiers, col o nel, captain, corpo- ral, privates, powder- monkeys,3 and all, marching in admirable order

3 powder- monkeys The boys who delivered gunpowder to cannons.

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over hill and dale to the wars, against their wills, ay, against their common sense and consciences, which makes it very steep marching indeed and produces a palpitation of the heart. They have no doubt that it is a damnable business in which they are concerned; they are all peaceably inclined. Now, what are they? Men at all? or small mov- able forts and magazines at the ser vice of some unscrupulous man in power? Visit the Navy- Yard,4 and behold a marine, such a man as an American government can make, or such as it can make a man with its black arts — a mere shadow and reminiscence of humanity, a man laid out alive and standing, and already, as one may say, buried under arms with funeral accompaniments, though it may be —

Not a drum was heard, not a funeral note, As his corse to the rampart we hurried; Not a soldier discharged his farewell shot O’er the grave where our hero we buried.5

5The mass of men serve the state thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies. They are the standing army, and the militia, jailers, constables, posse comitatus,6 &c. In most cases there is no free exercise what ever of the judgment or of the moral sense; but they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones; and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the purpose as well. Such command no more respect than men of straw or a lump of dirt. They have the same sort of worth only as horses and dogs. Yet such as these even are commonly esteemed good citizens. Others — as most legislators, politicians, lawyers, ministers, and office- holders — serve the state chiefly with their heads; and, as they rarely make any moral distinctions, they are as likely to serve the De vil, without intending it, as God. A very few, as heroes, patriots, martyrs, reformers in the great sense, and men, serve the state with their consciences also and so necessarily resist it for the most part; and they are commonly treated as enemies by it. A wise man will only be useful as a man and will not submit to be “clay” and “stop a hole to keep the wind away,” but leave that office to his dust at least:

I am too high- born to be propertied, To be a secondary at control, Or useful serving- man and instrument To any sovereign state throughout the world.7

4 Navy- Yard This is apparently the U.S. naval yard at Boston. 5 These lines are from “Burial of Sir John Moore at Corunna” (1817) by the Irish

poet Charles Wolfe (1791–1823). 6 posse comitatus Literally, the power of the county; the term means a law-

enforcement group made up of ordinary citizens. 7 “clay,” “stop a hole . . . wind away,” I am too high- born . . . These

lines are from Shakespeare; the first is from Hamlet, V.i.226–27. The verse is from King John, V.ii.79–82.

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6He who gives himself entirely to his fellow- men appears to them useless and selfish; but he who gives himself partially to them is pro- nounced a benefactor and philanthropist.

7How does it become a man to behave toward this American gov- ernment today? I answer, that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it. I cannot for an instant recognize that po liti cal organ iz ation as my government which is the slave’s government also.

8All men recognize the right of revolution; that is, the right to refuse allegiance to, and to resist the government when its tyranny or its inefficiency are great and unendurable. But almost all say that such is not the case now. But such was the case, they think, in the Revolution of ’75. If one were to tell me that this was a bad gov- ernment because it taxed certain foreign commodities brought to its ports, it is most probable that I should not make an ado about it, for I can do without them. All machines have their friction; and possibly this does enough good to counterbalance the evil. At any rate, it is a great evil to make a stir about it. But when the friction comes to have its machine, and oppression and robbery are organized, I say let us not have such a machine any longer. In other words, when a sixth of the population of a nation which has undertaken to be the refuge of liberty are slaves, and a whole country is unjustly overrun and con- quered by a foreign army and subjected to military law, I think that it is not too soon for honest men to rebel and revolutionize. What makes this duty the more urgent is the fact that the country so over- run is not our own, but ours is the invading army.

9Paley,8 a common authority with many on moral questions, in his chapter on the “Duty of Submission to Civil Government,” resolves all civil obligation into expediency; and he proceeds to say, “that so long as the interest of the whole society requires it, that is, so long as the established government cannot be resisted or charged without public inconveniency, it is the will of God that the established government be obeyed, and no longer. . . . This principle being admitted, the jus- tice of every par tic u lar case of re sis tance is reduced to a computation of the quantity of the danger and grievance on the one side, and of the probability and expense of redressing it on the other.” Of this, he says, every man shall judge for himself. But Paley appears never to have contemplated those cases to which the rule of expediency does not apply, in which a people, as well as an individual, must do justice, cost what it may. If I have unjustly wrested a plank from a drowning

8 William Paley (1743–1805) En glish theologian who lectured widely on moral philosophy. Paley is famous for A View of the Evidences of Christianity (1794). “Duty of Submission to Civil Government Explained” is Chapter 3 of Book 6 of The Principles of Moral and Po liti cal Philosophy (1785).

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man, I must restore it to him though I drown myself. This, according to Paley, would be incon ve nient. But he that would save his life, in such a case, shall lose it. This people must cease to hold slaves and to make war on Mexico, though it cost them their existence as a people.

10In their practice, nations agree with Paley; but does anyone think that Massachusetts does exactly what is right at the present crisis?

A drab of state, a cloth- o’- silver slut, To have her train borne up, and her soul trail in the dirt.9

Practically speaking, the opponents to a reform in Massachusetts are not a hundred thousand politicians at the South but a hundred thousand merchants and farmers here, who are more interested in commerce and agriculture than they are in humanity, and are not prepared to do jus- tice to the slave and to Mexico, cost what it may. I quarrel not with far- off foes but with those who, near at home, co- operate with, and do the bidding of, those far away, and without whom the latter would be harmless. We are accustomed to say that the mass of men are unpre- pared; but improvement is slow because the few are not materially wiser or better than the many. It is not so important that many should be as good as you as that there be some absolute goodness somewhere; for that will leaven the whole lump. There are thousands who are in opinion opposed to slavery and to the war who yet in effect do nothing to put an end to them; who, esteeming themselves children of Wash- ington and Franklin, sit down with their hands in their pockets and say that they know not what to do, and do nothing; who even post- pone the question of freedom to the question of free trade, and qui- etly read the prices- current along with the latest advices from Mexico after dinner and, it may be, fall asleep over them both. What is the price- current of an honest man and patriot today? They hesitate and they regret and sometimes they petition; but they do nothing in earnest and with effect. They will wait, well disposed, for others to remedy the evil, that they may no longer have it to regret. At most, they give only a cheap vote, and a feeble countenance and God- speed, to the right, as it goes by them. There are nine hundred and ninety- nine patrons of virtue to one virtuous man. But it is easier to deal with the real possessor of a thing than with the temporary guardian of it.

11All voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers or backgammon, with a slight moral tinge to it, a playing with right and wrong, with moral ques- tions; and betting naturally accompanies it. The character of the voters is not staked. I cast my vote, perchance, as I think right; but I am not vitally

9 A drab . . . From Cyril Tourneur (1575?–1626), Revenger’s Tragedy (1607), IV.iv.70–72. “Drab” is an obsolete term for a prostitute. Thoreau quotes the lines to imply that Massachusetts is a “painted lady” with a defiled soul.

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concerned that that right should prevail. I am willing to leave it to the majority. Its obligation, therefore, never exceeds that of expediency. Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail. A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority. There is but little virtue in the action of masses of men. When the majority shall at length vote for the abolition of slavery, it will be because they are indifferent to slavery, or because there is but little slavery left to be abol- ished by their vote. They will then be the only slaves. Only his vote can hasten the abolition of slavery who asserts his own freedom by his vote.

12I hear of a convention to be held at Baltimore,10 or elsewhere, for the selection of a candidate for the Presidency, made up chiefly of edi- tors, and men who are politicians by profession; but I think, what is it to any in de pen dent, intelligent, and respectable man what decision they may come to? Shall we not have the advantage of his wisdom and honesty nevertheless? Can we not count upon some inde pen dent votes? Are there not many individuals in the country who do not attend con- ventions? But no: I find that the responsible man, so called, has imme- diately drifted from his position, and despairs of his country when his country has more reason to despair of him. He forthwith adopts one of the candidates thus selected as the only available one, thus proving that he is himself available for any purposes of the demagogue. His vote is of no more worth than that of any unprincipled foreigner or hireling native who may have been bought. O for a man who is a man and, as my neighbor says has a bone in his back which you cannot pass your hand through! Our statistics are at fault: the population has been returned too large. How many men are there to a square thousand miles in this coun- try? Hardly one. Does not America offer any inducement for men to set- tle here? The American has dwindled into an Odd Fellow11 — one who may be known by the development of his organ of gregariousness and a manifest lack of intellect and cheerful self- reliance; whose first and chief concern, on coming into the world, is to see that the Alms houses are in good repair; and, before yet he has lawfully donned the virile garb, to collect a fund for the support of the widows and orphans that may be; who, in short, ventures to live only by the aid of the Mutual Insurance Company, which has promised to bury him decently.

13It is not a man’s duty, as a matter of course, to devote himself to the eradication of any, even the most enormous wrong; he may still properly

10 Baltimore In 1848, the po liti cal environment was particularly intense; it was a seedbed for theoreticians of the Confederacy, which was only beginning to be contemplated seriously.

11 Odd Fellow The In de pen dent Order of Odd Fellows, a fraternal and benev- olent secret society, founded in En gland in the eighteenth century and first estab- lished in the United States in 1819 in Baltimore.

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have other concerns to engage him; but it is his duty, at least, to wash his hands of it and, if he gives it no thought longer, not to give it practi- cally his support. If I devote myself to other pursuits and contemplations, I must first see, at least, that I do not pursue them sitting upon another man’s shoulders. I must get off him first, that he may pursue his contem- plations too. See what gross inconsistency is tolerated. I have heard some of my townsmen say, “I should like to have them order me out to help put down an insurrection of the slaves, or to march to Mexico — see if I would go”; and yet these very men have each directly by their allegiance and so indirectly, at least, by their money, furnished a substitute. The soldier is applauded who refuses to serve in an unjust war by those who do not refuse to sustain the unjust government which makes the war; is applauded by those whose own act and authority he disregards and sets at naught; as if the State were penitent to that degree that it hired one to scourge it while it sinned, but not to that degree that it left off sinning for a moment. Thus, under the name of Order and Civil Government, we are all made at last to pay homage to and support our own meanness. After the first blush of sin comes its indifference; and from immoral it becomes, as it were, unmoral, and not quite unnecessary to that life which we have made.

14The broadest and most prevalent error requires the most disin- terested virtue to sustain it. The slight reproach to which the virtue of patriotism is commonly liable, the noble are most likely to incur. Those who, while they disapprove of the character and mea sures of a government, yield to it their allegiance and support, are undoubt- edly its most conscientious supporters, and so frequently the most serious obstacles to reform. Some are petitioning the State to dissolve the Union, to disregard the requisitions of the President. Why do they not dissolve it themselves — the union between themselves and the State — and refuse to pay their quota into its trea su ry? Do not they stand in the same relation to the State that the State does to the Union? And have not the same reasons prevented the State from resisting the Union which have prevented them from resisting the State?

15How can a man be satisfied to entertain an opinion merely, and enjoy it? Is there any enjoyment in it if his opinion is that he is aggrieved? If you are cheated out of a single dollar by your neighbor, you do not rest satisfied with knowing that you are cheated, or with saying that you are cheated, or even with petitioning him to pay you your due; but you take effectual steps at once to obtain the full amount and see that you are never cheated again. Action from principle, the perception and the per for mance of right, changes things and relations; it is essentially revo- lutionary and does not consist wholly with anything which was. It not only divides states and churches, it divides families; ay, it divides the individual, separating the diabolical in him from the divine.

16Unjust laws exist: shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them and obey them until we have succeeded,

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or shall we transgress them at once? Men generally, under such a government as this, think that they ought to wait until they have persuaded the majority to alter them. They think that if they should resist the remedy would be worse than the evil. It makes it worse. Why is it not more apt to anticipate and provide for reform? Why does it not cherish its wise minority? Why does it cry and resist before it is hurt? Why does it not encourage its citizens to be on the alert to point out its faults and do better than it would have them? Why does it always crucify Christ and excommunicate Copernicus and Luther12 and pronounce Washington and Franklin rebels?

17One would think that a deliberate and practical denial of its authority was the only offense never contemplated by government; else why has it not assigned its definite, its suitable and proportionate penalty? If a man who has no property refuses but once to earn nine shillings for the State, he is put in prison for a period unlimited by any law that I know, and determined only by the discretion of those who placed him there; but if he should steal ninety times nine shil- lings from the State, he is soon permitted to go at large again.

18If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go: perchance it will wear smooth — certainly the machine will wear out. If the injustice has a spring or a pulley or a rope or a crank exclusively for itself, then perhaps you may consider whether the remedy will not be worse than the evil; but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then I say break the law. Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.

19As for adopting the ways which the State has provided for remedy- ing the evil, I know not of such ways. They take too much time, and a man’s life will be gone. I have other affairs to attend to. I came into this world, not chiefly to make this a good place to live in, but to live in it, be it good or bad. A man has not everything to do, but something; and because he cannot do everything, it is not necessary that he should do something wrong. It is not my business to be petitioning the Governor or the Legislature any more than it is theirs to petition me; and if they should not hear my petition what should I do then? But in this case the State has provided no way: its very Constitution is the evil. This may seem to be harsh and stubborn and un conciliatory; but it is to treat with the utmost kindness and consideration the only spirit that can

12 Nicolaus Copernicus (1473–1543) and Martin Luther (1483–1546) Copernicus revolutionized astronomy and the way humankind perceives the uni- verse; Luther was a religious revolutionary who began the Reformation and created the first Protestant faith.

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appreciate or deserves it. So is all change for the better, like birth and death, which convulse the body.

20I do not hesitate to say that those who call themselves Abolition- ists should at once effectually withdraw their support, both in per- son and property, from the government of Massachusetts, and not wait till they constitute a majority of one before they suffer the right to prevail through them. I think that it is enough if they have God on their side, without waiting for that other one. Moreover, any man more right than his neighbors constitutes a majority of one already.

21I meet this American government or its representative, the State government, directly and face to face once a year — no more — in the person of its tax- gatherer; this is the only mode in which a man situ- ated as I am necessarily meets it; and it then says distinctly, Recognize me; and the simplest, the most effectual and, in the present posture of affairs, the indispensablest mode of treating with it on this head, of expressing your little satisfaction with and love for it, is to deny it then. My civil neighbor, the tax- gatherer, is the very man I have to deal with — for it is, after all, with men and not with parchment that I quarrel — and he has voluntarily chosen to be an agent of the govern- ment. How shall he ever know well what he is and does as an officer of the government, or as a man, until he is obliged to consider whether he shall treat me, his neighbor, for whom he has respect, as a neighbor and well- disposed man, or as a maniac and disturber of the peace, and see if he can get over this obstruction to his neighborliness without a ruder and more impetuous thought or speech corresponding with his action. I know this well, that if one thousand, if one hundred, if ten men whom I could name — if ten honest men only — ay, if one HONEST man in this State of Massachusetts, ceasing to hold slaves, were actually to withdraw from this copartnership and be locked up in the county jail therefor, it would be the abolition of slavery in America. For it mat- ters not how small the beginning may seem to be: what is once well done is done forever. But we love better to talk about it: that we say is our mission. Reform keeps many scores of newspapers in its ser vice but not one man. If my esteemed neighbor,13 the State’s ambassador, who will devote his days to the settlement of the question of human rights in the Council Chamber, instead of being threatened with the prisons of Carolina, were to sit down the prisoner of Massachu- setts, that State which is so anxious to foist the sin of slavery upon her

13 esteemed neighbor Thoreau refers to Samuel Hoar (1778–1856), a Massa- chusetts congressman, who went to South Carolina to protest that state’s practice of seizing black seamen from Massachusetts ships and enslaving them. South Carolina threatened Hoar and drove him out of the state. He did not secure the justice he demanded.

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sister — though at present she can discover only an act of inhospitality to be the ground of a quarrel with her — the Legislature would not wholly waive the subject the following winter.

22Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison. The proper place today, the only place which Massachusetts has provided for her freer and less desponding spirits is in her prisons, to be put out and locked out of the State by her own act, as they have already put themselves out by their prin ciples. It is there that the fugitive slave and the Mexican prisoner on parole and the Indian come to plead the wrongs of his race should find them; on that separate but more free and honorable ground where the State places those who are not with her but against her — the only house in a slave State in which a free man can abide with honor. If any think that their influence would be lost there, and their voices no longer afflict the ear of the State, that they would not be as an enemy within its walls, they do not know by how much truth is stronger than error, nor how much more eloquently and effectively he can combat injustice who has experienced a little in his own person. Cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence. A minority is powerless while it conforms to the majority; it is not even a minority then; but it is irresistible when it clogs by its whole weight. If the alternative is to keep all just men in prison or give up war and slavery, the State will not hesi- tate which to choose. If a thousand men were not to pay their tax- bills this year, that would not be a violent bloody mea sure, as it would be to pay them, and enable the State to commit violence and shed innocent blood. This is, in fact, the definition of a peaceable revolution, if any such is possible. If the tax- gatherer or any other public officer asks me, as one has done, “But what shall I do?” my answer is, “If you really wish to do anything, resign your office.” When the subject has refused allegiance and the officer has resigned his office, then the revolution is accomplished. But even suppose blood should flow. Is there not a sort of blood shed when the conscience is wounded? Through this wound a man’s real manhood and immortality flow out, and he bleeds to an everlasting death. I see this blood flowing now.

23I have contemplated the imprisonment of the offender rather than the seizure of his goods — though both will serve the same purpose — because they who assert the purest right, and consequently are most dangerous to a corrupt State, commonly have not spent much time in accumulating property. To such the State renders comparatively small ser vice, and a slight tax is wont to appear exorbitant, particularly if they are obliged to earn it by special labor with their hands. If there were one who lived wholly without the use of money, the State itself would hesi- tate to demand it of him. But the rich man — not to make any invidi- ous comparison — is always sold to the institution which makes him

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rich. Absolutely speaking, the more money, the less virtue; for money comes between a man and his objects and obtains them for him; and it was certainly no great virtue to obtain it. It puts to rest many ques- tions which he would otherwise be taxed to answer; while the only new question which it puts is the hard but superfluous one, how to spend it. Thus his moral ground is taken from under his feet. The opportunities of living are diminished in proportion as what are called the “means” are increased. The best thing a man can do for his culture when he is rich is to endeavor to carry out those schemes which he entertained when he was poor. Christ answered the Herodians14 according to their condi- tion. “Show me the tribute- money,” said he — and one took a penny out of his pocket — if you use money which has the image of Caesar on it, and which he has made current and valuable, that is, if you are men of the State and gladly enjoy the advantages of Caesar’s government, then pay him back some of his own when he demands it; “Render there- fore to Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and to God those things which are God’s” — leaving them no wiser than before as to which was which; for they did not wish to know.

24When I converse with the freest of my neighbors, I perceive that what ever they may say about the magnitude and seriousness of the question, and their regard for the public tranquillity, the long and the short of the matter is that they cannot spare the protection of the existing government, and they dread the consequences to their property and families of disobedience to it. For my own part, I should not like to think that I ever rely on the protection of the State. But if I deny the authority of the State when it presents its tax- bill, it will soon take and waste all my property and so harass me and my children without end. This is hard. This makes it impossible for a man to live honestly, and at the same time comfortably, in outward respects. It will not be worth the while to accumulate property; that would be sure to go again. You must hire or squat somewhere and raise but a small crop and eat that soon. You must live within yourself and depend upon yourself always tucked up and ready for a start, and not have many affairs. A man may grow rich in Turkey even, if he will be in all respects a good subject of the Turkish government. Confucius15 said: “If a state is governed by the principles of reason, poverty and mis- ery are subjects of shame; if a state is not governed by the principles of reason, riches and honors are the subjects of shame.” No; until

14 Herodians Followers of King Herod who were opposed to Jesus Christ (see Matt. 22:16).

15 Confucius (551–479 B.C.E.) The most important Chinese religious leader. His Analects (collection) treated not only religious but moral and po liti cal matters as well.

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I want the protection of Massachusetts to be extended to me in some distant Southern port, where my liberty is endangered, or until I am bent solely on building up an estate at home by peaceful enterprise, I can afford to refuse allegiance to Massachusetts and her right to my property and life. It costs me less in every sense to incur the penalty of disobedience to the State than it would to obey. I should feel as if I were worth less in that case.

25Some years ago the State met me in behalf of the Church and commanded me to pay a certain sum toward the support of a cler- gyman whose preaching my father attended, but never I myself. “Pay,” it said, “or be locked up in the jail.” I declined to pay. But, unfortunately, another man saw fit to pay it. I did not see why the schoolmaster should be taxed to support the priest, and not the priest the schoolmaster; for I was not the State’s schoolmaster, but I supported myself by voluntary subscription. I did not see why the lyceum should not present its tax- bill and have the State to back its demand, as well as the Church. However, at the request of the selectmen, I condescended to make some such statement as this in writing: — “Know all men by these presents, that I, Henry Thoreau, do not wish to be regarded as a member of any incorporated society which I have not joined.” This I gave to the town clerk; and he has it. The State, having thus learned that I did not wish to be regarded as a member of that church, has never made a like demand on me since; though it said that it must adhere to its original presumption that time. If I had known how to name them, I should then have signed off in detail from all the societies which I never signed on to; but I did not know where to find a complete list.

26I have paid no poll- tax16 for six years. I was put into a jail once on this account, for one night; and, as I stood considering the walls of solid stone, two or three feet thick, the door of wood and iron, a foot thick, and the iron grating which strained the light, I could not help being struck with the foolishness of that institution which treated me as if I were mere flesh and blood and bones, to be locked up. I wondered that it should have concluded at length that this was the best use it could put me to and had never thought to avail itself of my ser vices in some way. I saw that if there was a wall of stone between me and my townsmen, there was a still more difficult one to climb or break through before they could get to be as free as I was. I did not for a moment feel confined, and the walls seemed a great waste of stone and mortar. I felt as if I alone of all my townsmen had

16 poll- tax A tax levied on every citizen living in a given area; poll means “head,” so it is a tax per head. The tax Thoreau refers to, about $2, was used to sup- port the Mexican War.

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paid my tax. They plainly did not know how to treat me but behaved like persons who are underbred. In every threat and in every compli- ment there was a blunder; for they thought that my chief desire was to stand on the other side of that stone wall. I could not but smile to see how industriously they locked the door on my meditations, which followed them out again without let or hindrance, and they were really all that was dangerous. As they could not reach me, they had resolved to punish my body; just as boys, if they cannot come at some person against whom they have a spite, will abuse his dog. I saw that the State was half- witted, that it was timid as a lone woman with her silver spoons, and that it did not know its friends from its foes, and I lost all my remaining respect for it and pitied it.

27Thus the State never intentionally confronts a man’s sense, intellec- tual or moral, but only his body, his senses. It is not armed with supe- rior wit or honesty but with superior physical strength. I was not born to be forced. I will breathe after my own fashion. Let us see who is the strongest. What force has a multitude? They only can force me who obey a higher law than I. They force me to become like themselves. I do not hear of men being forced to live this way or that by masses of men. What sort of life were that to live? When I meet a government which says to me, “Your money or your life,” why should I be in haste to give it my money? It may be in a great strait and not know what to do: I cannot help that. It must help itself; do as I do. It is not worth the while to snivel about it. I am not responsible for the successful working of the machinery of soci- ety. I am not the son of the engineer. I perceive that, when an acorn and a chestnut fall side by side, the one does not remain inert to make way for the other, but both obey their own laws and spring and grow and flourish as best they can till one, perchance, overshadows and destroys the other. If a plant cannot live according to its nature, it dies; and so a man.

28The night in prison was novel and interesting enough. The prison- ers in their shirt- sleeves were enjoying a chat and the eve ning air in the doorway when I entered. But the jailer said, “Come, boys, it is time to lock up”; and so they dispersed, and I heard the sound of their steps returning into the hollow apartments. My room- mate was introduced to me by the jailer as “a first- rate fellow and a clever man.” When the door was locked, he showed me where to hang my hat and how he man- aged matters there. The rooms were whitewashed once a month; and this one, at least, was the whitest, most simply furnished, and probably the neatest apartment in the town. He naturally wanted to know where I came from and what brought me there; and when I had told him, I asked him in my turn how he came there, presuming him to be an honest man, of course; and, as the world goes, I believe he was. “Why,” said he, “they accuse me of burning a barn; but I never did it.” As near as I could discover, he had probably gone to bed in a barn when drunk

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and smoked his pipe there; and so a barn burnt. He had the reputation of being a clever man, had been there some three months waiting for his trial to come on, and would have to wait as much longer; but he was quite domesticated and contented, since he got his board for nothing and thought that he was well treated.

29He occupied one window, and I the other; and I saw that if one stayed there long, his principal business would be to look out the win- dow. I had soon read all the tracts that were left there and examined where former prisoners had broken out and where a grate had been sawed off and heard the history of the various occupants of that room; for I found that even here there was a history and a gossip which never circulated beyond the walls of the jail. Probably this is the only house in the town where verses are composed, which afterward printed in a circular form but not published. I was shown quite a long list of verses which were composed by some young men who had been detected in an attempt to escape, who avenged themselves by signing them.

30I pumped my fellow- prisoner as dry as I could, for fear I should never see him again; but at length he showed me which was my bed and left me to blow out the lamp.

31It was like travelling into a far country, such as I had never expected to behold, to lie there for one night. It seemed to me that I never had heard the town- clock strike before, nor the eve ning sounds of the village; for we slept with the windows open, which were inside the grating. It was to see my native village in the light of the Middle Ages, and our Concord was turned into a Rhine stream, and visions of knights and castles passed before me. They were the voices of old burghers that I heard in the streets. I was an involuntary spectator and auditor of what ever was done and said in the kitchen of the adjacent village- inn — a wholly new and rare experience to me. It was a closer view of my native town. I was fairly inside of it. I never had seen its institutions before. This is one of its peculiar institutions; for it is a shire town.17 I began to comprehend what its inhabitants were about.

32In the morning our breakfasts were put through the hole in the door, in small oblong- square tin pans, made to fit, and holding a pint of chocolate, with brown bread and an iron spoon. When they called for the vessels again, I was green enough to return what bread I had left; but my comrade seized it and said that I should lay that up for lunch or dinner. Soon after he was let out to work at haying in a neighboring field, whither he went every day, and would not be back till noon; so he bade me good- day, saying that he doubted if he should see me again.

33When I came out of prison — for someone interfered and paid that tax — I did not perceive that great changes had taken place on

17 shire town A county seat, which means the town had a court, county offices, and jails.

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the common, such as he observed who went in a youth and emerged a tottering and gray- headed man; and yet a change had to my eyes come over the scene — the town and State and country — greater than any that mere time could effect. I saw yet more distinctly the State in which I lived. I saw to what extent the people among whom I lived could be trusted as good neighbors and friends; that their friendship was for summer weather only; that they did not greatly propose to do right; that they were a distinct race from me by their prejudices and superstitions, as the Chinamen and Malays are; that, in their sacri- fices to humanity, they ran no risks, not even to their property; that, after all, they were not so noble but they treated the thief as he had treated them and hoped, by a certain outward observance and a few prayers, and by walking in a par tic u lar straight though useless path from time to time, to save their souls. This may be to judge my neigh- bors harshly; for I believe that many of them are not aware that they have such an institution as the jail in their village.

34It was formerly the custom in our village, when a poor debtor came out of jail, for his acquaintances to salute him, looking through their fingers, which were crossed to represent the grating of a jail window, “How do ye do?” My neighbors did not thus salute me but first looked at me and then at one another as if I had returned from a long journey. I was put into jail as I was going to the shoemaker’s to get a shoe which was mended. When I was let out the next morning I proceeded to finish my errand, and having put on my mended shoe, joined a huckleberry party who were impatient to put themselves under my conduct; and in half an hour — for the horse was soon tackled — was in the midst of a huckleberry field on one of our highest hills two miles off, and then the State was nowhere to be seen.

35This is the whole history of “My Prisons.” 36I have never declined paying the highway tax, because I am as

desirous of being a good neighbor as I am of being a bad subject; and as for supporting schools I am doing my part to educate my fellow countrymen now. It is for no par tic u lar item in the tax- bill that I refuse to pay it. I simply wish to refuse allegiance to the State, to withdraw and stand aloof from it effectually. I do not care to trace the course of my dollar, if I could, till it buys a man or a musket to shoot one with — the dollar is innocent — but I am concerned to trace the effects of my allegiance. In fact, I quietly declare war with the State, after my fashion, though I will still make what use and get what advantage of her I can, as is usual in such cases.

37If others pay the tax which is demanded of me from a sympathy with the State, they do but what they have already done in their own case, or rather they abet injustice to a greater extent than the State requires. If they pay the tax from a mistaken interest in the individual taxed, to save his property, or prevent his going to jail, it is because

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they have not considered wisely how far they let their private feelings interfere with the public good.

38This, then, is my position at present. But one cannot be too much on his guard in such a case, lest his action be biased by obstinacy or an undue regard for the opinions of men. Let him see that he does only what belongs to himself and to the hour.

39I think sometimes, Why, this people mean well; they are only ignorant; they would do better if they knew how: why give your neighbors this pain to treat you as they are not inclined to? But I think again, this is no reason why I should do as they do or permit others to suffer much greater pain of a different kind. Again, I sometimes say to myself, When many millions of men, without heat, without ill will, without personal feeling of any kind, demand of you a few shillings only, without the possibility, such is their constitution, of retracting or altering their present demand, and without the possibility, on your side, of appeal to any other millions, why expose yourself to this over- whelming brute force? You do not resist cold and hunger, the winds and the waves, thus obstinately; you quietly submit to a thousand similar necessities. You do not put your head into the fire. But just in proportion as I regard this as not wholly a brute force but partly a human force, and consider that I have relations to those millions as to so many millions of men, and not of mere brute or inanimate things, I see that appeal is possible, first and instantaneously, from them to the Maker of them, and secondly, from them to themselves. But if I put my head deliberately into the fire, there is no appeal to fire or to the Maker of fire, and I have only myself to blame. If I could convince myself that I have any right to be satisfied with men as they are, and to treat them accordingly, and not according, in some respects, to my requisi- tions and expectations of what they and I ought to be, then, like a good Mussulman18 and fatalist, I should endeavor to be satisfied with things as they are and say it is the will of God. And, above all, there is this dif- ference between resisting this and a purely brute or natural force, that I can resist this with some effect; but I cannot expect, like Orpheus,19 to change the nature of the rocks and trees and beasts.

40I do not wish to quarrel with any man or nation. I do not wish to split hairs, to make fine distinctions, or set myself up as better than my neighbors. I seek rather, I may say, even an excuse for conforming to the laws of the land. I am but too ready to conform to them. Indeed, I have reason to suspect myself on this head; and each year, as the tax- gatherer comes round, I find myself disposed to review the acts

18 Mussulman Muslim; a follower of the religion of Islam. 19 Orpheus In Greek mythology, Orpheus was a poet whose songs were so

plaintive that they affected animals, trees, and even stones.

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THOREAU: Civil Disobedience 321

and position of the general and State governments, and the spirit of the people, to discover a pretext for conformity.

We must affect our country as our parents; And if at any time we alienate Our love or industry from doing it honor, We must respect effects and teach the soul Matter of conscience and religion, And not desire of rule or benefit.20

I believe that the State will soon be able to take all my work of this sort out of my hands, and then I shall be no better a patriot than my fellow- countrymen. Seen from a lower point of view, the Constitu- tion, with all its faults, is very good; the law and the courts are very respectable; even this State and this American government are, in many respects, very admirable and rare things, to be thankful for, such as a great many have described them; but seen from a point of view a little higher, they are what I have described them; seen from a higher still, and the highest, who shall say what they are, or that they are worth looking at or thinking of at all?

41However, the government does not concern me much, and I shall bestow the fewest possible thoughts on it. It is not many moments that I live under a government, even in this world. If a man is thought- free, fancy- free, imagination- free, that which is not never for a long time appearing to be to him, unwise rulers or reformers cannot fatally interrupt him.

42I know that most men think differently from myself; but those whose lives are by profession devoted to the study of these or kindred subjects content me as little as any. Statesmen and legislators, stand- ing so completely within the institution, never distinctly and nakedly behold it. They speak of moving society but have no resting- place without it. They may be men of a certain experience and discrimina- tion and have no doubt invented ingenious and even useful systems, for which we sincerely thank them; but all their wit and usefulness lie within certain not very wide limits. They are wont to forget that the world is not governed by policy and expediency. Webster21 never goes

20 We must affect . . . From George Peele (1556–1596), The Battle of Alcazar (acted 1588–1589, printed 1594), II.ii. Thoreau added these lines in a later printing of the essay. They emphasize the fact that one is disobedient to the state as one is to a parent — with love and affection and from a cause of conscience. Disobedience is not taken lightly.

21 Daniel Webster (1782–1852) One of the most brilliant orators of his time. He was secretary of state from 1841 to 1843, which is why Thoreau thinks he can- not be a satisfactory critic of government.

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behind government and so cannot speak with authority about it. His words are wisdom to those legislators who contemplate no essential reform in the existing government; but for thinkers, and those who legislate for all time, he never once glances at the subject. I know of those whose serene and wise speculations on this theme would soon reveal the limits of his mind’s range and hospitality. Yet, compared with the cheap professions of most reformers, and the still cheaper wisdom and eloquence of politicians in general, his are almost the only sensible and valuable words, and we thank Heaven for him. Comparatively, he is always strong, original, and, above all, practical. Still his quality is not wisdom but prudence. The lawyer’s truth is not Truth but consistency, or a consistent expediency. Truth is always in harmony with herself and is not concerned chiefly to reveal the justice that may consist with wrong- doing. He well deserves to be called, as he has been called, the Defender of the Constitution. There are really no blows to be given by him but defensive ones. He is not a leader but a follower. His leaders are the men of ’87.22 “I have never made an effort,” he says, “and never propose to make an effort; I have never countenanced an effort, and never mean to countenance an effort, to disturb the arrangement as originally made, by which the various States came into the Union.” Still thinking of the sanction which the Constitution gives to slavery, he says, “Because it was a part of the original compact — let it stand.” Notwithstanding his special acute- ness and ability, he is unable to take a fact out of its merely po liti cal relations and behold it as it lies absolutely to be disposed of by the intellect — what, for instance, it behooves a man to do here in Amer- ica today with regard to slavery but ventures, or is driven, to make some such desperate answer as the following, while professing to speak absolutely, and as a private man — from which what new and singular code of social duties might be inferred? “The manner,” says he, “in which the governments of those States where slavery exists are to regulate it, is for their own consideration, under their responsibility to their constituents, to the general laws of propriety, humanity, and justice, and to God. Associations formed elsewhere, springing from a feeling of humanity, or any other cause, have nothing what ever to do with it. They have never received any encouragement from me, and they never will.”23

43They who know of no purer sources of truth, who have traced up its stream no higher, stand, and wisely stand, by the Bible and the Constitution, and drink at it there with reverence and humility; but

22 men of ’87 The men who framed the Constitution in 1787. 23 These extracts have been inserted since the Lecture was read. [Thoreau’s note]

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THOREAU: Civil Disobedience 323

they who behold where it comes trickling into this lake or that pool gird up their loins once more and continue their pilgrimage toward its fountain- head.

44No man with a genius for legislation has appeared in America. They are rare in the history of the world. There are orators, politi- cians, and eloquent men by the thousand; but the speaker has not yet opened his mouth to speak who is capable of settling the much- vexed questions of the day. We love eloquence for its own sake and not for any truth which it may utter or any heroism it may inspire. Our legis- lators have not yet learned the comparative value of free- trade and of freedom, of union, and of rectitude, to a nation. They have no genius or talent for comparatively humble questions of taxation and finance, commerce and manufacturers and agriculture. If we were left solely to the wordy wit of legislators in Congress for our guidance, uncorrected by the seasonable experience and the effectual complaints of the peo- ple, America would not long retain her rank among the nations. For eighteen hundred years, though perchance I have no right to say it, the New Testament has been written; yet where is the legislator who has wisdom and practical talent enough to avail himself of the light which it sheds on the science of legislation?

45The authority of government, even such as I am willing to sub- mit to — for I will cheerfully obey those who know and can do better than I, and in many things even those who neither know nor can do so well — is still an impure one: to be strictly just, it must have the sanction and consent of the governed. It can have no pure right over my person and property but what I concede to it. The progress from an absolute to a limited monarchy, from a limited monarchy to a democracy, is a progress toward a true respect for the individual. Even the Chinese philosopher24 was wise enough to regard the indi- vidual as the basis of the empire. Is a democracy such as we know it the last improvement possible in government? Is it not possible to take a step further towards recognizing and organizing the rights of man? There will never be a really free and enlightened State until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and in de pen dent power, from which all its own power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly. I please myself with imagining a State at last which can afford to be just to all men and to treat the individual with respect as a neighbor; which even would not think it inconsistent with its own repose if a few were to live aloof from it, not meddling with it, nor embraced by it, who fulfilled all the duties of neighbors and fellow- men. A State which bore this kind of fruit and suffered

24 Chinese philosopher Thoreau probably means Confucius.

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it to drop off as fast as it ripened would prepare the way for a still more perfect and glorious State, which also I have imagined but not yet anywhere seen.


1. To what extent do you think Thoreau’s intended audience agreed with him?

2. What is the relation of justice to the moral view that Thoreau maintains?

3. Thoreau provides us with a detailed account of his imprisonment (paras. 28−35). What is the ethical lesson that Thoreau learned in prison?

4. One example of Thoreau’s use of irony is in paragraph 25. What other examples of irony seem effective in his argument?

5. In Thoreau’s view, what is the ethical responsibility of a government to a minority population?

6. How clear is Thoreau’s position on ethics and morality? What is most convincing to you?

7. It is possible that Thoreau’s “Chinese philosopher” is Lao-tzu. How likely is it that Thoreau had read Lao-tzu and agreed with him?


1. Thoreau refers to conscience as a monitor of government, yet he says, “Law never made men a whit more just” (para. 4). How does Thoreau’s conscience help him establish the ethical principles that he acts by? To what extent do principles of ethics and morality operate in the law of Thoreau’s time?

2. Thoreau tells us that the laws of the land were established by the majority population and that if he were to disobey them, he would be in a minority. What are the ethical principles that help Thoreau feel that it is just and right to disobey the laws that the majority population of the country has established?

3. Thoreau’s anger is partly directed at proponents of the then-recent Mexican War (1846–1848), which resulted in Mexico’s secession from New Mexico and California and which redrew the national border on the Rio Grande, giving Texas to the United States. He felt it was not an ethical war, for after its end, the nation had to decide whether to permit slavery in the acquired lands. The ensuing debate set the stage for the Civil War. If Thoreau thought the Mexican War was not ethical, what would he have thought about the Civil War?

4. Do some research on the Mexican War and decide whether or not there were any significant ethical concerns that warranted Thoreau’s

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THOREAU: Civil Disobedience 325

reaction. Who was fighting? Who started the war? What were Presi- dent Polk’s intentions, and were those intentions ethical?

5. Examine quotations from Thoreau that focus on the individual and the question of justice and ethical treatment of the individual by govern- ment. What are the values of the government that Thoreau describes, and how might that government see its moral obligations to the gov- erned? How would it treat matters of justice, ethics, and morality? To what extent does the government of Thoreau’s time resemble the gov- ernment of our time?

6. CONNECTIONS Thoreau was especially sympathetic to the plight of African American slaves and would likely have shared the views of Martin Luther King Jr. What advice might Thoreau have given King? Apply the basic ideas of “Civil Disobedience” to the circumstances in which King found himself. What did each of these men learn about themselves while in prison? What did prison mean to them?

7. Slavery in the United States in 1849 was protected by national laws that had to be observed even by states that had abolished slavery. These were federal laws largely created by the slave states for the pro- tection of “property.” The Fugitive Slave Laws of 1793 and 1850 were enacted by Congress. Thoreau knew these laws and resisted them. Research these laws and explain how Congress could have imagined them to be ethical and just. Do you think enough attention is paid to ethical issues when Congress enacts such wide-ranging laws?

8. CONNECTIONS One conflict between Aristotle (bedfordstmartins .com/worldofideas/epages) and Thoreau concerns their attitudes toward the state. Thoreau’s view suggests that the individual’s values are foremost and that the individual must resist the state when he or she thinks the state is in the wrong. Aristotle reveres the state and says that the highest good for humankind is likely to be found in statecraft; therefore, values other than those of the state always come second. Write an essay that attempts to resolve the conflict between these two authors. Which of their arguments can you most effectively support?

9. SEEING CONNECTIONS The people in the household featured in Joseph Wright’s An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump (p. 298) seem to represent a wide variety of emotional responses to the experiment. How would Thoreau have read the symbolism in this painting? Might he have seen the plight of the bird as similar to the plight of the Ameri- can slaves? Would he have seen the hand of government symbolically at work in this painting? Would he have seen important ethical and moral issues revealed in the painting?

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FREDERICK DOUGLASS From Narrative of the Life of Frederick

Douglass, an American Slave

FREDERICK DOUGLASS (1817–1895) was born into slavery in Mary land; he died not only a free man but also a man who com- manded the respect of his country, his government, and hosts of supporters. Ironically, it was his own er’s wife, Mrs. Hugh Auld, a Northerner, who helped Douglass learn to read and write. Until her husband forcefully convinced her that teaching slaves was “unlaw- ful, as well as unsafe,” Mrs. Auld taught Douglass enough so that he could begin his own education — and escape to freedom. Mrs. Auld eventually surpassed her husband in her vehement opposi- tion to having Douglass read, leading Douglass to conclude that slavery had a negative effect on slave and slaveholder alike: both suffered the consequences of a po liti cal system that was inherently immoral.

The Narrative is filled with examples of the injustice of slav- ery. Douglass had little connection with his family. Separated from his mother, Harriet Bailey, Douglass never knew who his father was. In his Narrative, he rec ords the beatings he witnessed as a slave, the conditions under which he lived, and the struggles he felt within himself to be a free man. Douglass himself survived brutal beatings and torture by a professional slave “breaker.”

The laws of the time codified the injustices that Douglass and all American slaves suffered. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 tight ened the hold on all slaves who had gone north in search of freedom. Federal marshals were enjoined to return slaves to their own ers. The Underground Railroad helped so many runa- way slaves find their way to Canada that a second Fugitive Slave

First published 1845; revised 1892.

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Act was enacted in 1850 with stiff penalties for those who did not obey the law. In retaliation, many northern states enacted personal freedom laws to counter the Fugitive Slave Act. Eventu- ally, these laws became central to the South’s decision to secede. However, Douglass’s fate, when he eventually escaped in 1838 by impersonating an African American seaman (using his papers to board ship), was not secure. Abolitionists in New York helped him find work in shipyards in New Bedford, Massachusetts. He changed his name from Auld to Douglass to protect himself, and he began his career as an orator in 1841 at an antislavery meeting in Nantucket.

To avoid capture after publication of an early version of his autobiography, Douglass spent two years on a speaking tour of Great Britain and Ireland (1845–1847). He then returned to the United States, bought his freedom, and rose to national fame as the found er and editor of the North Star, an abolitionist paper pub- lished in Rochester, New York. One of his chief concerns was for the welfare of the slaves who had managed to secure their freedom. When the Civil War began, there were no plans to free the slaves, but Douglass managed to convince President Lincoln that it would further the war effort to free them; in 1863, the president delivered the Emancipation Proclamation.

However, the years after the war and Lincoln’s death were not good for freed slaves. Terrorist groups in both the North and the South worked to keep them from enjoying freedom, and training pro- grams for former slaves that might have been effective were never fully instituted. During this time, Douglass worked in various capaci- ties for the government — as assistant secretary of the Santo Domingo Commission, as an official in Washington, D.C., and as U.S. minister to Haiti (1889–1891). He was the first African American to become a national figure and to have influence with the government.

Douglass’s Rhetoric

Douglass was basically self- taught, but he knew enough to read the powerful writers of his day. He was a commanding speaker in an age in which eloquence was valued and speakers were rewarded hand- somely. This excerpt from the Narrative — Chapters 6, 7, and 8 — is notable for its clear and direct style. The use of the first- person narrative is as simple as one could wish, yet the feelings projected are sincere and moving.

Douglass’s structure is the chronological narrative, relating events in the order in which they occurred. He begins his story at the point of meeting a new mistress, a woman from whom he expected

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harsh treatment. Because she was new to the concept of slavery, how- ever, she behaved in ways that were unusual, and Douglass remarks on her initially kind attitude. Douglass does not interrupt himself with flashbacks or leaps forward in time but tells the story as it hap- pened. At critical moments, he slows the narrative to describe people or incidents in unusual detail and lets the reader infer from these details the extent of the injustice he suffered.

By today’s standards, Douglass’s style may seem formal. His sentences are often longer than those of modern writers, although they are always carefully balanced and punctuated by briefer sen- tences. Despite his long paragraphs, heavy with example and description, after a century and a half his work remains immediate and moving. No modern reader will have difficulty responding to what Frederick Douglass has to say. His views on education are as accessible and as powerful now as when they were written.


The following prereading questions may help you anticipate key issues in the discussion of the excerpt that follows from Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. Keeping them in mind during your first reading of the selection should help focus your attention.

• What were the ethical issues involved in Mrs. Auld’s helping Douglass learn to read?

• In what ways was Douglass treated immorally? Was he immoral in his behavior toward others?

• What was the ethical position of slave owners toward their slaves? Why did they think of themselves as ethical in their behavior?

From Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave

1My new mistress proved to be all she appeared when I first met her at the door, — a woman of the kindest heart and finest feelings. She had never had a slave under her control previously to myself, and prior to her marriage she had been dependent upon her own indus- try for a living. She was by trade a weaver; and by constant applica- tion to her business, she had been in a good degree preserved from the

DOUGLASS: From the Narrative 329

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blighting and dehumanizing effects of slavery. I was utterly astonished at her goodness. I scarcely knew how to behave towards her. She was entirely unlike any other white woman I had ever seen. I could not approach her as I was accustomed to approach other white ladies. My early instruction was all out of place. The crouching servility, usually so acceptable a quality in a slave, did not answer when manifested toward her. Her favor was not gained by it; she seemed to be disturbed by it. She did not deem it impudent or unmannerly for a slave to look her in the face. The meanest slave was put fully at ease in her presence, and none left without feeling better for having seen her. Her face was made of heavenly smiles, and her voice of tranquil music.

2But, alas! this kind heart had but a short time to remain such. The fatal poison of irresponsible power was already in her hands, and soon commenced its infernal work. That cheerful eye, under the influ- ence of slavery, soon became red with rage; that voice, made all of sweet accord, changed to one of harsh and horrid discord; and that angelic face gave place to that of a demon.

3Very soon after I went to live with Mr. and Mrs. Auld, she very kindly commenced to teach me the A, B, C. After I had learned this, she assisted me in learning to spell words of three or four letters. Just at this point of my progress, Mr. Auld found out what was going on, and at once forbade Mrs. Auld to instruct me further, telling her, among other things, that it was unlawful, as well as unsafe, to teach a slave to read. To use his own words, further, he said, “If you give a nigger an inch, he will take an ell.1 A nigger should know nothing but to obey his master — to do as he is told to do. Learning would spoil the best nigger in the world. Now,” said he, “if you teach that nigger (speaking of myself ) how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master. As to himself, it could do him no good, but a great deal of harm. It would make him discon- tented and unhappy.” These words sank deep into my heart, stirred up sentiments within that lay slumbering, and called into existence an entirely new train of thought. It was a new and special revela- tion, explaining dark and mysterious things, with which my youthful understanding had struggled, but struggled in vain. I now understood what had been to me a most perplexing difficulty — to wit, the white man’s power to enslave the black man. It was a grand achievement, and I prized it highly. From that moment, I understood the path- way from slavery to freedom. It was just what I wanted, and I got it at a time when I the least expected it. Whilst I was saddened by

1 ell A mea sure about a yard in length.

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the thought of losing the aid of my kind mistress, I was gladdened by the invaluable instruction which, by the merest accident, I had gained from my master. Though conscious of the difficulty of learning with- out a teacher, I set out with high hope, and a fixed purpose, at what- ever cost of trouble, to learn how to read. The very decided manner with which he spoke, and strove to impress his wife with the evil con- sequences of giving me instruction, served to convince me that he was deeply sensible of the truths he was uttering. It gave me the best assur- ance that I might rely with the utmost confidence on the results which, he said, would flow from teaching me to read. What he most dreaded, that I most desired. What he most loved, that I most hated. That which to him was a great evil, to be carefully shunned, was to me a great good, to be diligently sought; and the argument which he so warmly urged, against my learning to read, only served to inspire me with a desire and determination to learn. In learning to read, I owe almost as much to the bitter opposition of my master, as to the kindly aid of my mistress. I acknowledge the benefit of both.

4I had resided but a short time in Baltimore before I observed a marked difference, in the treatment of slaves, from that which I had witnessed in the country. A city slave is almost a freeman, compared with a slave on the plantation. He is much better fed and clothed, and enjoys privileges altogether unknown to the slave on the plantation. There is a vestige of decency, a sense of shame, that does much to curb and check those outbreaks of atrocious cruelty so commonly enacted upon the plantation. He is a desperate slaveholder, who will shock the humanity of his nonslaveholding neighbors with the cries of his lacer- ated slave. Few are willing to incur the odium attaching to the reputa- tion of being a cruel master; and above all things, they would not be known as not giving a slave enough to eat. Every city slaveholder is anxious to have it known of him, that he feeds his slaves well; and it is due to them to say, that most of them do give their slaves enough to eat. There are, however, some painful exceptions to this rule. Directly opposite to us, on Philpot Street, lived Mr. Thomas Hamilton. He owned two slaves. Their names were Henrietta and Mary. Henrietta was about twenty- two years of age, Mary was about fourteen; and of all the mangled and emaciated creatures I ever looked upon, these two were the most so. His heart must be harder than stone, that could look upon these unmoved. The head, neck, and shoulders of Mary were literally cut to pieces. I have frequently felt her head, and found it nearly covered with festering sores, caused by the lash of her cruel mistress. I do not know that her master ever whipped her, but I have been an eyewitness to the cruelty of Mrs. Hamilton. I used to be in Mr. Hamilton’s house nearly every day. Mrs. Hamilton used to sit in a large chair in the middle of the room, with a heavy cowskin always by her side, and

DOUGLASS: From the Narrative 331

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scarce an hour passed during the day but was marked by the blood of one of these slaves. The girls seldom passed her without her saying, “Move faster, you black gip!” at the same time giving them a blow with the cowskin over the head or shoulders, often drawing the blood. She would then say, “Take that, you black gip!” — continuing, “If you don’t move faster, I’ll move you!” Added to the cruel lashings to which these slaves were subjected, they were kept nearly half- starved. They seldom knew what it was to eat a full meal. I have seen Mary contending with the pigs for the offal thrown into the street. So much was Mary kicked and cut to pieces, that she was oftener called “pecked” than by her name.

5I lived in Master Hugh’s family about seven years. During this time, I succeeded in learning to read and write. In accomplishing this, I was compelled to resort to various stratagems. I had no regular teacher. My mistress, who had kindly commenced to instruct me, had, in compli- ance with the advice and direction of her husband, not only ceased to instruct, but had set her face against my being instructed by any one else. It is due, however, to my mistress to say of her, that she did not adopt this course of treatment immediately. She at first lacked the depravity indispensable to shutting me up in mental darkness. It was at least neces- sary for her to have some training in the exercise of irresponsible power, to make her equal to the task of treating me as though I were a brute.

6My mistress was, as I have said, a kind and tender- hearted woman; and in the simplicity of her soul she commenced, when I first went to live with her, to treat me as she supposed one human being ought to treat another. In entering upon the duties of a slave- holder, she did not seem to perceive that I sustained to her the relation of a mere chattel, and that for her to treat me as a human being was not only wrong, but dangerously so. Slavery proved as injurious to her as it did to me. When I went there, she was a pious, warm, and tender- hearted woman. There was no sorrow or suffering for which she had not a tear. She had bread for the hungry, clothes for the naked, and comfort for every mourner that came within her reach. Slavery soon proved its ability to divest her of these heavenly quali- ties. Under its influence, the tender heart became stone, and the lamb- like disposition gave way to one of tiger- like fierceness. The first step in her downward course was in her ceasing to instruct me. She now commenced to practice her husband’s precepts. She finally became even more violent in her opposition than her husband himself. She was not satisfied with simply doing as well as he had commanded; she seemed anxious to do better. Nothing seemed to make her more angry than to see me with a newspaper. She seemed to think that here lay the danger. I have had her rush at me with a face made all up of fury, and snatch from me a newspaper, in a manner that fully revealed

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her apprehension. She was an apt woman; and a little experience soon demonstrated, to her satisfaction, that education and slavery were incompatible with each other.

7From this time I was most narrowly watched. If I was in a sepa- rate room any considerable length of time, I was sure to be suspected of having a book, and was at once called to give an account of myself. All this, however, was too late. The first step had been taken. Mistress, in teaching me the alphabet, had given me the inch, and no precaution could prevent me from taking the ell.

8The plan which I adopted, and the one by which I was most suc- cessful, was that of making friends of all the little white boys whom I met in the street. As many of these as I could, I converted into teach- ers. With their kindly aid, obtained at different times and in different places, I finally succeeded in learning to read. When I was sent to errands, I always took my book with me, and by going one part of my errand quickly, I found time to get a lesson before my return. I used also to carry bread with me, enough of which was always in the house, and to which I was always welcome; for I was much better off in this regard than many of the poor white children in our neighborhood. This bread I used to bestow upon the hungry little urchins, who, in return, would give me that more valuable bread of knowledge. I am strongly tempted to give the names of two or three of those little boys, as a testimonial of the gratitude and affection I bear them; but prudence forbids; — not that it would injure me, but it might embarrass them; for it is almost an unpardonable offense to teach slaves to read in this Christian country. It is enough to say of the dear little fellows, that they lived on Philpot Street, very near Durgin and Bailey’s ship- yard. I used to talk this matter of slavery over with them. I would sometimes say to them, I wished I could be as free as they would be when they got to be men. “You will be free as soon as you are twenty- one, but I am a slave for life! Have not I as good a right to be free as you have?” These words used to trouble them; they would express for me the liveliest sympathy, and console me with the hope that something would occur by which I might be free.

9I was now about twelve years old, and the thought of being a slave for life began to bear heavily upon my heart. Just about this time, I got hold of a book entitled “The Columbian Orator.” Every oppor- tunity I got, I used to read this book. Among much of other interest- ing matter, I found in it a dialogue between a master and his slave. The slave was represented as having run away from his master three times. The dialogue represented the conversation which took place between them, when the slave was retaken the third time. In this dia- logue, the whole argument in behalf of slavery was brought forward by the master, all of which was disposed of by the slave. The slave was made to say some very smart as well as impressive things in reply to

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his master — things which had the desired though unexpected effect; for the conversation resulted in the voluntary emancipation of the slave on the part of the master.

10In the same book, I met with one of Sheridan’s2 mighty speeches on and in behalf of Catholic emancipation. These were choice docu- ments to me. I read them over and over again with unabated inter- est. They gave tongue to interesting thoughts of my own soul, which had frequently flashed through my mind, and died away for want of utterance. The moral which I gained from the dialogue was the power of truth over the conscience of even a slaveholder. What I got from Sheridan was a bold denunciation of slavery, and a powerful vindica- tion of human rights. The reading of these documents enabled me to utter my thoughts, and to meet the arguments brought forward to sus- tain slavery; but while they relieved me of one difficulty, they brought on another even more painful than the one of which I was relieved. The more I read, the more I was led to abhor and detest my enslavers. I could regard them in no other light than a band of successful rob- bers, who had left their homes, and gone to Africa, and stolen us from our homes, and in a strange land reduced us to slavery. I loathed them as being the meanest as well as the most wicked of men. As I read and contemplated the subject, behold! that very discontentment which Master Hugh had predicted would follow my learning to read had already come, to torment and sting my soul to unutterable anguish. As I writhed under it, I would at times feel that learning to read had been a curse rather than a blessing. It had given me a view of my wretched condition, without the remedy. It opened my eyes to the horrible pit, but to no ladder upon which to get out. In moments of agony, I envied my fellow- slaves for their stupidity. I have often wished myself a beast. I preferred the condition of the meanest reptile to my own. Any thing, no matter what, to get rid of thinking! It was this everlasting thinking of my condition that tormented me. There was no getting rid of it. It was pressed upon me by every object within sight or hearing, animate or inanimate. The silver trump of freedom had roused my soul to eter- nal wakefulness. Freedom now appeared, to disappear no more for- ever. It was heard in every sound, and seen in every thing. It was ever present to torment me with a sense of my wretched condition. I saw nothing without seeing it, I heard nothing without hearing it, and felt nothing without feeling it. It looked from every star, it smiled in every calm, breathed in every wind, and moved in every storm.

11I often found myself regretting my own existence, and wish- ing myself dead; and but for the hope of being free, I have no doubt

2 Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751–1816) Irish dramatist and orator. How- ever, Douglass really refers to a speech by Daniel O’Connell (1775–1847) in favor of Irish Catholic emancipation.

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but that I should have killed myself, or done something for which I should have been killed. While in this state of mind, I was eager to hear any one speak of slavery. I was a ready listener. Every little while, I could hear something about the abolitionists.3 It was some time before I found what the word meant. It was always used in such con- nections as to make it an interesting word to me. If a slave ran away and succeeded in getting clear, or if a slave killed his master, set fire to a barn, or did any thing very wrong in the mind of a slaveholder, it was spoken of as the fruit of abolition. Hearing the word in this con- nection very often, I set about learning what it meant. The dictionary afforded me little or no help. I found it was “the act of abolishing”; but then I did not know what was to be abolished. Here I was perplexed. I did not dare to ask any one about its meaning, for I was satisfied that it was something they wanted me to know very little about. After a patient waiting, I got one of our city papers, containing an account of the number of petitions from the north, praying for the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia, and of the slave trade between the States. From this time I understood the words abolition and aboli- tionist, and always drew near when that word was spoken, expecting to hear something of importance to myself and fellow- slaves. The light broke in upon me by degrees. I went one day down on the wharf of Mr. Waters; and seeing two Irishmen unloading a scow of stone, I went, unasked, and helped them. When we had finished, one of them came to me and asked me if I were a slave. I told him I was. He asked, “Are ye a slave for life?” I told him that I was. The good Irishman seemed to be deeply affected by the statement. He said to the other that it was a pity so fine a little fellow as myself should be a slave for life. He said it was a shame to hold me. They both advised me to run away to the north; that I should find friends there, and that I should be free. I pretended not to be interested in what they said, and treated them as if I did not understand them; for I feared they might be treacherous. White men have been known to encourage slaves to escape, and then, to get the reward, catch them and return them to their masters. I was afraid that these seemingly good men might use me so; but I never- theless remembered their advice, and from that time I resolved to run away. I looked forward to a time at which it would be safe for me to escape. I was too young to think of doing so immediately; besides, I wished to learn how to write, as I might have occasion to write my own pass. I consoled myself with the hope that I should one day find a good chance. Meanwhile, I would learn to write.

12The idea as to how I might learn to write was suggested to me by being in Durgin and Bailey’s ship- yard, and frequently seeing the ship

3 abolitionists Those who actively opposed slavery.

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carpenters, after hewing, and getting a piece of timber ready for use, write on the timber the name of that part of the ship for which it was intended. When a piece of timber was intended for the larboard side, it would be marked thus — “L.” When a piece was for the starboard side, it would be marked thus — “S.” A piece for the larboard side for- ward, would be marked thus — “L.F.” When a piece was for starboard side forward, it would be marked thus — “S.F.” For larboard aft, it would be marked thus — “L.A.” For starboard aft, it would be marked thus — “S.A.” I soon learned the names of these letters, and for what they were intended when placed upon a piece of timber in the ship- yard. I immediately commenced copying them, and in a short time was able to make the four letters named. After that, when I met with any boy who I knew could write, I would tell him I could write as well as he. The next word would be, “I don’t believe you. Let me see you try it.” I would then make the letters which I had been so fortunate as to learn, and ask him to beat that. In this way I got a good many lessons in writing, which it is quite possible I should never have gotten in any other way. During this time, my copy- book was the board fence, brick wall, and pavement; my pen and ink was a lump of chalk. With these, I learned mainly how to write. I then commenced and continued copying the Italics in Web- ster’s Spelling Book, until I could make them all without looking on the book. By this time, my little Master Thomas had gone to school, and learned how to write, and had written over a number of copy- books. These had been brought home, and shown to some of our near neigh- bors, and then laid aside. My mistress used to go to class meeting at the Wilk Street meeting- house every Monday afternoon, and leave me to take care of the house. When left thus, I used to spend the time in writing in the spaces left in Master Thomas’s copy- book, copying what he had written. I continued to do this until I could write a hand very similar to that of Master Thomas. Thus, after a long, tedious effort for years, I finally succeeded in learning how to write.

13In a very short time after I went to live at Baltimore, my old mas- ter’s youn gest son Richard died; and in about three years and six months after his death, my old master, Captain Anthony, died, leaving only his son, Andrew, and daughter, Lucretia, to share his estate. He died while on a visit to see his daughter at Hillsborough. Cut off thus unexpectedly, he left no will as to the disposal of his property. It was therefore necessary to have a valuation of the property, that it might be equally divided between Mrs. Lucretia and Master Andrew. I was immediately sent for, to be valued with the other property. Here again my feelings rose up in detestation of slavery. I had now a new con- ception of my degraded condition. Prior to this, I had become, if not insensible to my lot, at least partly so. I left Baltimore with a young

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heart overborne with sadness, and a soul full of apprehension. I took passage with Captain Rowe, in the schooner Wild Cat, and, after a sail of about twenty- four hours, I found myself near the place of my birth. I had now been absent from it almost, if not quite, five years. I, how- ever, remembered the place very well. I was only about five years old when I left it, to go and live with my old master on Col o nel Lloyd’s plantation; so that I was now between ten and eleven years old.

14We were all ranked together at the valuation. Men and women, old and young, married and single, were ranked with horses, sheep, and swine. There were horses and men, cattle and women, pigs and children, all holding the same rank in the scale of being, and were all subjected to the same narrow examination. Silvery- headed age and sprightly youth, maids and matrons, had to undergo the same indelicate inspection. At this moment, I saw more clearly than ever the brutalizing effects of slav- ery upon both slave and slaveholder.

15After the valuation, then came the division. I have no language to express the high excitement and deep anxiety which were felt among us poor slaves during this time. Our fate for life was now to be decided. We had no more voice in that decision than the brutes among whom we were ranked. A single word from the white men was enough — against all our wishes, prayers, and entreaties — to sunder forever the dearest friends, dearest kindred, and strongest ties known to human beings. In addition to the pain of separation, there was the horrid dread of falling into the hands of Master Andrew. He was known to us all as being a most cruel wretch, — a common drunkard, who had, by his reckless mismanagement and profligate dissipation, already wasted a large portion of his father’s property. We all felt that we might as well be sold at once to the Georgia traders, as to pass into his hands; for we knew that that would be our inevitable condition, — a condition held by us all in the utmost horror and dread.

16I suffered more anxiety than most of my fellow- slaves. I had known what it was to be kindly treated; they had known nothing of the kind. They had seen little or nothing of the world. They were in very deed men and women of sorrow, and acquainted with grief. Their backs had been made familiar with the bloody lash, so that they had become callous; mine was yet tender; for while at Baltimore I got few whippings, and few slaves could boast of a kinder master and mistress than myself; and the thought of passing out of their hands into those of Master Andrew — a man who, but a few days before, to give me a sample of his bloody disposition, took my little brother by the throat, threw him on the ground, and with the heel of his boot stamped upon his head till the blood gushed from his nose and ears — was well calculated to make me anxious as to my fate. After he had committed this savage outrage upon my brother, he turned

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to me, and said that was the way he meant to serve me one of these days, — meaning, I suppose, when I came into his possession.

17Thanks to a kind Providence, I fell to the portion of Mrs. Lucretia, and was sent immediately back to Baltimore, to live again in the fam- ily of Master Hugh. Their joy at my return equalled their sorrow at my departure. It was a glad day to me. I had escaped a worse fate than lion’s jaws. I was absent from Baltimore, for the purpose of valuation and division, just about one month, and it seemed to have been six.

18Very soon after my return to Baltimore, my mistress, Lucretia, died, leaving her husband and child, Amanda; and in a very short time after her death, Master Andrew died. Now all the property of my old mas- ter, slaves included, was in the hands of strangers, — strangers who had had nothing to do with accumulating it. Not a slave was left free. All remained slaves, from the youn gest to the oldest. If any one thing in my experience, more than another, served to deepen my conviction of the infernal character of slavery, and to fill me with unutterable loathing of slaveholders, it was their base ingratitude to my poor old grandmother. She had served my old master faithfully from youth to old age. She had been the source of all his wealth; she had peopled his plantation with slaves; she had become a great grandmother in his ser vice. She had rocked him in infancy, attended him in childhood, served him through life, and at his death wiped from his icy brow the cold death- sweat, and closed his eyes forever. She was never theless left a slave — a slave for life — a slave in the hands of strangers; and in their hands she saw her children, her grandchildren, and her great- grandchildren, divided, like so many sheep, without being gratified with the small privilege of a sin- gle word, as to their or her own destiny. And, to cap the climax of their base ingratitude and fiendish barbarity, my grandmother, who was now very old, having outlived my old master and all his children, having seen the beginning and end of all of them, and her present own ers find- ing she was of but little value, her frame already racked with the pains of old age, and complete helplessness fast stealing over her once active limbs, they took her to the woods, built her a little hut, put up a little mud- chimney, and then made her welcome to the privilege of support- ing herself there in perfect loneliness; thus virtually turning her out to die! If my poor old grandmother now lives, she lives to suffer in utter loneliness; she lives to remember and mourn over the loss of children, the loss of grandchildren, and the loss of great- grandchildren. They are, in the language of the slave’s poet, Whittier,4 —

Gone, gone, sold and gone To the rice swamp dank and lone,

4 John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892) New En gland abolitionist, journalist, and poet. The poem Douglass cites is “The Farewell” (1835).

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Where the slave- whip ceaseless swings, Where the noisome insect stings, Where the fever- demon strews Poison with the falling dews, Where the sickly sunbeams glare Through the hot and misty air: — Gone, gone, sold and gone To the rice swamp dank and lone, From Virginia hills and waters — Woe is me, my stolen daughters!

19The hearth is desolate. The children, the unconscious children, who once sang and danced in her presence, are gone. She gropes her way, in the darkness of age, for a drink of water. Instead of the voices of her children, she hears by day the moans of the dove, and by night the screams of the hideous owl. All is gloom. The grave is at the door. And now, when weighed down by the pains and aches of old age, when the head inclines to the feet, when the beginning and ending of human existence meet, and helpless infancy and painful old age combine together — at this time, this most needful time, the time for the exercise of that tenderness and affection which children only can exercise towards a declining parent — my poor old grandmother, the devoted mother of twelve children, is left all alone, in yonder little hut, before a few dim embers. She stands — she sits — she stag- gers — she falls — she groans — she dies — and there are none of her children or grandchildren present, to wipe from her wrinkled brow the cold sweat of death, or to place beneath the sod her fallen remains. Will not a righ teous God visit for these things?

20In about two years after the death of Mrs. Lucretia, Master Tho- mas married his second wife. Her name was Rowena Hamilton. She was the eldest daughter of Mr. William Hamilton. Master now lived in St. Michael’s. Not long after his marriage, a misunderstanding took place between himself and Master Hugh; and as a means of punishing his brother, he took me from him to live with himself at St. Michael’s. Here I underwent another most painful separation. It, however, was not so severe as the one I dreaded at the division of property; for, during this interval, a great change had taken place in Master Hugh and his once kind and affectionate wife. The influence of brandy upon him, and of slavery upon her, had effected a disastrous change in the char- acters of both; so that, as far as they were concerned, I thought I had little to lose by the change. But it was not to them that I was attached. It was to those little Baltimore boys that I felt the strongest attach- ment. I had received many good lessons from them, and was still receiving them, and the thought of leaving them was painful indeed. I was leaving, too, without the hope of ever being allowed to return.

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Master Thomas had said he would never let me return again. The bar- rier betwixt himself and brother he considered impassable.

21I then had to regret that I did not at least make the attempt to carry out my resolution to run away; for the chances of success are tenfold greater from the city than from the country.

22I sailed from Baltimore for St. Michael’s in the sloop Amanda, Captain Edward Dodson. On my passage, I paid par tic u lar attention to the direction which the steamboats took to go to Philadelphia. I found, instead of going down, on reaching North Point they went up the bay, in a north- easterly direction. I deemed this knowledge of the utmost importance. My determination to run away was again revived. I resolved to wait only so long as the offering of a favorable opportu- nity. When that came, I was determined to be off.


1. In paragraph 2, Douglass describes Mrs. Auld as possessing “the fatal poison of irresponsible power.” What are the ethical responsibilities of power in her relationship with Douglass?

2. In what sense were the laws of Douglass’s time immoral? How can a law be immoral?

3. Did slave owners think it immoral to teach slaves to read and write?

4. Was it immoral for Douglass to learn to read and write even though he knew it was prohibited for him to do so?

5. How does an ethical contract between slave and slaveholder function? What were the responsibilities of each to the other?


1. The society in which Douglass lived was governed by laws established by elected officials who had benefited from the authors of the Con- stitution of the United States, which set itself as the law of the land. How could slaveholders in Maryland have considered it ethical to hold other human beings as slaves? What ethical loopholes were apparent in the Constitution?

2. What is the most important political issue raised in the essay? Douglass never talks about the law, but he implies a great deal about justice and morality. How do justice and morality intersect in Douglass’s story of his life as a slave? How aware does he seem to have been that he was being dealt with in an unethical fashion?

3. The vast number of slaveholders during Douglass’s time were church-goers and passionate Christians. We often think of religion as a bulwark of moral- ity and ethics, so how could avid religious citizens behave in a way that we now think of as immoral and unethical? Is it possible that there was a

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disconnect between religion and morality in the slave states? Is it possible that there is no relationship between morality and religion to start with?

4. What, on the whole, is Douglass’s attitude toward white people? Exam- ine his statements about them and establish as far as possible his feelings regarding their character. Is he bitter about his slavery experiences? Does he condemn the society that supported slavery as having been immoral?

5. How effective is the detailed description in this selection? Choose the best descriptive passages and analyze them for their effectiveness in context. What does Douglass hope to achieve by giving so much atten- tion to such descriptions? How does his description help you better understand the concept of ethical behavior?

6. CONNECTIONS Which writer would Douglass have expected to understand his views on the ethics of slavery: Henry David Thoreau, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, or Jean-Jacques Rousseau? How do each of their views of ethics intersect with Douglass’s? Which of these writers do you think would have most enjoyed being able to discuss slavery with Douglass?

7. CONNECTIONS Aristotle is clear in saying that happiness is the greatest good for man. Yet in Aristotle’s Athens, slavery was a simple, accepted fact of everyday life, and Aristotle likely did not have slaves’ interests in mind when he wrote “The Aim of Man” (bedfordstmartins .com/worldofideas/epages). How might Frederick Douglass have responded to the way Aristotle connected virtue and happiness? How would Douglass’s having been a slave affect his views of Aristotle’s respect for the state? Did Douglass consider virtue as a means to happiness? How might Douglass have critiqued Aristotle’s views of the ultimate good? For Douglass, what constituted the ultimate good?

8. One of the most constant defenses of the ethics of slavery — even after the Civil War — was that it was for the good of the slaves. Even some of the freed slaves told interviewers in the 1930s that things had been better for them under slavery than they were during the Great Depres- sion. Is the view that slavery was good for the slaves in any way an ethical view? Is it a moral view? What’s wrong with it?

9. Douglass escaped from slavery by deceiving the authorities into think- ing he was an able-bodied seaman with the right to travel. He broke the law at that time, and he broke it again when he remained free. Why should we not condemn him for immoral behavior and an ethical lapse? The Aulds certainly regarded him as a criminal and as some- one who acted immorally. Why should we not agree with them? What would Thoreau have said about his behavior?

10. SEEING CONNECTIONS Which painting, Wright’s An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump (p. 298) or Henry Chandler Christy’s Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States (p. 57), would Frederick Douglass point to as an illustration that raises the primary ethical ques- tions involved in maintaining slavery as a matter of the law of the land in the United States? Which painting would give him the most ethical material for condemning slavery?

DOUGLASS: From the Narrative 341

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FRIEDRICH NIETZ SCHE Morality as Anti- Nature

FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE (1844–1900), one of the most influ- ential German philosophers, is the man who declared that God is dead (in The Gay Science, 1882). The statement came from his con- viction that science had altered the balance between humans and nature, that psychology had begun to explain the unconscious mind, and that the commitment to religious belief of earlier times would give way. The result would be to leave people without a sense of hope or purpose unless they could create it for themselves. Like many historians and philosophers of the day, he feared that mod- ern civilization itself was somehow hanging in the balance, and that unless people refashioned the spiritual energy that brought progress and prosperity, the foundations of society would collapse.

In some of his writing he characterized power as the driving force for most people. Two late works that have been influential in modern thought, Daybreak: Reflections on Moral Prejudices (1881) and Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883–1885), begin to develop some of his most important thinking regarding what he called “the will to power.” His solution to the problem of modernity was self- mastery, which he felt was the key to transcending the confusion of modern thought. Real- izing that self- mastery was not an easy state to achieve, he called the man who could create his own moral and ethical values instead of blindly following conventional or societal standards “superman.”

Nietz sche’s personal life was difficult. Both his grandfathers were Lutheran ministers, and his paternal grandfather was a the- ological scholar whose book Gamaliel (1796) declared the perma- nency of Christianity. His father was also a Lutheran minister, but he died when Friedrich was four years old. He and his younger sister had to leave their family home in the Prussian province of

From The Twilight of the Idols (1888) in The Portable Nietz sche. Translated by Walter Kaufmann.

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Saxony and live with relatives in Naumberg. When he was four- teen, he went to boarding school and prepared for the University of Bonn (1864), then the University of Leipzig (1865). His studies were in theology and philology — the study of the interpretation of primarily biblical and classical texts. He was also deeply fascinated by music — which he both played and composed — and eventually grew to love the music of Richard Wagner (1813–1883), which he felt expressed the spiritual realities of modern life.

Nietz sche’s father died of an unspecified brain ailment. Nietz sche himself was ill much of his life. When he joined the army after university, he experienced a bad accident on a horse that left him weak and impaired. In 1870 during the Franco- Prussian War (1870–1871), Nietz sche served in a hospital unit and witnessed the carnage of war. He contracted illnesses in the wards that stayed with him for the rest of his life. He may have contracted syphilis either during this period or earlier, and in 1889 he began to show signs of brain sickness that made it necessary for him to be in a sanatorium. His mother and later his sister Elizabeth cared for him until his death.

Despite his short life, Nietz sche achieved much. In 1868, at the age of twenty- four, he became a professor of classical philology at the University of Basel in Switzerland. He published a consider- able number of important and widely regarded books. The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music (1872), his first book, caught the eye of Wagner and helped establish Nietz sche’s reputation. That book was an attempt to clarify the two basic religious forces in humankind: Apollonian intellectuality and Dionysian passion. Apollo was a god of conscience devoted to the arts and music. Dionysius, patron of Greek tragedy, was associated with vegetation, plentiful- ness, passion, and especially wine — and therefore inspiration. In 1873 Nietz sche published Unfashionable Observations, a critique of cultural critics. Before illness forced him to resign his profes- sorship at the University of Basel in 1879, he published Human, All- Too- Human (1878), a collection of aphorisms — brief statements ranging from a single line to a page of text. This style, repeated in Thus Spoke Zarathustra and other works, became one of the hall- marks of his rhetorical approach. It gave him the appearance of a sage uttering wise sayings.

His production after leaving the university was not dimin- ished. In 1882 he published one of his most impressive books, The Gay Science, which postulated an alternative to the Christian view that another world exists after death. His suggestion was known as “eternal recurrence,” a view that says we are destined to live this life over and over again down to the slightest detail. The point

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NIETZ SCHE: Morality as Anti- Nature 345

of this observation was to make people take this life seriously enough to live it so well that they would not mind living it again. The concept of eternal recurrence influenced twentieth- century existentialists, who agreed that the way one lived life was the way one defined oneself.

The Genealogy of Morals (1887) was a critique of contempo- rary religion, especially Christianity. It emphasized his views about moral and ethical values and rejected the conventional views as being essentially based on an attack on our natural feelings and motives. A section of that book, “Beyond Good and Evil,” attempts to neutralize those terms, which he sees as props of conventional religious thought.

The Twilight of the Idols: Or How One Philosophizes with a Ham- mer (1888), from which this selection is taken and one of his last books, is a careful attack on contemporary religious beliefs and an analysis of important philosophers such as Socrates and Plato as well as of more modern thinkers. Its title is a play on an opera by Wagner called The Twilight of the Gods and reveals his essential attitudes toward ethical values as maintained by most religions. Some of his basic views on ethics and morality are in evidence in the selection that follows.

Nietz sche’s Rhetoric

“Morality as Anti- Nature” is a careful argument that attempts to prove that moral pronouncements by major religions are designed to stifle people’s natural behaviors. According to Nietz sche, peo- ple give in to their natural, often destructive impulses because they are weak. Consequently, religions seek to enforce a moral code of conduct by threatening all people — even those who could easily control themselves — with damnation in the next world for any infraction of that code. Nietz sche regards passion as a good thing, but as he states in paragraph 1, “all the old moral monsters” agree that we must kill the passions. He opens by critiquing the Sermon on the Mount, reminding us that “it is said, for example, with par- tic u lar reference to sexuality: ‘If thy eye offend thee, pluck it out.’ Fortunately, no Christian acts in accordance with this precept” (para. 1). This is a rhetorical salvo against many of his readers’ standard views of religion.

He continues by demonstrating that religions prohibit vari- ous forms of sensuality in an effort to promote spirituality, stat- ing, “The spiritualization of sensuality is called love: it represents a great triumph over Christianity” (para. 5). This is an explosive

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statement, much like others he makes as he develops his argument. He then addresses another passion: hostility. This becomes an interesting po liti cal concept when he asserts that the success of the then German government, the Second Reich, depends on having enemies. As he states somewhat ironically in paragraph 5, “Another triumph is our spiritualization of hostility. It consists in a profound appreciation of the value of having enemies: in short, it means act- ing and thinking in the opposite way from that which has been the rule. The church always wanted the destruction of its enemies; we, we immoralists and Antichristians, find our advantage in this, that the church exists.” His own writing in this selection demonstrates his position: he is opposed to conventional views of morals, and in order to clarify his own thoughts he needs to have the opposition of the church’s views.

One of his rhetorical devices — in addition to the bald oppo- sitional stance he takes in the opening of the selection — is the aphorism. He looks for opportunities to make a clear statement that capsulizes his views. The last sentence in paragraph 8 is an example: “Life has come to an end where the ‘kingdom of God’ begins.” He describes himself as an immoralist — by which he means one who does not subscribe to conventional morals (but not one who acts immorally) — and states, “But we ourselves, we immoralists, are the answer” (para. 12). His most inflammatory aphorism is his last sentence: “Christianity is a metaphysics of the hangman” (para. 28). All this is rather shocking today; imagine what its effect was in 1888.

Among his less sensational rhetorical strategies is his careful enumeration of the elements of his argument. The first six sec- tions examine specific details concerning the moral prohibitions of modern religions. His purpose here is to clarify his title, which he does in paragraph 8 when he states, “Anti- natural morality — that is, almost every morality which has so far been taught, revered, and preached — turns, conversely, against the instincts of life: it is condemnation of these instincts, now secret, now outspoken and impudent.”

He then goes on to enumerate what he calls “The Four Great Errors”: 1. the error of confusing cause and effect (paras. 13–15); 2. the error of false causality (paras. 16–18); 3. the error of imaginary causes (paras. 19–25); and 4. the error of free will (paras. 26–28). Each of these is treated carefully, sometimes with an example, but always with a clearly developed analysis.

Nietz sche offers modern readers a way of thinking that helps us avoid taking the views of Moses, Aristotle, Jesus, or Muhammad for granted. He provides modern thinkers with a challenge that many have gladly accepted.

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NIETZ SCHE: Morality as Anti- Nature 347


The following prereading questions may help you anticipate key issues in the discussion of Friedrich Nietz sche’s “Morality as Anti- Nature.” Keep- ing them in mind during your first reading of the selection should help focus your attention.

• What traditional moral views does Nietz sche attack?

• Why does Nietz sche think religious morals are anti- nature?

• What does Nietz sche say about the confusion of cause and effect?

Morality as Anti- Nature 1

1All passions have a phase when they are merely disastrous, when they drag down their victim with the weight of stupidity — and a later, very much later phase when they wed the spirit, when they “spiritualize” themselves. Formerly, in view of the element of stupidity in passion, war was declared on passion itself, its destruction was plotted; all the old moral monsters are agreed on this: il faut tuer les passions.1 The most famous formula for this is to be found in the New Testament, in that Ser- mon on the Mount, where, incidentally, things are by no means looked at from a height. There it is said, for example, with par tic u lar reference to sexuality: “If thy eye offend thee, pluck it out.” Fortunately, no Chris- tian acts in accordance with this precept. Destroying the passions and cravings, merely as a preventive mea sure against their stupidity and the unpleasant consequences of this stupidity — today this itself strikes us as merely another acute form of stupidity. We no longer admire dentists who “pluck out” teeth so that they will not hurt any more.

2To be fair, it should be admitted, however, that on the ground out of which Christianity grew, the concept of the “spiritualization of passion” could never have been formed. After all the first church, as is well known, fought against the “intelligent” in favor of the “poor in spirit.” How could one expect from it an intelligent war against passion? The church fights passion with excision in every sense: its practice, its “cure,” is castratism.2 It never asks: “How can one spiritualize, beautify,

1 il faut tuer les passions One must kill the passions. 2 castratism Cutting off.

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deify a craving?” It has at all times laid the stress of discipline on extir- pation3 (of sensuality, of pride, of the lust to rule, of avarice, of venge- fulness). But an attack on the roots of passion means an attack on the roots of life: the practice of the church is hostile to life.


3The same means in the fight against a craving — castration, extirpation — is instinctively chosen by those who are too weak- willed, too degenerate, to be able to impose moderation on themselves; by those who are so constituted that they require La Trappe,4 to use a figure of speech, or (without any figure of speech) some kind of definitive declaration of hostility, a cleft between themselves and the passion. Radical means are indispensable only for the degenerate; the weakness of the will — or, to speak more definitely, the inability not to respond to a stimulus — is itself merely another form of degen eration. The radical hostility, the deadly hostility against sensuality, is always a symptom to reflect on: it entitles us to suppositions concerning the total state of one who is excessive in this manner.

4This hostility, this hatred, by the way, reaches its climax only when such types lack even the firmness for this radical cure, for this renunciation of their “de vil.” One should survey the whole history of the priests and philosophers, including the artists: the most poisonous things against the senses have been said not by the impotent, nor by ascetics,5 but by the impossible ascetics, by those who really were in dire need of being ascetics.


5The spiritualization of sensuality is called love: it represents a great triumph over Christianity. Another triumph is our spiritualiza- tion of hostility. It consists in a profound appreciation of the value of having enemies: in short, it means acting and thinking in the opposite way from that which has been the rule. The church always wanted the destruction of its enemies; we, we immoralists and Antichristians, find our advantage in this, that the church exists. In the politi cal realm too, hostility has now become more spiritual — much more sensible, much more thoughtful, much more considerate. Almost every party under- stands how it is in the interest of its own self- preservation that the oppo- sition should not lose all strength; the same is true of power po