James Fieser





Part 2

7. Thomas More — Utopia (from Utopia)

8. Niccolò Machiavelli — Political Survival (from The Prince)

9. Stephen Junius Brutus — Against Tyrants (from Vindication against Tyrants)

10. Hugo Grotius — Just War (from The Laws of War and Peace)

11. Thomas Hobbes — The State of Nature and Social Contract (from Leviathan)

12. Samuel Pufendorf — Natural Law and Society (from The Duty of Man and Citizen)

13. Baruch Spinoza — Freedom of Thought and Expression (from Theological-Political Treatise)







Thomas More


Thomas More (1478–1535) was an English lawyer, statesman, and at the height of his career was Lord Chancellor under Henry VIII of England, one of the highest governmental positions which involved advising the King. A devoted Catholic who instigated the persecution of protestant reformers, More alienated himself from Henry by refusing to sign a document that would make the King the supreme head of the Church of England. For this he was found guilty of high treason and decapitated. Around 15 years before taking his position as Lord Chancellor, More composed Utopia (1516), the full title of which is On the Best State of a Commonwealth and on the New Island of Utopia. The term “utopia,” invented by More, means “no place” in Greek. More wrote it in Latin, and it first appeared in English translation 16 years after his execution. It is in two books and the second, selections from which are below, conveys a fictitious account of an unusually happy and well-organized society on the island of Utopia. The story is conveyed by a traveler named Raphael, who visited it somewhere in the New World. The account begins with a description of the island’s geography, which, surrounded by a treacherous sea, protects it from outside invasion. Inhabitants live in a communal setting, have no currency, and share all goods and services with others as needed. Everyone rotates in and out of agricultural work every two years. They use their time efficiently, and have only six-hour work days, with the remainder of their time spent on learning and leisure activities. The tough chores are done by slaves who are either criminals or volunteers from poorer surrounding countries. They have free public hospitals, practice euthanasia, allow consensual divorce, minimize the death penalty, have few written laws, and show religious toleration (except for atheists). The work has been variously interpreted as a satire on the evils of his times, a dream world for scholars, or a forecast of communism.




Layout of the Island

The island of Utopia is 200 miles across in the middle and over a great part of it, but grows narrower at both ends. The figure of it is not unlike a crescent. Eleven miles breadth of sea washes its horns and forms a large bay, encompassed by a shore about 500 miles in length, and well sheltered from storms. There is no great current in the bay. The whole coast is as it were a continued harbor, affording the whole island every advantage of mutual contact. Yet the entrance into the bay, because of rocks and shoals, is very dangerous.

            In the middle is a rock which appears above water, on whose top is a tower inhabited by a garrison. The other rocks lie under water, and are very dangerous. The channel is known only by the natives, and a stranger entering the bay without one of their captains would be in immediate danger of shipwreck. They themselves could not pass it in safety, without certain marks on the coast to direct their way. If these were a little altered, any fleet coming against them, however large, would certainly be lost. Similarly, on the other side of the island are many harbors. The coast is so fortified by nature as well as contrivance, that a small force could hold back the descent of a large army.

            Reports say (and marks of its credibility remain) that this island was originally a part of the continent. Utopus, the conqueror of it, and whose name it now bears (having previously been called Abraxa), brought the government and civility of the primitive inhabitants to their present highly improved state. Having easily subdued them, he formed the design of separating them from the continent and encompassing them with the sea. To this end, he ordered a deep channel to be dug 15 miles long. So the natives might not think he treated them like slaves, he not only required them to labor at the work, but his own soldiers as well. From the number of hands employed, it was finished quickly, exceeding every man’s expectation. His neighbors, who at first laughed at the foolishness of the undertaking, when they saw it accomplished, were struck with admiration and terror.

            There are 54 cities on the island, all of them large and well built. Their laws, manners, and customs, are the same, and they resemble each other as nearly as the ground they stand on will allow. The nearest to each other are at least 24 miles apart, and the most remote, not more than a day’s journey on foot. Every city sends three of her wisest senators once a year to Amaurot (the capital of the island, and situated in the center), to consult on their common interests. The jurisdiction of every city extends at least 20 miles, and farther where they lie wider apart. No one desires to enlarge her boundary, for the people consider themselves only as good managers of their lands, not as owners.

            They have built farm houses over the whole country, which are well designed and furnished with every necessity. Inhabitants for them are sent in rotation from the cities. No family in the country has fewer than forty men and women in it, besides two slaves. A master and mistress preside over every family, and over thirty families a magistrate. Every year twenty of the family return to town after having been two years in the country. In their place another twenty are sent to learn the country business of those who have been there only one year, and must, in their turn, teach the next comers. Thus, those who live on the farms are never uninformed of agriculture, and commit no fatal errors, such as causing a scarcity of corn.

            But, notwithstanding these yearly changes, to prevent any from being compelled against their desires to follow that hard course of life too long, many of them take such pleasure in it, that they ask permission to continue therein many years. These husbandmen till the ground, breed cattle, hew wood, and send it to the towns by land or water, as is most convenient. They breed countless chickens in a very interesting manner. They are not hatched by hens, but a vast number of eggs are hatched together by means of a constant artificial warmth; and no sooner do the young break through the shell, than they consider their feeder as their parent and follow man as other chickens do the hen. . . .



Thirty families choose yearly a magistrate, who was in ancient times called the syphogrant, but now the philarch. Over every ten syphogrants, with these their families each, is another magistrate, formerly called tranibor, now protophi larch. The syphogrants, 200 in number, choose the prince from a list of four, named by the people of the four divisions of the city, taking an oath beforehand that they will choose him whom they think fittest for the office. They vote privately, so that it is not known for whom each gives his vote. The prince is for life, so that he will not enslave his people if he suspects a scheme against him.

            The tranibors are newly chosen every year, yet generally continued, while all their other magistrates are annual. They meet every third day (oftener if necessary), and consult with the prince concerning the general interests of the state, or private disagreements among the people, though the latter seldom happen. Two syphogrants are always called into the council-chamber, and are changed daily. It is a fundamental rule of the constitution that nothing relative to the public can be concluded, until the matter has been debated three days in the council. It is death for any to meet and hold consultation concerning the state, except at their council, or in the general assembly of the people.

            This has been so provided, that the prince and the tranibors may not conspire to change the government and enslave the people. Therefore, when anything of great importance arises, the syphogrants are made acquainted with it, who, when they have communicated it to the families belonging to their divisions, and have considered it themselves, make a report to the senate. On important occasions, the matter is referred to the council of the whole island.

            One rule observed in their council is to never debate a subject on the day on which it is proposed. It is always assigned to the next meeting. For, they fear that rashness and the heat of argument might lead them to support their first opinions, rather than consult the public good, and thereby put their country at risk rather than endanger their own reputations. To prevent this, they make their motions carefully, not impulsively.


Work and Leisure

Agriculture is so universally understood among them that neither man nor woman is ignorant of it. They are instructed in it from their childhood, partly at school and partly by practice. They are frequently led into the fields near the town, where they not only see others at work, but become exercised in it themselves. Besides agriculture, so common to them, every man has some specific trade, such as the manufacture of wool or flax, masonry, smith’s or carpenter’s work. No other trade is in higher regard among them. Throughout the island they wear one sort of clothes, without any other distinction than what is necessary for different sexes, and the married and unmarried. The fashion never changes, is simple and pleasing, and is suited to the climate, for summer as well as winter.

            Every family makes clothes for itself, and women as well as men all learn one of the above-mentioned trades. The women generally engage in the wool and flax trade, leaving the more vigorous trades to the men. One trade is generally followed by father and son, their preferences often agreeing. But if any man’s talent points another way, he is adopted into a family professing the trade he prefers, and effort is made by his father and by the magistrate that his master be a proper person. If, when one has learned a certain trade, he desires to acquire another, that is also allowed and is managed as before. When he has learned both, he follows that which he prefers, unless the public has more need for one than the other.

            The chief and almost only business of the syphogrants is to make sure that no man lives idly, but that everyone follows his trade diligently. Yet they do not exhaust themselves with continuous labor from morning to night, as if they were beasts of burden. This would indeed be grueling slavery, as it is everywhere the common course of life among all workers except the Utopians. But, dividing the day and night into twenty-four hours, they appoint six for work, three before and three after the midday meal. They then have supper, and at eight o’clock (counting from noon), they go to bed and sleep eight hours. The rest of their time is left to their own discretion. Yet they are not to waste the time in luxury and idleness, but must employ it in some proper exercise, according to their various preferences, which is generally reading.

            They have public lectures every morning before daybreak. None are obliged to attend, except those who are appointed to literary professions. Yet many women as well as men go to hear lectures of one sort or another, according to their interests. If others, not formed for contemplation, prefer employing themselves at that time in their trades, as many of them do, they are not hindered, but are praised as subjects desirous of serving their country.

            After supper, they spend an hour in some diversion, in summer in the garden, and in winter in their halls, entertaining each other with music or discourse. They have no idea of dice, or of any foolish and mischievous game. They have, however, two games not unlike our chess. The one is a battle of numbers, in which number consumes number. The other resembles a battle between the virtues and vices, in which the discord among the vices themselves and their union against virtue is pleasantly represented; there is also the particular opposition between certain virtues and vices, and the methods in which vice openly assaults, or secretly undermines virtue, and virtue resists.


Efficiency of the Utopians

Since only six hours are devoted to labor, the time appointed to it must be carefully examined, otherwise, as you can imagine, a scarcity of the necessities of life might result. But this time is quite far from being insufficient for supplying them with necessities and conveniences. More time is unnecessary, as may be seen by considering how large a proportion of all other nations is totally idle. In the first place, women generally do little, and they are half of mankind; and if a few women are diligent, their husbands are idle. Then consider the great number of idle priests, and what are called religious persons. Add to these the rich, those chiefly who have landed property, called noblemen and gentlemen, with their families of idle people, kept for show rather than use. Then add those strong and vigorous beggars who go about pretending disease as an excuse for begging. On the whole, you will find that the number of those by whose labor mankind is supplied is much smaller than you imagine.

            Next, consider how few of those who work are employed in labors of real use. For we, who measure all things by money, give rise to many trades which are useless and superfluous, and which serve only to support festivity and luxury. If the laboring part of mankind were employed only on the necessities of life, these would be so plentiful that their price would fall, and the tradesman could not be maintained. But suppose that everyone who labors in useless avocations were more profitably employed, and all they who waste away their lives in idleness and sloth (each of whom consumes as much as two of the laborious) were compelled to labor. You may immediately see that little time would accomplish everything that is necessary, profitable, or agreeable to mankind, especially while pleasure is kept within proper bounds. . . .

            Thus, from the number among them who are neither idle nor to be uselessly employed, you may estimate how much may be done in their few hours of labor. But besides this, we need to remember that useful skills are managed with less labor among them than elsewhere. In regular societies, the building and repair of houses employs many people. The reason is that a financially careless heir often allows the house his father built to fall into decay, and his successor is at great cost to repair what might have been kept up at a small expense. It also often happens that the house which one person built at a great expense, is neglected by another who thinks he has better taste in architecture, and, letting it go to ruin, builds another at a greater expense. But among the Utopians everything is so regulated that they seldom require new building ground. They not only repair their houses with great speed, but show much skill in preventing their decay, and their buildings are preserved very long with little labor. Thus, too, their builders are often without employment, except in hewing timber and squaring stone, in case of needing to construct a building in a sudden emergency. Abundance of all things exists among them. Indeed, it frequently happens that for lack of other work, many of them are sent out to repair the highways. But when no public call requires their attendance, the hours of labor are shortened. The magistrates never impose unnecessary labor on the people. For, the chief end of the constitution is to regulate labor by the public needs, and to allow all as much time as possible for mental improvement, in which they judge the happiness of life to consist.

            As for their clothes, observe how little labor is spent on them. While at work, they wear loose dresses of leather and skins, which will last seven years. When they appear in public, they put on an upper garment which hides the other. These garments are all one color, the natural one of the wool. They need less woolen cloth than is used anywhere else, and what they use is much less costly. Of linen cloth they use more, but it is made with less labor; and they value cloth only from the whiteness of the linen or cleanness of the wool, without much regard to the fineness of the thread. While in other places, four or five upper garments of woolen cloth, of different colors, and as many silken vests, are hardly sufficient. While the more refined sort of person thinks that ten garments are too few, here every man is content with one, which often lasts him two years. Nor is there any temptation to desire more, for no man would be the warmer, nor improve their appearance with them.




Family Life

It is now time to explain to you the mutual association of these people, their commerce and regulations.

            As their cities are composed of families, so their families are made up of those who are nearly related to each other. Their women, as they grow up, are married into other families. But the males, children and grandchildren, still live in the same house, in great obedience to the common parent; unless age has weakened his mind, and then the next in age supplies his place. But due care is taken that no city becomes too populous, or be depopulated. No city may contain over 6000 families besides those of the surrounding country. No family may have less than ten, or more than sixteen, persons in it; without any limitation for the children under age. This rule is easily observed by removing some of the children of a more fruitful couple to a less abundant family. . . .

            The oldest man of every family, as already said, presides in it. Wives obey their husbands, and children their parents, junior always serving senior. Every city is divided into four equal parts, and in the middle of each is a marketplace. What is manufactured by the various families and brought there, is carried to houses appointed for that purpose. In these, all things of one kind are laid together, and every father goes there and takes whatever he or his family needs, without paying for it, or leaving any exchange. There is no reason for denying anyone, since they have such abundance of all things. There is also no danger of anyone asking for more than he needs; for, being sure they will always be supplied, they have no incentive of the kind.

            It is the fear of deficiency which makes any animal greedy or ravenous. Besides this fear, there is a pride in man which makes him regard it a glory to excel his fellow-creature in splendor and excess. The laws of Utopia leave no room for these feelings.

            Near these markets are others for every kind of provision. Here are herbs, fruits, bread, fish, fowl, and cattle. Outside of their towns there are designated places near running streams for killing their animals, which is done by their slaves. They do not allow their citizens to kill their cattle, since they think that this would greatly impair human feelings of pity and kindness, which are among the best of the affections that we are born with. Nor do they allow anything foul or unclean to be brought into their towns, to prevent the air from being infected with ill smells which might harm their health.

            In every street are large gathering halls, lying at equal distances from each other, and distinguished by particular names. The syphogrants live in them, with their thirty respective family dwellings surrounding them, fifteen on one side of it, and as many on the other. Here they meet and hold their meals. The steward of each goes to the market at a designated hour, and takes home provisions according to the number belonging to his hall.

            They take the greatest care of their sick, who are lodged and provided for in public hospitals. They have four of these to every town, built without the walls, and so spacious, that they are like little towns. By this means, had they ever so many sick, they could lodge them conveniently, and so far apart, that no apprehension of infection could arise from those laboring under contagious disorders. The hospitals are provided with everything necessary for the ease and restoration of the sick. The patients are looked after with such tenderness and care, and are so constantly attended by their skilful physicians, so that none are sent there against their preferences. Thus, there is scarcely one person in a whole town who, if taken ill, would prefer to stay home rather than go there.

            When the steward of the hospitals has taken for the sick whatever the physician prescribes, the best things left in the market are distributed to the halls in proportion to their numbers. The first served are the prince, then the chief priest, the tranibors, ambassadors, and strangers if any are among them. The latter indeed seldom happens, but they have well furnished houses designated particularly for the reception of strangers when they come.

            At the hours of dinner and supper, the whole syphogranty is assembled by trumpet and they meet and eat together, except only those who are in the hospitals or lie sick at home. Yet after the halls are supplied, no one is prevented from carrying home provision from the marketplace, for they know that no one does this except for some good reason. For, though anyone who pleases may eat at home, no one does it from inclination, since it is absurd to prepare a bad dinner at home when a much more plentiful one is ready for him so near his residence.

            The unpleasant and dirty tasks in these halls are performed by their slaves. But cutting their meat and arranging their tables is done by the women, every family taking it by rotation. They sit at three or more tables according to their number, the men toward the wall, the women on the outside. Thus, if any of the women suddenly become ill (which is not uncommon when they are pregnant), she may, without disturbing the rest, rise and go to the nursery, where there are nurses with the unweaned infants, clean water, cradles, and a fire. . . .

            So you see, there are no idle people among them, nor any pretences for excusing any individual from labor. They have no taverns, bars, or brothels, nor any other means of corruption, of gathering in corners, or forming parties. All live in full view, and all are obliged to do their duty and properly devote time to their leisure. It is certain that, a nation thus regulated, must enjoy great abundance of all things, which being equally distributed, no one can need or be forced to beg. . . .


Slaves, Euthanasia

They make no slaves of prisoners of war, except of those who are taken in battle; nor of the sons of their own slaves, or of those of other countries. Their slaves are only those who are condemned to that state for some crime. Or, which is more common, they are those who their merchants find condemned to death in countries where they trade, whom they often ransom at low rates, and sometimes obtain for free. They are employed in perpetual labor, and are always chained. Their natives are treated much more severely than others, being considered as more immoral than the rest; and, since the advantages of so excellent an education were insufficient, they are judged worthy of harder usage.

            Another kind of slave is the poor of neighboring countries, who voluntarily offer to serve them. The Utopians treat them better and use them in every respect as well as their own countrymen, except that they impose more labor upon them, which is no hardship to those who have been accustomed to it. If any of them desire to return to their own country (which indeed seldom happens) they neither force them to stay nor send them away empty-handed.

            I have already related to you with what care they look after their sick, so that nothing is left undone which may contribute either to their health or ease. As for those who are afflicted with incurable disorders, they use all possible means of cherishing them, and making their lives as comfortable as possible. They visit them often, and take great pains to make their time pass easily. But if any have torturing, lingering pain, without hope of recovery or ease, the priests and magistrates visit and encourage them [to voluntarily end their lives]. They are unable to proceed with the business of life, have become a burden to themselves and all around them, and have in reality outlived themselves. Thus, they should no longer cling to a deep-rooted disease, but choose instead to die since they would only live in great misery. Being persuaded, if they thus relieve themselves from torture, or allow others to do it, they will be happy after death. Since they forfeit none of the pleasures, but only the troubles of life by this, they think they not only act reasonably, but consistently with religion. For they follow the advice of their priests, the expounders of God’s will.

            Those who are influenced by these reasons either starve themselves or take laudanum. But no one is compelled to end his life in this way, and if they cannot be persuaded to it, the former care and attendance on them is continued. Though they respect a voluntary death when chosen on such authority to be very honorable, on the contrary, if anyone commits suicide without the concurrence of the priests and senate, they do not honor the body with a decent funeral, but throw it into a ditch.


Marriage, Divorce, Adultery

Their women are not allowed to marry before eighteen, and their men not before twenty-two. If any of them is guilty of unlawful intercourse before marriage, they are severely punished, and they are not allowed to marry unless they can obtain a special authorization from the prince. Such disorderly conduct also brings a severe reprimand on the master and mistress of the family in which it happened, since it is concluded that they have been negligent in their duty. Their reason for punishing this so severely is because they think, were they not strictly restrained from all roaming appetites, very few would engage in a condition in which they risk the peace of their whole lives by being tied to one person, and are obliged to endure all the inconveniences with which that state is accompanied.

            In choosing their spouses, they adopt a plan which appears to us very extravagant, yet is constantly observed among them and considered very wise. Before marriage, a somber matron presents the bride (whether she is a virgin or widow) naked, to the bridegroom. After that, some somber man presents the bridegroom naked to the bride. We laughed at this, and condemned it as very indecent. They, on the other hand, wondered at the foolishness of mankind in all other countries; who, if they buy but an inferior horse, examine him all over and take off his trappings. Yet a wife, on whom depends the happiness of the remainder of life, they take upon trust, regarding only her face, and leaving the rest of her body covered, where contagious and loathsome disorders may be concealed. All men are not so wise as to choose a woman only for her good qualities, and even the wise consider the body as adding more than a little to the mind. It is certain that clothes may conceal some deformity which may alienate a man from his wife when it is too late to part with her. If such a thing is discovered after marriage, he has no remedy but patience. They therefore think it is reasonable that good care should be taken to guard against such harmful deception.

            There was greater reason for this regulation among them, because they are the only people of those parts who do not allow polygamy or [nonconsensual] divorce, except in cases of adultery or insufferable perverseness. In these cases, the senate dissolves the marriage, and grants the injured permission to marry again. But the guilty are made infamous and never allowed the privilege of a second marriage. No one is allowed to put away his wife against her inclination, on account of any misfortune which may have happened to her person. They consider it the height of cruelty and treachery to abandon either of the married pair when they most need the tenderness of their partner. This is especially so in the case of old age, which brings many diseases with it, and is itself a disease. But it often happens that, when a married pair do not agree, they separate by mutual consent and find others with whom they hope to live more happily. Yet this is not done without permission from the senate, which never allows a divorce without a strict inquiry, by the senators and their wives, into the grounds on which it is desired. Even when they are satisfied as to the reasons of it, the matter proceeds slowly, for they are persuaded that a too prompt permission of new marriages would greatly impair the kind communication of the married.

            They severely punish those who defile the marriage bed. If both of the offenders are married, they are divorced and the injured may intermarry [i.e., marry the other injured spouse], or marry whom else they please. But the adulterer and adulteress are condemned to slavery. But if the injured spouse cannot conquer the love of the offender, they may still live together, the partner following to the labor to which the slave is condemned. Sometimes the repentance of the condemned, and the unaltered kindness of the injured, have prevailed with the prince to take off the sentence. But those who relapse after they are once pardoned are punished with death.





Their law does not determine the punishment of other crimes, it being left to the senate to fix it according to the circumstances of the case. Husbands are allowed to correct their wives, and parents their children, unless the offence is so great that public punishment is thought necessary for the sake of example. Slavery is generally the punishment, even for the greatest crimes. For it is no less terrible to the criminals than death, and they deem the preservation of them in servitude to be more for the interest of the state than killing them. Their labor is more beneficial to the public than their death could be, and the sight of their misery is a more lasting terror to others, than that of their death.

            If their slaves will not bear their yoke nor submit to the labor prescribed them, but rebel, they are treated as wild animals that are incapable of being kept in order by a prison or chains, and they are finally put to death. But those who bear their punishment patiently, and appear to be more troubled by their crimes than their sufferings, are not without hope that in the end either the prince by his prerogative or the people by their intercession will restore them to liberty, or at least greatly lessen their slavery.

            He who tempts a woman to adultery is no less severely punished than he who commits the crime. They deem a deliberate intention to commit a crime equal to the actual perpetration of it, since its not taking effect does not diminish the guilt of him who failed in his attempt.


Handicaps, Physical Appearance

They take great pleasure in fools. It is considered mean-spirited and unbecoming to treat them improperly, and they think it is not wrong for people to divert themselves with their foolishness, and that it is an advantage to the fools. For if men were so morose and severe as not to be at all amused with their ridiculous behavior and foolish sayings (which is all they can do to recommend themselves to others), it could not be expected that they would be so well provided for nor so tenderly used as otherwise.

            Should any man criticize another for being misshapen, or imperfect in any part of his body, it would be thought no reflection on the person so treated, but scandalous in him who had faulted another with what he could not prevent.

            It is thought a mark of a lazy and squalid attitude, not to preserve natural beauty with care. But it is wicked among them to wear makeup. They all see that no beauty recommends a wife to her husband so strongly as her integrity and obedience. Few only are attracted by beauty, but the other excellences charm the whole world.



If a man aspires ambitiously to any office, he loses it for certain. They live in loving association with each other, the magistrates never behaving either disrespectfully or cruelly to the people. They prefer rather to be called fathers, and by really being such, well merit the designation. The people pay them all marks of honor, the more freely because none are demanded from them. The prince himself has no distinction either of garments or a crown. A sheaf of corn only is carried before him, and a wax-light before the high-priest.

            They have few laws, and their constitution is such that they require not many. They greatly condemn other countries, whose laws, with the commentaries on them, swell so many volumes. They consider it unreasonable to oblige men to obey a body of laws so large and intricate, as not to be read and understood by every subject.

            They have no lawyers among them, since they consider them to be a class whose profession it is to disguise matters, and to twist the laws. Therefore, they think it much better that every man should plead his own cause, and trust it to the judge, as elsewhere the client trusts it to his counselor. By this plan they avoid many delays, and find out the truth with more certainty. For, after the parties have opened the merits of the cause without the contrivances of lawyers, the judge examines the matter and supports the simplicity of those well-meaning persons, whom otherwise the scheming would run down. Thus, they avoid those evils which appear so notable in those countries which labor under a vast load of laws.

            Every one of them is skilled in their law. It is a very short study, and the plainest meaning of which words are capable is always the sense of it. They argue in this way. All laws are disseminated so that every man may know his duty. Therefore, the plainest construction of words is what ought to be put upon them. A more refined exposition could not easily be understood, and would only make the laws useless to the greater part of mankind, especially to those who most need the guidance of them. It is the same thing whether you make no law at all, or couch it in terms of which, without a sharp mind and much study, men cannot find out the true meaning. For the generality of mankind are so dull and so busied in their jobs, that they have neither the leisure nor capacity required for such an inquiry. . . .

            The Utopians call those who ask magistrates from them “neighbors”; but those to whom they have provided more particular services “friends”. While all other nations are perpetually making and breaking leagues, they never enter into alliance with any state. They think leagues useless, and believe, that if the common ties of humanity do not knit men together, the faith of promises will have little effect. They are the more confirmed in this by what they see of the nations around them, who are no strict observers of leagues and treaties.



They detest war as brutal, which, to the disgrace of human nature, is practiced more by man than by any animal. In opposition to the opinion of almost every other country, they think nothing is more inglorious than the glory gained by war. They involve themselves daily in military exercises and discipline, in which their women are also trained so that in cases of need they may not be completely useless. Nevertheless, they do not engage rashly in war, but only to defend themselves or their friends from aggression, or to assist the oppressed in shaking off the yoke of tyranny. They help their friends in offensive as well as defensive wars, but never without having been consulted before the breach was made, being satisfied as to the grounds, and finding every effort of accommodation unsuccessful.

            They think war is just when a nation encroaches on the territory of its neighbor by public authority and takes away property; or when merchants are oppressed in a strange country, under pretence of unjust laws, or by the distortion of good ones. The latter they consider the juster cause, because injury is done under the appearance of law. . . .


Religious Tolerance

Various religions abound in different parts of the island, and even in every town. Some worship the sun, others the moon, or one of the planets. Others again worship men who have been famous for virtue or glory, not only as ordinary deities, but as the Supreme God. Yet the greater and wiser part adore one eternal, invisible, infinite, incomprehensible Deity. . . . By degrees they abandon their various superstitions and unite in the religion which is best and most respected. . . . Utopus understood that, before his coming among them, the inhabitants had been engaged in serious quarrels concerning religion. Through this they were so divided among themselves, that, with every party fighting by itself, he found it easy to conquer them. This done, he made a law that every man might be of what religion he pleased, and might try to draw others to his persuasion by argument, friendship, and modest behavior, without bitterness against those of other opinions. But those using any other force than that of persuasion, or using contempt or violence, were to be condemned to banishment or slavery.

            This law was made by Utopus, not only to preserve the public peace, which he saw suffered much by daily contentions and irreconcilable sects, but because he thought the interest of religion itself required it. He judged it wrong to lay down anything rashly. He also seemed to doubt whether those different forms of religion might not all proceed from God, who might inspire men in a different manner, and be pleased with the variety. He therefore thought it indecent and foolish for any man to threaten and terrify another, to make him believe what did not strike him as true. Supposing only one religion to be true and the rest false, he imagined that the innate force of truth would at last break forth and shine with splendor, if supported only by the strength of reasoning, and attended to by a teachable and unprejudiced mind. On the other hand, if such debates were carried on with violence and disturbance, the best and holiest religion might be choked with superstition, as corn is with thorns and briars, since the most wicked people are always the most stubborn.

            He therefore left men free to believe as they saw fit, making only a strict and severe law against those who should so far degenerate from the dignity of human nature, as to suppose that our souls died with our bodies, or that the world was governed by chance without a wise directing providence. For they all formerly believed that there is a state of rewards and punishments after this life. They now consider those who think otherwise as unfit to be accounted men, degrading so noble a being as the soul of man, and ranking it with the animals. They look upon such men as totally unfit for human society, or to be citizens of a well-ordered commonwealth. With such principles, as often as they dare, they will despise all their laws and customs. For, there is no doubt that one who fears nothing but the law, and believes there is nothing after death, will not hesitate to violate all the laws of his country by fraud or force, when by so doing he can satisfy his appetites. . . .



When Raphael [the narrator of the above account] had thus finished his discourse, many things occurred to me about the manners and laws of these people which seemed very absurd, such as their art of war, their notions of religion, etc. But principally, what seemed the foundation of the rest, was their living in common without the use of money. Through this, all nobility, splendor, and majesty would be destroyed, which according to common opinion are the true ornaments of a nation. . . . Though it must be confessed that he is a very learned man, and one who has acquired great knowledge of the world, I cannot agree with everything he has said. Yet, I freely confess, there are many things in the commonwealth of Utopia that I wish, but have no hope of seeing, were adopted among us.


Source: Thomas More, Utopia (1518), 2, tr. Arthur Cayley.


Questions for Review

1. What is the political structure of the Utopian families and magistrates?

2. How are the Utopians more efficient than other societies?

3. How do the Utopians deal with slaves, terminally ill people?

4. How do the Utopians deal with premarital sex, adultery and divorce?

5. How do the Utopians deal with punishment, creation of laws, and war?

6. What is their view of religious toleration and their reasons for it?


Questions for Analysis

1. Plato argued that the manufacture of luxury goods is a vital part of a country’s economy. More, though, describes the manufacture of luxuries as an inefficient waste of time and suggests that a simpler life is better. Who is right and why?

2. Describe the Utopian institution of slavery, and discuss whether it’s an improvement over other types of slavery, which More seems to think it is.

3. More suggests that marriage, although a social necessity, can be very oppressive. Describe the problems and discuss whether the Utopians’ solutions are viable.

4. The Utopians have only a few laws and those they do have are plainly worded so that everyone can understand them. Thus, they have no need for lawyers. Give their reasons for this and discuss whether their approach would work.

5. While Utopians practice religious toleration, they do not permit atheism, specifically the denial of life after death and divine providence. What are their reasons for this and what, if anything, is wrong with this position?

6. More briefly describes a game that the Utopians play called “virtues and vices.” Develop More’s game as either a card game or board game. Select a few virtues and their corresponding vices as examples (e.g., courage-cowardice; temperance-intemperance; good temper-ill temper; wittiness-buffoonery; generosity-stinginess; self respect-arrogance).








Niccolò Machiavelli


Born in Florence Italy, Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527) was a statesman during a turbulent period of Italian history when its city-state governments were continually shifting. At one point he was accused of conspiracy and tortured, after which he retired from political life and devoted himself to writing. His most famous work, published five years after his death, is The Prince (1532), and selections from this are below. The controversial theme of this work is that rulers should use any means of retaining power that they can, including conduct that we ordinarily think is immoral or inappropriate for a leader. What matters, for Machiavelli, is what successful rulers actually do to survive, not how we think that an ideal ruler ought to behave. This approach is often called “realpolitik”—German for “the politics of reality”— and it is so much associated with Machiavelli that the term “Machiavellian” is used synonymously with it. For Machiavelli, human nature does not allow us to always be virtuous, and, in fact, some virtues will lead to a ruler’s destruction while some vices will allow him to survive. Cases in point are the virtues of generosity, mercy, and honesty: the successful ruler will in fact need to have the opposing vices of stinginess, severity, and dishonesty on at least some occasions. With stinginess, people will appreciate the ruler even more if they see that he is financially efficient and won’t burden them with expenses. With severity, death sentences affect only a few criminals, but they deter crimes that affect many people. With deception, rulers should know when to be deceitful when it suits their purposes. According to Machiavelli, the best thing that a ruler can do is to avoid being hated, even if he is not loved, since this will keep him from being overthrown. He concludes that there is no guarantee that any specific approach that the ruler takes will lead to success, and the ruler must be prepared to adapt to change.



All states and governments that have held and hold rule over people have been and are either republics or monarchies. Monarchies are either hereditary, in which the family has been long established, or they are new. The new are either entirely new, as was Milan to Francesco Sforza, or they are like members annexed to the hereditary state of the prince who has acquired them, as was the kingdom of Naples to that of the King of Spain. Such dominions thus acquired are either accustomed to live under a prince, or to live in freedom, and are acquired either by the arms of the prince himself, or of others, or else by fortune or by ability.

            I will leave out all discussion on republics, since in another place I have written on them at length [i.e. in The Discourses], and will address myself only to monarchies. In doing so I will keep to the order indicated above, and discuss how such monarchies are to be ruled and preserved.




Imaginary vs. Real Virtues of a Ruler

It remains now to see what should be the rules of conduct for a prince towards subject and friends. As I know that many have written on this point, I expect I will be considered presumptuous in mentioning it again, especially since my discussion will depart from the methods of other people. But, since it is my intention to write something which will be useful to those who grasp it, it appears to me more appropriate to follow up with the real truth of a matter rather than the imagination of it. For many describe republics and monarchies which in fact have never been known or seen. This is because how one actually lives is so far removed from how one ought to live. Thus, he who neglects what is done for what ought to be done, more quickly causes his destruction rather than his preservation. For a person who wishes to act entirely according to his declarations of virtue soon meets with an array of evils which destroy him.


Alleged Qualities of a Good Ruler

Thus, if a prince wishes to keep his position, it is necessary that he knows how to do wrong, and to make use of it or not according to necessity. Therefore, let us set aside imaginary things concerning a prince, and discuss those which are real. Accordingly, I say that when all people are spoken of (and especially princes since they are more visible) they are distinguished based on specific qualities which bring them either blame or praise. Because of this one person is said to be generous, another miserly, using a Tuscan term (because an avaricious person in our language is still he who desires to own things through theft, whereas we call one miserly who deprives himself too much of the use of what he owns). One is reputed to be generous, another greedy; one cruel, one compassionate; one dishonest, another honest; one weak and cowardly, another bold and brave; one friendly, another arrogant; one lustful, another chaste; one sincere, another cunning; one hard, another easy; one solemn, another frivolous; one religious, another unbelieving, and the like. I know that everyone will acknowledge that it would be most admirable for a prince to exhibit all the above qualities that are considered good. But these good qualities can neither be entirely possessed nor observed, since human conditions do not permit it. It is then necessary for a prince to be sufficiently careful so that he may know how to avoid the negative effects of those vices which would make him lose his state. If possible, he must also take care to keep himself from those which would not lose him it. If this is not possible, he may give himself to them with less hesitation. Again, he need not worry about subjecting himself to criticism for those vices which, if he lacked, would make saving his state difficult. For considering everything carefully, we see that something which looks like virtue would lead to his destruction if followed; alternatively, something else, which looks like vice, will bring him security and prosperity if followed.




Better to be Stingy than Generous

Starting then with the first of the above-named characteristics, suppose I say that it is best if one is thought to be generous. However, generosity injures you when exercised in a way that does not bring you the reputation for it. For if one exercises it honestly, as it should be exercised, people will not know about it, and you will not avoid the criticism of its opposite. Therefore, it seems that if anyone wishes to maintain a reputation of generosity among people, one should adopt the attribute of lavishness. However, by doing so a prince will consume all his property in such acts and, if he wishes to keep the reputation of generosity, he will unjustly burden his people, and tax them, and do everything he can to get money. This will soon make him despised by his subjects, and becoming poor he will be little valued by anyone. Thus, having offended many and rewarded few with his generosity, he is impacted by every trouble and threaten by every danger. Recognizing this himself, and wishing to draw back from it, he runs immediately into criticism for being miserly.

            Therefore, a prince is not able to visibly exercise this virtue of generosity, except at great cost. If he is wise, then, he should not worry about having a reputation of being stingy. For in time he will be considered generous when people see that, with his economizing, his income is sufficient to defend himself against all attacks, and he is able to engage in enterprises without burdening his people. In this way he shows generosity towards the countless people from whom he does not take, and stinginess only towards the few people to whom he does not give.

            We have not seen great things done in our time except by those who have been considered stingy. The rest have failed. Pope Julius the Second was assisted in reaching the papacy by a reputation for generosity, yet he did not try afterwards to keep it up when he made war on the King of France. He also made many wars without imposing any extraordinary tax on his subjects, for he supplied his additional expenses out of his long thriftiness. The present King of Spain would not have undertaken or succeeded in so many efforts if he had a generous reputation. Thus, a prince should not worry about having a reputation for being stingy, provided that he does not have to rob his subjects, that he can defend himself, that he does not become poor and abject, that he is not forced to become greedy. For it is one of those vices which will enable him to govern.


Reply to Counter Examples

Suppose someone says that Caesar obtained his empire through generosity, and many others have reached the highest positions by having been generous, and by being considered so. To this I answer that either you are currently a prince, or are in the process of becoming one. In the first case this generosity is dangerous, in the second it is very necessary to be considered generous. Caesar was one of those who wished to become preeminent in Rome. But if he had survived after becoming so, and had not moderated his expenses, he would have destroyed his government. Suppose someone replies that there have been many princes who have done great things with armies, and yet have been considered very generous. To this I reply that either a prince spends that which is his own or his subjects’, or else that of others. In the first case he should be sparing, and in the second case he should not neglect any opportunity for generosity. Regarding the prince who advances with his army, supporting it by pillage, destruction, and extortion, handling that which belongs to others, this generosity is necessary, otherwise he would not be followed by soldiers. You can be a willing giver of that which is neither yours nor your subjects’ (as Cyrus, Caesar, and Alexander were) because it does not take away your reputation if you squander that of others, but adds to it. It is only squandering your own that injures you.

            There is nothing that dissipates so rapidly as generosity. For even while you exercise it, you lose the power to do so, and become either poor or despised. Alternatively, in avoiding poverty you become greedy and hated. Above everything else, a prince should guard himself against being despised and hated, and generosity leads you to both. Therefore, it is wiser to have a reputation for stinginess which brings criticism without hatred, than to be compelled through seeking a reputation for generosity to incur a reputation for greed which results in disapproval with hatred.




Better to be Severe in Punishment than Merciful

Turning now to the other qualities mentioned above, suppose I say that every prince should desire to be considered merciful and not cruel. Nevertheless, he should try not to misuse this mercy. Cesare Borgia was considered cruel. Despite his cruelty, he reconciled the Romagna, unified it, and restored it to peace and loyalty. If this is properly considered, we will see that he was much more merciful than the Florentine people, who, to avoid a reputation for cruelty, permitted [the northern Italian city of] Pistoia to be destroyed. Therefore, so long as a prince keeps his subjects united and loyal, he should not mind the criticism of cruelty. With a few examples of cruelty, he will be more merciful than princes who, through too much mercy, allow disorders to arise, from which result murders or robberies. For these typically injure the whole people, whereas those executions which originate with a prince harm the individual only.

            Of all princes, it is impossible for a new prince to avoid the accusation of cruelty, since new states are full of dangers. Hence Virgil, through the mouth of Dido, excuses the inhumanity of her reign because of its newness, saying,


Against my will, my fate,

A throne unsettled, and an infant state,

Bid me defend my realms with all my powers,

And guard with these severities my shores.


            Nevertheless he should be slow to believe and to act. He should also not display fear, but act calmly with thought and humanity so that too much confidence does not make him incautious and too much distrust make him intolerable.


Better to be Feared than Loved

From this issue another question arises: is it better to be loved than feared, or feared than loved? It may be answered that one should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, it is much safer to be feared than loved, when one of the two must be dispensed with. For we can generally say of people that they are ungrateful, inconsistent, deceitful, cowardly, and selfish. But as long as you benefit them, they are yours entirely. They will offer you their blood, property, life and children (as I noted above) when the need is far off. But when the need approaches, they turn against you. The prince is ruined who relies only on their promises and has neglected other precautions. This is because friendships that are obtained by payments, and not by greatness or nobility of mind, may indeed be earned, but they are not secured, and in time of need cannot be counted on. Further, people have less scruple in offending someone who is beloved rather than someone who is feared. For love is preserved by the link of obligation which, because of the corruption of people, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage. But fear preserves you by a fear of punishment which never fails.

            Nevertheless, a prince should create fear in such a way that, if he does not win love, he avoids hatred. For, he can survive very well being feared so long as he is not hated. Further, he will not be hated as long as he abstains from the property of his citizens and subjects and from their women. But when it is necessary for him to take someone’s life, he must do it on proper justification and for clear cause. Above all, though, he must keep his hands off the property of others, because people more quickly forget the death of their father than the loss of their inheritance. Besides, excuses abound for taking away property. For he who begins to live by robbery will always find excuses for seizing others’ possessions. But reasons for taking life, on the contrary, are more difficult to find and sooner lapse. When a prince is with his army and in control of many soldiers, then it is absolutely necessary for him to disregard the reputation of cruelty, for without it he would never keep his army united or willing to follow their duties.


The Severity of Hannibal

Among the wonderful deeds of Hannibal, one is particularly noteworthy. Hannibal led an enormous army, composed of various races of people, to fight in foreign lands. Whether in his bad or in his good fortune, no conflict arose either among the soldiers or against the prince. This arose from nothing other than his inhuman cruelty, which, with his boundless courage, made him revered and frightening in the sight of his soldiers. But without that cruelty, his other virtues would not be sufficient to produce this effect. Shortsighted writers admire his deeds from one point of view, yet from another condemn the principal cause of them. To prove that his other virtues would not have been sufficient for him, we may consider the case of Scipio, that most excellent person both within his own time and within the memory of humankind. Nevertheless, his army rebelled against him in Spain. This arose from nothing but his excessive tolerance, which gave his soldiers more license than is consistent with military discipline. For this he was condemned in the Senate by Fabius Maximus, and called the corrupter of the Roman army. The Locrians were destroyed by an officer of Scipio, yet they were not avenged by him, nor was the insult of the legate punished, owing entirely to his easy nature. Insomuch that someone in the Senate, wishing to excuse him, said there were many people who knew much better how not to err than to correct the errors of others. This disposition, if he had been continued in the command, would have destroyed in time the fame and glory of Scipio; but, he being under the control of the Senate, this injurious characteristic not only concealed itself, but contributed to his glory.

            Returning to the question of being feared or loved, I conclude that, people loving according to their own will and fearing according to that of the prince, a wise prince should establish himself on that which is in his own control and not in that of others. Thus, he must try only to avoid hatred, as is noted.




Imitate both the Fox and the Lion.

Everyone admits how good it is in a prince to be honest, and to live with integrity and not with deceit. Nevertheless, our experience has been that those princes who have done great things have had little regard for honesty, and have known how to circumvent the intellect of people by deceit, and in the end have overcome those who have relied on their word. You must know that there are two ways of contesting, the one by the law, the other by force. The first method is proper to humans, the second to animals. But because the first is frequently not sufficient, it is necessary to have recourse to the second. Therefore, it is essential for a prince to understand how to make use of both the animal and the human. This has been figuratively taught to princes by ancient writers. It is described how Achilles and many other past princes were given to Chiron, the Centaur, to nurse and be raised in his discipline. The meaning of this story is that, just as they had for a teacher one who was half animal and half human, so it is necessary for a prince to know how to make use of both natures, and that one without the other cannot survive. Since a prince is therefore compelled to consciously adopt the persona of animal, he should choose both the fox [for its deceitfulness] and the lion [for its powerfulness]. This is because the lion cannot defend himself against snares, and the fox cannot defend himself against wolves. Thus, it is necessary to be a fox to discover the snares, and a lion to terrify the wolves. Those who rely simply on the lion do not understand what they are about. Accordingly, a wise ruler cannot nor should he be honest when such observance may be turned against him, and when the reasons that caused him to pledge it no longer exist. If people were entirely good, this rule would not hold. But because they are bad, and will not be honest with you, you too are not bound to observe it with them. Nor will a prince ever be lacking good reasons to excuse this nonobservance. Endless modern examples of this could be given, showing how many treaties and engagements have been made void and ineffective because of the dishonesty of princes. But he who has known best how to employ the fox has succeeded best.


Importance of Appearing to be Virtuous

But it is necessary to know well how to disguise this characteristic, and to be a great pretender and deceiver. People are so simple and so subject to present needs, that anyone who seeks to deceive will always find someone who will allow himself to be deceived. There is one recent example which I cannot pass over in silence. [Pope] Alexander VI did nothing but deceive people, nor ever thought of doing otherwise, and he always found victims. For there never was a person who had greater ability in asserting, or who with greater oaths would affirm something, yet would observe it less. Nevertheless, his deceits always succeeded according to his wishes, because he well understood this side of human nature.

            Therefore, it is unnecessary for a prince to have all the virtuous qualities I have enumerated. But it is very necessary for him to appear to have them. I will dare to say this also, that to have them and always to observe them is injurious, and that to appear to have them is useful. Thus, one should appear merciful, honest, humane, religious, upright, and also be that way. But your mind should be framed so that if you are required not to be so, you may be able and know how to change to the opposite.

            You must understand that a prince, especially a new one, cannot follow all those things for which people are respected. For, to maintain the state, he is often forced to act contrary to honesty, friendship, humanity, and religion. Therefore, it is necessary for him to have a mind ready to turn itself with the winds and as changes of fortune force it. Yet, as I have said above, he should not diverge from the good if he can avoid doing so, but, if compelled to go against the good, he should know how to set about it.

            For this reason, a prince should take care that he never lets anything slip from his lips that is not overflowing with the above-named five qualities, so that he may appear to those who see and hear him altogether merciful, honest, humane, upright, and religious. There is nothing more necessary to appear to have than this last quality [of religiousness]. For, people generally judge more by the eye than by the hand, and everybody is capable of seeing you, and few can come in touch with you. Everyone sees what you appear to be, few really know what you are, and those few dare not oppose themselves to the opinion of the many, who have the majesty of the state to defend them. In the actions of all people, and especially of princes which it is not prudent to challenge, one judges by the result.

            For that reason, let a prince aim at conquering and keeping his state, and the means of attaining it will always be considered honest, and he will be praised by everybody. This is because the common people are always taken by what a thing seems to be and by what comes of it, and there are only common people in the world. For the few who are not common people find a place in the world only when the many have no ground on which to.

            One prince of the present time, whom it is not best to name [i.e., Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor], never preaches anything else but peace and honesty, and to both he is most hostile, and either, if he had kept it, would have deprived him many times of reputation and kingdom.




How to Avoid being Hated

Now, concerning the characteristics of which I have mentioned above, I have spoken of the more important ones. The others I wish to discuss briefly under this generality, that the prince must consider, as has been in part said before, how to avoid those things that will make him hated or contemptible. As often as he succeeds, he will have fulfilled his part, and he won’t need to fear any danger in other condemnations.

            To be greedy, as I have said, makes him hated above everything, and he must abstain from violating both his subjects’ property and women. When neither their property nor honor is touched, most people live content, and he has only to contend with the ambition of a few, whom he can curb with ease in many ways.

            It makes him contemptible to be considered indecisive, frivolous, weak, mean-spirited, irresolute, from all of which a prince should guard himself as from a rock. In his actions he should try to show greatness, courage, gravity, and fortitude. In his private dealings with his subjects, let him show that his judgments are irrevocable, and maintain himself in such reputation that no one can hope either to deceive him or to get around him.

            That prince is highly respected who conveys this impression of himself, and he who is highly respected is not easily conspired against. For, provided it is well known that he is an excellent person and revered by his people, he can only be attacked with difficulty. For this reason a prince should have two fears, one from within, because of his subjects, the other from without, because of external powers. From the latter he is defended by being well armed and having good allies, and if he is well armed he will have good friends, and affairs will always remain quiet within when they are quiet without, unless they should have been already disturbed by conspiracy. Even if affairs outside are disturbed, if he has carried out his preparations and has lived as I have said, as long as he does not despair, he will resist every attack, as I said Nabis the Spartan did.


How to Avoid being Overthrown.

Concerning his subjects, when affairs outside are disturbed he has only to fear that they will conspire secretly. But a prince can easily protect himself from this by avoiding being hated and despised, and by keeping the people satisfied with him, which it is most necessary for him to accomplish, as I said above at length. One of the most effective remedies that a prince can have against conspiracies is not to be hated and despised by the people. For those who conspire against a prince always expect to please people by his removal. But when the conspirator can only look forward to offending people, he will not have the courage to take such a course, for the difficulties that confront a conspirator are infinite. As experience shows, many have been the conspiracies, but few have been successful. This is because he who conspires cannot act alone, nor can he take a companion except from those whom he believes to be malcontents, and as soon as you have opened your mind to a malcontent you have given him the material with which to content himself, for by denouncing you he can look for every advantage. Thus, seeing the gain from this course to be assured, and seeing the other to be doubtful and full of dangers, he must be a very rare friend, or a thoroughly obstinate enemy of the prince, to keep faith with you.

            To reduce the matter into a small range, I say that, on the side of the conspirator, there is nothing but fear, jealousy, and prospect of punishment to terrify him. But on the side of the prince there is the majesty of the monarchy, the laws, the protection of friends and the state to defend him. Adding to all these things the popular goodwill, it is impossible that anyone should be so rash as to conspire. For whereas in general the conspirator must fear before the execution of his plot, in this case he must also fear what will occur after his crime. Because of this he has the people for an enemy, and thus cannot hope for any escape.




Outcome Controlled Half by Destiny, Half by Ourselves

I am aware of how many men have had, and still have, the opinion that the affairs of the world are in such ways governed by fortune and by God, that men with their wisdom cannot direct them, and that no one can even help them. Because of this, they would have us believe that it is not necessary to labor much in affairs, but to let chance govern them. This opinion has been more credited in our times because of the great changes in affairs which have been seen, and may still be seen every day, beyond all human conjecture. Sometimes pondering over this, I am in some degree inclined to their opinion. Nevertheless, not to extinguish our free will, I believe it to be true that Fortune is the arbiter of one-half of our actions, but that she still leaves us to direct the other half, or perhaps a little less.

            I compare her to one of those raging rivers, which when in flood overflows the plains, sweeping away trees and buildings, carrying away the soil from place to place. Everything flies before it, all submit to its violence, without being able in any way to withstand it. Yet, while this is the river’s nature, we nevertheless see that, when the weather becomes pleasant, people will still make provisions, both with defenses and barriers. In this way, when the river rises again, the waters may pass away through canals, and their force is neither as unrestrained nor as dangerous. So too with fortune, who shows her power where valor has not prepared to resist her, and to which she turns her forces where she knows that barriers and defenses have not been raised to constrain her.

            If you will consider Italy, which is the seat of these changes, and which has given to them their impulse, you will see it to be an open country without barriers and without any defense. For if it had been defended by proper valor, as are Germany, Spain, and France, either this invasion would not have made the great changes it has made, or it would not have come at all. This I consider enough to say concerning resistance to fortune in general.


Importance of Adapting to Change

But confining myself more to the issue at hand, I say that a prince may be seen happy today and ruined tomorrow without having shown any change of disposition or character. This, I believe, arises firstly from causes that have already been discussed at length, namely, that the prince who relies entirely upon fortune is lost when it changes. I believe also that he will be successful who directs his actions according to the spirit of the times, and that he whose actions do not accord with the times will not be successful. For we see that, through various methods, men achieve the same goal in their affairs that every man has reached before him, namely, glory and riches. One does so with caution, another with haste; one by force, another by skill; one by patience, another by its opposite. Each one succeeds in reaching the goal by a different method. One can also see that, between two cautious men, the one will attain his end, the other will fail. Similarly, two men by different observances are equally successful, the one being cautious, the other impulsive. All this arises from nothing else than whether or not they conform in their methods to the spirit of the times. This follows from what I have said, that two men working differently bring about the same effect, and of two working similarly, one attains his object and the other does not.

            Changes in estate also result from this, for if, to one who governs himself with caution and patience, times and affairs converge in such a way that his administration is successful, his fortune is made. But if times and affairs change, he is ruined if he does not change his course of action. But a man is not often found sufficiently circumspect to know how to accommodate himself to the change, both because he cannot deviate from what nature inclines him to, and also because, having always prospered by acting in one way, he cannot be persuaded that it is well to leave it. Therefore, the cautious man, when it is time to turn adventurous, does not know how to do it, hence he is ruined. But had he changed his conduct with the times, fortune would not have changed.

            Pope Julius II went to work impetuously in all his affairs, and found the times and circumstances conform so well to that line of action that he always met with success. Consider his first enterprise against Bologna, Messer Giovanni Bentivogli being still alive. The Venetians were not agreeable to it, nor was the King of Spain, and he had the enterprise still under discussion with the King of France. Nevertheless, he personally entered upon the expedition with his accustomed boldness and energy, a move which made Spain and the Venetians stand irresolute and passive, the latter from fear, the former from desire to recover all the kingdom of Naples. On the other hand, he drew after him the King of France, because that king, having observed the movement, and desiring to make the Pope his friend so as to humble the Venetians, found it impossible to refuse him soldiers without manifestly offending him. Therefore, Julius with his impetuous action accomplished what no other pontiff with simple human wisdom could have done. For if he had waited in Rome until he could get away, with his plans arranged and everything fixed, as any other pontiff would have done, he would never have succeeded. Because the King of France would have made a thousand excuses, and the others would have raised a thousand fears.

            I will leave his other actions alone, as they were all alike, and they all succeeded, for the shortness of his life did not let him experience the contrary. But if circumstances had arisen which required him to go cautiously, his ruin would have followed, because he would never have deviated from those ways to which nature inclined him.

            I conclude therefore that, since fortune changes and people are stuck in their ways, so long as the two agree, men are successful, but unsuccessful when they fall out. For my part I consider that it is better to be adventurous than cautious, because fortune is a woman, and if you wish to keep her under it is necessary to beat and ill-use her. It is seen that she allows herself to be mastered by the adventurous rather than by those who go to work more coldly. She is, therefore, always, woman-like, a lover of young men, because they are less cautious, more violent, and command her with more boldness.


Source: Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince (1532), Ch. 1, 15-19, 25, tr. W.K. Marriott.


Questions for Review

1. Machiavelli argues that rulers should be stingy, and not generous. In the section on replies to counter examples, what are the examples that he cites, and how does he respond to them?

2. How does Machiavelli answer the question about whether it is better to be loved of feared, and what is his reasoning?

3. Machiavelli argues that rulers should be like both the fox and the lion. In which ways should the ruler emulate these animals?

4. In the section on the importance of appearing to be virtuous, what are the five virtues that rulers should at least appear to have, and why is being religious and easy one to fake?

5. How should a ruler avoid being hated and overthrown?

6. What role does fate play in the ruler’s outcome, and what is the best way for the ruler to deal with fate?


Questions for Analysis

1. Plato argued that the perfect ruler is a philosopher who understands universal truths, particularly justice. Machiavelli, by contrast, is not concerned with moral issues like true justice, but rather with what is necessary for a ruler to survive. Which of these two views is preferable and why?

2. Machiavelli argues that generosity will lead to a ruler’s ruin, and stinginess preferable. Is he right? Examine his arguments and explain.

3. Machiavelli argues that it is better for a ruler to be feared than loved, as long as he isn’t hated. What is his reasoning for this and what, if anything, is wrong with his position?

4. Machiavelli argues that it is important for leaders to appear to be religious, and that religious belief is easy to fake. Analyze his reasoning and explain whether you agree.









Stephen Junius Brutus


“Stephen Junius Brutus” is a pseudonym for the unidentified author of the sixteenth-century political work titled Vindication Against Tyrants (1579). Possibilities for its authorship are French statesman Hubert Languet (1518–1581), or French theologian Philippe de Mornay (1549–1623). While unsure about its author, scholars do know its historical context. It was composed by a French protestant who was reacting against the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre in 1572 in which, upon the order of the King, tens of thousands of Protestants were killed throughout France by Catholics. The work addresses four questions regarding resisting kings, the third and longest is “Whether it is lawful to resist a prince who oppresses or ruins a public state,” from which the selections below are taken. The central theme here is that the people are superior to the king, and have put the king in power to perform specific tasks on behalf of the country. If the king fails to uphold his part of the contract, then the people, under the guidance of government officials, can rightfully overthrow the king. The author begins arguing that God establishes kings, but it is the people who confirm the selection of the king through their vote—either by electing kings individually or electing a hereditary bloodline. All kings are put in power to be servants of the people, and, thus, the people are above the king. In addition to the king, there are other ministers and officers of the country who are appointed by the people for the benefit of the commonwealth and to guard it. These officers’ primary loyalty lies with the people, not to the king, and one of their functions is to assure that the king performs his twofold task: to maintain justice among individuals and to protect the country from enemies. Kings are thus under the law and need to accept their subordinate role. All authority that the king possesses comes from two distinct contracts. One is between God and the king, which requires the king to glorify and obey God. The other is between people and the king, which requires the king to secure the welfare of the people. If the king does not fulfill his contract with the people, then the people are freed from their duty towards the king and can revolt against him. The author warns that no human is perfect, including kings, and it is only the tyrannical ones that can be removed. In such cases, diplomacy should be tried first through the reprimands of government officials. If that fails, government officials with the aid of the people can remove the king, even through armed conflict if necessary.




People Elect the King

We have shown above that it is God who establishes kings, choosing them and conferring kingdoms upon them. Now we are to show that the people set up kings, commit kingdoms to them, and confirm the election by their vote. Indeed, God has willed that it should be done in this manner, in order that kings should acknowledge that whatever authority and power they possess have been received from the people, and that they should, therefore, devote all their thought and efforts to the interests of the people. Nor should kings think that they excel other men through some superiority of nature in the way that men stand above flocks of sheep or herds of cattle. Let them remember that they are born of the same stuff as other men and have been raised from the ground to their high station by the vote and, as it were, upon the shoulders of the people, in order that the burden of the commonwealth should thereafter rest in great part upon their own shoulders. . . .

            In a word, all kings were in the beginning elected. Those who today appear to succeed to their kingdoms by inheritance were necessarily first established by the people. Although the people of certain countries are accustomed to choose their kings from a particular bloodline because of its unusual merits, nevertheless, it is the bloodline and not the branch that they choose. Nor do they so choose but that if that stock should degenerate they may select another. Those who are next in line for the kingship are not born kings; they rather become such: they are not deemed kings so much as candidates for the kingship.




Kings are Servants of the People

Since kings are established by the people, it certainly seems to follow that the whole body of the people are superior to the king. For it is evident that he who is established by another is accounted less than he that has established him, and that he who receives his authority from another is inferior to him from whom he derives his authority. Potiphar, the Egyptian, thus established Joseph above all his household; Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel over the province of Babylon; Darius, the hundred and twenty governors over his kingdom. Masters are said to establish their servants; kings, their ministers. Similarly, the people establish the king as “minister of the commonwealth”—a designation which good kings have not scorned, and bad ones have only pretended to assume. Thus, for several generations no Roman emperor (except perhaps some obvious tyrant, such as Nero, Domitian, or Caligula) wished to be called “lord”.

            Moreover, it is clear that kings were instituted for the benefit of the people. You could not say that for the sake of some hundred men, inferior to most of the rest of the community, that the whole community was created for them. Rather it is that the former were created for the latter. Reason requires that he on whose account another exists should be deemed superior to that other. Thus for the sake of the ship the owner appoints a captain, who sits at the helm to see that she is not dashed to pieces upon the rocks or follow the wrong course. Relying upon him in that work, the others serve him; even the owner obeys him. Nevertheless, the captain is only a servant of the ship, differing from the common drudges only in type of work. In the commonwealth the king has the place of captain, the people that of owner. As long as the king is attentive to the public good the people properly submit to him, yet in such a way that he is considered, as he should be, the servant of the commonwealth, in the same capacity as a judge or tribune who differs from the rest of the people only insofar as he is expected to have greater burdens and expose himself to greater dangers. Thus, that which the king acquires through war, as when he occupies territory by right of conquest, or through payments into the treasury in the administration of justice, he acquires not for himself, but for the kingdom—that is, for the people who have established the kingdom, just as a servant makes acquisitions for his master. Nor can any obligation be contracted with the king except by the authorization of the people. . . . Since, therefore, the king exists through, and for the sake of, the people, and without the people cannot stand, who will wonder at our conclusion that the people are greater than the king?


Officers of the King vs. Officers of the Kingdom

Now, what we have said concerning the whole body of the people we wish also to be said concerning those who in every kingdom or city lawfully represent the body of the people, and who are commonly deemed officers of the kingdom and not of the king. For officers of the king are created and discharged by him at his pleasure, and when he is dead they no longer have any authority; they are themselves counted as dead. Officers of the kingdom, on the other hand, receive their authority from the people (at least they were formerly accustomed to do so) in public assembly, and can be discharged only by that same power. The former, therefore, depend upon the king, the latter upon the kingdom. The former should be responsible to the supreme officer of the kingdom—to the king; the latter, to the supreme sovereign—the people, upon whom the king himself, and through him his officers, must depend. The function of the former is to guard the king; of the latter, to see that no harm occurs to the commonwealth. The former are to aid and serve the king, like domestic servants of a master; the latter are to preserve the rights and privileges of the people and to take diligent care that the king commit or omit nothing to their damage. In short, the former are ministers, servants, domestics of the king, instituted only to obey him. The latter, as associates of the king in the administration of justice and as partakers of royal authority, are bound, like the king himself, to administer the affairs of the commonwealth. He, as chief among them, holds first place only in degree. As the whole people is superior to the king, so their representatives, though individually inferior to him, should in the aggregate be counted superior to him.


Why Kings were first Established

We must now inquire why kings were established in the first place, and what their principal duty was. For a thing is considered good only when it fulfills the purpose for which it was instituted. In the first place, it is clear that men are by nature free, impatient of servitude, born rather to command than to obey. Thus, except for the sake of some great profit, men would not have chosen subjection to another person and have renounced their own natural right, so to speak, to submit to the right of another. . . . Nor let us think that kings were chosen to convert to their own uses the goods obtained by the sweat of the many; for everyone loves and cherishes his own. Nor were they created that they might squander the public power to their own pleasure; for ordinarily anyone hates, or at least envies, his superior. They were established to protect individuals from each other by the administration of justice, and to defend everyone from dangers from without by repelling force with force. Thus, Augustine says that those who care for the interests of others are properly said to rule, as the husband rules the wife, or parents their children. Those whose interests are cared for are said to obey; although those who thus rule really serve those whom they are said to command. For, as Augustine also says, they command not for the sake of ruling but because of their duty to care for whom they are responsible; not for the glory of domination, but out of pity to guard those committed to their protection. . . . To govern, then, is simply to give counsel. The only end of government is the good of the people. The sole duty of governors and kings is to take care of the people. Royal dignity is, properly speaking, not an honor, but a burden; not a privilege, but a calling; not an exemption from responsibility, but a duty; not a freedom, but a public service. Some honor indeed is attached to the position; one would hardly be willing to take on such troubles unless they were flavored with some relish of honor. The common saying is true that if everyone knew with how great annoyances the royal crown was surrounded, no one would pick it up if he found it at his feet along the road.

            When the words "mine" and "yours" had entered into the world, conflicts arose among citizens concerning ownership of things, and between neighboring peoples over boundaries. It then became customary to rely on someone who would justly and effectively see that the poor suffered no violence from the rich, or the whole nation from their neighbors. When such contests and wars became more violent, a permanent choice was made of someone for whose valor and diligence all had high regard. Thus kings were first established to administer justice at home and lead the army abroad. . . . Kings were ordained by God and established by the people for the benefit of the citizens. This benefit consists principally in two things: in the maintenance of justice among individuals and of security against enemies.


Kings are Under the Law

We must proceed a little further. Does the king, because he presides in the administration of justice, administer justice according to his own free will? Does the king depend on law, or law on the king? . . . The Spartan [geographer] Pausanias answers concisely: "Authority pertains to laws as against men, not to men as against laws." . . . We must carry the matter further yet. Since the people were seeking justice through law, if this could be obtained from a single good and just man, they were satisfied with him. But this was hardly possible, and indeed rarely happened. In fact as long as the judgments of kings were received as the equivalent of laws, it turned out that certain things were declared as laws at one time and others at another time. It thus became the function of magistrates and other wise men to discover, as it were, laws which could speak with one and the same voice to all men. Kings were then entrusted with the duty of guarding, administering and conserving laws. Because laws were not capable of providing in advance for every contingency, kings might determine certain cases by the same natural justice from which the laws themselves were derived. But unless in these cases the kings should do violence to the law, those superior men, concerning whom we have just spoken, were soon associated with the kings by the people.

            Kings themselves should be obedient to law and acknowledge it as their superior. ... Nor should they consider that they govern any less because they submit to law. For law is a kind of instrument by means of which human societies are best ruled and directed to a happy end. Thus, kings are foolish who think it is dishonorable to submit to law, just as a geometrician would be who would consider it unbecoming to use the rule and other instruments ordinarily employed by those most expert in making measurements, or as a mariner would be who would prefer to wander recklessly rather than direct the course of his ship by the nautical compass. Who will hesitate to say that it is more expedient and honorable to obey the law rather than a man? Law is the soul of the good king; in it is his inspiration, feeling, and life. The king is the organ of the law, the body through which the law exercises its power, fulfils its function and expresses its meaning. Now it is more reasonable to obey the soul than the body. Law is the concentrated reason and wisdom of many sages. The many are more clear-sighted and far-seeing than the one; it is, therefore, safer to follow the law than a man, however insightful he may be. Law is reason or calm intelligence, and free from the influence of anger, greed, hate, or prejudice. Nor is it deflected by tears or threats. Man, on the other hand, however gifted with reason, is seized and overcome by wrath, vengeance and other passions. He is so disturbed by these emotions that he is not master of himself; he is composed of both reason and passion, and he cannot always prevent the latter from gaining the upper hand. . . . Law is the blending of a multitude of minds, and mind is a part of the divine spirit. Thus, he who obeys the law seems to obey God and to make God his judge.




Two Contracts with the King

We have said that in establishing a king a two-fold pact was entered into. The one, concerning which we have already spoken, is between God, on the one hand, and the king and people, on the other. The other pact is between the king and the people. We must examine the latter now. After Saul was appointed the royal law was delivered to him, according to which he was to govern. David, also, in Hebron made a covenant in the presence of the Lord— that is, God being present as witness—with the elders of Israel, who represented the whole people; after that he was anointed king. . . . Likewise Josiah promised to observe the commandments, testimonies and precepts comprised in the book of the covenant; by these words are to be understood the laws, which relate in some places to piety, and in others to justice. In all of these passages the covenant is said to have been made with all the people, or with the entire multitude, all the elders, or all the men of Judea. From this we know that not only the chiefs of the tribes but also the captains, centurions and inferior magistrates were present, representing the towns, so that all might individually make a pact with the king. In this pact it was a matter of creating a king; for the people made the king, not vice versa. It cannot be doubted that in this contract the people had the part of stipulator, the king that of promisor. And the part of stipulator is considered the more advantageous at law. The people, as stipulator, ask the king whether he will govern justly and according to the laws; the king promises that he will. The people then respond that they will faithfully obey him while he governs justly. The king, therefore, promises absolutely, the people conditionally. If the condition is not fulfilled the people are lawfully absolved from every obligation. In the first pact or contract there is an obligation to piety, in the second, to justice. In the former, the king promises dutifully to obey God, in the latter, that he will rule the people justly; in the one that he will provide for the glory of God, in the other, that he will secure the welfare of the people. In the first contract the condition is “if you observe my law”. In the second it is “if you give to each his due.” Failure to fulfill the first pact is duly punished by God; failure to fulfill the second is legitimately punishable by the whole people or by those magistrates whose function it is to protect the people. . . .

            The civil law permits a freedman to bring an action against his patron for any grievous injury, and under similar circumstances the same law frees a slave from his master (though these obligations are natural, not civil). If all these things are true, is it not even more certain that the people should be absolved from the oath which they have taken to the king, if he, who first swore solemnly to them, as an agent to his principal, has broken his oath?

            Even if the formalities of a contract have never taken place, are we not sufficiently taught by nature herself that kings are established by the people with the condition that they govern well; judges, that they judge justly; military leaders, that they lead forth the army against the enemy? . . .

            But, you may ask, what if the people, subdued by force, are compelled by a prince to swear allegiance according to his own terms? I reply, what if a robber, pirate, or tyrant, with whom there is considered to be no bond of justice, should, with an uplifted sword, extort a promissory note from anyone? Is it not well known that a promise demanded through violence is not binding, especially if anything is promised against good morals or contrary to the law of nature? What is more repugnant to nature than that the people should fasten their own chains and shackles? Or that they should promise the king to throw themselves upon the sword or lay violent hands upon themselves? There is, therefore, between king and people a mutual obligation which, whether it is civil or natural, tacit or express, cannot be abolished by agreement, violated by any law, or rescinded by force. So great is the strength of this obligation that the prince who obstinately violates it may be truly called a “tyrant”, and the people who willfully break it called “seditious”.




Two Types of Tyrants

So far we have examined kings. It now remains for us to describe somewhat more accurately the tyrant. We have said that the king is he who rules and governs a kingdom, attaining his position either through heredity or through election confirmed by the appropriate rites. In contrast to this, it follows that he is a tyrant who either has seized the government by civil means or, ruling in a regular manner, does so in a manner that is contrary to right and justice, and in violation of the laws and pacts to which he has solemnly bound himself. Both characters of tyrant may exist in one and the same person. The former is commonly called the tyrant without title, the latter the tyrant by practice. It may easily happen that he who gains a kingdom by violence should rule justly, or that he upon whom a kingdom descends lawfully should rule unjustly. To the extent that the kingship is a law-created right rather than inherited property, an office rather than a possession, he would seem more deserving of the name of tyrant who performs his duty badly than he who enters upon his duty in irregular manner. . . .


Justification for Opposing Tyrants

Now finally we have come to the principal point of our question. . . . It remains now for us to determine whether, by whom, and by what means a tyrant may be lawfully resisted. . . .

            In the first place, the law of nature teaches us to preserve and defend our life and our liberty—without which life is hardly worth while, against every violence and wrong. Nature has implanted this instinct in dogs against wolves, in bulls against lions, in doves against hawks, in young fowl against kites, and yet more strongly in man against man himself when a man becomes a wolf to his fellow-man. Therefore, he who questions whether it is permissible to resist seems to challenge nature herself. The law of nations teaches the same: by this dominions are defined and boundaries established which everyone is obligated to defend against all invaders. It is thus no less lawful to resist Alexander when, without right and provoked by no wrong, he invades a country with a powerful fleet, than to resist Diomedes the pirate, when he with one vessel renders dangerous the sea. In such case Alexander surpasses Diomedes not in his right but only in his security from punishment. It is as proper to oppose Alexander in ravaging the country as it is to oppose a pickpocket in stealing a watch, or a man who would subvert the city by trickery as a robber who would break into a private house.

            Furthermore, there is a civil law whereby societies of men are established under a fixed system, some being governed in one manner, some in another. Thus some are ruled by one or a few, others by the people as a whole. Some exclude women from the government, others admit them. Some choose their kings from a single family, others select them indiscriminately. If anyone attempts to violate this law by force or fraud we are all bound to resist him, because he wrongs society (to which he owes everything) and would undermine his country, to which we are all devoted by nature, law, and solemn oath. If we neglect this duty we are traitors to our country, deserters from human society, condemners of the law.

            As thus the law of nature, the law of nations, and civil law command us to take up arms against tyrants, no other reason can properly deter us. No oath or other pact, public or private, interposes to prevent us. It is, therefore, permitted to any private person to eject an intruding tyrant. Nor does the Julian law of treason which punishes those who rebel against their country or prince, apply here. For he is no prince who without lawful title invades the commonwealth or confines of another, nor he a rebel who defends his country with arms. ... To as little purpose can the laws of sedition be appealed to here. He is seditious who undertakes to sustain the people in resisting public discipline. But he who restrains the subverter of the country and of public discipline does not create sedition; he prevents it. . . .


Identifying a Tyrant

Concerning those who practice tyranny, whether having first acquired their authority lawfully or by force, it is important for us to make a careful examination. In the first place, we should consider that all princes are born men and that their reason can as little be made free from passion as the mind can be separated from the body. Therefore, we should not hope to have only perfect princes; we should rather deem ourselves fortunate if we find mediocre ones. If in certain cases the prince does not observe moderation, if now and then he does not yield to reason, if he looks carelessly to the public welfare, if he becomes less diligent in administration of justice or less zealous in warding off war, he must not immediately be called a tyrant. For he rules not as man over animals or God over men, but as a man born of the same condition as other men. As a prince would be considered arrogant who sought to abuse men as if they were animals, so the people are unjust if they expect a god in a prince or look for divinity in his imperfect nature. But if he deliberately upsets the commonwealth, if he recklessly perverts lawful rights, or has no regard for oaths and covenants, for justice or piety, then indeed he should be declared a tyrant—that is, an enemy of God and man. We are thus not speaking of a prince who is less good, but one who is absolutely bad; not one who is less wise, but of one who is malicious and treacherous; not of him who is ignorant of the law, but of the condemner of law; not of an unwarlike prince, but of a prince who is enemy of the people and ravager of the kingdom. The weak prince might be disposed to employ the wisdom of the senate, the praetor's knowledge of the law, the tribune's military skill; but the tyrant would be happy if the nobility, the senators and the commanders had only one neck which he might take off with one swipe, for no others does he regard with more hatred than these. Although the weak prince might rightly be deposed, nevertheless he can be endured; but the longer the tyrant is tolerated the more insufferable he becomes.

            It is not always convenient for the people to do that which they may lawfully do. It often happens that a remedy which is applied is worse than the disease. So it is wise for men to try all means before taking up the sword. If those officers who represent the people perceive that anything is being done, through force or fraud, against the common well-being, they should at once reprimand the prince, not waiting until the evil becomes graver and acquires greater strength. For tyranny is like a hectic fever, which, at first easily cured but detected with difficulty, later becomes easily recognizable but almost incurable. Therefore, the representatives should withstand the prince, and not allow the smallest beginning of tyranny to be made. If the prince persists in his tyrannous course and, though often reprimanded, does not reform but attempts to bring matters to the point where he may with no penalty do whatever he pleases, then indeed the crime of tyranny is complete. Thus, whatever might be done against a tyrant through the law or through just resistance, can be done against him. For tyranny is not merely a crime, but the highest crime, and the embodiment of all crimes. The tyrant subverts the commonwealth, pillages everyone and lays snares for their lives, violates any promise, despising the sanctity of a solemn oath. Therefore, he is much more vicious than the ordinary bandit, murderer or oath-breaker, as it is more serious to offend against the many or all than against particular individuals. If these private offences are deemed villainous and are punishable by death, is it possible to devise a penalty worthy of a crime so atrocious as tyranny?


The Duty of Officers to Oppose Tyrants

Moreover, we have already proved that kings receive their royal dignity from the people, that the whole people are greater than and superior to the king, and that the king or emperor is merely the highest minister and agent of the kingdom or empire. It follows that the tyrant commits a felony against the people who are the lord of the land. He is guilty of treason against the kingdom or empire; he is a rebel. He has thus violated the same laws that the ordinary criminal violates and merits far severer punishment. Therefore, as Bartolus says, he may be either deposed by his superior or punished under the Julian law against public violence. The superior is the whole people, or those who represent them—the electors, palatines, patricians, assembly of estates, etc. If the tyranny has proceeded so far that it cannot be destroyed except by armed force, then it is lawful for the representatives to call the people to arms, enroll an army, and employ not only the valiant strength of the nation, but even strategy and deceit, against the enemy of their country. . . . The officers of the kingdom will not thereby incur the charge of sedition. For in sedition, two opposing parties are necessary—one pursuing a just course, the other an unjust course. That party is right which defends the laws, supports the common welfare and preserves the kingdom. That party is wrong which violates laws, or protects violators of law, and defends the destroyers of the country. . . . Whatever tends to the public good is lawful. Thus, Thomas says that since tyrannical government is unjust (being established not for the public good but for the private good of him who rules), consequently its overthrow does not have the nature of sedition. Nor can the officers of the kingdom be charged with the crime of treason. . . .

            Everywhere there is between prince and people a mutual and reciprocal obligation: he promises that he will be a good prince; the people promise that if he is such they will obey him. The people are thus obligated to the prince conditionally, he to them absolutely. If the condition is not fulfilled, the people are released, the contract revoked, the obligation ipso jure void. The king is faithless if he governs unjustly; the people are faithless if they neglect to obey him while he rules justly. The people are entirely innocent of the crime of disloyalty if they publicly renounce an unjust ruler or try to overpower by force of arms one who without lawful right attempts to hold the kingdom.

            It is not merely permissible to the officers of the kingdom to repress a tyrant; it is obligatory for them as a part of their duty. If they do not fulfill this duty, they can plead no contract as an excuse. The electors, patricians, peers and other nobles should not think that they were instituted to exhibit themselves, clothed in their robes of state, at the coronation of the king, according to the ancient custom. It is not as if they are acting in a Greek interlude, or playing the parts of Roland, Oliver, Renaldo and other stage personages representing the knights of King Arthur's table. Nor after the assembly has been dismissed should they think that they have fulfilled their parts excellently. Such ceremonies are not intended to be executed as a matter of routine, or designed for sport—as in children's games when, as Horace describes, they make a king in play. Instead, these leaders should know that they are called to a place of work as well as of honor, and that the commonwealth is entrusted to the king as its first and principal guardian and to them as co-guardians. Just as other guardians are appointed to observe the acts of him who holds the place of chief guardian, to demand constant accounting of his administration and watch carefully how he fulfills his responsibility; so likewise officers are appointed to watch the king (who is master only in the sense of having the care of a ward), to see that he does nothing to the detriment of the people. The conduct of the principal guardian is assigned to the co-guardians if (when they ought and can) they do not discover his fault, especially where he neglects to communicate the affairs of administration to them, or executes his guardianship faithlessly, or practices deceit, acts selfishly or ruinously for his ward, or seizes anything from the property of the ward. In short, they are held to account if he acts stupidly, indifferently or unskillfully.

            In like manner the chief officers are held responsible for the conduct of the king, if they do not suppress tyranny or prevent its appearance, or supplement his inefficiency by their own vigilance and industry. . . . The commonwealth is entrusted as much to their care as to his; their official assignment is not only to serve the public interest through their particular offices, but also to hold the king to his proper function. Both he and they have promised to secure the welfare of the commonwealth. If he violates his oath they are not to imagine that they are thereby absolved from their pledge, any more than are bishops released from their vows if the Pope defends heresy or seeks to destroy the church. The more the king becomes an oath-breaker, the more should the officers consider themselves bound to keep their faith. If they act deceptively, they are to be accounted liars. If they conspire with him, they are deserters and traitors. If they neglect to deliver the commonwealth from tyranny, they are tyrants themselves. On the other hand, if they undertake to save the commonwealth and defend it with all their powers, they are protectors, guardians, and, in a sense, kings themselves.


Source: Stephen Junius Brutus (pseud.), Vindication against Tyrants (Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos, 1579), Question 3, tr. Francis Coker.


Questions for Review

1. In the section “officers of the king vs. officers of the kingdom,” what is the difference between these two classes of officers?

2. In the section “why were kings first established,” what is the origin of kings?

3. In the section “two contracts with the king,” what are the terms of the two contracts?

4. In the section “two types of tyrants,” what are the two kings of tyrants, and what is the difference between them?

5. In the section “identifying a tyrant,” what are the marks of a genuine tyrant, as opposed to a mere weak king?


Questions for Analysis

1. The author argues that the people establish the king through a type of election or vote. Explain the author’s point, and discuss whether this is a realistic or accurate account of a king’s authority.

2. A central line of argument in this work is that the king (and other government officials) are servants of the people. Explain the authors reasoning and discuss whether this is a realistic way of looking at governmental authority.

3. A second major line of argument in this work is that the people have a contract with the king, and if the king violates the contract he can be overthrown. Explain the author’s reasoning and discuss whether the notion of such a contract is an accurate or effective means of establishing governmental authority.

4. The author contrasts kings that are merely weak with kings that are genuine tyrants. Describe the distinction between the two and evaluate what the central difference is.

5. A common contemporary criticism of the author’s view of revolution is that it does not go far enough. That is, according to the author, the people can revolt only under the guidance of government officials who are defending justice. But the people also need the ability to revolt without the guidance of other government officials. Is this a valid criticism? Explain.








Hugo Grotius


Born in Delf, Holland, Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) was a statesman in the Dutch government. Imprisoned for three years for his role in a religious controversy, he dramatically escaped with the help of his wife by hiding in a book case. While taking refuge in France until the Dutch political climate became safer, Grotius wrote his most famous work The Law of War and Peace (1625), from which selections below are taken. The work is an analysis of the justification of wars and international relations as founded on principles of natural law. He begins with an account of natural law, which, he argues, is rooted in our human instinct to be sociable and live peacefully among other humans. From this general principle he deduces five more specific principles of natural law: (1) do not take things that belong to others; (2) restore to other people anything that we might have of theirs; (3) fulfill promises; (4) compensate for any loss that results through our own fault; (5) punish people as deserved. These principles of natural law have a rational order to them that cannot be contradicted any more than we can contradict mathematical principles. Thus, even God cannot alter the nature law. Grotius next discusses the just causes for going to war, and the conduct of warfare that we can justly engage in once war begins. He argues that there are three possible just causes for declaring war. First and foremost is defense of life and property, which stems from our natural right of self-defense. Second is reparation for damages inflicted by a rival country. Third is the punishment of a rival country for harm it has inflicted. Regarding just conduct in warfare, he holds to what is now called “the principle of discrimination” that wars should not be unnecessarily cruel, and the lives of innocent people should be protected. He also holds to what we now call “the principle of proportionality” that destruction in war should not extend any further than is necessary to make the aggressor pay for his offence.




Sociability and the Principles of Natural Law

Prolegomena, 6. Man is an animal indeed, but an animal of an excellent kind, differing much more from all other species of animals than they differ from each other, which appears by the evidence of many actions unique to the human species. Among these characteristics which are unique to humans, is a desire for society. That is, it is a desire for a life spent in common with fellow men, but not merely spent in any way. Rather, it is one spent in tranquilly and in a manner corresponding to the character of his intellect. This desire the Stoics called “sociability”, the domestic instinct, or feeling of kindred. Accordingly, we cannot accept the assertion that, by nature, every animal is impelled only to seek its own advantage or good, if it is stated so generally as to include humans.

            7. Indeed even in other animals, as well as in humans, their desire of their own individual good is moderated by a consideration partly for their offspring, partly for others of their own species. Even in animals we see that this desire proceeds from some external intelligent principle. But with other acts that are no more difficult than those [directed towards their offspring and species], we do not see an equal degree of intelligence. The same is to be said of infants in which, prior to any education, we see a certain disposition to do good to others. This is just as Plutarch wisely remarked: “as, for example, compassion spontaneously breaks out at that age.” A grown man has knowledge which enables him to act similarly in similar cases, and along with that, a peculiar and admirable desire for society. He also has language, an instrument of this desire, which is given to him alone among the animals. From this it is reasonable to assume that he has a faculty of knowing and acting according to general principles. The tendencies that correspond with this faculty do not belong to all animals, but are unique attributes of human nature.

            8. This tendency to the preservation of society (which we have now roughly expressed) agrees with the nature of human intellect and is the source of law, properly so called. To this law belongs the rules of abstaining from that which belongs to other persons; restoring anything we have in our possession that belongs to another, or of any gain which we have made from it; fulfilling of promises; repairing any damage done by our fault; and recognizing that certain things deserve punishment among men. . . .


God and Natural Law

Prolegomena, 11. What we have said would still have great weight, even if we were to grant what we cannot grant without wickedness, namely, that there is no God, or that he has no concern for human affairs. We are, though, assured of the contrary of this . . . .

            12. Here we are lead to another origin of law, besides its natural source, namely, the free will of God, to which, as our reason irresistibly tells us, we are bound to submit ourselves. But even that natural law of which we have spoken (whether it is that which binds together communities, or that looser kind [which requires duties]) although it proceeds from the internal principles of man, may yet be rightly ascribed to God. This is because it was by his will that such principles came to exist in us. In this sense, Chrysippus and the Stoics said that the origin of law or natural law was not to be found in any other place than in Jove himself, and it may be conjectured that the Latins took the word “jus” [i.e., “law”] from the name Jove.

            13. To this we must add that these principles God has made plainer by the [divine] laws which he has given, so that they may be understood by those whose minds have a weaker power of drawing inferences. He has prohibited the perverse deviations of our affections which draw us this way and that, contrary to our own interest and the good of others, thereby putting a bridle upon our more violent passions, controlling and restraining them within due limits.


Natural Law and Reason

Book 1.1.10. Natural law is the dictate of right reason, and it shows the moral impermissibility, or moral necessity, of any act from its agreement or disagreement with a rational nature. Consequently, such an act is either forbidden or commanded by God, the author of nature. The actions upon which such a dictate is given, are either binding or unlawful in themselves, and therefore necessarily understood to be commanded or forbidden by God. This mark distinguishes natural law not only from human law, but also from what some call the voluntary natural law, which God himself has been pleased to reveal. These latter laws do not command or forbid things in themselves as either binding or unlawful, but make them unlawful by its prohibition, and binding by its command. . . .

            We must further remark that natural law relates not only to those things that exist independent of the human will, but to many things which necessarily follow the exercise of that will. Thus property, as now in use, was at first a creature of the human will. But, after it was established, one man was prohibited by the law of nature from seizing the property of another against his will. . . .

            Now, the law of nature is so unalterable, that it cannot be changed even by God himself. For although the power of God is infinite, yet there are some things to which it does not extend. This is because the things so expressed would have no true meaning, but imply a contradiction. Thus two and two must make four, nor is it possible to be otherwise; nor, again, can what is really evil not be evil. . . .


Natural Law Unique to Humans

1.1.11. The distinction found in the books of the Roman Law assigns one unchangeable law to animals in common with man, which in a more limited sense they call the “law of nature”, and they designate another to humans, which they frequently call the “law of nations”. However, this [first type of natural law to animals] is hardly of any real use. For no beings, except those that can form general rules, are capable of possessing a law. Hesiod has made this clear stating “that the Supreme Being has appointed laws for men, but permitted wild animals, fishes, and birds to devour each other for food.” For they have nothing like justice, the best gift, given to men. Cicero, in his first book of Offices, says that we do not talk about the justice of horses or lions. Similarly, Plutarch observes in The Life of Cato the Elder that we are formed by nature to use law and justice towards men only. In addition to the above, Lactantius may be cited who, in his fifth book, says that in all animals that lack reason we see a natural bias of self-love. For they hurt others to benefit themselves, and they do so because they do not know the evil of doing willful harm. But it is not so with man, who, possessing the knowledge of good and evil, refrains from doing harm to others, even when it involves an inconvenience to himself. Polybius, relating the manner in which men first entered into society, concludes that the injuries done to parents or benefactors inevitably provoke the indignation of mankind. As an additional reason he states that since understanding and reflection form the major difference between men and other animals, thus it is evident men cannot go beyond the bounds of that difference like other animals, without arousing universal abhorrence of their conduct. But if ever justice is attributed to brutes, it is done improperly, from some shadow and trace of reason they may possess. But it is not essential to the nature of law, whether the actions appointed by the law of nature, such as the care of our offspring, are common to us with other animals or not, or, like the worship of God, are unique to man.




Self-Preservation and War as Rights of Nature

1.2.1. After examining the sources of right, the first and most general question that occurs, is whether any war is just, or if it is ever lawful to make war. But this question like many others that follow, must in the first place be compared with the rights of nature. In the third book of his Bounds of Good and Evil (and in other parts of his works), Cicero proves with great skill from the writings of the Stoics, that there are certain first principles of nature, called by the Greeks the first natural impressions, which are succeeded by other principles of obligation superior even to the first impressions themselves. He calls a principle of nature that care which every animal, from the moment of its birth, feels for itself and the preservation of its condition, its abhorrence of destruction, and of everything that threatens death. Hence, he says, it happens, that if left to his own choice, every man would prefer a sound and perfect to a mutilated and deformed body. So Thus, is the first duty is this preserving of ourselves in a natural state, and holding to everything conformable, and averting everything repugnant to nature.

            But from the knowledge of these principles, a notion arises of their being agreeable to reason, that part of a man which is superior to the body. Now that agreement with reason, which is the basis of propriety, should have more weight than the impulse of appetite; because the principles of nature recommend right reason as a rule that ought to be of higher value than bare instinct. As the truth of this is easily assented to by all men of sound judgment without any other demonstration, it follows that in inquiring into the laws of nature the first object of consideration is, what is agreeable to those principles of nature, and then we come to the rules, which, though arising only out of the former, are of higher dignity, and not only to be embraced, when offered, but pursued by all the means in our power. . . .

            The general object of divine and human laws is to give the authority of obligation to what was only praiseworthy in itself. It has been said above that an investigation of the laws of nature implies an inquiry into whether any particular action may be done without injustice. Now by an act of injustice is understood that, which necessarily has in it anything repugnant to the nature of a reasonable and social being. So far from anything in the principles of nature being repugnant to war, every part of them indeed rather favors it. It is most suitable to those principles of nature to preserve our lives and persons, which is the end of war, and the possess or acquire things that are necessary and useful to life. If necessary, it is no way inconsistent with the principles of nature to use force for those occasions, since all animals are endowed with natural strength, sufficient to assist and defend themselves.


Public and Private wars

1.3.1. The first and most necessary divisions of war are into one kind called private, another public, and another mixed. Now public war is carried on by the person holding the sovereign power. Private war is that which is carried on by private persons without authority from the state. A mixed war is that which is carried on, on one side by public authority, and on the other by private persons. But since private war is the oldest type, it is the first subject for inquiry. . . .

            2.1.2. The justifiable causes generally assigned for war are three: defense, reparation, and punishment. All of these are comprised in the declaration of Camillus against the Gauls, which lists all things for which it is right to defend, to recover, and the encroachment on which it is right to punish. . . .


Defense of Life and Property

2.1.3. It has already been proved that when our lives are threatened with immediate danger, it is lawful to kill the aggressor, if the danger cannot otherwise be avoided; it is a situation, as it has been shown, upon which the justice of private war rests. We must observe that this kind of defense derives its origin from the principle of self-preservation, which nature has given to every living creature, and not from the injustice or misconduct of the aggressor. Accordingly, though he may be free from guilt, as for instance a soldier in actual service, mistaking my person for that of another, or a madman in his frenzy, or a man walking in his sleep, none of these cases deprive me of the right of self-defense against those persons. For I am not bound to submit to the danger or mischief intended, any more than to expose myself to the attacks of a wild animal.

            2.1.4. It is doubtful whether those who unintentionally obstruct our defense or escape, which are necessary to our preservation, may be lawfully maimed or killed. There are some, even Theologians, who think they may. Certainly if we look to the law of nature alone, according to its principles, our own preservation should have much more weight with us, than the welfare of society. But the law of charity, especially the evangelical law, which puts our neighbor upon a level with ourselves, does not permit it.

            Thomas Aquinas, if properly understood, has justly observed that in actual self-defense no man can be said to be purposely killed. Indeed, it may sometimes happen that there is no other way for a person to save himself, than by intentionally doing an act, by which the death of an aggressor must inevitably ensue. Yet here the death of anyone was not the primary object intended, but employed as the only means of security, which the moment supplied. Still, it is better for the party assaulted, if he can safely do it, to repel or disable the aggressor than to shed his blood.

            2.1.5. The danger must be immediate, which is one necessary point. Though it must be confessed, that when an assailant seizes any weapon with an apparent intention to kill me, I have a right to anticipate and prevent the danger. For in the moral as well as the natural system of things, there is no point without some leeway. But they are themselves much mistaken, and mislead others, who maintain that any degree of fear ought to be a ground for killing another, to prevent his supposed intention. It is a very just observation made by Cicero in his first book of Offices, that many wrongs proceed from fear; as when the person, who intends to hurt another, perceives some danger to himself unless he took that method. Clearchus, in Xenophon, says, I have known some men, who partly through misrepresentation, and partly through suspicion, dreading each other, in order to prevent the supposed intentions of their adversaries, have committed the most enormous cruelties against those who neither designed, nor wished them any harm....

            2.1.11. The next object to be considered relates to damage affecting our property. In strict justice, it cannot be denied that we have a right to kill a robber, if such a step is inevitably necessary to the preservation of our property. For the difference between the value of life and property is overbalanced by the horror which a robber excites, and by the favorable inclination felt by all men towards the injured and innocent. From this it follows that, regarding that right alone, a robber may be wounded or killed in his flight with the property, if it cannot otherwise be recovered. Demosthenes in his speech against Aristocrates, exclaims, “By all that is sacred, is it not a dreadful and open violation of law, not only of written law, but of that law which is the unwritten rule of all men, to be debarred from the right of using force against the robber as well as against the enemy; who is plundering your property?” Nor is it forbidden by the precepts of charity, apart from all consideration of divine and human law, unless where the property is of little value, and beneath notice; an exception, which some writers have very properly added. ...

            2.1.16. What has been already said of the right of defending our persons and property, though regarding chiefly private war, may nevertheless be applied to public hostilities, allowing for the difference of circumstances. For private war may be considered as an instantaneous exercise of natural right, which ceases the moment that legal redress can be obtained. Now as public war can never take place, but where judicial remedies cease to exist, it is often lengthened, and the spirit of hostility inflamed by the continued increase of losses and injuries. Besides, private war extends only to self-defense, whereas sovereign powers have a right not only to prevent, but to punish wrongs. From this they are authorized to prevent a remote as well as an immediate aggression. Though the suspicion of hostile intentions, on the part of another power, may not justify the start of actual war, yet it calls for measures of armed prevention, and will authorize indirect hostility. ...


Reparation for Damages

2.17.1. The next point to which we proceed is an inquiry into the rights resulting to us from injuries that we receive. Here the name of crime or misdemeanor is applied to every act of commission or neglect contrary to the duties required of all men, either from their common nature or particular calling. For such offences naturally create an obligation to repair the loss or injury that has been sustained. . . .

            2.17.4. The loss or reduction of anyone’s possessions is not confined to injuries done to the substance alone of the property, but includes everything affecting the production of it, whether it has been gathered or not. If the owner himself had produced it, the necessary expense of production, or of improving the property to raise a product, must also be taken into the account of his loss, and form part of the damages. For it is an established principle that no one ought to derive benefit from the loss of another.

            2.17.5. Damages are also to be calculated, not according to any actual gain, but according to the reasonable expectation of it. In the case of a growing crop, this may be judged by the general abundance or scarcity of that particular season. . . .

            2.17.19. But to connect the preceding cases and arguments with public and national concerns, an observation is necessary to observe. It is a principle introduced and established by the consent of all nations that only those wars that are declared and conducted by the authority of the sovereign power on both sides are entitled to the name of “just wars”. The enemy has no right to demand restitution for what the prosecution of such wars has reduced him to abandon through fear. It is upon this principle we accept the distinction which Cicero has made between an enemy, towards whom the consent and law of nations oblige us to observe many common rights, and between robbers and pirates. For anything given up to pirates or robbers through fear is no lawful prize, but, instead, it may be recovered, unless a solemn oath of renunciation has been taken. This is not the case with the things seized in just war. . . .

            2.17.20. Sovereign Princes and States are answerable for their neglect, if they fail to use all the proper means within their power for suppressing piracy and robbery. For this reason, the Scyrians were formerly condemned by the Amphictyonic council.



2.20.38. It has been shown before, and it is a truth founded upon historical fact, that wars are undertaken as acts of punishment. This motive, added to that of redress for injuries, is the source from which the duties of nations arise relating to war. But it is not every injury that can be translated into a just ground of war. For laws, whose vengeance is meant to protect the innocent and to fall upon the guilty, do not regard every case as a sufficient warrant for their exertion. Thus, that there is much truth in the opinion of Sopater, who says that there are trivial and common offences, which it is better to pass over unnoticed than to punish.

            2.20.39. In his speech in defense of the Rhodians, Cato laid down the principle that it is not right that anyone should be punished upon the mere suspicion of his having intended to commit aggression or injury. This was well applied in that situation, since no clear order of the people of Rhodes could be alleged against them, nor was there any other proof beyond the conjecture of their wavering in their policy. But this principle is not universally true.

            For where intention has proceeded to any outward and visible signs of insatiable ambition and injustice, it is deemed a proper object of resentment, and even of punishment. Upon this principle, the Romans (as may be seen from Livy’s account) . . . thought themselves justified in declaring war against Perseus, King of Macedon, unless he gave satisfactory proof, that he had no hostile intentions against them, in the naval and military armaments, which he was preparing. We are informed by the same historians, that the Rhodians urged it as a rule established by the laws and customs of all civilized states; that if anyone wished the destruction of an enemy, he could not punish him with death, unless he had actually done something to deserve it.


Unjust Wars

2.37.2. There are some who have neither apparent reasons, nor just causes to justify their hostilities, in which, as Tacitus says, they engage from the pure love of enterprise and danger. Aristotle gives this disposition the name of ferocity, and in the last book of his Nicomachaean Ethics, he calls it a horrible cruelty to convert friends into enemies, whom you may slaughter.

            2.37.3. Most powers, when engaging in war, desire to color over their real motives with justifiable pretexts. Yet some, totally disregarding such methods of excuse, seem able to give no better reason for their conduct than the story told by the Roman Lawyers. A robber was asked what right he had to a thing that he had seized; he replied that it was his own because he had taken it into his possession. Aristotle in the third book of his Rhetoric, speaking of the promoters of war, asks, if it is not unjust for a neighboring people to be enslaved, and if those promoters have no regard to the rights of unoffending nations? Cicero, in the first book of his Offices, speaks in the same strain, and calls “the courage, which is conspicuous in danger and enterprise, if devoid of justice, absolutely undeserving of the name of valor. It should rather be considered as a brutal fierceness outraging every principle of humanity.”

            2.22.4. Others make use of pretexts, which though plausible at first sight, will not bear the examination and test of moral rightness, and, when stripped of their disguise, such pretexts will be found filled with injustice. In such hostilities, says Livy, it is not a trial of right, but some object of secret and incontrollable ambition, which acts as the chief motivation. Plutarch said that most powers use the relative situations of peace and war as a currency to purchase whatever they deem useful.

            By having before examined and established the principles of just and necessary war, we may form a better idea of what constitutes the injustice of war. As the nature of things is best seen by contrast, and we judge what is crooked by comparing it with what is straight. But for the sake of clarity, it will be necessary to consider main points.

            It was shown above that fear of a neighboring power is not a sufficient ground for war. For, to authorize hostilities as a defensive measure, they must arise from the necessity which just fear creates. This involves fear not only of the power, but of the intentions of a formidable state, and a fear that amounts to a moral certainty. For this reason, we cannot approve of those who say that there are just grounds for war when a neighboring country constructs fortifications which may at some future time prove a means of trouble, while, at the same time, there is no existing treaty to prohibit such constructions, or their securing of a strong hold. . . .



The Just Means and Ends of War

3.1.1. In the preceding books we considered by what persons, and for what causes, war may be justly declared and undertaken. This subject necessarily leads to an inquiry into the circumstances under which war may be undertaken, into the extent, to which it may be carried, and into the manner in which its rights may be enforced. Now all these matters may be viewed in the light of privileges resulting simply from the law of nature and of nations, or as the effects of some prior treaty or promise. But the actions which are authorized by the law of nature are those that first require attention.

            3.1.2. In the first place, as it has occasionally been observed, the means employed in the pursuit of any object must, in a great degree, derive the complexion of their moral character from the nature of the end to which they lead. It is evident therefore that we may justly use those means, provided they be lawful, which are necessary to the attainment of any right. Right in this place means what is strictly so called, signifying the moral power of action, which anyone as a member of society possesses. On this account, a person, if he has no other means of saving his life, is justified in using any forcible means of repelling an attack, though he who makes it, as for instance, a soldier in battle, in doing so, is guilty of no crime. For this is a right resulting not properly from the crime of another, but from the privilege of self-defense, which nature grants to everyone. Besides, if anyone has sure and undoubted grounds to apprehend imminent danger from anything belonging to another, he may seize it without any regard to the guilt or innocence of that owner. Yet he does not by that seizure become the proprietor of it. For that is not necessary to the end he has in view. He may detain it as a precautionary measure, until he can obtain satisfactory assurance of security.



3.11.1. Cicero, in the first book of his Offices, has accurately observed, that “some duties are to be observed even towards those, from whom you have received an injury. For even vengeance and punishment have their due bounds.” And at the same time he praises those ancient periods in the Roman government when the events of war were mild, and marked with no unnecessary cruelty. . . .

            3.11.8. Though there may be circumstances in which absolute justice will not condemn the sacrifice of lives in war, yet humanity will require that the greatest precaution should be used against involving the innocent in danger, except in cases of extreme urgency and utility.

            3.11.9. After establishing these general principles, it will not be difficult to decide upon particular cases. Seneca says that “in the calamities of war children are exempted and spared, on the score of their age, and women from respect to their sex.” In the wars of the Hebrews, even after the offers of peace have been rejected, God commands the women and children to be spared. . . .

            3.11.10. The same rule may also be laid down with respect to males, whose ways of life are entirely removed from the use of arms. In the first class of this description may be placed the ministers of religion, who, among all nations, from times of the most remote antiquity have been exempted from bearing arms. . . . In addition to these, there are those who devote their labor to honorable literary studies that are useful to mankind.

            3.11.11. The catalogue of those exempt also includes farmers. Diodorus praises the Indians, who, in all their wars with each other, refrained from destroying or even hurting those employed in agriculture, as being the common benefactors of all. Plutarch relates the same of the ancient Corinthians and Megarensians, and Cyrus sent a message to the king of Assyria to inform him that he was willing to avoid molesting all who were employed in tilling the ground.

            3.11.12. To the above catalogue of those exempted from sharing in the calamities of war, may be added merchants, not only those residing for a time in the enemy’s country, but even his natural-born, and regular subjects. Artisans too, and all others are included, whose subsistence depends upon cultivating the arts of peace.

            3.11.13. More civilized manners have abolished the barbarous practice of putting prisoners to death. For the same reason, one should not reject the surrender of those who do so for the preservation of their lives, either in battle or in a siege.



3.12.1. One of the three following cases is required to justify anyone in destroying what belongs to another. (1) There must be either such a necessity, where an exemption is formed as must be supposed upon the original institution of property. For example, someone throw the sword of another into a river to prevent a madman from using it to his destruction. Still, he will be required to repair the loss, according to the true principles maintained in a former part of this work. (2) Or there must be some debt arising from the non-performance of an engagement, where the thing destroyed is considered as a repayment for that debt. (3) Or there must have been some aggressions for which such destruction does not go beyond the punishment deserved.

            Now, if someone drives off some of our cattle, or burns a few of our houses, this can never be appealed to as a sufficient and justifiable motive for destroying the entirety of an enemy’s kingdom. Polybius saw this in its proper light, observing, that vengeance in war should not be carried to its extreme, nor extend any further than was necessary to make an aggressor justly make amends for his offence. It is upon these motives, and within these limits alone, that punishment can be inflicted. It is foolish, and even worse than foolish, to needlessly hurt another, except where prompted to it by motives of great utility.

            But upon properly and impartially weighing the matter, such acts are more often regarded in a detestable light, rather than considered as the dictates of careful and necessary guidance. For the most urgent and justifiable motives are seldom of long continuation, and are often succeeded by weightier motives of a more humane type.


Source: Hugo Grotius, The Law of War and Peace (1625), translated by William Whewell (Prolegomena) and Archibald C. Campbell (Books 1-3).


Questions for Review

1. According to Grotius, what is the highest principle of natural law and the five more specific ones?

2. In the section on defense of life and property, why, according to Grotius, is killing in self defense not done on purpose?

3. In the same section, what does Grotius say about attacking a country out of fear?

4. In the section on unjust wars, what does Grotius say about pretexts that countries commonly offer for going to war?

5. In the section on discrimination, which types of people should be protected during wars?

6. In the section on proportionality, what are the only three justifications for destroying property in war?


Questions for Analysis

1. Grotius argues that even if God didn’t exist, natural law would still be valid, and, assuming that God exists, God himself cannot change natural law. Explain his point and whether or not you agree.

2. Grotius grounds the justification of public war upon the natural rights that we have to declare private war. Do these two types of war sufficiently parallel each other as he implies, or are they instead distinct?

3. Grotius writes that “most powers, when engaging in war, desire to color over their real motives with justifiable pretexts.” Is it possible for someone to distinguish between the real motives and the justifiable pretexts?”

4. Regarding proportionality, Grotius writes “if someone drives off some of our cattle, or burns a few of our houses, this can never be appealed to as a sufficient and justifiable motive for destroying the entirety of an enemy’s kingdom.” What would be modern equivalents of this, and do you agree that it is unjustifiable.









Thomas Hobbes


Born in Wiltshire, England, Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) worked as a tutor for several distinguished British families, travelled extensively throughout Europe, and at around age 50 devoted himself to philosophy. His most famous work, The Leviathan (1651), presents the social contract theory that, to preserve our lives, we mutually agree to set aside our hostilities and live in peace. The selections below are from this work. Hobbes begins describing the natural condition of humans—prior to the creation of governments. In that natural state, humans are essentially equal, both mentally and physically, and this puts everyone on the same level in the struggle to survive. There are three natural causes of quarrel among people: competition for limited supplies of material possessions, distrust of each other, and glory insofar as people remain hostile to preserve their powerful reputations. The natural condition of humans is thus a state of perpetual war of all against all, where nothing is unjust, and our lives are “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” As we all fear death and desire to live adequately, we are thus motivated to rise above this state of war and we do this through a social contract with others. Hobbes lays out the steps towards peace in a series of laws of nature. The first is that we should seek peace as the most reasonable way of preserving our lives. The second is that we should mutually set aside our hostilities towards others so that we can achieve peace more easily. I, thus, agree to give up my right to steal from you, if you give up your right to steal from me. Through this mutual divesting of our hostile rights we form a contract. This third law of nature is that we should keep contracts, and this is accomplished establishing a political authority who will punish us if we violate our contracts. Hobbes lists 10 other laws of nature which are important for preserving a peaceful society once it is established, such as showing gratitude towards others, being accommodating to the interests of others, and pardoning those who commit past offences. Hobbes stresses that people are naturally unsociable, and a sovereign power is necessary to make people follow the laws and hold to their contract with others. We thus create a commonwealth and give up our right to govern ourselves individually.




Equality of People

Nature has made men so equal in the faculties of body and mind, as that though there be found one man sometimes manifestly stronger in body or of quicker mind than another, yet when all is reckoned together, the difference between man and man is not so considerable as that one man can thereupon claim to himself any benefit to which another may not pretend as well as he. For as to the strength of body, the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest, either by secret machination or by confederacy with others that are in the same danger with himself.

            And as to the faculties of the mind . . . I find yet a greater equality among men than that of strength. For prudence is but experience, which equal time equally bestows on all men in those things they equally apply themselves to. That which may perhaps make such equality incredible, is but a vain conceit of one’s own wisdom which almost all men think they have in a greater degree than the vulgar, that is, than all men but themselves and a few others whom by fame, or for concurring with themselves, they approve. For such is the nature of men, that howsoever they may acknowledge many others to be more witty, or more eloquent, or more learned, yet they will hardly believe there be many so wise as themselves; for they see their own wit at hand, and other men’s at a distance. But this proves rather that men are in that point equal, than unequal. For there is not ordinarily a greater sign of the equal distribution of anything, than that every man is contented with his share.


Three Causes of Quarrel

From this equality of ability arises equality of hope in the attaining of our ends. And therefore if any two men desire the same thing, which nevertheless they cannot both enjoy, they become enemies. And in the way to their end (which is principally their own conservation, and sometimes their own delectation only), [they] endeavor to destroy or subdue each other. And from hence it comes to pass that where an invader has no more to fear than another man’s single power, if one plants, sows, builds, or possesses a convenient seat, others may probably be expected to come prepared with forces united, to dispossess and deprive him, not only of the fruit of his labor, but also of his life or liberty. And the invader again is in the like danger of another.

            And from this diffidence [or distrust] of each other, there is no way for any man to secure himself so reasonably as [through] anticipation. That is, by force or wiles, to master the persons of all men he can, so long till he sees no other power great enough to endanger him. And this is no more than his own conservation requires, and is generally allowed. Also because there be some, that taking pleasure in contemplating their own power in the acts of conquest (which they pursue farther than their security requires); if others, that otherwise would be glad to be at ease within modest bounds, should not by invasion increase their power, they would not be able [for a] long time (by standing only on their defense) to subsist. And by consequence, such augmentation of dominion over men, being necessary to a man’s conservation, it ought to be allowed him.

            Again, men have no pleasure (but on the contrary a great deal of grief) in keeping company where there is no power able to over-awe them all. For every man looks that his companion should value him at the same rate he sets upon himself. And upon all signs of contempt or undervaluing, [he] naturally endeavors, as far as he dares . . . to extort a greater value from his condemners [or scorners] by damage, and from others by example.

            So that in the nature of man, we find three principle causes of quarrel. First, competition; secondly, diffidence [or distrust]; thirdly, glory.

            The first makes men invade for gain, the second for safety, and the third for reputation. The first uses violence to make themselves masters of other men’s persons, wives, children, and cattle; the second to defend them; the third for trifles, [such] as a word, a smile, a different opinion, and any other sign of undervalue, either direct in their persons, or by reflection in their kindred, their friends, their nation, their profession, or their name.


State of War

Hereby it is manifest, that during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every man. For war consists not in battle only, or the act of fighting, but [also] in a tract of time, wherein the will to contend by battle is sufficiently known; and therefore the notion of time is to be considered in the nature of war, as it is in the nature of weather. For as the nature of foul weather lies not in a shower or two of rain, but in an inclination thereto of many days together; so the nature of war consists not in actual fighting, but in the known disposition thereto, during all the time there is no assurance to the contrary. All other time is peace.

            Whatever therefore is consequent to a time of war, where every man is enemy to every man, the same is consequent to the time wherein men live without other security, than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them withal. In such condition, there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no culture of the earth, no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building, no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth, no account of time, no arts, no letters, no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.


Proof of the Natural Condition

It may seem strange to some man, that has not well weighed these things, that nature should thus dissociate, and render men apt to invade and destroy each other. And he may therefore (not trusting to this inference made from the passions) desire perhaps to have the same confirmed by experience. Let him therefore consider with himself [that], when taking a journey, he arms himself and seeks to go well accompanied. When going to sleep, he locks his doors. When even in his house, he locks his chests, and this when he knows there be laws and public officers armed, to revenge all injuries [which] shall be done [to] him. [Consider] what opinion he has of his fellow subjects when he rides armed; of his fellow citizens when he locks his doors; and of his children and servants when he locks his chests. Does he not there as much accuse mankind by his actions as I do by my words? But neither of us accuse man’s nature in it. The desires, and other passions of man, are in themselves no sin. No more are the actions, that proceed from those passions, till they know a law that forbids them; which till laws be made they cannot know, nor can any law be made till they have agreed upon the person that shall make it.

            It may perhaps be thought [that] there was never such a time nor condition of war as this, and I believe it was never generally so over all the world. But there are many places where they live so now. For the savage people in many places of America (except the government of small families the harmony whereof depends on natural lust) have no government at all and live at this day in that brutish manner, as I said before. However, it may be perceived what manner of life there would be, where there were no common power to fear; [and] by what manner of life, which men that have formerly lived under a peaceful government, . . . [would] degenerate into in a civil war.

            But though there had never been anytime wherein particular men were in a condition of war one against another; yet in all times, kings and persons of sovereign authority (because of their independence) are in continual jealousies and in the state and posture of gladiators, having their weapons pointing and their eyes fixed on each other. That is, their forts, garrisons, and guns [are fixed] upon the frontiers of their kingdoms, and continual spies [are fixed] upon their neighbors, which is a posture of war. But because they uphold thereby the industry of their subjects, there does not follow from it that misery which accompanies the liberty of particular men.


Nothing is Unjust

To this war of every man against every man, this also is consequent, that nothing can be unjust. The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice have there no place. Where there is no common power, there is no law; where no law, no injustice. Force and fraud are in war the two cardinal virtues. Justice and injustice are none of the [instinctive] faculties, neither of the body nor mind. If they were, they might be in a man that were alone in the world, as well as his senses and passions. They are qualities that relate to men in society, not in solitude. It is consequent also to the same condition, that there be no propriety, no dominion, no mine and thine distinct; but only that to be every man’s that he can get, and for so long as he can keep it. And thus much for the ill condition which man by mere nature is actually placed in; though with a possibility to come out of it consisting partly in the passions [and] partly in his reason.

            The passions that incline men to peace are fear of death, desire of such things as are necessary to commodious living, and a hope by their industry to obtain them. And reason suggests convenient articles of peace, upon which men may be drawn to agreement. These articles are they which otherwise are called the laws of nature, whereof I shall speak more particularly in the two following Chapters.



First Law of Nature

The right of nature, which writers commonly call jus naturale, is the liberty each man has to use his own power as he will himself, for the preservation of his own nature (that is to say, of his own life, and consequently of doing anything which, in his own judgment and reason, he shall conceive to be the aptest means thereunto).

            By liberty is understood, according to the proper signification of the word, the absence of external impediments; which impediments may often take away part of a man’s power to do what he would, but cannot hinder him from using the power left him, according as his judgment and reason shall dictate to him.

            A Law of Nature (lex naturalis) is a precept, or general rule, found out by reason, by which a man is forbidden to do that which is destructive of his life, or takes away the means of preserving the same; and to omit that by which he thinks it may be best preserved. For though they that speak of this subject use to confound jus, and lex, right and law; yet they ought to be distinguished. Because, right consists in the liberty to do or to forbear, whereas law determines and binds to one of them, so that law and right differ as much as obligation and liberty, which in one and the same matter are inconsistent.

            And because the condition of man (as has been declared in the precedent chapter) is a condition of war of everyone against everyone, in which case everyone is governed by his own reason (and there is nothing he can make use of that may not be a help to him in preserving his life against his enemies), it follows that in such a condition, every man has a right to everything, even to each other’s body. And therefore, as long as this natural right of every man to everything endures, there can be no security to any man (how strong or wise soever he be) of living out the time which nature ordinarily allows men to live. And consequently it is a precept, or general rule of reason, That every man ought to endeavor peace as far as he has hope of obtaining it; and when he cannot obtain it, that he may seek and use all helps and advantages of war; the first branch of which rule contains the first and fundamental Law of Nature, which is, To seek peace and follow it; the second, the sum of the right of nature, which is, By all means we can, to defend ourselves.


Second Law of Nature

From this fundamental Law of Nature, by which men are commanded to endeavor peace, is derived this second Law, That a man be willing, when others are so too (as far-forth as for peace and defense of himself he shall think it necessary), to lay down this right to all things; and be contented with so much liberty against other men, as he would allow other men against himself. For so long as every man holds this right of doing anything he likes, [then] so long are all men in the condition of war. But if other men will not lay down their right as well as he, then there is no reason for anyone to divest himself of his. For that were to expose himself to prey (which no man is bound to) rather than to dispose himself to peace. This is that law or the gospel: Whatever you require that others should do to you, that do you to them. And that law of all men: Do not do to others what you would not want done to yourself.

            To lay down a man’s right to anything, is to divest himself of the liberty of hindering another of the benefit of his own right to the same. For he that renounces or passes away his right, gives not to any other man a right which he had not before. Because, there is nothing to which every man had not [a] right by nature; but [a person] only stands out of his way, that he may enjoy his own original right, without hindrance from him, [though] not [necessarily] without hindrance from another [person]. So that the effect which redounds [or accumulates] to one man by another man’s defect of right, is but so much diminution of impediments to the use of his own right original. . . .




Third Law of Nature

From that Law of Nature, by which we are obliged to transfer to another such rights as being retained hinder the peace of mankind, there follows a third, which is this: That men perform their covenants made, without which, covenants are in vain, and but empty words. And the right of all men to all things remaining, we are still in the condition of war.

            And in this Law of Nature consists the fountain and original of justice. For where no covenant has preceded, there has no right been transferred, and every man has right to everything, and consequently no action can be unjust. But when a covenant is made, then to break it is unjust. And the definition of injustice is no other than the not performance of covenant. And whatever is not unjust, is just.


Justice Depends on the Commonwealth

But because covenants of mutual trust [are invalid] where there is a fear of not performance on either part . . . , though the original of justice be the making of covenants; yet injustice actually there can be none, till the cause of such fear be taken away, which while men are in the natural condition of war, cannot be done. Therefore before the names of just and unjust can have place, there must be some coercive power to compel men equally to the performance of their covenants, by the terror of some punishment greater than the benefit they expect by the breach of their covenant. And [this coercive power serves] to make good that propriety, which by mutual contract men acquire, in recompense of the universal right they abandon. And such power there is none before the erection of a commonwealth. And this is also to be gathered out of the ordinary definition of justice in the schools: for they say that Justice is the constant will of giving to every man is own. And therefore where there is no own, that is, no propriety, there is no injustice. And where there is no coercive power erected (that is, where there is no commonwealth), there nothing is unjust. So that the nature of justice consists in [the] keeping of valid covenants. But the validity of covenants begins not but with the constitution of a civil power, sufficient to compel men to keep them. And then it is also that propriety begins.

            The fool has said in his heart, there is no such thing as justice... [and that] to make or not make, keep or not keep covenants [is] not against reason when it conduces to one’s benefit. ... This specious reasoning is nevertheless false. ... [H]e that breaks his covenant, and consequently declares that he thinks he may with reason do so, cannot be received into any society that unite themselves for peace and defense, but by the error of them that receive him. Nor [can he] be retained in it when he is received, without seeing the danger of the error, which errors a person cannot reasonably reckon upon as the means of his security. And therefore if he be left or cast out of society, he perishes. And if he lives in society, it is by the errors of other people which he could not foresee, nor reckon upon, and consequently against the reason of his preservation.... Justice, therefore (that is to say keeping of covenant), is a rule of reason by which we are forbidden to do anything destructive to our life, and consequently a law of nature. . . .


Fourth Law: Gratitude

As justice depends on antecedent covenant, so does gratitude depend on antecedent grace (that is to say, antecedent free gift); and is the fourth Law of Nature, which may be conceived in this form: That a man which receives benefit from another of mere grace, endeavors that he which gives it, have no reasonable cause to repent him of his good will. For no man gives, but with intention of good to himself. Because, gift is voluntary, and of all voluntary acts, the object is to every man his own good; of which if men see they shall be frustrated, there will be no beginning of benevolence or trust; nor consequently of mutual help; nor of reconciliation of one man to another; and therefore they are to remain still in the condition of war, which is contrary to the first and fundamental Law of Nature, which commands men to seek peace. The breach of this law is called ingratitude, and has the same relation to grace that injustice has to obligation by covenant.


Fifth Law: Accommodation

A fifth Law of Nature is complaisance. That is to say, That every man strive to accommodate himself to the rest. For the understanding whereof, we may consider that there is in men’s aptness to society a diversity of nature, rising from the diversity of affections, not unlike to that we see in stones brought together for [the] building of an edifice. For as that stone (which by the asperity and irregularity of figure, takes more room from others than itself fills -- and for the hardness cannot be easily made plain, and thereby hinders the building) is by the builders cast away as unprofitable and troublesome, so also a man (that by asperity of nature will strive to retain those things which to himself are superfluous, and to others necessary -- and for the stubbornness of his passions cannot be corrected) is to be left, or cast out of society as cumbersome thereunto. For seeing [that] every man, not only by right but also by necessity of nature, is supposed to endeavor all he can to obtain that which is necessary for his conservation; he that shall oppose himself against it, for things superfluous, is guilty of the war that thereupon is to follow; and therefore does that which is contrary to the fundamental Law of Nature, which commands to seek peace. The observers of this Law may be called sociable (the Latins call them commodi). The contrary, stubborn, unsociable, forward, intractable.


Sixth Law: Pardoning

A sixth Law of Nature is this, That upon caution of the future time, [i.e., if someone is conscientious about changing his future behavior] a man ought to pardon the past offences of them that repenting, deserve it. For pardon is nothing but granting of peace. [But if pardon is] . . . granted to them that persevere in their hostility, [this] be not peace, but fear; yet [if] not granted to them that give caution of the future time, is sign of an aversion to peace, and therefore contrary to the Law of Nature.


Seventh Law: Against Cruel Punishment

A seventh is, That in revenges (that is, retribution of evil for evil), men look not at the greatness of the evil past, but the greatness of the good to follow. Whereby we are forbidden to inflict punishment with any other design, than for correction of the offender, or direction of others. For this Law is consequent to the next before it, that commands pardon upon the security of the future time. Besides, revenge without respect to the example and profit to come, is a triumph or glorying in the hurt of another, tending to no end (for the end is always somewhat to come). And glorying to no end is vain glory, and contrary to reason. And to hurt without reason tends to the introduction of war, which is against the Law of Nature, and is commonly styled by the name of cruelty.


Eighth Law: Against Showing Contempt

And because all signs of hatred, or contempt, provoke to fight, insomuch as most men choose rather to hazard their life, than not to be revenged, we may in the eighth place, for a Law of Nature, set down this precept, That no man by deed, word, countenance, or gesture, declare hatred or contempt of another. The breach of which Law is commonly called Contumely.


Ninth Law: Natural Equality

The question, “Who is better than man?” has no place in the condition of mere nature, where (as has been shown before) all men are equal. The inequality that now is, has been introduced by the laws civil. I know that Aristotle, in the first book of his Politics, for a foundation of his doctrine, makes men by nature some more worthy to command, meaning the wiser sort (such as he thought himself to be for his philosophy); others to serve (meaning those that had strong bodies, but were not philosophers as he); as if master and servant were not introduced by consent of men, but by difference of wit, which is not only against reason, but also against experience. For there are very few so foolish, that had not rather govern themselves, than be governed by others. Nor when the wise in their own conceit, contend by force with them who distrust their own wisdom, do they always (or often, or almost at anytime) get the victory. If nature therefore have made men equal, that equality is to be acknowledge -- or [likewise acknowledged] if nature have made men unequal. Yet because men that think themselves equal will not enter into conditions of peace, but upon equal terms, such equalities must be admitted. And therefore for the ninth Law of Nature, I put this, That every man acknowledge another for his equal by nature. The breach of this precept is pride.


Tenth Law: Against Arrogance

On this law depends another, That at the entrance into conditions of peace, no man [shall] require to reserve to himself any right, which he is not content should be reserved to every one of the rest. As it is necessary for all men that seek peace, to lay down certain rights of nature (that is to say, not to have liberty to do all they list), so is it necessary for man’s life to retain some [rights], as [the] right to govern their own bodies; enjoy air, water, motion, ways to go from place to place; and all things else without which a man cannot live, or not live well. If in this case, at the making of peace, men require for themselves that which they would not have to be granted to others, they do contrary to the precedent law, that commands the acknowledgment of natural equality, and therefore also against the Law of Nature. The observers of this law are those we call modest, and the breakers arrogant men. The Greeks call the violation of this law pleonexia, that is, a desire of more than their share.


Eleventh Law: Equity and Fairness

Also if a man be trusted to judge between man and man, it is a precept of the Law of Nature, That he deal equally between them. For without that, the controversies of men cannot be determined but by war. He, therefore, that is partial in judgment, does what in him lies to deter men from the use of judges and arbitrators; and consequently (against the fundamental Law of Nature) is the cause of war.

            The observance of this law, from the equal distribution to each man of that which in reason belongs to him, is called equity, and (as I have said before) distributive justice. The violation [is] acception of persons, [or in Greek] prosopolepsia.


Twelfth Law: Possession

And from this follows another law, That such things as cannot be divided be enjoyed in common (if it can be and if the quantity of the thing permit) without stint; otherwise proportionably to the number of them that have right. For otherwise the distribution is unequal and contrary to equity.

            But some things there be, that can neither be divided nor enjoyed in common. Then, the Law of Nature which prescribes equity requires, That the entire right, or else (making the use alternate) the first possession, be determined by lot. For all equal distribution is of the Law of Nature, and other means of equal distribution cannot be imagined. . . .


Thirteenth Law: Mediation and Arbitration

It is also a Law of Nature, That all men that mediate peace, be allowed safe conduct. For the law that commands peace as the end, commands intercession as the means, and to intercession the means is safe conduct. . . .

            And seeing [that] every man is presumed to do all things in order to his own benefit, no man is a fit arbitrator in his own cause. And if he were never so fit (yet equity allowing to each party equal benefit), if one be admitted to be judge, the other is to be admitted also. And so the controversy (that is, the cause of war) remains against the Law of Nature.


Other Laws

These are the Laws of Nature dictating peace, for a means of the conservation of men in multitudes, and which only concern the doctrine of civil society. There be other things tending to the destruction of particular men, as drunkenness, and all other parts of intemperance, which may therefore also be reckoned among those things which the Law of Nature has forbidden. But [these] are not necessary to be mentioned, nor are pertinent enough to this place.

            And though this may seem too subtle a deduction of the Laws of Nature to be taken notice of by all men (whereof the most part are too busy in getting food, and the rest too negligent to understand), yet to leave all men inexcusable, they have been contracted into one easy sum, intelligible even to the meanest capacity. And that is, Do not [do] that to another, which you would not have done to yourself, which shows him that he has no more to do in learning the Laws of Nature, but, when weighing the actions of other men with his own ([and] they seem too heavy), [he is] to put them into the other part of the balance, and his own into their place, [so] that his own passions and self-love may add nothing to the weight. And then there is none of these Laws of Nature that will not appear to him very reasonable.



Commonwealth needed for Protection

The final cause, end, or design of men (who naturally love liberty, and dominion over others) in the introduction of that restraint upon themselves, in which we see them live in Commonwealths, is the foresight of their own preservation, and of a more contented life thereby. That is to say, [it is the desire] of getting themselves out from that miserable condition of war which is necessarily consequent, as has been shown, to the natural passions of men when there is no visible power to keep them in awe, and tie them by fear of punishment to the performance of their covenants, and observation of those laws of nature set down in the fourteenth and fifteenth chapters.

            For the laws of nature (as justice, equity, modesty, mercy, and, in sum, doing to others as we would be done to) of themselves, without the terror of some power to cause them to be observed, are contrary to our natural passions, that carry us to partiality, pride, revenge, and the like. And covenants, without the sword, are but words and of no strength to secure a man at all. Therefore, notwithstanding the laws of nature (which everyone has then kept, when he has the will to keep them, when he can do it safely), if there be no power erected, or not great enough for our security, every man will and may lawfully rely on his own strength and art for caution against all other men. And in all places, where men have lived by small families, to rob and spoil each other has been a trade, and so far from being reputed against the law of nature that the greater spoils they gained, the greater was their honor. And men observed no other laws therein but the laws of honor; that is, to abstain from cruelty, leaving to men their lives and instruments of husbandry. And as small families did then, so now do cities and kingdoms, which are but greater families (for their own security), enlarge their dominions upon all pretences of danger, and fear of invasion, or assistance that may be given to invaders; endeavor as much as they can to subdue or weaken their neighbors by open force, and secret arts, for want of other caution, justly; and are remembered for it in after ages with honor. . . .

            Nor is it enough for the security, which men desire should last all the time of their life, that they be governed and directed by one judgment for a limited time; as in one battle, or one war. For though they obtain a victory by their unanimous endeavor against a foreign enemy, yet afterwards, when either they have no common enemy, or he that by one part is held for an enemy is by another part held for a friend, they must needs by the difference of their interests dissolve, and fall again into a war amongst themselves.


Why People are Unsociable

It is true that certain living creatures, as bees and ants, live sociably one with another (which are therefore by Aristotle numbered amongst political creatures), and yet have no other direction than their particular judgments and appetites; nor speech, whereby one of them can signify to another what he thinks expedient for the common benefit. And therefore some man may perhaps desire to know why mankind cannot do the same. To which I answer,

            First, that men are continually in competition for honor and dignity, which these creatures are not; and consequently amongst men there arises on that ground, envy, and hatred, and finally war; but amongst these not so.

            Secondly, that amongst these creatures the common good differs not from the private; and being by nature inclined to their private, they procure thereby the common benefit. But man, whose joy consists in comparing himself with other men, can relish nothing but what is eminent.

            Thirdly, that these creatures, having not, as man, the use of reason, do not see, nor think they see, any fault in the administration of their common business: whereas amongst men there are very many that think themselves wiser and abler to govern the public better than the rest, and these strive to reform and innovate, one this way, another that way; and thereby bring it into distraction and civil war.

            Fourthly, that these creatures, though they have some use of voice in making known to each other their desires and other affections, yet they want that art of words by which some men can represent to others that which is good in the likeness of evil; and evil, in the likeness of good; and augment or diminish the apparent greatness of good and evil, discontenting men and troubling their peace at their pleasure.

            Fifthly, irrational creatures cannot distinguish between injury and damage; and therefore as long as they be at ease, they are not offended with their fellows: whereas man is then most troublesome when he is most at ease; for then it is that he loves to show his wisdom, and control the actions of them that govern the Commonwealth.

            Lastly, the agreement of these creatures is natural; that of men is by covenant only, which is artificial: and therefore it is no wonder if there be somewhat else required, besides covenant, to make their agreement constant and lasting; which is a common power to keep them in awe and to direct their actions to the common benefit.


Creating a Commonwealth

The only way to erect such a common power, as may be able to defend them from the invasion of foreigners, and the injuries of each other, and thereby to secure them in such sort as that by their own industry and by the fruits of the earth they may nourish themselves and live contentedly, is to confer all their power and strength upon one man, or upon one assembly of men, that may reduce all their wills, by plurality of voices, unto one will. Which is as much as to say, to appoint one man, or assembly of men, to bear their person; and everyone to own and acknowledge himself to be author of whatsoever he that so bears their person shall act, or cause to be acted, in those things which concern the common peace and safety; and therein to submit their wills, everyone to his will, and their judgments to his judgment. This is more than consent, or concord. It is a real unity of them all in one and the same person, made by covenant of every man with every man, in such manner as if every man should say to every man: I authorize and give up my right of governing myself to this man, or to this assembly of men, on this condition; that thou give up, thy right to him, and authorize all his actions in like manner. This done, the multitude so united in one person is called a commonwealth; in Latin, civitas. This is the generation of that great Leviathan, or rather, to speak more reverently, of that mortal god to which we owe, under the immortal God, our peace and defense. For by this authority, given him by every particular man in the Commonwealth, he has the use of so much power and strength conferred on him that, by terror thereof, he is enabled to form the wills of them all, to peace at home, and mutual aid against their enemies abroad. And in him consists the essence of the Commonwealth, which, to define it, is: one person, of whose acts a great multitude, by mutual covenants one with another, have made themselves everyone the author, to the end he may use the strength and means of them all as he shall think expedient for their peace and common defense.

            And he that carries this person is called sovereign, and said to have sovereign power; and everyone besides, his subject.




Rights of the Sovereign (Chapter 18)

A commonwealth is said to be instituted when a multitude of men do agree, and covenant, every one with every one, that to whatsoever man, or assembly of men, shall be given by the major part the right to present the person of them all, that is to say, to be their representative; every one, as well he that voted for it as he that voted against it, shall authorize all the actions and judgements of that man, or assembly of men, in the same manner as if they were his own, to the end to live peaceably amongst themselves, and be protected against other men.

            From this institution of a Commonwealth are derived all the rights and faculties of him, or them, on whom the sovereign power is conferred by the consent of the people assembled.

            First, because they covenant, it is to be understood they are not obliged by former covenant to anything repugnant hereunto. And consequently they that have already instituted a Commonwealth, being thereby bound by covenant to own the actions and judgements of one, cannot lawfully make a new covenant amongst themselves to be obedient to any other, in anything whatsoever, without his permission. And therefore, they that are subjects to a monarch cannot without his leave cast off monarchy and return to the confusion of a disunited multitude; nor transfer their person from him that bears it to another man, other assembly of men. . . . [i.e., subjects owe sole loyalty to the monarch.]

            Secondly, because the right of bearing the person of them all is given to him they make sovereign, by covenant only of one to another, and not of him to any of them, there can happen no breach of covenant on the part of the sovereign; and consequently none of his subjects, by any pretense of forfeiture, can be freed from his subjection. . . . [i.e., subjects cannot be freed from their obligation to the sovereign.]

            Thirdly, because the major part has by consenting voices declared a sovereign, he that dissented must now consent with the rest; that is, be contented to avow all the actions he shall do, or else justly be destroyed by the rest. For if he voluntarily entered into the congregation of them that were assembled, he sufficiently declared thereby his will, and therefore tacitly covenanted, to stand to what the major part should ordain: and therefore if he refuse to stand thereto, or make protestation against any of their decrees, he does contrary to his covenant, and therefore unjustly. And whether he be of the congregation or not, and whether his consent be asked or not, he must either submit to their decrees or be left in the condition of war he was in before; wherein he might without injustice be destroyed by any man whatsoever. [i.e., dissenters must consent with the majority in declaring a sovereign.]

            Fourthly, because every subject is by this institution author of all the actions and judgements of the sovereign instituted, it follows that whatsoever he doth, can be no injury to any of his subjects; nor ought he to be by any of them accused of injustice. For he that doth anything by authority from another doth therein no injury to him by whose authority he acts: but by this institution of a Commonwealth every particular man is author of all the sovereign doth; and consequently he that complains of injury from his sovereign complains of that whereof he himself is author, and therefore ought not to accuse any man but himself; no, nor himself of injury, because to do injury to oneself is impossible. It is true that they that have sovereign power may commit iniquity, but not injustice or injury in the proper signification. [i.e., the sovereign cannot be unjust or injure any subject.]

            Fifthly, and consequently to that which was said last, no man that has sovereign power can justly be put to death, or otherwise in any manner by his subjects punished. For seeing every subject is author of the actions of his sovereign, he punishes another for the actions committed by himself. . . . [i.e., the sovereign cannot be put to death.]

            Sixthly, it is annexed to the sovereignty to be judge of what opinions and doctrines are averse, and what conducing to peace; and consequently, on what occasions, how far, and what men are to be trusted withal in speaking to multitudes of people; and who shall examine the doctrines of all books before they be published. For the actions of men proceed from their opinions, and in the well governing of opinions consists the well governing of men's actions in order to their peace and concord. And though in matter of doctrine nothing to be regarded but the truth, yet this is not repugnant to regulating of the same by peace. [i.e., the sovereign can censor opinions that threaten peace.]


Benefits of Monarchy over Other Forms of Government (Chapter 19)

The difference of Commonwealths consists in the difference of the sovereign, or the person representative of all and every one of the multitude. And because the sovereignty is either in one man, or in an assembly of more than one; and into that assembly either every man has right to enter, or not everyone, but certain men distinguished from the rest; it is manifest there can be but three kinds of Commonwealth. For the representative must needs be one man, or more; and if more, then it is the assembly of all, or but of a part. When the representative is one man, then is the Commonwealth a monarchy; when an assembly of all that will come together, then it is a democracy, or popular Commonwealth; when an assembly of a part only, then it is called an aristocracy. Other kind of Commonwealth there can be none: for either one, or more, or all, must have the sovereign power (which I have shown to be indivisible) entire.

            There be other names of government in the histories and books of policy; as tyranny and oligarchy; but they are not the names of other forms of government, but of the same forms misliked. For they that are discontented under monarchy call it tyranny; and they that are displeased with aristocracy call it oligarchy: so also, they which find themselves grieved under a democracy call it anarchy, which signifies want of government; and yet I think no man believes that want of government is any new kind of government: nor by the same reason ought they to believe that the government is of one kind when they like it, and another when they mislike it or are oppressed by the governors. . . .

            The difference between these three kinds of Commonwealth consists, not in the difference of power, but in the difference of convenience or aptitude to produce the peace and security of the people; for which end they were instituted. And to compare monarchy with the other two, we may observe:

First . . . where the public and private interest are most closely united, there is the public most advanced. Now in monarchy the private interest is the same with the public. The riches, power, and honor of a monarch arise only from the riches, strength, and reputation of his subjects. For no king can be rich, nor glorious, nor secure, whose subjects are either poor, or contemptible, or too weak through want, or dissension, to maintain a war against their enemies; whereas in a democracy, or aristocracy, the public prosperity confers not so much to the private fortune of one that is corrupt, or ambitious, as doth many times a perfidious advice, a treacherous action, or a civil war.

            Secondly, that a monarch receives counsel of whom, when, and where he pleases; and consequently may hear the opinion of men versed in the matter about which he deliberates, of what rank or quality soever, and as long before the time of action and with as much secrecy as he will. But when a sovereign assembly has need of counsel, none are admitted but such as have a right thereto from the beginning; which for the most part are of those who have been versed more in the acquisition of wealth than of knowledge, and are to give their advice in long discourses which may, and do commonly, excite men to action, but not govern them in it. For the understanding is by the flame of the passions never enlightened, but dazzled: nor is there any place or time wherein an assembly can receive counsel secrecy, because of their own multitude.

            Thirdly, that the resolutions of a monarch are subject to no other inconstancy than that of human nature; but in assemblies, besides that of nature, there arises an inconstancy from the number. For the absence of a few that would have the resolution, once taken, continue firm (which may happen by security, negligence, or private impediments), or the diligent appearance of a few of the contrary opinion, undoes today all that was concluded yesterday.

            Fourthly, that a monarch cannot disagree with himself, out of envy or interest; but an assembly may; and that to such a height as may produce a civil war.


Source: Adapted from Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (1651), Chapters 13-15, 17-19. Spelling and punctuation have been modernized,


Questions for Review

1. In the section on the state of nature, why is there no place for industry (or productive labor)?

2. In the section on nothing is unjust, what are the two key “virtues” in the state of nature, and what is the advantage of possessing them?

3. In the section on proof of the natural condition, what evidence does Hobbes provide for his position?

4. Briefly what are Hobbes’s 13 laws of nature?

5. In the section on why people are unsociable, what are the six reasons that he gives for this?

6. What are the six rights of the sovereign?

7. What are the four reasons why monarchy is superior to other forms of government?


Questions for Analysis

1. Hobbes has an especially dismal view of the natural condition. Discuss the aspects of human nature that, according to Hobbes, put us at war with others and whether you agree with his assessment of human nature.

2. In the second law of nature, which establishes the foundation of the social contract, Hobbes essentially says that we should mutually divest ourselves of hostile rights to achieve peace. Explain what the hostile rights are that he’s talking about, and whether giving up that group of rights would go far enough in securing a peaceful society.

3. One of the central components of Hobbes’s social contract theory is whether people will be properly motivated to uphold their part of the contract. In the section on the third law, Hobbes speculates about a “fool” who thinks he’s sneaky enough to get away with breaking the social contract without anyone knowing about it. Evaluate Hobbes’s response to the fool and whether you agree with his solution.

4. Explain how Hobbes’s account of natural law differs from that of Aquinas or Grotius.

5. Explain how Hobbes’s account of the social contract differs from what Plato presents (in either Crito or The Republic) or what is presented in Vindication against Tyrants.








Samuel Pufendorf


Born in the German city of Dorfchemnitz, Samuel Pufendorf (1632-1694) was a jurist, statesman and historian, and is most remembered for his work on political philosophy titled, Of the Law of Nature and Nations (1762). Some years later he reworked its central themes into a shorter and less technical work titled The Duty of Man and Citizen according to Natural Law (1675), from which the selections below are taken. His theory draws both on Grotius’s views of natural law and Hobbes’s theory of the social contract. According to Pufendorf, natural laws are fixed rules of moral and social conduct that God has created and imbedded in human nature through our instinctive drive for self-preservation. As isolated individuals, we would scarcely survive in the wild and our survival depends entirely on living in a society with others. Thus, the main principle of natural law is the mandate to be sociable: “Every person ought to preserve and promote society, that is, the welfare of humankind.” From this main principle three sets of moral duties arise: duties to God, to oneself, and to others. In spite of our instinctive knowledge of natural law and its duties to others, many of us will still harm others. Thus, we protect ourselves by forming communities that are large enough to overpower those who might attack us. But human nature is rather fickle and people won’t always agree on the best plan to achieve public safety. To force the issue, we create governments that unify our separate wills. In the process of creating our society and government, we form two covenants and a constitution. The first covenant is for people to come together and form society. The constitution establishes the form of government that we will follow. The second covenant obligates the ruler to secure public safety, and the people to obey the ruler. Ultimately, formation of a government is willed by God since it is the principal mechanism for having us follow the mandate of natural law to be sociable. Once a functioning government is established, it is helpful to form alliances with neighboring countries.




Types of Law

1.2. With respect to their authors, laws are distinguished into divine and human; the first proceeds from God, and the second from people. But if laws are considered as they have a necessary and universal harmony with humankind, they are then distinguished into natural and positive. The former is that which is so conducive with human rational or social nature that honest and peaceful society could not be kept up among humankind without it. Hence it is that this may be sought out and the knowledge of it acquired by the light of that reason which is born with every person and by the consideration of human nature in general. The latter is that which does not take its rise from the common condition of human nature, but only from the good pleasure of the legislator. This ought not to be without its reason, but should carry with it advantage to those people or that society for which it is designed. Now the divine law is either natural or positive, but all human laws, strictly taken, are positive.



1.3. Whoever thoroughly examines human nature and disposition may plainly understand what the natural law is, its necessity, and which precepts it proposes and commands to us mortals. People are greatly assisted in their precise knowledge of the polity of any community if they first understand the condition of it and the manners and dispositions of the members who constitute it. Similarly those who study well the common nature and conditions of humans will easily discover those laws which preserve our universal safety.

            Human beings have a feature in common with all other animals that have a sense of their own existence. We account nothing dearer than our individual selves. We study all manners and ways of self-preservation. We try to procure for ourselves those things which are good for us, and avoid and keep off those that are harmful. This desire of self-preservation is typically so strong that all our other appetites and passions give way to it. Thus, whenever an attempt is made on the life of any person, even though he escapes the danger threatened, nevertheless, he usually resents it and continues to hold a hatred and desire for revenge on the aggressor.

            But in one way humans seem to be set in a worse condition than that of animals. Hardly any other animal comes into the world in so great a weakness so that it would be almost a miracle if anyone could reach a mature age without the aid of someone else. For even now after receiving so much help for the necessities of human life, many years of careful study are still required before a person can of himself get food or clothes. Let us suppose that a person comes to his full strength without any oversight or instruction from other people. Suppose that he has no manner of knowledge but what arises of itself from his own natural intelligence, and thus is placed in some solitude which is destitute of any help or society of all humankind beside. Certainly a more miserable creature cannot be imagined. He is no better than dumb and naked. He has nothing left but herbs and roots to pluck and the wild fruits to gather; to quench his thirst at the next spring, river or ditch; to shelter himself from the injuries of weather by creeping into some cave or covering himself with any sort of moss or grass; to pass away his tedious life in idleness; to jump at every noise, and be afraid at the sight of any other animal. In a word, he will ultimately die either by hunger or cold or some wild beast. It must then follow that whatever advantages accompany human life all owe to the mutual help people give each other. Thus, next to divine providence, there is nothing in the world more beneficial to humankind than humans themselves.


Unsociable Human Qualities

Yet, as useful as this creature is or may be to others of its kind, it has many faults and is capable of being equally destructive. This makes mutual society between person and person more than a little dangerous, and makes it necessary to use great caution unless harm grows from it instead of good. First, we observe in humans a stronger predisposition to injure others than in any other animal. For animals seldom become enraged except through hunger or lust, both of which appetites are satisfied without much difficulty. When that is done, they are not apt to grow furious or to hurt their fellow creatures without some provocation. Humans, on the other hand, are animals that are always prone to lust, by which we are more frequently activated than what appears necessary to the conservation of our species. The human stomach also is not only to be satisfied, but to be pleased, and it often desires more than nature can well digest. As for clothes, nature has taken care of the rest of the creatures so that they don’t want any. But humans require not only those that will address their necessity, but also their pride and ostentation. Besides these, there are many passions and appetites found in humankind which are unknown to other animals. We have an unreasonable desire of possessing much more than is necessary, and earnest pursuit after glory and preeminence, envy, emulation, and intellectual competition. A proof of this is that most of the wars with which human kind is harassed are raised for causes completely unknown to animals. Now all these are able to provoke people to hurt each other and they frequently do so. To this we may add the great arrogance that is in many people, and the desire to insult others, which will only anger even those who are naturally timid enough and excite them to resist (for concern of preserving themselves and their liberty). Sometimes also wants set people at each other’s throats, or because their present stockpile of necessities seems not sufficient either for their needs or appetites.

            Moreover, people are more able to do each other harm than animals. For although we don’t look fierce with teeth, claws or horns, as many animals do, yet the activity of our hands are very effective instruments of harm. The quickness of our intelligence gives us the skill and capacity to attempt something by treachery which cannot be done by open force. Thus, it is very easy for one person to bring upon another the greatest of all natural evils, namely, death itself.

            Besides all this, we must consider that there is a vast diversity of dispositions among humans, which is not found among animals. For all animals of the same kind have the same inclinations and are led by the same inward motions and appetites. With humans, on the other hand, there are as many minds as there are heads, and everyone has his unique opinion. Nor are we all motivated by simple and uniform desires, but instead with a variety, and variously mixed together. No, we often see one and the same person differ from himself and desire something at one time, and extremely abhor it at another. Nor is the variety less noticeable which is not found in the almost infinite ways of living, managing our studies, our course of life, and our methods of making use of our wits. Now, to prevent us from crashing into each other by these circumstances, we need reasonable limitations and careful management.




Fundamental Law of Nature

Human beings are animals that are very desirous of their own preservation. We are liable to many wants, unable to support ourselves without the help of others of our kind, and yet wonderfully fit in society to promote a common good. But then we are malicious, insolent, and easily provoked, and not less prone to do harm to our fell humans than we are cable of executing it. From this it must be inferred that to attain our self-preservation, it is absolutely necessary that we be sociable. That is, we should join with those of our kind, and also conduct ourselves towards them so that they may have no justifiable cause to do us harm, but instead to promote and secure for us all our interests.

            The rules then of this fellowship are called the laws of nature, and are the laws of human society, by which people are directed to make themselves useful members of it, and without which it falls to pieces.

            From what has been said, it appears that this is a fundamental law of nature: to the extent that we can, every person ought to preserve and promote society, that is, the welfare of humankind. He who designs the end cannot but be supposed to also design those means without which the end cannot be obtained. It follows from this that all actions commanded by the law of nature which tend generally and are absolutely necessary to the preservation of this society. This is just as, on the contrary, those that disturb and dissolve it are forbidden by the same. All other precepts are to be accounted as only subsumptions or consequences of this universal law. The evidence of this is made out by the natural light which is engrafted in humankind.


Natural Laws Authored by God

These [moral and political] rules do plainly contain that which is for the general good. But so that these rules may obtain the force of laws, it must necessarily be presupposed that there is a God who governs all things by his providence, and that he has commanded us mortals to observe these dictates of our reason as laws, proclaimed by him to us by the powerful mediation of that light which is born with us. Otherwise we might perhaps pay some obedience to them when we consider their usefulness, similar to how we observe the directions of physicians in regard to our health. But this would not have us view them as “laws”, to the composition of which it is necessary to suppose a superior, and that such a superior as has actually undertaken the government of the other.

            It is demonstrated as follows that God is the author of the Law of Nature (considering humankind only in its present state, without inquiring whether the first condition of us mortals were different from this, nor how the change was brought about). Our nature is so framed that humankind cannot be preserved without a sociable life. It is also plain that the human mind is capable of understanding all those notions which are subservient to this purpose. Finally, it is also clear that people, like other creatures, not only owe their origin to God, but that God governs them (let their condition be as it will) by the wisdom of his providence. It follows that it must be the will of God that humans should make use of those faculties with which he is peculiarly endowed beyond the animals to the preservation of his own nature. Consequently, human life should be different from the lawless life of the irrational creatures. Since this cannot otherwise be achieved except through observing the natural law, it must be understood that there is from God an obligation laid upon humans to pay obedience to it. This law is not a means invented by human intelligence or imposed by the human will, nor is it capable of being changed by their physical constitution and inclinations. Instead, it is expressly ordained by God himself in order to accomplish this end. For he who obliges us to pursue such an end must be thought to oblige us to make use of those means which are necessary to the attainment of it. And that the social life is positively commanded by God to us, we find proof in the fact that in no other animal do we discover any sense of religion or fear of a Deity. This does not seem to fall within the understanding of the ungovernable animal, and yet it has the power to excite in people’s minds (not altogether corrupt) the most delicate sense. This sense convinces them that, by sinning against this natural law, they offend him who is lord of the human, and who is to be feared even where we are secure of any punishment from our fellow creatures.

            It is usually said that we have the knowledge of this law from nature itself. However, this is not to be taken to mean that plain and distinct notions concerning what is to be done or avoided were implanted in the minds of newborn people. Instead, nature is said to teach us, partly because the knowledge of this law may be attained by the help of the light of reason. It is also partly because the general and most useful points of it are so plain and clear that, at first sight, they force assent. In this way, they get such root in people’s minds that nothing can eradicate them afterwards, let wicked people take ever so many pains to blunt the edge and numb themselves against the stings of their consciences. In this sense we find in holy scripture that this law is said to be “written in the hearts of man.” Accordingly, from our childhood a sense of it was instilled into us together with other learning in the usual methods of education. Although we are not able to remember the precise time when they first took hold of our understandings and professed our minds, we can have no other opinion of our knowledge of this law except that it was native to our beings, or born together and at the same time with ourselves. The cause is the same with every person in learning his mother tongue.


Duties to God, Self, and Others Arising from Natural Law

The duties from the law of nature which are obligatory to people seem to be appropriately divided according to the objects about which we are conversant. Thus, they are arranged under three principal headings. The first of these gives us directions as to how by the single dictates of right reason people ought to behave themselves towards God. The second contains our duty towards ourselves. The third is that towards other people. The precepts of the natural law which have a relation to other people may primarily and directly be derived from the sociality which we have laid down as a foundation. But even people’s duties towards God may be indirectly deduced from that, based on the reasoning that the strongest obligation to mutual duties between person and person arises from religion and a fear of the Deity. This is because people could not become sociable creatures if we were not colored with religion, and because reason alone can to no further in religion than what is useful to promote the common tranquility and sociality or reciprocal union in this life (although insofar as religion secures salvation of souls, it proceeds from extraordinary divine revelation). The duties a person owes to himself arise jointly from religion and from the necessity of society. Thus, no person is completely lord of himself, but, instead, there are many things relating to himself which are not to be disposed altogether according to his will. This is partly because of the obligation he lies under for being a religious worshiper of the Deity, and partly so that he may keep himself a useful and beneficial member of society.

            1.4 The duty of man towards God, so far as it can be discovered by natural reason, encompasses these two duties. The first is that we have true notions concerning him, or know him properly. The second is that we conform our actions to his will, or obey him as we should. And, so, natural religion consists of two sorts of propositions, specifically, theoretical or speculative, and practical or active. . . .

            1.5 [Concerning the duty towards himself] a human being are not born for himself alone, but being therefore furnished with so many excellent endowments that he may set forth his Creator’s praise, and be rendered a fit member of human society. It follows from this that it is his duty to cultivate and improve those gifts from his creator that he finds in himself, that they answer to the end of their donor. It is also his duty to contribute all that lies in his power to the benefit of human society. . . . Since human nature consists of two parts, a soul and a body, then the first gives us the part of a director, and the other that of an instrument or subordinate minister. So, our actions are all performed by the guidance of the mind, and by the ministration of the body. We are hence obliged to take care of both, but especially the former. That part is, above all things, to be formed and accommodated to support an adequate part of social life, and to be instilled with a sense and love of duty and decency. Then we are to devote ourselves to learning that is somewhat proper to our capacity and our condition in the world. Otherwise, we will become a useless burden to the earth, cumbersome to ourselves, and troublesome to others. . . .

            1.6 We come now to those duties that are to be practiced by one person towards another. Some of these proceed from that common obligation which it has pleased the creator to lay upon all people in general. Others have their origin in some certain human institutions or some particular invented or accidental state of humans. The first of these are always to be practiced by every person towards all people. The latter obtain only among those who are in such peculiar condition or state. Hence the former may be called absolute, and the latter conditional. . . .





Large Communities not Necessitated by Human Nature

2.5. There is hardly any happiness or benefit except that which may be obtained from those duties of which we have already discussed. Nevertheless, it remains that we inquire into the reasons why people, not content with those primitive and small societies, have found those which are larger, which are called “communities.” From these grounds and foundations is to be deduced the reason of those duties which merely relate to this civil state of humankind.

            Here, therefore, it is not sufficient to say that people are by nature inclined to civil society so that they neither can nor will live without it. For it is indeed evident that humans are such kinds of creatures as have a most delicate affection for themselves and their own good. Given this, it is clear that when a person so earnestly seeks after civil society, he acknowledges some particular advantage that will accrue to himself for it. Without society with our fellow creatures, people would be the most miserable of all beings. Yet the natural desires and necessities of humans are abundantly satisfied by those primitive kinds of societies, and by the duties to which we are obliged either by humanity or contract. Consequently, it cannot immediately be concluded from this natural society between person and person that our nature and disposition directly inclines us to the forming of civil communities.


Difficulties of Living in Large Communities

This will more evidently be seen if we consider (1) what condition people are placed in by the constitution of civil communities, (2) what is required so that it may be truly said of us to be good patriots and subjects, and (3) what aversion may be discovered in human nature to living in such civil community.

            Whoever becomes a subject immediately loses his natural liberty, and submits himself to some authority which is vested with the power of life and death. He further submits to command to do many things which otherwise he would in no way be willing to do, and many things must be let alone to which he had a strong inclination. Besides most of his actions must terminate in the public good, which in many cases seems to clash with a person’s private advantage. But people carried by their natural inclinations to be subject to no one, to do all things as they are inclined, and in everything to consult their single advantage.

            But we call a person a true patriot, and good subject if he readily obeys the commands of his governors; if he tries his utmost to promote the public good, and after that regards his private affairs; no, even more if he values nothing profitable to himself unless the same is likewise profitable to the community; and lastly if he carries himself fairly towards his fellow subjects. But there are few people to be found whose tempers are naturally thus well inclined. The greater part of us is restrained merely for fear of punishment, and many continue their entire life to be bad subjects and unsociable creatures.

            Furthermore, there is no creature at all more fierce or untamable than a human, or which is prone to more vices that are apt to disturb the piece and security of the public. For besides his inordinate appetite to eating, drinking, and sexual intercourse (to which animals are likewise subject), people are inclined to many vices to which animals are complete strangers. This is so with the insatiable desire and thirst after those things which are completely superfluous and unnecessary, and above all with that worst of evils, ambition. This is also the case with a too lasting resentment and memory of injuries, and a desire of revenge increasing more and more by length of time. Besides these there is an infinite diversity of inclinations and affections, and a certain stiffness and obstinacy in everyone to indulge his own particular whim or fancy. Moreover, a person take so great delight in exercising his cruelty over his fellow creatures, that the greatest part of the evils and harms to which humankind is repulsed owes completely to the merciless rage and violence of other people.


Advantages of Living in Society

Therefore, the genuine and principal reason that induced masters of families to give up their own natural liberty and to form themselves into communities was that they might provide for themselves a security and defense against the evils and harms that occur to people from each other. For as (next under God) one person is most capable of being helpful to another, so the same person may be no less prejudicial and hurtful to another. And people hold a proper notion of both human malice, and the remedy to the problem, if they accept the following as a common maxim and proverb: if there were no courts of judicature, one person would devour another. But after that (by the constituting of communities) people were reduced into such an order and method, so that they might be safe and secure from mutual wrongs and injuries among themselves. It was by that means that they might better enjoy those advantages which are to be reaped and expected from each other. Specifically, from their childhood, they could be raised and instructed in good manners and they could invent and improve several kinds of arts and sciences by which people’s lives might be better provided and furnished with necessary conveniences.

            The reason for constituting communities will be even more forceful if we consider that human malice could not be curbed by other means. Although we are obligated by the law of nature not to injure each other, respect and reverence to that law is not common enough to be a sufficient security for people to live completely tranquil and undisturbed in their natural liberty.

            By accident we may find a few people of such moderate quiet temper and disposition that they would not injure others [who harm them], even though they [i.e., the offenders] might escape unpunished. There may likewise be others who to some degree control their disorderly inclinations through fear of some harm that might otherwise result. Nevertheless, on the contrary, there are a great number of people who have no regard at all for law or justice; this is so whenever they have any prospect of advantage, or any hopes by their own subtle tricks and schemes of creating difficulties for and deluding the injured party. It benefits everyone concerned with their own safety to try to protect themselves against this sort of person. No better care and provision can be made for this than by means of communities and civil societies. Some particular people may mutually agree together to assist each other. But they need to discover some way by which their opinions and judgments may be unified and their wills more firmly bound to perform what they have agreed to. Otherwise it will be in vain for anyone to expect and rely with certainty on any relief or assistance from them.

            Finally, the laws of nature sufficiently suggest to us that people who do violence or injury to others will not escape unpunished. Nevertheless, neither the fear and dread of a divine being, nor the strings of conscience are found sufficiently effective to restrain the malice and violence of all people. For through the prejudice of custom and education, many people are altogether deaf, so to speak, to the force and power of reason. From this it happens that they are only intent about present things, taking very little notice of those things which are future; they are affected only with those things which make a present impression on their senses. But divine vengeance usually proceeds only slowly, and, accordingly, many suffering people take occasion to refer their evils and misfortunes to other causes. This is especially so since they very often see immoral people enjoy a plenty and abundance of those things which typical people see as constituting their happiness and pleasure. Besides, the checks of conscience, which precede any immoral action, seem to be less forceful and efficient as punishment which follows commission of the act (when that which we do cannot be undone). Therefore the most available and effective remedy, for the subduing and suppressing the evil desires and inclinations of people, is to be provided by the constituting of civil societies.




Safety in Numbers

2.6. The next inquiry we are to make is upon what grounds civil societies have been erected, and wherein their internal constitution consists. For, in the first place, it is evident that neither any place, nor any sort of weapons, nor any kind of brute creatures can be capable of providing any sufficient and safeguard or defense against the injuries to which all people are liable, by reason of the corruption of human nature. From such dangers, people alone can provide an agreeable remedy by joining their forces together, by interweaving their interests and safety, and by forming a general confederacy for their mutual assistance. So that this end might be obtained effectively, it was necessary that those who sought to bring it about should be firmly joined together and associated into communities.

            It is just as evident that the consent and agreement of two or three particular persons cannot afford this security against the violence of other people. For, it may easily happen that such a number may conspire the ruin of those few persons, as may be able to assure themselves of a certain victory over them; and it is very likely they would with the greater boldness go about such an enterprise, because of their certain hopes of success and exemption from punishment. Thus, to this end it is necessary that a very considerable number of people should unite together, so that an extra few people among the enemies may not be of any great significance to determine the victory to their side.


Government Needed to Enforce the Social Contract

Among those many who would join together in order to achieve this end, it is absolutely necessary that there be a perfect consent and agreement concerning the use of such means as are most conducive to that end. For even a great multitude of people, if they do not agree among themselves and are divided and separated in their opinions, will be capable of accomplishing very little. Or, although they may agree for a certain time, they may soon afterwards divide into groups because of some present inclination or disposition of the mind, since the tempers and inclinations of people are very variable. Although by compact they engaged among themselves, that they would employ all their force for the common defense and security; yet neither by this means is there sufficient provision made, that this agreement of the multitude will be permanent and lasting. But something more than all this is required, namely, that those who have once entered into a mutual league and defense for the sake of the public good should be prohibited from separating themselves afterwards, when their private advantage may seem in any way to clash with the public good.

            But there are two faults that chiefly occur within human nature, and which are the reason that many who are at their own liberty, and independent one upon the other, cannot long hold together for the promoting of any public design. The one is the contrariety of inclinations and judgments in determining what is most conducive to such an end. In many, there is joined to this a dullness of apprehending which, of several means proposed, is more advantageous than the rest, a certain stubbornness in defending whatever opinion we have embraced. The other is a certain carelessness and abhorrence of freely doing that which seems to be convenient and needed, whenever there is no absolute necessity to compel them to perform or not perform their duty. The first of these defects may be prevented by a lasting uniting of all their wills and affections together. The latter may be remedied by the constituting of such a power as may be able to inflict a present and sensible penalty upon those who refuse to contribute to the public safety.

            The wills and affections of a great number of people cannot be united by any better means, than when everyone is willing to submit his will to the will of one particular person, or one assembly of people. Thus, afterwards whatever he or they shall will or determine concerning any matters or things necessary for the public safety, shall be considered the will of all and every particular person.

            Now such a kind of power, as may be formidable to all, can have no better means for being constituted among a great number of people, than when all and everyone will oblige themselves, to make use of their strength after that manner, as he will command, to whom all persons must submit and resign the ordering and direction of their united forces. When there is a union made of their wills and forces, then this multitude of people may be said to be animated and incorporated into a firm and lasting society.


Two Covenants and a Constitution

Further, so that any society may grow together in a normal manner, there are required two covenants, and one decree, or constitution. First, of all those many, who are supposed to be in a natural liberty, when they are joined together for the forming and constituting of any civil society, every person enters into a covenant with each other, that they are willing to come into one and the same lasting alliance and fellowship, and to carry on the methods of their safety and security by a common consultation and management among themselves. In a word, they are willing to be made fellow members of the same society. It is necessary that each and every person consents and agrees to this covenant, and he that does not give his consent remains excluded from such society.

            After this covenant, it is necessary that there should be a constitution agreed on by a public decree, setting forth what form of government is to be imposed upon. For, until this is determined, nothing can be transacted with any certainty that may contribute to public safety.

            After this decree concerning the form of government, there is the need for another covenant, when he or they are nominated and constituted upon whom the government of this rising society is conferred. By this covenant, the persons that are to govern obligate themselves to take care of the common safety, and, in like manner, the other members obligate themselves to submit obedience to them. Also, through this all persons submit their will to the will and pleasure of him (or them), and at the same time they convey and hand over to him (or them) the power of making use of, and applying their united strength, as will seem most convenient for the public security. When this covenant is duly and rightly executed, then, finally, there arises a complete and regular government. . . .


Governments Ordained By God

What we have said concerning the origin of civil societies in no way contradicts the fact that civil government is truly said to be from God. For it is his will that human practices should be ordered according to the laws of nature. Yet, given the multiplication of people, human life would become so horrid and confused that hardly any room would be left for natural law to exert its authority. Since the exercise of natural law would be greatly improved by instituting civil societies, and since he who commands the end must be supposed to command likewise the means necessary to the said end, we conclude the following. God also by the mediation of the dictates of reason is to be understood previously to have willed that people (when they were multiplied) should construct and constitute civil societies that are, as it were, animated with supreme authority. The degrees of this he explicitly approves of in divine law, ratifying their divine institution by particular laws, and declaring that God himself takes them into his special care and protection. . . .



2.17. Alliances that interchangeably passed between sovereign governments are of good use both in times of war and peace. They may be divided, in respect of their subject, either into those that reinforce the duty already required of us from the law of nature, or those that add something extra to the precepts of the law (at least they determine their obligation to such or such particular actions, which before seemed indefinite).

            By the first sort are meant treaties of peace, wherein nothing more is agreed upon than the simple exercise of humanity towards each other, or avoidance of harm and violence. Or, perhaps, they may establish a general sort of friendship between them, not mentioning particulars. Or, they may fix the rules of hospitality and commerce, according to the directions of the law of nature.

            The others of the latter sort, are called leagues, and are either equal or unequal. Equal leagues are so far composed of the same conditions on both sides, that they not only promise what is equal absolutely, or at least in proportion to the abilities of the person; but they stipulate in such a manner too, that neither party is to the other harmful, or in a worse condition.

            Unequal leagues are those, wherein conditions are agreed upon that are unequal, and render one side worse than the other. This inequality may be either on the part of the superior, or else of the inferior confederate. For if the superior confederate engages to send the other help, unconditionally, not accepting of any terms from him, or engages to send a greater proportion of them than he, the inequality lies upon the superior. But if the league requires of the inferior confederate the performance of more things towards the superior than the superior performs towards him, the inequality there no less evidently lies on the side of the inferior.

            Among the conditions required of an inferior ally, some contain a diminution of his sovereign power, restraining him from the exercise thereof in certain cases without the superior’s consent. Others impose no such prejudice upon his sovereignty, but oblige him to the performance of those we call transitory duties, which once done, are ended altogether. Some of these are to discharge the pay of the other’s army; to restore the expenses of the war; to give a certain sum of money; to demolish his fortifications, deliver hostages, surrender his ships, arms, etc. Yet neither do some perpetual duties diminish the sovereignty of a prince. As, to have the same friends and enemies with another, though the other be not reciprocally engaged to have the same with him: to be obliged to erect no fortifications here, nor to sail there, etc. To be bound to pay some certain friendly reverence to the other’s majesty, and to conform with modesty to his pleasure.

            Both these sorts of leagues, as well equal as the unequal, are commonly contracted upon various reasons so that they especially produce effects of the strongest and most binding nature, and tend to join many nations in a league that is to last forever. However, the common subject of the leagues most in use is either the preservation of commerce, or the furnishing of help in a war (either offensive or defensive).


Source: Samuel Pufendorf, The Duty of Man and Citizen (1673), tr. Andrew Tooke.


Questions for Review

1. In the section on unsociable human qualities, what the qualities that Pufendorf describes?

2. In the section on duties to God, oneself and others, how do each of these sets of duties connect with the highest principle of natural law to be sociable?

3. In the section on the creation of society, what are the disadvantages and advantages of living in communities and societies with others?

4. In the section on government needed to enforce the social contract, what are the two faults of human nature, and how does the creation of a ruler address these faults?

5. In the section on alliances, what are different categories of alliances that Pufendorf describes?


Questions for Analysis

1. In the section on self-preservation, Pufendorf describes the natural condition of humans in a very dismal way. How does this differ from Hobbes’s equally gloomy account of the state of nature?

2. In the section on natural laws authored by God, describe the relation between God and natural law as Pufendorf describes it, and discuss how it differs from Grotius’s view of God and natural law.

3. In three sections Pufendorf describes the unsocial aspects of human nature (i.e., in “self-preservation,” “disadvantages of living in large communities,” and “government needed to enforce the social contract”). List these and discuss whether his theory adequately explains how we can rise above these to form a peaceful society.

4. In the section on two covenants and a constitution, Pufendorf describes the three types of alliances that we need to form in order to create a functioning community and government. Discuss whether all of these alliances are really needed, or whether he has even left out other types of alliances that are necessary.

5. In the section on governments ordained by God, Pufendorf discusses the between God and government. Dante also addresses this issue in On Monarchy, particularly in the section on the separate domains of temporal and spiritual powers. Are Pufendorf and Dante on the same page? Explain.








Baruch (Benedict) Spinoza


Baruch (Benedict) Spinoza (1632–1677)





17.1. No one can transfer all of his rights to the sovereign power

The theory put forward in the last chapter (of the universal rights of the sovereign power, and of the natural rights of the individual transferred thereto) corresponds in many respects with actual practice. However, though practice may be so arranged as to conform to it more and more, it must nevertheless always remain in many respects purely ideal. No one can ever so completely transfer to another his power and, consequently, his rights, as to cease to be a man. Nor can there ever be a power so sovereign that it can carry out every possible wish. It will always be useless to order a subject to hate what he believes brings him advantage, or to love what brings him loss, or not to be offended at insults, or not to wish to be free from fear, or a hundred other things of the sort, which necessarily follow from the laws of human nature. So much, I think, is abundantly shown by experience. For men have never so far relinquished their power as to cease to be an object of fear to the rulers who received such power and right. And dominions have always been in as much danger from their own subjects as from external enemies. If it were really the case that men could be deprived of their natural rights so completely as never to have any further influence on affairs (except with the permission of the holders of sovereign right), it would then be possible to maintain without punishment the most violent tyranny, which, I suppose, no one would for an instant admit.

            We must, therefore, grant that every man retains some part of his right, which depends on his own decision, and no one else's.

            However, in order to correctly understand the extent of the sovereign's right and power, we must take notice that it does not cover only those actions to which it can compel men by fear, but absolutely every action which it can induce men to perform. For, it is the fact of obedience, not the motive for obedience, which makes a man a subject.

            Whatever is the cause which leads a man to obey the commands of the sovereign—whether it is fear or hope, or love of his country, or any other emotion—the fact remains that the man takes direction with himself, and nevertheless acts as his sovereign orders. We must not, therefore, assert that all actions resulting from a man's deliberation with himself are done in obedience to the rights of the individual rather than the sovereign. As a matter of fact, all actions spring from a man's deliberation with himself, whether the determining motive is love or fear of punishment. Therefore, either dominion does not exist, and has no rights over its subjects, or else it extends over every instance in which it can prevail on men to decide to obey it. Consequently, every action which a subject performs in accordance with the commands of the sovereign is performed in virtue of his submission to the sovereign, and not in virtue of his own authority. This stands regardless of whether such action springs from love, or fear, or (as is more frequently the case) from hope and fear together, or from reverence, compounded with fear and admiration, or, indeed, any motive whatever.

            This point is made still clearer by the fact that obedience does not consist so much in the outward act as in the mental state of the person obeying. Thus he is most under the dominion of another who with his whole heart determines to obey another's commands. Consequently the firmest dominion belongs to the sovereign who has most influence over the minds of his subjects. If those who are most feared possessed the firmest dominion, the firmest dominion would belong to the subjects of a tyrant, for they are always greatly feared by their ruler. Furthermore, though it is impossible to govern the mind as completely as the tongue, nevertheless minds are, to a certain extent, under the control of the sovereign. For he can in many ways bring it about that the greatest part of his subjects should follow his wishes in their beliefs, their loves, and their hates. Though such emotions do not arise at the express command of the sovereign, experience shows that they often result from the authority of his power and from his direction. In other words, they result in virtue of his right. We may, therefore, without doing violence to our understanding, conceive of men who follow the prompting of their sovereign in their beliefs, their loves, their hates, their contempt, and all other emotions whatsoever.

            Though the powers of government, as thus conceived, are sufficiently ample, they can never become large enough to execute every possible wish of their possessors. This, I think, I have already shown clearly enough. . . .





20.1 The Mind is not Subject to State Authority

If men's minds were as easily controlled as their tongues, every king would sit safely on his throne, and government by compulsion would cease. For every subject would shape his life according to the intentions of his rulers, and would consider a thing true or false, good or evil, just or unjust, in obedience to their dictates. However, we have shown already (Chapter 17) that no man's mind can possibly lie wholly at the disposition of another, for no one can willingly transfer his natural right of free reason and judgment, or be compelled to do so. For this reason, a government which attempts to control minds is deemed tyrannical. It is considered an abuse of sovereignty, and a usurpation of the rights of subjects, to seek to prescribe what shall be accepted as true, or rejected as false, or what opinions should motivate men in their worship of God. All these questions fall within a man's natural right, which he cannot renounce even with his own consent.

            I admit that human judgment can be biased in many ways, and to an almost incredible degree. Thus, while exempt from direct external control, it may be so dependent on another man's words, that it may justly be said to be ruled by him. But although this influence is carried to great lengths, it has never gone so far as to invalidate the statement that every man's understanding is his own, and that brains are as diverse as palates.

            Moses, not by fraud, but by Divine virtue, gained such a hold over popular judgment that he was considered superhuman, and believed to speak and act through the inspiration of the Deity. Nevertheless, even he could not escape murmurs and evil interpretations. How much less, then, can other monarchs avoid them! Yet such unlimited power, if it exists at all, must belong to a monarch, and least of all to a democracy, where the whole (or a great part) of the people exercise authority collectively. This is a fact which I think everyone can explain for himself.

            Thus, however unlimited the power of a sovereign may be, however implicitly it is trusted as the exponent of law and religion, it can never prevent men from forming judgments according to their intellect, or being influenced by any given emotion. It is true that it has the right to treat as enemies all men whose opinions do not, on all subjects, entirely coincide with its own. However, we are not discussing its strict rights, but its proper course of action. I grant that it has the right to rule in the most violent manner, and to put citizens to death for very trivial causes, but no one supposes it can do this with the approval of sound judgment. Rather, insofar as such things cannot be done without extreme peril to itself, we may even deny that it has the absolute power to do them, or, consequently, the absolute right. For the rights of the sovereign are limited by his power.


20.2. The Mind should not be Subject to State Authority

Thus, no one can abdicate his freedom of judgment and feeling, and every man is by indefeasible natural right the master of his own thoughts. It follows from this that men, thinking in different and contradictory ways, cannot without disastrous results be compelled to speak only according to the dictates of the supreme power. Not even the most experienced, to say nothing of the multitude, know how to keep silent. Men's common failing is to confide their plans to others, even when there is need for secrecy. Thus a government would be most harsh which deprived the individual of his freedom of saying and teaching what he thought. And it would be moderate if such freedom were granted. Still, we cannot deny that authority may be injured just as much by words as by actions. Hence, although the freedom we are discussing cannot be entirely denied to subjects, its unlimited concession would be most destructive. We must, therefore, now inquire, how far such freedom can and ought to be conceded without danger to the peace of the state, or the power of the rulers, and this, as I said at the beginning of Chapter 16, is my principal object. From the explanation given above regarding the foundations of a state, it plainly follows that the ultimate aim of government is not to rule or restrain by fear, nor to demand obedience, but, on the contrary, to free every man from fear, so that he may live in all possible security. In other words, it is to strengthen his natural right to exist and work, without injury to himself or others.

            No, the object of government is not to change men from rational beings into animals or puppets, but to enable them to develop their minds and bodies in security, and to employ their reason unshackled. Neither showing hatred, anger, or deceit, nor watched with the eyes of jealousy and injustice. In fact, the true aim of government is liberty.

            Now, we have seen that in forming a state the power of making laws must either be vested in the body of the citizens, or in a portion of them, or in one man. Men’s free judgments are very diverse, each one thinking that he alone knows everything, and complete unanimity of feeling and speech is out of the question; for these reasons it is impossible to preserve peace, unless individuals give up their right of acting entirely on their own judgment.


20.3. Disapprovers of a Law should be Treated Well

Therefore, the individual justly relinquishes the right of free action, though not of free reason and judgment; no one can act against the authorities without danger to the state, though his feelings and judgment may be in conflict with them. He may even speak against them, provided that he does so from rational conviction, not from fraud, anger, or hatred, and provided that he does not attempt to introduce any change on his private authority.

            Suppose, for example, that a man shows that a law is opposed to sound reason, and should therefore be repealed. Suppose that he submits his opinion to the judgment of the authorities (who, alone, have the right of making and repealing laws), and all the while does not act contrary to that law. He has thus served the state with merit, and has behaved as a good citizen should. But if he accuses the authorities of injustice, and stirs up the people against them, or if he seditiously tries to abolish the law without their consent, he is a mere agitator and rebel.

            Thus we see how an individual may declare and teach what he believes, without injury to the authority of his rulers, or to the public peace. Namely, he does so by leaving in their hands the entire power of legislation as it affects action, and by doing nothing against their laws, even though he is often compelled to act in contradiction to what he believes, and openly feels, to be best.

            Such a course can be taken without detriment to justice and duty. In fact it is the course which a just and dutiful man would adopt. We have shown that justice depends on the laws of the authorities, so that no one can be just who violates their accepted decrees. Rather, as we have pointed out in the preceding chapter, the highest regard for duty is exercised in maintaining public peace and tranquility, and these could not be preserved if every man were to live as he pleased. Therefore it is simply undutiful for a man to act contrary to his country's laws; for, if the practice became universal the ruin of states would necessarily follow.

            Hence, so long as a man acts in obedience to the laws of his rulers, he in no way violates his reason. For in obedience to reason he transferred the right of controlling his actions from his own hands to theirs. We can confirm this doctrine from actual practice, for in a conference of great and small powers, schemes are seldom carried unanimously, yet all unite in carrying out what is decided on, whether they voted for or against. But I return to my proposition.

            From the fundamental notions of a state, we have discovered how a man may exercise free judgment without detriment to the supreme power. From the same premises we can no less easily determine what opinions would be seditious. Clearly, there are those which by their very nature nullify the compact through which the right of free action was given up. Consider a man who holds that the supreme power has no rights over him, or that promises ought not to be kept, or that everyone should live as he pleases, or other doctrines of this nature in direct opposition to the above-mentioned contract. He is seditious, not so much from his actual opinions and judgment, as from the deeds which they involve. For he who maintains such theories revokes the contract which, tacitly or openly, he made with his rulers. Other opinions which do not involve acts violating the contract, such as revenge, anger, and the like, are not seditious—unless it is in some corrupt state, where superstitious and ambitious people, unable to endure men of learning, are so popular with the multitude that their word is more valued than the law.

            However, I do not deny that there are some doctrines which, while they are apparently only concerned with abstract truths and falsehoods, are yet put forward and published with unworthy motives. This question we have discussed in Chapter 15, and shown that reason should nevertheless remain unshackled. We should hold to the principle that a man's loyalty to the state should be judged from his actions only, like his loyalty to God, namely, from his charity towards his neighbors. If we do this, we cannot doubt that the best government will allow freedom of philosophical speculation, no less than of religious belief. I confess that from such freedom inconveniences may sometimes arise. But what question was ever settled so wisely that no abuses could possibly arise from them? He who seeks to regulate everything by law is more likely to arouse vices than to reform them. It is best to grant what cannot be abolished, even though it is in itself harmful. Consider how many evils result from luxury, envy, avarice, drunkenness, and the like; yet, even though they are vices, they are tolerated because they cannot be prevented by legal enactments. How much more then should free thought be granted, considering that it is in itself a virtue and that it cannot be crushed! Besides, the evil results can easily be checked, as I will show, by the secular authorities, not to mention that such freedom is absolutely necessary for progress in science and the liberal arts. For no man follows such pursuits to advantage unless his judgment is entirely free and unhampered.

            But let us grant that freedom may be crushed, and men be so bound down, that they do not dare to utter a whisper, except at the bidding of their rulers. Nevertheless this can never be carried to the degree of making them think according to authority. For, the necessary consequences would be that men would daily be thinking one thing and saying another, to the corruption of honesty, that mainstay of government, and to the fostering of hateful flattery and disloyalty, from which arise stratagems, and the corruption of every good art.

            It is far from possible to impose uniformity of speech. For the more rulers strive to curtail freedom of speech, the more obstinately they are resisted. This is not indeed done by the greedy, the flatterers, and other numskulls, who think supreme salvation consists in filling their stomachs and gloating over their money-bags. Rather, it is done by those whom good education, sound morality, and virtue have made freer. Men, as generally constituted, are quite prone to resent someone labeling opinions as criminal which men believe to be true; they also resent someone condemning as wicked those things that inspire men with reverence towards God and man. Hence they are ready to reject the laws and conspire against the authorities, thinking it not shameful but honorable to stir up seditions and perpetuate any sort of crime with this end in view. This being the constitution of human nature, we see that laws directed against opinions affect the generous-minded rather than the wicked; they are adapted less for coercing criminals than for irritating the upright. Thus, such laws cannot be maintained without great peril to the state.

            Moreover, such laws are almost always useless. For, those who hold that the opinions disapproved of are really sound, cannot possibly obey the law. Nevertheless, those who already reject them as false, accept the law as a kind of privilege, and make such superior claims about it that authorities are powerless to repeal it, even if such a course is afterwards desired.


Intolerance harms Science and Liberal Arts

            To these considerations may be added what we said in Chapter 18 in our examination of the history of the Hebrews. And, lastly, how many schisms have arisen in the Church from the attempt of the authorities to decide by law the intricacies of theological controversy? Men would not strive so maliciously, nor would such fury sway their minds, if they were not allured by the hope of getting the law and the authorities on their side, of triumphing over their adversaries in the sight of an applauding multitude, and of acquiring honorable distinctions. This is taught not only by reason but by daily examples. For laws of this kind establishing what every man shall believe and forbidding anyone to speak or write to the contrary, have often been passed, to absorb or concede to the anger of those who cannot tolerate men of enlightenment. Through such harsh and crooked enactments, these intolerant people can easily turn the devotion of the masses into rage and direct it against whom they will. How much better would it be to restrain popular anger and rage, instead of passing useless laws, which can only be broken by those who love virtue and the liberal arts, thus paring down the state till it is too small to protect men of talent. What greater misfortune for a state can be conceived then that honorable men should be sent like criminals into exile, because they hold diverse opinions which they cannot disguise? What, I say, can be more hurtful than that men who have committed no crime or wickedness should, simply because they are enlightened, be treated as enemies and put to death, and that the scaffold, the terror of evil-doers, should become the arena where the highest examples of tolerance and virtue are displayed to the people with all the marks of disgrace that authority can devise?

            He that knows himself to be upright does not fear the death of a criminal, and shrinks from no punishment. His mind is not wrung with remorse for any disgraceful deed: he holds that death in a good cause is no punishment, but an honor, and that death for freedom is glory.

            What purpose then is served by the death of such men, what example is proclaimed? The cause for which they die is unknown to the idle and the foolish, hateful to the turbulent, loved by the upright. The only lesson we can draw from such scenes is to flatter the persecutor, or else to imitate the victim.

            If formal assent is not to be esteemed above conviction, and if governments are to retain a firm hold of authority and not be compelled to yield to agitators, it is necessary that freedom of judgment should be granted, so that men may live together in harmony, however diverse, or even openly contradictory their opinions may be. We cannot doubt that such is the best system of government and open to the fewest objections, since it is the one most in harmony with human nature. In a democracy (the most natural form of government, as we have shown in Chapter 16.) everyone submits to the control of authority over his actions, but not over his judgment and reason. That is, seeing that all people cannot think alike, the voice of the majority has the force of law, subject to repeal if circumstances bring about a change of opinion. In proportion as the power of free judgment is withheld we depart from the natural condition of mankind, and consequently the government becomes more tyrannical.


20.4. Liberty of Opinion is Beneficial

In order to prove that from such freedom no inconvenience arises, which cannot easily be checked by the exercise of the sovereign power, and that men's actions can easily be kept in bounds, though their opinions be at open variance, it will be well to cite an example. Such an one is not very, far to seek. The city of Amsterdam reaps the fruit of this freedom in its own great prosperity and in the admiration of all other people. For in this most flourishing state, and most splendid city, men of every nation and religion live together in the greatest harmony, and ask no questions before trusting their goods to a fellow-citizen, save whether he be rich or poor, and whether he generally acts honestly, or the reverse. His religion and sect is considered of no importance: for it has no effect before the judges in gaining or losing a cause, and there is no sect so despised that its followers, provided that they harm no one, pay every man his due, and live uprightly, are deprived of the protection of the magisterial authority.

            On the other hand, when the religious controversy between Remonstrants and Counter-Remonstrants began to be taken up by politicians and the States, it grew into a schism. This abundantly showed that laws dealing with religion and seeking to settle its controversies are much more calculated to irritate than to reform, and that they give rise to extremism. Further, it was seen that schisms do not originate in a love of truth, which is a source of courtesy and gentleness, but rather in an uncontrolled desire for supremacy. From all these considerations it is clearer than the sun at noonday, that the true schismatics are those who condemn other men's writings, and seditiously stir up the quarrelsome masses against their authors. It is not those authors themselves, who generally write only for the learned, and appeal solely to reason. In fact, the real disturbers of the peace are those who, in a free state, seek to curtail the liberty of judgment which they are unable to tyrannize over.


Summary of Argument

I have thus shown the following:

            1. That it is impossible to deprive men of the liberty of saying what they think.

            2. That such liberty can be conceded to every man without injuring the rights and authority of the sovereign power, and that every man may retain it without injury to such rights, provided that he does not presume upon it to the extent of introducing any new rights into the state, or acting in any way contrary, to the existing laws.

            3. That every man may enjoy this liberty without detriment to the public peace, and that no inconveniences arise therefrom which cannot easily be checked.

            4. That every man may enjoy it without injury to his allegiance.

            5. That laws dealing with speculative problems are entirely useless.

            6. Lastly, that not only may such liberty be granted without prejudice to the public peace, to loyalty, and to the rights of rulers, but that it is even necessary for their preservation. For when people try to take it away, and bring to trial, not only the acts which alone are capable of offending, but also the opinions of mankind, they only succeed in surrounding their victims with an appearance of martyrdom, and raise feelings of pity and revenge rather than of terror. Uprightness and good faith are thus corrupted, flatterers and traitors are encouraged, and sectarians triumph, inasmuch as concessions have been made to their animosity, and they have gained the state authorization of the doctrines of which they are the interpreters. Hence they wrongfully assume to themselves the state authority and rights. They do not hesitate to assert that they have been directly chosen by God, and that their laws are Divine. They claim that, while the laws of the state are human, and such laws should therefore yield obedience to the laws of God—in other words, to their own laws. Everyone must see that this is not a state of affairs conducive to public welfare. Thus, as we have shown in Chapter 18, the safest path for a state is to lay down the rule that religion is comprised solely in the exercise of charity and justice, and that the rights of rulers both sacred and secular matters should merely have to do with actions, but that every man should think what he likes and say what he thinks.

            I have thus fulfilled the task I set myself in this treatise.



It remains only to call attention to the fact that I have written nothing which I do not most willingly submit to the examination and approval of my country's rulers. I am willing to retract anything which they shall decide to be contrary to the laws, or prejudicial to the public good. I know that I am a man, and as a man I am liable to error. But against error I have taken scrupulous care, and have striven to keep in entire accordance with the laws of my country, with loyalty, and with morality.


Source: Baruch (Benedict) Spinoza, Theologico-Political Treatise (Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, 1670), tr. R. H. M. Elwes



Questions for Review







Questions for Analysis