Cookie Consent

Sunday, November 17, 2013

More Craft Than Kindness

        John Trenchard, and especially Thomas Gordon, were very anti-Catholic writers.  But their Cato's Letters are an interesting example of Whig writing from the elegant eighteenth.  The following is from Cato's Letters #62.

       Idiots and lunaticks indeed, who cannot take care of themselves, must be taken care of by others:  But whilst men have their five senses, I cannot see what the magistrate has to do with actions by which the society cannot be affected;  and where he meddles with such, he meddles impertinently or tyrannically.  Must the magistrate tie up every man's legs, because some men fall into ditches?  Or, must he put out their eyes, because with them they see lying vanities?  Or, would it become the wisdom and care of governors to establish a travelling society, to prevent people, by a proper confinement, from throwing themselves into wells, or over precipices;  or to endow a fraternity of physicians and surgeons all over the nation, to take care of their subjects' health, without being consulted;  and to vomit, bleed, purge, and scarify them at pleasure, whether they would or no, just as these established judges of health should think fit?  If this were the case, what a stir and hubbub should we soon see kept about the established potions and lancets?  Every man, woman, or child, though ever so healthy, must be a patient, or woe be to them!  The best diet and medicines would soon grow pernicious from any other hand;  and their pills alone, however ridiculous, insufficient, or distasteful, would be attended with a blessing.
       Let people alone, and they will take care of themselves, and do it best;  and if they do not, a sufficient punishment will follow their neglect, without the magistrate's interposition and penalties.  It is plain, that such busy care and officious intrusion into the personal affairs, or private actions, thoughts, and imaginations of men, has in it more craft than kindness;  and is only a device to mislead people, and pick their pockets, under the false pretence of the publick and their private good.  To quarrel with any man for his opinions, humours, or the fashion of his clothes, is an offense taken without being given.  What is it to a magistrate how I wash my hands, or cut my corns;  what fashion or colours I wear, or what notions I entertain, or what gestures I use, or what words I pronounce, when they please me, and do him and my neighbour no hurt?  As well may he determine the colour of my hair, and control my shape and features.
       True and impartial liberty is therefore the right of every man to pursue the natural, reasonable, and religious dictates of his own mind;  to think what he will, and act as he thinks, provided he acts not to the prejudice of another;  to spend his own money himself, and lay out the produce of his labour his own way;  and to labour for his own pleasure and profit, and not for others who are idle, and would live and riot by pillaging and oppressing him, and those that are like him.
        So that civil government is only a partial restraint put by the laws of agreement and society upon natural and absolute liberty, which might otherwise grow licentious:  And tyranny is an unlimited restraint put upon natural liberty, by the will of one or a few.  Magistracy, amongst a free people, is the exercise of power for the sake of the people;  and tyrants abuse the people, for the sake of power.  Free government is the protecting the people in their liberty by stated rules:  Tyranny is a brutish struggle for unlimited liberty to one or a few, who would rob all others of their liberty, and act by no rule but lawless lust.

No comments: