The Rights of Man HTML version

Miscellaneous Chapter
To prevent interrupting the argument in the preceding part of this work, or the narrative
that follows it, I reserved some observations to be thrown together in a Miscellaneous
Chapter; by which variety might not be censured for confusion. Mr. Burke's book is all
Miscellany. His intention was to make an attack on the French Revolution; but instead of
proceeding with an orderly arrangement, he has stormed it with a mob of ideas tumbling
over and destroying one another.
But this confusion and contradiction in Mr. Burke's Book is easily accounted for.- When
a man in a wrong cause attempts to steer his course by anything else than some polar
truth or principle, he is sure to be lost. It is beyond the compass of his capacity to keep all
the parts of an argument together, and make them unite in one issue, by any other means
than having this guide always in view. Neither memory nor invention will supply the
want of it. The former fails him, and the latter betrays him.
Notwithstanding the nonsense, for it deserves no better name, that Mr. Burke has asserted
about hereditary rights, and hereditary succession, and that a Nation has not a right to
form a Government of itself; it happened to fall in his way to give some account of what
Government is. "Government," says he, "is a contrivance of human wisdom."
Admitting that government is a contrivance of human wisdom, it must necessarily follow,
that hereditary succession, and hereditary rights (as they are called), can make no part of
it, because it is impossible to make wisdom hereditary; and on the other hand, that cannot
be a wise contrivance, which in its operation may commit the government of a nation to
the wisdom of an idiot. The ground which Mr. Burke now takes is fatal to every part of
his cause. The argument changes from hereditary rights to hereditary wisdom; and the
question is, Who is the wisest man? He must now show that every one in the line of
hereditary succession was a Solomon, or his title is not good to be a king. What a stroke
has Mr. Burke now made! To use a sailor's phrase, he has swabbed the deck, and scarcely
left a name legible in the list of Kings; and he has mowed down and thinned the House of
Peers, with a scythe as formidable as Death and Time.
But Mr. Burke appears to have been aware of this retort; and he has taken care to guard
against it, by making government to be not only a contrivance of human wisdom, but a
monopoly of wisdom. He puts the nation as fools on one side, and places his government
of wisdom, all wise men of Gotham, on the other side; and he then proclaims, and says
that "Men have a Right that their Wants should be provided for by this wisdom." Having
thus made proclamation, he next proceeds to explain to them what their wants are, and
also what their rights are. In this he has succeeded dextrously, for he makes their wants to
be a want of wisdom; but as this is cold comfort, he then informs them, that they have a
right (not to any of the wisdom) but to be governed by it; and in order to impress them
with a solemn reverence for this monopoly-government of wisdom, and of its vast
capacity for all purposes, possible or impossible, right or wrong, he proceeds with
astrological mysterious importance, to tell to them its powers in these words: "The rights
of men in government are their advantages; and these are often in balance between