The Rights of Man HTML version
Reason and Ignorance, the opposites of each other, influence the great bulk of mankind.
If either of these can be rendered sufficiently extensive in a country, the machinery of
Government goes easily on. Reason obeys itself; and Ignorance submits to whatever is
dictated to it.
The two modes of the Government which prevail in the world, are:
First, Government by election and representation.
Secondly, Government by hereditary succession.
The former is generally known by the name of republic; the latter by that of monarchy
Those two distinct and opposite forms erect themselves on the two distinct and opposite
bases of Reason and Ignorance.- As the exercise of Government requires talents and
abilities, and as talents and abilities cannot have hereditary descent, it is evident that
hereditary succession requires a belief from man to which his reason cannot subscribe,
and which can only be established upon his ignorance; and the more ignorant any country
is, the better it is fitted for this species of Government.
On the contrary, Government, in a well-constituted republic, requires no belief from man
beyond what his reason can give. He sees the rationale of the whole system, its origin and
its operation; and as it is best supported when best understood, the human faculties act
with boldness, and acquire, under this form of government, a gigantic manliness.
As, therefore, each of those forms acts on a different base, the one moving freely by the
aid of reason, the other by ignorance; we have next to consider, what it is that gives
motion to that species of Government which is called mixed Government, or, as it is
sometimes ludicrously styled, a Government of this, that and t' other.
The moving power in this species of Government is, of necessity, Corruption. However
imperfect election and representation may be in mixed Governments, they still give
exercise to a greater portion of reason than is convenient to the hereditary Part; and
therefore it becomes necessary to buy the reason up. A mixed Government is an
imperfect everything, cementing and soldering the discordant parts together by
corruption, to act as a whole. Mr. Burke appears highly disgusted that France, since she
had resolved on a revolution, did not adopt what he calls "A British Constitution"; and
the regretful manner in which he expresses himself on this occasion implies a suspicion
that the British Constitution needed something to keep its defects in countenance.
In mixed Governments there is no responsibility: the parts cover each other till
responsibility is lost; and the corruption which moves the machine, contrives at the same
time its own escape. When it is laid down as a maxim, that a King can do no wrong, it