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The spirit of philosophy which peculiarly distinguishes De LoLme. the present age, after having corrected a number of errors fatal to society, seems now to be directed towards the principles of society itself; and we see prejudices vanish which are difficult to overcome, in proportion as it is dangerous to attack them*. This rising freedom of sentiment, the necessary forerunner of political freedom, led me to imagine that it would not be unacceptable to the public to be made acquainted with the principles of a constitution on which the eye of curiosity seems now to be universally turned, and which, though celebrated as a model of perfection, is yet but little known to its admirers.
I am aware that it will be deemed presumptuous in a man, who has passed the greatest part of his life out of England, to attempt a delineation of the English government; a system which is supposed to be so complicated as not to be understood or developed, but by those who have been initiated in the mysteries of it from their infancy.
As every popular notion which may contribute to the support of an arbitrary government is at all times vigilantly protected by the whole strength of it, political prejudices are last of all, if ever, shaken off by a nation subjected to such a government. A great change in this respect, however, has of late taken place in France, where this book was first published ; and opinions are now discussed there, and tenets avowed, which, in the time of Louis XIV., would have appeared downright blasphemy; it is to this an allusion is made above.
But, though a foreigner in England, yet, as a native of a free country, I am no stranger to those circumstances which constitute or characterize liberty. Even the great disproportion between the republic of which I am a member (and in which I formed my principles) and the British empire, has perhaps only contributed to facilitate my political inquiries.
As the mathematician, the better to discover the proportions he investigates, begins with freeing his equation from coefficients, or such other quantities as only perplex without properly constituting it; so it may be advantageous, to the inquirer after the causes that produce the equilibrium of a government, to have previously studied them, disengaged from the apparatus of fleets, armies, foreign trade, distant and extensive dominions; in a word, from all those brilliant circumstances which so greatly affect the external appearance of a powerful society, but have no essential connexion with the real principles of it.
It is upon the passions of mankind, that is, upon causes which are unalterable, that the action of the various parts of a state depends. The machine may vary as to its dimensions, but its movement and acting springs still remain intrinsically the same; and that time cannot be considered as lost which has been spent in seeing them act and move in a narrower circle.
One other consideration I will suggest, which is, that the very circumstance of being a foreigner may of itself be attended, in this case, with a degree of advantage. The English themselves (the observation cannot give them any offence) having their eyes open, as I
may say, upon their liberty, from their first entrance into life, are perhaps too much familiarized DE LOLME. with its enjoyment to inquire, with real concern, into its causes. Having acquired practical notions of their government long before they have meditated on it, and these notions being slowly and gradually imbibed, they at length behold it without any high degree of sensibility; and they seem to me, in this respect, to be like the recluse inhabitant of a palace, who is perhaps in the worst situation for attaining a complete idea of the whole, and never experienced the striking effect of its external structure and elevation: or, if you please, like a man who, having always had a beautiful and extensive scene before his eyes, continues for ever to view it with indifference.
But a stranger,—beholding at once the various parts of a constitution displayed before him, which, at the same time that it carries liberty to its height, has guarded against inconveniences seemingly inevitable; beholding, in short, those things carried into execution which he had ever regarded as more desirable than possible,—is struck with a kind of admiration; and it is necessary to be thus strongly affected by objects, to be enabled to reach the general principle which
Not that I mean to insinuate that I have penetrated with more acuteness into the constitution of England than others; my only design, in the above observations, was to obviate an unfavourable, though natural prepossession; and if, either in treating of the causes which originally produced the English liberty, or of those by which it continues to be maintained, my observations should be found new or singular, I hope
DE LOLME. the English reader will not condemn them, but where
they shall be found inconsistent with history, or with daily experience. Of readers in general I also request, that they will not judge of the principles I shall lay down, but from their relation to those of human nature; a consideration which is almost the only one essential, and has been hitherto too much neglected by the writers on the subject of government.