Progress and Poverty

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

I recently read Andrew Bisset’s The Strength of Nations on a whim, because it was mentioned in Henry George’s Progress and Poverty, which argues that land is fundamentally different from other forms of property:

The English yeoman — the sturdy breed who won Crecy, and Poictiers, and Agincourt — is as extinct as the mastodon. The Scottish clansman, whose right to the soil of his native hills was then as undisputed as that of his chieftain, has been driven out to make room for the sheep ranges or deer parks of that chieftain’s descendant; the tribal right of the Irishman has been turned into a tenancy-at-will. Thirty thousand men have legal power to expel the whole population from five-sixths of the British Islands, and the vast majority of the British people have no right whatever to their native land save to walk the streets or trudge the roads.
And so the abolition of the military tenures in England by the Long Parliament, ratified after the accession of Charles II, though simply an appropriation of public revenues by the feudal land holders, who thus got rid of the consideration on which they held the common property of the nation, and saddled it on the people at large, in the taxation of all consumers, has long been characterized, and is still held up in the law books, as a triumph of the spirit of freedom.

Yet here is the source of the immense debt and heavy taxation of England. Had the form of these feudal dues been simply changed into one better adapted to the changed times, English wars need never have occasioned the incurring of debt to the amount of a single pound, and the labor and capital of England need not have been taxed a single farthing for the maintenance of a military establishment. All this would have come from rent, which the land holders since that time have appropriated to themselves — from the tax which land ownership levies on the earnings of labor and capital. The land holders of England got their land on terms which required them even in the sparse population of Norman days to put in the field, upon call, sixty thousand perfectly equipped horsemen,53 and on the further condition of various fines and incidents which amounted to a considerable part of the rent. It would probably be a low estimate to put the pecuniary value of these various services and dues at one-half the rental value of the land.

Had the land holders been kept to this contract and no land been permitted to be inclosed except upon similar terms, the income accruing to the nation from English land would to-day be greater by many millions than the entire public revenues of the United Kingdom. England to-day might have enjoyed absolute free trade. There need not have been a customs duty, an excise, license, or income tax, yet all the present expenditures could be met, and a large surplus remain to be devoted to any purpose which would conduce to the comfort or well-being of the whole people.

As that passage suggests, Henry George strongly believed in a single tax on land. This makes a fair amount of economic sense, given the inelastic supply of land, but George presented it as a matter of social justice, making him an odd combination of free-market libertarian and leveling socialist — and the inspiration for the game of Monopoly.

Be sure and put up with no affronts

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

When a typical American thinks of the Puritans, Pilgrims come to mind — or maybe superstitious witch-burners. I suppose the typical Englishman thinks of Old Ironsides:

“Be sure and put up with no affronts,” was the maxim of Cromwell; and when an English merchant — a Quaker — proved to him that a ship of his had been unjustly confiscated by the French, Cromwell, having first given the Quaker a letter to Cardinal Mazarin, demanding redress within three days, but without effect, then seized and sold the two first French ships within his reach, indemnified the Quaker out of the proceeds, and paid over the surplus to the French ambassador.

General-at-Sea Blake

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

The Father of the Royal Navy, Admiral Robert Blake, was then known not as Admiral Blake, but as General-at-Sea Blake:

Blake’s business was to demand reparation for all the injuries done to the English during the civil wars. Casting anchor before Leghorn, he exacted from the Duke of Tuscany satisfaction for the losses which English commerce had sustained from him. He then sailed to Algiers, and demanded, and obtained, reparation for the robberies committed upon the English by the pirates of that place, and the release of the captives of his nation.

He next appeared before Tunis, and having there made the same demands, the Dey answered him with scorn, and bade him behold his castles. Blake’s answer to this bravado soon convinced the Dey that times were changed since Buckingham was Lord High Admiral of England. He sailed into the harbour within musket-shot of the castles, and tore them in pieces with his artillery; he then sent out his long boats, well manned, and burned every ship which lay there.” This bold action,” says Hume, “which its very temerity, perhaps, rendered safe, was executed with little loss, and filled all that part of the world with the renown of English valour.” He sent home, it is said, sixteen ships laden with the effects which he had received from several States, and no doubt in part with the English captives whom he had restored to liberty. One can hardly imagine a stranger scene than the casual presence of some of those liberated English captives, and of some of his old seamen who had shared in his unexampled achievements, in St. Margaret’s churchyard, on that memorable day, when the bones of the hero were taken from their grave and cast, like those of a masterless dog, into a pit, where they still lie.

The respect with which Blake obliged all foreigners to treat his countrymen, appears, as Dr. Johnson has observed, from the story told by Bishop Buniet, which has been often repeated since. When Blake lay before Malaga, before the war broke out with Spain, some of his sailors went ashore, and, meeting a procession of the Host, not only refused to pay any respect to it, but laughed at those who did. The people, incited by one of the priests to resent this indignity, fell upon them and beat them severely. When they returned to their ship, they complained of their ill-treatment; upon which Blake sent to demand the priest who had set the people on. The viceroy answered that, having no authority over the priests, he could not send him; to which Blake replied, “that he did not inquire into the extent of the viceroy’s authority, but that if the priest were not sent within three hours, he would burn the town.”

The viceroy then sent the priest, who pleaded the provocation given by the seamen. Blake answered, that if he had complained to him, he would have punished them severely, for he would not have his men affront the established religion of any place; but that he was angry that the Spaniards should assume that power, for he would have all the world know “that an Englishman was only to be punished by an Englishman.” So having used the priest civilly, he sent him back. This conduct greatly pleased Cromwell. He read the letter in council with great satisfaction, and said, “he hoped to make the name of an Englishman as great as ever that of a Roman had been.”

Blake certainly seems fearless:

On the 13th of April, 1657, he departed from Cadiz, and on the 20th arrived at Santa Cruz Bay, in which he found the Spanish fleet of sixteen ships disposed in a very formidable position. Blake had twenty-five ships; but the bay of Santa Cruz, shaped like a horseshoe, was defended at the entrance by a strong castle, well provided with cannon, and in the inner circuit with seven forts, all united by a line of communication, manned with musqueteers. The Spanish admiral drew up all his smaller ships close to the shore, and stationed six great galleons with their broadsides to the sea.

This formidable aspect of things, which those who did not know Blake might have thought would at least make him pause before beginning his attack, whatever sense of the danger “of the enterprise it may have produced, caused no irresolution. And the wind, blowing full into the bay, in a moment brought him among the thickest of his enemies. Here, having, with his twenty-five sail, fought for four hours with seven forts, a castle, and sixteen ships, of six of which the least was bigger than the biggest of his own ships, he silenced the castle and forts, and destroyed the whole of the Spanish fleet. The Spaniards abandoned their ships, which were sunk or burned, with all their treasure; the English ships being too much shattered in the fight to bring them away. And then the wind, suddenly shifting, carried them out of the bay.

“The whole action,” says Clarendon, ” was so incredible, that all men who knew the place wondered that any sober man, with what courage soever endowed, would ever have undertaken it; and they could hardly persuade themselves to believe what they had done; while the Spaniards comforted themselves with the belief that they were devils and not men who had destroyed them in such a manner. So much a strong resolution of bold and courageous men can bring to pass, that no resistance or advantage of ground can disappoint them; and it can hardly be imagined how small a loss the English sustained in this unparalleled action, not one ship being left behind, and the killed and wounded not exceeding two hundred men; when the slaughter on board the Spanish ships and on shore was incredible.”

Glory in Conquest

Monday, March 15th, 2010

The only glory in conquest, Andrew Bisset says — writing in 1859 — must be in the valour and military skill displayed:

A man who obtains the appointment of governor-general of the British empire in India by rhetorical displays in the British Parliament, and then, by way of adding to his rhetorical renown the military glory of a conqueror, sits and plans an annexation of new territory to an empire already much too extensive, and picks a quarrel at his desk, can have no solid title to honour from the result of such a proceeding, however ably the general who is employed under him may act.

From Men, to Black Cattle, to Sheep

Sunday, March 14th, 2010

Sometimes economic progress means moving from men, to black cattle, to sheep:

The mountainous region of the north of Scotland contained large tracts of moorland, which were anciently employed chiefly for the rearing of cattle. It was found at a later period that these extensive pastures might be employed with much greater advantage in the feeding of sheep. For this latter occupation the Highlanders were by nature and education as unfit as they were qualified for that of rearers of cattle. The result was, that the sheepfarmers of the south of Scotland made offers of large rents to the Highland chiefs, with which the Highland tenants, or tacksmen, were unable to compete; and the latter, being deprived at once of their lands and their occupation, left the country, with large numbers of those employed under them as herdsmen, and emigrated to North America and other foreign settlements.

Sir Walter Scott says that he can well recollect the indignation with which these proceedings were regarded by the ancient Highlanders. He says he remembers hearing a chief of the old school say, in sorrow and indignation, the words following: “When I was a young man, the point upon which every Highland gentleman rested his importance was the number of men whom his estate could support; the question next rested on the amount of his stock of black cattle; it is now come to respect the number of sheep; and I suppose our posterity will inquire how many rats or mice an estate will produce.”

It has not yet come to rats or mice; but red deer are superseding sheep. The clergyman of one parish said lately that within the last few years he has lost about one hundred and twenty of his small congregation, who have been obliged to leave the country where their forefathers had been settled for centuries, because their landlord, a man of enormous landed possessions, had resolved to turn a glen of some ten miles in extent into a deer forest. And it may be added that, in a late session of Parliament, the motion of a Scotch member for the equitable assessment of deer forests and other shooting grounds was set aside.

The English Constitution

Saturday, March 13th, 2010

The unwritten English constitution bears little resemblance to the written American Constitution:

The land of England was held on certain well-defined conditions, which conditions were, in the strictest sense, the purchase-money of that land. That purchase-money may be very accurately described to have been made payable as a perpetual annuity to the State, increasing in value as the land increased in value, just as tithe is payable to the clergy, and copyhold and other rents and profits to the landholders.

But the members of the Long Parliament and of the Convention Parliament of 1660 — in the face of the emphatic protest of Prynne and other sound constitutional lawyers — voted that the holders of the land of England should be totally exonerated from the future payment of this perpetual annuity, which constituted the purchase-money of their estates; and that this annuity, or purchase-money, should for the future be paid, in the shape of an excise, by other people, who held none of the land for which they were thus made to pay.

The land-owning members of Parliament used to be much more like voting shareholders. They voted on whether to fund a war or not, because they were footing the bill.

The Enormous Expense of Modern Wars

Friday, March 12th, 2010

What are the causes of the enormous expense of modern wars?, Andrew Bisset asks, in 1859 — and he first turns to David Hume for an answer:

Some writers, and particularly David Hume, seem to think that the question is solved by the consideration of the greater facilities and means for borrowing which existed after the Revolution, and did not exist before it.

In his Essay on Civil Liberty, published in 1742, Hume says: “Among the moderns, the Dutch first introduced the practice of borrowing great sums at low interest, and well nigh ruined themselves by it. Absolute princes have also contracted debt; but as an absolute prince may make a bankruptcy when he pleases, his people can never be oppressed by his debts. In popular governments, the people, and chiefly those who have the highest offices, being commonly the public creditors, it is difficult for the State to make use of this remedy; which, however it may be sometimes necessary, is always cruel and barbarous. This, therefore, seems to be an inconvenience which nearly threatens all free governments, especially our own at the present juncture of affairs. And what a strong motive is this to increase our frugality of public money, lest for want of it we be reduced by the multiplicity of taxes, or, what is worse, by our public impotence and inability for defence, to curse our very liberty, and wish ourselves in the same state of servitude with all the nations that surround us.”

Bisset sees the rising costs of war as a direct consequence of the shift away from feudalism:

Under the old English constitution, the legislating classes had a direct personal interest in keeping down the expenses of the government: that is, those who voted for wars and subsidies carried on the wars and paid the subsidies with their own blood and their own money; whereas, under the constitution substituted in the room of it, about the middle of the seventeenth century, those who voted for wars and subsidies carried on the wars and paid the subsidies with other people’s blood and other people’s money.

Those, therefore, who profess to be the advocates of good and economical government, will never attain their object till they obtain the restoration of that part at least of the principle of the old constitution, which gave to those who had the power a strong and direct interest in keeping down the expenses of the government.

A rentcharge proportioned in amount to the incidents or branches of tenure by knight-service in time of peace, and to the main trunk, or a certain number of days’ actual military service, in addition to those incidents, in time of war, would effectually accomplish its object, and save the nation from the ruin in which the system of the last two hundred years, if persisted in, will overwhelm it long before another period of two hundred years has elapsed.

I can only imagine how irresponsibly a government might behave if those in power had no incentive to keep expenses down…

Invisible Causes of Death

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

As a strong proponent of division of labor, Adam Smith favored standing armies over militias:

Among his arguments in favour of standing armies in modern times, Adam Smith enumerates the greater difficulty of preserving any considerable degree of order and prompt obedience from the noise of firearms, the smoke, and the invisible death to which every man feels himself every moment exposed, as soon as he comes within cannon-shot, and frequently a long time before the battle can be well said to be engaged. “In an ancient battle,” he says,” there was no noise but what arose from the human voice; there was no smoke, there was no invisible cause of wounds or death. Every man, till some mortal weapon actually did approach him, saw clearly that no such weapon was near him.”

It is not unworthy of remark that Hobbes endeavours to account for the courage of the London apprentices in the civil wars, on a principle the reverse of this — namely, the invisible nature of the death. “Among theirs” — that is, the parliament’s soldiers — “there were,” he says, “a great many London apprentices, who, for want of experience in the war, would have been fearful enough of death and wounds approaching visibly in glistening swords; but for want of judgment, scarce thought of such death as comes invisibly in a bullet, and, therefore, were very hardly to be driven out of the field.”

Cromwell Attended Cambridge

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

Before rising to power, Oliver Cromwell attended Cambridge — and his head is now buried beneath Sidney Sussex College‘s chapel:

It may be added here, with regard to athletic exercises, that Cromwell, when at Cambridge, distinguished himself far more at football and cudgels than at the exercises of the schools; and that he, like Marlborough, Clive, and many other great men, would never have risen to the command of armies, if such rise had depended upon a competitive examination, in which prigs and pedants will generally beat men of great force of character or genius for the arts of war or peace.

Nations of Shepherds

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

Some of the most extensive conquests in the history of the world have been made by nations of shepherds:

An army of hunters, as Adam Smith has observed, and as we have seen exemplified in the case of the North American Indians, “can seldom exceed two or three hundred men. The precarious subsistence which the chase affords could seldom allow a greater number to keep together for any considerable time. An army of shepherds, on the contrary, may sometimes amount to two or three hundred thousand…. A nation of hunters can never be formidable to the civilized nations in their neighbourhood; a nation of shepherds may. Nothing can be more contemptible than an Indian war in North America; nothing, on the contrary, can be more dreadful than a Tartar invasion has frequently been in Asia.”

Adam Smith then proceeds to observe that the judgment of Thucydides, that no nation, either of Europe or Asia, could resist the Scythians united, has been verified by the experience of all ages. “The inhabitants,” he adds, “of the extensive but defenceless plains of Scythia and Tartary, have been frequently united under the dominion of the chief of some conquering horde or clan; and the havoc and devastation of Asia have always signalized their union. The inhabitants of the inhospitable deserts of Arabia, the other great nation of shepherds, have never been united but once — under Mahomet and his immediate successors. Their union, which was more the effort of religious enthusiasm than of conquest, was signalized in the same manner.”

The Effectiveness of Early Firearms

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

For a long time, the effectiveness of firearms was greatly exaggerated — but not by every fighting force:

The Turkish infantry—the Janissaries—were permanently embodied: they appear in their manner of fighting to have somewhat resembled the Scottish Highlanders; their custom being, after firing their muskets, to draw their sabres, and rush upon the enemy, Montecuculi bears testimony to the desperate bravery of the Turks. He says he has repeatedly seen them swim rivers in the face of an enemy, with their sabres between their teeth.

The chief strength of the Turk lay in his use of the arme blanche, which, with his infantry as well as cavalry, was the sabre.

What may be the effect of the recent improvements in fire-arms, both in respect to longer range and greater precision, time will show; but it appears certain that hitherto the effect of the invention of firearms upon war has been greatly exaggerated and misunderstood. For example, Adam Smith says: ” In modern war, the great expense of fire-arms gives an evident advantage to the nation which can best afford that expense; and, consequently, to an opulent and civilized over a poor and barbarous nation.”

This assertion is disproved by what the Highlanders accomplished in the seventeenth century under the Marquis of Montrose, and in the Rebellion of 1745, and by the whole history of the Turks for 200 years after the introduction of fire-arms. The Highlanders did their work principally with the broadsword, and the Turks with the sabre; and the result sufficiently showed the unsoundness of the conclusion, that making a noise by the explosion of gunpowder would form an efficient substitute for the neglect of the cultivation of the qualities of bodily strength and activity, and skill and dexterity in the use of arms. It is no answer to this to say that Cromwell’s troops ultimately beating the Highlanders is in favour of fire-arms; for Cromwell did nearly all his work by the superior excellence of his cavalry and the bodily strength and enthusiastic spirit of his pikemen. More of the work, too, both of Cromwell and Gustavus Adolphus, was done by the butt than by the muzzle of the musket, the bayonet not being rendered effective till long after. It might be shown also that Frederick II. of Prussia owed much of his success to the excellence of his cavalry, commanded as they were by the best cavalry officer in the world, Seidelitz.

Where the Turks were weak was where, as has been shown, the Spartans were weak — in their cultivation of bodily strength to the total exclusion of intellectual power. With them, as with the Spartans, this rendered it impossible, or next to impossible, to possess a first-rate general. Consequently, the Spartans and the Turks, though they might, from their excellence as soldiers, be almost sure of defeating troops of inferior excellence led by ordinary generals, when they came to contend with the strategical genius of such commanders as Epaminondas and Eugene, were defeated; the great superiority of the general making up for the inferiority of his army.

Marshal Saxe’s theory (which, however, must have been much modified if the rifle had then been in use) is that musketry is of very little service, unless at such close quarters as to be pretty nearly equivalent to the use of the “arme blanche.” He speaks of “l’abus de la tirerie, qui fait plus de bruit que de mal, et qui fait toujours battre ceux qui s’en servent.” He says, further, “La poudre n’est pas si terrible qu’on le croit. Peu de gens dans les affaires sont tués de bonne guerre et par devant; j’ai vu des salves entières ne pas tuer quatre hommes, et je n’en ai jamais vu, ni personne, je pense, qui ait causé un dommage assez considérable pour empêcher d’aller en avant, et de s’en venger à grands coups de bayonettes et de fusils tirés a brûle-pourpoint. C’est là où il se tue du monde, et c’est le.victorieux qui tue.”

Marshal Saxe supports his theory by various facts; one of which was, the total and rapid destruction of two battalions of German infantry by a body of Turks: cavalry, it would seem; though that point is not quite clear in the Marshal’s account; but, either way, the sabre was the weapon of destruction. He thus describes the action: “At the battle of Belgrade I saw two battalions cut in pieces in an instant: it happened thus. Two battalions, one of Lorraine, and one of Neuperg, were on a height which we called the battery; and at the moment when a blast of wind dispersed a fog which prevented us from distinguishing anything, I saw these troops on the crest of the height separated from the rest of our army. Prince Eugene asked me if I had a good sight; and what was that troop of horsemen which was making the circuit of the mountain. I replied, that it was thirty or forty Turks. He said to me, ‘Those men are destroyed,’ meaning the two battalions. I did not, however, see that they were attacked, or were likely to be, because I could not see what was on the other side of the mountain. I proceeded thither as fast as I could. At the moment I arrived behind the colours of Neuperg, I saw the two battalions present arms, take aim, and fire a general volley at thirty paces on a body of Turks who were advancing upon them. The fire and the melee were simultaneous; and the two battalions had no time for flight; for they were all instantly sabred on the spot where they stood. There escaped only M. de Neuperg, who, luckily for him, was on horseback ; an ensign, with his colours, who threw himself on my horse’s mane, and hampered me very much; together with two or three soldiers. At this moment Prince Eugene rode up almost alone; that is to say, with only his staff; and the Turks retired, I don’t know why. It was there that he received a shot through the sleeve. Some troops of cavalry and some infantry now came up, and M. de Neuperg asked for a detachment to secure the clothes. Sentinels were posted on the ground occupied by those dead battalions; and piles of coats, hats, shoes, &c. were collected. While this was going on, I amused myself with counting the dead, and I found only thirty-two Turks killed by the volley of those two battalions; which has not raised my opinion of the value of fire-arms.”

Men of Energy

Monday, March 8th, 2010

Turkey remained a succesful military despotism as long as the Sultans remained men of energy:

The principal causes assigned for the decline of the Turkish power were the habit contracted by Suleiman I., towards the end of his days (he died in 1566), of no longer presiding in person at the divan, the promotion of his favourites to the first dignities of the State, the influence of the harem in public affairs, and the immense power and wealth of the grand vizirs.

More than a century after this, however, the Turks threatened all Europe; but they never altogether recovered from the defeats they received, first, from John Sobieski, under the walls of Vienna, in 1683, and thirty-three years later, from Eugene, at Peterwardein. The strength of their position still protected them from total destruction; and in their case the world was enabled to see of what quality are the dregs of a military despotism suffered to run out its full course.

For a time the head of a military despotism must possess some of the qualities, such as courage, hardihood, and sagacity, which raised the first man — of whom he is the representative — to his post. But when conquest has procured wealth and the means of luxury, and time has given a certain degree of stability to the dominion at first conquered and held by valour, unremitted toil, and peril, the head of a military despotism no longer possesses either the qualities of a general or a statesman, of a hardy soldier or a constitutional king. He becomes an effeminate sensualist, who rules his empire and commands his armies through the ministers of his pleasures, and the whole machine of his government becomes one mass of imbecility, rottenness, and corruption.

Thus the strength of the Turks lasted as long as the Sultan was a man of energy, who devoted his time to labour and not to pleasure, and while, as a consequence of this devotion to the duties of his place, he gave all the highest posts under him to the greatest military merit. But even when Montecuculi wrote, this mortal disease had commenced in the Turkish government. After speaking of the valour of the Turkish troops and of the experience and military qualities of their officers, he adds that corruption has already appeared among them: men totally unfit being raised at once to the command of armies. The source of this abuse, he continues, is that the Sultan, plunged in sensuality, and neglecting the observance of the Mahometan laws, never goes to war in person.

The history of Rome under the empire, and the whole history of Asia, exhibit the same result, and demonstrate by unmistakeable signs the goal to which all military monarchies are drifting; though the history of the Turks shows that they may take ages to reach that goal. This explains why the Turks of the present day, though they may be as stalwart men and as good horsemen as the Spahis, who were once so formidable, make so poor a military figure; all their officers above the rank of captain being appointed, not for their military qualities, but for having been “a Pasha’s pipe-bearer or something worse.” The men have no confidence in them; and if they had, their confidence would be much misplaced.

Machiavelli’s Present of Wine

Sunday, March 7th, 2010

I had not heard the story of Machiavelli’s present of wine:

There is a law observable in the life of nations, that the great crimes committed by them, though they may seem for a time to be very pleasant and profitable, recoil at last upon the heads of their authors, and become their own punishment; their plunder acting in a way somewhat similar to that in which Machiavelli’s present of wine acted on his butcher.

Machiavelli’s servant complained to him one day that his butcher had been very insolent, adding that he had not confined his abusive language to him (the servant), but had also spoken very disrespectfully of his master. Machiavelli made no remark, but ordered the servant to look out half a dozen of the best and choicest wine in his cellar, to take it to the butcher, and beg his acceptance of it as a small present from his master. The servant was surprised, but did as he was ordered.

A short time after, he came and informed Machiavelli that the butcher had been stabbed and killed on the spot by a man whom he had insulted. Machiavelli smiled, and said: ” You see that present of mine acted like poison upon him. Instead of repressing his violent temper, and correcting his ill manners, as he might have done if I had resented his insolence at the time, he has gone on from bad to worse, till he has at last met with the proper punishment.”

The Best and Worst of Oligarchy and Democracy

Friday, March 5th, 2010

The Romans, like the Greeks, were quite attentive to athletic exercises:

Plutarch relates what pains Cato the Censor took in training his son in throwing the javelin, in riding, in swimming rapid rivers, in enduring heat and cold; how Marius, throwing off his old age and his infirmities, went daily to the Campus Martius, where he took his exercises with the young men; and how Julius Caesar did not make his feeble health an excuse for indulgence, but by unwearied exercise and frugal diet, by constantly keeping in the open air and enduring fatigue, struggled with his malady, and kept his body proof against its attacks.

The effect of the Roman system of athletic exercises in strengthening and hardening their bodies, appears from the fact that a Roman soldier usually carried a load of sixty pounds weight, besides his arms; that under this load the soldier commonly marched twenty miles a day, sometimes more, usually completing the day’s march in five hours, that is, marching twenty miles in five hours, sometimes twenty-four miles in that time.

National strength is not just about fortitude though:

But the Roman system of training, while, like the Spartan, it cultivated the physical qualities of bodily strength, activity, and endurance, with the moral qualities of fortitude and patriotism, did not cultivate in the least degree, like the Spartan also, the moral qualities of justice and humanity. Their leading principle, to which all others gave way, was the extension of the empire; in other words, universal dominion and universal plunder.

Nevertheless, the Roman constitution, or system of government, possessed elements of duration which did not belong either to the Spartan or Athenian system. The Spartan government was, as we have seen, an almost pure oligarchy, the Athenian an almost pure democracy; each of which worked out rapidly its own destruction, without check or counterpoise. On the other hand, the Roman system of government had in it the two elements of oligarchy and democracy, which acted as checks on one another; for a time at least. It is true that they mostly acted in such a way that now the one predominated, and now the other. At last, however, after great struggles, the government of Rome was brought to a just equilibrium, under which there was no insurmountable obstruction to merit. The republic was thus managed for several ages without internal discord.

But as wealth and luxury increased, especially after the destruction of Carthage, the more wealthy piebeians united with the patricians, and the two parties of rich men, the old and the new, engrossed between them all the honours and emoluments of the State. The body of the people were impoverished and oppressed, and at the same time brutalized by the gladiatorial shows, while they were also thoroughly corrupted by idleness and by dependence for food upon those public men who intended to use them for their own purposes.

We thus see that while, for a time, the government of Rome enjoyed the advantages of a combination of the oligarchical government of Sparta and the democratical government of Athens, it afterwards suffered at once from the evils of both kinds of government. In this state of things the Roman plebeians became the ready instruments, first, in the hands of Marius, and afterwards in those of Julius Caesar, for the complete destruction of the Roman constitution. Then came to pass in Rome what, as we have seen, had before come to pass in Sparta and Athens — the total destruction of the military spirit of the people, and of their ability to defend themselves from foreign aggression; and those who had conquered and oppressed nearly all the world were conquered and oppressed in their turn.

The cause of the disease, in this as in all similar cases, was bad government.

The Power of Orators

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

Writing in England in 1859, Andrew Bisset expresses concern over the power of orators:

Even in a government like that of England, the power of orators has been great for the last 200 years. How much greater it would become if that government were assimilated much more than it is at present to the Athenian democracy, may be inferred from the known power of the orators in the latter days of Athenian independence. Socrates, in Plato’s Dialogues, uses the word Orator as equivalent sometimes to Sophist, and sometimes to Despot. He represents orators as men having, without being either wise or just men, the absolute power of life and death, confiscation and ruin, over their fellow citizens.

If the field for the exercise of rhetoric and sophistry in the deliberative national assembly of England were effectually checked, the extension of the suffrage might be a safe and a beneficial measure. But if such a measure is carried out to any considerable extent before the other measure of preventing the rhetorical sophists from working their mischief, we shall only exchange one set of bad and dangerous rulers for another set of rulers still worse and still more dangerous.