(University of Cambridge) Hume's Knaves and the Shadow of Machiavellianism Pact with the Devil:
the Ethics, Politics, and Economics of Anti-Machiavellian Machiavellism Brighton, 28-9 May, 2010 First rough draft, partially footnoted. For the use of conference participants only. Do not cite without permission
In 1741, the thirty years old David Hume published an essay entitled 'Ofthe Study of History'. It appeared in every subsequent edition of his essays until 1760, when it was dropped at the very point when Hume became fully engrossed in writing his medieval volume ofthe History ofEngland, while revising and vociferously defending his Stuart and Tudor volumes. Atthat pointhe wasalso preoccupied with the reception of Robertson's History ofScotland and advising his friend on future historical projects. Clearly, it mattered greatly, both for his reputation as a historian and for the
reception ofhis English history, what his public views on the study of history were. There is virtually nothing is written about this withdrawn essay in the voluminous Hume literature. ^There is a sort of
general assumption that Hume might have withdrawn the essay because it was too Addisonian, not only in the chatty style, but also in the relatively frivolous content, at least when compared to the big topics in politics, political economy and moral philosophy that were discussed in Hume's other essays.^
The accusation of frivolity can only apply to the first half ofthe essay, in which Hume recommends
history to female readers. When courting a pretty woman, he had senther Plutarch's Parallel Lives, but the book met with a rejection once the readerreached the chapters on Alexander and Caesar and their politics. In response, Hume argues that reading aboutthe lives of pasthistorical actors is as entertaining and full offascination as reading modern novels and society gossip. The study of history, he continued, was an integral part both ofoursentimental and cognitve education. 'What spectacle can be imagined, so magnificent, so various, so interesting', Hume wrote, than
to seethe policy ofgovernment, and the civility ofconversation refining by degrees, and everything which isornamental to human life advancing towards its perfection. To remark
^It is not mentioned in Nicholas Phillipson's Hume (London: Weidenfeid and Nicholson, 1989), or Karen O'Brien, Narratives ofthe Enlightenment: Cosmopolitan Historyfrom Voltaire to Gibbon (Cambridge- CUP 1997).
^Mossner, The Life ofDavid Hume (Oxford, OUP, 1970 ), p. 140.
Whether frivolous and self-mockmg or not in style, Humedid not abandon in 1760 hisview that history wasa competitor to novels When privately advising William Robertson of hisfuture historical projects, he counselled him againstwriting the Life of Charles V(the book that Robertson did indeed write) but rather advised him to write a modern equivalentof Plutarch's Lives, inthevery
sametermsas he had first done it in 'Ofthe Study of Histor/ twenty years earlier." This leaves the second halfof the essay as the possible culprit in the withdrawal. This is an interesting proposition, because it contained one of the most important, and possibly the most interesting, philosophical defence of Machiavelli from the charge of Machiavellianism written in the entire eighteenth century.
Hume signalled to his readers thatthesecond half ofhis essay was entirely serious.® In it Hume added two further reasons why history was very important, beside being supremely pleasurable and educative to read, namely that it improved our chance to acquire both knowledge and virtue. History was magister vitae, and studying the historyof one's own country, over and beyond the history of antiquity, was absolutely necessary part of one's patriotic functioning in society. Hume presented history as the laboratory of the science of man, which 'extends our experience to all past ages, and to the most distant nations; making them contribute as much to our improvement in wisdom, as if they had actually lain under our observation'. The third argument concerned the moral character of the 'science of man'. History was not simply a storehouse of additional fact about past human experience. Rather, history added an entire new dimension to it.
Hume distinguished four modes of moral discourse, poetical, philosophical, practical and historical, each being built on a different sentimental approach to virtue. 1./ Poets focused entirely on the passions. This approach lacked balance and moderation. Poets, Hume wrote, 'can paint virtue in the most charming colours; but,... they often become advocates for vice'.®
2./ Philosophers as moralists, Hume pointed out, suffer from two kind of professional malformations. First, they over-analyse things and may lose the sense that morality is real and does exist. They are 'are apt to bewilder themselves in the subtilty of their speculations; and we have seen some go so far as to deny the reality of all moral distinctions'. Second, philosophers operate in artificial conceptual isolation, abstracting from all sentiments, including basic moral feelings: When a philosopher contemplates characters and manners in his closet, the general abstract view of the objects leaves the mind so cold and unmoved, that the sentiments of nature
have no room to play, and hescarce feels the difference between vice and virtue.^ 3./ Practical men, men of business, who lived real lives and actions, needed to consider the character of those whom they interacted with, but only in relation to their own interests in the
" Humeto William Robertson, summer of 1759, Hume, Letters, ed.J.Y.T. Greig(Oxford, OUR, 1969 ), vol. 1, p. 314. 5 , ® 'Ofthe Study of History', p. 565. 6 ,
'Of the Study of History', p. 567.
' 'Ofthe Study of History', p. 567. 2 IP
matter, rather than in a rounded and fair fashion. The practical man's judgment, Hume wrote, was
'warped on every occasion by the violence of his passion'.® 4./ History was largely free from the inbuilt distortions of the other three approaches to virtue and vice. Historian were impartial, unlike the men of action they had no 'particular interest or concern to pervert their judgment'. At the same time, unlike philosophers, historians did not lose agency from their sight. A historian is 'sufficiently interested in the characters and events, to have a lively sentiment of blame or praise'. Of course, historians could err 'in their judgments of particular persons'., but they were unlikely to lose their grip on the moral dimensions of life altogether. They, Hume emphasized, 'have been, almost without exception, the true friends of virtue, and have always represented it in its proper colours'. Importantly, Hume's example here is Machiavelli, the strongest possible example of a man who allegedly was without a sense of morality as a political writer: MACHIAVEL himself discovers a true sentiment of virtue in his history of FLORENCE. When he talks as a Politician, in his general reasonings, he considers poisoning, assassination and
perjury, as lawful arts of power; but when he speaks as an Historian, in his particular narrations, he shows so keen an indignation against vice, and so warm an approbation of virtue, in many passages, that I could not forbear applying to him that remark of HORACE, That if you chace away nature, tho' with ever so great indignity, she will always return upon
you.® This statement was no mere accident, obiter dicta, but goes to the heart of Hume's political philosophy. The distinctions that Hume that deployed in his defence of Machiavelli was a central
tenet of his thought and one. As we shall see, that he also applied to himself. In his statement Hume drove a wedge between Machiavelli and Machiavellism. Anti-machiavellian machiavellism is not a term with a historical provenance. Machiavellism, however, certainly is.
Montesquieu, an older contemporary of Hume, used it describe a species of aggressive monarchical politics in which princes rule by violent 'grands coups d'autorite'. He contrasted it with the politics of moderation, with a sort of procedural constitutionalism. Hume, however, used a more traditional image: 'poisoning, assassination and perjury, as lawful arts of power'. This was closer to the description of'Machiavelisme' which appeared in the Encyciopedie, authored by the editor, Denis Diderot. He supplied a basic description in a single sentence: Machiavellianism, an abhorrent type of politics that can be described in two words - the art
of tyranny - whose principles were propagated in the works of the Florentine, Machiavelli.^® Bydubbing Machiavellism as the art of tyranny, Diderot signed up to the tradition first inaugurated by the late sixteenth-century Huguenot writer Innocent Gentile, who in his famous Contre-Machiavei
®'Ofthe Study of History', p. 567. ®'Ofthe Study of History', p. 567. Hume's quoteisfrom Horace's Epistles 1.10. 24-25. Diderot, Denis (ascribed by Jacques Proust). "Machiavellianism" , The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project., trans. Timothy Cleary. (Ann Arbor, Ml; Scholarly Publishing Office of the University of Michigan Library, 2004), web.
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of 1576,described Machiavelli's ideas as 'not a Politicke, but a Tyrannical Science'.^^ This was famously repeated by Pierre Bayle, who in his Dictionary wrote that Machiavelli's doctrines in the
Prince were so pernicious that for public opinion 'Machiavelism, and the art of reigning tyrannically,
are terms of the same import'/^ This tyrannical science of The Prince, Diderot elaborated, teaches sovereigns to spurn religion, the rules of justice, the inviolability of pacts and all that
is sacred, when it in one's interest to do so. The fifteenth and twenty-fifth chapters could be entitled 'circumstances where it is suitable for the prince to be a villain. However, Diderot, like Hume, followed this up with a forceful defence of Machiavelli's character and purposes. 'Machiavellism' in the Prince was a warning to the citizens of Florence., Diderot wrote.
Machiavelli's readers misunderstood him and took 'satire for praise'. Following Bayle, Diderot remarked that attentive readers always caught Machiavelli's sense well:
Lord Chancellor Bacon made no mistake when he said: this man teaches tyrants nothing; they are well aware of what they have to do, but he informs the common people of what they have to fear. ... Be that as it may, one can hardly doubt that at least Machiavelli had sensed that sooner or later there would be a general outcry against his work, and that his opponents would never manage to demonstrate that his prince was an unfaithful portrayal
of the majorityof those who have been the most impressive rulers over men." Hume's defence of Machiavelli had the same drift as Bacon's remark. For him there was no question of Machiavelli having written a satire or a direct warning. Machiavelli might have erred in his particular judgments, but he produced no tyrannical science, for he described facts, including the facts of tyranny, as a politicalscientist. Political science, Hume implied, was inherently not about moral judgment. Machiavelli's moral sense was on display in his histories, where, as Hume claimed, the Florentine secretary had shown as 'keen an indignation against vice' as a 'warm approbation of virtue'. Those who could not accept the gap between the political and historical works displayed a lack of methodological sophistication.
Innocent Gentillet, A Discourse upon the meones of wel-governing and maintaining in good peace, a kingdom or other principalitie. Divided into three parts, nameiy The Counsel!, the Religion, and the Poiicie, which a Prince ought to hold andfollow. Against Nicholas Machiavell the Florentine, trans. Simon Patericke
(London : Adam Islip, 1602); sig. A2. Gentillet indicated that 'PolitickeArt' was written on by Plato, Aristotle and other philosophers. Bypolitical science he meant maxims and general rules applicable to the 'public estate', which were nonetheless 'not bee so certaine as the Maximesof the Mathematicians', (sig. Al). Pierre Bayle, The dictionary historical and critical of Mr Peter Bayle. The second edition. Carefullycollated with the several Editions of the Original; in which many Passages are restored, and the whole greatly augmented, particularly with a Translation of the Quotations from eminent Writers in various Languages. To which is prefixed, the life of the author, revised, corrected, and enlarged, by Mr Des Maizeaux, Fellow of the Royal Society, vol. 4 (London : D. Midwinter and others, 1734), p.l2 note E.
" Bayle cites this thought ofBacon (De Augmentis Scientiarum, Bk Vii. Ch. 2), via the contemporary Dutch author Abraham de Wicquefort, whose treatise on diplomacy was translated into English as The embassador and his functions. By Monsieur De Wicquefort, counsellor in the councils of state, and privy-counsellor to the Duke of Brunswick and Lunenburg, Zell, &c. To which is added, an historical discourse, concerning the election of the emperor, and the electors. By the same author. Translated into English by Mr. Digby (London, Bernard Lintott, 1716).
4 I "
Based on this argument Hume could clearly be thought as a Machiavellian (an admirer of Machiavelli) but not as a Machiavellist in the pejorative sense of the word. This might have been a reason for dropping the essay at the height of the Seven Years War. By1760 Hume became 'Hume, the historian', as he appeared in the catalogue index of the Library of the British Museum for the next two centuries. His defence of Machiavelli in an essay entitled 'Of the Study of Histor/ could open him to the charge that his hotly debated History of England was Machiavellian. The citation of Machiavelli in this essay was of a different kind than Hume's other citations of his name in other important essays from the original 1741 volume. Reading those essays superficially a reader could easily form the opinion that Hume was a critic of Machiavelli. Also, morality and the status of moral discourse was not an issue in those essays. Later in this essay I will attempt to show that those references to Machiavelli, including two of the most important ones, in the essays 'Of Liberty and
Despotism' and ITiat Politics may be reduced to a Science', are fundamentally also affirmative, suggesting that for the Hume Machiavelli was, at least at the time of writing those essays, a positive model of political science. Criticising Machiavelli individual statements within political science did not necessarily make Hume an anti-Machiavellian. Instead, Hume can be plausibly seen as a postMachiavellian who adapted the principles, but not necessary the content, of Machiavelli's political science to the circumstances and issues of his own country and century. Hume never condoned poisoning, assassination and perjury, as lawful arts of power, even if he
acknowledged their presencein past historical practice." To my knowledge he was not at the time denounced as a Machiavellist (or even a Machiavellian). Nonetheless, his methodological defence of the Florentine could redound on him, because he himself was open to attack on the very issues
which he raised in 'Of the Study of Histor/ in relation to Machiavelli. Hume identified the root reason of the apparently unpalatable morals of Machiavelli Realpolitik in an indifference to agency and the moral qualities of actions in political science, putting Machiavelli in the company of the kind of philosophical scepticism that questioned the validity of fundamental moral distinctions and even their very existence as objective phenomena. Machiavelli, Hume claimed, was a good moral
historian, even if he had demonstrated insufficient warmth in the cause of virtue in his political discourse. A very similar accusation was often levelled against Hume's philosophy. These criticisms cost him dearly, particularly in his early career. It cost him his reputation with Scottish moralists and
theologians and it cost him the chance of becoming Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh. The charge of moral scepticism was levelled against him by no less a critic than Francis Hutcheson, Professor of Jurisprudence at the University of Glasgow, Scotland's leading academic philosopher at the time and an author of European reputation. Hume's entire life was under the shadow of the unfavourable reception of his youthful work of genius, A Treatise of Human Nature. James Moore has unearthed a great deal of evidence that Francis Hutcheson was behind the unsymphhatetic reviews of the Treatise in the Bibiiotheque
raisonnee des ouvragesdes savans de TEurope in 1740and 1741.^^ Preceding the reviews. " See the detailed account ofHume's description ofpast English and European kingly and princely practice discussed in detail in Frederick G. Whelan, Hume and Machiavelli: Political Realism and Liberal Thought (Lanham, MD, Lexington Books, 2004), Ch. 5 @Hume's Princes', pp. 249-288. See James Moore and M.A. Stewart, 'A Scots-Irish Bookseller in Holland: William Smith of Amsterdam (16981741)', Eighteenth-Century Scotland, no. 7,1993, pp. 8-11, and M.A. Stewart and James Moore, 'William Smith
(1698-1741) and the Dissenters' Book Trade' in The Bulletin of the Presbyterian Historical Society of Ireland no.
5 IPa g e
presumed to have been written by William Smith on Hutcheson's advice, there was an important exchange of views between Hutcheson and Hume, which alerted the latter that serious criticism was forthcoming against him as a moral thinker. Hutcheson's letter is lost, but Hume's response survived
and reveals to us hisdefence in 1739.^® Thisexchange is important in the present context, because Hume's self-justification followed the same line as his subsequent defence of Machiavelli from the accusation of Machiavellism in the essay 'Of the Study of History', written in 1740. The defence of Machiavelli, I contend, was a direct continuation of Hume's of the arguments presented in Hume's letter to Hutcheson the previous year. It was part of his rebuttal of Hutcheson's charge that in Hume's thinking 'there wants a certain Warmth in the Cause of Virtue, which, you think, all good
Men wou'd relish, &cou'd not displease amidst abstract Enquirys'." Hume's answer was dignified, but also defiant. The alleged moral deficit in his work, he claimed resolutely, was not due to an oversight. Rather, it was a necessary consequence of the discursive posture he was adopting: I must own, this has not happen'd by Chance, but is the Effect of a Reasoning either good or bad. There are different ways of examining the Mind as well as the Body. One may consider it either as an Anatomist or as a Painter; either to discover its most secret Springs & Principles or to describe the Grace & Beauty of its Actions. I imagine it impossible to conjoin these two Views. Where you pull off the Skin, & display all the minute Parts, there appears something trivial, even in the noblest Attitudes & most vigorous Actions: Nor can you ever render the Object graceful or engaging but by cloathing the Parts again with Skin & Flesh, & presenting only their bare Outside. Hume knew that he was skating on thin ice. His language and metaphors could easily reveal his true colours as a moral theorist. Moral anatomy was a favourite phrase of Bernard Mandeville, a thinker whom Hutcheson hated and persecuted as a writer throughout his early career as a philosopher and
moral teacher in Ireland. The image of the anatomist peeling back the skin on the face of a beautiful virtuous man, discovering the ugly truth of the muscles, sinews and other bodily parts, entirely lacking in beauty, was a well known topos in iconography that was often associated with the work of the late seventeenth-century sceptical French moralist La Rouchefoucauld, appearing as a frontispiece illustration to some editions of his famous Maxims. To cover his flanks, Hume introduced the same methodological argument that he later made public in the 'Of the Study of History'. The two kinds of moral genres, moral painting and moral anatomy, he claimed, could be developed in parallel. Cross-fertilisation was possible; undoubtedly moral anatomy, the morally cool discourse that Hutcheson objected to, could easily be pressed into the service of moral painting. Sculptors were bound to benefit from anatomical knowledge. However, to mix these things directly
22,1993, pp. 20-27. The argument is summarized magisterially In James Moore, 'The Eclectic Stole, the Mitigated Sceptic', In Emillo Mazza and Emmanuele RonchettI (eds.). New Essays on David Hume (Mllano, FrancoAngell, 2007), pp. 133-170, In response to David Norton. The first review, dealing with Books 1 and 2 of The first review of the Treatise Is translated by D.F. and M.j. Norton In James Fieser (ed.). Early Responses to Hume's Metaphysical and Epistemological Writings, 2nd rev. ed. (Bristol, Thoemmes, 2005), vol. 1., 44-63. Hume to Francis Hutcheson, 17 September, 1739, In Letters, vol. 1, pp. 32-35.
" Hume to Hutcheson, p. 32 6 IPage
was ineffectual, Hume argued, because it was offence against good literary taste. As Hume explained:
I cannot easily conceive these two Characters united in the same Work. Any warm Sentiment of Morals, Iam afraid, wou'd have the Air of Declamation amidst abstract Reasonings, & wou'd be esteem'd contrary to good Taste. And tho' Iam much more ambitious of being esteem'd a Friend to Virtue, than a Writer of Taste; yet I must always
carry thelatter in my Eye, otherwise Imust despair ofever being servicable to Virtue.^^ Hume and Hutcheson had their differences in technical moral philosophy and their correspondence rehearsed these points in some detail. Hume promised to make some amends in the detail of his
moral anatomy. He pleaded that his apparent lack in moral warmth in the Treatise would only matter if the book would have been designed for the use of ministers of the Church or educators of youth. To his misfortune, when he applied to a teaching job (Scottish universities the students, or rather pupils, belonged to the 12 to 16 age group) he was taken at his word, and the application, on Hutcheson's behest, was denied.
Seeing the obstacles in his way, after the Treatise, Hume resolved to change his writing style. The result was the Essay s Moral and Political of 1741. It was here; in the 'Of Study of History' that Hume gives a more positive answer to Hutcheson, although not one which the Glasgow philosopher could necessarily accept. In the essay Hume presented the new thought that the mixing of moral anatomy and moral painting is possible without mixing genres and breaching the rules of good taste. The two could go together in history, because it necessarily involved the reconstruction of individual actions and character, thereby providing moral painting with a non-declamatory and analytically informed material. His insight, Hume appeared to suggest, was so powerful, that it could even solve the notorious problem with Machiavelli's amoralism. However obnoxious the political theory of the Florentine might have looked like in isolation, Hume claimed, Machiavelli's character could be absolved by reading his excellent histories.
This philosophical connection between the apology for Machiavelli and Hume's self-defence against Hutcheson's accusation of moral indifference in the Treatise suggests another plausible reason why
the essay 'Of the Study of Histor/ might have been withdrawn in 1760. In this essay Hume suggested that history was not only a part of good political science, but a bridge between moral anatomy and moral painting. This suggestion could easily place Hume's History of England in an unwanted light. Clearly, The History revealed more openly some of Hume's moral predilections, and proved his capacity for moral feeling (although his tears for Charles I landed Hume in trouble with
the Whigs and earned him the long-lasting and crudely misleading epithet of a Tory). However, it was simply not the case that to achieve a moral reputation would have been Hume's reason for embarking on his historical enterprise. His History was clearly a major work in political science. It was a very grand attempt, possibly the grandest at the time, to understand the nature and character of English politics, through dissecting its origins and long-term developmental path. Hume could have hardly wanted readers to read the History for moral lessons (although many precisely did just that). He regarded England, or Britain, as the most successful modern nation and his History was designed directly as superior new foundation for modern political theory. Although it was Hume to Hutcheson, p. 32.
7 I Pag
constructed as a narrative, and not as a theoretical history, its intentions were not in the direction of moral painting, but towards creating a historical version of hard core political science. Hume's eventual answer to Hutcheson that moral anatomy and moral painting could be blended in
history was important, but it did not lay the original problem entirely at rest. The generic moral blindness of sceptical philosophy and political theory was not a phenomenon that could be wished away. At the bottom, Machiavelli's handling of poisoning, treachery, etc. revealed not that he condoned these practices, but that he believed in politics being governed by personal, group and national interests, not by morality. On this more abstract level, Hume encountered the same problem. He himself acquired notoriety as a theorist of interest driven political behaviour. In another of his 1741 essays, entitled 'Of the Independency of Parliament' Hume tackled the issue of interest and dissimulation head on. In this essay he brazenly declared, that it was a 'just political
maxim, that every man must be supposed a knave'. Hisopponents accused him with Hobbism, but equally, they could describe him as a Machiavellian at the same token. Hume did not claim originality for his position: Political writers have established it as a maxim, that, in contriving any system of
government, and fixing the several checks and controuls of the constitution, every man ought to be supposed a knave, and to have no other end, in all his actions, than private interest." It is not entirely clear who these political writers Hume referred to obliquely were. However, his pourpose in drawing on this tradition is clearly expressed in the text. He did not pushed the knavish hypothesis in the service of crude monarchical or princely politics, or indeed of any kind of absolutism. He rather argued for the opposite purpose, to develop a version of the 'passions and the interests' argument applicable to the British constituition. Although humans display 'insatiable avarice and ambition', Hume claimed,they could nonetheless be made governable through their private interests and even goaded voluntary to 'co-operate to public good'. Hume argued not for blind reliance on an 'invisible hand' or a recipe of conflict driven politics. Rather, he pleaded for a blueprint for highly visible constitutional design: When there offers, therefore, to our censure and examination, any plan of government, real
or imaginary, where the power is distributed among several courts, and several orders of men, we should always consider the separate interest of each court, and each order; and, if we find that, by the skilful division of power, this interest must necessarily, in its operation, concur with public, we may pronounce that government to be wise and happy. If, on the contrary, separate interest be not checked, and be not directed to the public, we ought to look for nothing but faction, disorder, and tyranny from such a government. In this opinion I am Justified by experience, as well as by the authority of all philosophers and politicians, both antient and modern.^" Hume was arguing about a strange anomaly of the British mixed constitution. The balance of the British constitution was shaky. Over time parliament, the Commons, became far too powerful to be
" Hume, 'Ofthe Independency of Parliament, p. 42. Hume, 'Of the Independency of Parliament, p. 43.
8 I Pag
balanced even by the Crown and the Lords together and Britain was in danger to become an elective dictatorship or parliamentary absolutism. Nonetheless, Hume observed, in practice the Crown did manage to act as a constitutional balancer, despite its insufficient weight. Hume here operated within the same idiom as Montesquieu's theory of modern monarchy. The issue here, of course, was not the balancing effect of intermediary powers. This was clearly missing in Britain. Rather, Hume had a version of Montesquieu's later quasi-Mandevillian, as well as quasi-Jansenist, theory of false honour in mind. Pure selfishness could be mitigated by men's desire for recognition or honour, whether deserved or not. Undeserved honour, false honour that can be bought, Montesquieu
claimed, could dampen the selfish rapacity of the newly ascendant commercial class. Hume developed a similar, albeit partial, model as applied to British parliamentary politics. Members of the Commons, as individuals, were craving honour. It was the Crown, the monarchy, that was the best positioned to operate this manipulative system, since the honours system was a princely rather than a republican institution. Not willing to give up its craving for honour, the British political class had a
knavish self-interest in keeping the monarchy in place as the purveyor it this kind of symbolic good. In this capacity the monarchy was enabled for a balancing role in the British constitution.
This actual detailed resolution of the statement that in politics everyone should be assumed a knave, as developed in the essay 'Of the Independency of Parliament' seem to deflate the radicalism of the
general theory announced at the beginning of Hume's essay. However, the general statement was shrill and calculated to provoke the reader. Hume clearly proposed it as a truth in political science.
The knavish hypothesis, he insisted, was a foundational assumption of modern constitutional design. But it was not a general truth about the human condition. Generally speaking not everybody was a knave, or at least not all the time. Hume again reminded his readers that politics and morals were bifurcated. 'It appears somewhat strange', he wrote, 'that a maxim should be true in politics, which
is false in fact'. Clearly, the answer given in 'Of the Study of History' that the solution is history, mitigated the issue but obviously did not resolve the paradox. Hutcheson in 1739 warned Hume that his problems with the tenor of his moral theory reflected fundamental problems with his underlying theoretical position. He singled out the Humean theorem of justice as an artificial virtue as a possible root cause. Indeed, the theory caused Hume serious problems. His chickens came home to roost in his second attempt to formulate his moral philosophy, in the 1751 recast of Book III of the Treatise, entitled Inquiry concerning the Principles of Morals. Here we encounter the knave problem yet again, accompanied with another discussion of its relationship to, or reconcilability with, the declamatory discourse of 'moral painting'. In the 'Conclusion' of this work, having relegated the original explanatory machinery of the thesis that Justice was an artificial virtue to an 'Appendix', Hume announced it was utility that was the foundation of justice. In this particularly important context he revoked the image of the knave. This instance, generally known as Hume's 'sensible knave' theorem, seemed to some readers as
particularly damaging and potentially punching a hole in the entire edifice of Hume's moral
discourse. The entire section was Hume's attempt to protect his reputation as a moral theorist against the accusation of moral scepticism. He defended the position that every person is capable to take the general point of view of humanity, with its attendant sentimental apparatus of sympathy, in judging the behaviour of others by the standards of social and individual utility. This, he explained, transcends the judgments of individuals one knows, or known by, or even one's own epoch: 9 j;
if you represent a tyrannical, insolent, or barbarous behaviour, in any country or in any age of the world; I soon carry my eye to the pernicious tendency of such a conduct, and feel the sentiment of repugnance and displeasure towards it. No character can be so remote as to be, in this light, wholly indifferent to me. What is beneficial to society or to the person himself must still be preferred. And every quality or action, of every human being, must, by this means, be ranked under some class or denomination, expressive of general censure or applause.
The general rules embedded in this discourse led to the rise of a language of morals, distinguishing between two opposite classes of moral behaviour: virtue and vice. This moral language, informing our culturally acquired moral sense, he claimed, acted as a potential control over our selfishness, our pursuit of untrammelled self-interest. Hume described the working of our sentimental moral regime in great complexity and explained that free calculations of genuine human contentment and reputation would always come down in favour of virtue as against vice. There was however, one obvious exception, in a domain of human experience where calculation and rule obeying, rather than sentimental self-management dominated. This, unfortunately, was the case of justice. In a true light of morality and knowing one's self, Hume explained, 'there is not, in any instance, the smallest pretext for giving it the preference above virtue, with a view to self-interest; except, perhaps, in the case of Justice, where a man, taking things in a certain light, may often seem to be a loser by his integrity. Justice was a supreme utility and without it society was bound to be in constant crisis. Its rules had to be inflexible and enforceable and on reflection everybody was bound to acknowledge
the binding force of this argument. Why and how individuals behave justly in society has been an ancient puzzle. Plato's tale of the ring of Gyges demonstrated how individuals would evade the rules of justice and equity if they could become invisible, free from the constraints of being disciplined
when cleariy observed by other members of society, who all equally obliged to follow social rules in the common interest. Hume does not follow this particular Platonic route of moral demonstration.,
but puts forward a broadly similar argument. He assumes something like, but not quite, a free rider situation. If the system of justice is solidly maintained by the majority, the disutility of occasional breaking of the rules might not undermine the social utility. A rational calculator of self-interest could exploit this situation:
though it is allowed, that, without a regard to property, no society could subsist; yet, according to the imperfect way in which human affairs are conducted, a sensible knave, in
particular incidents, may think, that an act of iniquity or infidelity will make a considerable addition to his fortune, without causing any considerable breach in the social union and
confederacy. The mechanism behind this case was the tension between rule and exception. The rational
calculator could reasonably assume that 'honesty is the best policy, may be a good general rule; but is liable to many exceptions'. Hence he could assume that he acted well and wisely, if generally he kept the rule, while taking advantage of all the exceptions. For a person of this disposition, Hume added, the policy seems to undefeatable: I must confess, that, if a man think, that this reasoning much requires an answer, it will be a
little difficult to find any, which will to him appear satisfactory and convincing. If his heart 10 I P a g e
rebel not against such pernicious maxims, if he feel no reluctance to the thoughts of villainy or baseness, he has indeed lost a considerable motive to virtue; and we may expect, that his practice will be answerable to his speculation.
Hume gave a twofold answer to this dilemma. His more important response focused on character. Rational calculation, cold philosophyalone was incapable to deal with the case of the opportunistic rule breaker. Only a cultivation of sentiments, both naturaland acquired, could form a sentimental barrieragainst this mode of behaviour. His imagery invoked the problem of luxury as a key example, in a manner which is reminiscent of the denunciation of the pursuit of baubles and trinkets in the
work of hisfriend and philosophical disciple, Adam Smith. Were the 'sensible knaves' ever so secret and successful, the honest man, if he has any tincture of philosophy, or even common observation and reflection, will discover that they themselves are, in the end, the
greatest dupes, and have sacrificed the invaluable enjoyment of a character, with themselves at least, for the acquisition of worthless toys and gewgaws. How little is requisite
to supply the necessities of nature? And in a view to pieasure, what comparison between the unbought satisfaction of conversation, society, study, even health and the common beauties of nature, but above all the peaceful reflection on one's own conduct: What comparison, I
say, between these, and the feverish, empty amusements of luxury and expense? The other way of blocking the free riding and rule-breaking behaviour of 'sensible knaves' was more utilitarian. Aspectator could follow their activities not only through one exceptional case, but over
the long-run. Pushing his luck, the sensible knave was likely to become lax and make a habit of evading morality andJustice, before eventually ruined. The honest man, Hume wrote, then will have the
satisfaction of seeing knaves, with all their pretended cunning and abilities, betrayed by their own maxims; and while they purpose to cheat with moderation and secrecy, a
tempting incident occurs, nature isfrail, and they give into the snare; whence they can never extricate themselves, without a total lossof reputation, and the forfeiture of all future trust and confidence with mankind.
Quite appropriately, there is no reference, or even an allusion to Machiavelli at the endofthe Inquiry concerning thePrinciples ofMorais.^^ Nonetheless, thestory how a longer term observer could show how the rule-breaker knaves who create exceptions finally come to grief and loss of
reputation (in fact a very conventional storyf^ is actually a succinct summary ofthe backbone of most of Machiavelli's odious case histories in The Prince. The purpose of citing these passages was to
argue 1./ that there isa substantial similarity of Hume defending his own moral and political " Although Machiavelli did get a citation inthe Enquiry, and a quite an appropriate one,on effective agency and the fit between situations and character: 'Fabius, says MACHIAVEL, was cautious; Scipioenterprising: And
both succeeded, because the situation of the ROMAN affairs, during the command of each, was peculiarly
adapted to his genius; but both would have failed, had these situations been reversed. He is happy, whose circumstances suit his temper; but he ismoreexcellent, whocansuit his temper to anycircumstances'. " In an early article Marcia Baron was tempted (incorrectly) to attribute to Hume a 'noble lie' mythology to undergird 'artificial justice', see 'Hume's Noble Lie: An Account ofHis Artificial Virtues', Canadian Journal of Philosophy 12 (1982): 539-555.
11 I M-J V,
philosophy and his defence of Machiavelli, which implies that there is a substantial overlap between their approach to the issue of morals and politics 2./ that the defence of this position, and hence the philosophical defeat of Machiavellism, is difficult on the basis of a naturalistic and empirical moral theory, without defaulting into a theological or other kind of strongly normative politicaldiscourse (Platonism, or later Kantianism).
Book III of the Treatise, which Hutcheson criticised in manuscript, issometimes seen today as containing the foundations of Hume's politics. Infact it was moral philosophyand natural jurisprudence, both reconceived in a sceptical key. Political theory topics, such as the origin of government, the source of political obligation and the law of nations were subsumed under the
heading 'OfJustice and Injustice'. Hume's political science, his accountof the forms of government and related topic, was possibly planned as Book IV of the Treatise (Book III wasalready published separately and later than Books l-ll). What thought Hume had on the politics part of the 'science of
man' at the time, a year laterhe poured them into the political essays of his first collection ofEssays Moral and Political. In Book III he quietly took his model as Hobbes, whom he critically modified, often drastically. In the politics essays one name looms large, and in thiscase openly, and this is Machiavelli. Today it is a commonplace that Machiavelli was more important for the development of seventeenth and early eighteenth-century political theory and political ideology than virtually in any otherearly-modern national political culture. Hume clearly modelled his first political essays not so much on Addison's and Steele'sSpectator, but on Bolingbroke's Craftsman, and in the latter
Machiavelli's name loomed large. However, 'Of the Study ofHistor/ was a typical early Hume essay in the way it handled Machiavelli. Hume did not argue that The Prince represented monarchical politics, while the Discourses on Livy andthe History of Florence were republican works, each bit
displaying anappropriately different moral sensibility and rhetoric. Rather, aswe have seen, he
distinguished between the genres ofpolitics and history. The same is true about his other essays. Machiavelli is not represented as a great republican, and hence a great virtue theorist, but a model for how political science can be done.
Although the essay that bearsthe title 'That Politics may be reduced to a Science' seemsthe most
promising to catch Hume's vision ofsuch a science, theessay 'Of Liberty and Despotism' is more
important. These essays are interlocking, cut from the same cloth, but arranged rather strangely from the point ofview ofa theorist. In fact, in each case the pursue a debate in British political controversy. In 'Politics reduced to Science' Hume made clearthat what such a science looks for is
regularities in certain configurations in politics, in which consequences can be predicted
independently of the personnel and characters that are in charge ofthe political structure atany given time. Hume disputes Pope's famous statement in the Essay on Man, that not the form of government, but the quality of the administration of the government that was the decisive factor.
Hume accepts this astheobvious difference between the same government well or badly administered. Fundamentally, however, he counter posesthe famous distinction between
government oflaws and government ofmen, understood asa distinction between free states, republics and absolute monarchies. Republic here means a respublica for him, and he allows a
republic either a monarchy, an aristocracy ora democracy. In effect he argues that only reipublicae can be subject to political science, not absolute ordespotic monarchies. Political science can operate
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independently of 'the humour or education either of subject or sovereign' in those kind of states.
This could be an impeccably Machiavellian statement, but Hume involved Machiavelli in the
subsidiary argument only, in the demonstration of how an argument in political science looks like. His aim at this point is to show that his preference for free governments, as the only proper subjects lear of political science involves no unqualified statement of praise about all their qualities and
properties. His chief example is the generalisation that republics are oppressive as conquering powers. Hume refers to Machiavelli and his discourse on conquest in Chapter 5 of The Prince. The example is here the success of Alexander in conquering Persia, and the further success of his successors to hold the territory. The inverse of the statement is the observation that the Persian did not rebel even when Greece was internally destabilised. The lesson is supposed to be about the nature of despotism. As a despotism, Persia did not have a nobility, and this lack of intermediary powers made rebellion against the Greeks practically impossible once the leadership of Persia was eliminated in the first strike. Clearly, what Hume liked is Machiavelli's argument about the consequences of a country lacking a nobility as an intermediate power, because when it was brought to his attention that the Florentine was mistaken about the non-existence or otherwise of the
Persian nobility, he conceded the historical case, but still argued, in a footnote, that even if the facts
were wrong, 'it must be owned that MACHIAVEL'S reasoning is, in itself, just, however doubtful its application to the present case'. This was just a historical mistake about a particular case in an otherwise 'solid and conclusive' argument. Faulty generalisation from facts, however, were judged differently. Machiavelli mixed 'falsehood with truth', Hume claimed angrily, when he suggested that despotic countries were difficult to conquer, because the ordinary subjects were powerless and hence could not resist. Here Hume
objected to the notion that internally despotic countries were quiet and subdued. On the contrary, he claimed, delegated authority in a despotic regime was itself despotic. The local population, accustomed to blind loyalty, could thus be exploited in turf struggles with central government, making despotic system subject to 'the most dangerous and fatal revolutions'. Hume here objects to Machiavelli, because he claims that he gave a poor or even mistaken analysis of experience. This is important to note, because in 'Of Liberty and Despotism' he argues that Machiavelli is often not relevant for the eighteenth century because he did not, or perhaps could not possess the relevant experience to produce the requisite generalisations in political science.
'Of Liberty and Despotism' opened with the sort of argument that one would have expected in the outset of 'That Politics may be reduced to a Science'. Here he defines political science as an impartial body of knowledge which aims at establishing 'general truths in politics, which will remain true to the latest posterity'. He immediately hastens to inject a sceptical tone into his discourse. Expecting such a political science is premature. Methodology was still imperfect. Even more importantly, the
empirical base is to slender. Europe had not yet three thousand year of history to look at. The moral potential of humans was as yet difficult to judge and it was not yet clear' what may be expected of mankind from any great revolution in their education, customs, or principles'. As Hume put it in relation to himself and his own contemporaries:
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I began to entertain a suspicion, that no man in this age was sufficiently qualified for such an undertaking; and that whatever any one should advance on that head would, in all probability, be refuted by further experience, and be rejected by posterity. Such mighty revolutions have happened in human affairs, and so many events have arisen contrary to the expectation of the ancients, that they are sufficient to beget the suspicion of still further changes.
Clearly, Hume cast doubt about the value of studying ancient political theory for present purposes. Machiavelli came under the shadow of the same doubt. Hume qualified the praise he heaped on Machiavelli in the previous essay as a pioneer political scientist. The leitmotiv of 'Of Liberty and Despotism' was the argument that all kinds of government, free and absolute, seem to have undergone, in modern times,
a great change for the better, with regard both to foreign and domestic management. The balance of power is a secret in politics, fully known only to the present age; and I must add, that the internal POLICE of states has also received great improvements within the last century.... But though all kinds of government be improved in modern times, yet
monarchical government seems to have made the greatest advances towards perfection. It may now be affirmed of civilized monarchies, what was formerly said in praise of republics alone, that they are a government of Laws, not of Men. They are found susceptible of order, method, and constancy, to a surprizing degree. Property is there secure; industry encouraged; the arts flourish; and the prince lives secure among his subjects, like a father among his children.
It was this development that Machiavelli failed to foresee. As Hume explained MACHIAVEL was certainly a great genius; but having confined his study to the furious and tyrannical governments of ancient times, or to the little disorderly principalities of ITALY, his reasonings especially upon monarchical government, have been found extremely defective; and there scarcely is any maxim in his prince, which subsequent experience has not entirely refuted.
The ancients would have regarded a modern European monarch a tyrant. This usage was unhelpful. The last two hundred year in Europe saw two hundred absolute princes, Hume reckoned, but not one of them was comparable to a truly tyrannical Roman emperor. Clearly, it was not appropriate to project the experience of the Roman empire directly unto modern Europe. But Machiavelli did precisely that when he railed against princes using special advisers or appointing powerful ministers. The conclusions Machiavelli reached through studying the Roman emperors would be absurd, Hume suggested, if applied to the government of modern France:
A weak prince, says he, is incapable of receiving good counsel; for if he consult with several, he will not be able to choose among their different counsels. If he abandon himself to one, that minister may, perhaps, have capacity, but he will not long be a minister: He will be sure to dispossess his master, and place himself and his family upon the throne. I mention this, among many instances of the errors of that politician, proceeding, in a great measure, from 14 M
his having lived in too early an age of the world, to be a good judge of political truth. Almost all the princes of EUROPE are at present governed by their ministers; and have been so for near two centuries; and yet no such event has ever happened, or can possibly happen. SEJANUS might project dethroning the CAESARS; but FLEURY, though ever so vicious, could not, while in his senses, entertain the least hopes of dispossessing the BOURBONS.
Interestingly, Hume in these essays said next to nothing about Machiavelli's analysis of republics. He saw him as producing indeed a 'tyrannical science', not in the dismissive sense as Gentillet and Diderot used it, but simply indicating that Machiavelli's political science mostly contained empirical generalisations based on the study of tyrannies and despotisms. Histexts, therefore, were of limited value for a post-tyrannical and post-absolutist age.
One of the central theses 'Of Liberty and Despotism' was that modern European monarchies, particularly France, became civilised. Hume argued that this was chiefly due to changes in the
modern economy. The modern European monarchy acquired a new civil-liberties-based legal culture, because commerce required it. Commerce presupposed freedom and Hume clearly recognised that modern European trade first flexed its wings in the earliest of modern European free states, the Italian city republics. Once Europe's monarchies imitated this commerce and made it a
part of their own power games, European politics also had to change. Hume's argument about commerce was another way to present his assertion that Machiavelli had no understanding of the modern monarchies of Europe because substantial changes happened after his time. This second version of the thesis focusing on commercial change served as the real backbone 'Of Liberty and Despotism', the watershed after Machiavelli was not in changes of statecraft or the form of government. What changed European politics was the mutation in the political relevance of commerce. As Hume put it:
Trade was never esteemed an affair of state till the last century; and there scarcely is any
ancient writer on politics, who has made mention of it. Even the ITALIANS have kept a profound silence with regard to it, though it has now engaged the chief attention, as well of ministers of state, as of speculative reasoners. The great opulence, grandeur, and military atchievements of the two maritime powers seem first to have instructed mankind in the importance of an extensive commerce.
By Italians Hume actually meant Machiavelli. We know this because we have the original commonplace book entry from Hume's early notebooks that gave rise to this particular sentence. It originated in a late seventeenth-century English pamphlet, entitled A Discourse of Trade, published semi-anonymously by Nicholas Barbon in 1690. In this early notebook Hume's jotted down the following sentence:
There is not a Word of Trade in all Matchiavel, which is strange considering that Florence rose only by Trade.
This was an abbreviated account of what Barbon actually wrote. Interestingly the paragraph in 'Of
Liberty and Despotism' also contained expressions that only appeared in Barbon's original, such as the key phrase that for Machiavellitrade as yet was not an 'Affair of State'. As Barbon himself put it in The Discourse of Trade:
Livy, and those Antient Writers, whose elevated Genius set them upon the Inquiries into 15 I P a g e
the Causes of the Rise and Fall of governments, have been very exact in describing the several Forms of Military Discipline, but take no Notice of Trade; and Machiavel a Modern Writer, and the best, though he lived in a Government, where the Family of Medicis had advanced themselves to the Sovereignty by their riches, acquired by Merchandizing, doth not mention Trade, as any way interested in the Affairs of State. Hume's view that Machiavelli's political science was obsolete because it was based on an outdated view of pre-commercial politics is interesting for the modern reader. For this reason, the realisation that it was a mere regurgitation of a view first expressed fifty years earlier upset Hume's interpreters. The lack of originality which Hume displayed clearly diminishes the novelty, and hence the importance of his idea.
While this is true to some extent, Hume's blatant borrowing from Barbon also opens up exciting interpretative possibilities. On its own, looking at Barbon's text, Hume's memoranda and the text
'Of Liberty and Despotism' one can only see an instance of near plagiary. However, looking at the context of the two citations on Machiavelli and trade, both in Barbon and Hume,we receive a key tool for assessing Hume's alleged anti-Machiavellism, or indeed Machiavellism, as the case might be. Barbonand Hume might have asserted the same (or nearly the same) thing, but possibly endowing it with a different meaning, drawing very different conclusionsfrom it. Despite his borrowing of a key idea, Hume could either endorse or criticise the broader discourse in which Barbon's remark was originally embedded. Fifty years elapsed between the utterance of Barbon's and Hume's remarks on Machiavelli and
trade. We know that in the 1690s Machiavelli was as hotly discussed in Britain as in 1741, and arguablythe heat was even more intense. In1690, just after the Glorious Revolution, England had to choose for itselfa new grand political strategy as a European power. Entering the Dutch alliance
against the French, the country had to choose the best wayto achieve both national security and national aggrandizement. Commercial expansion and building a commercialempire of the seas was one of the most hotly debated topics in English politics in 1690, in fact ever since the
Commonwealth and the Restoration. More often than not, this strategy debate was conducted
with frequent references to Machiavelli's political legacy. In thiscontextBarbon's remark might appear as a partisan statement in debates within or about seventeenth-century English Machiavellism.
It is possible to read Barbon's dismissal of Machiavelli as anti-Machiavellian. Although Hume's borrowing the bare essence of the remark might appearas a willingness of thisanti-Machiavellism, there also other possibilities of interpretation. It might be equally possible that when Hume picks up this thread, he is reacting to Barbon's anti-Machiavellianism in an original and creativefashion. Barbon was possibly dismissing Machiavelli in orderto reject lateseventeenth-century English state strategies which were Machiavellian in a straightforward sense, i.e. having beenextrapolated from Machiavelli's own politics to contemporary, i.e. late seventeenth-century English circumstances. Fifty years laterHume could pick up eitherline of argument for his purposes., either Barbon's view, or that of his adversaries.
Equally, he could reject both routes to modern politics, neither endorsingthe Machiavellian nor the
anti-Machiavellian projection. In this case his dismissal of Machiavelli takes ona new meaning. By dismissing Machiavelli's own political options as genuinely obsolete, he effectively separated Machiavelli's reputation and ideas from anything that has been developed from his politics directly during since in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, including both the pro and contra arguments. This move still leftwith the option of being a pro-Machiavellian thinker, endorsing his methodology as a political scientist but at the same time dismissing the empirical content of much of his writings as irrelevant to moderncircumstances. This freed Hume to become a critic, and possibly a savage critic, of Machiavellism and anti-Machiavellism alike, ifthe term is taken to refer not to Machiavelli personally, but to his second order followers and critics. It is this sense that I 16 I
would like to apply to Hume the epithet post-Machiavellian, to indicate that he created his own political science in a Machiavellian methodological spirit against more direct extrapolations of Machiavelli's politics into modernity, irrespective of which side of the argument these various thinkers were taking up. Hume distanced himself from Machiavellian or Machiavellist debates of all hues.
Barbon's Discourse of Trade was a sophisticated and extensively argued pamphlet, and probably had far more influence that usually assumed. It is an interesting piece of writing in the present context, since Barbon's dismissal of Machiavelli as an obsolete writer because the Florentine failed
to discuss issues of commerce and trade can be seen as a classic piece of anti-Machiavellian Machiavellism. He dismissed Machiavelli, because in its original form Machiavelli failed to pursue the sort of extrapolated Machiavellian argument which Barbon thought as genuinely applicable to late seventeenth-century circumstances, particularly in England. He appears as a critic of Machiavelli, when in fact he endorses a vision of politics that he had derived from Machiavelli's writings. Ifwe find that Hume rejects Barbon's commercial politics, then we might best describe him as an enemy of anti-Machiavellian Machiavellism, in short an anti-anti-Machiavellian
Machiavellian. While it is true that as a British political thinker (for he was certainly no Englishman) who started to write in the 1730, Hume was in the midst of all sorts of Machiavellian arguments and hence was bound to be interested in judgments on Machiavelli and all varieties of Machiavellism, Hume was aware of the tricky nature of Machiavellian language games and argumentative strategies in this age. As an early and militant contextualist, Hume saw through the smokescreen of Machiavellianism in Bolingbroke and the circle around him. Hume was a vicious critic of English party ideology and was an expert in teasing apart of the various English political dialects that made up the texture of English Augustan political rhetoric. Hume argued that in the post-Glorious Revolution period the real meaning of pre-revolutionary party positions was in fact lost or rendered obsolete, although their political languages survived in a very strange configuration and detached from reality. He described the Old Whigs as the continuation of the quasi-revolutionary thought of the earlier period. Tory ideology, in response, was dressed in the most efficient garb available to oppose the Old Whigs. Asemblance of a republican and Machiavellian language survived among the Tories, who, as Hume described them,
have been so long obliged to talk in the republican stile, that they seem to have made converts of themselves by their hypocrisy, and to have embraced the sentiments, as well as
language of their adversaries." Hume was simply not taken in by the pseudo-Machiavellian languages that proliferated in English politics. Barbon's Discourse of Trade was an intervention into the debate which David Armitage recently described rather awkwardly as the 'Ideological Origins of the British Empire', arguing that England did not acquire its first empire in a fit of absentmindedness or simply by following the drift of the Age of Discoveries, but rather pursued an aggressive imperial strategy under the protective umbrella of the justificatory ideology of Machiavellism. Barbon's purpose was to present the idea that Britain's future greatness depended on abandoning of the neo-Roman visions of the orthodox Machiavellians and on embarking, instead, on the aggressive pursuit of a seaborne commercial empire. Barbon's purpose was not to overthrow the Machiavellian projection of grandeur through expansion as the best or even only way of ensure one's nation's grandezza.. He merely wished to substitute commercial hegemony to military conquest as the best way to achieve the same aim. His dismissal of Machiavelli, as cited by Hume, was clearly pure anti-Machiavellian Machiavellism. This becomes immediately apparent if one looks at the sentences following the now famous
" Hume 'Ofthe Parties ofGreat Britain' p. 615. The passage was withdrawn by Hume from the 1770 edition of his Essays onwards.
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phrase 'Machiavel a Modern Writer, and the best ...doth not mention Trade, as any way interested inthe Affairs ofState'. Barbon did explain why this lack of interestintrade could occur despite the factthat Machiavelli was living in the midst of a thriving commercial city whose politics was deeply influenced by commerce and banking too. It was because ofthe militarist features that undergirded his neo-Roman outlook: For until Trade became necessary to provide Weapons of War, it was alwaysthought
Prejudicial to the Growth of Empire, as too much softening the People by Ease and Luxury, which made their Bodies unfit to Endure the Labour and Hardships of War. And therefore the Romans who made War, (the only Way to Raise & Enlarge their Dominion) did in the
almost Infancy of their State, Conquer that Rich and Trading City of Carthage, though Defended byHanibal their General, one of the greatest Captains in the World: so that, since Tradewas not in those days usefulto provide Magazines for Wars, an Account of it is not to be expected from those Writers.
Much of the pamphlet was debunking arguments against luxury and the inherent limits of market expansion. Thechiefargument, however, concerned the relationship between nationalgreatness and trade, leadingto discussionsof military developments, national security and the European state system. In a manner reminiscent the later discussion of Adam Smith of the same topic, Barbon explained that trade entered politics through the military-technological revolution. Roman armament was possibly to manufacture domestically. The gunpowder revolution, which led to the development of artillery had quite different resourcingrequirements. Without trade there was no access to modern military technology:
Ammunition and Artillery, whose Materials are made of Minerals, that are not to be found in all Countries; such as Iron, Brass, Lead, Salt-petre, and Brimstone; and therefore where they are wanting, must be procured by Traffick. Trade is now become as necessary to Preserve Governments, as it is useful to make them Rich.
Machiavelli was obsolete, because he wrote before the new military technology became the dominant force in European affairs. The task now was to adapt Machiavelli's neo-Romanism to the new circumstances. Through sketching out a conjectural history of mankind, the Ancient period and
early modern Europe Barbon developed a social and political history of militarism and concluded, in a way reminiscent of Montesquieu's 1734 Essay on Universal Monarchy, that the entire conquest based strategy of European state aggrandisement was doomed. State growth by warfare, when based on land-based armies, became obsolete. French-style projects of developing large European
landed empires, the so called universal empire project, became vain dreams. Europe became more populous and prosperous. Increased communication and commerce slowlymade the new military technology availableto everyone. Discipline and military training improved. Therefore for a number of centuries already all major conquest-based strategies failed. It was hence time to leave this entire old fashioned vision of politics, based on the idea of Rome and enshrined in the older Italian and French political literature behind and declared it chimerical and dead. Hume's essay 'Of Liberty and Despotism' argued that these changes changed the nature of modern monarchical government. Barbon emphasized that social life indeed changed drastically as a consequence of modern commerce and economic well-being. He also pressed forth the political 18 I P a g e
argument that Gothic liberty became so embedded in the European way of life that conquest was likely to be resisted politically as well, and modern Europeanstates had culturalas well as political resources for resistance. Europe was not like the despotic Asian states, which had fallen victim to
Alexanders armies with such ease, and whose lack of energy also made the holding of their lands by the Macedonians so lasting (this example shows that Hume's choice of Machiavellian idioms to
condemn or praise inthese essays were not chosen by random). The Roman model of freeing provinces was no good solution either. Although Rome did practice this cleverpolitics of conquest under the republic, not much of this policy remained under the Empire. Modern Europe was full with people, Barbon remarked, there was no space left for expansion.
But Barbon did not let go of the notion that states flourished by'enlarging their empire'.The cutting edge of the pamphlet was in fact in its blatant promotion of England's ambitions to grandeur through a blue-water strategy, by developing a seaborne commercial empire, which was free from all the snags that made neo-Roman landed strategies of conquest impossible: the Difficulties of inlarging Dominion at Land, but are not Impedimentsto its Rise at Sea: For those Thingsthat Obstruct the Growth of Empire at Land, do rather Promote its Growth at Sea. That the World is more Populous, is no Prejudice, there is Room enough upon the Sea; the many Fortified Towns mayhinderthe March of an Army, but not the Sailing of Ships: The Arts of Navigation being discover'd, hath added an Unlimited Compass to the Naval Power. Barbondescribed the idea of a sea empire in glowing colours. It was not oppressive,could be built quite quickly, was free of the usualexpenses of defending it from powerful continental neighbours. For an island nation this was all achievable rather easily, even ifdifficult for landed nations. England was a free countryand this could also raisethe attractiveness of its hegemony immensely. Barbon clearly saw no political obstacles to this kind of development either. The English were a hardy Norther nation, ready for the sacrifice required by sea conquests. The form of government was suitable for the enterprise: 'The Monarchy is both fitted for Trade and Empire'. Nor was there a need to change the British constitution. Gothick liberty, he pointed out, was originally borne out of the conquest of Europe, Gothic states were originally set up for expansion.Also, politically 'there needs no Change of the GothickGovernment', he claimed, for popular consent was available, 'for that best Agreeswith such an Empire'. England, with all its advantages, political, cultural and commercial, Barbon enthused, was destined to become a world empire of prosperity and liberty: Sincethe People of England enjoy the Largest Freedoms, and Best Government in the World; and since by Navigation and Letters,there is a great Commerce, and a GeneralAcquaintance among Mankind, by which the Laws and the Liberties of all Nations, are known; those that are oppressed and inslaved, may probably Remove, and become the Subjects of England: And ifthe Subjects increase, the Ships, Excise and Customs, which are the Strength and Revenue of the Kingdom, will in Proportion increase, which may be so Great in a short TIME, not only to preserve its Antient Sovereignty over the Narrow Seas, but to extend its
Dominion over all the Great Ocean: An Empire, not less Glorious, & of a much larger Extent, than either A/exonder's or Caesar's.
To repeat, if this was the outcome of dismissing Machiavelli as obsolete, then arguablythis was antiMachiavellian Machiavellism. Barbon did not cite Machiavelli in support for this point. However, his 19 I P .
pamphlet was inscribed in the context of alively debate about empire and the desirability of having states that were constantly on the increase. All these adversaries referenced the point diligently and accurately to Machiavelli's Discourses on Livy. It was easy to seethat Barbon was revising, not rejecting, a core Machiavellian idea.
When Hume cited Barbon's dismissal of Machiavelli as a pre-modern and pre-commercial theorist he
could not possibly be understood as making thesame political point as Barbon. He opposed every single item on this veritable shopping list of English whiggery, nationalism and imperialism, seaborne or otherwise. When he argued, in the same essay, thatthe world has changed since Machiavelli and the politics ofthe Florentine cannot be mechanically extended tothe new empirical political experience ofthe later period, in effect Hume refused to speculate how Machiavelli would have argued had he lived to the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century. Machiavelli empirical political science, in this view, was inscribed firmly in a previous age and had to be left in peace there, as a monument to a bygone age and itsturbulent politics. This was no rejection of Machiavelli as a
person or indeed the style and method of his endeavour. Rather, itwas an incitement to creatively continue the legacy, understand the changes going on inthe world and change theoryaccordingly. Aswe have seen, Hume defended Machiavelli's methodology and choice of genre to conduct
political discourse. However, he knew that as the world changes, the content of political science also had to change. Machiavelli is present in Hume's entire enterprise inspiritand method, not inthe dogma. Conversely, dogmatically pursuing generalisation from past political practice to changed modern circumstances was an error, or worse, an interest drive political practice. Minor changes or
adjustments inthe argument did not mitigate the force of this criticism, ifanything, they even compounded it. Seen this way, Hume must be regarded an enemy of anti-Machiavellian Machiavellism. Official English republicanism, in practically any variety of it, was repulsiveto Hume. He looked at it, analysed it and rejected it. He also resolutely rejected moralistic criticisms of realist political science, for he realised that such criticism was applicable to hisown workas much as to Machiavelli's. He fought most of his struggles with such moralistic criticson the terrain of moral
theory, and there too, he hadto change the technical terms of the discourse to gain elbowroom for his sceptical arguments. We must find another term to describe Hume than anti-Machiavellian Machiavellism. In the first instance, post-Machiavellian Machiavellism might suffice for the purpose.
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