Matthew Wren

Monarchy asserted
Or the state of monarchicall and popular government
 in vindication of the Considerations upon Mr Harrington's OCEANA

Oxford 1659

 

Excerpts:

 

The Preface

But they who understand that Columbus must first have been at the Indies before he could make a Card to teach other men the way thither, will go near to suspect Mr. Harrington's abilities in modelling a commonwealth till he has spent some years in the ministry of state

 

Whether the balance of dominion in land be the natural cause of empire.

The invention of the balance he jealously asserts to be his own; though in another place he begins to doubt that Phaleas the Chalcedonian may dispute it with him. And that with great reason, seeing it is evident out of Aristotle (though it be rejected by him as I shall hereafter discover) that Phaleas did many ages since light upon the same fancy. I fear also that he will in another respect prove of the younger house, for many months before the publication of his Oceana there came forth a letter pretended to be sent from an officer of the army in Ireland to his Highness, the Lord Protector concerning his changing of the government, in which the doctrine of the balance was not obscurely hinted. But this last will it may be trouble Mr. Harrington but little, since it is not unlikely the author of that letter goes a share in the Commonwealth of Oceana.

First, That dominion in land is a mere effect of empire and therefore cannot be the cause of it, unless to be the cause and effect be but the one and the same thing. Originally, every man had a right to everything and no man had more title to one piece of land than he had to any other piece and than every man had to the same piece. Or, if this assertion be thought too large, at least there was no settled property before the establishment of empire, nor could any man be said to have dominion of that land from whence he might be immediately ejected by the violence of the next invader. But after the establishment of empire, when the united force of those who became subject to one sovereign power was grown greater than could be resisted by particular men, then (and not before) was property and dominion in land fixed according to such rule and proportion as the sovereign power thought requisite.
Wherefore it is evident, that seeing dominion in land depends merely upon empire, it must needs be a gross absurdity to say, That the balance of dominion in land is the natural cause of empire. If notwithstanding this it can be made out that there is such a complication of empire with the balance in land, that the conformity of the balance is necessary to the health and long life of empire - to fit the empire to the balance is to set the sun by the clock, the dominion in land being in that case to be reduced to such a balance as best suits with the empire. Which inverts the aim and at once overthrows the whole model of the Commonwealth of Oceana.

But in the second place, this illation need not be pursued because I think it may with very good reason be asserted that justice is that by which all empires subsist and come to be (as far as human fallibility permits) eternal. It is an error to think that the generality of people are infected with a desire of sovereign power, and will not be satisfied with protection in their present possessions and encouragement in acquiring more by regular industry. The multitude, says Aristotle (Politics l.4.c.13, l.4.c.8) are not disgusted at being excluded from the government, but rather are very well pleased to sit quiet and be at leisure to follow their own business, unless they are oppressed and see their government make havoc of the public. And though this prince be overbalanced in land by any part of the people, it does not therefore follow that they will refuse to continue under his government as long as it is administered with justice.

The reparation of our substance by continual supplies of meat and drink, and defence of our bodies (in cold countries especially) from the injuries of the weather by garments and habitations are the first and most natural cares of mankind. We did not long continue satisfied with what was purely necessary in this sort, but soon grew up to desire convenience and the real pleasing our senses. And at last came to seek after things of luxury and vanity, which depend altogether upon opinion. And because no man by his single power could be secure in the possession of any of these things, there was an early willingness in men to submit to empire, that by their united force (which is that we call sovereign power) they might be maintained (upon such terms as the sovereign power pleased to establish) in the acquiring and possessing such things as tended to the ends already mentioned. This was the introduction of property. At first this consisted only in the fruits of earth and cattle. And he who had land enough to bring forth more of these than he could consume was a rich man, and might with the superfluity drive some little commerce by way of exchange with the neighbourhood. But after that men had found out a way of intercourse with people far remote and a more considerable traffic began to be set on foot, something was fixed upon by general consent which might be the common measure of the value of all things needful to man. This is called money which by its portability and currentness having a great advantage in the use of it, a value came also to be put upon that - known by the name of usury or interest. And now he that abounds in money need not be in want of such things as are useful to him, because other men will for his money be glad to let him have part of their superfluity.
Yet this power gained by riches is always dependent upon the sovereign power which institutes and preserves property. For against a force strong enough (such as are conquests and successful rebellions) to overthrow the settled property by the subversion of the sovereign power, riches are not of any defence, but rather invitation to an enemy by the greatness of the booty.

We may also infer that where there is no traffic or money (as in new plantations) the riches which conduce to power consist in dominion of land able to produce such things as are necessary or convenient to subsistence. But in other places, where the estimate and purchase of all useful things is reduced to money, there the influence which riches have upon power flows not from an estate in land only but principally and immediately from ready money. Or to make use of Mr. Harrington's words, The balance of dominion in land is not the natural cause of empire.

I may with modesty and truth enough let Mr. Harrington know that if the Exchequer had eighteen years ago been as well furnished as Henry the seventh left it, he might now probably have wanted the occasion of showing his skill in modelling a commonwealth.

[To show] that money may overbalance land will not be difficult, if we consider that Spain (and if Henry the seventh had giver care to Columbus his proffer, England had been mistress of the same treasures) is possessed of all the bullion of the West Indies amounting annually (not to mention greater sums gained at the discovery of those countries) to 3 or 4 millions of our money  - which is by Mr. Harrington's calculation a full third of all the land in England. Next, Spain or England are either of them by nature endowed with all advantages for taking the whole traffic of the world into their hands, and inferior to the Dutch who enjoy it, in nothing but industry. What the importance of this is or might be, the Dutch will best help us to understand, who by that alone without any considerable land have been able to baffle Spain and contest with England.

that while he attributes so much to the balance, he commits an error in making an army depend merely upon the riches of those who have the disposing of it. For though it be true that an army is a beast with a great belly which subsisteth not without large pastures it is as true that this beast is none of those tame ones that are kept within fences or imprisoned in a several. When an army is once on foot, the enclosure of law is too weak to hold it in, and property is no better than an hedge of rotten sticks. Nay further, if there comes to be a contest between gold and iron, the advantage generally remains with the harder metal. And he that has arms in his hand, may when he pleases both command the money in his neighbour's pocket and also gather the rents of his lands.

{Wren wants to] put Mr. Harrington in mind that he goes upon a false supposition. For unless the two girls lived under some power greater than their own (and if so they were members of some society and obliged in disposing of their cake to behave themselves according to the established laws of it) they would never have divided the cake; but the stronger of the two girls would have taken the whole - or at least as much of it as she thought useful to her.
In like manner if some one person or persons who have acquired the supreme power (by what method or artifice is not as to this purpose material) shall think fit to frame a government where the whole people shall be divided into two assemblies, with one of which shall be the right of dividing or debating and with the other that of choosing or resolving, there is no great reason to doubt but that this temper may be effectual to the attaining the ends of government. Yet even in this case, it will be a necessary caution that by mixing the function of the several members of the government it be not rendered disputable in which of them the sovereign power resides, for this destroys the design of government and must frequently reduce things to the state of war.

And what if after all the popular assembly fixes upon the wrong member of the division? To judge of the utility or disutility of a proposition in matter of state is I hop another thing from discerning which is the biggest or least piece of cake. And a discourse about which much of understanding and experience must be employed is not of so easy and certain dispatch as a matter which is subjected to the determination of sense. For it most frequently falls out that particular men have a private interest of their own differing from, if not contrary to, the public one, by which they are more potently inclined than their affection to the public. But secondly if it were always true the difficulty is still remaining, for to suppose that every man in a public assembly should in a matter of state be able to discern his true interest, is to suppose the meanest and most unqualified of the people infallible in those things where the most consummate politicians do often mistake. And is besides repugnant to the experience of all commonwealths, whose histories are full of examples of pernicious counsels which have been embraced by the people.

the people are now taught principles before unknown to them:  That the balance of dominion in land is the natural cause of empire and that the balance ought to be fixed by an Agrarian Law. For in Oceana, every man (who is not a servant) above 18 years of age being obliged to have arms and every man above 30 being capable of magistracy, the people finding empire in their own hands must of necessity conclude the balance ought to be there too. And consequently must endeavour to take down the standard of the Agrarian so low as that the land may come to be divided among the whole body of the people. And if the people in other "governments, for example under the late monarchy, did never so much as think of levelling the nobility", it was partly because they did not then apprehend it as they will do now to be a thing just and necessary. And partly because they wanted the power to do it, their arms depending upon the nobility, and their vote in the Commons House being insignificant without the consent of King and Lords. But in the Commonwealth of Oceana the people cannot want power and interest to effect it, either by the way of arms or vote. 

 

[There is] another sort of people who, though they are passionate doters on a commonwealth, profess to dislike the introduction of a Rotation. This has proceeded so far as to cause a schism among the Commonwealths-men. For whilst some of them think that without the Rotation a commonwealth must (like Pharaoh's chariots) clog and drive heavily, others suspect this continual whirling would produce nothing but giddiness and a danger of overturning. Yet there is some reason to doubt this difference is not rooted in their judgments so much as in their interests. They who expect to fill a place in standing council are not pleased to think of resigning after a certain term their cushions to newcomers; but such who despair of that advantage, rather than be wholly shut out, would rather take turns, governing themselves by the advice of our wise ancestors rather to be content with half a loaf than have no bread.
But this is manifest, that I concede rotation to have been the practice of ancient republics, and I do not anywhere discover that I think a commonwealth can be safe without it. It is true that, judging rotation to be in itself not very just and often prejudicial to  public affairs, I cannot  approve of that government which stands in need of such an order. So that my quarrel lies not against rotation where I find it in a commonwealth, but against commonwealths because they are by the necessary care of their preservation forced to embrace rotation.

No doubt the secrecy introduced by the ballot is a fair guardian of liberty in voting. But if we examine the matter more narrowly, we shall easily perceive that this hardly extends to more than a removing the awe imposed upon men by fear, and that all the engagements of affection, flattery and bribery are not in the least weakened by the ballot.

 

Appendix.

And it an error very incident to mankind that every particular man thinks government was instituted for his peculiar advantage, which if he meets not with in a degree suitable to his desire in the government he lives under, he presently endeavours to subvert that government out of hopes to meet with it in the next. So that though it should be allowed Mr. Harrington that his commonwealth has no inequality in it, yet it would fail of attaining the perfection of government, seeing there is an inequality in the nature of man which is not rectified by the model of his commonwealth.


[Spelling and punctuation modernized]

Matthew Wren (1629-72) was the son of the Bishop of Ely. He was a secretary to Edward Hyde, Lord Clarendon. and helped found the Royal Society.

illation = drawing a conclusion or making a logical judgment on the basis of circumstantial evidence and prior conclusions

eighteen years ago = When Charles I was obliged to call Parliament because he lacked the money to make war on the Scottish rebels.