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examine wherein they have been injurious and wherein beneficial, seems to lose himself amidst the general materials and results of the intellectual universe. And whilst the structure of communities and the nature of political powers and institutions were thus extensively investigated, the art of exercising political functions, which might seem to be no unimportant part of political science, has occupied hardly any place in the speculations of its professors.
It is not necessary, I admit, that the structural and functional divisions of the science should be treated by the same writers and in the same works; and perhaps it is not to be expected that a concurrence of competency to treat both should often take place in one individual. Yet I cannot but think that the one branch of knowledge would have been carried farther, if some portion of the attention of its teachers had been spared to the other. Some of the most eminent of them, as it appears to me (regarding them
not certainly without high respect for their intellectual endowments), have wanted that habitual reference to the end in their political problems, which an attention to ministerial operations would naturally have induced; and by aiming too much at scientific analysis in matters of government, have removed the mind of their disciples back from the field of practical wisdom, and rather tend to involve it in definitions and distinctions, than to clear it from any difficulties, or to solve those questions concerning things in combined existence, which have so little to do with the primary origination of things. I would take this exception to them even as regards their investigations into the nature of political rights and of bodies politic; whereinto, as it appears to me, they have carried the common error of their minds, that, namely, of exalting primary elements into considerations of primary importance. Matters of modification, things incidental or collateral, have so much more considerable a part in
every polity than things essential, that to resolve it into its elements is not so great a help as these writers seem to suppose, towards the understanding of it as it acts and exists, or the discovery of its destiny. So of the essential passions of human nature, which, considered in their relations with civil institutions, are treated of in the same manner by the authors I speak of, exercising, so far as their political disquisitions are concerned, rather their reasoning than their judging faculties; perhaps I might even venture to say of some of them, exercising the former faculties almost to the exclusion
of the latter.
Thus it is that the course
of things, except in so far as it is reached by remote and circuitous influences, has commonly passed these philosophers on the right hand and on the left.
Of a very
different kind of doctors in this art are the writers upon political affairs who have
been practised in them. “ Ipsos tamen politicos “ multo felicius de rebus politicis scripsisse, “quam philosophos, dubitari non potest,” is the admission of Spinosa; who saw clearly, though he was not, I think, very successful in avoiding, the dangers of treating politics metaphysically. Bacon, Machiavelli, and Burke, are signal illustrations of the truth of Spinosa’s remark. These sages did not attempt to navigate the river at its source: they saw the wisdom of having nothing more than a reference, pervasive, certainly, but not binding, to elemental philosophy in political affairs ; they brought to the consideration of them minds, which, at the same time that they were braced by scientific discipline, were capable of being loosened sufficiently for the grasping of practical results ; and they felt themselves free to come to clear conclusions on matters which refuse demonstration.
But although the works of these three politicians, to whose names that of Tacitus is, as far as I know, the only one which could be properly associated, contain numerous civil precepts applicable to the administration as well as to the constitution of governments, they leave still unattempted the formation of any coherent body of administrative doctrine. Moreover, the maxims of the elder of them at least are suggested by the circumstances of states nearly or wholly despotic, or of oligarchies, and by a range of political business far less complex and multifarious than the condition of society in these times presents. And even as to what was applicable in the 17th century, the greatest of these authorities, in the book (the 8th of the “De