SECT. IX. Of the measures of allegiance.
THOSE political writers, who have had recourse to a promise, or origi∣nal contract, as the source of our allegiance to government, intended to establish a prin∣ciple, which is perfectly just and reasonable; Page 159 tho' the reasoning, upon which they endea∣vour'd to establish it, was fallacious and so∣phistical. They wou'd prove, that our sub∣mission to government admits of exceptions, and that an egregious tyranny in the rulers is sufficient to free the subjects from all ties of allegiance. Since men enter into society, say they, and submit themselves to govern∣ment, by their free and voluntary consent, they must have in view certain advantages, which they propose to reap from it, and for which they are contented to resign their na∣tive liberty. There is, therefore, something mutual engag'd on the part of the magi∣strate, viz. protection and security; and 'tis only by the hopes he affords of these ad∣vantages, that he can ever persuade men to submit to him. But when instead of pro∣tection and security, they meet with tyranny and oppression, they are free'd from their promises, (as happens in all conditional con∣tracts) and return to that state of liberty, which preceded the institution of govern∣ment. Men wou'd never be so foolish as to enter into such engagements as shou'd turn entirely to the advantage of others, without any view of bettering their own condition. Whoever proposes to draw any profit from our submission, must engage himself, either Page 160 expresly or tacitly, to make us reap some advantage from his authority; nor ought he to expect, that without the performance of his part we will ever continue in obedience.
I REPEAT it: This conclusion is just, tho' the principles be erroneous; and I flat∣ter myself, that I can establish the same conclusion on more reasonable principles. I shall not take such a compass, in establish∣ing our political duties, as to assert, that men perceive the advantages of government; that they institute government with a view to those advantages; that this institution re∣quires a promise of obedience; which im∣poses a moral obligation to a certain degree, but being conditional, ceases to be binding, whenever the other contracting party per∣forms not his part of the engagement. I perceive, that a promise itself arises entirely from human conventions, and is invented with a view to a certain interest. I seek, therefore, some such interest more immedi∣ately connected with government, and which may be at once the original motive to its in∣stitution, and the source of our obedience to it. This interest I find to consist in the se∣curity and protection, which we enjoy in political society, and which we can never at∣tain, when perfectly free and independent. Page 161 As the interest, therefore, is the immediate sanction of government, the one can have no longer being than the other; and when∣ever the civil magistrate carries his oppression so far as to render his authority perfectly intolerable, we are no longer bound to sub∣mit to it. The cause ceases; the effect must cease also.
SO far the conclusion is immediate and direct, concerning the natural obligation which we have to allegiance. As to the moral obligation, we may observe, that the maxim wou'd here be false, that when the cause ceases, the effect must cease also. For there is a principle of human nature, which we have frequently taken notice of, that men are mightily addicted to general rules, and that we often carry our maxims beyond those reasons, which first induc'd us to establish them. Where cases are similar in many circumstances, we are apt to put them on the same footing, without con∣sidering, that they differ in the most mate∣rial circumstances, and that the resemblance is more apparent than real. It may, there∣fore, be thought, that in the case of alle∣giance our moral obligation of duty will not cease, even tho' the natural obligation of interest, which is its cause, has ceas'd; and Page 162 that men may be bound by conscience to submit to a tyrannical government against their own and the public interest. And indeed, to the force of this argument I so far submit, as to acknowledge, that general rules commonly extend beyond the prin∣ciples, on which they are founded; and that we seldom make any exception to them, unless that exception have the qualities of a general rule, and be founded on very nu∣merous and common instances. Now this I assert to be entirely the present case. When men submit to the authority of others, 'tis to procure themselves some secu∣rity against the wickedness and injustice of men, who are perpetually carried, by their unruly passions, and by their present and immediate interest, to the violation of all the laws of society. But as this imperfection is inherent in human nature, we know that it must attend men in all their states and conditions; and that those, whom we chuse for rulers, do not immediately become of a superior nature to the rest of mankind, upon account of their superior power and autho∣rity. What we expect from them depends not on a change of their nature but of their situ∣ation, when they acquire a more immediate interest in the preservation of order and the Page 163 execution of justice. But besides that this interest is only more immediate in the ex∣ecution of justice among their subjects; be∣sides this, I say, we may often expect, from the irregularity of human nature, that they will neglect even this immediate interest, and be transported by their passions into all the excesses of cruelty and ambition. Our ge∣neral knowledge of human nature, our ob∣servation of the past history of mankind, our experience of present times; all these causes must induce us to open the door to exceptions, and must make us conclude, that we may resist the more violent effects of supreme power, without any crime or injustice.
ACCORDINGLY we may observe, that this is both the general practice and principle of mankind, and that no nation, that cou'd find any remedy, ever yet suffer'd the cruel ravages of a tyrant, or were blam'd for their resistance. Those who took up arms against Dionysius or Nero, or Philip the second, have the favour of every reader in the perusal of their history; and nothing but the most violent perversion of common sense can ever lead us to condemn them. 'Tis certain, therefore, that in all our notions of morals we never entertain such an absurdity as that Page 164 of passive obedience, but make allowances for resistance in the more flagrant instances of tyranny and oppression. The general opinion of mankind has some authority in all cases; but in this of morals 'tis perfectly infallible. Nor is it less infallible, because men cannot distinctly explain the principles, on which it is founded. Few persons can carry on this train of reasoning: