THE FREE NOTIONS OF THE ENGLISH.
FROM THE PERSIAN LETTERS.
ALL the nations of Europe are not under equal subjection to their princes: for instance, the impatient humour of the English seldom gives the king leisure to extend or strengthen his authority: Submission and obedience are virtues they very lit∣tle value themselves upon. They, hold very ex∣traordinary opinions about this article. According to them there is but one tie that has any effect upon men, which is that of gratitude: a husband, a wife, a father, a son, are bound to each other by nothing, but either the love they bear to each other, or mu∣tual services and benefits; and these various mo∣tives of acknowledgement, are the origin of all kingdoms, and all societies.
But if a prince, instead of endeavouring to make his subjects happy, studies only how to oppress and destroy them, the foundation of obedience ceases; nothing ties, nothing obliges them to him, and they return to their natural liberty. They maintain that no unlimited power can be lawful, because it could never have a lawful beginning. For we cannot, say they, give to another more power over us than we have over ourselves: Now we have not an unli∣mited power over ourselves; for instance, we can∣not touch our own lives; no man upon earth there∣fore, conclude they, can have such a power.
High treason, according to them, is nothing but a crime committed by the weaker against the Page 86stronger, by disobeying him, let him disobey him in what way he will. And accordingly the people of England, happening to prove the stronger in a con∣tention with one of their kings, declared it to be high treason in a prince to make war upon his sub∣jects. They have very good reason, therefore to say, that the precept in their Alcoran, which en∣joins obedience to the powers, is not very hard to follow, since they cannot help following it if they would; in as much as it is not to the most virtu∣ous that they are bound to submit, but to the strongest.
The English tell you, that one of their kings hav∣ing overcome and taken a prince that rebelled against him, and disputed the crown with him, and upbraiding him with his treachery and perfidious∣ness:—It has been decided but a moment, an∣swered the unfortunate prince, which of us two is the traitor.