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Enough has been said of Harrington's work to show that he was no revolutionary demagogue. In the history of English political thought he must be placed as the forerunner of Locke and of the individualist utilitarians of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The following sentence, taken from his “System of Politics,” might have served as a motto for the doctrines of the latter, “The interest of Democracy is the felicity of the people : for in Democracy the government is for the use of the people.”ı He was a writer of restraint, who rarely allowed himself to stray on to the psychological aspect of the democratic ideal, but here and there he produced sentences and sentiments worthy of Abraham Lincoln.
Whereas the People taken apart are but so many privat interests but if you take them together they are the public interest.” 2 The people cannot see but they can feel.” 3 These are the very catchwords of modern democracy. But Harrington rarely let them fall. He preferred to confine the main part of his work to a concrete illustration or a historical defence of the principles which he held. He believed that there was no such thing as pure democracy except at the moments of a nation's history, when the people,
reduced to misery and despair become their own Politicians, as certain Beasts, when they are sick, become their own Physicians." 4 The true ideal of democracy is not attained when the people take the government into their own hands, but when with aconscious exercise of their sovereign power (they cannot, as Hobbes would have them, resign it 5) they content themselves with electing representatives to adopt or reject the proposals made by others of their own number. 1" A System of Politics,” p. 501.
: "Oceana,” p. 155. Political Aphorisms,” p. 515.
4 "Oceana,” p. 151. Valerius and Publicola," p. 478.
HARRINGTON'S PUBLIC LIFE AND MINOR WRITINGS
HARRINGTON'S work, which had at first been regarded as dangerous, was very soon labelled as too unpractical to call for any alarm. The following which the isolated and unknown author gathered round him was at first not considerable. He could hardly have hoped to win favour with the so-called republicans. The party was itself not united. The Fifth Monarchy men, who were in favour of adopting the republican form of government till Christ returned to occupy the throne, were still active. Harrington called them hypocrites. The other section, led by men like Ludlow and Haselrigge, were entirely out of touch with them; they protested against the monarchical element in the Protectorate, because they desired to return to the form of parliamentary government which had been exercised by the Long Parliament from 1649 to 1653. Harrington called them oligarchists. If he received little support from the party which stood for republican institutions, he must have expected still less sympathy from the supporters of the government of the Protector.
Cromwell read “Oceana ” and laughed at it, remarking in his dry manner that “the Gentleman had like to trepan him out of his Power, but that what he got by the Sword he would not quit for a little paper
But he did not despise Harrington. He
1 Toland, xx.
realised that there was a genuine risk of the republican party being united under the leadership of men like Sidney, Nevile, Marten, Wildman, and the author of “ Oceana." He therefore took pains to emphasise the secular leanings of these men in order to prejudice the various sects, especially the Fifth Monarchy men, against them. He saw the weak point in Harrington's position. Harrington was not the atheist that he was painted ; but he was well known to be the friend of “religious Harry Nevile," who acknowledged that he received as much inspiration from a passage in Cicero as a passage in the Bible; and he had himself charged sectarian, Presbyterian, and Anglican alike with hypocrisy. And, though in his writings he declared in emphatic terms his belief in the supreme necessity of religion, he was not inspired with the stern ideal of Puritanism and the burning desire to introduce godliness at the point of the sword, which characterised many of the actors in the Great Rebellion.
If Cromwell hoped to estrange the Fifth Monarchy men by pointing to Harrington's atheistical tendencies, he hoped to estrange supporters of the constitution of 1649 by a different argument. It was not difficult to point out the novelty of the changes advocated in “Oceana”; for the institutions of England were to be entirely re-shaped by Harrington's schemes. Instead of a parliamentary government of ancient lineage and historical sanction, a hotch-potch of foreign constitutions was to be served up suddenly in a country entirely unaccustomed to them. Where indeed would the Long Parliament be in “Oceana ” ? ?
Both these arguments appealed very strongly to
Burnet, “ History of My Own Times," i. 120. • Cf. Cromwell's Speech of Sept. 17, 1656; Carlyle, Speech V., Lomas ed
HIS GROWING CONSERVATISM
Cromwell himself. He could not understand how people could argue, “Oh, if we could but exercise wisdom to get Civil Liberty-Religion would follow," and he was voicing the sentiments of nearly all England when he condemned Harrington for irreligion. As a man of action he liked the doctrinaire elements of “Oceana" little better than, as a Puritan, he liked its secular tone. Almost an empiricist in politics, he spoke in the bitterest terms of the “Constitutionpedantries and parchments ”i of men like Harington, adding the Puritanical comment that their
formalities,' notions,” and “speeches” were not satisfactory instruments “ to defy all the opposition that the Devil and man can make." Marchamont Nedham pointed out in “Mercurius Politicus” that “all forms of government are but temporary expedients to be taken upon trial, as necessity and right reason of state enjoins, in order to the public safety ; and that as 'tis a madness to contend for any form, when the reason of it is gone, so 'tis neither dishonour nor scandal, by following right reason, to shift through every form, and after all other experiments made in vain, when the ends of government cannot otherwise be conserved, to revert upon the old bottom and foundation." 2 Cromwell himself grew more and more conservative as he felt his feet. In attempting to secure the historical continuity which he desired, and bridge over the biggest gaps that had been made he was obliged to create an “other house " to replace the House of Peers and accept the sceptre at the same time as he refused the crown. Conservative minds looked on contentedly at the gradual return to the conditions
1 The phrase is Carlyle's.
: " Merc. Pol.,” March 26-April 2, 1657, quoted in Firth, “ Last Years of the Protectorate," i. 160.
to which England had been acclimatised by many years of evolution. The protests of those who would begin over again were uttered in vain.
The series of letters from Utopia, which Nedham wrote in the “Mercurius Politicus” at the beginning of 1657, were the earliest of the many attempts to kill the Harringtonian doctrines with ridicule. Serious as well as satirical, Nedham adopted the conservative line of the Protector, whom his journal supported, and directed his shafts at the pedantry of every doctrinaire proposal that was brought forward. He deplored the
infectious itch of scribbling politicians ”; he described how the world had been “a maddening in disputes about Government, that is to say about Notions, Forms and Shadows”; he depicted the landing of “ a jolly crew of the inhabitants of the island of Oceana in company of the learned author himself"; he proposed as a stringent remedy for this unfortunate tendency of the time the pensioning of a State Droll
as a most necessary officer to correct all that presume to Print or Dispute about Models of Government." i
Harrington was not put off by opposition or ridicule of this kind. Like all the writers of this tempestuous time he gloried in controversy, and deplored nothing which helped to advertise his opinions. He found an excuse to publish on January 3rd correspondence on the theories of “Oceana," which had taken place between himself and a clerical acquaintance of his sister's, Dr Ferne. He heard with delight the interest which he was creating at Oxford, where a gang of students boasted that they could produce forty examples in disproof of his doctrine of the balance.2 And on August 14th he hailed the appearance of the
1 "Mercurius Politicus,” No. 352, E. 143. : "The Prerogative of Popular Government,” p. 380.