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Civilitas

George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation

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Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and — Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”

James Madison on Human Nature and Government

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What is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the governement; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.

Immanuel Kant on Crooked Humanity

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The difficulty which the mere thought of this problem puts before our eyes is this. Man is an animal which, if it lives among others of its kind, requires a master. For he certainly abuses his freedom with respect to other men, and although as, a reasonable being he wishes to have a law which limits the freedom of all, his selfish animal impulses tempt him, where possible, to exempt himself from them. He thus requires a master, who will break his will and force him to obey a will that is universally valid, under which each can be free. But whence does he get this master? Only from the human race. But then the master is himself an animal, and needs a master. Let him begin it as he will, it is not to be seen how he can procure a magistracy which can maintain public justice and which is itself just, whether it be a single person or a group of several elected persons. For each of them will always abuse his freedom if he has none above him to exercise force in accord with the laws. The highest master should be just in himself, and yet a man. This task is therefore the hardest of all; indeed, its complete solution is impossible, for from such crooked wood as man is made of, nothing perfectly straight can be built.

David Hume on a World Cursed and Polluted

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And why should man, added he, pretend to an exemption from the lot of all other animals? The whole earth, believe me, Philo, is cursed and polluted. A perpetual war is kindled amongst all living creatures. Necessity, hunger, want, stimulate the strong and courageous: Fear, anxiety, terror, agitate the weak and infirm. The first entrance into life gives anguish to the new-born infant and to its wretched parent: Weakness, impotence, distress, attend each stage of that life: and it is at last finished in agony and horror. … Were a stranger to drop on a sudden into this world, I would show him, as a specimen of its ills, a hospital full of diseases, a prison crowded with malefactors and debtors, a field of battle strewed with carcasses, a fleet foundering in the ocean, a nation languishing under tyranny, famine, or pestilence. To turn the gay side of life to him, and give him a notion of its pleasures; whither should I conduct him? to a ball, to an opera, to court? He might justly think, that I was only showing him a diversity of distress and sorrow.

David Hume on Submission to Government

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Nothing appears more surprizing to those, who consider human affairs with a philosophical eye, than the easiness with which the many are governed by the few; and the implicit submission, with which men resign their own sentiments and passions to those of their rulers. When we enquire by what means this wonder is effected, we shall find, that, as Force is always on the side of the governed, the governors have nothing to support them but opinion. It is therefore, on opinion only that government is founded; and this maxim extends to the most despotic and most military governments, as well as to the most free and most popular.

David Hume on Doubt, Dissent, and Solitude

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I am first affrighted and confounded with that forlorn solitude, in which I am placed in my philosophy, and fancy myself some strange uncouth monster, who not being able to mingle and unite in society, has been expelled all human commerce, and left utterly abandon’d and disconsolate. Fain would I run into the crowd for shelter and warmth; but cannot prevail with myself to mix with such deformity. I call upon others to join me, in order to make a company apart; but no one will hearken to me. Every one keeps at a distance, and dreads that storm, which beats upon me from every side. I have expos’d myself to the enmity of all metaphysicians, logicians, mathematicians, and even theologians; and can I wonder at the insults I must suffer? I have declared my disapprobation of their systems; and can I be surprised, if they should express a hatred of mine and of my person? When I look abroad, I foresee on every side, dispute, contradiction, anger, calumny and detraction. When I turn my eye inward, I find nothing but doubt and ignorance. All the world conspires to oppose and contradict me; tho’ such is my weakness, that I feel all my opinions loosen and fall of themselves, when unsupported by the approbation of others. Every step I take is with hesitation, and every new reflection makes me dread an error and absurdity in my reasoning.

For with what confidence can I venture upon such bold enterprises, when beside those numberless infirmities peculiar to myself, I find so many which are common to human nature? Can I be sure, that in leaving all established opinions I am following truth; and by what criterion shall I distinguish her, even if fortune shou’d at last guide me on her foot-steps? After the most accurate and exact of my reasonings, I can give no reason why I shou’d assent to it; and feel nothing but a strong propensity to consider objects strongly in that view, under which they appear to me. Experience is a principle, which instructs me in the several conjunctions of objects for the past. Habit is another principle, which determines me to expect the same for the future; and both of them conspiring to operate upon the imagination, make me form certain ideas in a more intense and lively manner, than others, which are not attended with the same advantages. Without this quality, by which the mind enlivens some ideas beyond others (which seemingly is so trivial, and so little founded on reason) we cou’d never assent to any argument, nor carry our view beyond those few objects, which are present to our senses. Nay, even to these objects we could never attribute any existence, but what was dependent on the senses; and must comprehend them entirely in that succession of perceptions, which constitutes our self or person. Nay farther, even with relation to that succession, we cou’d only admit of those perceptions, which are immediately present to our consciousness, nor cou’d those lively images, with which the memory presents us, be ever receiv’d as true pictures of past perceptions. The memory, senses, and understanding are, therefore, all of them founded on the imagination, or the vivacity of our ideas.

A Letter Concerning Toleration

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John Locke here sets a clear purpose: “to distinguish exactly the business of civil government from that of religion, and to settle the just bounds that lie between the one and the other”. Specifically, the concern of the state is the commonwealth, especially the protection of property, and the just use of force to that end. The concern of the church, on the other hand, is the care of souls, to which force is ill-suited. What is essential is toleration: the state’s toleration of the church, and each sect’s toleration of another. Indeed, Locke argues that the mark of any truly Christian church will be toleration; this, because of Christ’s “Gospel of peace” and of the impossibility of forced belief. “Whatever profession we make, to whatever outward worship we conform, if we are not fully satisfied in our own mind that the one is true, … such profession and such practice, far from being any furtherance, are indeed great obstacles to our salvation.” Whenever a church or minister reaches for powers of the state, the power to dispossess others of freedom or property, their true ambition is betrayed, “what they desire is temporal dominion”. State authority is also circumscribed, “The care of souls cannot belong to the civil magistrate, because his power consists only in outward force: but true and saving religion consists in the inward persuasion of the mind…” It is refreshing to see in Locke that the obvious incongruity of Christian coercion is not a recent realization. For example, Locke notes Jesus’ prediction that Christians will suffer persecution, but far be it that Christians become persecutors, to “force others by fire and sword, to embrace her faith and doctrine”. One could object to Locke’s claim that “the only business of the church is the salvation of souls”, if that in effect precludes the church working towards a just and civil society in the here and now. Nonetheless, Locke’s argument, rooted in Christian ideals and natural law, is rightly credited for the delineation of church and state authority that later emerged in America. ~ Nate

Political Writings: John Locke

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John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government (c. 1681) is perhaps the key founding liberal text. A Letter Concerning Toleration, written in 1685 (a year when a Catholic monarch came to the throne of England and Louis XVI unleashed a reign of terror against Protestants in France), is a classic defense of religious freedom. Yet many of Locke’s other writings — not least the Constitutions of Carolina, which he helped draft — are almost defiantly anti-liberal in outlook. This comprehensive collection brings together the main published works (excluding polemical attacks on other people’s views) with the most important surviving evidence from among Locke’s papers relating to his political philosophy. David Wootton’s wide-ranging and scholarly Introduction sets the writings in the context of their time, examines Locke’s developing ideas and unorthodox Christianity, and analyzes his main arguments. The result is the first fully rounded picture of Locke’s political thought in his own words. ~ Publisher’s Description