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Quotations about Liberty and Power

About this Quotation:

As the second anniversary of the invasion of Iraq approached it seemed appropriate to reflect on the concern many 18th century Americans had about standing armies and their preference for citizen militias. It had been an issue which many in the Commonwealthmen tradition discussed, seeing standing armies as an enormous cost for taxpayers as well as a weapon which could be used against them by the ruling monarch. Trenchard and Gordon discussed the problem repeatedly in their Cato’s Letters. One of the leading theorists on the issue was the Scotsman Andrew Fletcher as this quotation from his 1698 tract shows.

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Other quotes about Politics & Liberty:

14 February, 2005

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Andrew Fletcher believed that too many people were deceived by the “ancient terms and outwards forms” of their government but had in fact lost their ancient liberties (1698)

Read the full quote in context here.

In a discourse about the dangers to liberty of standing armies Fletcher makes an interesting point about how easily deluded people can become about the gradual loss of traditional liberties:

Now if any man in compassion to the miseries of a people should endeavour to disabuse them in anything relating to government, he will certainly incur the displeasure, and perhaps be pursued by the rage of those, who think they find their account in the oppression of the world; but will hardly succeed in his endeavours to undeceive the multitude. For the generality of all ranks of men are cheated by words and names; and provided the ancient terms and outward forms of any government be retained, let the nature of it be never so much altered, they continue to dream that they shall still enjoy their former liberty, and are not to be awakened till it prove too late. Of this there are many remarkable examples in history; but that particular instance which I have chosen to insist on, as most suitable to my purpose, is the alteration of government which happened in most countries of Europe about the year 1500.

The full passage from which this quotation was taken can be be viewed below (front page quote in bold):

There is not perhaps in human affairs anything so unaccountable as the indignity and cruelty with which the far greater part of mankind suffer themselves to be used under pretence of government. For some men falsely persuading themselves that bad governments are advantageous to them, as most conducing to gratify their ambition, avarice, and luxury, set themselves with the utmost art and violence to procure their establishment: and by such men almost the whole world has been trampled underfoot, and subjected to tyranny, for want of understanding by what means and methods they were enslaved. For though mankind take great care and pains to instruct themselves in other arts and sciences, yet very few apply themselves to consider the nature of government, an enquiry so useful and necessary both to magistrate and people. Nay, in most countries the arts of state being altogether directed either to enslave the people, or to keep them under slavery; it is become almost everywhere a crime to reason about matters of government. But if men would bestow a small part of the time and application which they throw away upon curious but useless studies, or endless gaming, in perusing those excellent rules and examples of government which the ancients have left us, they would soon be enabled to discover all such abuses and corruptions as tend to the ruin of public societies. It is therefore very strange that they should think study and knowledge necessary in everything they go about, except in the noblest and most useful of all applications, the art of government.

Now if any man in compassion to the miseries of a people should endeavour to disabuse them in anything relating to government, he will certainly incur the displeasure, and perhaps be pursued by the rage of those, who think they find their account in the oppression of the world; but will hardly succeed in his endeavours to undeceive the multitude. For the generality of all ranks of men are cheated by words and names; and provided the ancient terms and outward forms of any government be retained, let the nature of it be never so much altered, they continue to dream that they shall still enjoy their former liberty, and are not to be awakened till it prove too late. Of this there are many remarkable examples in history; but that particular instance which I have chosen to insist on, as most suitable to my purpose, is the alteration of government which happened in most countries of Europe about the year 1500. And it is worth observation, that though this change was fatal to their liberty, yet it was not introduced by the contrivance of ill-designing men; nor were the mischievous consequences perceived, unless perhaps by a few wise men, who, if they saw it, wanted power to prevent it.

[More works by Andrew Fletcher (1655 – 1716)]