Hume: the governed

The governed resign control of their lives to the people who govern. So it is the opinion of the many – that they remain powerless – by which the powerful maintain their control.

There are two kinds of opinion: opinion of interest and opinion of right. Opinion of interest means the population at large believes in the advantages of goverment. This opinion gives a sitting government security. Opinion of right is the right to power and right to property.

Why so easy for the few to govern the many? Why turn over how you think and what you like to governors so easily?

Government is established and maintained by controlling the the opinion of the governed.

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. The soldan of Egypt, or the emperor of Rome, might drive his harmless subjects, like brute beasts, against their sentiments and inclination: But he must, at least, have led his mamalukes, or prætorian bands, like men, by their opinion.

Opinion is of two kinds, to wit, opinion of interest, and opinion of right. By opinion of interest, I chiefly understand the sense of the general advantage which is reaped from government; together with the persuasion, that the particular government, which is established, is equally advantageous with any other that could easily be settled. When this opinion prevails among the generality of a state, or among those who have the force in their hands, it gives great security to any government.

Right is of two kinds, right to Power and right to Property. What prevalence opinion of the first kind has over mankind, may easily be understood, by observing the attachment which all nations have to their ancient government, and even to those names, which have had the sanction of antiquity. Antiquity always begets the opinion of right; and whatever disadvantageous sentiments we may entertain of mankind, they are always found to be prodigal both of blood and treasure in the maintenance of public justice. There is, indeed, no particular, in which, at first sight, there may appear a greater contradiction in the frame of the human mind than the present. When men act in a faction, they are apt, without shame or remorse, to neglect all the ties of honour and morality, in order to serve their party; and yet, when a faction is formed upon a point of right or principle, there is no occasion, where men discover a greater obstinacy, and a more determined sense of justice and equity. The same social disposition of mankind is the cause of these contradictory appearances.

David Hume, 1777

friendly islands
December 5, 2009, 12:57 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: ,

Often the names we know places by is nothing like the names the locals use.  In Italian, it’s not Florence, but Firenze, not Naples but Napoli, not Padua but Padova, not Venice but Venezia, not Milan but Milano, not Genoa but Genova.  To the Danes it’s not Copenhagen but Kobenhavn (pronounced Koopen-howen).  To the Yugoslavians it’s not Belgrade but Beograd.  To the Russians it’s not Moscow but Moskva.  And to the Dutch it’s not The Hague but Den Haag.  The names of countries are even more at variance with their English versions.  Try covering up the left-hand column below and seeing how many you can guess.

Greece – Ellinki Dimokratia

Finland – Suomen Tasavalta

Hungary – Magyar Nepkoztarasag

Albania – Shqiperi

Japan – Nihon

Greenland – Kalatdlit Nunat

Jordan – Al Mamlaka al Urduniya al Hashemiyah

South Korea – Han Kook

North Korea – Chosun Minchu-chui Immin Kongwhaguk

Morocco – al-Mamlaka al-Maghrebia

China – Zhonghua Renmin Gonghe Guo

Sweden – Konungariket Sverige

Tonga – Friendly Islands

~from The Mother Tongue, Bill Bryson, Penguin 2009