Saturday, August 13, 2011

David Hume and the Republican Tradition of Human Scale

This is a fairly long essay, but well worth reading.

"Third, with the collapse of the landed gentry and nobility, a traditional order rooted in land and place would collapse in favor of rule by a new rootless class of stockjobbers and paper money men. “These men,” Hume writes, having “no connections with the state...can enjoy their revenue in any part of the globe in which they chuse to reside, who will naturally bury themselves in the capital or great cities, and who will sink into the lethargy of a stupid and pampered luxury, without spirit, ambition, or enjoyment. Adieu to all ideas of nobility, gentry, and family” (E, 353). Hume’s criticism of public credit mirrors exactly Jefferson’s criticism of the public debt system proposed by Alexander Hamilton...."

"And elsewhere he describes them as a “middle power between King and people” (E, 358).With their elimination, a pure Hobbesian state would emerge with a centralized authority ruling directly over an aggregate of millions of individuals. In this condition, “every man in authority derives his influence from the commission alone of the sovereign.” And “the whole income of every individual in the state must lie entirely at the mercy of the sovereign” (E, 358-59). Hume thinks this form of despotism intimated in eighteenth century centralized states, if realized, would be “a degree of despotism, which no oriental monarchy has ever yet attained” (E, 359). What Hume considered despotism is viewed as normal today. A European monarch in Hume’s day could not order military conscription nor impose an income tax, which would have been viewed as a form of forced labor."

Read the full essay here

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