[Written in c.1998 as draft of a chapter for ‘Riddle of the Modern World’, but not used in that book. Parts of treatment of David Hume overlap with another, published article on David Hume]


                                               Alan Macfarlane

     Alexander Pope inherited many of the concerns of his predecessors. His famous summary of the contradictions in man's nature is contained in the first part of the Second Epistle in his Essay on Man. There he described the intermediary position of mankind, placed half‑way between God and beast, in doubt to prefer his mind or body, 'great lord of all things, yet a prey to all', 'sole judge of truth, in endless error hurled'. Among the many contra­dictions behind his poem, the one which I shall concentrate on here is that which deeply concerned and puzzled most of the eighteenth century thinkers, namely how to reconcile the two sides of man's nature, the selfish, ambi­tious, competitive side, and the social, co‑operative, creative and loving side.

   Some of these paradoxes had been forcefully put by the slightly earlier writer, Bernard Mandeville. In his infamous Fable of the Bees (1714), he had touched on the strange fact that in this newly emerging world, private vice and public virtue were no longer working against each other. He summarized the argument in his doggerel poem, 'The Grumbling Hive: Or, Knaves Turn'd Honest'. The central theme, which could be taken as a portrait of Hanoverian England, is well put in the following verses.

    'Thus every Part was full of Vice,

     Yet the whole Mass a Paradice;

     Flatter'd in Peace, and fear'd in Wars

     They were th'Esteem of Foreigners,

     And lavish of their Wealth and Lives,

     The Ballance of all other Hives.

     Such were the Blessings of that State;

     Their Crimes conspired to make 'em Great;

     And Vertue, who from Politicks

     Had learn'd a Thousand cunning Tricks,

     Was, by their happy Influence,

     Made Friends with Vice: And ever since

     The Worst of all the Multitude

     Did something for the common Good.'

   It was 'vice' or selfishness which was the motor which had elevated the countries Mandeville knew best, Hol­land and England, to an unprecedented level of affluence.

     'Thus Vice nursed Ingenuity,

      Which join'd with time, and Industry

      Had carry'd Life's Conveniences,

      Its real Pleasures, Comforts, Ease,

      To such a Height, the very Poor

      Lived better than the Rich before;

      And nothing could be added more:'

    Mandeville just stated, and satirized, the contradiction. He did not try to explain how it came about. The most important problem addressed in Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments was how to combine individual desire with the public good. How could one reconcile self‑love and the social good? The new capitalist world, whose blueprint Smith would draw up must somehow allow the private passions of greed, envy, competition almost free rein since it was these passions which provided the energy for the new civilization. Yet all this must be channelled and brought into a harmony for the public benefit. This is also one of Pope's central themes and in certain passages in the Essay on Man he outlines the necessary contradictions and the way in which both self love and social co‑operation are necessary and can co‑exist. The passages, referred to by numbers in the text, are given in the appendix (to this chapter?\XXX) for those who wish to read them, since they would break up the flow of argument here if inserted in the main text.

   Pope first stated the problem as the classic one of the battle between the emotion of self‑love and the intellectual knowledge that would force people to curb their wilful desires.(1) He pointed out that both were equally necessary and indeed commendable.(2) In fact it was the very combination of the selfish passions with the rational calcula­tion of their consequences which constituted man's greatness.(3) Of course, there were many, especially in the Christian tradition, who condemned all the human passions. Yet such a blanket condemnation would halt all action and, particularly, take away that very competitive, emulative spirit which constituted the driving motor for im­provement.(4) Indeed, Pope went further and argued that all the virtues, in the end, had their roots in vices, they were transmutations of the basic human instincts.(5) Often, in fact, it was impossible to tell where, in this myste­rious alchemy of vice into virtue, of self‑love into social benefit, the boundaries were.(6) Pope indeed argued that much of the greatness and glory of mankind emerged by transmutation from his vices.(7) It was the very private and selfish passions which forced people to depend on each other for their fulfilment and hence linked them into a system of social interdependence which contributed to the general benefit.(8)

   Pope also treated the problem of the joining of self‑interest and the public good in an historical manner. He gave a brief history of the stages of human civilization. In the original hunter‑gatherer world, when there was no state or society, selfishness and mutual sympathy and support were already blended.(9) As mankind moved from this stage into 'civilization', the world of states and governments and laws, self‑love remained the source of both energy and that balance that restrained too much egotism.(10) The argument is close to that of the Hobbesian thesis that the original social contract emerged out of fear. Pope showed how it became in the interest of even the powerful to restrain their private lusts. Fear, in fact, bred virtue.(11) The miracle had been achieved, for the powerful discovered that 'public benefit' led to the gratification of 'private vice'. The wealth of one's subjects, for instance, made one more wealthy. Direct predation brought less rewards than a long‑term cultivation of the kingdom.

    Towards the end of his treatment of this theme, Pope drew on powerful imagery, firstly from horticulture and then from Newtonian physics to try to explain the way in which apparently contradictory and opposed forces, individual selfishness, and the social or public good, were not intrinsically incompatible, but could in fact support each other. In this imagery he caught the essence of the new world, the core of modern individualistic capitalism, which turns the most crude and anti‑social of human passions, competitive greed, into a force which enriches all.(12) To complete his picture of this process, Pope provided one final metaphor, namely that of concentric rings, like ripples in a pond. The extreme atomistic individualism, the Darwinian urge to survive, to follow pri­vate strategies, the selfish gene, would in fact spread out into wider and wider circles of mutual support and apparently altruistic behaviour. Thus the great puzzle of the contradiction between individual and group benefit would be overcome.(13) As Farrer points out, Adam Smith likewise stated that '"Every man is first and principal­ly recommended to his own care" and, after himself, his friends, his country or mankind become by degrees the object of his sympathies.' [1]

   Both Smith and Pope were influenced by the philosopher Bolingbroke,  who had argued in very similar terms. Bolingbroke wrote for example that 'Society cannot be maintained without benevolence, justice, and the other moral virtues. These virtues, therefore, are the foundation of society: and thus men are led, by a chain of neces­sary consequences, from the instinctive to the rational law of nature, if I may speak so. Self‑love operates in all these stages. We love ourselves, we love our families, we love the particular societies to which we belong, and our benevolence extends at last to the whole race of mankind.' [2] Or as he put it more succinctly, 'Self‑love, the original spring of human actions, directs us necessarily to sociability. The same determination of nature appears in other animals.' [3] This was given by the nature of man's constitution and the way in which God had created him so that individual and social good were inextricably linked. Referring to God, Bolingbroke argued that '...since the author of our nature has deemed us irresistibly to desire our own happiness, and since he has constituted us so, that private good depends on the public, and the happiness of every individual on the happiness of society, the practice of all the social virtues is the law of our nature, and made such by the will of God...' [4] The paradoxical effects of self‑love were also noted by Montesquieu when he wrote 'It is the desire to please which gives Society its cohesion, and such as been the luck of mankind that this self‑love, which should dissolve Society, on the con­trary, strengthens it and renders it unshakeable.' [5]

    The message is ultimately optimistic. There is a proclamation of the unity of thought and passion, private and public, of God and man. Yet how could one be so sure of the master‑plan behind the often confusing surface of unfairness and contradiction? Here we can examine another theme which explains how self‑love and social were brought into harmony and which again reflects on one of Smith's most famous theories, the working of the 'invis­ible hand'.

   It is well known that Adam Smith's economic system was based on the premise that governmental control of the market was largely unnecessary because an 'invisible hand' would make the parts work together, more explicitly through the equilibrium of the laws of supply and demand. People could relax, stop tinkering with controls, let the harmony at the heart of the system express itself. It is less well known that the doctrine of the invisible hand is explicitly explored by Pope. What this earlier version shows is that the whole doctrine is closely related to ideas of 'natural law'. There was a  creating and overseeing force, which was the invisible power behind the invisible hand.  By the time that Smith wrote, the God behind the hand had receded so that only a trace of His face was left. In Pope he is much more clearly present.

     Pope starts by admitting that the world of nature is indeed a confusing spectacle, yet behind it there lies a scheme.(14) We will understand this plan if we come to recognize that, as Newton had shown, the external visible world is only a part of the truth, that behind the surface reality lie deeper truths and other worlds.(15) Pope then begins to build up a picture of how the apparently random, undirected, chaotic world is, in fact, as Newton had shown, subject to laws laid down by a force which we cannot as yet understand.(16) God, or some mysterious power, had put all the parts of creation in such a set of mutual relations that, like harmony created out of separate and apparently discordant notes, all things melded together. Then, reflecting God's purpose, the great sages 'If not God's image yet his shadow drew' and taught mankind how to restrain the lust to power so that there would be a harmony of interests.(17) This was the balanced constitutional monarchy which had emerged in England, where the 'invisible hand' seemed to have created, and be sustaining, a perfect balance of powers.(18) Thus it was possible to envisage a world where government and religion could fade away into Smith's night‑watchman state and night‑watchman church.(19) And so Pope brings this part of his Essay on Man to a close with a final en­dorsement of the theme that the invisible hand would ensure that things would operate to the benefit of man of their own accord, and that out of the contradictions of private passions would emerge the harmony of public good. When one held up the mirror of wit to Nature one found the truth about man, namely that 'true self‑love and social are the same.'(20)

   All these themes were elaborated in Adam Smith's work. In relation to the clash of passions, we are told that 'an overriding aim of TMS [Theory of Moral Sentiments] concerns an issue prominent in Hume's treatment of justice: to show how the "partial and contradictory motions of the passions" can be restrained (Treatise III.ii.2).' [6] Smith agreed with Pope that self‑interested actions should not necessarily be condemned: 'The condition of human nature were peculiarly hard, if those affections, which, by the very nature of our being, ought frequently to influ­ence our conduct, could upon no occasion appear virtuous, or deserve esteem and commendation from any body'. [7] He echoed Pope's argument that people should be allowed to pursue their own self‑interest as long as 'their means be fair'; 'Every man, as long as he does not violate the laws of justice, is left perfectly free to pursue his own interest his own way...' [8] He recognized that it was necessary to move from self‑love to social. 'And hence it is, that to feel much for others, and little for ourselves, that to restrain our selfish, and to indulge our benevolent, affections, constitutes the perfection of human nature; and can alone produce among mankind that harmony of sentiments and passions in which consists their whole grace and propriety.' [9] But he believed that this would happen automatically. This was partly because people were motivated above all by the desire to win the approval of others. He asked what the main aim of 'bettering our condition' was and answered 'To be observed, to be attended to, to be taken notice of with sympathy, complacency, and approbation...It is the vanity, not the ease, or the pleasure, which interests us.' [10] Thus 'how selfish soever man may be supposed, there are certainly some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortunes of other, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing except the pleasure of seeing it.' [11] Thus self‑love and social would be in harmony and 'by acting according to the dictates of our moral faculties, we necessarily pursue the most effectual means for promoting the happiness of mankind...' [12]

   Pope's solution to the contradiction  was extended and deepened in the great corpus of work from the Theory of Moral Sentiments to the Wealth of Nations  These  encapsulate many of the moral contradictions of individualis­tic capitalism, in particular its eternal tension between private self‑interest and the public good, between the pas­sions and the interests, the vices and the virtues. Whether Smith gave too much endorsement to  man's selfish nature  has remained a central and widely debated issue in Smithian studies. [13]

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   What Pope had done was to combine the vestiges of Christianity with the new Newtonian physics in order to set up a poetic model of a self‑regulating system. What he did not attempt to do, except very briefly, was to explore how such a system had emerged in just one part of the world at that time. He was not a historian or anthropologist and this was not his problem. One of those who did combine those roles and presents one of the most coherent early accounts of the strange new world where Mandeville's paradox could occur was the philosopher David Hume. Of course Hume wrote on many other aspects of the problem of the foundations of modern systems of thought and morality, but let us briefly look just at that aspect in which he approaches the problem of how and why a successful commercial, liberal, economy had emerged in western Europe alone. [14]

   Hume was well aware of the contradiction at the heart of political economy. As wealth accumulated there would be a tendency towards increasing political absolutism and hierarchy. 'For so great is the natural ambition of men that they are never satisfied with power; and if one order of men, by pursuing its own interest, can usurp upon every other order, it will certainly do so, and render itself, as far as possible, absolute and uncontroulable.' [15] Such hierarchy and absolutism would crush wealth production. Hume noted that 'It has become an established opinion, that commerce can never flourish but in a free government', and he agreed that 'notwithstanding the efforts of the French, there is something hurtful to commerce inherent in the very nature of absolute government, and insepara­ble from it...' [16]

   Hume's explanation for the link, however, was not the conventional one. 'Commerce, therefore, in my opinion, is apt to decay in absolute governments, not because it is there less secure, but because it is less honourable. A subordination of rank is absolutely necessary to the support of monarchy. Birth, titles, and place, must be ho­noured above industry and riches. And while these notions prevail, all the considerable traders will be tempted to throw up their commerce, in order to purchase some of those employments, to which privileges and honours are annexed.' [17] His theory that it was basically the search for honour and political privileges which would destroy economic progress fits well with his central argument that there was a deep connection between commerce, manufacture and political liberty.

    Hume believed that a purely agrarian population would of necessity be economically stagnant. 'Where manu­factures and mechanic arts are not cultivated, the bulk of the people must apply themselves to agriculture; and if their skill and industry increase, there must arise a great superfluity from their labour, beyond what suffices to maintain them. They have no temptation, therefore, to increase their skill and industry; since they cannot ex­change that superfluity for any commodities, which may serve either to their pleasure or vanity. A habit of indo­lence naturally prevails. The greater part of the land lies uncultivated.' [18] All efforts to raise agricultural productivi­ty would have to rely on force and would largely be fruitless.

    On the other hand, the presence of trade and manufactures would naturally encourage the agricultural worker to produce more. 'It is a violent method, and in most cases impracticable, to oblige the labourer to toil, in order to raise from the land more than what subsists himself and family. Furnish him with manufactures and commodi­ties, and he will do it of himself.' [19] It was for this reason that 'The most natural way, surely, of encouraging husbandry is, first, to excite other kinds of industry, and thereby afford the labourer a ready market for his commodities, and a return for such goods as may contribute to his pleasure and enjoyment.' [20]

     Wealth would tend to accumulate through this process. 'When a nation abounds in manufactures and mechanic arts, the proprietors of land, as well as the farmers, study agriculture as a science, and redouble their industry and attention. The superfluity, which arises from their labour, is not lost; but is exchanged with manufactures for those commodities which men's luxury now makes them covet.' [21] Furthermore, the increase of commodities 'are a kind of storehouse of labour, which, in the exigencies of the state, may be turned to the public service.' [22]

    The beneficial side effects of a growth of commercial and manufacturing activity were numerous. 'Laws, order, police, discipline; these can never be carried to any degree of perfection, before human reason has refined itself by exercise, and by an application to the more vulgar arts, at least, of commerce and manufacture.' [23] Anoth­er effect was that 'It is an infallible consequence of all industrious professions to beget frugality, and make the love of gain prevail over the love of pleasure.' [24] The link between a monetary economy and frugality lay in the fact that, in relation to an individual, 'if the employment you give him be lucrative, especially if the profit be at­tached to every particular exertion of industry, he has gain so often in his eye, that he acquires, by degrees, a passion for it, and knows no such pleasure as that of seeing the daily  increase of his fortune. And this is the reason why trade increases frugality, and why, among merchants, there is the same overplus of misers above prodigals, as, among the possessors of land, there is the contrary.' [25]

    Another effect was to lower interest rates, hence making economic innovation easier. 'Commerce alone assem­bles it [money] into considerable sums; and this effect it has merely from the industry which it begets, and the frugality which it inspires...Thus an increase of commerce, by a necessary consequence, raises a great number of lenders, and by that means produces lowness of interest.' [26] Furthermore, a cycle begins whereby prices also drop. 'I may add, that, as low profits arise from the increase of commerce and industry, they serve in their turn to its farther increase, by rendering the commodities cheaper, encouraging the consumption, and heightening the indus­try.' [27]

   In general, then, a market economy stimulated by trade and industry becomes dynamic and self‑sustaining. 'Thus men become acquainted with the pleasures of luxury, and the profits of commerce; and their delicacy and industry, being once awakened, carry them on to farther improvements in every branch of domestic as well as foreign trade.' [28] Commerce with strangers 'rouses men from their indolence; and presenting the gayer and more opulent part of the nation with objects of luxury which they never before dreamed of, raises in them a desire, of a more splendid way of life than what their ancestors enjoyed.' [29] It is for this reason that 'we find, that, in every kingdom, into which money begins to flow in greater abundance than formerly, every thing takes a new face: labour and industry gain life; the merchant becomes more enterprising, the manufacturer more diligent and skill­ful, and even the farmer follows his plough with greater alacrity and attention.' [30] The benefits can be seen by a contrast with a simple agricultural existence. In such a pre‑market world, 'It is the simple manner of living which here hurts the public, by confining the gold and silver to few hands, and preventing its universal diffusion and circulation. On the contrary, industry and refinements of all kinds incorporate it with the whole state, however small its quantity may be: they digest it into every vein, so to speak; and make it enter into every transaction and contract.' [31]

    Furthermore, this quickening impulse spreads from country to country. 'There seems to be a happy concur­rence of causes in human affairs, which checks the growth of trade and riches, and hinders them from being confined entirely to one people; as might naturally at first be dreaded from the advantages of an established commerce.' [32] This is because, although there are advantages in being an early developer, 'these advantages are compensated, in some measure, by the low price of labour in every nation which has not an extensive commerce, and does not much abound in gold and silver. Manufactures, therefore, gradually shift their places, leaving those countries and provinces which they have already enriched and flying to others, whither they are allured by the cheapness of provisions and labour; till they have enriched these also, and are again banished by the same causes.' [33]

    Thus Hume had outlined the expanding power of market capitalism and the advantages of trade, manufacture and money. It is no wonder that he thought that merchants are 'one of the most useful races of men, who serve as agents between those parts of the state, that are wholly unacquainted, and are ignorant of each other's necessities.' [34] Indeed merchants 'beget industry, by serving as canals to convey it through every corner of the state: and at the same time, by their frugality, they acquire great power over that industry, and collect a large property in the labour and commodities, which they are the chief instruments in producing.' [35] This increase in wealth, in turn, would lead to the virtuous circle, namely the growth of a balanced political system and the liberty which would, in turn, provide the foundation for future wealth.

    The cycle was as follows. 'If we consult history, we shall find, that, in most nations, foreign trade has preced­ed any refinement in home manufactures, and given birth to luxury.' [36] This 'luxury' would then affect domestic life, for 'where luxury nourishes commerce and industry, the peasants, by a proper cultivation of the land, become rich and independent: while the tradesmen and merchants acquire a share of the property, and draw authority and consideration to that middling rank of men, who are the best and firmest basis of public liberty'. [37] Thus increasing commercial and manufacturing wealth leads to a solid middle class which is the basis of political liberty. 'If we consider the matter in a proper light, we shall find, that a progress in the arts [i.e. skilled crafts and trades] is rather favourable to liberty, and has a natural tendency to preserve, if not produce a free government. In rude unpolished nations, where the arts are neglected, all labour is bestowed on the cultivation of the ground; and the whole society is divided into two classes, proprietors of land, and their vassals or tenants.' [38] In commercial nations, a third, middling estate emerged. A practical demonstration of this was the success of the House of Commons in England in preserving English liberty. 'The lower house is the support of our popular government; and all the world acknowledges, that it owed its chief influence and consideration to the increase of commerce, which threw such a balance of property into the hands of the Commons.' [39]

     Hume was well aware that although there might be a tendency towards wealth accumulation, the historical experience and the present state of the nations of the world showed that there was no inevitability in the progress towards affluence. Like Montesquieu in  particular, he needed to understand why China seemed to have reached a 'stationary' state and why Europe had been so dynamic. Within Europe he needed to analyse why England was clearly becoming the wealthiest and most powerful nation.

    As regards the Europe and China problem, Hume put forward two theories. Firstly there was a geographical and ecological argument. Basically, he argued that natural affluence brought human indolence and poverty, while a difficult terrain encouraged industriousness and hence progress. He asked 'What is the reason, why no people, living between the tropics, could ever yet attain to any art of civility, or reach even any police in their govern­ment, and any military discipline; while few nations in the temperate climates have been altogether deprived of these advantages?' [40] He answered that 'It is probable that one cause of this phenomenon is the warmth and equali­ty of weather in the torrid zone, which render clothes and houses less requisite for the inhabitants, and thereby remove, in part, that necessity, which is the great spur to industry and invention.' [41] The same contrast could be seen within Europe. 'It may seem an odd position, that the poverty of the common people in France, Italy, and Spain, is, in some measure, owing to the superior riches of the soil and happiness of the climate; yet there want not reasons to justify this paradox.' [42] The reason was that 'In such a fine mould or soil as that of those more southern regions, agriculture is an easy art; and one man, with a couple of sorry horses, will be able, in a season, to cultivate as much land as will pay a pretty considerable rent to the proprietor.' [43] Likewise, 'The vineyards of Champagne and Burgundy, that often yield to the landlord above five pounds per acre, are cultivated by peasants, who have scarcely bread: the reason is, that such peasants need no stock but their own limbs, with instruments of husbandry, which they can buy for twenty shillings.' [44] The opposite was the case in England. 'In England, the land is rich, but coarse; must be cultivated at a great expense; and produces slender crops, when not carefully managed, and by a method which gives not the full profit but in a course of several years. A farmer, therefore, in England must have a considerable stock, and a long lease; which beget proportional profits.' [45]

    A second influence of poor natural surroundings was that it tended to force people into commerce and manufacture, for that was the way to wealth. He observed 'that the most commercial nations have not always possessed the greatest extent of fertile land; but on the contrary, that they have laboured under many natural disadvantages. Tyre, Athens, Carthage, Rhodes, Genoa, Venice, Holland, are strong examples to this purpose.' [46] If he had been alive today, Hume would have surely added Japan to this list. The case seemed to be confirmed by a contrast between Holland and Ireland. 'Sir William Temple, we may observe, ascribes the industry of the Dutch entirely to necessi­ty, proceeding from their natural disadvantages; and illustrates his doctrine by a striking comparison with Ireland; "where," says he, "by the largeness and plenty of the soil, and scarcity of people, all things necessary to life are so cheap, that an industrious man, by two days labour, may gain enough to feed him the rest of the week.' [47] Necessity was indeed the mother of invention and industriousness.

    Hume's second argument was again related to geography, but this time through its effect on political bound­aries. The ideal situation, Hume thought, was that achieved in the Greek city states. 'Greece was a cluster of little principalities, which soon became republics; and being united both by their near neighbourhood, and by the ties of the same language and interest, they entered into the closest intercourse of commerce and learning. There con­curred a happy climate, a soil not unfertile, and a most harmonious and comprehensive language; so that every circumstance among that people seemed to favour the rise of the arts and sciences.' [48] Such a favourable situation had partly re‑emerged in Europe after the fall of Roman absolutism, when 'mankind, having at length thrown off this yoke, affairs are now returned nearly to the same situation as before, and Europe is at present a copy, at large, of what Greece was formerly a pattern in miniature.' [49]

    The reason for this diversity were mainly geographical. 'If we consider the face of the globe, Europe of all the four parts of the world, is the most broken by seas, rivers, and mountains; and Greece of all countries of Europe. Hence these regions were naturally divided into several distinct governments. And hence the sciences arose in Greece; and Europe has been hitherto the most constant habitation of them.' [50] The advantage came out in the contrast with China. 'In China, there seems to be a pretty considerable stock of politeness and science, which, in the course of so many centuries, might naturally be expected to ripen into something more perfect and finished, than what has yet arisen from them.' [51] The reasons why this expectation had not been fulfilled took Hume to the heart of his theory. 'But China is one vast empire, speaking one language, governed by one law, and sympathising in the same manners. The authority of any teacher, such as Confucius, was propagated easily from one corner of the empire to the other. None had courage to resist the torrent of popular opinion.' [52]

      For Hume, political sub‑divisions within a common culture were necessary partly because of the competition they encouraged, but even more so because they diminished the danger of innovation being suppressed by tradi­tional authority and received wisdom. 'The emulation, which naturally arises among those neighbouring states, is an obvious source of improvement: but what I would chiefly insist on is the stop, which such limited territories give both to power and authority.' [53] The distinction between power and authority was essential in explaining why even without physical force, the reputation of someone like Confucius could deaden thought. Hume explained that 'the divisions into small states, are favourable to learning, by stopping the progress to authority as well as that of power. Reputation is often as great a fascination upon men as sovereignty, and is equally destructive to the free­dom of thought and examination'. [54]     

    There were other necessities. Wealth and security were also preconditions for advance. In relation to the latter Hume wrote that 'From law arises security: from security curiosity: and from curiosity knowledge. The latter steps of this progress may be more accidental: but the former are altogether necessary.' [55] Above all one needed mutual inter‑actions between independent entities. Hume, setting the whole sentence in heavy type, wrote that 'nothing is more favourable to the rise of politeness and learning, than a number of neighbouring and independent states, connected together by commerce and policy.' [56] Only such a system could slow down the natural tendency towards equilibrium or decline, for, 'when the arts and sciences came to perfection in any state, from that moment they naturally or rather necessarily decline, and seldom or never revive in that nation, where they formerly flourished.' [57]

    This left Hume with the final question, of why England was currently so conspicuously successful. The success was not in question. Writing of the two generations since the Revolution of 1688, Hume believed that 'So long and so glorious a period no nation almost can boast of: nor is there another instance in the whole history of mankind, that so many millions of people have, during such a space of time, been held together, in a manner so free, so rational, and so suitable to the dignity of human nature.' [58] England was a land where 'Public liberty, with internal peace and order, has flourished almost without interruption: trade and manufactures, and agriculture, have increased: the arts and sciences, and philosophy, have been cultivated.' [59] The fact that England was not only the wealthiest nation in the world, but that this wealth was spread very widely made it an amazing spectacle. 'In this circumstance consists the great advantage of England above any nation at present in the world, or that appears in the records of any story', and it was the cause of 'the happiness of so many millions'. [60]

    Hume believed that this widely distributed wealth was linked to the social, religious and political pluralism of England. In relation to the social, he noted the 'wonderful mixture of manners and characters in the same nation... and in this particular the English are the most remarkable of any people that perhaps ever were in the world.' [61] He expanded the social into the political and religious when he described how 'the English government is a mixture of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy. The people in authority are composed of gentry and mer­chants. All sects of religion are to be found among them. And the great liberty and independency, which every man enjoys, allows him to display the manners peculiar to him. Hence the English, of any people in the universe, have the least of a national character; unless this very singularity may appear to pass for such.' [62]

     Hume believed that what had happened in England was that, as a result of numerous factors including its island position, the political history of England had diverged from that of most of continental Europe. 'It is evi­dent, from the history of this island, that the privileges of the people have, during near two centuries, been con­tinually upon the increase, by the division of the church‑lands, by the alienations of the barons' estates, by the progress of trade, and above all by the happiness of our situation, which, for a long time, gave us sufficient secu­rity, without any standing army or military establishment.' On the other hand there was the development in conti­nental Europe. 'On the contrary, public liberty has, almost in every other nation of Europe, been, during the same period, extremely on the decline; while the people were disgusted at the hardship of the old feudal militia, and rather chose to entrust their prince with mercenary armies, which he easily turned against themselves.' [63]

    The success of England in keeping its monarchy in check was the key to its prosperity and happiness. 'Kings are sure to embrace every opportunity of extending their prerogatives: and if favourable incidents be not also laid hold of for extending and securing the privileges of the people, an universal despotism must for ever prevail amongst mankind.' [64] The English had managed to avoid this strong tendency by developing alternative institutions and the idea of a constitutional monarchy under the law. Hume believed of such ideas that 'to their prevalence and success the kingdom owes its liberty; perhaps its learning, its industry, commerce, and naval power: by them chiefly the English name is distinguished among the society of nations, and aspires to a rivalship with that of the freest and most illustrious commonwealths of antiquity.' [65] England was in a position to continue along the virtuous circle whereby wealth led to further wealth, better 'manners', and, indirectly, to that naval power with which it could protect its superiority. It had the chance to escape from the eternal contradic­tion between production and predation which had hitherto always trapped mankind.

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    With the help of Pope and Hume, added to the deep experiences of Fukuzawa, it is possible to see more clearly what the mystery at the root of our modern world is. It consists of two inter‑connected questions. There is the moral and philosophical question of how, in the absence of a constantly intervening God, and allowing for the darker side of human nature, a prosperous and liberal society can exist for any length of time. And there is the equally difficult historical question of how and why such a civilization had emerged at all. All previous history had shown that the tendency was towards political and social predation. Yet something different was now happen­ing.

    It is almost impossible for most of us even to remember that these two questions should be asked, since our world now seems so natural and inevitable. By looking from outside through Fukuzawa's eyes, and from the dawn of this age through the eyes of the great Enlightenment writers, we can see that there is indeed a mystery and we can even gain some clues as to how it might be approached. This poses the questions in a way which shows how difficult they are, yet provides hope of a solution.

Quotations from Pope which give source of summary in text.

Numbers refer to the text. All quotations are from the second epistle in the Essay on Man.

(1)  Two principles in human nature reign;

     Self‑love to urge, and Reason to restrain;

(2)  Nor this a good, nor that a bad we call,

     Each works its end, to move or govern all;

(3)  Self‑love, the spring of motion, acts the soul,

     Reason's comparing balance rules the whole.

     Man, but for that, no action could attend,

     And, but for this, were active to no end.

(4)  Passions though selfish, if their means be fair,

     List under reason, and deserve her care.

(5)  The surest virtues thus from passions start,

     Wild nature's vigour working at the root.

     What crops of wit and honesty appear

     From spleen, from obstinacy, hate, or fear!

(6)  And oft so mix, the difference is too nice

     Where ends the virtue or begins the vice.

(7)  [Providence, Pope argued,]

     Builds on wants, and on defects of mind,

     The joy, the peace, the glory of mankind.

(8)  Wants, frailties, passions, closer still ally

     The common interest, or endear the tie.

     To these we owe true friendship, love sincere,

     Each homefelt joy that life inherits here.

(9)  Nor think, in Nature's state they blindly trod;

     The state of Nature was the reign of God:

     Self‑love and social at her birth begin,

     Union the bond of all things, and of man.

(10) So drives self‑love through just and through unjust,

     To one man's power, ambition, lucre, lust:

     The same self‑love, in all becomes the cause

     Of what restrains him, government and laws.

(11) Forced into virtue thus, by self‑defence,

     Even kings learned justice and benevolence:

     Self‑love forsook the path it first pursued,

     And found the private in the public good.

(12) Men, like the generous vine, supported lives:

     The strength he gains is from the embrace he gives.

     On their own axis as the planets run,

     Yet make at once their circle round the sun;

     So two consistent motions act the soul;

     And one regards itself and one the whole.

     Thus God and Nature link'd the general frame,

     And bade self‑love and social be the same.

(13) God lives from whole to parts: but human soul

     Must rise from individual to the whole.

     Self‑love but serves the virtuous mind to wake,

     As the small pebble stirs the peaceful lake;

     The centre moved, a circle straight succeeds,

     Another still and still another spreads;

     Friend, parent, neighbour, first it will embrace;

     His country next; and next all human race.

(14) Expatiate free o'er all this scene of man;

     A mighty maze! but not without a plan.

(15) So man, who seems principal alone,

     Perhaps acts second to some sphere unknown,

     Touches some wheel, or verges to some goal;

     'Tis but a part we see, and not the whole.

(16) All Nature is but art, unknown to thee

     All chance, direction, which thou canst not see,

     All discord, harmony not understood;

     All partial evil, universal good.

     And, spite of pride, in erring reason's spite,

     One truth is clear, Whatever is, is right.

(17) Taught power's due use to people and to Kings,

     Taught not to slack, nor strain its tender strings,

     The less, or greater, set so justly true,

     That touching one must strike the other too:

     Till jarring interests of themselves create

     The according music of a well‑mix'd state.

(18) Such is the world's great harmony, that springs

     From order, union full consent of things:

     Where small and great, where weak and mighty, made

     To serve, not suffer ‑ strengthen, not invade.

(19) For forms of government let fools contest:

     Whate'er is best administered is best:

     For modes of faith, let graceless zealots fight;

     His can't be wrong whose life is in the right.

(20) For Wit's false mirror held up Nature's light,

     Show'd erring Pride, ‑ Whatever is, is right!

     That reason, passion, answer one great aim;

     That true self‑love and social are the same;

     That virtue only makes our bliss below;

     And all our knowledge is, ‑ Ourselves to know.

     [1] Farrer, Smith, 174

     [2] Bolingbroke, Works, IV, 10‑11

     [3] Bolingbroke, Works, IV, 9

     [4] Bolingbroke, Works, IV, 11

     [5] Montesquieu, 'Mes Pensees', translated from Starobonski, Montesquieu, 132

     [6] Ross, Smith, 163

     [7] Quoted in Campbell and Skinner, Smith, 99

     [8] Quoted in Ross, Smith, 419

     [9] Smith, Moral, 27

     [10] Quoted in Campbell and Skinner, Smith, 106

     [11] Quoted in Ross, Smith, 419

     [12] Smith, Moral, 235

     [13] See, for example, Lux, Adam Smith's Mistake; Ross, Smith, 418 and the references therein.

     [14] One accessible introduction to Hume's life and thought is Phillipson, Hume.

     [15] Hume, Essays, 29

     [16] Hume, Essays, 52

     [17] Hume, Essays, 53

     [18] Hume, Essays, 153‑4

     [19] Hume, Essays, 155

     [20] Hume, Essays, 246

     [21] Hume, Essays, 154

     [22] Hume, Essays, 161

     [23] Hume, Essays, 162

     [24] Hume, Essays, 180

     [25] Hume, Essays, 179‑80

     [26] Hume, Essays, 180

     [27] Hume, Essays, 181

     [28] Hume, Essays, 156

     [29] Hume, Essays, 156

     [30] Hume, Essays, 170

     [31] Hume, Essays, 175

     [32] Hume, Essays, 168

     [33] Hume, Essays, 168

     [34] Hume, Essays, 179

     [35] Hume, Essays, 180

     [36] Hume, Essays, 156

     [37] Hume, Essays, 164‑5

     [38] Hume, Essays, 164

     [39] Hume, Essays, 165

     [40] Hume, Essays, 158

     [41] Hume, Essays, 158

     [42] Hume, Essays, 157

     [43] Hume, Essays, 157‑8

     [44] Hume, Essays, 158

     [45] Hume, Essays, 158

     [46] Hume, Essays, 204

     [47] Hume, Essays, 204

     [48] Hume, Essays, 69

     [49] Hume, Essays, 69‑70

     [50] Hume, Essays, 70

     [51] Hume, Essays, 70

     [52] Hume, Essays, 70

     [53] Hume, Essays, 68

     [54] Hume, Essays, 69

     [55] Hume, Essays, 68

     [56] Hume, Essays, 68

     [57] Hume, Essays, 78 ‑ the passage is again in bold.

     [58] Hume, Essays, 295

     [59] Hume, Essays, 295

     [60] Hume, Essays, 157

     [61] Hume, Essays, 122

     [62] Hume, Essays, 122

     [63] Hume, Essays, 293

     [64] Hume, Essays, 287

     [65] Hume, Essays, 287