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Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Vico on Goverment

At both Economic Thought and at Facts and Other Stubborn Things, some libertarians have claimed that the only coherent arguments for the state are:
1) Social contract theory; and
2) The notion that the people in government are just plain better than everyone else.

Thus, the entire Classical / Christian body of political theory is dismissed as unworthy of notice!

Just as a small sample, here is the great Italian philosopher Giambatista Vico on the reason for government:

"La Legislazione considera l'uomo qual è, per farne buoni usi nell'umana società; come della ferocia, dell'avarizia, dell'ambizione, che sono gli tre vizi, che portano a traverso tutto il Gener Umano, ne fa la milizia, la mercatanzia e la corte; e sì la fortezza, l'opulenza, e la sapienza delle Repubbliche: e di questi tre grandi vizj, i quali certamente distruggerebbero l'umana generazione sopra la Terra, ne fa la Civile Felicità." -- La Scienza Nuova

"Legislation considers man as he is in order to turn him to good uses in human society. Out of ferocity, avarice, and ambition, the three vices which run throughout the human race, it creates the military, merchant, and governing classes, and thus the strength, riches, and wisdom of commonwealths. Out of these three great vices, which could certainly destroy all mankind on the face of the earth, it makes civil happiness."

Government exists to turn the vices of ferocity, avarice, and ambition, which otherwise would destroy human life on earth, into civic peace. No social contract or superior class of rulers involved.

5 comments:

  1. Hmm, the state must be magical. To be honest, I haven't delved too much into historicism, but that mostly is due to my impressions of Marx and Hegel. But, I must ask, how exactly does the presence of the state turn these "vices" into civil happiness? I must be missing something.

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  2. But, if these vices are in men, do not men compose government also? Perhaps I have not read correctly, if so, then, I will read again.

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  3. Good morning, Dr. Callahan.

    "Legislation considers man as he is in order to turn him to good uses in human society. Out of ferocity, avarice, and ambition, the three vices which run throughout the human race, it creates the military, merchant, and governing classes, and thus the strength, riches, and wisdom of commonwealths. Out of these three great vices, which could certainly destroy all mankind on the face of the earth, it makes civil happiness."

    I like your NBA post, but I think this bird is still flying.

    Vico states that legislation is supposed to turn a man to good uses in society. "Turning" a man is something that no legislation is able to do. In fact, the most perfect law, the Old Testament, was not meant to turn people into perfection, but to help people see their shortcomings.

    Either a person has learned to become good for society through the upbringing of his/her community, or said person needs to have a conversion.

    I imagine that Vico could argue that when I use the word "community," it includes what he calls legislation. To me, that would be a stretch. The most basic type of legislation simply codified community standards. So, even without the written memorial, the community would still be able to raise a person that was good for society.

    If we move past basic legislation, then we start getting laws that are not community driven, but more individual specific, both in whom they limit and in whom they benefit.

    Finally, there will be plenty of folks that say: ferocity -> military (neo-cons); avarice -> merchant (crony capitalist); ambition -> governing class (pol on the take) are all results of legislation and all these results are what will lead to the destruction of society.

    Excellent post.

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    Replies
    1. antiahithophel: Vico does *not* say the human being will be turned. He will be made good use of (that is closer to the Italian than the translation, which is not mine). The vices will not disappear, but they will be rendered useful.

      A lumber mill does not turn wood to gold, but it does make good use of wood.

      "Finally, there will be plenty of folks that say: ferocity -> military (neo-cons); avarice -> merchant (crony capitalist); ambition -> governing class (pol on the take) are all results of legislation..."

      Yes, but really, we don't have to take them seriously, do we? The Fall was not a result of liberal democracy!

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