De Monarchia By Dante Alighieri Book I Chapter II: To What End Does Government Exist Among All Men?

Christ on the Cross
c. 1520

To what end does government exist among all men?
1. First, we must ascertain what temporal Monarchy is in its idea, as I may say, and in its purpose. Temporal Monarchy, called also the Empire, we define as a single Principality extending over all peoples in time, or in those things and over those things which are measured by time.1 Concerning it three main questions arise. First, we may ask and seek to prove whether it is necessary for the well-being of the world; secondly, whether the Roman people rightfully appropriated the office of Monarchy; and thirdly, whether the authority of Monarchy derives from God directly, or from another, a minister or vicar of God.

2. But as every truth which is not a first principle is manifested by the truth of some first principle, it is necessary in every investigation to know the first principle to which we may return, in analysis, for the proof of all propositions which are subsequently assumed. And as the present treatise is an investigation, we must before all else search out a basic principle, on the validity of which will depend whatever follows.2 Be it known, therefore, that certain things exist which are not at all subject to our control, and which we can merely speculate upon, but cannot cause to be or to do: such are mathematics, physics, and divinity. On the other hand, certain things exist which are subject to our control, and which are matter not only for speculation, but for execution.3 In these things the action is not performed for the sake of the speculation, but the latter for the sake of the former, because in them action is the end. Since the matter under consideration is governmental,4 nay, is the very source and first principle of right governments, and since everything governmental is subject to our control, it is clear that our present theme is primarily adapted for action rather than for speculation. Again, since the first principle and cause of all actions is their ultimate end,5 and since the ultimate end first puts the agent in motion, it follows that the entire procedure of the means toward an end must derive from the end itself. For the manner of cutting wood to build a house will be other than that of cutting wood to build a ship. So if there exists an end for universal government among men, that end will be the basic principle through which all things to be proved hereafter may be demonstrated satisfactorily. But to believe that there is an end for this government and for that government, and that there is no single end common to all, would indeed be irrational.

[1. ]Conv. 4. 4. 1: “Wherefore, in order to put an end to these wars and their causes, the whole earth should be under a monarchy, that is, should be a single principality under one prince, who, possessing everything, and therefore incapable of further desire, would keep the kings content within the limits of their kingdoms, so that peace should abide among them.”

[2.] Each book of the De Mon. is likewise founded on the rock of a basic principle. See 2. 2; 3. 2.

Conv. 4. 15. 7: “The third infirmity in the minds of men is caused by levity of nature; for many have so light a fancy, that they fly from one thing to another in their reasoning, and before they have finished their syllogism have formed a conclusion, and from that conclusion have flown to another, and think they are arguing most subtly, while they have no principle to start from, and see nothing in their imagination that is really there.”

Par. 2. 124: “Regard me well, how I am going through this topic to the truth thou desirest.”

[3.]Conv. 4. 9. 2: “There are things which it [the reason] only considers and does not originate, . . . such as natural and supernatural things, i. e. laws and mathematics; and actions which it considers and performs by its own proper act, which are called rational, such as the arts of speech; and actions which it considers and executes in material outside of itself, as in the mechanical arts.”

[4.] “The word politia may be used either for a general form of government, such as monarchy or democracy; or for a concrete organ of government, such as some specific monarchy; or for some function of government as exercised by such an organ, i. e. the actual governing done by the monarch; or for the ideal goal and purpose of government, i. e. the right ordering of a state.” Wicksteed. It has seemed best to translate this oft-recurring word in its various forms by “government,” “governmental,” etc.

[5.] The identification of cause and end, or effect, is complete in Letter 11. 33: “When the Source or First, which is God, hath been found, there is nothing to be sought beyond (since He is the Alpha and Omega, which is the Beginning and the End).” See note 1, De Mon. 1. 13. For this notion of cause and effect see also Arist. Metaphys. 1, and De Causis.


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