De Monarchia By Dante Alighieri Book I Chapter XII: Humanity Is Ordered For the Best When Most Free.

BELLINI, Jacopo 

And it came to pass, that in those days there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that the whole world should be enrolled. This enrolling was first made by Cyrinus, the governor of Syria. And all went to be enrolled, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem: because he was of the house and family of David, To be enrolled with Mary his espoused wife, who was with child. And it came to pass, that when they were there, her days were accomplished, that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him up in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. Lk


Humanity is ordered for the best when most free.

1. If the principle of freedom is explained, it will be apparent that the human race is ordered for the best when it is most free. Observe, then, those words which are on the lips of many but in the minds of few, that the basic principle of our freedom is freedom of the will.1 Men come even to the point of saying that free will is free judgment in matters of will, and they say true; but the import of their words is far from them, as from our logicians who work daily with certain propositions used as examples in books of logic; for instance, that “a triangle has three angles equaling two right angles.”2

2. Judgment, I affirm, stands between apprehension and desire; for first a thing is apprehended; then the apprehension is adjudged good or bad; and finally he who so judges pursues or avoids it.3 So if judgment entirely controls desire, and is hindered by it in no way, judgment is free; but if desire influences judgment by hindering it in some manner, judgment cannot be free, for it acts not of itself, but is dragged captive by another. Thus brutes cannot have free judgment, for their judgments are always hindered by appetite. And thus intellectual substances whose wills are immutable,4 and disembodied souls5 who have departed in peace, do not lose freedom of the will by reason of this immutability, but retain it in greatest perfection and power.

3. With this in mind we may understand that this freedom, or basic principle of our freedom, is, as I said, the greatest gift bestowed by God upon human nature, for through it we attain to joy here as men, and to blessedness there as gods.6 If this is so, who will not admit that mankind is best ordered when able to use this principle most effectively? But the race is most free under a Monarch. Wherefore let us know that the Philosopher holds in his book concerning simple Being, that whatever exists for its own sake and not for the sake of another is free.7 For whatever exists for the sake of another is conditioned by that other, as a road by its terminus. Only if a Monarch rules can the human race exist for its own sake; only if a Monarch rules can the crooked policies8 be straightened, namely democracies, oligarchies, and tyrannies which force mankind into slavery,9 as he sees who goes among them, and under which kings, aristocrats called the best men, and zealots of popular liberty play at politics.10 For since a Monarch loves men greatly, a point already touched upon, he desires all men to do good, which cannot be among players at crooked policies. Whence the Philosopher in his Politics says, “Under bad government the good man is a bad citizen; but under upright government ‘good man’ and ‘good citizen’ have the same meaning.”11 Upright governments have liberty as their aim, that men may live for themselves; not citizens for the sake of the consuls, nor a people for a king, but conversely, consuls for the sake of the citizens, and a king for his people.12 As governments are not all established for the sake of laws, but laws for governments, so those living under the laws are not ordered for the sake of the legislator, but rather he for them, as the Philosopher maintains in what he has left us concerning the present matter.13 Wherefore it is also evident that although consul or king may be lord of others with respect to means of governing, they are servants with respect to the end of governing; and without doubt the Monarch must be held the chief servant of all. Now it becomes clear that a Monarch is conditioned in the making of laws by his previously determined end. Therefore the human race existing under a Monarch is best ordered, and from this it follows that a Monarchy is essential to the well-being of the world.

[1. ] Freedom of the will is discussed in Par. 5. 19 ff.

[2. ] Moore says that this thought is repeated more than twenty times in Aristotle, e. g. Analyt. Prior. 2. 21; Magna Moral. 1. 1: “It would be absurd if a man wishing to prove that the angles of a triangle were equal to two right angles assumed that the soul is immortal.”

[3. ]Conv. 1. 12. 4: “Although all virtue is lovable in man, that is most so which is most peculiarly human; and this is justice which belongs only to the reason or intellect, that is, the will.”

Conv. 4. 9. 3: “There are actions . . . which our reason considers as within the province of the will, such as to offend or to help; . . . and these are entirely under the control of our will, and therefore from them are we called good or wicked, because they are all our own.”

Conv. 4. 18. 1: “All the moral virtues come from one principle, which is a good and habitual choice.”

Purg. 18. 19: “The mind which is created ready to love is quick to move to everything which pleases it so soon as by the pleasure it is aroused to action. Your apprehensive power draws an intention from an essence which speaks true, and displays it within you, so that it makes the mind turn to that.”

Par. 13. 118: “It occurs that oftentimes the current opinion swerves in a false direction, and afterwards the desire binds the understanding.”

[4. ] Cf. supra, 1. 3. 2, and note 10. Conv. 2. 6. 7: “These motive powers guide by their thought alone the revolutions over which each one presides.”

[5. ]Conv. 2. 9. 3: “The soul . . . having left it [the body], it endures forever in a nature more than human.”

Conv. 2. 1. 4: “The soul, in forsaking its sins, becomes holy and free in its powers.” So Virgil assures Dante when he has reached the Earthly Paradise, Purg. 27. 140: “Await no more my word or my sign; free, right, and sound is thy judgment, and it were a fault not to act according to its thought, wherefore, thee over thyself I crown and mitre.”

And of children, Par. 32. 40: “Spirits set free before that they had true power of choice.”

[6. ]Purg. 18. 55: “Man knows not whence comes the understanding of the first cognitions, and the affection of the first objects of appetite, for they are in you, as in the bee the desire of making its honey; and this first volition admits not desert of praise or blame. Now, whereas about this every other gathers itself, there is innate in you the faculty which counsels, and which should hold the threshold of assent. This is the principle whereto occasion of desert in you is attracted, according as it gathers up and winnows out good or guilty love. They who in reasoning have gone to the foundation have taken note of that innate liberty, wherefore they have left morality to the world. Whence let us lay down that of necessity arises every love which kindles itself in you; of keeping it in check the power is in you. The noble faculty Beatrice understands for free will.”

Par. 5. 19: “The greatest gift which God of His bounty made in creating, and the most conformed to His goodness, and that which He most values, was the freedom of the will, wherewith the creatures that have intelligence all, and they only, were and are endowed.” Giuliani says that some MSS. add to these lines of the De Mon., “sicut in Paradiso comediae jam dixi.” Whatever scribe originally inserted them found their pronounced relationship to Par. 5. 19.

See also S. T. 1. 59. 3: “Only that which has intellect can act by free judgment; . . . wherever intellect is, there is judgment.”

[7. ]Metaphys. 1. 2. This treatise Dante calls de simpliciter Ente, here and 1. 13. 1; 1. 15. 1; 3. 14. 4, but Prima Philosophia in 3. 12. 1.

Conv. 3. 14. 3: “The noble and intellectual soul, free in her special power, which is reason; . . . and the Philosopher says in the first of the Metaphysics, that that thing is free which exists for itself and not for another.”

[8. ] “Crooked policies;” in the Latin, “politiae obliquae.”

[9. ] Reference to political servitude is common in Dante, e. g. Purg. 6. 76: “Ah Italy! thou slave, hostel of woe!”

[10. ] In Pol. 3. 7. 2-5, we find: “A tyranny is a monarchy where the good of one man only is the object of government, an oligarchy considers only the rich, and a democracy only the poor, but no one of them has the common good of all in view.”

The word “politizant,” occurring here, Witte defines as “regnare et civitati praeesse.” Wicksteed translates it “have a real policy.” I find that Milton used an Anglicized form of the word in his Reformation in England, 2: “Let me not for fear of a scarecrow, or else through hatred to be reformed, stand hankering and politizing, when God with spread hands testifies to us.” So I translate the word “play at politics.”

[11. ]Pol. 3. 4. 3, 4.

[12. ] “It is impossible to conceive a people without a prince, but not a prince without a people.” In his essay on Dante Lowell quotes this saying of Calvin’s.

[13. ]Pol. 4. 1. 9.


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