15 April 2006 - Saturday

Freedom for me

David Hume, 1752:

The chief difference between the domestic úconomy of the ancients and that of the moderns consists in the practice of slavery, which prevailed among the former, and which has been abolished for some centuries throughout the greater part of Europe. Some passionate admirers of the ancients, and zealous partizans of civil liberty, (for these sentiments, as they are, both of them, in the main, extremely just, are found to be almost inseparable) cannot forbear regretting the loss of this institution; and whilst they brand all submission to the government of a single person with the harsh denomination of slavery, they would gladly reduce the greater part of mankind to real slavery and subjection. But to one who considers coolly on the subject it will appear, that human nature, in general, really enjoys more liberty at present, in the most arbitrary government of Europe, than it ever did during the most flourishing period of ancient times. As much as submission to a petty prince, whose dominions extend not beyond a single city, is more grievous than obedience to a great monarch; so much is domestic slavery more cruel and oppressive than any civil subjection whatsoever.
-- "Of the Populousness of Ancient Nations"

Hume wrote this essay to refute the idea, common at the time, that ancient civilizations had been more populous than modern ones. Some thinkers of Hume's day, working from that premise and from the idea that a larger population indicates greater aggregate happiness and virtue, concluded that ancient societies were superior to modern ones. Hume was of a different opinion.

| Posted by Wilson at 22:33 Central | TrackBack
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