Political Science at Huntingdon
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PSC 314: Constitutional law and Political Theory

Michael Curtis (ed) The Great Political Theories, expanded edition

Student Outlines, Vol. I | More | Vol. II

This overflow page contains notes to additional Curtis Vol. I readings
Compiled from student contributions (thanks) by Jeremy Lewis
Last revised 2 Apr. '09.

David Hume
Baruch Spinoza

David Hume
by Maegan McCollum, Spring 2009
Interest and Political Obligation
- Force is always on the side of the governed, and the governors have nothing to support them but opinion.
- Gov’t is founded only on opinion and this rule extends to the most tyrannical and most military governments as well as to the most free and most popular.
- Opinion is of 2 kinds—opinion of interest and opinion of right
- Opinion of interest is the sense of advantage which is reaped from gov’t.
- 2 kinds of opinion of right—right to power and right to property.
- antiquity always produces the opinion of right.
- the opinions or right to property is in all matters of gov’t. and greatly influences it.
- All govt’s are founded on three opinions—of public interest, of right to power, of right to property. There are also other principles which add force to these, or limit them—self-interest, fear, and affection.
- A gov’t may endure for several ages, though the balance of power and the balance of property do not coincide.
- Men are attached to their ancient gov’t. Where the original constitution allows any share of power, though small, to an order of men who possess a large share of property, it is easy for them gradually to stretch their authority and bring the balance of power to coincide with that of property. Ex. House of Commons
- Instead of departing from our own interest or from that of our nearest friends by abstaining from the possessions of others, the best way to utilize both these interests is with a convention (or agreement) because that’s how we maintain society.
- An agreement concerning possessions of others and leaving that which is someone else’s alone is essential.
- After that agreement has been reached, the ideas of justice and injustice, as also those of property, right, and obligation come into being.
- Justice takes its rise from human conventions, and those are intended as a remedy to some inconveniences which proceed from the concurrence of certain qualities of the human mind with the situation of external objects. The qualities of the mind are selfishness and limited generosity, and the situation of external objects is their easy change, jointed to their scarcity in comparison of the wants and desires of men.
- if men were supplied with everything in the same abundance, or if everyone had the same affection and tender regard for everyone as for himself, justice and injustice would be equally unknown among mankind.
The Social Contract
- Nothing but man’s own consent could at first associate them together and subject them to any authority.
- the people are the source of all power and jurisdiction, and voluntarily for the sake of peace and order, abandoned their native liberty and receive laws from their equal and companion.
- All govt is founded on a contract and that the most ancient combinations of mankind were formed chiefly by that principle.
- All men are still born equal and owe allegiance to no prince or govt unless bound by the obligation and sanction of a promise.
- this promise is always understood to be conditional and imposes no obligation.
- The contract on which govt is founded is said to be the original contract, and may be supposed too old to fall under the knowledge of the present generation.
- almost all govts which exist or those that have been recorded in history, have been founded originally either on usurpation or conquest or both, without any pretense of a fair consent or voluntary subjection of the people.
- there is not a more terrible event than a total dissolution of govt, which gives liberty to the multitude and makes the determination or choice of a new establishment depend upon a number which nearly approaches to that of the body of the people.
- where consent has taken place it was commonly irregular, confined, and intermixed with fraud or violence to the point that it could have no great authority
- If all men knew their own interests, then they could establish on consent and this state of perfection is superior to human nature.
- Reason, history, and experience show that the people’s consent was the least regarded in public transactions—their consent would be on the establishment of a new govt.
- Society cannot possibly be maintained without the authority of magistrates and that authority must fall into contempt where exact obedience is not paid to it.
The Rise of Custom, and Genial Skepticism
- wherever the repetition of any particular act or operation produces a tendency to repeat that act or operation without being forced by any reasoning or process of the understanding, we say that this is the effect of custom.
- it is a principle of human nature which is universally acknowledged, and which is well known by its effects
- all inferences from experience are effects of custom, not of reasoning.
- custom is the great guide of human life
- it is that principle that renders our experience useful to us and makes us expect, for the future, a similar train of events. Without the influence of custom we would be entirely ignorant of every matter of fact beyond that which is immediately present to the memory and senses.
- we would never know how to adjust means to ends or to employ our natural powers in the production of any effect.
- all arguments are built on the belief that there is conformity between the future and the past.
- this conformity is a matter of fact, and must be proved by experience, but our experience in the past can be a proof of nothing for the future but upon a belief that there is a resemblance between them.
- this is a point which can admit of no proof at all, and which we take for granted without any proof.
- we are determined by custom alone to suppose the future conformable to the past; it is not reason which is the guide of life, but custom
- belief in all matters of fact arises only from custom and is an idea conceived in a peculiar manner
- it is custom that governs our future judgments.
Political Parties
- founders of factions should be detested and hated because the influence of faction is directly contrary to that of laws.
- factions subvert govt, render laws impotent, and produce the strongest animosities among men of the same nation, who should give mutual assistance and protection to each other.
- parties circulate themselves for centuries and usually last until the gov’t they grew up in is dissolved.
- factions may be divided into personal and real
- personal are founded on personal friendship or animosity among those who compose the contending parties. Real are founded on a real difference of sentiment or interest.
- Often parties which began because of a real difference continue even after that difference is settled
- Parties transmit to their posterity, so they just keep going on and on.
- To abolish all distinctions of party may not be practicable or desirable in a free govt.
- The only dangerous parties are those that entertain opposite views against the essentials of govt, the succession of the crown, or the privileges that belong to the several members of the constitution—in cases where there is no room for compromise or accommodation, and where the opposition feels it must protest with arms.
- Moderation is best and is advantageous to every establishment, nothing but zeal can overturn a settled power, and an overactive zeal will produce a like spirit in antagonists.
- The transition from a moderate opposition against an establishment to an entire agreement is easy and insensible.
- Moderation in parties increases the right kind of zeal—zeal for the public.

Baruch Spinoza
by Maegan McCollum, Spring 2009

Natural Right and the State

- The power of nature is the power of God—sovereign over all things
- the rights of an individual extend to the utmost limits of his power as it is conditioned
- it is the sovereign law and right of nature that each individual should try to preserve itself as it is, without regard for anything or anyone else.
- that sovereign law and right belongs to every person in order for them to exist and act accordingly to its natural conditions
- the natural right of the individual is determined by desire and power
- all men are born ignorant, and before they can learn what is right and obtain virtue, most of their life has passed away.
- Whatsoever an individual thinks is useful for himself, whether that is logical or emotionally determined, has a sovereign right to seek and to take for himself as best he can, whether by force, cunning, or any other way.
- And his enemy is anyone who hinders the accomplishment of his purpose.
- Men must come to an agreement to live together as securely and well as possible if they are going to enjoy as a whole the rights which naturally belong to them individually, and their life should then be driven by the power and will of the whole body, rather than by themselves.
- They must establish that they will only be guided by reason and will restrain any desire which injures others, to do to others as they would do to themselves, and that they will defend their neighbor’s rights like their own.
- Once an individual has passed the whole of his power to a larger, encompassing power, then that power possesses the sovereign natural right over all things. This kind of power, or body politic, is called a Democracy.
- Reason urges the preservation of the state as a primary duty
- The freest state is the one whose laws are founded on sound reason—meaning that everyone will be guided by that reason.
- No one can transfer all of his power to another person or his rights—he would then cease to be a man. Likewise, no power can ever be so sovereign that it can carry out every possible wish.
- It will always be a lost cause to order a person to hate what they believe will bring them advantage, or to love what hurts him.
- The preservation of a state depends on the subjects’ fidelity and their loyalty as far as carrying out orders.
- The natural power or right of human beings should be limited, not by reason, but by every appetite as far as they are prone to action or seek their own preservation—these are passive affections.
- As long as the natural right of man is determined by the power of every individual and belongs to everyone it will be a nonentity, existing in opinion rather than fact.
- The greater cause of fear every individual has—the less power and the less right that he possesses.
- The natural right cannot be conceived, except where people have general rights and combine to defend the possession of the lands they inhabit, to protect themselves, and to live according to the general judgment of all.
- The more there are that combine together, the more right they collectively possess.
- Reason teaches us to seek peace, and peace cannot be maintained, unless the commonwealth’s general laws are kept.
- The civil state is naturally ordained to remove general fear, and prevent general sufferings.
- A reason led commonwealth will be the most powerful and most independent.
Freedom of the Citizen
- No one can willingly transfer their natural right of free reason and judgment, or be compelled to do so.
- Thus, a government which attempts to control minds is called tyrannical, and it is considered an abuse of sovereignty and a violation of the rights of subjects, to prescribe what is accepted as true or rejected as false, or how men should worship God.
- It (the gov’t) has the right to rule in the most violent manner, and to put citizens to death, but it cannot do this using sound judgment.
- Since everyone is master of their own thoughts, then people will think in different and contradictory ways, and can’t be stopped from doing that by the gov’t without disaster.
- The ultimate aim of gov’t is not to rule, or restrain, by fear, nor to get obedience, but to strengthen his natural right to exist and work without injury to himself or others.
- the object of gov’t is not to change men from rational beings into puppets, but to enable them to develop their minds and bodies in security and to employ their reason freely.
- The true aim of gov’t is liberty
- An individual may declare and teach what he believes, without injury to the authority of his rulers, or to the public peace.
The Best State
- that dominion is best where men live in unity, and laws are not broken.
- Men are not born fit for citizenship, but must be made to be.
- A free multitude is guided more by hope than fear, a conquered one, more by fear than hope. The first aims at making use of life, the second at escaping death. The first aims at living for its own ends, the second is forced to belong to the conqueror.