Monday, April 02, 2018

Hutcheson's Constitutional Criteria

'Tis obvious that when by any plan of policy these four advantages can be obtained, wisdom in discerning the fittest measures for the general interest; fidelity, with expedition and secrecy in the determination and execution of them, and concord or unity, a nation must have all that happiness which any plan of polity can give it; as sufficient wisdom in the governors will discover the most effectual means, and fidelity will chuse them, by expedition and secrecy they will be most effectually executed, and unity will prevent one of the greatest evils, civil wars and seditions.

Francis Hutcheson, A System of Philosophy, Book III, Chapter 6 (p. 244). In context, Hutcheson is talking about constitutional issues. 'Secrecy' is a somewhat odd characteristic on such a foundational matter. He does not give any explanation of what he means, but he does note later that aristocracies (governed by councils) and popular democracies (governed by citizen assemblies) have a particular problem with secrecy, since nothing can be done without many people knowing. A brief comment he makes on democracy makes me think he probably has in mind the danger of every decision being exposed to public view for demogogues to attack.

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