Friday, July 02, 2004

Beattie on Liberty

Nothing is more friendly to the soul of man, than Liberty; which is the birthright of every rational being, and which none can without cruelty deprive us of, unless by our crimes we have proved ourselves unworthy of it. Despotick governments are therefore unjust, as far as they deprive the innocent of this prime blessing: and it never can be for the good of mankind, that injustice should triumph, or that innocence should be born down. Besides, activity and genius flourish in free governments, but in the abodes of tyranny disappear: and however it may fare with some individuals, society will always decay or prosper, as genius and industry are discountenanced or promoted.

Beattie, Essay on Memory and Imagination, Of Imagination, ch. 3 ("Remarks on Genius").

By 'genius' Beattie means "the talent of useful invention," whose complement is taste (which is the sort of mental sagacity involved in the appreciative perception of excellence and fault). The reason he ends up discussing society in his remarks on genius is that he is struck by the providential diversity of human genius, which makes society possible.

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