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ther to prepare us for the latter.

“ Expert men, says lord Bacon,

“ can execute and judge of par“ ticulars one by one ; but the general counsels, " and the plots, and the marshalling of affairs,

come best from those that are learned.”


Continuation of the same Subject.-Use' and Abuse of gencral

Principles in Politics *.

THE foregoing remarks, on the dangers to be

apprehended from a rash application of general principles, hold equally with respect to most of the practical arts. Among these, however, there is one of far superior dignity to the rest; which, partly on

* The events which have happened fince the publication of the first edition of this Volume in 1792, might have enabled me to confirm many of the observations in this Section, by an appeal to facts still fresh in the recollection of my Readers; and, in one or two instances, by flight verbal corrections, to guard aga nft the possibility of uncandid misinterpretation : but, for various reasons, which it is unnecessary to state at present, I feel it to be a duty which I owe to myself, to send the whole discussion again to the press in its original form. That the doctrine it inculcates is favourable to the good order and tranquillity of society, cannot be disputed ; and, as far as I myself am perfonally interested, I have no wish to vitiate the record which it exhibits of my opinions.

On some points which are touched upon very slightly here, I have explained myself more fully, in the fourth Section of my Biographical Account of Mr. Smith, read before the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1793, and published in the third Volume of their Transactions.-- Second Edition, 1802.)


In the proper

account of its importance, and partly on account of some peculiarities in its nature, seems to be entitled to a more particular consideration. The art I allude to, is that of Legislation ; an art which differs from all others in some very effential respects, and to which, , the reasonings in the last Section must be applied with many restrictions.

Before proceeding farther, it is necessary for me to premise, that it is chiefly in compliance with common language and common prejudices, that I am sometimes led, in the following observations, to contrast theory with experience. sense of the word Theory, it is so far from standing in opposition to Experience, that it implies a knowledge of principles, of which the most extensive experience alone could put us in poffeffion. Prior to the time of Lord Bacon, indeed, an acquaintance with facts was not considered as effential to the formation of theories ; and from these ages, has descended to us, an indiscriminate prejudice against general principles, even in thofe cafes in which they have been fairly obtained in the way of induction.

But not to dispute about words : there are plainly two sets of political reasoners; one of which consider the actual institutions of mankind as the only safe foundation for our conclusions, and think every plan of legislation chimerical, which is not copied from one which has already been realised ; while the other apprehend that, in many cases, we may reason safely a priori from the known principles of human nature, combined with the particular circumstances of the times. The former are commonly understood as contending for experience in opposition to theory ; the latter are accused of trusting to theory unsupported by experience: but it ought to be remembered, that the political theorist, if he proceeds cautiously and philosophically, founds his conclusions ultimately on experience, no less than the political empiric ;-as the astronomer, who predicts an eclipfe from his knowledge of the principles of the science, rests his expectation of the event, on facts which have been previously ascertained by observation, no less than if he inferred it, without any reasoning, from his knowledge of a cycle.

There is, indeed, a certain degree of practical skill which habits of business alone can give, and without which the most enlightened politician must always appear to disadvantage when he attempts to carry his plans into execution. And as this skill is often (in consequence of the ambiguity of language) denoted by the word Experience; while it is seldom possessed by those men, who have most carefully studied the theory of legislation ; it has been very generally concluded, that politics is merely a matter of routine. in which philosophy is rather an obstacle to success. The statesman who has been formed among official details, is compared to the practical engineer; the fpeculative legislator, to the theoretical mechanician who has passed his life among books and diagrams.-In order to ascertain how far this opinion is just, it may be of use to compare the art of legiflation with those practical applications of mecha

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nical principles, by which the opposers of political theories have so often endeavoured to illustrate their reasonings.

I. In the first place, then, it may be remarked, that the errors to which we are liable, in the use of general mechanical principles, are owing, in most instances, to the effect which habits of abstraction are apt to have, in withdrawing the attention from those applications of our knowledge, by which alone we can learn to correct the imperfections of theory. Such errors, therefore, are, in a peculiar degree, incident to men who have been led by natural taste, or by early habits, to prefer the speculations of the closet, to the bustle of active life, and to the fatigue of minute and circumstantial observation.

In politics, too, one species of principles is often misapplied from an inattention to circumstances ; those which are deduced from a few examples of particular

governments, and which are occasionally quoted as universal political axioms, which every wise legislator ought to assume as the ground-work of his reasonings. But this abuse of general principles should by no means be ascribed, like the absurdities of the speculative mechanician, to overrefinement, and the love of theory; for it arises from weaknesses, which philosophy alone can remedy; an unenlightened veneration for maxims which are supposed to have the sanction of time in their favour, and a passive acquiescence in received opinions.

There is another class of principles, from which political conclusions have sometimes been deduced;



and which, notwithstanding the common prejudice against them, are a much surer foundation for our reasonings : I allude, at present, to those principles which we obtain from an examination of the human constitution, and of the general laws which regulate the course of human affairs ; principles, which are certanly the result of a much more extensive induction, than any of the inferences that can be drawn from the history of actual establishments.

In applying, indeed, such principles to practice, it is neceffary (as well as in mechanics) to pay attention to the peculiarities of the case; but it is by no means neceffary to pay the same scrupulous attention to minute circumstances, which is essential in the me. chanical arts, or in the management of private business. There is even a danger of dwelling too much on details, and of rendering the mind incapable of those abstract and comprehensive views of human affairs, which can alone furnish the statesman with fixed and certain maxims for the regulation of his conduct. " When a man (says Mr. Hume) de“ liberates concerning his conduct in any particular “ affair, and forms schemes in politics, trade, æconomy, “ or any business in life, he never ought to draw his “ arguments too fine, or connect too long a chain of

consequences together. Something is sure to hap.

pen, that will disconcert his reasoning, and produce “ an event different from what he expected. But “ when we reason upon gencral subjects, one may “ justly affirm, that our speculations can scarce ever “ be too fine, provided they are just; and that the “6 difference betwixt a common man and a man of


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