"The idea of a perfect commonwealth" by David Hume and its effects for the UK

Seminar Paper, 2001
4 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of contents

(1) The importance to create a perfect commonwealth

(2) The idea of a perfect commonwealth

(3) Alterations on the British government

(4) Hume´s conclusion

1) The importance to create a perfect commonwealth

One of Hume´s famous essays, “The idea of a perfect commonwealth”, is based on the consideration to create a new form of government, “the most perfect of all” [page 513; line 13]. Hume thinks it is one of the most important thoughts man´s wit can consider. The present “governments seem to serve the purpose of society” [513; 14- 15], but they are not perfect and do not work accurately. It is advantageous to know what is the most perfect commonwealth, because it is the best way to improve existing governmental systems and constitutions as far as possible towards perfection without giving “too great disturbance to society” [514; 2]. An established government, recommended by antiquity, has great advantage and is for that reason accepted by mankind. Philosophers, like him, have to respect this fact, but with their ideas they “may attempt some improvements for the public good” [512, 13- 513, 1] without shaking a constitution or government to the very foundations.

Another chance of his theory for the future, may be to establish a perfect commonwealth, where an old one vanishes or where men combine to form a new one, as he proposes, “in some distant part of the world” [513; 23- 24].

David Humes´ plan of the perfect government resembles the model of James Harrington´s Commonwealth of Oceana, as he claims the only valuable model. Before presenting his own theory, he describes the main inconveniences of the Oceana. The rotation of public employment by intervals and the Agrarian, because of the risk of abuse, are “impracticable” [514; 4]. The third criticism is the negative, the senate has upon the people. It does not provide enough security for liberty, because the negative of the senate goes before the vote of the people. That is unacceptable for Hume. Liberty gets out of balance, if the legislative has got the power to decide, which propositions they let the people vote upon. Hume reminds of the King´s negative in the English constitution and describes the consequences, if the negative of the King came, before a popular bill reaches the parliament to be debated. If this was the case, the King of Britain “would be an absolute monarch” [515; 15- 16]. According to Hume, the main defect of the Oceana is, that “the whole legislature (...) rest(s) in the senate” [516; 5].

2) The idea of a perfect commonwealth

In his theory, Hume divides a territory of the extent of Great Britain and Ireland into 100 counties and each county into 100 parishes, “making in all 10.000” [516, 11- 12]. Every county has nearly the status of a republic within itself. The “free- holders of twenty pounds a- year” [516, 18] and the “householders worth 500 pounds” [516, 19] gather every year, so the parishes can choose their county representatives. Then the 100 representatives of a county choose the ten magistrates and one senator by ballot. The capital may be divided into for counties and therefore provides four members in the senate. In addition the whole commonwealth is represented by 10.000 county representatives, 1.100 county magistrates and 100 senators.

The whole executive power- including the power of war and peace, giving orders to generals, admirals and ambassadors- of the established commonwealth, comparable to the British house of Lords, is in the hand of the senate, whereas the county representatives have got the whole legislative power. In the counties, majority decisions are made. The senate must have the casting vote, if a question remains undecided. Laws have to be debated in the senate, but “if ten senators insist and protest” [517, 9], it has to be given to the counties. The county representatives and magistrates are allowed to give the senators of their county the copy of a law to be proposed to the senate.

A member of the senate can be banned from the senate, after that he cannot be re- elected for that year. After new senators are elected by the county representatives annually, they choose different magistrates by an “intricate ballot” [518, 8]. The protector presides in the senate and represents the dignity of the commonwealth He has got two secretaries of state. Besides that, a council of state, a council of religion and learning, a council of trade, a council of laws and a council of the admiralty, each council consisting of five members, has to be elected. The members of these councils have to be taken from the senate.


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"The idea of a perfect commonwealth" by David Hume and its effects for the UK
University of Flensburg  (Englisches Seminar)
Philosophy of culture in the Age of Enlightment
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ISBN (eBook)
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David, Hume, Philosophy, Enlightment
Quote paper
Thorsten Klein (Author), 2001, "The idea of a perfect commonwealth" by David Hume and its effects for the UK, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/62419


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