VIII.11 Natural effects of the goodness and the corruption of principles

Once the prin­ci­ples of the govern­ment have been cor­rup­ted, the best of laws become bad and turn against the state ; when its prin­ci­ples are sound, bad laws have the effect of good ones ; the strength of the prin­ci­ple is all.

The Cretans, in order to keep their first magis­tra­tes depen­dent upon laws, employed a most sin­gu­lar means : that of insur­rec­tion. A por­tion of the citi­zens would rise up, drive out the magis­tra­tes, and oblige them to return to their pri­vate lives.1 This was sup­po­sedly done in conse­quence of the law. Such an ins­ti­tu­tion, which esta­bli­shed sedi­tion to pre­vent the abuse of power, see­med bound to over­turn any and every repu­blic ; yet it did not des­troy the repu­blic of Crete. Here is why.2

When the Ancients wan­ted to evoke a peo­ple who had the grea­test love for their father­land, they cited the Cretans : “Fatherland,” said Plato, “that name so dear to the Cretans.”3 They cal­led it by a name that expres­ses the love of a mother for her chil­dren.4 For love of father­land rec­ti­fies eve­ry­thing.

The laws of Poland also have their insur­rec­tion. But the draw­backs that result from it make it clear that the peo­ple of Crete alone were able to employ such a remedy suc­cess­fully.

The gym­nas­tics exer­ci­ses ins­ti­tu­ted by the Greeks depen­ded no less on the sound­ness of the govern­ment prin­ci­ple. “It was the Lacedæmonians and the Cretans,” says Plato, “who ope­ned those famous aca­de­mies that ena­bled them to hold such a dis­tin­gui­shed rank in the world. At first modesty was sho­cked, but it gave way to the public uti­lity.”5 In Plato’s time these ins­ti­tu­tions were admi­ra­ble6 ; they contri­bu­ted to a great pur­pose, which was mili­tary art. But when the Greeks had no more vir­tue, they des­troyed even mili­tary art ; they no lon­ger ente­red the arena to be trai­ned but cor­rup­ted.

Plutarch tells us that in his time the Romans thought these games had been the prin­ci­ple cause of the ser­vi­tude into which the Greeks had fal­len.7 It was on the contrary the Greeks’ ser­vi­tude that had cor­rup­ted these exer­ci­ses. In Plutarch’s time,8 the parks for naked com­bat and the game of wrest­ling made the youth cowardly, inci­ted them to a deplo­ra­ble love, and made of them nothing but pro­fes­sio­nal dan­cers. But in the time of Epaminondas, the exer­cise of wrest­ling ena­bled the Thebans to win the bat­tle of Leuctra.9

There are few laws which are not good when the state has not lost its prin­ci­ples ; and as Epicurus said, spea­king of wealth, it is not the liquor which is cor­rupt, it is the ves­sel.

Aristotle, Politics, book II, ch. x.

They came together at first against outside enemies, which was called syncretism (Plutarch, Moralia, p. 88).

Republic, book IX.

Plutarque, Moralia, in the treatise An seni respublica gerenda sit [‘Whether an old man should engage in public affairs’].

The Republic, book V.

Gymnastics was divided into two parts, danse and wrestling. In Crete armed danses of the Curettes were seen, in Lacedæmon those of Castor and Pollux, in Athens the armed danses of Pallas, well suited to those who were not yet old enough to go to war. Wrestling is the image of war, says Plato (Laws, book VII). He praises Antiquity for instituting only two danses, the Pacific and the Pyrrhic. See how this latter dans was applied to military art (Plato, ibid.).

Moralia, “Roman Questions.”


Plutarch, Moralia, Quæstiones convivialium [’Table talk’], book II.