When David Hume died at the age of 65 in the year of the American Revolution, he was rich, famous, and often misunderstood.
Teaching philosophy isn’t usually thought to go with an interest in fashion. For one thing, philosophers are hardly legendary for their sartorial flair. For another, someone might question why the philosopher would consider fashion an important subject to think or write about. Fashion and the ethics of the fashion industry do preoccupy me, though. I have my reasons, not least of which is the thought of the German phenomenologist, Max Scheler (1874-1928). Scheler speaks of the “natural outlook,” by which phrase he tries to capture the idea that some phenomena are so close to us, so everyday, that we lose sight…
Previously I looked at Bertrand de Jouvenel’s theory of political entrepreneurship. Now I’m going to explore it further by looking at what he says about the relationship between liberty and authority.
In The Pure Theory of Politics, Jouvenel quotes David Hume’s “Of the First Principles of Government” and comments that Hume’s statement below is “perhaps the most important of all political science”:
As FORCE is always on the side of the governed, the governors have nothing to support them but opinion. ‘Tis therefore on opinion only that government is founded; and this maxim extends to the most despotic and military governments, as all as the most free and popular. The soldan of Egypt, or the emperor of Rome, might drive his harmless subjects like brute beasts, against their sentiments and inclination: but he must at least have led his mamalukes or praetorian bands like men, by their opinion.
For many lovers of liberty, authority tends to take on a negative connotation; it is seen as something which chafes me and against which my liberty must strain. But what Hume and Jouvenel recognize is that authority is not mere force and can never be mere force. The greatest human authority, if it ceases to obtain what Jouvenel calls “response,” goes out like a candle. What is required for lasting rule, according to Hume and Jouvenel, is not coercion but rather the opinion of right.