Thursday, September 24, 2009


National Library of Wales
From The Carmarthenshire Historian

When the American colonists rose in rebellion against the English crown, their most vocal supporter in Britain was a nonconformist minister from Llangeinor near Bridgend who proclaimed himself a “citizen of the world”. He argued that governments held their power in trust from the people and were not instruments of divine authority. The Kings of England, he maintained were the only legitimate monarchs because they ruled by consent of the people under the 1688 Bill of Rights. In their respective struggles, the revolutionaries of France and the American colonies were merely asserting the same principle.
DR. RICHARD PRICE wrote in "Observations on the Nature of Civil Liberty, the Principles of Government, and the Justice and Policy of the War with America [1776]":
"Colonies in North America appear to be now determined to risk and suffer every thing, under the persuasion, that Great Britain is attempting to rob them of that Liberty to which every member of society, and all civil communities, have a natural and unalienable right. The question, therefore, whether this is a reasonable persuasion, is highly interesting, and deserves the most careful attention of every Englishman who values Liberty, and wishes to avoid staining himself with the guilt of invading it. But it is impossible to judge properly of this question without correct ideas of Liberty in general; and of the nature, limits, and principles of Civil Liberty in particular.—The following observations on this subject appear to me important, as well as just; and I cannot make myself easy without offering them to the Public at the present period, big with events of the last consequence to this kingdom. I do this, with reluctance and pain, urged by strong feelings, but at the same time checked by the consciousness that I am likely to deliver sentiments not favourable to the present measures of that government, under which I live, and to which I am a constant and zealous well-wisher. Such, however, are my present sentiments and views, that this is a consideration of inferior moment with me; and, as I hope never to go beyond the bounds of decent discussion and expostulation, I flatter myself, that I shall be able to avoid giving any person just cause of offence.
Much has been said of the right of conquest; and history contains little more than accounts of kingdoms reduced by it under the dominion of other kingdoms, and of the havock it has made among mankind. But the authority derived from hence, being founded on violence, is never rightful. The Roman Republic was nothing but a faction against the general liberties of the world; and had no more right to give law to the Provinces subject to it, than thieves have to the property they seize, or to the houses into which they break.—Even in the case of a just war undertaken by one people to defend itself against the oppressions of another people, conquest gives only a right to an indemnification for the injury which occasioned the war, and a reasonable security against future injury.
Much has been said of “the Superiority of the British State.” But what gives us our superiority?—Is it our Wealth?—This never confers real dignity. On the contrary: Its effect is always to debase, intoxicate, and corrupt.—Is it the number of our people? The colonies will soon be equal to us in number.—Is it our Knowledge and Virtue? They are probably equally knowing, and more virtuous. There are names among them that will not stoop to any names among the philosophers and politicians of this island.
“But we are the Parent State.”—These are the magic words which have fascinated and misled us.—The English came from Germany. Does that give the German states a right to tax us?—Children, having no property, and being incapable of guiding themselves, the Author of nature has committed the care of them to their parents, and subjected them to their absolute authority. But there is a period when, having acquired property, and a capacity of judging for themselves, they become independent agents; and when, for this reason, the authority of their parents ceases, and becomes nothing but the respect and influence due to benefactors. Supposing, therefore, that the order of nature in establishing the relation between parents and children, ought to have been the rule of our conduct to the Colonies, we should have been gradually relaxing our authority as they grew up. But, like mad parents, we have done the contrary; and, at the very time when our authority should have been most relaxed, we have carried it to the greatest extent, and exercised it with the greatest rigour. No wonder then, that they have turned upon us; and obliged us to remember, that they are not Children.
It is farther said, “that the land on which they settled was ours.”—But how same it to be ours? If sailing along a coast can give a right to a country, then might the people of Japan become, as soon as they please, the proprietors of Britain. Nothing can be more chimerical than property founded on such a reason. If the land on which the Colonies first settled had any proprietors, they were the natives. The greatest part of it they bought of the natives. They have since cleared and cultivated it; and, without any help from us, converted a wilderness into fruitful and pleasant fields. It is, therefore, now on a double account their property; and no power on earth can have any right to disturb them in the possession of it, or to take from them, without their consent, any part of its produce.
(© 2009 Online Library of Liberty)
In 1789, just as the fall of the Bastille marked the triumph of the revolution in France, Price delivered a sermon entitled On Love of Country that provoked a celebrated exchange of views. Edmund Burke penned his famous reaction- Reflections of the French Revolution. Dismissing Price and his fellow radicals as “the hopping insects of the hour”, he warned that bloodshed and anarchy would surely result from the abandonment of monarchy.
More celebrated still was Tom Paine’s The Rights of Man, which returned the argument to the ground Price had staked out. He argued for the creation of a British republic, votes for all adult males, a basic welfare state and progressive taxation.
In the following decades Britain trod a path between the two philosophies: retaining the monarchy but also moving gradually to parliamentary democracy.
Three years after his great sermon Price was dead. His death was marked by a day of national mourning in France.
In his History of Wales (Hanes Cymru) John Davies describes Price simply as “the most original thinker ever born in Wales”.
( From
Richard Price was born on February 23, 1723 in Wales. In adulthood, he was a well-known and -respected Dissenter. Between the 1750s and 1780s, he wrote, among other things, Preview of the Principle Questions and Difficulties in Morals; An Appeal on the Subject of the National Debt; and Civil Liberty, the Principles of Government, and the Justice and Policy of the War with America. His papers influenced the policies of William Pitt and earned him admittance to the royal society in 1765. In 1789 he delivered his famous speech, "A Discourse on the Love of our Country," which came to be most widely known as the impetus for Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France.
In "A Discourse on the Love of Our Country" Price begins by discussing the idea that love for one's country should imply love for one's fellow citizens. In other words, it is not the land that is important, but the people who are united by the bond of citizenship. And while it is certainly important to love one's fellow citizen, it is not healthy to develop rivalries and animosity between countries. Establishing the importance of the nation, Price then moves on to discuss the importance of education and liberty within a nation: "By the diffusion of knowledge it must be distinguished from a country of barbarians: by the practice of religious virtue, it must be distinguished from a country of gamblers, atheists, and libertines: and by the possession of liberty, it must be distinguished from a country of slaves"
Much of Price's most important philosophical work was in the region of ethics. The Review of the Principal Questions in Morals (1757 revised 1787) contains his whole theory. It is divided into ten chapters, the first of which, though a small part of the whole, completes his demonstration of ethical theory. The remaining chapters investigate details of minor importance, and are especially interesting as showing his relation to Butler and Kant. The work is professedly a refutation of Francis Hutcheson, but is rather constructive than polemical. The theory he propounds is closely allied to that of Cudworth, but is interesting mainly in comparison with the subsequent theories of Kant.
Right and wrong belong to actions in themselves. By this he means, not that the ethical value of actions is independent of their motive and end, but rather that it is unaffected by consequences, and that it is more or less invariable for intelligent beings. This ethical value is perceived by reason or understanding (which, unlike Kant, he does not distinguish), which intuitively recognizes fitness or congruity between actions, agents and total circumstances. Arguing that ethical judgment is an act of discrimination, he endeavours to invalidate the doctrine of the moral sense. Yet, in denying the importance of the emotions in moral judgment, he is driven back to the admission that right actions must be "grateful" to us; that, in fact, moral approbation includes both an act of the understanding and an emotion of the heart. Still it remains true that reason alone, in its highest development, would be a sufficient guide. In this conclusion he is in close agreement with Kant; reason is the arbiter, and right is (1) not a matter of the emotions and (2) no relative to imperfect human nature. Price's main point of difference with Cudworth is that while Cudworth regards the moral criterion as a vanua or modification of the mind, existing in gere and developed by circumstances, Price regards it as acquired from the contemplation of actions, but acquired necessarily, immediately intuitively. In his view of disinterested action he adds nothing to Butler. Happiness he regards as the only end, conceivable by us, of divine Providence, but it is a happiness wholly dependent upon rectitude. Virtue tends always to happiness, and in the end must produce it in its perfect form.
(From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

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