An essay on the history of civil society sparknotes

Of the principles of War and Dissension. THERE are some circumstances in the lot of mankind, says Socrates, that shew them to be destined to friendship and amity:

An essay on the history of civil society sparknotes

Thursday, March 10, Adam Ferguson, "Essay on Civil Society" Since I realized that there hasn't been one for some time, here is a review of another of my favourite books. Cambridge University Press, Adam Ferguson was one of the lesser lights of the Scottish Enlightenment.

The work for which Ferguson is best-known, both in his own time and ours, is his An Essay on the History of Civil Society The book is largely what its title implies: In typical Scottish style, the author traces a sort of moral history of humankind, structured within the four-stage framework of social development that was fashionable at the time.

The four stages are: It is worth noting in passing that Ferguson would have considered himself fairly knowledgeable about less advanced societies: More polished lowland Scots considered the Highland clans to be in a transitional stage somewhere between the barbaric and civilized stages of social development i.

He is merely saying that those societies that display progress do so through these four stages.

An essay on the history of civil society sparknotes

He does not say that every society will progress through them. Indeed, history shows that societies are just as likely to regress, to move backwards. The basic concept is well expressed in the following passage, which was to have a profound effect on Friedrich Hayek in the 20th century when he wrote his magisterial three-volume Law, Legislation, and Liberty: If Cromwell said, That a man never mounts higher, than when he knows not whither he is going; it may with more reason be affirmed of communities, that they admit of the greatest revolutions where no change is intended, and that the most refined politicians do not always know whither they are leading the state by their projects.

We might say that social institutions are emergent properties of individual action and decision. They are not always the result of a plan.

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Indeed, planned societies usually end up being very different from what their planners intended, as do planned institutions. If, during ages of activity and vigour, they fill up the measure of national greatness to a height which no human wisdom could at a distance foresee; they actually incur in ages of relaxation and weakness, many evils which their fears did not suggest, and which, perhaps, they had thought far removed by the tide of success and prosperity.

We should not allow small symptoms of weakness or lethargy in the body politic to go untreated, for though they seem benign or barely perceptible at first, they quickly become a disease untreatable. Such inattention has been the downfall of many a prosperous and polished civilization.

Social rot has its beginnings during apparent health, so by the time the rot is first noticed, it has likely already been progressing for some time. It is in my opinion the wisest account of political corruption ever written. One of the ways a society goes off the rails involves giving in to the temptation to discount the future in the service of current projects or indeed, mere current pleasures.

The following passage illustrates this, and when read in the light of the current fiscal situation of developed nations, it has an eerily contemporary ring to it: They have found, in the loans they raised, a casual resource, which encouraged their enterprises.

They have seemed, by their manner of enacting transferable funds, to leave the capital purposes of trade, in the hands of the subject, while it is actually expended by the government.

They have by these means, proceeded to the execution of great national projects, without suspending private industry, and have left future ages to answer, in part, for debts contracted with a view to future emolument.

So far the expedient is plausible, and appears to be just. The growing burden too, is thus gradually laid; and if a nation be to sink in some future age, every minister hopes it may still keep afloat his own.

But the measure… is, with all its advantages, extremely dangerous, in the hands of a precipitant and ambitious administration, regarding only the present occasion, and imagining a state to be inexhaustible, while a capital can be borrowed, and the interest be paid.

He recognizes the possible benefits of such instruments of public finance as paper money and a national debt, but is very aware of how easily these may be manipulated and abused by short-sighted and self-interested leaders.

Funding national projects through public debt seems to be working so far, he seems to say, but for how much longer?

There are other worries lurking under the surface of this passage: What are these projects? Will such a system naturally lead to the temptations of dangerous imperialist adventures, of the sort that contributed to the Roman decline into despotism?

In Canada at least, we have been lucky in that those great national projects have largely consisted of social programs such as a publicly-funded healthcare system.


For politicians who resort to this kind of finance, the rewards of risk are present and are enjoyed by the risk-taker; but the penalty for failure is a future burden shouldered by others.

Given such a perverse incentive structure, is it any wonder that governments have a marked propensity to overspend? Again, such moral complaisance often takes the form of a short-sighted discounting of the future.

War is a subject about which, like public finance, Ferguson displays a deep-rooted ambivalence. On the one hand, he dislikes imperialism and believes war to be a waste of human and material capital, especially when conducted in the service of immoral ends.

On the other hand, nations face real dangers, and in order to protect itself the state must have a citizenry capable of making war. Not only that, but because of the constitution of human nature itself, struggle and aggressive competition play a vital role in the moral economy of a society: Too long a period of peace may lead citizens to become weak, and a republic to lack vigour and energy.Summary Thoreau's Civil Disobedience espouses the need to prioritize one's conscience over the dictates of laws.

It criticizes American social institutions and policies, most prominently slavery and the Mexican-American War.

AN ESSAY ON THE HISTORY OF CIVIL SOCIETY. PART FIRST. Of the General Characteristics of Human Nature. SECTION I. The history of our species indeed abundantly shews, that they are to one an∣other mutual objects both of fear and of love; and they who would prove them to have been originally either in a state of alliance, or .

A summary of Chapters Of Paternal Power and of Political or Civil Society in John Locke's Locke's Second Treatise on Civil Government. Learn exactly what happened in this chapter, scene, or section of Locke's Second Treatise on Civil Government and what it means.

Perfect for acing essays, tests, and quizzes, as well as for writing lesson plans.

Essay on the History of Civil Society | work by Ferguson |

Mar 10,  · (An Essay on the History of Civil Society, Pt. III, §2, italics added) Hayek took this idea and ran with it. An Essay on the History of Civil Society is a book by the Scottish Enlightenment philosopher Adam Ferguson, first published in The Essay established Ferguson's reputation in Britain and throughout Europe.

Contents. Part I. Of the General Characteristics of Human Nature. Part II. Of the History of Rude Nations. Part Adam Ferguson.

An essay on the history of civil society sparknotes

Other articles where Essay on the History of Civil Society is discussed: Adam Ferguson: is chiefly remembered for the Essay on the History of Civil Society, an intellectual history that traces humanity’s progression from barbarism to social and political refinement.

An Essay on the History of Civil Society - Online Library of Liberty