De Laicis — Saint Robert Bellarmine’s Treatise on Civil Government

Chapter 5

The third reason is deduced from the final cause. Political rule is so natural and necessary to the human race that it cannot be withdrawn without destroying nature itself; for the nature of man is such that he is a social animal; for indeed brutes are so endowed by nature that each is sufficient to himself, but man needs so many things that he can in no way live alone. For brutes are born clothed and armed, and they have an instinct so determined toward all those things which are beneficial for them that by nature, without any teacher, they know at once how to build nests, to seek for food, and even to make medicine for themselves; but man is born without clothing, without a home, without food, lacking all necessities, and although he has hands, and reason, by which he can prepare all instruments, nevertheless each one needs a long time to develop, and so long that it is impossible for one man to be sufficient to himself for all necessities, especially since we are born unskilled, and the arts are learned rather by instruction than by experience; therefore it is necessary that we should live in society, and that one should aid the other.

Besides, even were each one sufficient to himself for the necessities of life, yet he would never, unaided, be able to protect himself from the attacks of wild beasts and robbers, but for this purpose it is necessary for men to assemble and to ward off attacks with their combined strength. And granted that one man might prevail against an enemy, yet he would always remain ignorant, and destitute of wisdom and of justice and of many other virtues, although, indeed, we born for this very purpose, expressly to cultivate our mind and our will, for the arts and sciences were developed after a long time and by many men, and without a teacher they cannot be learned; it is impossible, moreover, to exercise justice except in society, since it is the virtue determining equity among many.

Finally, if man should live solitary, to what purpose has the gift of speech and of hearing, that is, of clearly perceiving words, been bestowed upon him? And so Aristotle rightly declares, 58 that man is by nature a civil animal, more so than the bees and the cranes, and any beast whatever, and whoever lives in solitude is either a beast or a god, that is, either less or more than man; nor does this statement militate against our hermits.

For those who lived in complete solitude, as Paul, the first hermit, Mary Magdalen, Mary of Egypt, and others, if there be any, can be said to have been something more than man, not by nature, but by grace; for they were miraculously fed by God, as is known; others, moreover, even if they lived in solitude, nevertheless frequently met together, and were subject to their Abbots, as we have shown in the treatise on the Monks.

Now, truly, if human nature needs social life, certainly it also needs a rule and a ruler, for it is impossible for a multitude to hold together for any length of time unless there be one who governs it, and who is responsible for the common welfare; just as, if there were not in each one of us a soul to govern and unite the parts and powers and conflicting elements of which we are made, immediately all would disintegrate. Hence it is written, 59 “Where there is no governor, the people shall fall.” Finally, society is order among many, for a disorderly and scattered multitude is not called society; moreover, what is order other than a certain succession of inferiors and superiors? Therefore, rulers have been necessarily ordained, if society is to endure.

By this reasoning the third argument of the Anabaptists is answered, for they adopt a false position when they say that political rule was permitted to the Jews on account of their imperfection, but that it is not fitting for us, since baptism teaches us all things; for baptism teaches us, first of all, that it is necessary to have a ruler; nor does it suffice to know all things, but we must also make and prepare many things, which we cannot do without the help of others.

And, besides, from this very fact may be inferred that the statement is false which Cicero makes, namely, that there was formerly a time when men wandered about in the manner of beasts, then, through the eloquence of some wise orator, they were induced to assemble, and to live together. 60 Indeed, whoever undertakes the praise of eloquence usually makes this statement even now. But that state of affairs never existed, nor could it have existed at any time. For Adam was a very wise man, and without doubt did not allow men to wander about like beasts, and Cain, his son, even built a material city; before Cain and Adam, man did not exist.

But it is no wonder that Cicero and other pagans say such things, for the pagans, since they thought that the world existed from all eternity, and since they saw, on the other hand, that all the arts were of recent date, and knowledge of them had existed for only a few years, supposed, for this reason, that for a very long time men had lived like animals, and the recollection of the things which they had done commenced at the time when they began to live like men; but it is certainly hard to understand how Christians, who have learned from the Revelation of God that six thousand years ago the world had not yet been created, and that the first men immediately built cities, dare to say that for a long time men lived like beasts, without a ruler and without cities.

58 Pol. Book I., ch. 2.

59 Prov. II.

60 De Inventione, Book I. This reference is particularly noteworthy because it is here we find the source of the erroneous tradition maintained by Seneca, the Calvinists, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, etc., according to which society is wholly factitious.