No way on earth

The thought occurs, why theories of government at all? The forms and devices vary greatly with times and places, changing with needs and with the push-pull of interests and the ups and downs of armed combat. To find a logical or metaphysical basis for each of these turns of the wheel seems wasted effort, especially since no actual government matches its theory exactly.

The answer is that the western mind has steadily wanted to stand off from its experiences, label them, and put them into a communicable order. There must be reasons other than chance and convenience for what we do or endure. Only by stating principles can argument go on, and argument is unavoidable among people who accumulate traditions and have some degree of self-consciousness. from rationalizing past and present experience it is but a step to promote and change by the same method: propose to the world a new rationale or metaphysics. It works in all fields: art, manners, science – a hypothesis is a projection of what might be – and as in divine right theory, the new system embodies pieces of the old.

In assessing that theory one should not forget that the more recent dogma of popular sovereignty is but a transfer of the monarchial absolutism from the One to the Many. As the king is divinely right, so the voice of the people is the voice of God. This Republican maxim expresses the fact that there is no way of finding on earth a warrant for the topmost authority, the sovereign. The British Parliament is as absolute as the worst dictator; the king’s possible decline into tyranny s matched by the potential tyranny of the majority.

Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence, p. 250.

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