Books and Characters, by Lytton Strachey

A Dialogue

BETWEEN

MOSES, DIOGENES, AND MR. LOKE

DIOGENES

Confess, oh Moses! Your Miracles were but conjuring-tricks, your Prophecies lucky Hazards, and your Laws a Gallimaufry of Commonplaces and Absurdities.

MR. LOKE

Confess that you were more skill’d in flattering the Vulgar than in ascertaining the Truth, and that your Reputation in the World would never have been so high, had your Lot fallen among a Nation of Philosophers.

DIOGENES

Confess that when you taught the Jews to spoil the Egyptians you were a sad rogue.

MR. LOKE

Confess that it was a Fable to give Horses to Pharaoh and an uncloven hoof to the Hare.

DIOGENES

Confess that you did never see the Back Parts of the Lord.

MR. LOKE

Confess that your style had too much Singularity and too little Taste to be that of the Holy Ghost.

MOSES

All this may be true, my good Friends; but what are the Conclusions you would draw from your Raillery? Do you suppose that I am ignorant of all that a Wise Man might urge against my Conduct, my Tales, and my Language? But alas! my path was chalk’d out for me not by Choice but by Necessity. I had not the Happiness of living in England or a Tub. I was the Leader of an ignorant and superstitious People, who would never have heeded the sober Counsels of Good Sense and Toleration, and who would have laughed at the Refinements of a nice Philosophy. It was necessary to flatter their Vanity by telling them that they were the favour’d Children of God, to satisfy their Passions by allowing them to be treacherous and cruel to their Enemies, and to tickle their Ears by Stories and Farces by turns ridiculous and horrible, fit either for a Nursery or Bedlam. By such Contrivances I was able to attain my Ends and to establish the Welfare of my Countrymen. Do you blame me? It is not the business of a Ruler to be truthful, but to be politick; he must fly even from Virtue herself, if she sit in a different Quarter from Expediency. It is his Duty to sacrifice the Best, which is impossible, to a little Good, which is close at hand. I was willing to lay down a Multitude of foolish Laws, so that, under their Cloak, I might slip in a few Wise ones; and, had I not shown myself to be both Cruel and Superstitious, the Jews would never have escaped from the Bondage of the Egyptians.

DIOGENES.

Perhaps that would not have been an overwhelming Disaster. But, in truth, you are right. There is no viler Profession than the Government of Nations. He who dreams that he can lead a great Crowd of Fools without a great Store of Knavery is a Fool himself.

MR. LOKE

Are not you too hasty? Does not History show that there have been great Rulers who were good Men? Solon, Henry of Navarre, and Milord Somers were certainly not Fools, and yet I am unwilling to believe that they were Knaves either.

MOSES

No, not Knaves; but Dissemblers. In their different degrees, they all juggled; but ’twas not because Jugglery pleas’d ’em; ’twas because Men cannot be governed without it.

MR. LOKE

I would be happy to try the Experiment. If Men were told the Truth, might they not believe it? If the Opportunity of Virtue and Wisdom is never to be offer’d ’em, how can we be sure that they would not be willing to take it? Let Rulers be bold and honest, and it is possible that the Folly of their Peoples will disappear.

DIOGENES

A pretty phantastick Vision! But History is against you.

MOSES

And Prophecy.

DIOGENES

And Common Observation. Look at the World at this moment, and what do we see? It is as it has always been, and always will be. So long as it endures, the World will continue to be rul’d by Cajolery, by Injustice, and by Imposture.

MR. LOKE

If that be so, I must take leave to lament the Destiny of the Human Race.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:31