The Fable of the Bees or Private Vices, Publick Benefits, by Bernard Mandeville

The Introduction.

ONE of the greatest Reasons why so few People understand themselves, is, that most Writers are always teaching Men what they should be, and hardly ever trouble their Heads with telling them what they really are.1 As for my Part, without any Compliment to the Courteous Reader, or my self, I believe Man (besides Skin, Flesh, Bones, &c. that are obvious to the Eye) to be a compound of various Passions, that all of them, as they are provoked and come uppermost, govern him by turns, whether he will or no. To shew, that these Qualifications, which we all pretend to be asham’d of, are the great support of a flourishing Society, has been the subject of the foregoing Poem. But there being some Passages in it seemingly Paradoxical, I have in the Preface promised some explanatory Remarks on it; which to render more useful, I have thought fit to enquire, how Man, no better qualify’d, might yet by his own Imperfections be taught to distinguish between Virtue and Vice: And here I must desire the Reader once for all to take notice, that when I say Men, I mean neither Jews nor Christians; but meer Man, in the State of Nature and Ignorance of the true Deity.1

1 Cf. Machiavelli: ‘Ma, sendo l’intento mio scrivere cosa utile a chi l’intende, mi è parso più conveniente andare dietro alla verità effettuale della cosa, che all’ immaginazione di essa; . . . perchè egli è tanto discosto da come si vive a come si dovrebbe vivere, che colui che lascia quello che si fa per quello che si dovrebbe fare, impara piuttosto la rovina che la preservazione sua . . .’ (Il Principe, ch. 15); Montaigne ‘Les autres forment l’homme; ie le recite . . .’ (Essais, bk. 3, ch. 2, opening); Spinoza: ‘Homines namque non ut sunt, sed ut eosdem esse vellent, concipiunt . . .’ (Tractatus Politicus, opening).

1 Mandeville made this qualification several times — e.g., on the title-page of the 2nd ed. of the Fable (see below, opposite ii. 392), in Fable i. 166, and in the Origin of Honour (1732), p. 56. The Augustinian belief in man’s degeneracy and his incapacity for virtue unless ‘regenerated, and preternaturally assisted by the Divine Grace’ (Fable i. 166) was a commonplace of certain theological factions, notably the Jansenists. It was so general as to gain not infrequent entry even into the writings of pronounced freethinkers. Thus La Rochefoucauld qualified his analyses like Mandeville: ‘[the author] . . . n’a considéré les hommes que dans cet état déplorable de la nature corrompue par le péché, et qu’ainsi la manière dont il parle de ce nombre infini de défauts qui se rencontrent dans leurs vertus apparentes, ne regarde point ceux que Dieu en préserve par une grâce particulière’ (Réflexions ou . . . Maximes Morales, 5th ed., pref.). See also Bayle, Œuvres Diverses (The Hague, 1727–31) iii. 174 and Houdar de la Motte, Œuvres (1753–4) i (2). 368, in L’Amour Propre; and cf. above, i. xc, n. 1.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:58