Maturity of nations

How to make a great nation ? The answer of the question I take it from the book “The Social Contract “by Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

” Before putting up a large building, the architect surveys and tests the ground to see if it can support the weight; and in the same way the wise legislator doesn’t start by laying down his good laws but by investigating whether the populace they are intended for is in a condition to receive them. Plato refused to legislate for the Arcadians and the Cyreniens because he knew that both peoples were rich and couldn’t put up with equality; and Crete had good laws and bad men because all Minos had done was to impose discipline on a people already burdened with vice. A thousand nations that shone around the earth couldn’t endure good laws for long, and most couldn’t have endured them at all. Most peoples, like most men, are teachable only in youth; as they grow old they become impossible to correct. Once customs have become established and prejudices are dug in, trying to reform them is dangerous and useless; the populace can’t stand having anyone touch its faults, even to remedy them; it’s like the foolish and cowardly patients who tremble at sight of the doctor. I’m not denying that there are times in the history of states when….violence and revolutions jolt the populace into remembering the past, so that the state, set on fire by civil wars, is so to speak born again from its ashes, and with a renewed vigour of youth springs from the jaws of death. Examples: Sparta at the time of Lycurgus, Rome after the Tarquins, and in our own day Holland and Switzerland after the expulsion of the tyrants. But such events are rare; they are exceptions, always to be explained in terms of the particular constitution [see Glossary] of the exceptional state. They can’t even happen twice to the same people, for a populace can make itself free as long as it is merely uncivilized, but not when the civic spring has wound down. Then disturbances can destroy it, but revolutions can’t rebuild it: it needs a master, not a liberator. Free peoples, remember this maxim: ‘Liberty can be gained, but it can never be recovered.’

Youth is not infancy. For nations, as for men, there is a period of young adulthood—we may call it ‘maturity’—before which a nation shouldn’t be made subject to laws; but it isn’t always easy to recognise a people’s maturity, and if political developments are set going before that, the developments will fail. One people is amenable to discipline from the beginning; another, not after ten centuries. The Russians will never be really civilised, because they were ‘civilised’ too soon. Peter ·the Great· had a genius for imitation, but he didn’t have the true creative genius that makes everything from nothing. Some of the things he did were good, but most of them were wrong for that time and place. He saw that his populace was barbarous, but didn’t see that it was not ripe for civilisation: he wanted to civilise it when all it needed was to be prepared for war. At first he wanted to make Germans, Englishmen, when he ought to have started by making Russians; he blocked his subjects from ever becoming what they could have been, by persuading them that they were what they are not. This was like a French teacher who shapes his pupil to be an infant prodigy, and for the rest of his life to be nothing. The empire of Russia will try to conquer Europe, and will itself be conquered. The Tatars, its subjects or neighbours, will become its masters and ours, by a revolution that seems to me inevitable. Indeed, all the kings of Europe are working together to speed it along.”


Take from The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau; BOOK 2; 8.the People.


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