Friday, September 06, 2013

Fie on Goodness, Fie!

Still keeping company with Hume.  I went to Hume as a followup to what I've been reading about Scandinavia--not, I recognize, to get the last word on Anglo-Danish relations, but at least to get some sense of what one so influential in his own time might have thought and taught on the subject.

So be it, although I have learned something since I began that I didn't know before. That is: Hume actually composed his history as it were backwards, beginning with the runup to the Revolution of 1688 and working thence by degrees back to the beginnings in the Celtic swamps and bogs.  This gives rise to the suspicion that he might have been doing this last (first?) part just for money, as a followup to the later (earlier?) volumes that appear so to have engaged his attention

No matter: Hume is a shrewd and clear-sighted observer even when (if?) he is proceeding in overdrive, and he tells an old story with a fluency and with may not have its match anyplace else. Here's a Hume reflecting on the vagaries of power in a semi-civilized world:
The extensive confederacies, by which the European potentates are now at once united and set in opposition to each other, and which, though they are apt to diffuse the least spark of dissension throughout the whole, are at least attended with this advantage, that they prevent any violent revolutions or conquests in particular states, were totally unknown in ancient ages; and the theory of foreign politics in each kingdom formed a speculation much less complicated and involved than at present. Commerce had not yet bound together the most distant nations in so close a chain: wars, finished in one campaign, and often in one battle, were little affected by the movements of remote states: the imperfect communication among the kingdoms, and their ignorance of each other's situation, made it impracticable for a great number of them to combine in one object or effort: and above all, the turbulent spirit and independent situation of the barons or great vassals in each state, gave so much occupation to the sovereign, that he was obliged to confine his attention chiefly to his own state and his own system of government, and was more indifferent about what passed among his neighbors. Religion alone, not politics, carried abroad the views of princes, while it either fixed their thoughts on the Holy Land, whose conquest and defence was deemed a point of common honor and interest, or engaged them in intrigues with the Roman pontiff, to whom they had yielded the direction of ecclesiastical affairs, and who was every day assuming more authority than they were willing to allow him. \
David HumeHistory of England. This interlude occurs in the eve of the accession of Henry II, who took the throne in 1154.


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