The Law of War and Peace (1625)
by Hugo Grotius
War of Subjects Against Superiors
I. State of the question.
1. War may be waged by private persons against private persons, as by a traveler against a highwayman; by those who have sovereign power against those who possess like power, as by David against the King of the Ammonites; by private persons against those who have sovereign power, but not over them, as by Abraham against the King of Babylon and his neighbors; and by those who have sovereign power against private persons who are either their subjects, as in the war waged by David against the party of Ishbosheth, or are not their subjects, as in the war waged by the Romans against the pirates.
2. The question to be considered here is simply this, whether it is permissible for either private or official persons to wage war against those under whose authority they are, whether this authority be sovereign or subordinate.
First of all, the point is settled beyond controversy, that arms may be taken up against subordinates by those who are armed with the authority of the sovereign power. A pertinent case is that of Nehemiah who, authorized by an edict of Artaxerxes, waged war on the petty princes near him. Similarly the Roman emperors granted to the proprietor of an estate the privilege of driving off the surveyors who make measurements for a camp. Our question, then, is to determine what action is permissible against the sovereign power, or against subordinates acting under the authority of the sovereign power.
3. Among all good men one principle at any rate is established beyond controversy, that if the authorities issue any order that is contrary to the law of nature or to the commandments of God, the order should not be carried out. For when the Apostles said that obedience should be rendered to God rather than men, they appealed to an infallible rule of action, which is written in the hearts of all men, and which you may find in Plato expressed in about as many words. But if from any such cause, or under other conditions as a result of caprice on the part of him who holds the sovereign power, unjust treatment be inflicted on us, we ought to endure it rather than resist by force.
II. That as a general rule rebellion is not permitted by the law of nature.
1. By nature all men have the right of resisting in order to ward off injury, as we have said above. But as civil society was instituted in order to maintain public tranquillity, the state forthwith acquires over us and our possessions a greater right, to the extent necessary to accomplish this end. The state, therefore, in the interest of public peace and order, can limit that common right of resistance. That such was the purpose of the state we cannot doubt, since it could not in any other way achieve its end. If, in fact, the right of resistance should remain without restraint, there will no longer be a state, but only a non-social horde, such as that of the Cyclopes, among whom
- Each bears rule
O’er wife and offspring.
A mob confused, where none the other heeds.
Such, too, were the Aborigines, whom Sallust represents as a race of men rude, without laws, without government, free and unrestrained; and such, according to the same author in another passage, were the Getulians, who were controlled neither by custom nor by the law or rule of any one.
2. The usage of all states is as I have stated. Augustine says: ‘There is a general agreement of human society to obey kings.’ Says Aeschylus:
- Full power the king enjoys, responsible to none.
In the words of Sophocles:
- Rulers they are-obedience must be rendered; And why not?
A kindred thought is expressed by Euripides:
- Crass blundering of them who rule must be endured.
To these quotations may be added the words of Tacitus which we quoted above, in a similar connection, and also the following: ‘To the emperor the gods have given the supreme direction of affairs; to subjects has been left the honor of rendering obedience.’ Here also belongs the verse:
- Unworthy things must worthy be esteemed,
If the king does them.
Here, again, a sentence from Seneca: ‘The rule of a king, just and unjust, you must endure.’ The thought was borrowed from Sophocles, who had said:
- You must obey him whom the state has placed
In power, alike in small things and in things
Unjust as well as just.
A sentence of Sallust has the same purport: ‘To do whatever you wish with impunity, that is to be a king.’
3. Hence it comes about that everywhere the majesty, that is, the prestige, whether of the state or of him who exercises the sovereign power, is safeguarded by so many laws, so many penalties; this cannot be maintained if licence to offer resistance be free to all. If a soldier has resisted a centurion who wishes to punish him and has laid hold of the centurion’s staff, he is degraded in rank; if he has purposely broken the staff, or ‘has laid a hand on the centurion he is punished with death.’ In Aristotle we read, ‘If he who has official authority has struck any one, he is not to be struck in return.’
III. That rebellion is not allowable according to Hebraic law.
In Hebraic law he was condemned to death who had been disobedient either to the high priest or to one that had been appointed by God out of the ordinary way as ruler of the people.
If we examine closely the passage in Samuel which deals with the right of the king, it becomes clear that on the one hand this must not be understood as setting forth a true right, that is a power to do something in a manner morally right and just (an altogether different manner of life is prescribed for the king in the part of the law which deals with the duty of the king), nor, on the other hand, is a mere fact indicated; for there is nothing in it peculiar to a king, since private persons also are wont to do wrongs to private persons. A fact is set forth, however, which has in a measure a legal effect, that is, the obligation not to offer resistance. So it is added, that the people when oppressed by such wrongs should implore the help of God, because, in fact, there would be no recourse at the hands of man. That, therefore, is called a legal right in the sense that the praetor is said to’ enforce a legal right even when he gives an unjust decision.’
IV. That rebellion is even less allowable according to the law of the Gospel; proof is presented from Holy Writ.
1. In the New Covenant Christ enjoined men ‘to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.’ By this he meant that his followers owed to sovereign powers an obedience joined, if need be, with long-suffering, not less in degree, if not even greater, than that which the Jews owed to the Jewish kings. This thought the Apostle Paul, a most excellent interpreter of Christ, develops more fully. ‘Describing in detail the duties of subjects, among other things he says: ‘He that resisteth the power, withstandeth the ordinance of God; and they that withstand shall receive to themselves judgement.’ A little farther on he adds: ‘For he is a minister of God to thee for good’; afterward, ‘Wherefore ye must needs be in subjection, not only because of the wrath, but also for conscience’ sake.’
Under subjection the Apostle includes the necessity of non-resistance-not the necessity only which arises from fear of a greater evil but that which flows from our very sense of duty and lays upon us an obligation not only to men but also to God. He adds two reasons. The first is that God approved this constituted order of bearing rule and rendering obedience both in earlier time, under the Hebraic law, and now under the Gospel; in consequence, we are to look upon public authorities as if they had been established by God himself. For the acts to which we have given our authorization we make our own. The other reason is, that this constituted order contributes to our good.
2. And yet, an objector may say, there is no advantage in suffering wrongs. On this point some declare-with more of truth than of consistency with the Apostle’s meaning, I judge-that even these wrongs are advantageous to us, because such long-suffering will not fail of its reward. It seems to me that the Apostle had in view the universal end which the constituted order had in view; this is, the maintenance of public tranquillity,’ in which also that of individuals is comprised. Truly we cannot doubt that generally we do attain to this good through the agency of the powers of government; for no one wishes to bring harm upon himself, and the good fortune of the ruler consists in the good fortune of his subjects. ‘May there be those whom you may rule,’ one of the ancients said. Among the Jews there is a proverb, ‘If there were no public authority, men would swallow one another alive.’ The same thought is found in Chrysostom: ‘If there were no rulers of states, we should be living a life more wild than the life of wild beasts, not only biting one another, but devouring one another.’
3. If sometimes under the influence of excessive fear or anger or other passions, rulers are turned aside so that they do not enter the straight road that leads to tranquillity, this after all must be reckoned among the things that less frequently happen; and such things, as Tacitus remarks, are offset by the interposition of better things. Laws, again, count it sufficient to have in view what generally happens, as Theophrastus remarked. A saying of Cato bears on the same point: ‘There is no law which is sufficiently well adapted to all cases; this only is aimed at, that a law be serviceable to the majority, and of general application.’
Things which happen rather infrequently ought nevertheless to be brought together under general rules; for although the principle embodied in a law may in a special case not have a specific application, yet the principle remains of general scope, and it is right that particular cases should be determined accordingly. This is better than to live without a rule, or to suffer the rule to be left to every one’s discretion. Quite to the point Seneca remarks: ‘It was better that even a well-grounded excuse be not accepted from a few than that any and every kind of an excuse be tried by all.’
4. At this point we may quote as pertinent those words of Pericles in Thucydides, which cannot be too often brought to mind:
For my part I think that even for the individual citizens it is more advantageous that the state prosper than that, while their private interests prosper, the state as a whole should suffer. For though a man may have his private means well invested, nevertheless if the state perish he must perish with it; but the man who, in a prosperous state, has been unfortunate, is much more likely, under such a condition, to regain his footing. Since, then, a state is able to bear the misfortunes of individuals, while the individual is not able to bear the misfortunes of a state, what reason is there why all should not unite in taking counsel for the state, and for its protection, and not do as you are doing, you who, panic stricken as it were, by private losses, are abandoning the safety of the state?
The same thought is expressed by Livy briefly in these words ‘ A state that is in a sound condition easily safeguards the interest of individuals; in betraying the general interest you would vainly think to protect your own.’ Plato had said, in the fourth book of his Laws, ‘It is the common interest which binds a state together, that of individuals which rends it apart. Wherefore, it is more advantageous, both for the state and for the individual, that public interests be cared for in preference to private interests.’
Xenophon presents a slightly different point of view: ‘He who in war acts treacherously against his general does so at the peril of his life.’ The words of Iamblichus bear upon the same subject: ‘The private interest is not dissociated from the public interest; rather, the good of the individual is comprised in the general good. In states, as in the case of animals and the rest of nature, the welfare of the parts is dependent upon the welfare of the whole.’
5. Now beyond doubt the most important element in public affairs is the constituted order of bearing rule and rendering obedience, regarding which I have spoken. This truly cannot coexist with individual licence to offer resistance. The point is well set forth in a fine passage of Dio Cassius:
For my part I think that it is not a proper thing for the ruler of a state to be overridden by his subjects, and that there is no hope of safety if the element whose function it is to obey strives to rule. Consider what kind of order there would be in a household if the elders should be scorned by the young. How would the sick recover their health if they should not obey their physicians in everything? What safety for those who travel by ship if the crew should treat with contempt the orders of the helmsmen? By nature in truth it is for men a necessity, and a means of safety, that some rule and others obey.
6. With Paul let us associate Peter as a companion. Peter’s words are:
Honor the king. Servants, be in subjection to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward. For this is acceptable, if for conscience toward God a man endureth griefs, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye sin, and are buffeted for it, we shall take it patiently? But if, when ye do well and suffer for it, ye shall take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.
A little farther on Peter confirms this exposition by the example of Christ. The same thought in the Constitutions of Clement is expressed in these words: ‘Let the servant who fears God at the same time bring goodwill to his master, no matter how ungodly, no matter how unjust.’
Two comments need to be made. First, the submission which is spoken of as due to masters, even harsh masters, must be considered as due also to kings; for what follows is based upon that as a foundation, and regards the duty of subjects not less than that of servants. And in the second place, the submission which is required of us carries with it the endurance of wrongs, as the saying is in regard to parents:
- Your father love if he is just; if not,
Bear with him.
A young man from Eretria, who for a long time had been frequenting the school of Zeno, was asked what he had learned there; he answered, ‘To endure my father’s rage.’ Of Lysimachus Justin said: ‘With greatness of soul he bore the insulting treatment of the king as if it had been that of a father.’ In Livy we read: ‘Harsh treatment on the part of our country, as on the part of our parents, we must assuage by suffering and enduring.’ In Tacitus, again, ‘The caprices of kings are to be endured’; and in another passage, ‘We should pray for good emperors, put up with those we have.’ Among the Persians, in the commendatory words of Claudian:
- Howe’er so cruel masters are,
They are obeyed.
V. That rebellion is not allowable according to the practice of the early Christians.
1. From this law of the Lord the practice of the early Christians,’ which is a most excellent commentary upon the law, did not depart. Although the administration of the Roman Empire was often in the hands of extremely bad men, and there was no lack of pretenders who opposed them under the pretext of rescuing the state, the Christians never associated themselves with their attempts. In the Constitutions of Clement the rule is laid down, ‘It is wrong to resist the authority of a king.’ Says Tertullian in his Apology:
Whence come men like Cassius, and men like Niger, and men like Albinus? Whence they who beset a Caesar between the two laurels? Whence they who practice wrestling in order to strangle him? Whence they who in arms burst into the palace, more audacious than all the men like Sigerius (this is the distinct reading of the manuscript which is in the possession of those distinguished young gentlemen the Dupuys) and Parthenius? From among the Romans, if I mistake not, that is from among men who are not Christians.
Tertullian’s allusion to the practice of wrestling refers to the murder of Commodus, which was accomplished by the hand of a wrestler acting under the orders of the prefect Aelius Laetus; yet in point of wickedness hardly any one was worse than this emperor. Parthenius, whose crime Tertullian likewise abhors, was the man responsible for the assassination of the extremely bad emperor Domitian. To these Tertullian compares the pretorian prefect, Plautianus, who had wished to kill Septimius Severus – truly a blood-thirsty emperor – in the palace. Arms had been taken up against the same Septimius Severus, under pretense of devotion to the state, by Pescennius Niger in Syria, and by Claudius Albinus in Gaul and Britain. But the action of these men also was displeasing to the Christians, as Tertullian boasts to Scapula. ‘We are charged with treason,’ he says; ‘nevertheless among the followers of Albinus, or of Niger, or of Cassius, no Christians could ever be found.’ The followers of Cassius were those who had joined Avidius Cassius, an excellent man; he took up arms in Syria, alleging as the reason that he was going to restore the state, which the neglect of Marcus Aurelius was bringing to ruin.
2. Ambrose believed that wrong would be done not only to himself but also to his flock and to Christ, by Valentinian, son of Valentinian; yet he would not take advantage of an uprising of the people, who were thoroughly aroused, to offer resistance. ‘Although under compulsion,’ he says,’ I know not how to make resistance.’ I shall be able to grieve, to weep, to groan; against arms, soldiers, even the Goths, my weapons are my tears. Such are the defenses of the clergy; in no other way ought I to offer resistance, in no other way can I resist.’ In another passage he adds: ‘The demand was made upon me that I calm the people. I made answer that it was my duty not to arouse the people; that the quieting of the people was in the hand of God.’
The same Ambrose refused to make use of the troops of Maximus against the emperor, though the emperor was both an Arian and a persecutor of the church. In illustration of the same attitude, Gregory Nazianzen declares that Julian the Apostate, while deliberating upon dreadful plans, was held back by the tears of Christians; he adds the reason, ‘because this was the only resource they had against the persecutor.’ And yet, the army of Julian was almost altogether made up of Christians. There is the further fact that the cruelty of Julian, as the same Gregory observes, not only worked harm to the Christians but brought the state itself into very great danger. Pertinent is the comment of Augustine, explaining the words of the Apostle to the Romans: ‘For the welfare of this life it is necessary that we be submissive, not offering resistance if they (the rulers) wish to take away anything from us.’
VI. The view which holds that it is permissible for subordinate officials to rebel against sovereign authority is refuted, both by argument and by Holy Writ.
1. In our time there are to be met with men who possess learning, it is true, but being too much under the influence of time and place have persuaded first themselves (for so I believe), then others, that what has been said is applicable only to private individuals and not also to subordinate officials. They think that subordinate officials have the right to offer resistance to wrong-doing on the part of him who holds the supreme power; further, that these do wrong if under such conditions they do not offer resistance.
The validity of this opinion ought not to be admitted. Just as in logic an intermediate species, from the point of view of the genus, is a species, but from the point of view of a sub-species is a genus, so subordinate officials from the point of view of officials of lower rank are persons vested with public authority, but from the point of view of those possessing higher authority are private persons. All governmental authority possessed by public officials is in fact so subordinated to the sovereign power that whatever they do contrary to the will of him who holds it is divested of authority and is, accordingly, to be considered as a private act. The saying of the philosophers is here in place, that an orderly arrangement is possible only in relation to a first point.
2. They who think otherwise seem to me disposed to bring into this world such a condition of affairs as existed in heaven, according to the tale the ancients used to tell, before a sovereign power arose; for at that time, they said, the lesser gods had not yet submitted to Jupiter. But the orderly arrangement of which I spoke, and the principle of subordination,’ are recognized not alone by the common sense of mankind. From such recognition came the verse:
- Subject to a kingship still more powerful
Each kingship is.
Likewise the words of Papinius:
- In alternation all is ruled,
And rules in turn.
Also Augustine’s famous statement:
Consider the gradations of rank in human relations. If a subordinate official has given some order, the thing must be done; nevertheless if the proconsul orders the contrary, it is not to be done. A similar situation arises if the consul issues some order, and the emperor gives a different order. In such a case you do not treat official power with disrespect, but you choose to serve the higher authority; the official of lower rank ought not to be angry if preference is given to the higher.
Of Pilate, Augustine said: ‘The power which God had given to him was such that he was himself also under the power of Caesar.’
3. Such subordination is proved also by divine authority. The chief of the Apostles desires that we submit ourselves in one way to the king, in another to public officials. We are to submit ourselves to the king as to the supreme authority, that is without any reservation except in regard to those things which God directly enjoins upon us; and He approves the endurance of wrong and does not forbid it. We are to submit ourselves to public officials as if they had been sent by the king, that is to those who derive their power from the king. When Paul desires that ‘every soul be in subjection to the higher powers,’ he includes also the subordinate public officials.
Among the Jewish people, where there were so many kings who treated with contempt divine as well as human law, the subordinate officials, among whom were very many upright and brave men, never assumed to themselves the right to oppose any force to the kings, unless they had received a special command from God, whose right over kings is supreme. On the contrary, Samuel showed what the duty of the elders was when, in the presence of the elders and the people, he treated Saul with the customary respect, although Saul already was reigning badly.
4. And so among the Jews the condition of public worship also always depended upon the will of the king and the sanhedrin. Since, after the king, the public officials at the same time with the people promised that they would be faithful to God, this must be understood to mean, so far as it would be in the power of each. We have never read that even the images of false gods, which were standing in public places, were ever thrown down except by order of the people, when the state was a free republic, or by that of the kings, when kings were in power. If sometimes violence was used against kings, the fact is reported as evidence of the interposition of divine providence which permitted the deed, not as a mark of approval of the action in the sight of men.
5. The authors who maintain the opposite view are accustomed to bring forward the saying of Trajan, when he handed a dagger to the pretorian prefect: ‘Use this for me, if I govern rightly; against me, if I govern badly.’ But the fact must be recognized, as is manifest from Pliny’s Panegyric, that Trajan made it his particular care to see to it that nothing suggestive of kingly power should appear, but that he should act as truly a chief magistrate,’ subject, accordingly, to the authority of the senate and the people; their decrees the prefect was bound to carry into effect, even against the chief magistrate himself. The case of Marcus Aurelius was similar; we read of him that he was unwilling to touch public funds unless authorized by a decree of the senate.
VII. What view is to be taken in care of extreme and in other respects unavoidable necessity.
1. More serious is the question whether the law of non-resistance should bind us in case of extreme and imminent peril. Even some laws of God, although stated in general terms, carry a tacit exception in case of extreme necessity. Such a limitation was put upon the law of the Sabbath by learned men in the time of the Maccabees; hence the well-known saying: ‘Danger to life breaks the Sabbath.’ In Synesius, again, a Jew presents this excuse for having violated the law of the Sabbath: ‘We were exposed to imminent danger of death.’
This exception was approved by Christ, as also an exception in the case of another law, which forbade the eating of shewbread. The Jewish rabbis, in accordance with an ancient tradition, admit a similar exception in the case of the law forbidding the use of certain articles of food, and in some other cases; and rightly so. This does not mean that God has not the right to oblige us to submit ourselves to certain death; it does mean that since there are some laws of such a nature, we are not to believe that they were given with so inflexible an intent. The same principle holds even more manifestly in the case of human laws.
2. I do not deny that even according to human law certain acts of a moral nature can be ordered which expose one to a sure danger of death; an example is the order not to leave one’s post.’ We are not, however, rashly to assume that such was the purpose of him who laid down the law; and it is apparent that men would not have received so drastic a law applying to themselves and others except as constrained by extreme necessity. For laws are formulated by men and ought to be formulated with an appreciation of human frailty.
Now this law which we are discussing-the law of non-resistance -seems to draw its validity from the will of those who associate themselves together in the first place to form a civil society; from the same source, furthermore, derives the right which passes into the hands of those who govern. If these men could be asked whether they purposed to impose upon all persons the obligation to prefer death rather than under any circumstances to take up arms in order to ward off the violence of those having superior authority, I do not know whether they would answer in the affirmative, unless, perhaps, with this qualification, in case resistance could not be made without a very great disturbance in the state, and without the destruction of a great many innocent people. I do not doubt that to human law also there can be applied what love under such circumstances would commend.
3. Some one may say that this strict obligation, to suffer death rather than at any time to ward off any kind of wrong-doing on the part of those possessing superior authority, has its origin not in human but in divine law. It must be noted, however, that in the first instance men joined themselves together to form a civil society not by command of God, but of their own free will, being influenced by their experience of the weakness of isolated households against attack. From this origin the civil power is derived, and so Peter calls this an ordinance of man. Elsewhere, however, it is also called a divine ordinance, because God approved an institution which was beneficial to mankind. God is to be thought of as approving a human law, however, only as human and imposed after the manner of men.
4. Barclay, though a very staunch advocate of kingly authority, nevertheless comes down to this point, that he concedes to the people, and to a notable portion of the people, the right of self-defense against atrocious cruelty, despite the fact that he admits that the entire people is subject to the king. I readily understand that in proportion as that which is preserved is of greater importance, the equity of admitting an exception to the letter of a law is increased. But on the other hand I should hardly dare indiscriminately to condemn either individuals, or a minority which at length availed itself of the last resource of necessity in such a way as meanwhile not to abandon consideration of the common good.
We may illustrate the point from the history of David, who, with the exception of a few deeds, is represented as having passed a life in accordance with the laws. Now David had about him first four hundred armed men, then a considerably larger number; for what purpose, except to defend himself in case violence should be attempted? But at the same time this fact should be noted, that David did not gather this force until after he had been informed by Jonathan, and had learned by numerous and sure evidences from other sources, that Saul was threatening his life. Even then, however, he did not fall upon cities, nor seize opportunities to fight; but he sought hiding-places, sometimes in places difficult of access, sometimes among foreign peoples, and with such scruple that he never did harm to those of his own nation.
5. Comparable with the conduct of David was that of the Maccabees. Their taking up of arms some, indeed, seek to justify on the ground that Antiochus was not their king, but a usurper. This view I consider untenable. For nowhere in their history do the Maccabees, and those who had espoused their cause, address Antiochus with any other title than that of king. And the title was properly applied, since for a considerable period the Jews had acknowledged the sovereignty of the Macedonians, and to their right to rule Antiochus had succeeded. For the rule of law forbidding that a foreigner should be set over the people must be understood as relating to voluntary choice; it has no bearing on that which the people were forced to do when constrained by the necessity of the times.
Others, again, declare that the Maccabees availed themselves of the right of a people entitled to self-government. This argument, however, is as devoid of foundation as the first. For the Jews were first reduced to subjection by Nebuchadnezzar, by right of conquest; and by the same right they rendered obedience to the successors of the Chaldeans, that is, the Medes and Persians, whose entire empire passed under the rule of the Macedonians.” Hence Tacitus calls the Jews ‘the most insignificant part of those who were in subjection while the East was under the power of the Assyrians, the Medes, and the Persians.’ The Jews obtained no concession whatever from Alexander and his successors, but came under their absolute power without any stipulation, just as they had previously been under the power of Darius. If from time to time the Jews were permitted openly to practice their religious rites and to follow their own laws, their right to do so was by sufferance, resting on the goodwill of the kings, not on any legal provision safeguarding their government.
The Maccabees, therefore, had no justification except extreme and unavoidable danger. This justification held, at any rate, as long as they kept within the limits of self-defense, so that, following the example of David, they withdrew into places difficult of access, seeking safety; and as long as they did not use arms except when they were attacked.
6. Meanwhile the caution must be observed that even in such danger, the person of the king must be spared. Those who think that David conformed to this rule not from a sense of duty, but from a higher purpose, are mistaken. For David himself openly said, that no one who laid hands on the king could be innocent. Undoubtedly he knew that it was written in the law: ‘Thou shalt not revile the gods,’ that is the highest judges, ‘nor curse a ruler of thy people.’ The special mention of the higher powers in this law indicates that something noteworthy is enjoined. Wherefore Optatus of Milevis, speaking of this course of action on the part of David, says: ‘A memory filled with the commandments of God held him back.’ And into the mouth of David he puts these words: ‘I wished to vanquish my enemy; but the first duty is to keep the commandments of God.’
7. Malicious false statements are not permissible even against a private individual; accordingly, in the case of a king malicious statements even of what is true must be refrained from, for the reason that, as the author of the Problems which bear the name of Aristotle says: ‘He who reviles the ruler works injury to the state. If, then, harm must not be done to the ruler with speech, surely much less with the hand. Hence we read, that David was filled with penitence because he had violently laid hold of the garment of the king; so profound a sense did he have of the inviolability of the king’s person! And not without reason. For since the sovereign power is inevitably exposed to the hatred of many,’ the security of him who is charged with the exercise of it must be safeguarded in an altogether exceptional way.
This the Romans determined even in the case of the tribunes of the people; they enacted that the tribunes should be safe from seizure, that is inviolable. Among the sayings of the Essenes was this, that kings are to be regarded as holy; and there is a noteworthy expression in Homer:
- For the shepherd of the people did he fear,
Lest harm should come to him.
Not without reason, we read in Curtius, do ‘the nations which are under the government of kings, revere the name of the king as that of a god.’ Says Artaban, the Persian: ‘Of the many good laws which we have this is the most excellent, that we must reverence and adore the king, as the image of God who preserves all things.’ ‘It is neither right nor permissible,’ says Plutarch in his life of Agis,’ to lay hands on the person of a king.’
8. It is a more difficult question to determine whether, in this matter, as much is permitted also to Christians as was permitted to David or to the Maccabees; for the Master of the Christians, on so many occasions bidding them to bear the cross, seems to exact a greater degree of long-suffering. Surely when the higher powers threaten death to Christians on account of their religion, Christ concedes to them the right to flee-to those, at any rate, whom the necessary discharge of duty does not bind to a particular place. Beyond the right to flee, he makes no concession. Peter, in fact, says that in suffering Christ left to us an example that we should follow; though he was free from sin, and without guile, ‘when he was reviled he reviled not again; when he suffered, threatened not, but committed himself to Him that judgeth righteously.’ He says also that Christians ought to return thanks to God, and rejoice, if as Christians they suffer punishment. And we read that the Christian religion waxed strong chiefly by reason of such long-suffering.
9. Thus the early Christians, fresh from the teachings of the Apostles and of Apostolic men, both understood the Christian rules of conduct better, and lived up to them more fully, than did the men of later times; wherefore I think that the greatest injustice is done to them by those who think that their reason for not defending themselves, when in certain danger of death, was lack of strength, not intention. Imprudent, surely, and devoid of shame, would Tertullian have been if, in the presence of the emperors, who could not be in ignorance of the facts, he had dared with so much assurance to lie when he said:
If we wished to act as open enemies, and not merely as secret avengers, should we lack the power of numbers and of forces? Are the Moors, forsooth, and the Marcomans, and even the Parthians, or all the nations which, in contrast with us, are confined to one region and hemmed in by their own boundaries-are they more numerous than we, who are spread over the whole earth? Strangers we are, and yet we have filled all places belonging to you, your cities, islands, fortified posts, towns, places of assembly, even your camps; your tribes, town-councils, palace, senate, Forum. Only your temples have we left to you. What war should we not have been capable of undertaking, and ready to undertake, even if inferior in forces-we who are so willingly slaughtered-if according to our doctrine it were not more lawful to suffer ourselves to be killed than to kill?
In this matter Cyprian, too, follows his teacher, and openly affirms: ‘This is the reason why no one of us offers resistance, when he is seized, or tries to avenge himself for unjust violence on your part, albeit our people are numerous and well provided with means; sure confidence in a future vengeance makes us patient. The innocent yield to the guilty.’ ‘For,’ says Lactantius,’ we put our trust in the majesty of Him who is able to exact vengeance alike for contempt for Himself and for sufferings and wrongs inflicted on His servants. And so, when we are suffering outrages unspeakable, we do not resist, even with a word; but we leave vengeance to God.’
This is precisely what Augustine had in mind, when he said ‘In such circumstances let the just man above all reflect, that only he for whom it is right to wage war should commence war; for this is not right for all men.’ ‘Whenever the emperors,’ says Augustine in another passage, ‘hold a mistaken view, in order to protect their delusion against the truth they establish laws through the enforcement of which the upright are tested and receive the crown.’ In still another passage he writes: ‘Peoples should bear with rulers, and slaves with masters, in such a way that they may sustain themselves under temporal ills through the exercise of endurance, and hope for blessings that abide forever.’ Elsewhere, speaking of the example of earlier Christians, he thus characterizes it:
And at that time the city of Christ, although it was still wandering over the earth and was able to muster armies of so great peoples against impious persecutors, did not fight for temporal safety, but, rather, refrained from resisting, that it might obtain eternal safety. Christians were bound, were imprisoned, were beaten, were twisted on the rack, were tortured with fire, were mangled, were slaughtered, and yet they multiplied. It was not for them to fight for safety, save only to scorn the safety of this world in comparison with salvation.
10. The words of Cyril, commenting on the passage in John about the sword of Peter, are of the same import, and not less noteworthy.
The Theban legion, as the Acts informs us, consisted of six thousand six hundred and sixty-six soldiers, all of whom were Christians. When the emperor Maximian, being in the neighborhood of Martigny, tried to force his army to offer sacrifice to false gods, this legion started to march to Agaunum. When the emperor sent a messenger thither to order them to come and sacrifice, the soldiers of the legion refused. Maximian thereupon ordered that every tenth man be put to death by his aids, who easily carried out the order, since no one offered resistance.
11. The ranking officer of the legion was Maurice,’ whose name was afterwards given to the town of Agaunum. On the authority of Eucherius, bishop of Lyons, we read that at this juncture Maurice addressed his men as follows:
How I did fear that some one of you-it is such an easy thing for armed men to do under the appearance of self-defense would try to prevent these most blessed funeral rites! For my part, in order to forbid such an act I was already on the point of following the example of our Christ, who with a command uttered by his own voice put back into the sheath the sword that had been drawn out by the Apostle. Thus he teaches us that the courage which comes from trust in Christ is stronger than all arms, in order that no one may with mortal hands try to stay a mortal work; nay rather, that each may complete the work begun, through unfaltering loyalty to his faith.
After the decimation, the emperor gave the same order to the survivors as before. They all replied:
Caesar, as soldiers we belong to you, and we took up arms in order to defend the Roman state. We have never deserted in the presence of war, nor evaded the requirements of military service, nor incurred the disgrace of punishment for cowardice. We should always be obedient to your orders also, excepting that, as instructed in the rules of the Christian life, we must avoid the worship of demons and their altars always polluted with blood. We have learned that you are determined either to defile us Christians with sacrilegious acts, or to cow us by decimation. You have no need to spend longer time searching us out as if we were concealing ourselves: know that we are all Christians. You will have the bodies of us all in your power; over our souls, which look only to their Master, Christ, you will have no power.
12. Then Exsuperius, standard-bearer of the legion, it is said, addressed it thus:
Most excellent fellow-soldiers, you see that I carry standards of the wars of this world. But not to such arms do I summon you, not for such wars do I seek to arouse your spirits and courage. It is yours to choose a different kind of battle. Not through the use of these swords can you press forward to the kingdom of heaven.
Then he bade carry this message to the emperor: ‘Despair, which is most brave in perils, Emperor, has not armed us against you Look, we are holding our weapons, and shall resist not, because we prefer to die rather than conquer, and we are more eager to perish in innocency than to live in guilt.’ Afterward he said: ‘We are throwing away our weapons. Your followers will find our right hands weaponless, but our hearts armed with the catholic faith.’
13. Thereupon a butchery of the unresisting men followed. In his account of it Eucherius uses these words: ‘The greatness of the number did not protect these righteous men from punishment, though generally when a great number is involved in an infraction of law punishment is not enforced.’ In an ancient Martyrology the story is thus told:
And so they were cut down indiscriminately with swords, not uttering a cry of protest; they even laid aside their weapons and offered their throats or bared bodies to their slayers. They were not stirred by the greatness of their number or by the movement of their weapons, to defend with steel the justice of their cause. They remembered only this, that they were confessing Him who was led to death without uttering a cry of protest; as a lamb he opened not his mouth. They, also, as a flock of sheep of the Lord suffered themselves to be torn in pieces as by wolves rushing upon them.
14. Valens impiously and cruelly raged against those who, in accordance with the Holy Scriptures and the tradition of the fathers, professed the ‘homoousian’ doctrine. Although the number of believers was very great, they never defended themselves with arms.
15. Surely when long-suffering is enjoined upon us, the example of Christ, we see, is often brought forward for our imitation, as we just now heard in the case of the Theban soldiers; and His long-suffering was prolonged even until death. He who thus loses his life is declared by Christ truly to have gained it.
We said that resistance cannot rightly be made to those who hold the sovereign power. There are certain points which we now ought to bring to the reader’s attention, in order that he may not consider those guilty of disobeying this law who in reality are not guilty.
VIII. That the right to make war may be conceded against him who has ‘the chief authority among a free people.
First, then, if rulers responsible to the people, whether such power was conferred at the beginning or under a later arrangement, as at Sparta – if such rulers transgress against the laws and the state, not only can they be resisted by force, but, in case of necessity, they can be punished with death. An example is the case of Pausanias, king of the Lacedaemonians. And since the earliest kingships of Italy were of this character, it is not surprising that, after narrating the exceedingly dreadful crimes of Mezentius, Virgil adds:
- Then all Etruria in just anger rose;
The punishment of death forthwith demand
They for their king.
IX. That the right to make war may be conceded against a king who has abdicated the sovereign power.
In the second place, if a king, or any other person, has renounced his governmental authority, or manifestly has abandoned it, after that time proceedings of every kin are permissible against him as against a private person. But he is by no means to be considered as having renounced a thing who is merely too neglectful of it.
X. That the right to make war may be conceded against a king who alienates his kingdom, but only so far as to prevent the transfer.
In the third place, Barclay holds the opinion that if a king alienates his kingdom, or ‘places it in subjection to another, the kingdom is no longer his.
I do not go so far. For an act of this character, if the kingship is conferred by election or by a law of succession, is null and void, and acts which are null and void do not have any effect in law. Nearer the truth, in my opinion, is the view of the jurists in regard to a usufructuary, to whose position, we have said, that of such a king is analogous; by alienating his right to a third person the usufructuary effects nothing. And the statement that the usufruct reverts to the owner of the property must be construed in accordance with the period fixed by law.
If, nevertheless, a king actually does undertake to alienate his kingdom, or to place it in subjection, I have no doubt that in this case he can be resisted. For the sovereign power, as we have said, is one thing, the manner of holding it is another; and a people can oppose a change in the manner of holding the sovereign power, for the reason that this is not comprised in the sovereign power itself. With this you may not ineptly compare a remark of Seneca, in respect to a case by no means dissimilar: ‘And if a man is bound to render obedience in all respects to his father, he is not bound to be obedient to a command through which the father ceases to be a father.’
XI. That the right to make war may be conceded against a king who openly shows himself the enemy of the whole people.
In the fourth place, says the same Barclay, the kingdom is forfeited if a king sets out with a truly hostile intent to destroy a whole people.’
This I grant, for the will to govern and the will to destroy cannot coexist in the same person. The king, then, who acknowledges that he is an enemy of the whole people, by that very fact renounces his kingdom. This, it is evident, can hardly occur in the case of a king possessed of his right mind, and ruling over a single people. Of course, if a king rules over several peoples, it can happen that he may wish to have one people destroyed for the sake of another, in order that he may colonize the territory thus made vacant.
XII. That the right to make war may be conceded against a king who has lost his kingdom in consequence of a commissory law.
Fifthly, if a kingdom be granted under the condition that upon the commission of felony against the overlord, or the violation of a clause inserted in the grant of power, that if the king do thus and so the subjects are released from all duty of obedience to him, in such a case also the king reverts to the position of a private person.
XIII. That the right to make war may be conceded against a king who, possessing only a part of the sovereign power, seeks to possess himself of the part that does not belong to him.
Sixthly, in case the sovereign power is held in part by the king, in part by the people or senate, force can lawfully be used against the king if he attempts to usurp that part of the sovereign power which does not belong to him, for the reason that this authority does not extend so far.
In my opinion this principle holds, even though it has already been said that the power to make war should be reserved to the king. For this, it must be understood, refers to external war. For the rest, whoever possesses a part of the sovereign power must possess also the right to defend his part; in case such a defense is resorted to, the king may even lose his part of the sovereign power by right of war.
XIV. That the right to make war is conceded against a king in case liberty to offer resistance has in certain cases been reserved.
Seventhly, if in the conferring of authority it has been stated that in a. particular case the king can be resisted, even though such an agreement does not involve the retention of a part of the authority, some natural freedom of action, at any rate, has been reserved and exempted from the exercise of royal power. For he who alienates his own right can by agreement limit the right transferred.
XV. How far obedience should be rendered to a usurper of sovereign power.
1. We have spoken of him who possesses, or has possessed, the right of governing. It remains to speak of the usurper of power, not after he has acquired a right through long possession or contract, but while the basis of possession remains unlawful. Now while such a usurper is in possession, the acts of government which he performs may have a binding force, arising not from a right possessed by him, for no such right exists, but from the fact that the one to whom the sovereignty actually belongs, whether people, or king, or senate, would prefer that measures promulgated by him should meanwhile have the force of law, in order to avoid the utter confusion which would result from the subversion of laws and suppression of the courts.
Cicero disapproved of the laws of Sulla as harsh toward the children of the proscribed, whom they did not permit to become candidates for public office. Nevertheless he thought that it was necessary to live up to them, asserting, as Quintilian informs us, that the welfare of the state was so bound up with these laws that if they should be done away with the state itself could not survive. Of the acts of the same Sulla, Florus says: ‘Lepidus was making ready to annul the acts of this great man; and there was good reason for such procedure, provided only the result could be accomplished without bringing disaster upon the state.’ A little further on he adds: ‘The interest of the state, sick, as it were, and suffering from injuries, required that it have rest in any way possible, in order that the wounds might not be torn open by the application of remedies.’
2. In the case of measures promulgated by the usurper which are not so essential, and which have as their purpose to establish him in his unlawful possession, obedience is not to be rendered unless disobedience would involve grave danger. But whether it is permissible to use violence in overthrowing such a usurper of authority, or even to put him to death, is the question before us.
XVI. That resistance by force may be used against a usurper by virtue of a right of war still continuing.
In the first place, if the usurper has seized the governmental power by means of a war that is unlawful and not in accordance with the law of nations, and no agreement has been entered into afterward,, and no promise has been given to him, but possession is maintained by force alone, it would seem that the right to wage war against him still remains, and whatever is permissible against any enemy is permissible against him. Just as an enemy, so also a usurper, under such conditions, can lawfully be put to death by anyone, even by an individual. ‘Against men guilty of treason and against public enemies,’ says Tertullian,’ every man is a soldier.’
Thus also, in the interest of general tranquillity, the right of enforcing public punishment against deserters from military service is granted to all.
XVII. That resistance by force maybe used against a usurper by virtue of a pre-existing law.
With Plutarch, who expresses the opinion in his book On Fate dedicated to Piso, I hold that the same conclusion must be accepted in the case that prior to the usurpation there was in existence a public law which conferred upon any man the right to kill a person who dared to do this or that which falls within its purview; who, for example, though a private individual, should have surrounded himself with a bodyguard and should have seized the citadel; who had put to death a citizen uncondemned, or without lawful judgement; or who had chosen public officials without regular elections.
Many such laws were in force in the Greek states, and in consequence the killing of tyrants of the sort referred to must have been thought justifiable. Such, at Athens, was the law of Solon, which was renewed after the return from the Piraeus; this was directed against those who should have done away with the popular form of government, or who, after it had been done away with, should hold office. Of similar character was the Valerian Law at Rome, against any who should assume the duties of a public official without the authorization of the people. Such, again, was the consular law passed after the absolute rule of the Decemvirs, forbidding the appointment of any magistrate whose decisions should be without appeal; the man responsible for such an appointment might be lawfully and rightfully slain.
XVIII. That resistance by force may be used against a usurper by virtue of a mandate of one possessing sovereign power.
It will likewise be permissible to put a usurper to death in case the deed is explicitly authorized by the true possessor of sovereign power, whether king, or senate, or people.
To these we should add also guardians of the children of kings, such as Jehoiada was in the case of Joash, when he forced Athaliah from the kingship.
XIX. Why resistance to a usurper should be limited to the cases mentioned.
1. Outside of the cases which have been considered I cannot concede that it is permissible for a private citizen either to put down by force, or to kill, a usurper of sovereign power. For it may happen that he who holds the sovereign power by right would prefer that the usurper should be left in possession rather than that the way should be opened for dangerous and bloody conflicts, such as generally take place when those who have a strong following among the people, or friends outside the country, are treated with violence or put to death. At any rate, it is not certain that the king or the people would wish that matters should be brought to such extremities, and without their known approval the use of violence cannot be lawful.
Favonius used to say, ‘Civil war is a worse evil than unlawful government.’ ‘To me,’ Cicero declared,’ peace on any terms between citizens seems more advantageous than civil war.’ Titus Quintius affirmed that it was better that the tyrant Nabis be left in power in Sparta, for the reason that his expulsion could be accomplished only with utter ruin of the state, which through the attempt to retain its liberty would be brought to destruction. Of similar purport is the thought of Aristophanes, that a lion ought not to be reared in a city; but if a lion has been so reared, the people must endure it.
2. An exceedingly weighty question it surely is, as Tacitus says, which is preferable, independence or peace; it is an extremely difficult political problem, Cicero found, to determine ‘whether, when one’s country is oppressed by an unlawful exercise of power, every effort should be put forth to accomplish its abolition, even if the state should thereby be brought into extreme peril.’ Yet individuals ought not to take it upon themselves to decide a question which involves the interest of the whole people. That is, then, an obviously mischievous sentiment:
- We are taking away the masters
From a city content to serve them.
Thus Sulla, being asked why he was attacking his country with arms, made answer, ‘in order to deliver it from tyrants.’
3. Better advice was given by Plato in his letter to Perdiccas, as thus expressed in Latin by Cicero: ‘Your efforts in public affairs should be carried only so far as shall meet the approval of your fellow citizens; violence should not be used against either a parent or native land.’ The same thought is found also in Sallust: ‘To govern one’s country or one’s subjects by force, even if you possess the power and may be correcting abuses, is nevertheless unsuitable, especially since all sweeping changes involve slaughter, flight, and other incidents of a hostile nature.’
Not far from this point of view is the remark of Stallius quoted by Plutarch, in his Life of Brutus: ‘It is not fair that a man who is prudent and wise should plunge into the midst of dangers and troubles for the benefit of those who are without scruple and devoid of sense.’ Not inappropriately in the same connection you may quote the statement of Ambrose:
This also contributes to the increase of good reputation, if you rescue a poor man from the hands of the mighty, and if you save from death a man who has been condemned, in so far as such a result can be accomplished without raising a disturbance. We must beware lest we seem to act for the sake of display rather than pity, and cause more grievous wounds while we are trying to apply remedies to wounds of less consequence.
Thomas says that the destruction of a government even though tyrannical is sometimes an act of sedition.
4. The deed of Ehud, which he committed upon Eglon, king of Moab, ought not to incline us to the opposite view. For the sacred text plainly bears witness that Ehud was raised up by God Himself as an avenger, that is to say, under a special command. And in fact it is not clear that this king of the Moabites did not possess his right of governing by virtue of an agreement. For in the case of other kings also, God caused His judgements to be executed by means of chosen servants, as in the case of Joram by the hand of Jehu.
XX. When the right of sovereignty is in dispute private persons ought not to take it upon themselves to settle the matter.
Above all, in case of a controversy the private individual ought not to take it upon himself to pass judgement, but should accept the fact of possession.
Thus Christ bade that tribute be paid to Caesar because the coin bore Caesar’s image,’ that is because Caesar was in possession of the governing power.