glyph 351: William Hazlitt, essay, book ... quotation ... a spike through the heart of multitudinous vampires ... politics, government, liberty, tyranny


What is the People?, by William Hazlitt (1778-1830)

the meaning of "evil empire" exhaustively clarified

If there are some who still wonder what Ronald Reagan meant by the words "evil empire" they may find satisfaction in this prescient, impressively complete, explication by William Hazlitt, published in 1817, apt for all time though perhaps a century before the greatest need. -leif

What is the People?

March 7, 1818

And who are you that ask the question? One of the people. And yet you would be something! Then you would not have the People nothing. For what is the People? Millions of men, like you, with hearts beating in their bosoms, with thoughts stirring in their minds, with blood circulating in their veins, with wants and appetites, with passions and anxious cares, with busy purposes and affections for others and a respect for themselves, and a desire of happiness, and a right to freedom, and a will to be free. And yet you would tear out this mighty heart of a nation, and lay it bare and bleeding at the foot of despotism: you would slay the mind of a country to fill up the dreary aching void with the old, obscene, drivelling prejudices of superstition and tyranny: you would tread out the eye of Liberty (the light of nations) like 'a vile jelly', that mankind may be led about darkling to its endless drudgery, like the Hebrew Samson (shorn of his strength and blind), by his insulting taskmasters: you would make the throne every thing. and the people nothing, to be yourself less than nothing, a very slave, a reptile, a creeping, cringing sycophant, a court favorite, a pander to Legitimacy - that detestable fiction, which would make you and me and all mankind its slaves or victims; which would, of right and with all the sanctions of religion and morality, sacrifice the lives of millions to the least of its caprices; which subjects the rights, the happiness, and liberty of nations, to the will of some of the lowest of the species; which rears its bloated hideous form to brave the will of a whole people; that claims mankind as its property, and allows human nature to exit only upon sufferance; that haunts the understanding like a frightful spectre, and oppresses the very air with a weight that is not to be borne; that like a witch's spell covers the earth with a dim and envious mist, and makes us turn our eyes from the light of heaven, which we have no right to look at without its leave: robs us of 'the unbought grace of life', the pure delight and conscious pride in works of art and nature; leaves us no thought or feeling that we dare call our own; makes genius its lackey, and virtue its easy prey; sports with human happiness, and mocks at human misery; suspends the breath of liberty, and almost of life; exenterates us of our affections, blinds our understandings, debases our imaginations, converts the very hope of emancipation from its yoke into sacrilege, binds the successive countless generations of men together in its chains like a string of felons or galley-slaves, lest they should 'resemble the flies of a summer', considers any remission of its absolute claims as a gracious boon, an act of royal clemency and favour, and confounds all sense of justice, reason, truth, liberty, humanity, in one low servile deathlike dread of power without limit and without remorse!

Originally published in the Champion, October 1817, and then in the Yellow Dwarf, March 1818

Found in William Hazlitt On The Pleasure Of Hating, Penguin Books — Great Ideas, 2005
September 5, 2006

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