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An Inquiry into the Permanent Causes of the Decline and Fall of Powerful and Wealthy Nations


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An Inquiry into the Permanent Causes of the Decline and Fall of Powerful and Wealthy Nations

a selection from the PREFACE to the edition of 1807:IF it is of importance to study by what means a nation may acquire wealth andpower, it is not less so to discover by what means wealth and power, when onceacquired, may be preserved.The latter inquiry is, perhaps, the more important of the two; for manynations have remained, during a long period, virtuous and happy, without risingto wealth or greatness; but there is no example of happiness or virtue residingamongst a fallen people. In looking over the globe, if we fix our eyes on those places where wealthformerly was accumulated, and where commerce flourished, we see them, at thepresent day, peculiarly desolated and degraded. From the borders of the Persian Gulf, to the shores of the Baltic Sea; fromBabylon and Palmyra, Egypt, Greece, and Italy; to Spain and Portugal, and thewhole circle of the Hanseatic League, we trace the same ruinous [end of page#iii] remains of ancient greatness, presenting a melancholy contrast with thepoverty, indolence, and ignorance, of the present race of inhabitants, and anirresistible proof of the mutability of human affairs. As in the hall, in which there has been a sumptuous banquet, we perceive thefragments of a feast now become a prey to beggars and banditti; if, in someinstances, the spectacle is less wretched and disgusting; it is, because thebanquet is not entirely over, and the guests have not all yet risen from thetable. ... One of the most profound and ingenious writers of a late period, has made thefollowing interesting observation on the prosperity of nations. "In all speculations upon men and human affairs, it is of no small moment todistinguish things of accident from permanent causes, and from effects thatcannot be altered. I am not quite of the mind of those speculators, who seemassured, that necessarily, and, by the constitution of things, all states havethe same period of infancy, manhood, and decrepitude, that are found in theindividuals who compose them. The objects which are attempted to be forced intoan analogy are not founded in the same classes of existence. Individuals arephysical beings, subject to laws universal and invariable; but commonwealths arenot physical, but moral essences. They are artificial combinations, and, intheir proximate efficient cause, the arbitrary productions of the humanmind.