John Adams on Anacyclosis
John Adams, in his Defence of the Constitution, wrote the following[i]:
“Polybius thinks it manifest, both from reason and experience, that the best form of government is not simple, but compounded, because of the tendency of each of the simple forms to degenerate; even democracy, in which it is an established custom to worship the gods, honour their parents, respect the elders, and obey the laws, has a strong tendency to change into a government where the multitude have a power of doing whatever they desire, and where insolence and contempt of parents, elders, gods, and laws, soon succeed.”
Does this sound familiar? Ironically enough, it sounds exactly like what has happened in the United States already. He is discussing cultural degradation in this paragraph, which is undeniable to have occurred.
We did have a compound government, but it did not save us forever. He goes on to address the steps of anacyclosis:
“From whence do governments originally spring? From the weakness of men, and the consequent necessity to associate, and he who excels in strength. and courage, gains the command and authority over provisions, differing little in their clothes or tables from the people with whom they passed their lives, they continued blameless and unenvied. But their posterity, succeeding to the government by right of inheritance, and finding every thing provided for security and support, they were led by superfluity to indulge their appetites, and to imagine that it became princes to appear in a different dress, to eat in a more luxurious manner, and enjoy, without contradiction, the forbidden pleasures of love. The first produced envy, the other resentment and hatred. By which means kingly government degenerated into tyranny.
At the same time a foundation was laid, and a conspiracy formed, for the destruction of those who exercised it; the accomplices of which were not men of inferior rank, but persons of the most generous, exalted, and enterprizing spirit; for such men can least bear the insolence of those in power. The people, having these to lead them, and uniting against their rulers, kingly government and monarchy were extirpated, and aristocracy began to be established, for the people, as an immediate acknowledgment to those who had destroyed monarchy, chose these leaders for their governors, and left all their concerns to them.
These, at first, preferred the advantage of the public to all other considerations, and administered all affairs, both public and private, with care and vigilance. But their sons having succeeded them in the same power, unacquainted with evils, strangers to civil equality and liberty, educated from their infancy in the splendor of the power and dignities of their parents, some giving themselves up to avarice, others to intemperance, and others to the abuse of women, by this behaviour changed the aristocracy into an oligarchy.
Their catastrophe became the same with that of the tyrants; for if any person, observing the general envy and hatred which these rulers have incurred, has the courage to say or do any thing against them, he finds the whole body of the people inspired with the same passions they were before possessed with against the tyrant, and ready to assist him. Thereupon they put some of them to death, and banish others; but dare not, after that, appoint a king to govern them, being still afraid of the injustice of the first; neither dare they entrust the government with any number of men, having still before their eyes the errors which those had before committed: so that having no hope, but in themselves, they convert the government from an oligarchy to a democracy, and cake upon themselves the care and charge of public affairs. And as long as any are living, who felt the power and dominion of the few, they acquiesce under the present establishment, and look upon equality and liberty as the greatest of blessings. But when a new race of men grows up, these, no longer regarding equality and liberty, from being accustomed to them, aim at a greater share of power than the rest, particularly those of the greatest fortunes, who, grown now ambitious, and being unable to obtain the power they aim at by their own merit, dissipate their wealth, by alluring and corrupting the people by every method; and when, to serve their wild ambition, they have once taught them to receive bribes and entertainments, from that moment the democracy is at an end, and changes to force and violence. For the people, accustomed to live at the expence of others, and to place their hopes of a support in the fortunes of their neighbours, if headed by a man of a great and enterprizing spirit, will then have recourse to violence, and getting together, will murder, banish, and divide among themselves the lands of their adversaries, till, grown wild with rage, they again find a master and a monarch.
This is the rotation of governments, and this the order of nature, by which they are changed, transformed, and return to the same point of the circle.”
Adams lived nearly two thousand years after Polybius, but came to the same conclusion. These trends occur in anacyclosis innately because of the nature of humans. We cannot change the nature of humans, so the only way to address the problem is to change the entire framework that we are residing under to account for that human nature.
He notes that the rule by many forms generally fall because the new generations are not brought up in an appropriate manner. This is a major focus, and theme, of my theory of Enclavism. Any framework that is to be resilient to the cycle must not have the same weaknesses present in the rule by many form.
John Adams also had the following to say on the correction of the cycle (from the same source):
“But perhaps it might be more exactly true and natural to say, that the king, the aristocracy, and the people, as soon as ever they felt themselves secure in the possession of their power, would begin to abuse it. In Mr. Turgot’s single assembly, those who should think themselves most distinguished by blood and education, as well as fortune, would be most ambitious; and if they found an apparition among their constituents to their elections, would immediately have recourse to entertainments, secret intrigues, and every popular art, and even to bribes, to increase their parties. This would oblige their competitors, though they might be infinitely better men, either to give up their pretensions, or to imitate these dangerous practices. There is a natural and unchangeable inconvenience in all popular elections. There are always competitions, and the candidates have often merits nearly equal. The virtuous and independent electors are often divided: this naturally causes too much attention to the most profligate and unprincipled, who will sell or give away their votes for other considerations than wisdom and virtue. So that he who has the deepest purse, or the fewest scruples about using it, will generally prevail.
It is from the natural aristocracy in a single assembly that the first danger is to be apprehended in the present state of manners in America; and with a balance of landed property in the hands of the people, so decided in their favour, the progress to degeneracy, corruption, rage, and violence, might not be very rapid; nevertheless it would begin with the first elections, and grow faster or slower every year. Rage and violence would soon appear in the assembly, and from thence be communicated among the people at large.
The only remedy is to throw the rich and the proud into one group, in a separate assembly, and there tie their hands; if you give them scope with the people at large, or their representatives, they will destroy all equality and liberty, with the consent and acclamations of the people themselves. They will have much more power, mixed with the representatives, than separated from them. In the first case, if they unite, they will give the law, and govern all; if they differ, they will divide the state, and go to a decision by force. But placing them alone by themselves, the society avails itself of all their abilities and virtues; they become a solid check to the representatives themselves, as well as to the executive power, and you disarm them entirely of the power to do mischief.”
Adams notes numerous important items in this short text. First, he mentions the issue that virtuous and independent electors are often divided and that the “unprincipled” will generally sell or give away their votes over using them in a wise manner. So, whoever is a financial elite or doesn’t mind bankrupting the nation in the pursuit of power, will always win elections.
The account of Adams is interesting because it recognizes a massive threat that had otherwise gone undetected by other anacyclosis researchers. Specifically, “the rich and the proud” line in the last paragraph. Adams noticed the first case of what I call “centralizers“. He notices how quickly a small group can degrade the whole. He states that this group should be “a separate assembly, and there tie their hands”. So not only should they be separated but they should also be restrained.
Adams also addressed the issues of weak men, the need for a compound government, removing cultural degeneracy, averting mob rule, and the necessity of virtue. Things that are all essential to stopping anacyclosis, given historical trends and research accounts.
His words are very highly regarded and echoed by plenty of other historical accounts of greats such as Washington, Machiavelli, Vico, and Sansovino.
[i] John Adams. Defence of the Constitutions: Vol. 1, Letter XXXI. Ancient Republics, And Opinions of Philosophers.
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