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Political Testament of Frederick II ("the Great") (1752)

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Finance, internal administration, policy and defense are so closely interlinked that it is impossible to deal with one of these branches while passing over the others. If that happens, the Prince is in difficulties. In France, the kingdom is governed by four Ministers: the Minister of Finance, who is called Contrôleurgénéral, and the Ministers of Marine, War, and Foreign Affairs. The four “kings” never harmonize or agree; hence all the contradictions which we see in the government of France: the one pulls down out of jealousy what the other has put up with skill; no system, no planning. Chance governs, and everything in France is done according to the pleasure of Court intrigues: the English know everything that is discussed in Versailles; no secrecy and, consequently, no policy.

A well-conducted government must have a system as coherent as a system of philosophy; all measures taken must be based on sound reasoning, and finance, policy, and military must collaborate toward one aim, the strengthening of the State and the increase of its power. But a system can be the product of only one brain; it must consequently be that of the sovereign’s. Idleness, self-indulgence, or weakness are the causes which prevent a Prince from working on the noble task of creating the happiness of his peoples. Such sovereigns make themselves so contemptible that they become the butts and laughingstocks of their contemporaries, and in history books their names are useful only for the dates. They vegetate on thrones that they are unworthy to occupy, absorbed as they are in self-indulgence. A sovereign has not been raised to his high rank, the supreme power has not been conferred on him, to live softly, to grow fat on the substance of the people, to be happy while all others suffer. The sovereign is the first servant of the State. He is well-paid, so that he can support the dignity of his quality; but it is required of him that he shall work effectively for the good of the State and direct at least the chief affairs with attention. He needs, of course, help: he cannot enter into all details, but he should listen to all complaints and procure prompt justice for those threatened by oppression. A woman came to a King of Epirus with a petition; he snubbed her, telling her to leave him in peace. “And why are you King,” she replied, “if not to procure justice for me?” A good saying, which Princes should always keep in mind.

We have here the Directorate General, the Colleges of Justice, and the Ministers of the Cabinet, who daily submit their reports to the sovereign with most detailed memoranda on the questions which call for his decision. In controversial or difficult questions, the Ministers themselves set out the pros and cons, which makes it possible for the sovereign to take his decision at a glance, provided that he takes the trouble to read and understand the matter in question. A sound intellect easily grasps the essential point of a question. This method of dealing with business is preferable to the conciliar system practiced elsewhere, because it is not from big assemblages that wise advice comes, for Ministers are mutually divided by intrigues, private hatreds and passions intrude into the affairs of State, the system of debating questions by dispute is often too lively, casting shadows instead of bringing light, and, finally, secrecy, which is the soul of business, is never well kept by so many people.

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