Shaftesbury Beaver Blogging

Seeing the title this post over at HM’s (it refers to the second clip) reminded me that I came across another passage the other day which can usefully join the set of beaver-blogging posts from this time last year which are assembled over here. It’s Anthony Ashley, Earl of Shaftesbury, reflecting on the animal kingdom, with a valuable reflection on the elephant as well as on the beaver:

Well it is perhaps for Mankind, that tho there are so many Animals who naturally herd for Company’s sake, and mutual Affection, there are so few who for Conveniency, and by Necessity are oblig’d to a strict Union, and kind of confederate State. The Creatures who, according to the OEconomy of their Kind, are oblig’d to make themselves Habitations of Defense against the Seasons and other Incidents; they who in some parts of the Year are depriv’d of all Subsistence, and are therefore necessitated to accumulate in another, and to provide withal for the Safety of their collected Stores, are by their Nature indeed as strictly join’d, and with as proper Affections towards their Publick and Community, as the looser Kind, of a more easy Subsistence and Support, are united in what relates merely to their Offspring, and the Propagation of their Species. Of these thorowly associating and confederate-Animals, there are none I have ever heard of, who in Bulk or Strength exceed the BEAVER. The major part of these political Animals, and Creatures of a joint Stock, are as inconsiderable as the Race of ANTS or BEES. But had Nature assign’d such an OEconomy as this to so puissant an Animal, for instance, as the ELEPHANT, and made him withal as prolifick as those smaller Creatures commonly are; it might have gone hard perhaps with Mankind: And a single Animal, who by his proper Might and Prowess has often decided the Fate of the greatest Battels which have been fought by Human Race, shou’d he have grown up into a Society, with a Genius for Architecture and Mechanicks proportionable to what we observe in those smaller Creatures; we shou’d, with all our invented Machines, have found it hard to dispute with him the Dominion of the Continent.

That’s from Shaftesbury, Characteristicks, vol.3 pp. 134-5 of the Liberty ed.

0 thoughts on “Shaftesbury Beaver Blogging”

  1. Since we’re on the subject of Fourier and beavers, Debs, Von Mises says that…

    “In Fourier’s state of the future all harmful beasts will have disappeared, and in their places will be animals which will assist man in his labours—or even do his work for him. An anti-beaver will see to the fishing; an anti-whale will move sailing ships in a calm; an anti-hippopotamus will tow the river boats. Instead of the lion there will be an anti-lion, a steed of wonderful swiftness, upon whose back the rider will sit as comfortably as in a well-sprung carriage.”

    I don’t think I’ve come across this particular passage in Fourier, but it’s nice to think that it’s there.

  2. Thanks for the von Mises quote, Chris; I’d always wondered where Heilbronner (in The Worldly Philosophers) got some of his account of Fourier’s anti-beasts, which I couldn’t find in Fourier himself — but it seems very close to the von Mises passage (Heilbronner himself doesn’t provide a citation for the similar passage in WP, but most of his account of Fourier seems to come from Alexander Gray’s The Socialist Tradition: Moses to Lenin (which itself is good fun). I wonder if Gray in turn was drawing on von Mises.
    By the way, sorry to be a pedant, but shouldn’t it be Ashley Cooper, not plain Ashley?

  3. Yes, it did! A few days ago. And it looks splendid at first glance, but I was waiting until I had a bit of time to look at it properly before writing to you to pass on my thanks. But this comment has pre-empted that process… So many thanks!

    (We’re talking about this book.)

  4. Oh, good! I’d worried that the address wasn’t specific enough. You’re welcome — it did seem too good to be true, a novel about giraffes and communism! Hope it reads well.

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