Therefore it is not wholly without reason that some have raised the question: “which is more to be feared or desired: an evil ruler with good counsel, or a good ruler with evil counsel?” For if the counsel of the ruler is evil and full of flatterers, ambitious, avaricious, thieves, debauchers, and tyrants (which is fairly standard for courts), the ruler will not govern, but those to whom the ruler and his name serve as a mask shall govern in his name. They shall establish their reign and tyranny by using the ruler as a decoy serves the huntsman in their chase, and as idols serve the priests in order to emphasize themselves, and bring themselves greater advantages by their use. And in this way the tyranny which is to be feared in a monarchy will be converted into what generally occurs in an aristocracy when it is perverted and altered into this tyrannical state which the Greeks call oligarchy—that is, the principality of a small number who reign tyrannical and not by true justice, instead of a great number and many people.
… and among other dangers, there are customarily two great evils which bring great miseries and which often ruin nations. The first is the elections of the magistrates. The second is the judgment and executions of the things ordained by the laws. For where in elections devolve upon the community, it is very difficult to have governors and magistrates such as are required; and this happens chiefly for two reasons. The first is a desire which every man has of living in his own carnal liberty and fleshly pleasure without being subject to any laws. This desire is the reason why those to whom the elections belong prefer to have governors and magistrates elected according to their mold and devoted to them, under whom they can live in greater licentiousness, without rebuke or correction, than to have someone who fears God and who shall take them in hand and punish the wrongdoers according to every man’s deeds.
The other reason is ambition and greed, which are the reasons why many take the offices of the country by intrigue, either for themselves or for their friends and consorts, And for those by whom they have been corrupted. And this is done not out of a desire to maintain God’s owner or the public good or to administer true justice, but is done merely for the honor and earthly profit of those who hoped to receive it and to rain above the others.
…One further evil still remains, which is the negligence of judgments and the scorn of good laws and ordinances made for the preservation of the public good. For it often happens that the great alliances and relations which exist in the community prevent the right course of justice, and that the criminals are not brought to justice and punished according to the laws according to their wrongdoing, but to the contrary they are tolerated.
The chief cause of this proceeds from the fear of the disfavor that those who govern might acquire of such allies who are joined to them if justice were administered as it ought to be, according to the commandments of God, whose Law so often and so expressly forbids having any respect of persons, and commands that just judgment be meted out. Furthermore, it almost always ordinarily happens that within these popular states certain flatterers (who know how to win the good favor of all) are very popular, and easily obtained all they desire. Four, seeing that the people are devoted to them, they easily condescend and consent to what pleases them.
Seeing that there are so many drawbacks to all types of civil government, it is not possible that man could ever have justice and live with each other in a lasting peace and remain united unless they possess an authority and a lord who is greater and more excellent in power, wisdom, and goodness than all others combined. God, the Creator of all, shows us this very clearly both in the order which He has established among men and beasts, as well as in the various natures that he has placed within man by joining together the soul and body.
Pierre Viret (1511–71), “How Should Man Be Governed?” in The Christian and the Magistrate: Roles, Responsibilities, and Jurisdictions, trans. R. A. Sheats (Monticello, FL: Psalm 78 Ministries, 2015), 14–17.