Bernard Mandeville, Fable of Bees and Prohibition

“Bare Virtue can’t make Nations live

In Splendor; they, that would revive

A Golden Age, must be as free,

For Acorns, as for Honesty”

-Fable of Bees


Bernard de Mandeville was a Dutch philosopher, who was against the concept of virtue and vice as defined by religion. He felt that what was labelled as vice by religion also give rise to prosperity, while the virtue by destroying vice, also end up destroying prosperity.


He wrote poem called Fable of Bees to explain his philosophy.

Once there was prosperous bee hive, though it was corrupt, bees lived in luxury.

“A Spacious Hive well stock’d with Bees,

That lived in Luxury and Ease;

And yet as fam’d for Laws and Arms,

As yielding large and early Swarms”

-Fable of Bees

One day some bees felt that they should lead an honest life and prayed god Jove to make everyone honest. Jove decided to make each bee honest.

“But Jove, with Indignation moved,

At last in Anger swore, he’d rid

The bawling Hive of Fraud, and did.

The very Moment it departs,

And Honesty fills all their Hearts”

-Fable of Bees

But honesty also destroyed the spacious hive. To avoid luxury and extravagance the bees decided to lead a simple life, they left the hive and started living in a hollow tree, thereby destroying the prosperous hive

 “Which so improved their Temperance;

That, to avoid Extravagance,

They flew into a hollow Tree,

Blest with Content and Honesty.”

-Fable of Bees


 After winning state elections Bihar Government declared prohibition, Tamil Nadu government is also thinking of imposing prohibition. Prohibition already exists in some states like Gujarat.

Liquor industry besides providing safe liquor also provides employment and revenue in form of excise to state government. This revenue is used for welfare schemes. Prohibition destroys the legitimate liquor industry. It stops excise revenue putting pressure on state coffers.


Secondly, legitimate liquor industry gets replaced by spurious liquor industry, resulting in loss of revenue to government, black money and danger to health of drinkers. Like fable of bees, some virtuous people in their quest to end vice, end up destroying industry, giving rise to alterative industry which is worse than what existed earlier.



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