Mandeville's most famous work, The Fable of the Bees
1705, second volume in 1732
All Trades and Places knew some Cheat, No Calling was without Deceit.
The Fable of the Bees shows Bernard Mandeville's ideas on human nature in an allegorical form. In his allegory, Mandeville describes a colony of bees that were smart and had a stable government and society. Each citizen had their own place in society, and whether it was a lawyer or a criminal, they all somehow manage to survive and fulfill their role in the hive. As the allegory continues on, Mandeville starts to describe each individual aspect of society. He analyzes many parts and shows what role they contribute to the beehive. At this point in The Fable of the Bees, the message gets a bit confusing. This is because Mandeville goes immediately from talking about how the colony of bees is doing pretty well to the many, many flaws that all the different jobs in the society are each having.
Although the immediate shift in message is somewhat confusing, the reader can clearly see that every occupation and role that makes up the beehive is somehow corrupt. Every lawyer or criminal, or physician, or even priest is selfish. This initially comes as a huge surprise—why would society as a whole work when every part that makes up the society is deceitful? For some reason, even though every individual part of society was corrupt, once everyone joined together the colony of bees survived and thrived. Although this is a puzzling idea, Mandeville’s idea of vice helps to clear things up. Around line 155, Mandeville starts talking about the concept of ‘vice’ and the important role that it has to make everything function. In this same paragraph (lines 161-168), Mandeville says “Such were the blessings of that state; their crimes conspired to make ‘em great; and vertue who from politicks, had learned a thousand cunning tricks, was, by their happy influence, made friends with vice: and ever since the worst of all multitude did something for the common good.” This quote helps us to understand that people can 'make friends with vice' and some vice could benefit the bees instead of harm them.
Another interesting idea that we got from The Fable of the Bees is that all people strive for the same final goal. This goal is to in some way be successful and to have power. People will do whatever it takes to be on top and in this way we are all the same. What every person’s final goal involves is what makes us different. So in a way, by being different we are all the same. This also helps society to function even though everyone is truly selfish in his or her human nature.