C. F. [Constantin Francois de] Volney
Part 2 out of 6
GENERAL CAUSES OF THE PROSPERITY OF ANCIENT STATES.
Such, O man who seekest wisdom, such have been the causes of
revolution in the ancient states of which thou contemplatest the
ruins! To whatever spot I direct my view, to whatever period my
thoughts recur, the same principles of growth or destruction, of
rise or fall, present themselves to my mind. Wherever a people is
powerful, or an empire prosperous, there the conventional laws are
conformable with the laws of nature--the government there procures
for its citizens a free use of their faculties, equal security for
their persons and property. If, on the contrary, an empire goes to
ruin, or dissolves, it is because its laws have been vicious, or
imperfect, or trodden under foot by a corrupt government. If the
laws and government, at first wise and just, become afterwards
depraved, it is because the alternation of good and evil is
inherent to the heart of man, to a change in his propensities, to
his progress in knowledge, to a combination of circumstances and
events; as is proved by the history of the species.
In the infancy of nations, when men yet lived in the forest,
subject to the same wants, endowed with the same faculties, all
were nearly equal in strength; and that equality was a circumstance
highly advantageous in the composition of society: as every
individual, thus feeling himself sufficiently independent of every
other, no one was the slave, none thought of being the master of
another. Man, then a novice, knew neither servitude nor tyranny;
furnished with resources sufficient for his existence, he thought
not of borrowing from others; owning nothing, requiring nothing, he
judged the rights of others by his own, and formed ideas of justice
sufficiently exact. Ignorant, moreover, in the art of enjoyments,
unable to produce more than his necessaries, possessing nothing
superfluous, cupidity remained dormant; or if excited, man,
attacked in his real wants, resisted it with energy, and the
foresight of such resistance ensured a happy balance.
Thus original equality, in default of compact, maintained freedom
of person, security of property, good manners, and order. Every
one labored by himself and for himself; and the mind of man, being
occupied, wandered not to culpable desires. He had few enjoyments,
but his wants were satisfied; and as indulgent nature had made them
less than his resources, the labor of his hands soon produced
abundance--abundance, population; the arts unfolded, culture
extended, and the earth, covered with numerous inhabitants, was
divided into different dominions.
The relations of man becoming complicated, the internal order of
societies became more difficult to maintain. Time and industry
having generated riches, cupidity became more active; and because
equality, practicable among individuals, could not subsist among
families, the natural equilibrium was broken; it became necessary
to supply it by a factitious equilibrium; to set up chiefs, to
establish laws; and in the primitive inexperience, it necessarily
happened that these laws, occasioned by cupidity, assumed its
character. But different circumstances concurred to correct the
disorder, and oblige governments to be just.
States, in fact, being weak at first, and having foreign enemies to
fear, the chiefs found it their interest not to oppress their
subjects; for, by lessening the confidence of the citizens in their
government, they would diminish their means of resistance--they
would facilitate foreign invasion, and by exercising arbitrary
power, have endangered their very existence.
In the interior, the firmness of the people repelled tyranny; men
had contracted too long habits of independence; they had too few
wants, and too much consciousness of their own strength.
States being of a moderate size, it was difficult to divide their
citizens so as to make use of some for the oppression of others.
Their communications were too easy, their interest too clear and
simple: besides, every one being a proprietor and cultivator, no
one needed to sell himself, and the despot could find no
If, then, dissensions arose, they were between family and family,
faction and faction, and they interested a great number. The
troubles, indeed, were warmer; but fears from abroad pacified
discord at home. If the oppression of a party prevailed, the earth
being still unoccupied, and man, still in a state of simplicity,
finding every where the same advantages, the oppressed party
emigrated, and carried elsewhere their independence.
The ancient states then enjoyed within themselves numerous means of
prosperity and power. Every one finding his own well-being in the
constitution of his country, took a lively interest in its
preservation. If a stranger attacked it, having to defend his own
field, his own house, he carried into combat all the passions of a
personal quarrel; and, devoted to his own interests, he was devoted
to his country.
As every action useful to the public attracted its esteem and
gratitude, every one became eager to be useful; and self-love
multiplied talents and civic virtues.
Every citizen contributing equally by his talents and person,
armies and funds were inexhaustible, and nations displayed
formidable masses of power.
The earth being free, and its possession secure and easy, every one
was a proprietor; and the division of property preserved morals,
and rendered luxury impossible.
Every one cultivating for himself, culture was more active, produce
more abundant; and individual riches became public wealth.
The abundance of produce rendering subsistence easy, population was
rapid and numerous, and states attained quickly the term of their
Productions increasing beyond consumption, the necessity of
commerce arose; and exchanges took place between people and people;
which augmented their activity and reciprocal advantages.
In fine, certain countries, at certain times, uniting the
advantages of good government with a position on the route of the
most active circulation, they became emporiums of flourishing
commerce and seats of powerful domination. And on the shores of
the Nile and Mediterranean, of the Tygris and Euphrates, the
accumulated riches of India and of Europe raised in successive
splendor a hundred different cities.
The people, growing rich, applied their superfluity to works of
common and public use; and this was in every state, the epoch of
those works whose grandeur astonishes the mind; of those wells of
Tyre, of those dykes of the Euphrates, of those subterranean
conduits of Media,* of those fortresses of the desert, of those
aqueducts of Palmyra, of those temples, of those porticoes. And
such labors might be immense, without oppressing the nations;
because they were the effect of an equal and common contribution of
the force of individuals animated and free.
* See respecting these monuments my Travels into Syria, vol. ii. p.
From the town or village of Samouat the course of the Euphrates is
accompanied with a double bank, which descends as far as its
junction with the Tygris, and from thence to the sea, being a
length of about a hundred leagues, French measure. The height of
these artificial banks is not uniform, but increases as you advance
from the sea; it may be estimated at from twelve to fifteen feet.
But for them, the inundation of the river would bury the country
around, which is flat, to an extent of twenty or twenty-five
leagues and even notwithstanding these banks, there has been in
modern times an overflow, which has covered the whole triangle
formed by the junction of this river to the Tygris, being a space
of country of one hundred and thirty square leagues. By the
stagnation of these waters an epidemical disease of the most fatal
nature was occasioned. It follows from hence, 1. That all the
flat country bordering upon these rivers, was originally a marsh;
2. That this marsh could not have been inhabited previously to the
construction of the banks in question; 3. That these banks could
not have been the work but of a population prior as to date; and
the elevation of Babylon, therefore, must have been posterior to
that of Nineveh, as I think I have chronologically demonstrated in
the memoir above cited. See Encyclopedia, vol. xiii, of
The modern Aderbidjan, which was a part of Medea, the mountains of
Koulderstan, and those of Diarbekr, abound with subterranean
canals, by means of which the ancient inhabitants conveyed water to
their parched soil in order to fertilize it. It was regarded as a
meritorious act and a religious duty prescribed by Zoroaster, who,
instead of preaching celibacy, mortifications, and other pretended
virtues of the monkish sort, repeats continually in the passages
that are preserved respecting him in the Sad-der and the Zend-
"That the action most pleasing to God is to plough and cultivate
the earth, to water it with running streams, to multiply vegetation
and living beings, to have numerous flocks, young and fruitful
virgins, a multitude of children," etc., etc.
Among the aqueducts of Palmyra it appears certain, that, besides
those which conducted water from the neighboring hills, there was
one which brought it even from the mountains of Syria. It is to be
traced a long way into the Desert where it escapes our search by
going under ground.
Thus ancient states prospered, because their social institutions
conformed to the true laws of nature; and because men, enjoying
liberty and security for their persons and their property, might
display all the extent of their faculties,--all the energies of
GENERAL CAUSES OF THE REVOLUTIONS AND RUIN OF ANCIENT STATES.
Cupidity had nevertheless excited among men a constant and
universal conflict, which incessantly prompting individuals and
societies to reciprocal invasions, occasioned successive
revolutions, and returning agitations.
And first, in the savage and barbarous state of the first men, this
audacious and fierce cupidity produced rapine, violence, and
murder, and retarded for a long time the progress of civilization.
When afterwards societies began to be formed, the effect of bad
habits, communicated to laws and governments, corrupted their
institutions and objects, and established arbitrary and factitious
rights, which depraved the ideas of justice, and the morality of
Thus one man being stronger than another, their inequality--an
accident of nature--was taken for her law;* and the strong being
able to take the life of the weak, and yet sparing him, arrogated
over his person an abusive right of property; and the slavery of
individuals prepared the way for the slavery of nations.
*Almost all the ancient philosophers and politicians have laid it
down as a principle that men are born unequal, that nature his
created some to be free, and others to be slaves. Expressions of
this kind are to be found in Aristotle, and even in Plato, called
the divine, doubtless in the same sense as the mythological
reveries which he promulgated. With all the people of antiquity,
the Gauls, the Romans, the Athenians, the right of the strongest
was the right of nations; and from the same principle are derived
all the political disorders and public national crimes that at
Because the head of a family could be absolute in his house, he
made his own affections and desires the rule of his conduct; he
gave or resumed his goods without equality, without justice; and
paternal despotism laid the foundation of despotism in government.*
* Upon this single expression it would be easy to write a long and
important chapter. We might prove in it, beyond contradiction,
that all the abuses of national governments, have sprung from those
of domestic government, from that government called patriarchal,
which superficial minds have extolled without having analyzed it.
Numberless facts demonstrate, that with every infant people, in
every savage and barbarous state, the father, the chief of the
family, is a despot, and a cruel and insolent despot. The wife is
his slave, the children his servants. This king sleeps or smokes
his pipe, while his wife and daughters perform all the drudgery of
the house, and even that of tillage and cultivation, as far as
occupations of this nature are practised in such societies; and no
sooner have the boys acquired strength then they are allowed to
beat the females and make them serve and wait upon them as they do
upon their fathers. Similar to this is the state of our own
uncivilized peasants. In proportion as civilization spreads, the
manners become milder, and the condition of the women improves,
till, by a contrary excess, they arrive at dominion, and then a
nation becomes effeminate and corrupt. It is remarkable that
parental authority is great in proportion as the government is
despotic. China, India, and Turkey are striking examples of this.
One would suppose that tyrants gave themselves accomplices and
interested subaltern despots to maintain their authority. In
opposition to this the Romans will be cited, but it remains to be
proved that the Romans were men truly free and their quick passage
from their republican despotism to their abject servility under the
emperors, gives room at least for considerable doubt as to that
In societies formed on such foundations, when time and labor had
developed riches, cupidity restrained by the laws, became more
artful, but not less active. Under the mask of union and civil
peace, it fomented in the bosom of every state an intestine war, in
which the citizens, divided into contending corps of orders,
classes, families, unremittingly struggled to appropriate to
themselves, under the name of supreme power, the ability to plunder
every thing, and render every thing subservient to the dictates of
their passions; and this spirit of encroachment, disguised under
all possible forms, but always the same in its object and motives,
has never ceased to torment the nations.
Sometimes, opposing itself to all social compact, or breaking that
which already existed, it committed the inhabitants of a country to
the tumultuous shock of all their discords; and states thus
dissolved, and reduced to the condition of anarchy, were tormented
by the passions of all their members.
Sometimes a nation, jealous of its liberty, having appointed agents
to administer its government, these agents appropriated the powers
of which they had only the guardianship: they employed the public
treasures in corrupting elections, gaining partisans, in dividing
the people among themselves. By these means, from being temporary
they became perpetual; from elective, hereditary; and the state,
agitated by the intrigues of the ambitious, by largesses from the
rich and factious, by the venality of the poor and idle, by the
influence of orators, by the boldness of the wicked, and the
weakness of the virtuous, was convulsed with all the inconveniences
The chiefs of some countries, equal in strength and mutually
fearing each other, formed impious pacts, nefarious associations;
and, apportioning among themselves all power, rank, and honor,
unjustly arrogated privileges and immunities; erected themselves
into separate orders and distinct classes; reduced the people to
their control; and, under the name of aristocracy, the state was
tormented by the passions of the wealthy and the great.
Sacred impostors, in other countries, tending by other means to the
same object, abused the credulity of the ignorant. In the gloom of
their temples, behind the curtain of the altar, they made their
gods act and speak; gave forth oracles, worked miracles, ordered
sacrifices, levied offerings, prescribed endowments; and, under the
names of theocracy and of religion, the state became tormented by
the passions of the priests.
Sometimes a nation, weary of its dissensions or of its tyrants, to
lessen the sources of evil, submitted to a single master; but if it
limited his powers, his sole aim was to enlarge them; if it left
them indefinite, he abused the trust confided to him; and, under
the name of monarchy, the state was tormented by the passions of
kings and princes.
Then the factions, availing themselves of the general discontent,
flattered the people with the hope of a better master; dealt out
gifts and promises, deposed the despot to take his place; and their
contests for the succession, or its partition, tormented the state
with the disorders and devastations of civil war.
In fine, among these rivals, one more adroit, or more fortunate,
gained the ascendency, and concentrated all power within himself.
By a strange phenomenon, a single individual mastered millions of
his equals, against their will and without their consent; and the
art of tyranny sprung also from cupidity.
In fact, observing the spirit of egotism which incessantly divides
mankind, the ambitious man fomented it with dexterity, flattered
the vanity of one, excited the jealousy of another, favored the
avarice of this, inflamed the resentment of that, and irritated the
passions of all; then, placing in opposition their interests and
prejudices, he sowed divisions and hatreds, promised to the poor
the spoils of the rich, to the rich the subjection of the poor;
threatened one man by another, this class by that; and insulating
all by distrust, created his strength out of their weakness, and
imposed the yoke of opinion, which they mutually riveted on each
other. With the army he levied contributions, and with
contributions he disposed of the army: dealing out wealth and
office on these principles, he enchained a whole people in
indissoluble bonds, and they languished under the slow consumption
Thus the same principle, varying its action under every possible
form, was forever attenuating the consistence of states, and an
eternal circle of vicissitudes flowed from an eternal circle of
And this spirit of egotism and usurpation produced two effects
equally operative and fatal: the one a division and subdivision of
societies into their smallest fractions, inducing a debility which
facilitated their dissolution; the other, a preserving tendency to
concentrate power in a single hand,* which, engulfing successively
societies and states, was fatal to their peace and social
* It is remarkable that this has in all instances been the constant
progress of societies; beginning with a state of anarchy or
democracy, that is, with a great division of power they have passed
to aristocracy, and from aristocracy to monarchy. Does it not
hence follow that those who constitute states under the democratic
form, destine them to undergo all the intervening troubles between
that and monarchy; but it should at the same time be proved that
social experience is already exhausted for the human race, and that
this spontaneous movement is not solely the effect of ignorance.
Thus, as in a state, a party absorbed the nation, a family the
party, and an individual the family; so a movement of absorption
took place between state and state, and exhibited on a larger scale
in the political order, all the particular evils of the civil
order. Thus a state having subdued a state, held it in subjection
in the form of a province; and two provinces being joined together
formed a kingdom; two kingdoms being united by conquest, gave birth
to empires of gigantic size; and in this conglomeration, the
internal strength of states, instead of increasing, diminished; and
the condition of the people, instead of ameliorating, became daily
more abject and wretched, for causes derived from the nature of
Because, in proportion as states increased in extent, their
administration becoming more difficult and complicated, greater
energies of power were necessary to move such masses; and there was
no longer any proportion between the duties of sovereigns and their
ability to perform their duties:
Because despots, feeling their weakness, feared whatever might
develop the strength of nations, and studied only how to enfeeble
Because nations, divided by the prejudices of ignorance and hatred,
seconded the wickedness of their governments; and availing
themselves reciprocally of subordinate agents, aggravated their
Because, the balance between states being destroyed, the strong
more easily oppressed the weak.
Finally, because in proportion as states were concentrated, the
people, despoiled of their laws, of their usages, and of the
government of their choice, lost that spirit of personal
identification with their government, which had caused their
And despots, considering empires as their private domains and the
people as their property, gave themselves up to depredations, and
to all the licentiousness of the most arbitrary authority.
And all the strength and wealth of nations were diverted to private
expense and personal caprice; and kings, fatigued with
gratification, abandoned themselves to all the extravagancies of
factitious and depraved taste.* They must have gardens mounted on
arcades, rivers raised over mountains, fertile fields converted
into haunts for wild beasts; lakes scooped in dry lands, rocks
erected in lakes, palaces built of marble and porphyry, furniture
of gold and diamonds. Under the cloak of religion, their pride
founded temples, endowed indolent priests, built, for vain
skeletons, extravagant tombs, mausoleums and pyramids;** millions
of hands were employed in sterile labors; and the luxury of
princes, imitated by their parasites, and transmitted from grade to
grade to the lowest ranks, became a general source of corruption
* It is equally worthy of remark, that the conduct and manners of
princes and kings of every country and every age, are found to be
precisely the same at similar periods, whether of the formation or
dissolution of empires. History every where presents the same
pictures of luxury and folly; of parks, gardens, lakes, rocks,
palaces, furniture, excess of the table, wine, women, concluding
The absurd rock in the garden of Versailles has alone cost three
millions. I have sometimes calculated what might have been done
with the expense of the three pyramids of Gizah, and I have found
that it would easily have constructed from the Red Sea to
Alexandria, a canal one hundred and fifty feet wide and thirty
deep, completely covered in with cut stones and a parapet, together
with a fortified and commercial town, consisting of four hundred
houses, furnished with cisterns. What a difference in point of
utility between such a canal and these pyramids!
** The learned Dupuis could not be persuaded that the pyramids were
tombs; but besides the positive testimony of historians, read what
Diodorus says of the religious and superstitious importance every
Egyptian attached to building his dwelling eternal, b. 1.
During twenty years, says Herodotus, a hundred thousand men labored
every day to build the pyramid of the Egyptian Cheops. Supposing
only three hundred days a year, on account of the sabbath, there
will be 30 millions of days' work in a year, and 600 millions in
twenty years; at 15 sous a day, this makes 450 millions of francs
lost, without any further benefit. With this sum, if the king had
shut the isthmus of Suez by a strong wall, like that of China, the
destinies of Egypt might have been entirely changed. Foreign
invasions would have been prevented, and the Arabs of the desert
would neither have conquered nor harassed that country. Sterile
labors! how many millions lost in putting one stone upon another,
under the forms of temples and churches! Alchymists convert stones
into gold; but architects change gold into stone. Woe to the kings
(as well as subjects) who trust their purse to these two classes of
And in the insatiable thirst of enjoyment, the ordinary revenues no
longer sufficing, they were augmented; the cultivator, seeing his
labors increase without compensation, lost all courage; the
merchant, despoiled, was disgusted with industry; the multitude,
condemned to perpetual poverty, restrained their labor to simple
necessaries; and all productive industry vanished.
The surcharge of taxes rendering lands a burdensome possession, the
poor proprietor abandoned his field, or sold it to the powerful;
and fortune became concentrated in a few hands. All the laws and
institutions favoring this accumulation, the nation became divided
into a group of wealthy drones, and a multitude of mercenary poor;
the people were degraded with indigence, the great with satiety,
and the number of those interested in the preservation of the state
decreasing, its strength and existence became proportionally
On the other hand, emulation finding no object, science no
encouragement, the mind sunk into profound ignorance.
The administration being secret and mysterious, there existed no
means of reform or amelioration. The chiefs governing by force or
fraud, the people viewed them as a faction of public enemies; and
all harmony ceased between the governors and governed.
And these vices having enervated the states of the wealthy part of
Asia, the vagrant and indigent people of the adjacent deserts and
mountains coveted the enjoyments of the fertile plains; and, urged
by a cupidity common to all, attacked the polished empires, and
overturned the thrones of their despots. These revolutions were
rapid and easy; because the policy of tyrants had enfeebled the
subjects, razed the fortresses, destroyed the warriors; and because
the oppressed subjects remained without personal interest, and the
mercenary soldiers without courage.
And hordes of barbarians having reduced entire nations to slavery,
the empires, formed of conquerors and conquered, united in their
bosom two classes essentially opposite and hostile. All the
principles of society were dissolved: there was no longer any
common interest, no longer any public spirit; and there arose a
distinction of casts and races, which reduced to a regular system
the maintenance of disorder; and he who was born of this or that
blood, was born a slave or a tyrant--property or proprietor.
The oppressors being less numerous than the oppressed it was
necessary to perfect the science of oppression, in order to support
this false equilibrium. The art of governing became the art of
subjecting the many to the few. To enforce an obedience so
contrary to instinct, the severest punishments were established,
and the cruelty of the laws rendered manners atrocious. The
distinction of persons establishing in the state two codes, two
orders of criminal justice, two sets of laws, the people, placed
between the propensities of the heart and the oath uttered from the
mouth, had two consciences in contradiction with each other; and
the ideas of justice and injustice had no longer any foundation in
Under such a system, the people fell into dejection and despair;
and the accidents of nature were added to the other evils which
assailed them. Prostrated by so many calamities, they attributed
their causes to superior and hidden powers; and, because they had
tyrants on earth, they fancied others in heaven; and superstition
aggravated the misfortunes of nations.
Fatal doctrines and gloomy and misanthropic systems of religion
arose, which painted their gods, like their despots, wicked and
envious. To appease them, man offered up the sacrifice of all his
enjoyments. He environed himself in privations, and reversed the
order of nature. Conceiving his pleasures to be crimes, his
sufferings expiations, he endeavored to love pain, and to abjure
the love of self. He persecuted his senses, hated his life; and a
self-denying and anti-social morality plunged nations into the
apathy of death.
But provident nature having endowed the heart of man with hope
inexhaustible, when his desires of happiness were baffled on this
earth, he pursued it into another world. By a sweet illusion he
created for himself another country--an asylum where, far from
tyrants, he should recover the rights of nature, and thence
resulted new disorders. Smitten with an imaginary world, man
despised that of nature. For chimerical hopes, he neglected
realities. His life began to appear a troublesome journey--a
painful dream; his body a prison, the obstacle to his felicity; and
the earth, a place of exile and of pilgrimage, not worthy of
culture. Then a holy indolence spread over the political world;
the fields were deserted, empires depopulated, monuments neglected
and deserts multiplied; ignorance, superstition and fanaticism,
combining their operations, overwhelmed the earth with devastation
Thus agitated by their own passions, men, whether collectively or
individually taken, always greedy and improvident, passing from
slavery to tyranny, from pride to baseness, from presumption to
despondency, have made themselves the perpetual instruments of
their own misfortunes.
These, then, are the principles, simple and natural, which
regulated the destiny of ancient states. By this regular and
connected series of causes and effects, they rose or fell, in
proportion as the physical laws of the human heart were respected
or violated; and in the course of their successive changes, a
hundred different nations, a hundred different empires, by turns
humbled, elevated, conquered, overthrown, have repeated for the
earth their instructive lessons. Yet these lessons were lost for
the generations which have followed! The disorders in times past
have reappeared in the present age! The chiefs of the nations have
continued to walk in the paths of falsehood and tyranny!--the
people to wander in the darkness of superstition and ignorance!
Since then, continued the Genius, with renewed energy, since the
experience of past ages is lost for the living--since the errors of
progenitors have not instructed their descendants, the ancient
examples are about to reappear; the earth will see renewed the
tremendous scenes it has forgotten. New revolutions will agitate
nations and empires; powerful thrones will again be overturned, and
terrible catastrophes will again teach mankind that the laws of
nature and the precepts of wisdom and truth cannot be infringed
LESSONS OF TIMES PAST REPEATED ON THE PRESENT.
Thus spoke the Genius. Struck with the justice and coherence of
his discourse, assailed with a crowd of ideas, repugnant to my
habits yet convincing to my reason, I remained absorbed in profound
silence. At length, while with serious and pensive mien, I kept my
eyes fixed on Asia, suddenly in the north, on the shores of the
Black sea, and in the fields of the Crimea, clouds of smoke and
flame attracted my attention. They appeared to rise at the same
time from all parts of the peninsula; and passing by the isthmus
into the continent, they ran, as if driven by a westerly wind,
along the oozy lake of Azof, and disappeared in the grassy plains
of Couban; and following more attentively the course of these
clouds, I observed that they were preceded or followed by swarms of
moving creatures, which, like ants or grasshoppers disturbed by the
foot of a passenger, agitated themselves with vivacity. Sometimes
these swarms appeared to advance and rush against each other; and
numbers, after the concussion, remained motionless. While
disquieted at this spectacle, I strained my sight to distinguish
Do you see, said the Genius, those flames which spread over the
earth, and do you comprehend their causes and effects?
Oh! Genius, I answered, I see those columns of flame and smoke, and
something like insects, accompanying them; but, when I can scarcely
discern the great masses of cities and monuments, how should I
discover, such little creatures? I can just perceive that these
insects mimic battle, for they advance, retreat, attack and pursue.
It is no mimicry, said the Genius, these are real battles.
And what, said I, are those mad animalculae, which destroy each
other? Beings of a day! will they not perish soon enough?
Then the Genius, touching my sight and hearing, again directed my
eyes towards the same object. Look, said he, and listen!
Ah! wretches, cried I, oppressed with grief, these columns of
flame! these insects! oh! Genius, they are men. These are the
ravages of war! These torrents of flame rise from towns and
villages! I see the squadrons who kindle them, and who, sword in
hand overrun the country: they drive before them crowds of old men,
women, and children, fugitive and desolate: I perceive other
horsemen, who with shouldered lances, accompany and guide them. I
even recognize them to be Tartars by their led horses,* their
kalpacks, and tufts of hair: and, doubtless, they who pursue, in
triangular hats and green uniforms, are Muscovites. Ah! I now
comprehend, a war is kindled between the empire of the Czars and
that of the Sultans.
* A Tartar horseman has always two horses, of which he leads one in
hand. The Kalpeck is a bonnet made of the skin of a sheep or other
animal. The part of the head covered by this bonnet is shaved,
with the exception of a tuft, about the size of a crown piece, and
which is suffered to grow to the length of seven or eight inches,
precisely where our priests place their tonsure. It is by this
tuft of hair, worn by the majority of Mussulmen, that the angel of
the tomb is to take the elect and carry them into paradise.
Not yet, replied the Genius; this is only a preliminary. These
Tartars have been, and might still he troublesome neighbors. The
Muscovites are driving them off, finding their country would be a
convenient extension of their own limits; and as a prelude to
another revolution, the throne of the Guerais is destroyed.
And in fact, I saw the Russian standards floating over the Crimea:
and soon after their flag waving on the Euxine.
Meanwhile, at the cry of the flying Tartars, the Mussulman empire
was in commotion. They are driving off our brethren, cried the
children of Mahomet: the people of the prophet are outraged!
infidels occupy a consecrated land and profane the temples of
Islamism.* Let us arm; let us rush to combat, to avenge the glory
of God and our own cause.
* It is not in the power of the Sultan to cede to a foreign power a
province inhabited by true believers. The people, instigated by
the lawyers, would not fail to revolt. This is one reason which
has led those who know the Turks, to regard as chimerical the
ceding of Candia, Cyprus, and Egypt, projected by certain European
And a general movement of war took place in both empires. In every
part armed men assembled. Provisions, stores, and all the
murderous apparatus of battle were displayed. The temples of both
nations, besieged by an immense multitude, presented a spectacle
which fixed all my attention.
On one side, the Mussulmen gathered before their mosques, washed
their hands and feet, pared their nails, and combed their beards;
then spreading carpets upon the ground, and turning towards the
south, with their arms sometimes crossed and sometimes extended,
they made genuflexions and prostrations, and recollecting the
disasters of the late war, they exclaimed:
God of mercy and clemency! hast thou then abandoned thy faithful
people? Thou who hast promised to thy Prophet dominion over
nations, and stamped his religion by so many triumphs, dost thou
deliver thy true believers to the swords of infidels?
And the Imans and the Santons said to the people:
It is in chastisement of your sins. You eat pork; you drink wine;
you touch unclean things. God hath punished you. Do penance
therefore; purify; repeat the profession of faith;* fast from the
rising to the setting sun; give the tenth of your goods to the
mosques; go to Mecca; and God will render you victorious.
* There is but one God, and Mahomet is his prophet.
And the people, recovering courage, uttered loud cries:
There is but one God, said they transported with fury, and Mahomet
is his prophet! Accursed be he who believeth not!
God of goodness, grant us to exterminate these Christians; it is
for thy glory we fight, and our death is a martyrdom for thy name.
And then, offering victims, they prepared for battle.
On the other side, the Russians, kneeling, said:
We render thanks to God, and celebrate his power. He hath
strengthened our arm to humble his enemies. Hear our prayers, thou
God of mercy! To please thee, we will pass three days without
eating either meat or eggs. Grant us to extirpate these impious
Mahometans, and to overturn their empire. To thee we will
consecrate the tenth of our spoil; to thee we will raise new
And the priests filled the churches with clouds of smoke, and said
to the people:
We pray for you, God accepteth our incense, and blesseth your arms.
Continue to fast and to fight; confess to us your secret sins; give
your wealth to the church; we will absolve you from your crimes,
and you shall die in a state of grace.
And they sprinkled water upon the people, dealt out to them, as
amulets and charms, small relics of the dead, and the people
breathed war and combat.
Struck with this contrast of the same passions, and grieving for
their fatal consequences, I was considering the difficulty with
which the common judge could yield to prayers so contradictory;
when the Genius, glowing with anger, spoke with vehemence:
What accents of madness strike my ear? What blind and perverse
delirium disorders the spirits of the nations? Sacrilegious
prayers rise not from the earth! and you, oh Heavens, reject their
homicidal vows and impious thanksgivings! Deluded mortals! is it
thus you revere the Divinity? Say then; how should he, whom you
style your common father, receive the homage of his children
murdering one another? Ye victors! with what eye should he view
your hands reeking in the blood he hath created? And, what do you
expect, oh vanquished, from useless groans? Hath God the heart of
a mortal, with passions ever changing? Is he, like you, agitated
with vengeance or compassion, with wrath or repentance? What base
conception of the most sublime of beings! According to them, it
would seem, that God whimsical and capricious, is angered or
appeased as a man: that he loves and hates alternately; that he
punishes or favors; that, weak or wicked, he broods over his
hatred; that, contradictory or perfidious, he lays snares to
entrap; that he punishes the evils he permits; that he foresees but
hinders not crimes; that, like a corrupt judge, he is bribed by
offerings; like an ignorant despot, he makes laws and revokes them;
that, like a savage tyrant, he grants or resumes favors without
reason, and can only be appeased by servility. Ah! now I know the
lying spirit of man! Contemplating the picture which he hath drawn
of the Divinity: No, said I, it is not God who hath made man after
the image of God; but man hath made God after the image of man; he
hath given him his own mind, clothed him with his own propensities;
ascribed to him his own judgments. And when in this medley he
finds the contradiction of his own principles, with hypocritical
humility, he imputes weakness to his reason, and names the
absurdities of his own mind the mysteries of God.
He hath said, God is immutable, yet he offers prayers to change
him; he hath pronounced him incomprehensible, yet he interprets him
Imposters have arisen on the earth who have called themselves the
confidants of God; and, erecting themselves into teachers of the
people, have opened the ways of falsehood and iniquity; they have
ascribed merit to practices indifferent or ridiculous; they have
supposed a virtue, in certain postures, in pronouncing certain
words, articulating certain names; they have transformed into a
crime the eating of certain meats, the drinking of certain liquors,
on one day rather than another. The Jew would rather die than
labor on the sabbath; the Persian would endure suffocation, before
he would blow the fire with his breath; the Indian places supreme
perfection in besmearing himself with cow-dung, and pronouncing
mysteriously the word Aum;* the Mussulman believes he has expiated
everything in washing his head and arms; and disputes, sword in
hand, whether the ablution should commence at the elbow, or finger
ends;** the Christian would think himself damned, if he ate flesh
instead of milk or butter. Oh sublime doctrines! Doctrines truly
from heaven! Oh perfect morals, and worthy of martyrdom or the
apostolate! I will cross the seas to teach these admirable laws to
the savage people--to distant nations; I will say unto them:
* This word is, in the religion of the Hindoos, a sacred emblem of
the Divinity. It is only to be pronounced in secret, without being
heard by any one. It is formed of three letters, of which the
first, a, signifies the principal of all, the creator, Brama; the
second, u, the conservator, Vichenou; and the last, m, the
destroyer, who puts an end to all, Chiven. It is pronounced like
the monosyllable om, and expresses the unity of those three Gods.
The idea is precisely that of the Alpha and Omega mentioned in the
** This is one of the grand points of schism between the partisans
of Omar and those of Ali. Suppose two Mahometans to meet on a
journey, and to accost each other with brotherly affection: the
hour of prayer arrives; one begins his ablution at his fingers, the
other at the elbow, and instantly they are mortal enemies. O
sublime importance of religious opinions! O profound philosophy of
the authors of them!
Children of nature, how long will you walk in the paths of
ignorance? how long will you mistake the true principles of
morality and religion? Come and learn its lessons from nations
truly pious and learned, in civilized countries. They will inform
you how, to gratify God, you must in certain months of the year,
languish the whole day with hunger and thirst; how you may shed
your neighbor's blood, and purify yourself from it by professions
of faith and methodical ablutions; how you may steal his property
and be absolved on sharing it with certain persons, who devote
themselves to its consumption.
Sovereign and invisible power of the universe! mysterious mover of
nature! universal soul of beings! thou who art unknown, yet revered
by mortals under so many names! being incomprehensible and
infinite! God, who in the immensity of the heavens directest the
movement of worlds, and peoplest the abyss of space with millions
of suns! say what do these human insects, which my sight no longer
discerns on the earth, appear in thy eyes? To thee, who art
guiding stars in their orbits, what are those wormlings writhing
themselves in the dust? Of what import to thy immensity, their
distinctions of parties and sects? And of what concern the
subtleties with which their folly torments itself?
And you, credulous men, show me the effect of your practices! In
so many centuries, during which you have been following or altering
them, what changes have your prescriptions wrought in the laws of
nature? Is the sun brighter? Is the course of the seasons varied?
Is the earth more fruitful, or its inhabitants more happy? If God
be good, can your penances please him? If infinite, can your
homage add to his glory? If his decrees have been formed on
foresight of every circumstance, can your prayers change them?
Answer, O inconsistent mortals!
Ye conquerors of the earth, who pretend you serve God! doth he need
your aid? If he wishes to punish, hath he not earthquakes,
volcanoes, and thunder? And cannot a merciful God correct without
Ye Mussulmans, if God chastiseth you for violating the five
precepts, how hath he raised up the Franks who ridicule them? If
he governeth the earth by the Koran, by what did he govern it
before the days of the prophet, when it was covered with so many
nations who drank wine, ate pork, and went not to Mecca, whom he
nevertheless permitted to raise powerful empires? How did he judge
the Sabeans of Nineveh and of Babylon; the Persian, worshipper of
fire; the Greek and Roman idolators; the ancient kingdoms of the
Nile; and your own ancestors, the Arabians and Tartars? How doth
he yet judge so many nations who deny, or know not your worship--
the numerous castes of Indians, the vast empire of the Chinese, the
sable race of Africa, the islanders of the ocean, the tribes of
Presumptuous and ignorant men, who arrogate the earth to
yourselves! if God were to gather all the generations past and
present, what would be, in their ocean, the sects calling
themselves universal, of Christians and Mussulmans? What would be
the judgments of his equal and common justice over the real
universality of mankind? Therein it is that your knowledge loseth
itself in incoherent systems; it is there that truth shines with
evidence; and there are manifested the powerful and simple laws of
nature and reason--laws of a common and general mover--of a God
impartial and just, who sheds rain on a country without asking who
is its prophet; who causeth his sun to shine alike on all the races
of men, on the white as on the black, on the Jew, on the Mussulman,
the Christian, and the Idolater; who reareth the harvest wherever
cultivated with diligence; who multiplieth every nation where
industry and order prevaileth; who prospereth every empire where
justice is practised, where the powerful are restrained, and the
poor protected by the laws; where the weak live in safety, and all
enjoy the rights given by nature and a compact formed in justice.
These are the principles by which people are judged! this the true
religion which regulates the destiny of empires, and which, O
Ottomans, hath governed yours! Interrogate your ancestors, ask of
them by what means they rose to greatness; when few, poor and
idolaters, they came from the deserts of Tartary and encamped in
these fertile countries; ask if it was by Islamism, till then
unknown to them, that they conquered the Greeks and the Arabs, or
was it by their courage, their prudence, moderation, spirit of
union--the true powers of the social state? Then the Sultan
himself dispensed justice, and maintained discipline. The
prevaricating judge, the extortionate governor, were punished, and
the multitude lived at ease. The cultivator was protected from the
rapine of the janissary, and the fields prospered; the highways
were safe, and commerce caused abundance. You were a band of
plunderers, but just among yourselves. You subdued nations, but
did not oppress them. Harassed by their own princes, they
preferred being your tributaries. What matters it, said the
Christian, whether my ruler breaks or adores images, if he renders
justice to me? God will judge his doctrines in the heavens above.
You were sober and hardy; your enemies timid and enervated; you
were expert in battle, your enemies unskillful; your leaders were
experienced, your soldiers warlike and disciplined. Booty excited
ardor, bravery was rewarded, cowardice and insubordination
punished, and all the springs of the human heart were in action.
Thus you vanquished a hundred nations, and of a mass of conquered
kingdoms compounded an immense empire.
But other customs have succeeded; and in the reverses attending
them, the laws of nature have still exerted their force. After
devouring your enemies, your cupidity, still insatiable, has
reacted on itself, and, concentrated in your own bowels, has
Having become rich, you have quarrelled for partition and
enjoyment, and disorder hath arisen in every class of society.
The Sultan, intoxicated with grandeur, has mistaken the object of
his functions; and all the vices of arbitrary power have been
developed. Meeting no obstacle to his appetites, he has become a
depraved being; weak and arrogant, he has kept the people at a
distance; and their voice has no longer instructed and guided him.
Ignorant, yet flattered, neglecting all instruction, all study, he
has fallen into imbecility; unfit for business, he has thrown its
burdens on hirelings, and they have deceived him. To satisfy their
own passions, they have stimulated and nourished his; they have
multiplied his wants, and his enormous luxury has consumed
everything. The frugal table, plain clothing, simple dwelling of
his ancestors no longer sufficed. To supply his pomp, earth and
sea have been exhausted. The rarest furs have been brought from
the poles; the most costly tissues from the equator. He has
devoured at a meal the tribute of a city, and in a day that of a
province. He has surrounded himself with an army of women,
eunuchs, and satellites. They have instilled into him that the
virtue of kings is to be liberal, and the munificence and treasures
of the people have been delivered into the hands of flatterers. In
imitation of their master, his servants must also have splendid
houses, the most exquisite furniture; carpets embroidered at great
cost, vases of gold and silver for the lowest uses, and all the
riches of the empire have been swallowed up in the Serai.
To supply this inordinate luxury, the slaves and women have sold
their influence, and venality has introduced a general depravation.
The favor of the sovereign has been sold to his vizier, and the
vizier has sold the empire. The law has been sold to the cadi, and
the cadi has made sale of justice. The altar has been sold to the
priest, and the priest has sold the kingdom of heaven. And gold
obtaining everything, they have sacrificed everything to obtain
gold. For gold, friend has betrayed friend, the child his parent,
the servant his master, the wife her honor, the merchant his
conscience; and good faith, morals, concord, and strength were
banished from the state.
The pacha, who had purchased the government of his province, farmed
it out to others, who exercised every extortion. He sold in turn
the collection of the taxes, the command of the troops, the
administration of the villages; and as every employ has been
transient, rapine, spread from rank to rank, has been greedy and
implacable. The revenue officer has fleeced the merchant, and
commerce was annihilated; the aga has plundered the husbandman, and
culture has degenerated. The laborer, deprived of his stock, has
been unable to sow; the tax was augmented, and he could not pay it;
the bastinado has been threatened, and he has borrowed. Money,
from want of security, being locked up from circulation, interest
was therefore enormous, and the usury of the rich has aggravated
the misery of the laborer.
When excessive droughts and accidents of seasons have blasted the
harvest, the government has admitted no delay, no indulgence for
the tax; and distress bearing hard on the village, a part of its
inhabitants have taken refuge in the cities; and their burdens
falling on those who remained, has completed their ruin, and
depopulated the country.
If driven to extremity by tyranny and outrage, the villages have
revolted, the pacha rejoices. He wages war on them, assails their
homes, pillages their property, carries off their stock; and when
the fields have become a desert, he exclaims:
"What care I? I leave these fields to-morrow."
The earth wanting laborers, the rain of heaven and overflowing of
torrents have stagnated in marshes; and their putrid exhalations in
a warm climate, have caused epidemics, plagues, and maladies of all
sorts, whence have flowed additional suffering, penury, and ruin.
Oh! who can enumerate all the calamities of tyrannical government?
Sometimes the pachas declare war against each other, and for their
personal quarrels the provinces of the same state are laid waste.
Sometimes, fearing their masters, they attempt independence, and
draw on their subjects the chastisement of their revolt. Sometimes
dreading their subjects, they invite and subsidize strangers, and
to insure their fidelity set no bounds to their depredations. Here
they persecute the rich and despoil them under false pretences;
there they suborn false witnesses, and impose penalties for
suppositious offences; everywhere they excite the hatred of
parties, encourage informations to obtain amercements, extort
property, seize persons; and when their short-sighted avarice has
accumulated into one mass all the riches of a country, the
government, by an execrable perfidy, under pretence of avenging its
oppressed people, takes to itself all their spoils, as if they were
the culprits, and uselessly sheds the blood of its agents for a
crime of which it is the accomplice.
Oh wretches, monarchs or ministers, who sport with the lives and
fortunes of the people! Is it you who gave breath to man, that you
dare take it from him? Do you give growth to the plants of the
earth, that you may waste them? Do you toil to furrow the field?
Do you endure the ardor of the sun, and the torment of thirst, to
reap the harvest or thrash the grain? Do you, like the shepherd,
watch through the dews of the night? Do you traverse deserts, like
the merchant? Ah! on beholding the pride and cruelty of the
powerful, I have been transported with indignation, and have said
in my wrath, will there never then arise on the earth men who will
avenge the people and punish tyrants? A handful of brigands devour
the multitude, and the multitude submits to be devoured! Oh!
degenerate people! Know you not your rights? All authority is
from you, all power is yours. Unlawfully do kings command you on
the authority of God and of their lance--Soldiers be still; if God
supports the Sultan he needs not your aid; if his sword suffices,
he needs not yours; let us see what he can do alone. The soldiers
grounded their arms; and behold these masters of the world, feeble
as the meanest of their subjects! People! know that those who
govern are your chiefs, not your masters; your agents, not your
owners; that they have no authority over you, but by you, and for
you; that your wealth is yours and they accountable for it; that,
kings or subjects, God has made all men equal, and no mortal has
the right to oppress his fellow-creatures.
But this nation and its chiefs have mistaken these holy truths.
They must abide then the consequences of their blindness. The
decree is past; the day approaches when this colossus of power
shall be crushed and crumbled under its own mass. Yes, I swear it,
by the ruins of so many empires destroyed. The empire of the
Crescent shall follow the fate of the despotism it has copied. A
nation of strangers shall drive the Sultan from his metropolis.
The throne of Orkhan shall be overturned. The last shoot of his
trunk shall be broken off; and the horde of Oguzians,* deprived of
their chief, shall disperse like that of the Nagois. In this
dissolution, the people of the empire, loosened from the yoke which
united them, shall resume their ancient distinctions, and a general
anarchy shall follow, as happened in the empire of the Sophis;**
until there shall arise among the Arabians, Armenians, or Greeks,
legislators who may compose new states.
* Before the Turks took the name of their chief, Othman I., they
bore that of Oguzians; and it was under this appellation that they
were driven out of Tartary by Gengis, and came from the borders of
Giboun to settle themselves in Anatolia.
** In Persia, after the death of Thamas-Koulikan, each province had
its chief, and for forty years these chiefs were in a constant
state of war. In this view the Turks do not say without reason:
"Ten years of a tyrant are less destructive than a single night of
Oh! if there were on earth men profound and bold! what elements for
grandeur and glory! But the hour of destiny has already come; the
cry of war strikes my ear; and the catastrophe begins. In vain the
Sultan leads forth his armies; his ignorant warriors are beaten and
dispersed. In vain he calls his subjects; their hearts are ice.
Is it not written? say they, what matters who is our master? We
cannot lose by the change.
In vain the true believers invoke heaven and the prophet. The
prophet is dead; and heaven without pity answers:
Cease to invoke me. You have caused your own misfortunes; cure
them yourselves. Nature has established laws; your part is to obey
them. Observe, reason, and profit by experience. It is the folly
of man which ruins him; let his wisdom save him. The people are
ignorant; let them gain instruction. Their chiefs are wicked; let
them correct and amend; for such is Nature's decree. Since the
evils of society spring from cupidity and ignorance, men will never
cease to be persecuted, till they become enlightened and wise; till
they practise justice, founded on a knowledge of their relations
and of the laws of their organization.*
* A singular moral phenomenon made its appearance in Europe in the
year 1788. A great nation, jealous of its liberty, contracted a
fondness for a nation the enemy of liberty; a nation friendly to
the arts, for a nation that detests them; a mild and tolerant
nation, for a persecuting and fanatic one; a social and gay nation,
for a nation whose characteristics are gloom and misanthropy; in a
word, the French were smitten with a passion for the Turks: they
were desirous of engaging in a war for them, and that at a time
when revolution in their own country was just at its commencement.
A man, who perceived the true nature of the situation, wrote a book
to dissuade them from the war: it was immediately pretended that he
was paid by the government, which in reality wished the war, and
which was upon the point of shutting him up in a state prison.
Another man wrote to recommend the war: he was applauded, and his
word taken for the science, the politeness, and importance of the
Turks. It is true that he believed in his own thesis, for he has
found among them people who cast a nativity, and alchymists who
ruined his fortune; as he found Martinists at Paris, who enabled
him to sup with Sesostris, and Magnetizers who concluded with
destroying his existence. Notwithstanding this, the Turks were
beaten by the Russians, and the man who then predicted the fall of
their empire, persists in the prediction. The result of this fall
will be a complete change of the political system, as far as it
relates to the coast of the Mediterranean. If, however, the French
become important in proportion as they become free, and if they
make use of the advantage they will obtain, their progress may
easily prove of the most honorable sort; inasmuch as, by the wise
decrees of fate, the true interest of mankind evermore accords with
their true morality.
WILL THE HUMAN RACE IMPROVE?
At these words, oppressed with the painful sentiment with which
their severity overwhelmed me: Woe to the nations! cried I, melting
in tears; woe to myself! Ah! now it is that I despair of the
happiness of man! Since his miseries proceed from his heart; since
the remedy is in his own power, woe for ever to his existence!
Who, indeed will ever be able to restrain the lust of wealth in the
strong and powerful? Who can enlighten the ignorance of the weak?
Who can teach the multitude to know their rights, and force their
chiefs to perform their duties? Thus the race of man is always
doomed to suffer! Thus the individual will not cease to oppress
the individual, a nation to attack a nation; and days of
prosperity, of glory, for these regions, shall never return. Alas!
conquerors will come; they will drive out the oppressors, and fix
themselves in their place; but, inheriting their power, they will
inherit their rapacity; and the earth will have changed tyrants,
without changing the tyranny.
Then, turning to the Genius, I exclaimed:
O Genius, despair hath settled on my soul. Knowing the nature of
man, the perversity of those who govern, and the debasement of the
governed--this knowledge hath disgusted me with life; and since
there is no choice but to be the accomplice or the victim of
oppression, what remains to the man of virtue but to mingle his
ashes with those of the tomb?
The Genius then gave me a look of severity, mingled with
compassion; and after a few moments of silence, he replied:
Virtue, then, consists in dying! The wicked man is indefatigable
in consummating his crime, and the just is discouraged from doing
good at the first obstacle he encounters! But such is the human
heart. A little success intoxicates man with confidence; a reverse
overturns and confounds him. Always given up to the sensation of
the moment, he seldom judges things from their nature, but from the
impulse of his passion.
Mortal, who despairest of the human race, on what profound
combination of facts hast thou established thy conclusion? Hast
thou scrutinized the organization of sentient beings, to determine
with precision whether the instinctive force which moves them on to
happiness is essentially weaker than that which repels them from
it? or, embracing in one glance the history of the species, and
judging the future by the past, hast thou shown that all
improvement is impossible? Say! hath human society, since its
origin, made no progress toward knowledge and a better state? Are
men still in their forests, destitute of everything, ignorant,
stupid and ferocious? Are all the nations still in that age when
nothing was seen upon the globe but brutal robbers and brutal
slaves? If at any time, in any place, individuals have
ameliorated, why shall not the whole mass ameliorate? If partial
societies have made improvements, what shall hinder the improvement
of society in general? And if the first obstacles are overcome,
why should the others be insurmountable?
Art thou disposed to think that the human race degenerates? Guard
against the illusion and paradoxes of the misanthrope. Man,
discontented with the present, imagines for the past a perfection
which never existed, and which only serves to cover his chagrin.
He praises the dead out of hatred to the living, and beats the
children with the bones of their ancestors.
To prove this pretended retrograde progress from perfection we must
contradict the testimony of reason and of fact; and if the facts of
history are in any measure uncertain, we must contradict the living
fact of the organization of man; we must prove that he is born with
the enlightened use of his senses; that, without experience, he can
distinguish aliment from poison; that the child is wiser than the
old man; that the blind walks with more safety than the clear-
sighted; that the civilized man is more miserable than the savage;
and, indeed, that there is no ascending scale in experience and
Believe, young man, the testimony of monuments, and the voice of
the tombs. Some countries have doubtless fallen from what they
were at certain epochs; but if we weigh the wisdom and happiness of
their inhabitants, even in those times, we shall find more of
splendor than of reality in their glory; we shall find, in the most
celebrated of ancient states, enormous vices and cruel abuses, the
true causes of their decay; we shall find in general that the
principles of government were atrocious; that insolent robberies,
barbarous wars and implacable hatreds were raging from nation to
nation;* that natural right was unknown; that morality was
perverted by senseless fanaticism and deplorable superstition; that
a dream, a vision, an oracle, were constantly the causes of vast
commotions. Perhaps the nations are not yet entirely cured of all
these evils; but their intensity at least is diminished, and the
experience of the past has not been wholly lost. For the last
three centuries, especially, knowledge has increased and been
extended; civilization, favored by happy circumstances, has made a
sensible progress; inconveniences and abuses have even turned to
its advantage; for if states have been too much extended by
conquest, the people, by uniting under the same yoke, have lost the
spirit of estrangement and division which made them all enemies one
to the other. If the powers of government have been more
concentrated, there has been more system and harmony in their
exercise. If wars have become more extensive in the mass, they are
less bloody in detail. If men have gone to battle with less
personality, less energy, their struggles have been less sanguinary
and less ferocious; they have been less free, but less turbulent;
more effeminate, but more pacific. Despotism itself has rendered
them some service; for if governments have been more absolute, they
have been more quiet and less tempestuous. If thrones have become
a property and hereditary, they have excited less dissensions, and
the people have suffered fewer convulsions; finally, if the
despots, jealous and mysterious, have interdicted all knowledge of
their administration, all concurrence in the management of public
affairs, the passions of men, drawn aside from politics, have fixed
upon the arts, and the sciences of nature; and the sphere of ideas
in every direction has been enlarged; man, devoted to abstract
studies, has better understood his place in the system of nature,
and his relations in society; principles have been better
discussed, final causes better explained, knowledge more extended,
individuals better instructed, manners more social, and life more
happy. The species at large, especially in certain countries, has
gained considerably; and this amelioration cannot but increase in
future, because its two principal obstacles, those even which, till
then, had rendered it slow and sometimes retrograde,--the
difficulty of transmitting ideas and of communicating them
rapidly,--have been at last removed.
* Read the history of the wars of Rome and Carthage, of Sparta and
Messina, of Athens and Syracuse, of the Hebrews and the
Phoenicians: yet these are the nations of which antiquity boasts as
being most polished!
Indeed, among the ancients, each canton, each city, being isolated
from all others by the difference of its language, the consequence
was favorable to ignorance and anarchy. There was no communication
of ideas, no participation of discoveries, no harmony of interests
or of wills, no unity of action or design; besides, the only means
of transmitting and of propagating ideas being that of speech,
fugitive and limited, and that of writing, tedious of execution,
expensive and scarce, the consequence was a hindrance of present
instruction, loss of experience from one generation to another,
instability, retrogression of knowledge, and a perpetuity of
confusion and childhood.
But in the modern world, especially in Europe, great nations having
allied themselves in language, and established vast communities of
opinions, the minds of men are assimilated, and their affections
extended; there is a sympathy of opinion and a unity of action;
then that gift of heavenly Genius, the holy art of printing, having
furnished the means of communicating in an instant the same idea to
millions of men, and of fixing it in a durable manner, beyond the
power of tyrants to arrest or annihilate, there arose a mass of
progressive instruction, an expanding atmosphere of science, which
assures to future ages a solid amelioration. This amelioration is
a necessary effect of the laws of nature; for, by the law of
sensibility, man as invincibly tends to render himself happy as the
flame to mount, the stone to descend, or the water to find its
level. His obstacle is his ignorance, which misleads him in the
means, and deceives him in causes and effects. He will enlighten
himself by experience; he will become right by dint of errors; he
will grow wise and good because it is his interest so to be. Ideas
being communicated through the nation, whole classes will gain
instruction; science will become a vulgar possession, and all men
will know what are the principles of individual happiness and of
public prosperity. They will know the relations they bear to
society, their duties and their rights; they will learn to guard
against the illusions of the lust of gain; they will perceive that
the science of morals is a physical science, composed, indeed, of
elements complicated in their operation, but simple and invariable
in their nature, since they are only the elements of the
organization of man. They will see the propriety of being moderate
and just, because in that is found the advantage and security of
each; they will perceive that the wish to enjoy at the expense of
another is a false calculation of ignorance, because it gives rise
to reprisal, hatred, and vengeance, and that dishonesty is the
never-failing offspring of folly.
Individuals will feel that private happiness is allied to public
The weak, that instead of dividing their interests, they ought to
unite them, because equality constitutes their force:
The rich, that the measure of enjoyment is bounded by the
constitution of the organs, and that lassitude follows satiety:
The poor, that the employment of time, and the peace of the heart,
compose the highest happiness of man. And public opinion, reaching
kings on their thrones, will force them to confine themselves to
the limits of regular authority.
Even chance itself, serving the cause of nations, will sometimes
give them feeble chiefs, who, through weakness, will suffer them to
become free; and sometimes enlightened chiefs, who, from a
principle of virtue, will free them.
And when nations, free and enlightened, shall become like great
individuals, the whole species will have the same facilities as
particular portions now have; the communication of knowledge will
extend from one to another, and thus reach the whole. By the law
of imitation, the example of one people will be followed by others,
who will adopt its spirit and its laws. Even despots, perceiving
that they can no longer maintain their authority without justice
and beneficence, will soften their sway from necessity, from
rivalship; and civilization will become universal.
There will be established among the several nations an equilibrium
of force, which, restraining them all within the bounds of the
respect due to their reciprocal rights, shall put an end to the
barbarous practice of war, and submit their disputes to civil
arbitration.* The human race will become one great society, one
individual family, governed by the same spirit, by common laws, and
enjoying all the happiness of which their nature is susceptible.
* What is a people? An individual of the society at large. What a
war? A duel between two individual people. In what manner ought a
society to act when two of its members fight? Interfere and
reconcile, or repress them. In the days of the Abbe de Saint
Pierre this was treated as a dream, but happily for the human race
it begins to be realized.
Doubtless this great work will be long accomplishing; because the
same movement must be given to an immense body; the same leaven
must assimilate an enormous mass of heterogeneous parts. But this
movement shall be effected; its presages are already to be seen.
Already the great society, assuming in its course the same
characters as partial societies have done, is evidently tending to
a like result. At first disconnected in all its parts, it saw its
members for a long time without cohesion; and this general solitude
of nations formed its first age of anarchy and childhood; divided
afterwards by chance into irregular sections, called states and
kingdoms, it has experienced the fatal effects of an extreme
inequality of wealth and rank; and the aristocracy of great empires
has formed its second age; then, these lordly states disputing for
preeminence, have exhibited the period of the shock of factions.
At present the contending parties, wearied with discord, feel the
want of laws, and sigh for the age of order and of peace. Let but
a virtuous chief arise! a just, a powerful people appear! and the
earth will raise them to supreme power. The world is waiting for a
legislative people; it wishes and demands it; and my heart attends
Then turning towards the west: Yes, continued he, a hollow sound
already strikes my ear; a cry of liberty, proceeding from far
distant shores, resounds on the ancient continent. At this cry, a
secret murmur against oppression is raised in a powerful nation; a
salutary inquietude alarms her respecting her situation; she
enquires what she is, and what she ought to be; while, surprised at
her own weakness, she interrogates her rights, her resources, and
what has been the conduct of her chiefs.
Yet another day--a little more reflection--and an immense agitation
will begin; a new-born age will open! an age of astonishment to
vulgar minds, of terror to tyrants, of freedom to a great nation,
and of hope to the human race!
THE GREAT OBSTACLE TO IMPROVEMENT.
The Genius ceased. But preoccupied with melancholy thoughts, my
mind resisted persuasion; fearing, however, to shock him by my
resistance, I remained silent. After a while, turning to me with a
look which pierced my soul, he said:
Thou art silent, and thy heart is agitated with thoughts which it
dares not utter.
At last, troubled and terrified, I replied:
O Genius, pardon my weakness. Doubtless thy mouth can utter
nothing but truth; but thy celestial intelligence can seize its
rays, where my gross faculties can discern nothing but clouds. I
confess it; conviction has not penetrated my soul, and I feared
that my doubts might offend thee.
And what is doubt, replied he, that it should be a crime? Can man
feel otherwise than as he is affected? If a truth be palpable, and
of importance in practice, let us pity him that misconceives it.
His punishment will arise from his blindness. If it be uncertain
or equivocal, how is he to find in it what it has not? To believe
without evidence or proof, is an act of ignorance and folly. The
credulous man loses himself in a labyrinth of contradictions; the
man of sense examines and discusses, that he may be consistent in
his opinions. The honest man will bear contradiction; because it
gives rise to evidence. Violence is the argument of falsehood; and
to impose a creed by authority is the act and indication of a
O Genius, said I, encouraged by these words, since my reason is
free, I strive in vain to entertain the flattering hope with which
you endeavor to console me. The sensible and virtuous soul is
easily caught with dreams of happiness; but a cruel reality
constantly awakens it to suffering and wretchedness. The more I
meditate on the nature of man, the more I examine the present state
of societies, the less possible it appears to realize a world of
wisdom and felicity. I cast my eye over the whole of our
hemisphere; I perceive in no place the germ, nor do I foresee the
instinctive energy of a happy revolution. All Asia lies buried in
profound darkness. The Chinese, governed by an insolent
despotism,* by strokes of the bamboo and the cast of lots,
restrained by an immutable code of gestures, and by the radical
vices of an ill-constructed language,** appear to be in their
abortive civilization nothing but a race of automatons. The
Indian, borne down by prejudices, and enchained in the sacred
fetters of his castes, vegetates in an incurable apathy. The
Tartar, wandering or fixed, always ignorant and ferocious, lives in
the savageness of his ancestors. The Arab, endowed with a happy
genius, loses its force and the fruits of his virtue in the anarchy
of his tribes and the jealousy of his families. The African,
degraded from the rank of man, seems irrevocably doomed to
servitude. In the North I see nothing but vilified serfs, herds of
men with which landlords stock their estates. Ignorance, tyranny,
and wretchedness have everywhere stupified the nations; and vicious
habits, depraving the natural senses, have destroyed the very
instinct of happiness and of truth.
* The emperor of China calls himself the son of heaven; that is, of
God: for in the opinion of the Chinese, the material of heaven, the
arbiter of fatality, is the Deity himself. "The emperor only shows
himself once in ten months, lest the people, accustomed to see him,
might lose their respect; for he holds it as a maxim that power can
only be supported by force, that the people have no idea of
justice, and are not to be governed but by coercion." Narrative of
two Mahometan travellers in 851 and 877, translated by the Abbe
Renaudot in 1718.
Notwithstanding what is asserted by the missionaries, this
situation has undergone no change. The bamboo still reigns in
China, and the son of heaven bastinades, for the most trivial
fault, the Mandarin, who in his turn bastinades the people. The
Jesuits may tell us that this is the best governed country in the
world, and its inhabitants the happiest of men: but a single letter
from Amyot has convinced me that China is a truly Turkish
government, and the account of Sonnerat confirms it. See Vol. II.
of Voyage aux Indes, in 4to.
** As long as the Chinese shall in writing make use of their
present characters, they can be expected to make no progress in
civilization. The necessary introductory step must be the giving
them an alphabet like our own, or of substituting in the room of
their language that of the Tartars. The improvement made in the
latter by M. de Lengles, is calculated to introduce this change.
See the Mantchou alphabet, the production of a mind truly learned
in the formation of language.
In some parts of Europe, indeed, reason has begun to dawn, but even
there, do nations partake of the knowledge of individuals? Are the
talents and genius of governors turned to the benefit of the
people? And those nations which call themselves polished, are they
not the same that for the last three centuries have filled the
earth with their injustice? Are they not those who, under the
pretext of commerce, have desolated India, depopulated a new
continent, and, at present, subject Africa to the most barbarous
slavery? Can liberty be born from the bosom of despots? and shall
justice be rendered by the hands of piracy and avarice? O Genius,
I have seen the civilized countries; and the mockery of their
wisdom has vanished before my sight. I saw wealth accumulated in
the hands of a few, and the multitude poor and destitute. I have
seen all rights, all powers concentered in certain classes, and the
mass of the people passive and dependent. I have seen families of
princes, but no families of the nation. I have seen government
interests, but no public interests or spirit. I have seen that all
the science of government was to oppress prudently; and the refined
servitude of polished nations appeared to me only the more
One obstacle above all has profoundly struck my mind. On looking
over the world, I have seen it divided into twenty different
systems of religion. Every nation has received, or formed,
opposite opinions; and every one ascribing to itself the exclusive
possession of the truth, must believe the other to be wrong. Now
if, as must be the fact in this discordance of opinion, the greater
part are in error, and are honest in it, then it follows that our
mind embraces falsehood as it does truth; and if so, how is it to
be enlightened? When prejudice has once seized the mind, how is it
to be dissipated? How shall we remove the bandage from our eyes,
when the first article in every creed, the first dogma in all
religion, is the absolute proscription of doubt, the interdiction
of examination, and the rejection of our own judgment? How is
truth to make herself known?--If she resorts to arguments and
proofs, the timid man stifles the voice of his own conscience; if
she invokes the authority of celestial powers, he opposes it with
another authority of the same origin, with which he is preoccupied;
and he treats all innovation as blasphemy. Thus man in his
blindness, has riveted his own chains, and surrendered himself
forever, without defence, to the sport of his ignorance and his
To dissolve such fatal chains, a miraculous concurrence of happy
events would be necessary. A whole nation, cured of the delirium
of superstition, must be inaccessible to the impulse of fanaticism.
Freed from the yoke of false doctrine, a whole people must impose
upon itself that of true morality and reason. This people should
be courageous and prudent, wise and docile. Each individual,
knowing his rights, should not transgress them. The poor should
know how to resist seduction, and the rich the allurements of
avarice. There should be found leaders disinterested and just, and
their tyrants should be seized with a spirit of madness and folly.
This people, recovering its rights, should feel its inability to
exercise them in person, and should name its representatives.
Creator of its magistrates, it should know at once to respect them
and to judge them. In the sudden reform of a whole nation,
accustomed to live by abuses, each individual displaced should bear
with patience his privations, and submit to a change of habits.
This nation should have the courage to conquer its liberty; the
power to defend it, the wisdom to establish it, and the generosity
to extend it to others. And can we ever expect the union of so
many circumstances? But suppose that chance in its infinite
combinations should produce them, shall I see those fortunate days.
Will not my ashes long ere then be mouldering in the tomb?
Here, sunk in sorrow, my oppressed heart no longer found utterance.
The Genius answered not, but I heard him whisper to himself:
Let us revive the hope of this man; for if he who loves his fellow
creatures be suffered to despair, what will become of nations? The
past is perhaps too discouraging; I must anticipate futurity, and
disclose to the eye of virtue the astonishing age that is ready to
begin; that, on viewing the object she desires, she may be animated
with new ardor, and redouble her efforts to attain it.
THE NEW AGE.
Scarcely had he finished these words, when a great tumult arose in
the west; and turning to that quarter, I perceived, at the
extremity of the Mediterranean, in one of the nations of Europe, a
prodigious movement--such as when a violent sedition arises in a
vast city--a numberless people, rushing in all directions, pour
through the streets and fluctuate like waves in the public places.
My ear, struck with the cries which resounded to the heavens,
distinguished these words:
What is this new prodigy? What cruel and mysterious scourge is
this? We are a numerous people and we want hands! We have an
excellent soil, and we are in want of subsistence? We are active
and laborious, and we live in indigence! We pay enormous tributes,
and we are told they are not sufficient! We are at peace without,
and our persons and property are not safe within. Who, then, is
the secret enemy that devours us?
Some voices from the midst of the multitude replied:
Raise a discriminating standard; and let all those who maintain and
nourish mankind by useful labors gather round it; and you will
discover the enemy that preys upon you.
The standard being raised, this nation divided itself at once into
two bodies of unequal magnitude and contrasted appearance. The
one, innumerable, and almost total, exhibited in the poverty of its
clothing, in its emaciated appearance and sun-burnt faces, the
marks of misery and labor; the other, a little group, an
insignificant faction, presented in its rich attire embroidered
with gold and silver, and in its sleek and ruddy faces, the signs
of leisure and abundance.
Considering these men more attentively, I found that the great body
was composed of farmers, artificers, merchants, all professions
useful to society; and that the little group was made up of priests
of every order, of financiers, of nobles, of men in livery, of
commanders of armies; in a word, of the civil, military, and
religious agents of government.
These two bodies being assembled face to face, and regarding each
other with astonishment, I saw indignation and rage arising in one
side, and a sort of panic in the other. And the large body said to
the little one: Why are you separated from us? Are you not of our
No, replied the group; you are the people; we are a privileged
class, who have our laws, customs, and rights, peculiar to
PEOPLE.--And what labor do you perform in our society?
PRIVILEGED CLASS.--None; we are not made to work.
PEOPLE.--How, then, have you acquired these riches?
PRIVILEGED CLASS.--By taking the pains to govern you.
PEOPLE.--What! is this what you call governing? We toil and you
enjoy! we produce and you dissipate! Wealth proceeds from us, and
you absorb it. Privileged men! class who are not the people; form
a nation apart, and govern yourselves.*
* This dialogue between the people and the indolent classes, is
applicable to every society; it contains the seeds of all the
political vices and disorders that prevail, and which may thus be
defined: Men who do nothing, and who devour the substance of
others; and men who arrogate to themselves particular rights and
exclusive privileges of wealth and indolence. Compare the Mamlouks
of Egypt, the nobility of Europe, the Nairs of India, the Emirs of
Arabia, the patricians of Rome, the Christian clergy, the Imans,
the Bramins, the Bonzes, the Lamas, etc., etc., and you will find
in all the same characteristic feature:--Men living in idleness at
the expense of those who labor.
Then the little group, deliberating on this new state of things,
some of the most honorable among them said: We must join the people
and partake of their labors and burdens, for they are men like us,
and our riches come from them; but others arrogantly exclaimed: It
would be a shame, an infamy, for us to mingle with the crowd; they
are born to serve us. Are we not men of another race--the noble
and pure descendants of the conquerors of this empire? This
multitude must be reminded of our rights and its own origin.
THE NOBLES.--People! know you not that our ancestors conquered this
land, and that your race was spared only on condition of serving
us? This is our social compact! this the government constituted by
custom and prescribed by time.
PEOPLE.--O conquerors, pure of blood! show us your genealogies! we
shall then see if what in an individual is robbery and plunder, can
be virtuous in a nation.
And forthwith, voices were heard in every quarter calling out the
nobles by their names; and relating their origin and parentage,
they told how the grandfather, great-grandfather, or even father,
born traders and mechanics, after acquiring wealth in every way,
had purchased their nobility for money: so that but very few
families were really of the original stock. See, said these
voices, see these purse-proud commoners who deny their parents! see
these plebian recruits who look upon themselves as illustrious
veterans! and peals of laughter were heard.
And the civil governors said: these people are mild, and naturally
servile; speak to them of the king and of the law, and they will
return to their duty. People! the king wills, the sovereign
PEOPLE.--The king can will nothing but the good of the people; the
sovereign can only ordain according to law.
CIVIL GOVERNORS.--The law commands you to be submissive.
PEOPLE.--The law is the general will; and we will a new order of
CIVIL GOVERNORS.--You are then a rebel people.
PEOPLE.--A nation cannot revolt; tyrants only are rebels.
CIVIL GOVERNORS.--The king is on our side; he commands you to
PEOPLE.--Kings are inseparable from their nations. Our king cannot
be with you; you possess only his phantom.
And the military governors came forward. The people are timorous,
said they; we must threaten them; they will submit only to force.
Soldiers, chastise this insolent multitude.
PEOPLE.--Soldiers, you are of our blood! Will you strike your
brothers, your relatives? If the people perish who will nourish
And the soldiers, grounding their arms, said to the chiefs:
We are likewise the people; show us the enemy!
Then the ecclesiastical governors said: There is but one resource
left. The people are superstitious; we must frighten them with the
names of God and religion.
Our dear brethren! our children! God has ordained us to govern
PEOPLE.--Show us your credentials from God!
PRIESTS.--You must have faith; reason leads astray.
PEOPLE.--Do you govern without reason?
PRIESTS.--God commands peace! Religion prescribes obedience.
PEOPLE.--Peace supposes justice. Obedience implies conviction of a
PRIESTS.--Suffering is the business of this world.
PEOPLE.--Show us the example.
PRIESTS.--Would you live without gods or kings?
PEOPLE.--We would live without oppressors.
PRIESTS.--You must have mediators, intercessors.
PEOPLE.--Mediators with God and with the king! courtiers and
priests, your services are too expensive: we will henceforth manage
our own affairs.
And the little group said: We are lost! the multitude are
And the people answered: You are safe; since we are enlightened we
will commit no violence; we only claim our rights. We feel
resentments, but we will forget them. We were slaves, we might
command; but we only wish to be free, and liberty is but justice.
A FREE AND LEGISLATIVE PEOPLE.
Considering that all public power was now suspended, and that the
habitual restraint of the people had suddenly ceased, I shuddered
with the apprehension that they would fall into the dissolution of
anarchy. But, taking their affairs into immediate deliberation,
It is not enough that we have freed ourselves from tyrants and
parasites; we must prevent their return. We are men, and
experience has abundantly taught us that every man is fond of
power, and wishes to enjoy it at the expense of others. It is
necessary, then, to guard against a propensity which is the source
of discord; we must establish certain rules of duty and of right.
But the knowledge of our rights, and the estimation of our duties,
are so abstract and difficult as to require all the time and all
the faculties of a man. Occupied in our own affairs, we have not
leisure for these studies; nor can we exercise these functions in
our own persons. Let us choose, then, among ourselves, such
persons as are capable of this employment. To them we will
delegate our powers to institute our government and laws. They
shall be the representatives of our wills and of our interests.
And in order to attain the fairest representation possible of our
wills and our interests, let it be numerous, and composed of men
Having made the election of a numerous body of delegates, the
people thus addressed them:
We have hitherto lived in a society formed by chance, without fixed
agreements, without free conventions, without a stipulation of
rights, without reciprocal engagements,--and a multitude of
disorders and evils have arisen from this precarious state. We are
now determined on forming a regular compact; and we have chosen you
to adjust the articles. Examine, then, with care what ought to be
its basis and its conditions; consider what is the end and the
principles of every association; recognize the rights which every
member brings, the powers which he delegates, and those which be
reserves to himself. Point out to us the rules of conduct--the
basis of just and equitable laws. Prepare for us a new system of
government; for we realize that the one which has hitherto guided
us is corrupt. Our fathers have wandered in the paths of
ignorance, and habit has taught us to follow in their footsteps.
Everything has been done by fraud, violence, and delusion; and the
true laws of morality and reason are still obscure. Clear up,
then, their chaos; trace out their connection; publish their code,
and we will adopt it.
And the people raised a large throne, in the form of a pyramid, and
seating on it the men they had chosen, said to them:
We raise you to-day above us, that you may better discover the
whole of our relations, and be above the reach of our passions.
But remember that you are our fellow-citizens; that the power we
confer on you is our own; that we deposit it with you, but not as a
property or a heritage; that you must be the first to obey the laws
you make; that to-morrow you redescend among us, and that you will
have acquired no other right but that of our esteem and gratitude.
And consider what a tribute of glory the world, which reveres so
many apostles of error, will bestow on the first assembly of
rational men, who shall have declared the unchangeable principles
of justice, and consecrated, in the face of tyrants, the rights of
UNIVERSAL BASIS OF ALL RIGHT AND ALL LAW.
The men chosen by the people to investigate the true principles of
morals and of reason then proceeded in the sacred object of their
mission; and, after a long examination, having discovered a
fundamental and universal principle, a legislator arose and said to
Here is the primordial basis, the physical origin of all justice
and of all right.
Whatever be the active power, the moving cause, that governs the
universe, since it has given to all men the same organs, the same
sensations, and the same wants, it has thereby declared that it has
given to all the same right to the use of its treasures, and that
all men are equal in the order of nature.
And, since this power has given to each man the necessary means of
preserving his own existence, it is evident that it has constituted
them all independent one of another; that it has created them free;
that no one is subject to another; that each one is absolute
proprietor of his own person.
Equality and liberty are, therefore, two essential attributes of
man, two laws of the Divinity, constitutional and unchangeable,
like the physical properties of matter.
Now, every individual being absolute master of his own person, it
follows that a full and free consent is a condition indispensable
to all contracts and all engagements.
Again, since each individual is equal to another, it follows that
the balance of what is received and of what is given, should be
strictly in equilibrium; so that the idea of justice, of equity,
necessarily imports that of equality.*
* The etymology of the words themselves trace out to us this
connection: equilibrium, equalitas, equitas, are all of one family,
and the physical idea of equality, in the scales of a balance, is
the source and type of all the rest.
Equality and liberty are therefore the physical and unalterable
basis of every union of men in society, and of course the necessary
and generating principle of every law and of every system of
* In the Declaration of Rights, there is an inversion of ideas in
the first article, liberty being placed before equality, from which
it in reality springs. This defect is not to be wondered at; the
science of the rights of man is a new science: it was invented
yesterday by the Americans, to-day the French are perfecting it,
but there yet remains a great deal to be done. In the ideas that
constitute it there is a genealogical order which, from us basis,
physical equality, to the minutest and most remote branches of
government, ought to proceed in an uninterrupted series of
A disregard of this basis has introduced in your nation, and in
every other, those disorders which have finally roused you. It is
by returning to this rule that you may reform them, and reorganize
a happy order of society.
But observe, this reorganization will occasion a violent shock in
your habits, your fortunes, and your prejudices. Vicious contracts
and abusive claims must be dissolved, unjust distinctions and ill
founded property renounced; you must indeed recur for a moment to a
state of nature. Consider whether you can consent to so many
Then, reflecting on the cupidity inherent in the heart of man, I
thought that this people would renounce all ideas of amelioration.
But, in a moment, a great number of men, advancing toward the
pyramid, made a solemn abjuration of all their distinctions and all
Establish for us, said they, the laws of equality and liberty; we
will possess nothing in future but on the title of justice.
Equality, liberty, justice,--these shall be our code, and shall be
written on our standards.
And the people immediately raised a great standard, inscribed with
these three words, in three different colors. They displayed it
over the pyramid of the legislators, and for the first time the
flag of universal justice floated on the face of the earth.
And the people raised before the pyramid a new altar, on which they
placed a golden balance, a sword, and a book with this inscription:
TO EQUAL LAW, WHICH JUDGES AND PROTECTS.
And having surrounded the pyramid and the altar with a vast
amphitheatre, all the people took their seats to hear the
publication of the law. And millions of men, raising at once their
hands to heaven, took the solemn oath to live equal, free, and
just; to respect their reciprocal properties and rights; to obey
the law and its regularly chosen representatives.
A spectacle so impressive and sublime, so replete with generous
emotions, moved me to tears; and addressing myself to the Genius, I
exclaimed: Let me now live, for in future I have everything to
CONSTERNATION AND CONSPIRACY OF TYRANTS.
But scarcely had the solemn voice of liberty and equality resounded
through the earth, when a movement of confusion, of astonishment,
arose in different nations. On the one hand, the people, warmed
with desire, but wavering between hope and fear, between the
sentiment of right and the habit of obedience, began to be in
motion. The kings, on the other hand, suddenly awakened from the
sleep of indolence and despotism, were alarmed for the safety of
their thrones; while, on all sides, those clans of civil and
religious tyrants, who deceive kings and oppress the people, were
seized with rage and consternation; and, concerting their
perfidious plans, they said: Woe to us, if this fatal cry of
liberty comes to the ears of the multitude! Woe to us, if this
pernicious spirit of justice be propagated!
And, pointing to the floating banner, they continued:
Consider what a swarm of evils are included in these three words!
If all men are equal, where is our exclusive right to honors and to
power? If all men are to be free, what becomes of our slaves, our
vassals, our property? If all are equal in the civil state, where
is our prerogative of birth, of inheritance? and what becomes of
nobility? If they are all equal in the sight of God, what need of
mediators?--where is the priesthood? Let us hasten, then, to
destroy a germ so prolific, and so contagious. We must employ all
our cunning against this innovation. We must frighten the kings,
that they may join us in the cause. We must divide the people by
national jealousies, and occupy them with commotions, wars, and
conquests. They must be alarmed at the power of this free nation.
Let us form a league against the common enemy, demolish that
sacrilegious standard, overturn that throne of rebellion, and
stifle in its birth the flame of revolution.
And, indeed, the civil and religious tyrants of nations formed a
general combination; and, multiplying their followers by force and
seduction, they marched in hostile array against the free nation;
and, surrounding the altar and the pyramid of natural law, they
demanded with loud cries:
What is this new and heretical doctrine? what this impious altar,
this sacrilegious worship? True believers and loyal subjects! can
you suppose that truth has been first discovered to-day, and that
hitherto you have been walking in error? that those men, more
fortunate than you, have the sole privilege of wisdom? And you,
rebel and misguided nation, perceive you not that your new leaders
are misleading you? that they destroy the principles of your faith,
and overturn the religion of your ancestors? Ah, tremble! lest the
wrath of heaven should kindle against you; and hasten by speedy
repentance to retrieve your error.
But, inaccessible to seduction as well as to fear, the free nation
kept silence, and rising universally in arms, assumed an imposing
And the legislator said to the chiefs of nations:
If while we walked with a bandage on our eyes the light guided our
steps, why, since we are no longer blindfold, should it fly from
our search? If guides, who teach mankind to see for themselves,
mislead and deceive them, what can be expected from those who
profess to keep them in darkness?
But hark, ye leaders of nations! If you possess the truth, show it
to us, and we will receive it with gratitude, for we seek it with
ardor, and have a great interest in finding it. We are men, and
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