THE RUINS: MEDITATION ON THE REVOLUTIONS OF EMPIRES AND THE
LAW OF NATURE
by C. F. VOLNEY
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XIII. Will the Human Race Improve
XIV. The Great Obstacle to Improvement
XV. The New Age
XVI. A Free and Legislative People
WILL THE HUMAN RACE IMPROVE?
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 instruction.
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
* 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 good:
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
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
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
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 the cry.
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
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
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 tyrant.
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
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 irremediable.
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 passions.
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
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
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
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 number?
No, replied the group; you are the people; we are a privileged class, who
have our laws, customs, and rights, peculiar to ourselves.
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
* 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
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 ordains!
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 things.
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 submit.
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
PEOPLE.--Soldiers, you are of our blood! Will you strike your brothers, your
relatives? If the people perish who will nourish the army?
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
Our dear brethren! our children! God has ordained us to govern you.
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 duty.
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 enlightened.
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, they said:
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 nations.