THE RUINS: MEDITATION ON THE REVOLUTIONS OF EMPIRES AND THE LAW OF
by C. F. VOLNEY
THE LAW OF NATURE
THE LAW OF NATURE
OF THE LAW OF NATURE
Q. What is the law of nature?
A. It is the constant and regular order of events, by which God governs the
universe; an order which his wisdom presents to the senses and reason of
men, as an equal and common rule for their actions, to guide them, without
distinction of country or sect, towards perfection and happiness.
Q. Give a clear definition of the word law.
A. The word law, taken literary, signifies lecture,* because originally,
ordinances and regulations were the lectures, preferably to all others, made
to the people, in order that they might observe them, and not incur the penalties
attached to their infraction: whence follows the original custom explaining
the true idea.
The definition of law is, "An order or prohibition to act with the express
clause of a penalty attached to the infraction, or of a recompense attached
to the observance of that order."
* From the Latin word lex, lectio. Alcoran likewise signifies lecture and
is only a literal translation of the word law.
Q. Do such orders exist in nature?
Q. What does the word nature signify?
A. The word nature bears three different significations.
1. It signifies the universe, the material world: in this first sense we
say the beauties of nature, the riches of nature, that is to say, the objects
in the heavens and on the earth exposed to our sight;
2. It signifies the power that animates, that moves the universe, considering
it as a distinct being, such as the soul is to the body; in this second sense
we say, "The intentions of nature, the incomprehensible secrets of nature."
3. It signifies the partial operations of that power on each being, or on
each class of beings; and in this third sense we say, "The nature of man
is an enigma; every being acts according to its nature."
Wherefore, as the actions of each being, or of each species of beings, are
subjected to constant and general rules, which cannot be infringed without
interrupting and troubling the general or particular order, those rules of
action and of motion are called natural laws, or laws of nature.
Q. Give me examples of those laws.
A. It is a law of nature, that the sun illuminates successively the surface
of the terrestrial globe;--that its presence causes both light and heat;--that
heat acting upon water, produces vapors;--that those vapors rising in clouds
into the regions of the air, dissolve into rain or snow, and renew incessantly
the waters of fountains and rivers.
It is a law of nature, that water flows downwards; that it endeavors to find
its level; that it is heavier than air; that all bodies tend towards the
earth; that flame ascends towards the heavens;--that it disorganizes vegetables
and animals; that air is essential to the life of certain animals; that,
in certain circumstances, water suffocates and kills them; that certain juices
of plants, certain minerals attack their organs, and destroy their life,
and so on in a multitude of other instances.
Wherefore, as all those and similar facts are immutable, constant, and regular,
so many real orders result from them for man to conform himself to, with
the express clause of punishment attending the infraction of them, or of
welfare attending their observance. So that if man pretends to see clear
in darkness, if he goes in contradiction to the course of the seasons, or
the action of the elements; if he pretends to remain under water without
being drowned, to touch fire without burning himself, to deprive himself
of air without being suffocated, to swallow poison without destroying himself,
he receives from each of those infractions of the laws of nature a corporeal
punishment proportionate to his fault; but if on the contrary, he observes
and practises each of those laws according to the regular and exact relations
they have to him he preserves his existence, and renders it as happy as it
can be: and as the only and common end of all those laws, considered relatively
to mankind, is to preserve, and render them happy, it has been agreed upon
to reduce the idea to one simple expression, and to call them collectively
the law of nature.
CHARACTERS OF THE LAW OF NATURE
Q. What are the characters of the law of nature?
A. There can be assigned ten principal ones.
Q. Which is the first?
A. To be inherent to the existence of things, and, consequently, primitive
and anterior to every other law: so that all those which man has received,
are only imitations of it, and their perfection is ascertained by the resemblance
they bear to this primordial model.
Q. Which is the second?
A. To be derived immediately from God, and presented by him to each man,
whereas all other laws are presented to us by men, who may be either deceived
Q. Which is the third?
A. To be common to all times, and to all countries, that is to say, one and
Q. Is no other law universal?
A. No: for no other is agreeable or applicable to all the people of the earth;
they are all local and accidental, originating from circumstances of places
and of persons; so that if such a man had not existed, or such an event happened,
such a law would never have been enacted.
Q. Which is the fourth character?
A. To be uniform and invariable.
Q. Is no other law uniform and invariable?
A. No: for what is good and virtue according to one, is evil and vice according
to another; and what one and the same law approves of at one time, it often
condemns at another.
Q. Which is the fifth character?
A. To be evident and palpable, because it consists entirely of facts incessantly
present to the senses, and to demonstration.
Q. Are not other laws evident?
A. No: for they are founded on past and doubtful facts, on equivocal and
suspicious testimonies, and on proofs inaccessible to the senses.
Q. Which is the sixth character?
A. To be reasonable, because its precepts and entire doctrine are conformable
to reason, and to the human understanding.
Q. Is no other law reasonable?
A. No: for all are in contradiction to the reason and the understanding of
men, and tyrannically impose on him a blind and impracticable belief.
Q. Which is the seventh character?
A. To be just, because in that law, the penalties are proportionate to the
Q. Are not other laws just?
A. No: for they often exceed bounds, either in rewarding deserts, or in punishing
delinquencies, and consider as meritorious or criminal, null or indifferent
Q. Which is the eighth character?
A. To be pacific and tolerant, because in the law of nature, all men being
brothers and equal in rights, it recommends to them only peace and toleration,
even for errors.
Q. Are not other laws pacific?
A. No: for all preach dissension, discord, and war, and divide mankind by
exclusive pretensions of truth and domination.
Q. Which is the ninth character?
A. To be equally beneficent to all men, in teaching them the true means of
becoming better and happier.
Q. Are not other laws beneficent likewise?
A. No: for none of them teach the real means of attaining happiness; all
are confined to pernicious or futile practices; and this is evident from
facts, since after so many laws, so many religions, so many legislators and
prophets, men are still as unhappy and ignorant, as they were six thousand
Q. Which is the last character of the law of nature?
A. That it is alone sufficient to render men happier and better, because
it comprises all that is good and useful in other laws, either civil or
religious, that is to say, it constitutes essentially the moral part of them;
so that if other laws were divested of it, they would be reduced to chimerical
and imaginary opinions devoid of any practical utility.
Q. Recapitulate all those characters.
A. We have said that the law of nature is,
1. Primitive; 6. Reasonable; 2. Immediate; 7. Just; 3. Universal; 8. Pacific;
4. Invariable; 9. Beneficent: and 5. Evident; 10. Alone sufficient.
And such is the power of all these attributes of perfection and truth, that
when in their disputes the theologians can agree upon no article of belief,
they recur to the law of nature, the neglect of which, say they, forced God
to send from time to time prophets to proclaim new laws; as if God enacted
laws for particular circumstances, as men do; especially when the first subsists
in such force, that we may assert it to have been at all times and in all
countries the rule of conscience for every man of sense or understanding.
Q. If, as you say, it emanates immediately from God, does it teach his
A. Yes, most positively: for, to any man whatever, who observes with reflection
the astonishing spectacle of the universe, the more he meditates on the
properties and attributes of each being, on the admirable order and harmony
of their motions, the more it is demonstrated that there exists a supreme
agent, a universal and identic mover, designated by the appellation of God;
and so true it is that the law of nature suffices to elevate him to the knowledge
of God, that all which men have pretended to know by supernatural means,
has constantly turned out ridiculous and absurd, and that they have ever
been obliged to recur to the immutable conceptions of natural reason.
Q. Then it is not true that the followers of the law of nature are
A. No; it is not true; on the contrary, they entertain stronger and nobler
ideas of the Divinity than most other men; for they do not sully him with
the foul ingredients of all the weaknesses and passions entailed on
Q. What worship do they pay to him?
A. A worship wholly of action; the practice and observance of all the rules
which the supreme wisdom has imposed on the motion of each being; eternal
and unalterable rules, by which it maintains the order and harmony of the
universe, and which, in their relations to man, constitute the law of
Q. Was the law of nature known before this period:
A. It has been at all times spoken of: most legislators pretend to adopt
it as the basis of their laws; but they only quote some of its precepts,
and have only vague ideas of its totality.
A. Because, though simple in its basis, it forms in its developements and
consequences, a complicated whole which requires an extensive knowledge of
facts, joined to all the sagacity of reasoning.
Q. Does not instinct alone teach the law of nature?
A. No; for by instinct is meant nothing more than that blind sentiment by
which we are actuated indiscriminately towards everything that flatters the
Q. Why, then, is it said that the law of nature is engraved in the hearts
of all men.
A. It is said for two reasons: first, because it has been remarked, that
there are acts and sentiments common to all men, and this proceeds from their
common organization; secondly, because the first philosophers believed that
men were born with ideas already formed, which is now demonstrated to be
Q. Philosophers, then, are fallible?
A. Yes, sometimes.
Q. Why so?
A. First, because they are men; secondly, because the ignorant call all those
who reason, right or wrong, philosophers; thirdly, because those who reason
on many subjects, and who are the first to reason on them, are liable to
Q. If the law of nature be not written, must it not become arbitrary and
A. No: because it consists entirely in facts, the demonstration of which
can be incessantly renewed to the senses, and constitutes a science as accurate
and precise as geometry and mathematics; and it is because the law of nature
forms an exact science, that men, born ignorant and living inattentive and
heedless, have had hitherto only a superficial knowledge of it.
PRINCIPLES OF THE LAW OF NATURE RELATING TO MAN
Q. Explain the principles of the law of nature with relation to man.
A. They are simple; all of them are comprised in one fundamental and single
Q. What is that precept?
A. It is self-preservation.
Q. Is not happiness also a precept of the law of nature?
A. Yes: but as happiness is an accidental state, resulting only from the
development of man's faculties and his social system, it is not the immediate
and direct object of nature; it is in some measure, a superfluity annexed
to the necessary and fundamental object of preservation.
Q. How does nature order man to preserve himself?
A. By two powerful and involuntary sensations, which it has attached, as
two guides, two guardian Geniuses to all his actions: the one a sensation
of pain, by which it admonishes him of, and deters him from, everything that
tends to destroy him; the other, a sensation of pleasure, by which it attracts
and carries him towards everything that tends to his preservation and the
development of his existence.
Q. Pleasure, then, is not an evil, a sin, as casuists pretend?
A. No, only inasmuch as it tends to destroy life and health which, by the
avowal of those same casuists, we derive from God himself.
Q. Is pleasure the principal object of our existence, as some philosophers
A. No; not more than pain; pleasure is an incitement to live as pain is a
repulsion from death.
Q. How do you prove this assertion?
A. By two palpable facts: One, that pleasure, when taken immoderately, leads
to destruction; for instance, a man who abuses the pleasure of eating or
drinking, attacks his health, and injures his life. The other, that pain
sometimes leads to self- preservation; for instance, a man who permits a
mortified member to be cut off, suffers pain in order not to perish
Q. But does not even this prove that our sensations can deceive us respecting
the end of our preservation?
A. Yes; they can momentarily.
Q. How do our sensations deceive us?
A. In two ways: by ignorance, and by passion.
Q. When do they deceive us by ignorance?
A. When we act without knowing the action and effect of objects on our senses:
for example, when a man touches nettles without knowing their stinging quality,
or when he swallows opium without knowing its soporiferous effects.
Q. When do they deceive us by passion?
A. When, conscious of the pernicious action of objects, we abandon ourselves,
nevertheless, to the impetuosity of our desires and appetites: for example,
when a man who knows that wine intoxicates, does nevertheless drink it to
Q. What is the result?
A. That the ignorance in which we are born, and the unbridled appetites to
which we abandon ourselves, are contrary to our preservation; that, therefore,
the instruction of our minds and the moderation of our passions are two
obligations, two laws, which spring directly from the first law of
Q. But being born ignorant, is not ignorance a law of nature?
A. No more than to remain in the naked and feeble state of infancy. Far from
being a law of nature, ignorance is an obstacle to the practice of all its
laws. It is the real original sin.
Q. Why, then, have there been moralists who have looked upon it as a virtue
A. Because, from a strange or perverted disposition, they confounded the
abuse of knowledge with knowledge itself; as if, because men abuse the power
of speech, their tongues should be cut out; as if perfection and virtue consisted
in the nullity, and not in the proper development of our faculties.
Q. Instruction, then, is indispensable to man's existence?
A. Yes, so indispensable, that without it he is every instant assailed and
wounded by all that surrounds him; for if he does not know the effects of
fire, he burns himself; those of water he drowns himself; those of opium,
he poisons himself; if, in the savage state, he does not know the wiles of
animals, and the art of seizing game, he perishes through hunger; if in the
social state, he does not know the course of the seasons, he can neither
cultivate the ground, nor procure nourishment; and so on, of all his actions,
respecting all his wants.
Q. But can man individually acquire this knowledge necessary to his existence,
and to the development of his faculties?
A. No; not without the assistance of his fellow men, and by living in
Q. But is not society to man a state against nature?
A. No: it is on the contrary a necessity, a law that nature imposed on him
by the very act of his organization; for, first, nature has so constituted
man, that he cannot see his species of another sex without feeling emotions
and an attraction which induce him to live in a family, which is already
a state of society; secondly, by endowing him with sensibility, she organized
him so that the sensations of others reflect within him, and excite reciprocal
sentiments of pleasure and of grief, which are attractions, and indissoluble
ties of society; thirdly, and finally, the state of society, founded on the
wants of man, is only a further means of fulfilling the law of preservation:
and to pretend that this state is out of nature, because it is more perfect,
is the same as to say, that a bitter and wild fruit of the forest, is no
longer the production of nature, when rendered sweet and delicious by cultivation
in our gardens.
Q. Why, then, have philosophers called the savage state the state of
A. Because, as I have told you, the vulgar have often given the name of
philosophers to whimsical geniuses, who, from moroseness, from wounded vanity,
or from a disgust to the vices of society, have conceived chimerical ideas
of the savage state, in contradiction with their own system of a perfect
Q. What is the true meaning of the word philosopher?
A. The word philosopher signifies a lover of wisdom; and as wisdom consists
in the practice of the laws of nature, the true philosopher is he who knows
those laws, and conforms the whole tenor of his conduct to them.
Q. What is man in the savage state?
A. A brutal, ignorant animal, a wicked and ferocious beast.
Q. Is he happy in that state?
A. No; for he only feels momentary sensations, which are habitually of violent
wants which he cannot satisfy, since he is ignorant by nature, and weak by
being isolated from his race.
Q. Is he free?
A. No; he is the most abject slave that exists; for his life depends on
everything that surrounds him: he is not free to eat when hungry, to rest
when tired, to warm himself when cold; he is every instant in danger of
perishing; wherefore nature offers but fortuitous examples of such beings;
and we see that all the efforts of the human species, since its origin, sorely
tends to emerge from that violent state by the pressing necessity of
Q. But does not this necessity of preservation engender in individuals egotism,
that is to say self-love? and is not egotism contrary to the social state?
A. No; for if by egotism you mean a propensity to hurt our neighbor, it is
no longer self-love, but the hatred of others. Self-love, taken in its true
sense, not only is not contrary to society, but is its firmest support, by
the necessity we lie under of not injuring others, lest in return they should
Thus mans preservation, and the unfolding of his faculties, directed towards
this end, teach the true law of nature in the production of the human being;
and it is from this essential principle that are derived, are referred, and
in its scale are weighed, all ideas of good and evil, of vice and virtue,
of just and unjust, of truth or error, of lawful or forbidden, on which is
founded the morality of individual, or of social man.
BASIS OF MORALITY; OF GOOD, OF EVIL, OF SIN, OF CRIME, OF VICE AND OF
Q. What is good, according to the law of nature?
A. It is everything that tends to preserve and perfect man.
Q. What is evil?
A. That which tends to man's destruction or deterioration.
Q. What is meant by physical good and evil, and by moral good and evil?
A. By the word physical is understood, whatever acts immediately on the body.
Health is a physical good; and sickness a physical evil. By moral, is meant
what acts by consequences more or less remote. Calumny is a moral evil; a
fair reputation is a moral good, because both one and the other occasion
towards us, on the part of other men, dispositions and habitudes,* which
are useful or hurtful to our preservation, and which attack or favor our
means of existence.
* It is from this word habitudes, (reiterated actions,) in Latin mores, that
the word moral, and all its family, are derived.
Q. Everything that tends to preserve, or to produce is therefore a good?
A. Yes; and it is for that reason that certain legislators have classed among
the works agreeable to the divinity, the cultivation of a field and the fecundity
of a woman.
Q. Whatever tends to cause death is, therefore, an evil?
A. Yes; and it is for that reason some legislators have extended the idea
of evil and of sin even to the killing of animals.
Q. The murdering of a man is, therefore, a crime in the law of nature?
A. Yes, and the greatest that can be committed; for every other evil can
be repaired, but murder alone is irreparable.
Q. What is a sin in the law of nature?
A. Whatever tends to disturb the order established by nature for the preservation
and perfection of man and of society.
Q. Can intention be a merit or a crime?
A. No, for it is only an idea void of reality: but it is a commencement of
sin and evil, by the impulse it gives to action.
Q. What is virtue according to the law of nature?
A. It is the practice of actions useful to the individual and to society.
Q. What is meant by the word individual?
A. It means a man considered separately from every other.
Q. What is vice according to the law of nature?
A. It is the practice of actions prejudicial to the individual and to
Q. Have not virtue and vice an object purely spiritual and abstracted from
A. No; it is always to a physical end that they finally relate, and that
end is always to destroy or preserve the body.
Q. Have vice and virtue degrees of strength and intensity?
A. Yes: according to the importance of the faculties, which they attack or
which they favor; and according to the number of persons in whom those faculties
are favored or injured.
Q. Give me some examples?
A. The action of saving a man's life is more virtuous than that of saving
his property; the action of saving the lives of ten men, than that of saving
only the life of one, and an action useful to the whole human race is more
virtuous than an action that is only useful to one single nation.
Q. How does the law of nature prescribe the practice of good and virtue,
and forbid that of evil and vice?
A. By the advantages resulting from the practice of good and virtue for the
preservation of our body, and by the losses which result to our existence
from the practice of evil and vice.
Q. Its precepts are then in action?
A. Yes: they are action itself, considered in its present effect and in its
Q. How do you divide the virtues?
A. We divide them in three classes, first, individual virtues, as relative
to man alone; secondly, domestic virtues, as relative to a family; thirdly,
social virtues, as relative to society.
OF INDIVIDUAL VIRTUES
Q. Which are the individual virtues?
A. There are five principal ones, to wit: first, science, which comprises
prudence and wisdom; secondly, temperance, comprising sobriety and chastity;
thirdly, courage, or strength of body and mind; fourthly, activity, that
is to say, love of labor and employment of time; fifthly, and finally,
cleanliness, or purity of body, as well in dress as in habitation.
Q. How does the law of nature prescribe science?
A. Because the man acquainted with the causes and effects of things attends
in a careful and sure manner to his preservation, and to the development
of his faculties. Science is to him the eye and the light, which enable him
to discern clearly and accurately all the objects with which he is conversant,
and hence by an enlightened man is meant a learned and well-informed man.
With science and instruction a man never wants for resources and means of
subsistence; and upon this principle a philosopher, who had been shipwrecked,
said to his companions, that were inconsolable for the loss of their wealth:
"For my part, I carry all my wealth within me."
Q. Which is the vice contrary to science?
A. It is ignorance.
Q. How does the law of nature forbid ignorance?
A. By the grievous detriments resulting from it to our existence; for the
ignorant man who knows neither causes nor effects, commits every instant
errors most pernicious to himself and to others; he resembles a blind man
groping his way at random, and who, at every step, jostles or is jostled
by every one he meets.
Q. What difference is there between an ignorant and a silly man?
A. The same difference as between him who frankly avows his blindness and
the blind man who pretends to sight; silliness is the reality of ignorance,
to which is superadded the vanity of knowledge.
Q. Are ignorance and silliness common?
A. Yes, very common; they are the usual and general distempers of mankind:
more than three thousand years ago the wisest of men said: "The number of
fools is infinite;" and the world has not changed.
Q. What is the reason of it?
A. Because much labor and time are necessary to acquire instruction, and
because men, born ignorant and indolent, find it more convenient to remain
blind, and pretend to see clear.
Q. What difference is there between a learned and a wise man?
A. The learned knows, and the wise man practices.
Q. What is prudence?
A. It is the anticipated perception, the foresight of the effects and
consequences of every action; by means of which foresight, man avoids the
dangers which threaten him, while he seizes on and creates opportunities
favorable to him: he thereby provides for his present and future safety in
a certain and secure manner, whereas the imprudent man, who calculates neither
his steps nor his conduct, nor efforts, nor resistance, falls every instant
into difficulties and dangers, which sooner or later impair his faculties
and destroy his existence.
Q. When the Gospel says, "Happy are the poor of spirit," does it mean the
ignorant and imprudent?
A. No; for, at the same time that it recommends the simplicity of doves,
it adds the prudent cunning of serpents. By simplicity of mind is meant
uprightness, and the precept of the Gospel is that of nature.
Q. What is temperance?
A. It is a regular use of our faculties, which makes us never exceed in our
sensations the end of nature to preserve us; it is the moderation of the
Q. Which is the vice contrary to temperance?>BR> A. The disorder of
the passions, the avidity of all kind of enjoyments, in a word, cupidity.
Q. Which are the principal branches of temperance?
A. Sobriety, and continence or chastity.
Q. How does the law of nature prescribe sobriety?
A. By its powerful influence over our health. The sober man digests with
comfort; he is not overpowered by the weight of aliments; his ideas are clear
and easy; he fulfills all his functions properly; he conducts his business
with intelligence; his old age is exempt from infirmity; he does not spend
his money in remedies, and he enjoys, in mirth and gladness, the wealth which
chance and his own prudence have procured him. Thus, from one virtue alone,
generous nature derives innumerable recompenses.
Q. How does it prohibit gluttony?
A. By the numerous evils that are attached to it. The glutton, oppressed
with aliments, digests with anxiety; his head, troubled by the fumes of
indigestion, is incapable of conceiving clear and distinct ideas; he abandons
himself with violence to the disorderly impulse of lust and anger, which
impair his health; his body becomes bloated, heavy, and unfit for labor;
he endures painful and expensive distempers; he seldom lives to be old; and
his age is replete with infirmities and sorrow.
Q. Should abstinence and fasting be considered as virtuous actions?
A. Yes, when one has eaten too much; for then abstinence and fasting are
simple and efficacious remedies; but when the body is in want of aliment,
to refuse it any, and let it suffer from hunger or thirst, is delirium and
a real sin against the law of nature.
Q. How is drunkenness considered in the law of nature?
A. As a most vile and pernicious vice. The drunkard, deprived of the sense
and reason given us by God, profanes the donations of the divinity: he debases
himself to the condition of brutes; unable even to guide his steps, he staggers
and falls as if he were epileptic; he hurts and even risks killing himself;
his debility in this state exposes him to the ridicule and contempt of every
person that sees him; he makes in his drunkenness, prejudicial and ruinous
bargains, and injures his fortune; he makes use of opprobrious language,
which creates him enemies and repentance; he fills his house with trouble
and sorrow, and ends by a premature death or by a cacochymical old age.
Q. Does the law of nature interdict absolutely the use of wine?
A. No; it only forbids the abuse; but as the transition from the use to the
abuse is easy and prompt among the generality of men, perhaps the legislators,
who have proscribed the use of wine, have rendered a service to humanity.
Q. Does the law of nature forbid the use of certain kinds of meat, or of
certain vegetables, on particular days, during certain seasons?
A. No; it absolutely forbids only whatever is injurious to health; its precepts,
in this respect, vary according to persons, and even constitute a very delicate
and important science for the quality, the quantity, and the combination
of aliments have the greatest influence, not only over the momentary affections
of the soul, but even over its habitual disposition. A man is not the same
when fasting as after a meal, even if he were sober. A glass of spirituous
liquor, or a dish of coffee, gives degrees of vivacity, of mobility, of
disposition to anger, sadness, or gaiety; such a meat, because it lies heavy
on the stomach, engenders moroseness and melancholy; such another, because
it facilitates digestion, creates sprightliness, and an inclination to oblige
and to love. The use of vegetables, because they have little nourishment,
enfeebles the body, and gives a disposition to repose, indolence, and ease;
the use of meat, because it is full of nourishment, and of spirituous liquors,
because they stimulate the nerves, creates vivacity, uneasiness, and audacity.
Now from those habitudes of aliment result habits of constitution and of
the organs, which form afterwards different kinds of temperaments, each of
which is distinguished by a peculiar characteristic. And it is for this reason
that, in hot countries especially, legislators have made laws respecting
regimen or food. The ancients were taught by long experience that the dietetic
science constituted a considerable part of morality; among the Egyptians,
the ancient Persians, and even among the Greeks, at the Areopagus, important
affairs were examined fasting; and it has been remarked that, among those
people, where public affairs were discussed during the heat of meals, and
the fumes of digestion, deliberations were hasty and violent, and the results
of them frequently unreasonable, and productive of turbulence and
Q. Does the law of nature prescribe continence?>BR> A. Yes: because
a moderate use of the most lively of pleasures is not only useful, but
indispensable, to the support of strength and health: and because a simple
calculation proves that, for some minutes of privation, you increase the
number of your days, both in vigor of body and of mind.
Q. How does it forbid libertinism?
A. By the numerous evils which result from it to the physical and the moral
existence. He who carries it to an excess enervates and pines away; he can
no longer attend to study or labor; he contracts idle and expensive habits,
which destroy his means of existence, his public consideration, and his credit;
his intrigues occasion continual embarrassment, cares, quarrels and lawsuits,
without mentioning the grievous deep-rooted distempers, and the loss of his
strength by an inward and slow poison; the stupid dullness of his mind, by
the exhaustion of the nervous system; and, in fine, a premature and infirm
Q. Does the law of nature look on that absolute chastity so recommended in
monastical institutions, as a virtue?
A. No: for that chastity is of no use either to the society that witnesses,
or the individual who practises it; it is even prejudicial to both. First,
it injures society by depriving it of population, which is one of its principal
sources of wealth and power; and as bachelors confine all their views and
affections to the term of their lives, they have in general an egotism
unfavorable to the interests of society.
In the second place, it injures the individuals who practise it, because
it deprives them of a number of affections and relations which are the springs
of most domestic and social virtues; and besides, it often happens, from
circumstances of age, regimen, or temperament, that absolute continence injures
the constitution and causes severe diseases, because it is contrary to the
physical laws on which nature has founded the system of the reproduction
of beings; and they who recommend so strongly chastity, even supposing them
to be sincere, are in contradiction with their own doctrine, which consecrates
the law of nature by the well known commandment: increase and multiply.
Q. Why is chastity considered a greater virtue in women than in men?
A. Because a want of chastity in women is attended with inconveniences much
more serious and dangerous for them and for society; for, without taking
into account the pains and diseases they have in common with men, they are
further exposed to all the disadvantages and perils that precede, attend,
and follow child- birth. When pregnant contrary to law, they become an object
of public scandal and contempt, and spend the remainder of their lives in
bitterness and misery. Moreover, all the expense of maintaining and educating
their fatherless children falls on them: which expense impoverishes them,
and is every way prejudicial to their physical and moral existence. In this
situation, deprived of the freshness and health that constitute their charm,
carrying with them an extraneous and expensive burden, they are less prized
by men, they find no solid establishment, they fall into poverty, misery,
and wretchedness, and thus drag on in sorrow their unhappy existence.
Q. Does the law of nature extend so far as the scruples of desires and
A. Yes; because, in the physical laws of the human body, thoughts and desires
inflame the senses, and soon provoke to action: now, by another law of nature
in the organization of our body, those actions become mechanical wants which
recur at certain periods of days or of weeks, so that, at such a time, the
want is renewed of such an action and such a secretion; if this action and
this secretion be injurious to health, the habitude of them becomes destructive
of life itself. Thus thoughts and desires have a true and natural
Q. Should modesty be considered as a virtue?
A. Yes; because modesty, inasmuch as it is a shame of certain actions, maintains
the soul and body in all those habits useful to good order, and to
self-preservation. The modest woman is esteemed, courted, and established,
with advantages of fortune which ensure her existence, and render it agreeable
to her, while the immodest and prostitute are despised, repulsed, and abandoned
to misery and infamy.
ON COURAGE AND ACTIVITY
Q. Are courage and strength of body and mind virtues in the law of nature?
A. Yes, and most important virtues; for they are the efficacious and
indispensable means of attending to our preservation and welfare. The courageous
and strong man repulses oppression, defends his life, his liberty, and his
property; by his labor he procures himself an abundant subsistence, which
he enjoys in tranquillity and peace of mind. If he falls into misfortunes,
from which his prudence could not protect him, he supports them with fortitude
and resignation; and it is for this reason that the ancient moralists have
reckoned strength and courage among the four principal virtues.
Q. Should weakness and cowardice be considered as vices?
A. Yes, since it is certain that they produce innumerable calamities. The
weak or cowardly man lives in perpetual cares and agonies; he undermines
his health by the dread, oftentimes ill founded, of attacks and dangers:
and this dread which is an evil, is not a remedy; it renders him, on the
contrary, the slave of him who wishes to oppress him; and by the servitude
and debasement of all his faculties, it degrades and diminishes his means
of existence, so far as the seeing his life depend on the will and caprice
of another man.
Q. But, after what you have said on the influence of aliments, are not courage
and force, as well as many other virtues, in a great measure the effect of
our physical constitution and temperament?
A. Yes, it is true; and so far, that those qualities are transmitted by
generation and blood, with the elements on which they depend: the most reiterated
and constant facts prove that in the breed of animals of every kind, we see
certain physical and moral qualities, attached to the individuals of those
species, increase or decay according to the combinations and mixtures they
make with other breeds.
Q. But, then, as our will is not sufficient to procure us those qualities,
is it a crime to be destitute of them?
A. No, it is not a crime, but a misfortune; it is what the ancients call
an unlucky fatality; but even then we have it yet in our power to acquire
them; for, as soon as we know on what physical elements such or such a quality
is founded, we can promote its growth, and hasten its developments, by a
skillful management of those elements; and in this consists the science of
education, which, according as it is directed, meliorates or degrades
individuals, or the whole race, to such a pitch as totally to change their
nature and inclinations; for which reason it is of the greatest importance
to be acquainted with the laws of nature by which those operations and changes
are certainly and necessarily effected.
Q. Why do you say that activity is a virtue according to the law of nature?
A. Because the man who works and employs his time usefully, derives from
it a thousand precious advantages to his existence. If he is born poor, his
labor furnishes him with subsistence; and still more so, if he is sober,
continent, and prudent, for he soon acquires a competency, and enjoys the
sweets of life; his very labor gives him virtues; for, while he occupies
his body and mind, he is not affected with unruly desires, time does not
lie heavy on him, he contracts mild habits, he augments his strength and
health, and attains a peaceful and happy old age.
Q. Are idleness and sloth vices in the law of nature?
A. Yes, and the most pernicious of all vices, for they lead to all the others.
By idleness and sloth man remains ignorant, he forgets even the science he
had acquired, and falls into all the misfortunes which accompany ignorance
and folly; by idleness and sloth man, devoured with disquietude, in order
to dissipate it, abandons himself to all the desires of his senses, which,
becoming every day more inordinate, render him intemperate, gluttonous,
lascivious, enervated, cowardly, vile, and contemptible. By the certain effect
of all those vices, he ruins his fortune, consumes his health, and terminates
his life in all the agonies of sickness and of poverty.
Q. From what you say, one would think that poverty was a vice?
A. No, it is not a vice; but it is still less a virtue, for it is by far
more ready to injure than to be useful; it is even commonly the result, or
the beginning of vice, for the effect of all individual vices is to lead
to indigence, and to the privation of the necessaries of life; and when a
man is in want of necessaries, he is tempted to procure them by vicious means,
that is to say, by means injurious to society. All the individual virtues
tend, on the contrary, to procure to a man an abundant subsistence; and when
he has more than he can consume, it is much easier for him to give to others,
and to practice the actions useful to society.
Q. Do you look upon opulence as a virtue?
A. No; but still less as a vice: it is the use alone of wealth that can be
called virtuous or vicious, according as it is serviceable or prejudicial
to man and to society. Wealth is an instrument, the use and employment alone
of which determine its virtue or vice.
Q. Why is cleanliness included among the virtues?
A. Because it is, in reality, one of the most important among them, on account
of its powerful influence over the health and preservation of the body.
Cleanliness, as well in dress as in residence, obviates the pernicious effects
of the humidity, baneful odors, and contagious exhalations, proceeding from
all things abandoned to putrefaction. Cleanliness, maintains free transpiration;
it renews the air, refreshes the blood, and disposes even the mind to
From this it appears that persons attentive to the cleanliness of their bodies
and habitations are, in general, more healthy, and less subject to disease,
than those who live in filth and nastiness; and it is further remarked, that
cleanliness carries with it, throughout all the branches of domestic
administration, habits of order and arrangement, which are the chief means
and first elements of happiness.
Q. Uncleanliness or filthiness is, then, a real vice?
A. Yes, as real a one as drunkenness, or as idleness, from which in a great
measure it is derived. Uncleanliness is the second, and often the first,
cause of many inconveniences, and even of grievous disorders; it is a fact
in medicine, that it brings on the itch, the scurf, tetters, leprosies, as
much as the use of tainted or sour aliments; that it favors the contagious
influence of the plague and malignant fevers, that it even produces them
in hospitals and prisons; that it occasions rheumatisms, by incrusting the
skin with dirt, and thereby preventing transpiration; without reckoning the
shameful inconvenience of being devoured by vermin-- the foul appendage of
misery and depravity.
Most ancient legislators, therefore, considered cleanliness, which they called
purity, as one of the essential dogmas of their religions. It was for this
reason that they expelled from society, and even punished corporeally those
who were infected with distempers produced by uncleanliness; that they instituted
and consecrated ceremonies of ablutions baths, baptisms, and of purifications,
even by fire and the aromatic fumes of incense, myrrh, benjamin, etc., so
that the entire system of pollutions, all those rites of clean and unclean
things, degenerated since into abuses and prejudices, were only founded
originally on the judicious observation, which wise and learned men had made,
of the extreme influence that cleanliness in dress and abode exercises over
the health of the body, and by an immediate consequence over that of the
mind and moral faculties.
Thus all the individual virtues have for their object, more or less direct,
more or less near, the preservation of the man who practises them and by
the preservation of each man, they lead to that of families and society,
which are composed of the united sum of individuals.
ON DOMESTIC VIRTUES
Q. What do you mean be domestic virtues?
A. I mean the practice of actions useful to a family, supposed to live in
the same house.*
* Domestic is derived from the Latin word domus, a house.
Q. What are those virtues?
A. They are economy, paternal love, filial love, conjugal love, fraternal
love, and the accomplishment of the duties of master and servant.
Q. What is economy?
A. It is, according to the most extensive meaning of the word, the proper
administration of every thing that concerns the existence of the family or
house; and as subsistence holds the first rank, the word economy in confined
to the employment of money for the wants of life.
Q. Why is economy a virtue?
A. Because a man who makes no useless expenses acquires a superabundancy,
which is true wealth, and by means of which he procures for himself and his
family everything that is really convenient and useful; without mentioning
his securing thereby resources against accidental and unforeseen losses,
so that he and his family enjoy an agreeable and undisturbed competency,
which is the basis of human felicity.
Q. Dissipation and prodigality, therefore, are vices?
A. Yes, for by them man, in the end, is deprived of the necessaries of life;
he falls into poverty and wretchedness; and his very friends, fearing to
be obliged to restore to him what he has spent with or for them, avoid him
as a debtor does his creditor, and he remains abandoned by the whole world.
Q. What is paternal love?
A. It is the assiduous care taken by parents to make their children contract
the habit of every action useful to themselves and to society.
Q. Why is paternal tenderness a virtue in parents?
A. Because parents, who rear their children in those habits, procure for
themselves, during the course of their lives, enjoyments and helps that give
a sensible satisfaction at every instant, and which assure to them, when
advanced in years, supports and consolations against the wants and calamities
of all kinds with which old age is beset.
Q. Is paternal love a common virtue?
A. No; notwithstanding the ostentation made of it by parents, it is a rare
virtue. They do not love their children, they caress and spoil them. In them
they love only the agents of their will, the instruments of their power,
the trophies of their vanity, the pastime of their idleness. It is not so
much the welfare of their children that they propose to themselves, as their
submission and obedience; and if among children so many are seen ungrateful
for benefits received, it is because there are among parents as many despotic
and ignorant benefactors.
Q. Why do you say that conjugal love is a virtue?
A. Because the concord and union resulting from the love of the married,
establish in the heart of the family a multitude of habits useful to its
prosperity and preservation. The united pair are attached to, and seldom
quit their home; they superintend each particular direction of it; they attend
to the education of their children; they maintain the respect and fidelity
of domestics; they prevent all disorder and dissipation; and from the whole
of their good conduct, they live in ease and consideration; while married
persons who do not love one another, fill their house with quarrels and troubles,
create dissension between their children and the servants, leaving both
indiscriminately to all kinds of vicious habits; every one in turn spoils,
robs, and plunders the house; the revenues are absorbed without profit; debts
accumulate; the married pair avoid each other, or contend in lawsuits; and
the whole family falls into disorder, ruin, disgrace and want.
Q. Is adultery an offence in the law of nature?
A. Yes; for it is attended with a number of habits injurious to the married
and to their families. The wife or husband, whose affections are estranged,
neglect their house, avoid it, and deprive it, as much as they can, of its
revenues or income, to expend them with the object of their affections; hence
arise quarrels, scandal, lawsuits, the neglect of their children and servants,
and at last the plundering and ruin of the whole family; without reckoning
that the adulterous woman commits a most grievous theft, in giving to her
husband heirs of foreign blood, who deprive his real children of their legitimate
Q. What is filial love?
A. It is, on the side of children, the practice of those actions useful to
themselves and to their parents.
Q. How does the law of nature prescribe filial love?
A. By three principal motives:
1. By sentiment; for the affectionate care of parents inspires, from the
most tender age, mild habits of attachment.
2. By justice; for children owe to their parents a return and indemnity for
the cares, and even for the expenses, they have caused them.
3. By personal interest; for, if they use them ill, they give to their own
children examples of revolt and ingratitude, which authorize them, at a future
day, to behave to themselves in a similar manner.
Q. Are we to understand by filial love a passive and blind submission?
A. No; but a reasonable submission, founded on the knowledge of the mutual
rights and duties of parents and children; rights and duties, without the
observance of which their mutual conduct is nothing but disorder.
Q. Why is fraternal love a virtue?
A. Because the concord and union, which result from the love of brothers,
establish the strength, security, and conservation of the family: brothers
united defend themselves against all oppression, they aid one another in
their wants, they help one another in their misfortunes, and thus secure
their common existence; while brothers disunited, abandoned each to his own
personal strength, fall into all the inconveniences attendant on an insulated
state and individual weakness. This is what a certain Scythian king ingeniously
expressed when, on his death-bed, calling his children to him, he ordered
them to break a bundle of arrows. The young men, though strong, being unable
to effect it, he took them in his turn, and untieing them, broke each of
the arrows separately with his fingers. "Behold," said he, "the effects of
union; united together, you will be invincible; taken separately, you will
be broken like reeds."
Q. What are the reciprocal duties of masters and of servants?
A. They consist in the practice of the actions which are respectively and
justly useful to them; and here begin the relations of society; for the rule
and measure of those respective actions is the equilibrium or equality between
the service and the recompense, between what the one returns and the other
gives; which is the fundamental basis of all society.
Thus all the domestic and individual virtues refer, more or less mediately,
but always with certitude, to the physical object of the amelioration and
preservation of man, and are thereby precepts resulting from the fundamental
law of nature in his formation.
THE SOCIAL VIRTUES; JUSTICE
Q. What is society?
A. It is every reunion of men living together under the clauses of an expressed
or tacit contract, which has for its end their common preservation.
Q. Are the social virtues numerous?
A. Yes; they are in as great number as the kinds of actions useful to society;
but all may be reduced to one principle.
Q. What is that fundamental principle?
A. It is justice, which alone comprises all the virtues of society.
Q. Why do you say that justice is the fundamental and almost only virtue
A. Because it alone embraces the practice of all the actions useful to it;
and because all the other virtues, under the denominations of charity, humanity,
probity, love of one's country, sincerity, generosity, simplicity of manners,
and modesty, are only varied forms and diversified applications of the axiom,
"Do not to another what you do not wish to be done to yourself," which is
the definition of justice.
Q. How does the law of nature prescribe justice?
A. By three physical attributes, inherent in the organization of man.
Q. What are those attributes?
A. They are equality, liberty, and property.
Q. How is equality a physical attribute of man?
A. Because all men, having equally eyes, hands, mouths, ears, and the necessity
of making use of them, in order to live, have, by this reason alone, an equal
right to life, and to the use of the aliments which maintain it; they are
all equal before God.
Q. Do you suppose that all men hear equally, see equally, feel equally, have
equal wants, and equal passions?
A. No; for it is evident, and daily demonstrated, that one is short, and
another long-sighted; that one eats much, another little; that one has mild,
another violent passions; in a word, that one is weak in body and mind, while
another is strong in both.
Q. They are, therefore, really unequal?
A. Yes, in the development of their means, but not in the nature and essence
of those means. They are made of the same stuff, but not in the same dimensions;
nor are the weight and value equal. Our language possesses no one word capable
of expressing the identity of nature, and the diversity of its form and
employment. It is a proportional equality; and it is for this reason I have
said, equal before God, and in the order of nature.
Q. How is liberty a physical attribute of man?
A. Because all men having senses sufficient for their preservation--no one
wanting the eye of another to see, his ear to hear, his mouth to eat, his
feet to walk--they are all, by this very reason, constituted naturally
independent and free; no man is necessarily subjected to another, nor has
he a right to dominate over him.
Q. But if a man is born strong, has he a natural right to master the weak
A. No; for it is neither a necessity for him, nor a convention between them;
it is an abusive extension of his strength; and here an abuse is made of
the word right, which in its true meaning implies, justice or reciprocal
Q. How is property a physical attribute of man?
A. Inasmuch as all men being constituted equal or similar to one another,
and consequently independent and free, each is the absolute master, the full
proprietor of his body and of the produce of his labor.
Q. How is justice derived from these three attributes?
A. In this, that men being equal and free, owing nothing to each other, have
no right to require anything from one another only inasmuch as they return
an equal value for it; or inasmuch as the balance of what is given is in
equilibrium with what is returned: and it is this equality, this equilibrium
which is called justice, equity;* that is to say that equality and justice
are but one and the same word, the same law of nature, of which the social
virtues are only applications and derivatives.
* Aequitas, aequilibrium, aequalitas, are all of the same family.
DEVELOPMENT OF THE SOCIAL VIRTUES
Q. Explain how the social virtues are derived from the law of nature. How
is charity or the love of one's neighbor a precept and application of it?
A. By reason of equality and reciprocity; for when we injure another, we
give him a right to injure us in return; thus, by attacking the existence
of our neighbor, we endanger our own, from the effect of reciprocity; on
the other hand, by doing good to others, we have room and right to expect
an equivalent exchange; and such is the character of all social virtues,
that they are useful to the man who practises them, by the right of reciprocity
which they give him over those who are benefited by them.
Q. Charity is then nothing but justice?
A. No: it is only justice; with this slight difference, that strict justice
confines itself to saying, "Do not to another the harm you would not wish
he should do to you;" and that charity, or the love of one's neighbor, extends
so far as to say, "Do to another the good which you would wish to receive
from him." Thus when the gospel said, that this precept contained the whole
of the law and the prophets, it announced nothing more than the precept of
the law of nature.
Q. Does it enjoin forgiveness of injuries?
A. Yes, when that forgiveness implies self-preservation.
Q. Does it prescribe to us, after having received a blow on one cheek, to
hold out the other?
A. No; for it is, in the first place, contrary to the precept of loving our
neighbor as ourselves, since thereby we should love, more than ourselves,
him who makes an attack on our preservation. Secondly, such a precept in
its literal sense, encourages the wicked to oppression and injustice. The
law of nature has been more wise in prescribing a calculated proportion of
courage and moderation, which induces us to forget a first or unpremediated
injury, but which punishes every act tending to oppression.
Q. Does the law of nature prescribe to do good to others beyond the bounds
of reason and measure?
A. No; for it is a sure way of leading them to ingratitude. Such is the force
of sentiment and justice implanted in the heart of man, that he is not even
grateful for benefits conferred without discretion. There is only one measure
with them, and that is to be just.
Q. Is alms-giving a virtuous action?
A. Yes, when it is practised according to the rule first mentioned; without
which it degenerates into imprudence and vice, inasmuch as it encourages
laziness, which is hurtful to the beggar and to society; no one has a right
to partake of the property and fruits of another's labor, without rendering
an equivalent of his own industry.
Q. Does the law of nature consider as virtues faith and hope, which are often
joined with charity?
A. No; for they are ideas without reality; and if any effects result from
them, they turn rather to the profit of those who have not those ideas, than
of those who have them; so that faith and hope may be called the virtues
of dupes for the benefit of knaves.
Q. Does the law of nature prescribe probity?
A. Yes, for probity is nothing more than respect for one's own rights in
those of another; a respect founded on a prudent and well combined calculation
of our interests compared to those of others.
Q. But does not this calculation, which embraces the complicated interests
and rights of the social state, require an enlightened understanding and
knowledge, which make it a difficult science?
A. Yes, and a science so much the more delicate as the honest man pronounces
in his own cause.
Q. Probity, then, shows an extension and justice in the mind?
A. Yes, for an honest man almost always neglects a present interest, in order
not to destroy a future one; whereas the knave does the contrary, and loses
a great future interest for a present smaller one.
Q. Improbity, therefore, is a sign of false judgment and a narrow mind?
A. Yes, and rogues may be defined ignorant and silly calculators; for they
do not understand their true interest, and they pretend to cunning: nevertheless,
their cunning only ends in making known what they are--in losing all confidence
and esteem, and the good services resulting from them for their physical
and social existence. They neither live in peace with others, nor with
themselves; and incessantly menaced by their conscience and their enemies,
they enjoy no other real happiness but that of not being hanged.
Q. Does the law of nature forbid robbery?
A. Yes, for the man who robs another gives him a right to rob him; from that
moment there is no security in his property, nor in his means of preservation:
thus in injuring others, he, by a counterblow, injures himself.
Q. Does it interdict even an inclination to rob?
A. Yes; for that inclination leads naturally to action, and it is for this
reason that envy is considered a sin?
Q. How does it forbid murder?
A. By the most powerful motives of self-preservation; for, first, the man
who attacks exposes himself to the risk of being killed, by the right of
defence; secondly, if he kills, he gives to the relations and friends of
the deceased, and to society at large, an equal right of killing him; so
that his life is no longer in safety.
Q. How can we, by the law of nature, repair the evil we have done?
A. By rendering a proportionate good to those whom we have injured.
Q. Does it allow us to repair it by prayers, vows, offerings to God, fasting
A. No: for all those things are foreign to the action we wish to repair:
they neither restore the ox to him from whom it has been stolen, honor to
him whom we have deprived of it, nor life to him from whom it has been taken
away; consequently they miss the end of justice; they are only perverse contracts
by which a man sells to another goods which do not belong to him; they are
a real depravation of morality, inasmuch as they embolden to commit crimes
through the hope of expiating them; wherefore, they have been the real cause
of all the evils by which the people among whom those expiatory practices
were used, have been continually tormented.
Q. Does the law of nature order sincerity?
A. Yes; for lying, perfidy, and perjury create distrust, quarrels, hatred,
revenge, and a crowd of evils among men, which tend to their common destruction;
while sincerity and fidelity establish confidence, concord, and peace, besides
the infinite good resulting from such a state of things to society.
Q. Does it prescribe mildness and modesty?
A. Yes; for harshness and obduracy, by alienating from us the hearts of other
men, give them an inclination to hurt us; ostentation and vanity, by wounding
their self-love and jealousy, occasion us to miss the end of a real
Q. Does it prescribe humility as a virtue?
A. No; for it is a propensity in the human heart to despise secretly everything
that presents to it the idea of weakness; and self-debasement encourages
pride and oppression in others; the balance must be kept in equipoise.
Q. You have reckoned simplicity of manners among the social virtues; what
do you understand by that word?
A. I mean the restricting our wants and desires to what is truly useful to
the existence of the citizen and his family; that is to say, the man of simple
manners has but few wants, and lives content with a little.
Q. How is this virtue prescribed to us?>BR> A. By the numerous advantages
which the practice of it procures to the individual and to society; for the
man whose wants are few, is free at once from a crowd of cares, perplexities,
and labors; he avoids many quarrels and contests arising from avidity and
a desire of gain; he spares himself the anxiety of ambition, the inquietudes
of possession, and the uneasiness of losses; finding superfluity everywhere,
he is the real rich man; always content with what he has, he is happy at
little expense; and other men, not fearing any competition from him, leave
him in quiet, and are disposed to render him the services he should stand
in need of. And if this virtue of simplicity extends to a whole people, they
insure to themselves abundance; rich in everything they do not consume, they
acquire immense means of exchange and commerce; they work, fabricate, and
sell at a lower price than others, and attain to all kinds of prosperity,
both at home and abroad.
Q. What is the vice contrary to this virtue?
A. It is cupidity and luxury
Q. Is luxury a vice in the individual and in society?
A. Yes, and to that degree, that it may be said to include all the others;
for the man who stands in need of many things, imposes thereby on himself
all the anxiety, and submits to all the means just or unjust of acquiring
them. Does he possess an enjoyment, he covets another; and in the bosom of
superfluity, he is never rich; a commodious dwelling is not sufficient for
him, he must have a beautiful hotel; not content with a plenteous table,
he must have rare and costly viands: he must have splendid furniture, expensive
clothes, a train of attendants, horses, carriages, women, theatrical
representations and games. Now, to supply so many expenses, much money must
be had; and he looks on every method of procuring it as good and even necessary;
at first he borrows, afterwards he steals, robs, plunders, turns bankrupt,
is at war with every one, ruins and is ruined.
Should a nation be involved in luxury, it occasions on a larger scale the
same devastations; by reason that it consumes its entire produce, it finds
itself poor even with abundance; it has nothing to sell to foreigners; its
manufactures are carried on at a great expense, and are sold too dear; it
becomes tributary for everything it imports; it attacks externally its
consideration, power, strength, and means of defence and preservation, while
internally it undermines and falls into the dissolution of its members. All
its citizens being covetous of enjoyments, are engaged in a perpetual struggle
to obtain them; all injure or are near injuring themselves; and hence arise
those habits and actions of usurpation, which constitute what is denominated
moral corruption, intestine war between citizen and citizen. From luxury
arises avidity, from avidity, invasion by violence and perfidy; from luxury
arises the iniquity of the judge, the venality of the witness, the improbity
of the husband, the prostitution of the wife, the obduracy of parents, the
ingratitude of children, the avarice of the master, the dishonesty of the
servant, the dilapidation of the administrator, the perversity of the legislator,
lying, perfidy, perjury, assassination, and all the disorders of the social
state; so that it was with a profound sense of truth, that ancient moralists
have laid the basis of the social virtues on simplicity of manners, restriction
of wants, and contentment with a little; and a sure way of knowing the extent
of a man's virtues and vices is, to find out if his expenses are proportionate
to his fortune, and calculate, from his want of money, his probity, his integrity
in fulfilling his engagements, his devotion to the public weal, and his sincere
or pretended love of his country.
Q. What do you mean by the word country?
A. I mean the community of citizens who, united by fraternal sentiments,
and reciprocal wants, make of their respective strength one common force,
the reaction of which on each of them assumes the noble and beneficent character
of paternity. In society, citizens form a bank of interest; in our country
we form a family of endearing attachments; it is charity, the love of one's
neighbor extended to a whole nation. Now as charity cannot be separated from
justice, no member of the family can pretend to the enjoyment of its advantages,
except in proportion to his labor; if he consumes more than it produces,
he necessarily encroaches on his fellow-citizens; and it is only by consuming
less than what he produces or possesses, that he can acquire the means of
making sacrifices and being generous.
Q. What do you conclude from all this?
A. I conclude from it that all the social virtues are only the habitude of
actions useful to society and to the individual who practices them; That
they refer to the physical object of man's preservation; That nature having
implanted in us the want of that preservation, has made a law to us of all
its consequences, and a crime of everything that deviates from it; That we
carry in us the seed of every virtue, and of every perfection; That it only
requires to be developed; That we are only happy inasmuch as we observe the
rules established by nature for the end of our preservation; And that all
wisdom, all perfection, all law, all virtue, all philosophy, consist in the
practice of these axioms founded on our own organization:
Preserve thyself; Instruct thyself; Moderate thyself; Live for thy fellow
citizens, that they may live for thee.
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