Thus by the aid of his own faculties, man has raised himself to the astonishing height of his present fortune. Too happy if, observing scrupulously the law of his being, he had faithfully fulfilled its only and true object! But, by a fatal imprudence, sometimes mistaking, sometimes transgressing its limits, he has launched forth into a labyrinth of errors and misfortunes; and self-love, sometimes unruly, sometimes blind, became a principle fruitful in calamities.
SOURCES OF THE EVILS OF SOCIETY.
In truth, scarcely were the faculties of men developed, when, inveigled by objects which gratify the senses, they gave themselves up to unbridled desires. The sweet sensations which nature had attached to their real wants, to endear to them their existence, no longer satisfied them. Not content with the abundance offered by the earth or produced by industry, they wished to accumulate enjoyments and coveted those possessed by their fellow men. The strong man rose up against the feeble, to take from him the fruit of his labor; the feeble invoked another feeble one to repel the violence. Two strong ones then said:
"Why fatigue ourselves to produce enjoyments which we may find in the hands of the weak? Let us join and despoil them; they shall labor for us, and we will enjoy without labor."
And the strong associating for oppression and the weak for resistance, men mutually afflicted each other; and a general and fatal discord spread over the earth, in which the passions, assuming a thousand new forms, have generated a continued chain of misfortunes.
Thus the same self-love which, moderate and prudent, was a principle of happiness and perfection, becoming blind and disordered, was transformed into a corrupting poison; and cupidity, offspring and companion of ignorance, became the cause of all the evils that have desolated the earth.
Yes, ignorance and cupidity! these are the twin sources of all the torments of man! Biased by these into false ideas of happiness, he has mistaken or broken the laws of nature in his own relation with external objects; and injuring his own existence, has violated individual morality; shutting through these his heart to compassion, and his mind to justice, he has injured and afflicted his equal, and violated social morality. From ignorance and cupidity, man has armed against man, family against family, tribe against tribe; and the earth is become a theatre of blood, of discord, and of rapine. By ignorance and cupidity, a secret war, fermenting in the bosom of every state, has separated citizen from citizen; and the same society has divided itself into oppressors and oppressed, into masters and slaves; by these, the heads of a nation, sometimes insolent and audacious, have forged its chains within its own bowels; and mercenary avarice has founded political despotism. Sometimes, hypocritical and cunning, they have called from heaven a lying power, and a sacrilegious yoke; and credulous cupidity has founded religious despotism. By these have been perverted the ideas of good and evil, just and unjust, vice and virtue; and nations have wandered in a labyrinth of errors and calamities.
The cupidity of man and his ignorance,—these are the evil genii which have wasted the earth! These are the decrees of fate which have overthrown empires! These are the celestial anathemas which have smitten these walls once so glorious, and converted the splendor of a populous city into a solitude of mourning and of ruins! But as in the bosom of man have sprung all the evils which have afflicted his life, there he also is to seek and to find their remedies.
ORIGIN OF GOVERNMENT AND LAWS.
In fact, it soon happened that men, fatigued with the evils they reciprocally inflicted, began to sigh for peace; and reflecting on their misfortunes and the causes of them, they said:
"We are mutually injuring each other by our passions; and, aiming to grasp every thing, we hold nothing. What one seizes to-day, another takes to-morrow, and our cupidity reacts upon ourselves. Let us establish judges, who shall arbitrate our rights, and settle our differences! When the strong shall rise against the weak, the judge shall restrain him, and dispose of our force to suppress violence; and the life and property of each shall be under the guarantee and protection of all; and all shall enjoy the good things of nature."
Conventions were thus formed in society, sometimes express, sometimes tacit, which became the rule for the action of individuals, the measure of their rights, the law of their reciprocal relations; and persons were appointed to superintend their observance, to whom the people confided the balance to weigh rights, and the sword to punish transgressions.
Thus was established among individuals a happy equilibrium of force and action, which constituted the common security. The name of equity and of justice was recognized and revered over the earth; every one, assured of enjoying in peace, the fruits of his toil, pursued with energy the objects of his attention; and industry, excited and maintained by the reality or the hope of enjoyment, developed, all the riches of art and of nature. The fields were covered with harvests, the valleys with flocks, the hills with fruits, the sea with vessels, and man became happy and powerful on the earth. Thus did his own wisdom repair the disorder which his imprudence had occasioned; and that wisdom was only the effect of his own organization. He respected the enjoyments of others in order to secure his own; and cupidity found its corrective in the enlightened love of self.
Thus the love of self, the moving principle of every individual, becomes the necessary foundation of every association; and on the observance of that law of our nature has depended the fate of nations. Have the factitious and conventional laws tended to that object and accomplished that aim? Every one, urged by a powerful instinct, has displayed all the faculties of his being; and the sum of individual felicities has constituted the general felicity. Have these laws, on the contrary, restrained the effort of man toward his own happiness? His heart, deprived of its exciting principle, has languished in inactivity, and from the oppression of individuals has resulted the weakness of the state.
As self-love, impetuous and improvident, is ever urging man against his equal, and consequently tends to dissolve society, the art of legislation and the merit of administrators consists in attempering the conflict of individual cupidities, in maintaining an equilibrium of powers, and securing to every one his happiness, in order that, in the shock of society against society, all the members may have a common interest in the preservation and defence of the public welfare.
The internal splendor and prosperity of empires then, have had for their efficient cause the equity of their laws and government; and their respective external powers have been in proportion to the number of persons interested, and their degree of interest in the public welfare.
On the other hand, the multiplication of men, by complicating their relations, having rendered the precise limitation of their rights difficult, the perpetual play of the passions having produced incidents not foreseen—their conventions having been vicious, inadequate, or nugatory—in fine, the authors of the laws having sometimes mistaken, sometimes disguised their objects; and their ministers, instead of restraining the cupidity of others, having given themselves up to their own; all these causes have introduced disorder and trouble into societies; and the viciousness of laws and the injustice of governments, flowing from cupidity and ignorance, have become the causes of the misfortunes of nations, and the subversion of states.
GENERAL CAUSES OF THE PROSPERITY OF ANCIENT STATES.
Such, O man who seekest wisdom, such have been the causes of revolution in the ancient states of which thou contemplatest the ruins! To whatever spot I direct my view, to whatever period my thoughts recur, the same principles of growth or destruction, of rise or fall, present themselves to my mind. Wherever a people is powerful, or an empire prosperous, there the conventional laws are conformable with the laws of nature—the government there procures for its citizens a free use of their faculties, equal security for their persons and property. If, on the contrary, an empire goes to ruin, or dissolves, it is because its laws have been vicious, or imperfect, or trodden under foot by a corrupt government. If the laws and government, at first wise and just, become afterwards depraved, it is because the alternation of good and evil is inherent to the heart of man, to a change in his propensities, to his progress in knowledge, to a combination of circumstances and events; as is proved by the history of the species.
In the infancy of nations, when men yet lived in the forest, subject to the same wants, endowed with the same faculties, all were nearly equal in strength; and that equality was a circumstance highly advantageous in the composition of society: as every individual, thus feeling himself sufficiently independent of every other, no one was the slave, none thought of being the master of another. Man, then a novice, knew neither servitude nor tyranny; furnished with resources sufficient for his existence, he thought not of borrowing from others; owning nothing, requiring nothing, he judged the rights of others by his own, and formed ideas of justice sufficiently exact. Ignorant, moreover, in the art of enjoyments, unable to produce more than his necessaries, possessing nothing superfluous, cupidity remained dormant; or if excited, man, attacked in his real wants, resisted it with energy, and the foresight of such resistance ensured a happy balance.
Thus original equality, in default of compact, maintained freedom of person, security of property, good manners, and order. Every one labored by himself and for himself; and the mind of man, being occupied, wandered not to culpable desires. He had few enjoyments, but his wants were satisfied; and as indulgent nature had made them less than his resources, the labor of his hands soon produced abundance—abundance, population; the arts unfolded, culture extended, and the earth, covered with numerous inhabitants, was divided into different dominions.
The relations of man becoming complicated, the internal order of societies became more difficult to maintain. Time and industry having generated riches, cupidity became more active; and because equality, practicable among individuals, could not subsist among families, the natural equilibrium was broken; it became necessary to supply it by a factitious equilibrium; to set up chiefs, to establish laws; and in the primitive inexperience, it necessarily happened that these laws, occasioned by cupidity, assumed its character. But different circumstances concurred to correct the disorder, and oblige governments to be just.
States, in fact, being weak at first, and having foreign enemies to fear, the chiefs found it their interest not to oppress their subjects; for, by lessening the confidence of the citizens in their government, they would diminish their means of resistance—they would facilitate foreign invasion, and by exercising arbitrary power, have endangered their very existence.
In the interior, the firmness of the people repelled tyranny; men had contracted too long habits of independence; they had too few wants, and too much consciousness of their own strength.
States being of a moderate size, it was difficult to divide their citizens so as to make use of some for the oppression of others. Their communications were too easy, their interest too clear and simple: besides, every one being a proprietor and cultivator, no one needed to sell himself, and the despot could find no mercenaries.
If, then, dissensions arose, they were between family and family, faction and faction, and they interested a great number. The troubles, indeed, were warmer; but fears from abroad pacified discord at home. If the oppression of a party prevailed, the earth being still unoccupied, and man, still in a state of simplicity, finding every where the same advantages, the oppressed party emigrated, and carried elsewhere their independence.
The ancient states then enjoyed within themselves numerous means of prosperity and power. Every one finding his own well-being in the constitution of his country, took a lively interest in its preservation. If a stranger attacked it, having to defend his own field, his own house, he carried into combat all the passions of a personal quarrel; and, devoted to his own interests, he was devoted to his country.
As every action useful to the public attracted its esteem and gratitude, every one became eager to be useful; and self-love multiplied talents and civic virtues.
Every citizen contributing equally by his talents and person, armies and funds were inexhaustible, and nations displayed formidable masses of power.
The earth being free, and its possession secure and easy, every one was a proprietor; and the division of property preserved morals, and rendered luxury impossible.
Every one cultivating for himself, culture was more active, produce more abundant; and individual riches became public wealth.
The abundance of produce rendering subsistence easy, population was rapid and numerous, and states attained quickly the term of their plenitude.
Productions increasing beyond consumption, the necessity of commerce arose; and exchanges took place between people and people; which augmented their activity and reciprocal advantages.
In fine, certain countries, at certain times, uniting the advantages of good government with a position on the route of the most active circulation, they became emporiums of flourishing commerce and seats of powerful domination. And on the shores of the Nile and Mediterranean, of the Tygris and Euphrates, the accumulated riches of India and of Europe raised in successive splendor a hundred different cities.
The people, growing rich, applied their superfluity to works of common and public use; and this was in every state, the epoch of those works whose grandeur astonishes the mind; of those wells of Tyre, of those dykes of the Euphrates, of those subterranean conduits of Media,* of those fortresses of the desert, of those aqueducts of Palmyra, of those temples, of those porticoes. And such labors might be immense, without oppressing the nations; because they were the effect of an equal and common contribution of the force of individuals animated and free.
* See respecting these monuments my Travels into Syria, vol. ii. p. 214.
From the town or village of Samouat the course of the Euphrates is accompanied with a double bank, which descends as far as its junction with the Tygris, and from thence to the sea, being a length of about a hundred leagues, French measure. The height of these artificial banks is not uniform, but increases as you advance from the sea; it may be estimated at from twelve to fifteen feet. But for them, the inundation of the river would bury the country around, which is flat, to an extent of twenty or twenty-five leagues and even notwithstanding these banks, there has been in modern times an overflow, which has covered the whole triangle formed by the junction of this river to the Tygris, being a space of country of one hundred and thirty square leagues. By the stagnation of these waters an epidemical disease of the most fatal nature was occasioned. It follows from hence, 1. That all the flat country bordering upon these rivers, was originally a marsh; 2. That this marsh could not have been inhabited previously to the construction of the banks in question; 3. That these banks could not have been the work but of a population prior as to date; and the elevation of Babylon, therefore, must have been posterior to that of Nineveh, as I think I have chronologically demonstrated in the memoir above cited. See Encyclopedia, vol. xiii, of Antiquities.
The modern Aderbidjan, which was a part of Medea, the mountains of Koulderstan, and those of Diarbekr, abound with subterranean canals, by means of which the ancient inhabitants conveyed water to their parched soil in order to fertilize it. It was regarded as a meritorious act and a religious duty prescribed by Zoroaster, who, instead of preaching celibacy, mortifications, and other pretended virtues of the monkish sort, repeats continually in the passages that are preserved respecting him in the Sad-der and the Zend-avesta:
"That the action most pleasing to God is to plough and cultivate the earth, to water it with running streams, to multiply vegetation and living beings, to have numerous flocks, young and fruitful virgins, a multitude of children," etc., etc.
Among the aqueducts of Palmyra it appears certain, that, besides those which conducted water from the neighboring hills, there was one which brought it even from the mountains of Syria. It is to be traced a long way into the Desert where it escapes our search by going under ground.
Thus ancient states prospered, because their social institutions conformed to the true laws of nature; and because men, enjoying liberty and security for their persons and their property, might display all the extent of their faculties,—all the energies of their self-love.
GENERAL CAUSES OF THE REVOLUTIONS AND RUIN OF ANCIENT STATES.
Cupidity had nevertheless excited among men a constant and universal conflict, which incessantly prompting individuals and societies to reciprocal invasions, occasioned successive revolutions, and returning agitations.
And first, in the savage and barbarous state of the first men, this audacious and fierce cupidity produced rapine, violence, and murder, and retarded for a long time the progress of civilization.
When afterwards societies began to be formed, the effect of bad habits, communicated to laws and governments, corrupted their institutions and objects, and established arbitrary and factitious rights, which depraved the ideas of justice, and the morality of the people.
Thus one man being stronger than another, their inequality—an accident of nature—was taken for her law;* and the strong being able to take the life of the weak, and yet sparing him, arrogated over his person an abusive right of property; and the slavery of individuals prepared the way for the slavery of nations.
*Almost all the ancient philosophers and politicians have laid it down as a principle that men are born unequal, that nature his created some to be free, and others to be slaves. Expressions of this kind are to be found in Aristotle, and even in Plato, called the divine, doubtless in the same sense as the mythological reveries which he promulgated. With all the people of antiquity, the Gauls, the Romans, the Athenians, the right of the strongest was the right of nations; and from the same principle are derived all the political disorders and public national crimes that at present exist.
Because the head of a family could be absolute in his house, he made his own affections and desires the rule of his conduct; he gave or resumed his goods without equality, without justice; and paternal despotism laid the foundation of despotism in government.*
* Upon this single expression it would be easy to write a long and important chapter. We might prove in it, beyond contradiction, that all the abuses of national governments, have sprung from those of domestic government, from that government called patriarchal, which superficial minds have extolled without having analyzed it. Numberless facts demonstrate, that with every infant people, in every savage and barbarous state, the father, the chief of the family, is a despot, and a cruel and insolent despot. The wife is his slave, the children his servants. This king sleeps or smokes his pipe, while his wife and daughters perform all the drudgery of the house, and even that of tillage and cultivation, as far as occupations of this nature are practised in such societies; and no sooner have the boys acquired strength then they are allowed to beat the females and make them serve and wait upon them as they do upon their fathers. Similar to this is the state of our own uncivilized peasants. In proportion as civilization spreads, the manners become milder, and the condition of the women improves, till, by a contrary excess, they arrive at dominion, and then a nation becomes effeminate and corrupt. It is remarkable that parental authority is great in proportion as the government is despotic. China, India, and Turkey are striking examples of this. One would suppose that tyrants gave themselves accomplices and interested subaltern despots to maintain their authority. In opposition to this the Romans will be cited, but it remains to be proved that the Romans were men truly free and their quick passage from their republican despotism to their abject servility under the emperors, gives room at least for considerable doubt as to that freedom.
In societies formed on such foundations, when time and labor had developed riches, cupidity restrained by the laws, became more artful, but not less active. Under the mask of union and civil peace, it fomented in the bosom of every state an intestine war, in which the citizens, divided into contending corps of orders, classes, families, unremittingly struggled to appropriate to themselves, under the name of supreme power, the ability to plunder every thing, and render every thing subservient to the dictates of their passions; and this spirit of encroachment, disguised under all possible forms, but always the same in its object and motives, has never ceased to torment the nations.
Sometimes, opposing itself to all social compact, or breaking that which already existed, it committed the inhabitants of a country to the tumultuous shock of all their discords; and states thus dissolved, and reduced to the condition of anarchy, were tormented by the passions of all their members.
Sometimes a nation, jealous of its liberty, having appointed agents to administer its government, these agents appropriated the powers of which they had only the guardianship: they employed the public treasures in corrupting elections, gaining partisans, in dividing the people among themselves. By these means, from being temporary they became perpetual; from elective, hereditary; and the state, agitated by the intrigues of the ambitious, by largesses from the rich and factious, by the venality of the poor and idle, by the influence of orators, by the boldness of the wicked, and the weakness of the virtuous, was convulsed with all the inconveniences of democracy.
The chiefs of some countries, equal in strength and mutually fearing each other, formed impious pacts, nefarious associations; and, apportioning among themselves all power, rank, and honor, unjustly arrogated privileges and immunities; erected themselves into separate orders and distinct classes; reduced the people to their control; and, under the name of aristocracy, the state was tormented by the passions of the wealthy and the great.
Sacred impostors, in other countries, tending by other means to the same object, abused the credulity of the ignorant. In the gloom of their temples, behind the curtain of the altar, they made their gods act and speak; gave forth oracles, worked miracles, ordered sacrifices, levied offerings, prescribed endowments; and, under the names of theocracy and of religion, the state became tormented by the passions of the priests.
Sometimes a nation, weary of its dissensions or of its tyrants, to lessen the sources of evil, submitted to a single master; but if it limited his powers, his sole aim was to enlarge them; if it left them indefinite, he abused the trust confided to him; and, under the name of monarchy, the state was tormented by the passions of kings and princes.
Then the factions, availing themselves of the general discontent, flattered the people with the hope of a better master; dealt out gifts and promises, deposed the despot to take his place; and their contests for the succession, or its partition, tormented the state with the disorders and devastations of civil war.
In fine, among these rivals, one more adroit, or more fortunate, gained the ascendency, and concentrated all power within himself. By a strange phenomenon, a single individual mastered millions of his equals, against their will and without their consent; and the art of tyranny sprung also from cupidity.
In fact, observing the spirit of egotism which incessantly divides mankind, the ambitious man fomented it with dexterity, flattered the vanity of one, excited the jealousy of another, favored the avarice of this, inflamed the resentment of that, and irritated the passions of all; then, placing in opposition their interests and prejudices, he sowed divisions and hatreds, promised to the poor the spoils of the rich, to the rich the subjection of the poor; threatened one man by another, this class by that; and insulating all by distrust, created his strength out of their weakness, and imposed the yoke of opinion, which they mutually riveted on each other. With the army he levied contributions, and with contributions he disposed of the army: dealing out wealth and office on these principles, he enchained a whole people in indissoluble bonds, and they languished under the slow consumption of despotism.
Thus the same principle, varying its action under every possible form, was forever attenuating the consistence of states, and an eternal circle of vicissitudes flowed from an eternal circle of passions.
And this spirit of egotism and usurpation produced two effects equally operative and fatal: the one a division and subdivision of societies into their smallest fractions, inducing a debility which facilitated their dissolution; the other, a preserving tendency to concentrate power in a single hand,* which, engulfing successively societies and states, was fatal to their peace and social existence.
* It is remarkable that this has in all instances been the constant progress of societies; beginning with a state of anarchy or democracy, that is, with a great division of power they have passed to aristocracy, and from aristocracy to monarchy. Does it not hence follow that those who constitute states under the democratic form, destine them to undergo all the intervening troubles between that and monarchy; but it should at the same time be proved that social experience is already exhausted for the human race, and that this spontaneous movement is not solely the effect of ignorance.
Thus, as in a state, a party absorbed the nation, a family the party, and an individual the family; so a movement of absorption took place between state and state, and exhibited on a larger scale in the political order, all the particular evils of the civil order. Thus a state having subdued a state, held it in subjection in the form of a province; and two provinces being joined together formed a kingdom; two kingdoms being united by conquest, gave birth to empires of gigantic size; and in this conglomeration, the internal strength of states, instead of increasing, diminished; and the condition of the people, instead of ameliorating, became daily more abject and wretched, for causes derived from the nature of things.
Because, in proportion as states increased in extent, their administration becoming more difficult and complicated, greater energies of power were necessary to move such masses; and there was no longer any proportion between the duties of sovereigns and their ability to perform their duties:
Because despots, feeling their weakness, feared whatever might develop the strength of nations, and studied only how to enfeeble them:
Because nations, divided by the prejudices of ignorance and hatred, seconded the wickedness of their governments; and availing themselves reciprocally of subordinate agents, aggravated their mutual slavery:
Because, the balance between states being destroyed, the strong more easily oppressed the weak.
Finally, because in proportion as states were concentrated, the people, despoiled of their laws, of their usages, and of the government of their choice, lost that spirit of personal identification with their government, which had caused their energy.
And despots, considering empires as their private domains and the people as their property, gave themselves up to depredations, and to all the licentiousness of the most arbitrary authority.
And all the strength and wealth of nations were diverted to private expense and personal caprice; and kings, fatigued with gratification, abandoned themselves to all the extravagancies of factitious and depraved taste.* They must have gardens mounted on arcades, rivers raised over mountains, fertile fields converted into haunts for wild beasts; lakes scooped in dry lands, rocks erected in lakes, palaces built of marble and porphyry, furniture of gold and diamonds. Under the cloak of religion, their pride founded temples, endowed indolent priests, built, for vain skeletons, extravagant tombs, mausoleums and pyramids;** millions of hands were employed in sterile labors; and the luxury of princes, imitated by their parasites, and transmitted from grade to grade to the lowest ranks, became a general source of corruption and impoverishment.
* It is equally worthy of remark, that the conduct and manners of princes and kings of every country and every age, are found to be precisely the same at similar periods, whether of the formation or dissolution of empires. History every where presents the same pictures of luxury and folly; of parks, gardens, lakes, rocks, palaces, furniture, excess of the table, wine, women, concluding with brutality.
The absurd rock in the garden of Versailles has alone cost three millions. I have sometimes calculated what might have been done with the expense of the three pyramids of Gizah, and I have found that it would easily have constructed from the Red Sea to Alexandria, a canal one hundred and fifty feet wide and thirty deep, completely covered in with cut stones and a parapet, together with a fortified and commercial town, consisting of four hundred houses, furnished with cisterns. What a difference in point of utility between such a canal and these pyramids!
** The learned Dupuis could not be persuaded that the pyramids were tombs; but besides the positive testimony of historians, read what Diodorus says of the religious and superstitious importance every Egyptian attached to building his dwelling eternal, b. 1.
During twenty years, says Herodotus, a hundred thousand men labored every day to build the pyramid of the Egyptian Cheops. Supposing only three hundred days a year, on account of the sabbath, there will be 30 millions of days' work in a year, and 600 millions in twenty years; at 15 sous a day, this makes 450 millions of francs lost, without any further benefit. With this sum, if the king had shut the isthmus of Suez by a strong wall, like that of China, the destinies of Egypt might have been entirely changed. Foreign invasions would have been prevented, and the Arabs of the desert would neither have conquered nor harassed that country. Sterile labors! how many millions lost in putting one stone upon another, under the forms of temples and churches! Alchymists convert stones into gold; but architects change gold into stone. Woe to the kings (as well as subjects) who trust their purse to these two classes of empirics!
And in the insatiable thirst of enjoyment, the ordinary revenues no longer sufficing, they were augmented; the cultivator, seeing his labors increase without compensation, lost all courage; the merchant, despoiled, was disgusted with industry; the multitude, condemned to perpetual poverty, restrained their labor to simple necessaries; and all productive industry vanished.
The surcharge of taxes rendering lands a burdensome possession, the poor proprietor abandoned his field, or sold it to the powerful; and fortune became concentrated in a few hands. All the laws and institutions favoring this accumulation, the nation became divided into a group of wealthy drones, and a multitude of mercenary poor; the people were degraded with indigence, the great with satiety, and the number of those interested in the preservation of the state decreasing, its strength and existence became proportionally precarious.
On the other hand, emulation finding no object, science no encouragement, the mind sunk into profound ignorance.
The administration being secret and mysterious, there existed no means of reform or amelioration. The chiefs governing by force or fraud, the people viewed them as a faction of public enemies; and all harmony ceased between the governors and governed.
And these vices having enervated the states of the wealthy part of Asia, the vagrant and indigent people of the adjacent deserts and mountains coveted the enjoyments of the fertile plains; and, urged by a cupidity common to all, attacked the polished empires, and overturned the thrones of their despots. These revolutions were rapid and easy; because the policy of tyrants had enfeebled the subjects, razed the fortresses, destroyed the warriors; and because the oppressed subjects remained without personal interest, and the mercenary soldiers without courage.
And hordes of barbarians having reduced entire nations to slavery, the empires, formed of conquerors and conquered, united in their bosom two classes essentially opposite and hostile. All the principles of society were dissolved: there was no longer any common interest, no longer any public spirit; and there arose a distinction of casts and races, which reduced to a regular system the maintenance of disorder; and he who was born of this or that blood, was born a slave or a tyrant—property or proprietor.
The oppressors being less numerous than the oppressed it was necessary to perfect the science of oppression, in order to support this false equilibrium. The art of governing became the art of subjecting the many to the few. To enforce an obedience so contrary to instinct, the severest punishments were established, and the cruelty of the laws rendered manners atrocious. The distinction of persons establishing in the state two codes, two orders of criminal justice, two sets of laws, the people, placed between the propensities of the heart and the oath uttered from the mouth, had two consciences in contradiction with each other; and the ideas of justice and injustice had no longer any foundation in the understanding.
Under such a system, the people fell into dejection and despair; and the accidents of nature were added to the other evils which assailed them. Prostrated by so many calamities, they attributed their causes to superior and hidden powers; and, because they had tyrants on earth, they fancied others in heaven; and superstition aggravated the misfortunes of nations.
Fatal doctrines and gloomy and misanthropic systems of religion arose, which painted their gods, like their despots, wicked and envious. To appease them, man offered up the sacrifice of all his enjoyments. He environed himself in privations, and reversed the order of nature. Conceiving his pleasures to be crimes, his sufferings expiations, he endeavored to love pain, and to abjure the love of self. He persecuted his senses, hated his life; and a self-denying and anti-social morality plunged nations into the apathy of death.
But provident nature having endowed the heart of man with hope inexhaustible, when his desires of happiness were baffled on this earth, he pursued it into another world. By a sweet illusion he created for himself another country—an asylum where, far from tyrants, he should recover the rights of nature, and thence resulted new disorders. Smitten with an imaginary world, man despised that of nature. For chimerical hopes, he neglected realities. His life began to appear a troublesome journey—a painful dream; his body a prison, the obstacle to his felicity; and the earth, a place of exile and of pilgrimage, not worthy of culture. Then a holy indolence spread over the political world; the fields were deserted, empires depopulated, monuments neglected and deserts multiplied; ignorance, superstition and fanaticism, combining their operations, overwhelmed the earth with devastation and ruin.
Thus agitated by their own passions, men, whether collectively or individually taken, always greedy and improvident, passing from slavery to tyranny, from pride to baseness, from presumption to despondency, have made themselves the perpetual instruments of their own misfortunes.
These, then, are the principles, simple and natural, which regulated the destiny of ancient states. By this regular and connected series of causes and effects, they rose or fell, in proportion as the physical laws of the human heart were respected or violated; and in the course of their successive changes, a hundred different nations, a hundred different empires, by turns humbled, elevated, conquered, overthrown, have repeated for the earth their instructive lessons. Yet these lessons were lost for the generations which have followed! The disorders in times past have reappeared in the present age! The chiefs of the nations have continued to walk in the paths of falsehood and tyranny!—the people to wander in the darkness of superstition and ignorance!
Since then, continued the Genius, with renewed energy, since the experience of past ages is lost for the living—since the errors of progenitors have not instructed their descendants, the ancient examples are about to reappear; the earth will see renewed the tremendous scenes it has forgotten. New revolutions will agitate nations and empires; powerful thrones will again be overturned, and terrible catastrophes will again teach mankind that the laws of nature and the precepts of wisdom and truth cannot be infringed with impunity.
LESSONS OF TIMES PAST REPEATED ON THE PRESENT.
Thus spoke the Genius. Struck with the justice and coherence of his discourse, assailed with a crowd of ideas, repugnant to my habits yet convincing to my reason, I remained absorbed in profound silence. At length, while with serious and pensive mien, I kept my eyes fixed on Asia, suddenly in the north, on the shores of the Black sea, and in the fields of the Crimea, clouds of smoke and flame attracted my attention. They appeared to rise at the same time from all parts of the peninsula; and passing by the isthmus into the continent, they ran, as if driven by a westerly wind, along the oozy lake of Azof, and disappeared in the grassy plains of Couban; and following more attentively the course of these clouds, I observed that they were preceded or followed by swarms of moving creatures, which, like ants or grasshoppers disturbed by the foot of a passenger, agitated themselves with vivacity. Sometimes these swarms appeared to advance and rush against each other; and numbers, after the concussion, remained motionless. While disquieted at this spectacle, I strained my sight to distinguish the objects.
Do you see, said the Genius, those flames which spread over the earth, and do you comprehend their causes and effects?
Oh! Genius, I answered, I see those columns of flame and smoke, and something like insects, accompanying them; but, when I can scarcely discern the great masses of cities and monuments, how should I discover, such little creatures? I can just perceive that these insects mimic battle, for they advance, retreat, attack and pursue.
It is no mimicry, said the Genius, these are real battles.
And what, said I, are those mad animalculae, which destroy each other? Beings of a day! will they not perish soon enough?
Then the Genius, touching my sight and hearing, again directed my eyes towards the same object. Look, said he, and listen!
Ah! wretches, cried I, oppressed with grief, these columns of flame! these insects! oh! Genius, they are men. These are the ravages of war! These torrents of flame rise from towns and villages! I see the squadrons who kindle them, and who, sword in hand overrun the country: they drive before them crowds of old men, women, and children, fugitive and desolate: I perceive other horsemen, who with shouldered lances, accompany and guide them. I even recognize them to be Tartars by their led horses,* their kalpacks, and tufts of hair: and, doubtless, they who pursue, in triangular hats and green uniforms, are Muscovites. Ah! I now comprehend, a war is kindled between the empire of the Czars and that of the Sultans.
* A Tartar horseman has always two horses, of which he leads one in hand. The Kalpeck is a bonnet made of the skin of a sheep or other animal. The part of the head covered by this bonnet is shaved, with the exception of a tuft, about the size of a crown piece, and which is suffered to grow to the length of seven or eight inches, precisely where our priests place their tonsure. It is by this tuft of hair, worn by the majority of Mussulmen, that the angel of the tomb is to take the elect and carry them into paradise.
Not yet, replied the Genius; this is only a preliminary. These Tartars have been, and might still he troublesome neighbors. The Muscovites are driving them off, finding their country would be a convenient extension of their own limits; and as a prelude to another revolution, the throne of the Guerais is destroyed.
And in fact, I saw the Russian standards floating over the Crimea: and soon after their flag waving on the Euxine.
Meanwhile, at the cry of the flying Tartars, the Mussulman empire was in commotion. They are driving off our brethren, cried the children of Mahomet: the people of the prophet are outraged! infidels occupy a consecrated land and profane the temples of Islamism.* Let us arm; let us rush to combat, to avenge the glory of God and our own cause.
* It is not in the power of the Sultan to cede to a foreign power a province inhabited by true believers. The people, instigated by the lawyers, would not fail to revolt. This is one reason which has led those who know the Turks, to regard as chimerical the ceding of Candia, Cyprus, and Egypt, projected by certain European potentates.
And a general movement of war took place in both empires. In every part armed men assembled. Provisions, stores, and all the murderous apparatus of battle were displayed. The temples of both nations, besieged by an immense multitude, presented a spectacle which fixed all my attention.
On one side, the Mussulmen gathered before their mosques, washed their hands and feet, pared their nails, and combed their beards; then spreading carpets upon the ground, and turning towards the south, with their arms sometimes crossed and sometimes extended, they made genuflexions and prostrations, and recollecting the disasters of the late war, they exclaimed:
God of mercy and clemency! hast thou then abandoned thy faithful people? Thou who hast promised to thy Prophet dominion over nations, and stamped his religion by so many triumphs, dost thou deliver thy true believers to the swords of infidels?
And the Imans and the Santons said to the people:
It is in chastisement of your sins. You eat pork; you drink wine; you touch unclean things. God hath punished you. Do penance therefore; purify; repeat the profession of faith;* fast from the rising to the setting sun; give the tenth of your goods to the mosques; go to Mecca; and God will render you victorious.
* There is but one God, and Mahomet is his prophet.
And the people, recovering courage, uttered loud cries:
There is but one God, said they transported with fury, and Mahomet is his prophet! Accursed be he who believeth not!
God of goodness, grant us to exterminate these Christians; it is for thy glory we fight, and our death is a martyrdom for thy name. And then, offering victims, they prepared for battle.
On the other side, the Russians, kneeling, said:
We render thanks to God, and celebrate his power. He hath strengthened our arm to humble his enemies. Hear our prayers, thou God of mercy! To please thee, we will pass three days without eating either meat or eggs. Grant us to extirpate these impious Mahometans, and to overturn their empire. To thee we will consecrate the tenth of our spoil; to thee we will raise new temples.
And the priests filled the churches with clouds of smoke, and said to the people:
We pray for you, God accepteth our incense, and blesseth your arms. Continue to fast and to fight; confess to us your secret sins; give your wealth to the church; we will absolve you from your crimes, and you shall die in a state of grace.
And they sprinkled water upon the people, dealt out to them, as amulets and charms, small relics of the dead, and the people breathed war and combat.
Struck with this contrast of the same passions, and grieving for their fatal consequences, I was considering the difficulty with which the common judge could yield to prayers so contradictory; when the Genius, glowing with anger, spoke with vehemence:
What accents of madness strike my ear? What blind and perverse delirium disorders the spirits of the nations? Sacrilegious prayers rise not from the earth! and you, oh Heavens, reject their homicidal vows and impious thanksgivings! Deluded mortals! is it thus you revere the Divinity? Say then; how should he, whom you style your common father, receive the homage of his children murdering one another? Ye victors! with what eye should he view your hands reeking in the blood he hath created? And, what do you expect, oh vanquished, from useless groans? Hath God the heart of a mortal, with passions ever changing? Is he, like you, agitated with vengeance or compassion, with wrath or repentance? What base conception of the most sublime of beings! According to them, it would seem, that God whimsical and capricious, is angered or appeased as a man: that he loves and hates alternately; that he punishes or favors; that, weak or wicked, he broods over his hatred; that, contradictory or perfidious, he lays snares to entrap; that he punishes the evils he permits; that he foresees but hinders not crimes; that, like a corrupt judge, he is bribed by offerings; like an ignorant despot, he makes laws and revokes them; that, like a savage tyrant, he grants or resumes favors without reason, and can only be appeased by servility. Ah! now I know the lying spirit of man! Contemplating the picture which he hath drawn of the Divinity: No, said I, it is not God who hath made man after the image of God; but man hath made God after the image of man; he hath given him his own mind, clothed him with his own propensities; ascribed to him his own judgments. And when in this medley he finds the contradiction of his own principles, with hypocritical humility, he imputes weakness to his reason, and names the absurdities of his own mind the mysteries of God.
He hath said, God is immutable, yet he offers prayers to change him; he hath pronounced him incomprehensible, yet he interprets him without ceasing.
Imposters have arisen on the earth who have called themselves the confidants of God; and, erecting themselves into teachers of the people, have opened the ways of falsehood and iniquity; they have ascribed merit to practices indifferent or ridiculous; they have supposed a virtue, in certain postures, in pronouncing certain words, articulating certain names; they have transformed into a crime the eating of certain meats, the drinking of certain liquors, on one day rather than another. The Jew would rather die than labor on the sabbath; the Persian would endure suffocation, before he would blow the fire with his breath; the Indian places supreme perfection in besmearing himself with cow-dung, and pronouncing mysteriously the word Aum;* the Mussulman believes he has expiated everything in washing his head and arms; and disputes, sword in hand, whether the ablution should commence at the elbow, or finger ends;** the Christian would think himself damned, if he ate flesh instead of milk or butter. Oh sublime doctrines! Doctrines truly from heaven! Oh perfect morals, and worthy of martyrdom or the apostolate! I will cross the seas to teach these admirable laws to the savage people—to distant nations; I will say unto them:
* This word is, in the religion of the Hindoos, a sacred emblem of the Divinity. It is only to be pronounced in secret, without being heard by any one. It is formed of three letters, of which the first, a, signifies the principal of all, the creator, Brama; the second, u, the conservator, Vichenou; and the last, m, the destroyer, who puts an end to all, Chiven. It is pronounced like the monosyllable om, and expresses the unity of those three Gods. The idea is precisely that of the Alpha and Omega mentioned in the New Testament.
** This is one of the grand points of schism between the partisans of Omar and those of Ali. Suppose two Mahometans to meet on a journey, and to accost each other with brotherly affection: the hour of prayer arrives; one begins his ablution at his fingers, the other at the elbow, and instantly they are mortal enemies. O sublime importance of religious opinions! O profound philosophy of the authors of them!
Children of nature, how long will you walk in the paths of ignorance? how long will you mistake the true principles of morality and religion? Come and learn its lessons from nations truly pious and learned, in civilized countries. They will inform you how, to gratify God, you must in certain months of the year, languish the whole day with hunger and thirst; how you may shed your neighbor's blood, and purify yourself from it by professions of faith and methodical ablutions; how you may steal his property and be absolved on sharing it with certain persons, who devote themselves to its consumption.
Sovereign and invisible power of the universe! mysterious mover of nature! universal soul of beings! thou who art unknown, yet revered by mortals under so many names! being incomprehensible and infinite! God, who in the immensity of the heavens directest the movement of worlds, and peoplest the abyss of space with millions of suns! say what do these human insects, which my sight no longer discerns on the earth, appear in thy eyes? To thee, who art guiding stars in their orbits, what are those wormlings writhing themselves in the dust? Of what import to thy immensity, their distinctions of parties and sects? And of what concern the subtleties with which their folly torments itself?
And you, credulous men, show me the effect of your practices! In so many centuries, during which you have been following or altering them, what changes have your prescriptions wrought in the laws of nature? Is the sun brighter? Is the course of the seasons varied? Is the earth more fruitful, or its inhabitants more happy? If God be good, can your penances please him? If infinite, can your homage add to his glory? If his decrees have been formed on foresight of every circumstance, can your prayers change them? Answer, O inconsistent mortals!
Ye conquerors of the earth, who pretend you serve God! doth he need your aid? If he wishes to punish, hath he not earthquakes, volcanoes, and thunder? And cannot a merciful God correct without extermination?
Ye Mussulmans, if God chastiseth you for violating the five precepts, how hath he raised up the Franks who ridicule them? If he governeth the earth by the Koran, by what did he govern it before the days of the prophet, when it was covered with so many nations who drank wine, ate pork, and went not to Mecca, whom he nevertheless permitted to raise powerful empires? How did he judge the Sabeans of Nineveh and of Babylon; the Persian, worshipper of fire; the Greek and Roman idolators; the ancient kingdoms of the Nile; and your own ancestors, the Arabians and Tartars? How doth he yet judge so many nations who deny, or know not your worship—the numerous castes of Indians, the vast empire of the Chinese, the sable race of Africa, the islanders of the ocean, the tribes of America?
Presumptuous and ignorant men, who arrogate the earth to yourselves! if God were to gather all the generations past and present, what would be, in their ocean, the sects calling themselves universal, of Christians and Mussulmans? What would be the judgments of his equal and common justice over the real universality of mankind? Therein it is that your knowledge loseth itself in incoherent systems; it is there that truth shines with evidence; and there are manifested the powerful and simple laws of nature and reason—laws of a common and general mover—of a God impartial and just, who sheds rain on a country without asking who is its prophet; who causeth his sun to shine alike on all the races of men, on the white as on the black, on the Jew, on the Mussulman, the Christian, and the Idolater; who reareth the harvest wherever cultivated with diligence; who multiplieth every nation where industry and order prevaileth; who prospereth every empire where justice is practised, where the powerful are restrained, and the poor protected by the laws; where the weak live in safety, and all enjoy the rights given by nature and a compact formed in justice.
These are the principles by which people are judged! this the true religion which regulates the destiny of empires, and which, O Ottomans, hath governed yours! Interrogate your ancestors, ask of them by what means they rose to greatness; when few, poor and idolaters, they came from the deserts of Tartary and encamped in these fertile countries; ask if it was by Islamism, till then unknown to them, that they conquered the Greeks and the Arabs, or was it by their courage, their prudence, moderation, spirit of union—the true powers of the social state? Then the Sultan himself dispensed justice, and maintained discipline. The prevaricating judge, the extortionate governor, were punished, and the multitude lived at ease. The cultivator was protected from the rapine of the janissary, and the fields prospered; the highways were safe, and commerce caused abundance. You were a band of plunderers, but just among yourselves. You subdued nations, but did not oppress them. Harassed by their own princes, they preferred being your tributaries. What matters it, said the Christian, whether my ruler breaks or adores images, if he renders justice to me? God will judge his doctrines in the heavens above.
You were sober and hardy; your enemies timid and enervated; you were expert in battle, your enemies unskillful; your leaders were experienced, your soldiers warlike and disciplined. Booty excited ardor, bravery was rewarded, cowardice and insubordination punished, and all the springs of the human heart were in action. Thus you vanquished a hundred nations, and of a mass of conquered kingdoms compounded an immense empire.
But other customs have succeeded; and in the reverses attending them, the laws of nature have still exerted their force. After devouring your enemies, your cupidity, still insatiable, has reacted on itself, and, concentrated in your own bowels, has consumed you.
Having become rich, you have quarrelled for partition and enjoyment, and disorder hath arisen in every class of society.
The Sultan, intoxicated with grandeur, has mistaken the object of his functions; and all the vices of arbitrary power have been developed. Meeting no obstacle to his appetites, he has become a depraved being; weak and arrogant, he has kept the people at a distance; and their voice has no longer instructed and guided him. Ignorant, yet flattered, neglecting all instruction, all study, he has fallen into imbecility; unfit for business, he has thrown its burdens on hirelings, and they have deceived him. To satisfy their own passions, they have stimulated and nourished his; they have multiplied his wants, and his enormous luxury has consumed everything. The frugal table, plain clothing, simple dwelling of his ancestors no longer sufficed. To supply his pomp, earth and sea have been exhausted. The rarest furs have been brought from the poles; the most costly tissues from the equator. He has devoured at a meal the tribute of a city, and in a day that of a province. He has surrounded himself with an army of women, eunuchs, and satellites. They have instilled into him that the virtue of kings is to be liberal, and the munificence and treasures of the people have been delivered into the hands of flatterers. In imitation of their master, his servants must also have splendid houses, the most exquisite furniture; carpets embroidered at great cost, vases of gold and silver for the lowest uses, and all the riches of the empire have been swallowed up in the Serai.
To supply this inordinate luxury, the slaves and women have sold their influence, and venality has introduced a general depravation. The favor of the sovereign has been sold to his vizier, and the vizier has sold the empire. The law has been sold to the cadi, and the cadi has made sale of justice. The altar has been sold to the priest, and the priest has sold the kingdom of heaven. And gold obtaining everything, they have sacrificed everything to obtain gold. For gold, friend has betrayed friend, the child his parent, the servant his master, the wife her honor, the merchant his conscience; and good faith, morals, concord, and strength were banished from the state.
The pacha, who had purchased the government of his province, farmed it out to others, who exercised every extortion. He sold in turn the collection of the taxes, the command of the troops, the administration of the villages; and as every employ has been transient, rapine, spread from rank to rank, has been greedy and implacable. The revenue officer has fleeced the merchant, and commerce was annihilated; the aga has plundered the husbandman, and culture has degenerated. The laborer, deprived of his stock, has been unable to sow; the tax was augmented, and he could not pay it; the bastinado has been threatened, and he has borrowed. Money, from want of security, being locked up from circulation, interest was therefore enormous, and the usury of the rich has aggravated the misery of the laborer.
When excessive droughts and accidents of seasons have blasted the harvest, the government has admitted no delay, no indulgence for the tax; and distress bearing hard on the village, a part of its inhabitants have taken refuge in the cities; and their burdens falling on those who remained, has completed their ruin, and depopulated the country.
If driven to extremity by tyranny and outrage, the villages have revolted, the pacha rejoices. He wages war on them, assails their homes, pillages their property, carries off their stock; and when the fields have become a desert, he exclaims:
"What care I? I leave these fields to-morrow."
The earth wanting laborers, the rain of heaven and overflowing of torrents have stagnated in marshes; and their putrid exhalations in a warm climate, have caused epidemics, plagues, and maladies of all sorts, whence have flowed additional suffering, penury, and ruin.
Oh! who can enumerate all the calamities of tyrannical government?
Sometimes the pachas declare war against each other, and for their personal quarrels the provinces of the same state are laid waste. Sometimes, fearing their masters, they attempt independence, and draw on their subjects the chastisement of their revolt. Sometimes dreading their subjects, they invite and subsidize strangers, and to insure their fidelity set no bounds to their depredations. Here they persecute the rich and despoil them under false pretences; there they suborn false witnesses, and impose penalties for suppositious offences; everywhere they excite the hatred of parties, encourage informations to obtain amercements, extort property, seize persons; and when their short-sighted avarice has accumulated into one mass all the riches of a country, the government, by an execrable perfidy, under pretence of avenging its oppressed people, takes to itself all their spoils, as if they were the culprits, and uselessly sheds the blood of its agents for a crime of which it is the accomplice.
Oh wretches, monarchs or ministers, who sport with the lives and fortunes of the people! Is it you who gave breath to man, that you dare take it from him? Do you give growth to the plants of the earth, that you may waste them? Do you toil to furrow the field? Do you endure the ardor of the sun, and the torment of thirst, to reap the harvest or thrash the grain? Do you, like the shepherd, watch through the dews of the night? Do you traverse deserts, like the merchant? Ah! on beholding the pride and cruelty of the powerful, I have been transported with indignation, and have said in my wrath, will there never then arise on the earth men who will avenge the people and punish tyrants? A handful of brigands devour the multitude, and the multitude submits to be devoured! Oh! degenerate people! Know you not your rights? All authority is from you, all power is yours. Unlawfully do kings command you on the authority of God and of their lance—Soldiers be still; if God supports the Sultan he needs not your aid; if his sword suffices, he needs not yours; let us see what he can do alone. The soldiers grounded their arms; and behold these masters of the world, feeble as the meanest of their subjects! People! know that those who govern are your chiefs, not your masters; your agents, not your owners; that they have no authority over you, but by you, and for you; that your wealth is yours and they accountable for it; that, kings or subjects, God has made all men equal, and no mortal has the right to oppress his fellow-creatures.
But this nation and its chiefs have mistaken these holy truths. They must abide then the consequences of their blindness. The decree is past; the day approaches when this colossus of power shall be crushed and crumbled under its own mass. Yes, I swear it, by the ruins of so many empires destroyed. The empire of the Crescent shall follow the fate of the despotism it has copied. A nation of strangers shall drive the Sultan from his metropolis. The throne of Orkhan shall be overturned. The last shoot of his trunk shall be broken off; and the horde of Oguzians,* deprived of their chief, shall disperse like that of the Nagois. In this dissolution, the people of the empire, loosened from the yoke which united them, shall resume their ancient distinctions, and a general anarchy shall follow, as happened in the empire of the Sophis;** until there shall arise among the Arabians, Armenians, or Greeks, legislators who may compose new states.
* Before the Turks took the name of their chief, Othman I., they bore that of Oguzians; and it was under this appellation that they were driven out of Tartary by Gengis, and came from the borders of Giboun to settle themselves in Anatolia.
** In Persia, after the death of Thamas-Koulikan, each province had its chief, and for forty years these chiefs were in a constant state of war. In this view the Turks do not say without reason: "Ten years of a tyrant are less destructive than a single night of anarchy."
Oh! if there were on earth men profound and bold! what elements for grandeur and glory! But the hour of destiny has already come; the cry of war strikes my ear; and the catastrophe begins. In vain the Sultan leads forth his armies; his ignorant warriors are beaten and dispersed. In vain he calls his subjects; their hearts are ice. Is it not written? say they, what matters who is our master? We cannot lose by the change.
In vain the true believers invoke heaven and the prophet. The prophet is dead; and heaven without pity answers:
Cease to invoke me. You have caused your own misfortunes; cure them yourselves. Nature has established laws; your part is to obey them. Observe, reason, and profit by experience. It is the folly of man which ruins him; let his wisdom save him. The people are ignorant; let them gain instruction. Their chiefs are wicked; let them correct and amend; for such is Nature's decree. Since the evils of society spring from cupidity and ignorance, men will never cease to be persecuted, till they become enlightened and wise; till they practise justice, founded on a knowledge of their relations and of the laws of their organization.*
* A singular moral phenomenon made its appearance in Europe in the year 1788. A great nation, jealous of its liberty, contracted a fondness for a nation the enemy of liberty; a nation friendly to the arts, for a nation that detests them; a mild and tolerant nation, for a persecuting and fanatic one; a social and gay nation, for a nation whose characteristics are gloom and misanthropy; in a word, the French were smitten with a passion for the Turks: they were desirous of engaging in a war for them, and that at a time when revolution in their own country was just at its commencement. A man, who perceived the true nature of the situation, wrote a book to dissuade them from the war: it was immediately pretended that he was paid by the government, which in reality wished the war, and which was upon the point of shutting him up in a state prison. Another man wrote to recommend the war: he was applauded, and his word taken for the science, the politeness, and importance of the Turks. It is true that he believed in his own thesis, for he has found among them people who cast a nativity, and alchymists who ruined his fortune; as he found Martinists at Paris, who enabled him to sup with Sesostris, and Magnetizers who concluded with destroying his existence. Notwithstanding this, the Turks were beaten by the Russians, and the man who then predicted the fall of their empire, persists in the prediction. The result of this fall will be a complete change of the political system, as far as it relates to the coast of the Mediterranean. If, however, the French become important in proportion as they become free, and if they make use of the advantage they will obtain, their progress may easily prove of the most honorable sort; inasmuch as, by the wise decrees of fate, the true interest of mankind evermore accords with their true morality.
WILL THE HUMAN RACE IMPROVE?
At these words, oppressed with the painful sentiment with which their severity overwhelmed me: Woe to the nations! cried I, melting in tears; woe to myself! Ah! now it is that I despair of the happiness of man! Since his miseries proceed from his heart; since the remedy is in his own power, woe for ever to his existence! Who, indeed will ever be able to restrain the lust of wealth in the strong and powerful? Who can enlighten the ignorance of the weak? Who can teach the multitude to know their rights, and force their chiefs to perform their duties? Thus the race of man is always doomed to suffer! Thus the individual will not cease to oppress the individual, a nation to attack a nation; and days of prosperity, of glory, for these regions, shall never return. Alas! conquerors will come; they will drive out the oppressors, and fix themselves in their place; but, inheriting their power, they will inherit their rapacity; and the earth will have changed tyrants, without changing the tyranny.
Then, turning to the Genius, I exclaimed:
O Genius, despair hath settled on my soul. Knowing the nature of man, the perversity of those who govern, and the debasement of the governed—this knowledge hath disgusted me with life; and since there is no choice but to be the accomplice or the victim of oppression, what remains to the man of virtue but to mingle his ashes with those of the tomb?
The Genius then gave me a look of severity, mingled with compassion; and after a few moments of silence, he replied:
Virtue, then, consists in dying! The wicked man is indefatigable in consummating his crime, and the just is discouraged from doing good at the first obstacle he encounters! But such is the human heart. A little success intoxicates man with confidence; a reverse overturns and confounds him. Always given up to the sensation of the moment, he seldom judges things from their nature, but from the impulse of his passion.
Mortal, who despairest of the human race, on what profound combination of facts hast thou established thy conclusion? Hast thou scrutinized the organization of sentient beings, to determine with precision whether the instinctive force which moves them on to happiness is essentially weaker than that which repels them from it? or, embracing in one glance the history of the species, and judging the future by the past, hast thou shown that all improvement is impossible? Say! hath human society, since its origin, made no progress toward knowledge and a better state? Are men still in their forests, destitute of everything, ignorant, stupid and ferocious? Are all the nations still in that age when nothing was seen upon the globe but brutal robbers and brutal slaves? If at any time, in any place, individuals have ameliorated, why shall not the whole mass ameliorate? If partial societies have made improvements, what shall hinder the improvement of society in general? And if the first obstacles are overcome, why should the others be insurmountable?
Art thou disposed to think that the human race degenerates? Guard against the illusion and paradoxes of the misanthrope. Man, discontented with the present, imagines for the past a perfection which never existed, and which only serves to cover his chagrin. He praises the dead out of hatred to the living, and beats the children with the bones of their ancestors.
To prove this pretended retrograde progress from perfection we must contradict the testimony of reason and of fact; and if the facts of history are in any measure uncertain, we must contradict the living fact of the organization of man; we must prove that he is born with the enlightened use of his senses; that, without experience, he can distinguish aliment from poison; that the child is wiser than the old man; that the blind walks with more safety than the clear-sighted; that the civilized man is more miserable than the savage; and, indeed, that there is no ascending scale in experience and 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 removed.
* Read the history of the wars of Rome and Carthage, of Sparta and Messina, of Athens and Syracuse, of the Hebrews and the Phoenicians: yet these are the nations of which antiquity boasts as being most polished!
Indeed, among the ancients, each canton, each city, being isolated from all others by the difference of its language, the consequence was favorable to ignorance and anarchy. There was no communication of ideas, no participation of discoveries, no harmony of interests or of wills, no unity of action or design; besides, the only means of transmitting and of propagating ideas being that of speech, fugitive and limited, and that of writing, tedious of execution, expensive and scarce, the consequence was a hindrance of present instruction, loss of experience from one generation to another, instability, retrogression of knowledge, and a perpetuity of confusion and childhood.
But in the modern world, especially in Europe, great nations having allied themselves in language, and established vast communities of opinions, the minds of men are assimilated, and their affections extended; there is a sympathy of opinion and a unity of action; then that gift of heavenly Genius, the holy art of printing, having furnished the means of communicating in an instant the same idea to millions of men, and of fixing it in a durable manner, beyond the power of tyrants to arrest or annihilate, there arose a mass of progressive instruction, an expanding atmosphere of science, which assures to future ages a solid amelioration. This amelioration is a necessary effect of the laws of nature; for, by the law of sensibility, man as invincibly tends to render himself happy as the flame to mount, the stone to descend, or the water to find its level. His obstacle is his ignorance, which misleads him in the means, and deceives him in causes and effects. He will enlighten himself by experience; he will become right by dint of errors; he will grow wise and good because it is his interest so to be. Ideas being communicated through the nation, whole classes will gain instruction; science will become a vulgar possession, and all men will know what are the principles of individual happiness and of public prosperity. They will know the relations they bear to society, their duties and their rights; they will learn to guard against the illusions of the lust of gain; they will perceive that the science of morals is a physical science, composed, indeed, of elements complicated in their operation, but simple and invariable in their nature, since they are only the elements of the organization of man. They will see the propriety of being moderate and just, because in that is found the advantage and security of each; they will perceive that the wish to enjoy at the expense of another is a false calculation of ignorance, because it gives rise to reprisal, hatred, and vengeance, and that dishonesty is the never-failing offspring of folly.
Individuals will feel that private happiness is allied to public 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 authority.
Even chance itself, serving the cause of nations, will sometimes give them feeble chiefs, who, through weakness, will suffer them to become free; and sometimes enlightened chiefs, who, from a principle of virtue, will free them.
And when nations, free and enlightened, shall become like great individuals, the whole species will have the same facilities as particular portions now have; the communication of knowledge will extend from one to another, and thus reach the whole. By the law of imitation, the example of one people will be followed by others, who will adopt its spirit and its laws. Even despots, perceiving that they can no longer maintain their authority without justice and beneficence, will soften their sway from necessity, from rivalship; and civilization will become universal.
There will be established among the several nations an equilibrium of force, which, restraining them all within the bounds of the respect due to their reciprocal rights, shall put an end to the barbarous practice of war, and submit their disputes to civil arbitration.* The human race will become one great society, one individual family, governed by the same spirit, by common laws, and enjoying all the happiness of which their nature is susceptible.
* What is a people? An individual of the society at large. What a war? A duel between two individual people. In what manner ought a society to act when two of its members fight? Interfere and reconcile, or repress them. In the days of the Abbe de Saint Pierre this was treated as a dream, but happily for the human race it begins to be realized.
Doubtless this great work will be long accomplishing; because the same movement must be given to an immense body; the same leaven must assimilate an enormous mass of heterogeneous parts. But this movement shall be effected; its presages are already to be seen. Already the great society, assuming in its course the same characters as partial societies have done, is evidently tending to a like result. At first disconnected in all its parts, it saw its members for a long time without cohesion; and this general solitude of nations formed its first age of anarchy and childhood; divided afterwards by chance into irregular sections, called states and kingdoms, it has experienced the fatal effects of an extreme inequality of wealth and rank; and the aristocracy of great empires has formed its second age; then, these lordly states disputing for preeminence, have exhibited the period of the shock of factions.
At present the contending parties, wearied with discord, feel the want of laws, and sigh for the age of order and of peace. Let but a virtuous chief arise! a just, a powerful people appear! and the earth will raise them to supreme power. The world is waiting for a legislative people; it wishes and demands it; and my heart attends 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 race!
THE GREAT OBSTACLE TO IMPROVEMENT.
The Genius ceased. But preoccupied with melancholy thoughts, my mind resisted persuasion; fearing, however, to shock him by my resistance, I remained silent. After a while, turning to me with a look which pierced my soul, he said:
Thou art silent, and thy heart is agitated with thoughts which it dares not utter.
At last, troubled and terrified, I replied:
O Genius, pardon my weakness. Doubtless thy mouth can utter nothing but truth; but thy celestial intelligence can seize its rays, where my gross faculties can discern nothing but clouds. I confess it; conviction has not penetrated my soul, and I feared that my doubts might offend thee.
And what is doubt, replied he, that it should be a crime? Can man feel otherwise than as he is affected? If a truth be palpable, and of importance in practice, let us pity him that misconceives it. His punishment will arise from his blindness. If it be uncertain or equivocal, how is he to find in it what it has not? To believe without evidence or proof, is an act of ignorance and folly. The credulous man loses himself in a labyrinth of contradictions; the man of sense examines and discusses, that he may be consistent in his opinions. The honest man will bear contradiction; because it gives rise to evidence. Violence is the argument of falsehood; and to impose a creed by authority is the act and indication of a 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 1718.
Notwithstanding what is asserted by the missionaries, this situation has undergone no change. The bamboo still reigns in China, and the son of heaven bastinades, for the most trivial fault, the Mandarin, who in his turn bastinades the people. The Jesuits may tell us that this is the best governed country in the world, and its inhabitants the happiest of men: but a single letter from Amyot has convinced me that China is a truly Turkish government, and the account of Sonnerat confirms it. See Vol. II. of Voyage aux Indes, in 4to.
** As long as the Chinese shall in writing make use of their present characters, they can be expected to make no progress in civilization. The necessary introductory step must be the giving them an alphabet like our own, or of substituting in the room of their language that of the Tartars. The improvement made in the latter by M. de Lengles, is calculated to introduce this change. See the Mantchou alphabet, the production of a mind truly learned in the formation of language.
In some parts of Europe, indeed, reason has begun to dawn, but even there, do nations partake of the knowledge of individuals? Are the talents and genius of governors turned to the benefit of the people? And those nations which call themselves polished, are they not the same that for the last three centuries have filled the earth with their injustice? Are they not those who, under the pretext of commerce, have desolated India, depopulated a new continent, and, at present, subject Africa to the most barbarous slavery? Can liberty be born from the bosom of despots? and shall justice be rendered by the hands of piracy and avarice? O Genius, I have seen the civilized countries; and the mockery of their wisdom has vanished before my sight. I saw wealth accumulated in the hands of a few, and the multitude poor and destitute. I have seen all rights, all powers concentered in certain classes, and the mass of the people passive and dependent. I have seen families of princes, but no families of the nation. I have seen government interests, but no public interests or spirit. I have seen that all the science of government was to oppress prudently; and the refined servitude of polished nations appeared to me only the more 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 tomb?
Here, sunk in sorrow, my oppressed heart no longer found utterance. The Genius answered not, but I heard him whisper to himself:
Let us revive the hope of this man; for if he who loves his fellow creatures be suffered to despair, what will become of nations? The past is perhaps too discouraging; I must anticipate futurity, and disclose to the eye of virtue the astonishing age that is ready to begin; that, on viewing the object she desires, she may be animated with new ardor, and redouble her efforts to attain it.
THE NEW AGE.
Scarcely had he finished these words, when a great tumult arose in the west; and turning to that quarter, I perceived, at the extremity of the Mediterranean, in one of the nations of Europe, a prodigious movement—such as when a violent sedition arises in a vast city—a numberless people, rushing in all directions, pour through the streets and fluctuate like waves in the public places. My ear, struck with the cries which resounded to the heavens, distinguished these words:
What is this new prodigy? What cruel and mysterious scourge is this? We are a numerous people and we want hands! We have an excellent soil, and we are in want of subsistence? We are active and laborious, and we live in indigence! We pay enormous tributes, and we are told they are not sufficient! We are at peace without, and our persons and property are not safe within. Who, then, is the secret enemy that devours us?
Some voices from the midst of the multitude replied:
Raise a discriminating standard; and let all those who maintain and nourish mankind by useful labors gather round it; and you will discover the enemy that preys upon you.
The standard being raised, this nation divided itself at once into two bodies of unequal magnitude and contrasted appearance. The one, innumerable, and almost total, exhibited in the poverty of its clothing, in its emaciated appearance and sun-burnt faces, the marks of misery and labor; the other, a little group, an insignificant faction, presented in its rich attire embroidered with gold and silver, and in its sleek and ruddy faces, the signs of leisure and abundance.
Considering these men more attentively, I found that the great body was composed of farmers, artificers, merchants, all professions useful to society; and that the little group was made up of priests of every order, of financiers, of nobles, of men in livery, of commanders of armies; in a word, of the civil, military, and religious agents of government.
These two bodies being assembled face to face, and regarding each other with astonishment, I saw indignation and rage arising in one side, and a sort of panic in the other. And the large body said to the little one: Why are you separated from us? Are you not of our 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.