OR, MEDITATION ON THE REVOLUTIONS OF EMPIRES
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DEVELOPMENT OF THE SOCIAL VIRTUES.
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?
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.
Charity is then nothing but justice?
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.
Does it enjoin forgiveness of injuries?
Yes, when that forgiveness implies self-preservation.
Does it prescribe to us, after having received a blow on one
cheek, to hold out the other?
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.
Does the law of nature prescribe to do good to others beyond
the bounds of reason and measure?
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
Is alms-giving a virtuous action?
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
Does the law of nature consider as virtues faith and hope,
which are often joined with charity?
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.
Does the law of nature prescribe probity?
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.
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?
Yes, and a science so much the more delicate as the honest man
pronounces in his own cause.
Probity, then, shows an extension and justice in the mind?
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
Improbity, therefore, is a sign of false judgment and a narrow
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
Does the law of nature forbid robbery?
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.
Does it interdict even an inclination to rob?
Yes; for that inclination leads naturally to action, and it is
for this reason that envy is considered a sin?
How does it forbid murder?
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
How can we, by the law of nature, repair the evil we have done?
By rendering a proportionate good to those whom we have
Does it allow us to repair it by prayers, vows, offerings to
God, fasting and mortifications?
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.
Does the law of nature order sincerity?
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.
Does it prescribe mildness and modesty?
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 utility.
Does it prescribe humility as a virtue?
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.
You have reckoned simplicity of manners among the social
virtues; what do you understand by that word?
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.
How is this virtue prescribed to us?
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.
What is the vice contrary to this virtue?
It is cupidity and luxury.
Is luxury a vice in the individual and in society?
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.
What do you mean by the word country?
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.
What do you conclude from all this?
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.