Anno Urbis - The Roman Empire Online

THE RUINS, OR, MEDITATION ON THE REVOLUTIONS OF EMPIRES

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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.



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