OR, MEDITATION ON THE REVOLUTIONS OF EMPIRES
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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
No, replied the group; you are the people; we are a privileged
class, who have our laws, customs, and rights, peculiar to
PEOPLE.--And what labor do you perform in our society?
PRIVILEGED CLASS.--None; we are not made to work.
PEOPLE.--How, then, have you acquired these riches?
PRIVILEGED CLASS.--By taking the pains to govern you.
PEOPLE.--What! is this what you call governing? We toil and you
enjoy! we produce and you dissipate! Wealth proceeds from us, and
you absorb it. Privileged men! class who are not the people; form
a nation apart, and govern yourselves.*
- This dialogue between the people and the indolent classes, is
applicable to every society; it contains the seeds of all the
political vices and disorders that prevail, and which may thus be
defined: Men who do nothing, and who devour the substance of
others; and men who arrogate to themselves particular rights and
exclusive privileges of wealth and indolence. Compare the Mamlouks
of Egypt, the nobility of Europe, the Nairs of India, the Emirs of
Arabia, the patricians of Rome, the Christian clergy, the Imans,
the Bramins, the Bonzes, the Lamas, etc., etc., and you will find
in all the same characteristic feature:--Men living in idleness at
the expense of those who labor.
Then the little group, deliberating on this new state of things,
some of the most honorable among them said: We must join the people
and partake of their labors and burdens, for they are men like us,
and our riches come from them; but others arrogantly exclaimed: It
would be a shame, an infamy, for us to mingle with the crowd; they
are born to serve us. Are we not men of another race--the noble
and pure descendants of the conquerors of this empire? This
multitude must be reminded of our rights and its own origin.
THE NOBLES.--People! know you not that our ancestors conquered this
land, and that your race was spared only on condition of serving
us? This is our social compact! this the government constituted by
custom and prescribed by time.
PEOPLE.--O conquerors, pure of blood! show us your genealogies! we
shall then see if what in an individual is robbery and plunder, can
be virtuous in a nation.
And forthwith, voices were heard in every quarter calling out the
nobles by their names; and relating their origin and parentage,
they told how the grandfather, great-grandfather, or even father,
born traders and mechanics, after acquiring wealth in every way,
had purchased their nobility for money: so that but very few
families were really of the original stock. See, said these
voices, see these purse-proud commoners who deny their parents! see
these plebian recruits who look upon themselves as illustrious
veterans! and peals of laughter were heard.
And the civil governors said: these people are mild, and naturally
servile; speak to them of the king and of the law, and they will
return to their duty. People! the king wills, the sovereign
PEOPLE.--The king can will nothing but the good of the people; the
sovereign can only ordain according to law.
CIVIL GOVERNORS.--The law commands you to be submissive.
PEOPLE.--The law is the general will; and we will a new order of
CIVIL GOVERNORS.--You are then a rebel people.
PEOPLE.--A nation cannot revolt; tyrants only are rebels.
CIVIL GOVERNORS.--The king is on our side; he commands you to
PEOPLE.--Kings are inseparable from their nations. Our king cannot
be with you; you possess only his phantom.
And the military governors came forward. The people are timorous,
said they; we must threaten them; they will submit only to force.
Soldiers, chastise this insolent multitude.
PEOPLE.--Soldiers, you are of our blood! Will you strike your
brothers, your relatives? If the people perish who will nourish
And the soldiers, grounding their arms, said to the chiefs:
We are likewise the people; show us the enemy!
Then the ecclesiastical governors said: There is but one resource
left. The people are superstitious; we must frighten them with the
names of God and religion.
Our dear brethren! our children! God has ordained us to govern
PEOPLE.--Show us your credentials from God!
PRIESTS.--You must have faith; reason leads astray.
PEOPLE.--Do you govern without reason?
PRIESTS.--God commands peace! Religion prescribes obedience.
PEOPLE.--Peace supposes justice. Obedience implies conviction of a
PRIESTS.--Suffering is the business of this world.
PEOPLE.--Show us the example.
PRIESTS.--Would you live without gods or kings?
PEOPLE.--We would live without oppressors.
PRIESTS.--You must have mediators, intercessors.
PEOPLE.--Mediators with God and with the king! courtiers and
priests, your services are too expensive: we will henceforth manage
our own affairs.
And the little group said: We are lost! the multitude are
And the people answered: You are safe; since we are enlightened we
will commit no violence; we only claim our rights. We feel
resentments, but we will forget them. We were slaves, we might
command; but we only wish to be free, and liberty is but justice.