Previous Contents Index Next

The Ruins of Empire

By C. F. Volney




Q. WHAT is society?

A. It is every reunion of men living together under the clauses of an expressed or tacit contract, which has for its end their common preservation.

Q. Are the social virtues numerous?

A. Yes; they are in as great number as the kinds of actions useful to society; but all may be reduced to one principle.

Q. What is that fundamental principle?

A. It is justice, which alone comprises all the virtues of society.

Q. Why do you say that justice is the fundamental and almost only virtue of society?

A. Because it alone embraces the practice of all the actions useful to it; and because all the other virtues, under the denominations of charity, humanity, probity, love of one's country, sincerity, generosity, simplicity of manners, and modesty, are only varied forms and diversified applications of the axiom, "Do not to another what you do not wish to be done to yourself," which is the definition of justice.

Q. How does the law of nature prescribe justice?

A. By three physical attributes, inherent in the organization of man.

Q. What are those attributes?

A. They are equality, liberty, and property.

Q. How is equality a physical attribute of man?

A. Because all men, having equally eyes, hands, mouths, ears, and the necessity of making use of them, in order to live, have, by this reason alone, an equal right to life, and to the use of the ailments which maintain it; they are all equal before God.

Q. Do you suppose that all men hear equally, see equally, feel equally, have equal wants, and equal passions?

A. No; for it is evident, and daily demonstrated, that one is short, and another long-sighted; that one eats much, another little; that one has mild, another violent passions; in a {203} word, that one is weak in body and mind, while another is strong in both.

Q. They are, therefore, really unequal?

A. Yes, in the development of their means, but not in the nature and essence of those means. They are made of the same stuff, but not in the same dimensions; nor are the weight and value equal. Our language possesses no one word capable of expressing the identity of nature, and the diversity of its form and employment. It is a proportional equality; and it is for this reason I have said, equal before God, and in the order of nature.

Q. How is liberty a physical attribute of man?

A. Because all men having senses sufficient for their preservation -- no one wanting the eye of another to see, his ear to hear, his mouth to eat, his feet to walk -- they are all, by this very reason, constituted naturally independent and free; no man is necessarily subjected to another, nor has he a right to dominate over him.

Q. But if a man is born strong, has he a natural right to master the weak man?

A. No; for it is neither a necessity for him, nor a convention between them; it is an abusive extension of his strength; and here an abuse is made of the word right, which in its true meaning implies, justice or reciprocal faculty.

Q. How is property a physical attribute of man?

A. Inasmuch as all men being constituted equal or similar to one another, and consequently independent and free, each is the absolute master, the full proprietor of his body and of the produce of his labor.

Q. How is justice derived from these three attributes?

A. In this, that men being equal and free, owing nothing to each other, have no right to require anything from one another only inasmuch as they return an equal value for it; or inasmuch as the balance of what is given is in equilibrium with what is returned: and it is this equality, this equilibrium which is called justice, equity;1 that is to say that equality and justice are but one and the same word, the same law of nature, of which the social virtues are only applications and derivatives.


1. AEquitas, aequillibrium, aequalitas, are all of the same family.