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A Discourse Upon the Origin and the Foundation of the Inequality Among Mankind

strongest an authority over the weakest, have immediately struck out government,
without thinking of the time requisite for men to form any notion of the things signified
by the words authority and government. All of them, in fine, constantly harping on wants,
avidity, oppression, desires and pride, have transferred to the state of nature ideas picked
up in the bosom of society. In speaking of savages they described citizens. Nay, few of
our own writers seem to have so much as doubted, that a state of nature did once actually
exit; though it plainly appears by Sacred History, that even the first man, immediately
furnished as he was by God himself with both instructions and precepts, never lived in
that state, and that, if we give to the books of Moses that credit which every Christian
philosopher ought to give to them, we must deny that, even before the deluge, such a
state ever existed among men, unless they fell into it by some extraordinary event: a
paradox very difficult to maintain, and altogether impossible to prove.
Let us begin therefore, by laying aside facts, for they do not affect the question. The
researches, in which we may engage on this occasion, are not to be taken for historical
truths, but merely as hypothetical and conditional reasonings, fitter to illustrate the nature
of things, than to show their true origin, like those systems, which our naturalists daily
make of the formation of the world. Religion commands us to believe, that men, having
been drawn by God himself out of a state of nature, are unequal, because it is his pleasure
they should be so; but religion does not forbid us to draw conjectures solely from the
nature of man, considered in itself, and from that of the beings which surround him,
concerning the fate of mankind, had they been left to themselves. This is then the
question I am to answer, the question I propose to examine in the present discourse. As
mankind in general have an interest in my subject, I shall endeavour to use a language
suitable to all nations; or rather, forgetting the circumstances of time and place in order to
think of nothing but the men I speak to, I shall suppose myself in the Lyceum of Athens,
repeating the lessons of my masters before the Platos and the Xenocrates of that famous
seat of philosophy as my judges, and in presence of the whole human species as my
audience.
O man, whatever country you may belong to, whatever your opinions may be, attend to
my words; you shall hear your history such as I think I have read it, not in books
composed by those like you, for they are liars, but in the book of nature which never lies.
All that I shall repeat after her, must be true, without any intermixture of falsehood, but
where I may happen, without intending it, to introduce my own conceits. The times I am
going to speak of are very remote. How much you are changed from what you once were!
'Tis in a manner the life of your species that I am going to write, from the qualities which
you have received, and which your education and your habits could deprave, but could
not destroy. There is, I am sensible, an age at which every individual of you would
choose to stop; and you will look out for the age at which, had you your wish, your
species had stopped. Uneasy at your present condition for reasons which threaten your
unhappy posterity with still greater uneasiness, you will perhaps wish it were in your
power to go back; and this sentiment ought to be considered, as the panegyric of your
first parents, the condemnation of your contemporaries, and a source of terror to all those
who may have the misfortune of succeeding you.
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