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The Ruins

Part I, Chapter 7
PRINCIPLES OF SOCIETY
Wandering in the woods and on the banks of rivers in pursuit of game and fish, the first
men, beset with dangers, assailed by enemies, tormented by hunger, by reptiles, by
ravenous beasts, felt their own individual weakness; and, urged by a common need of
safety, and a reciprocal sentiment of like evils, they united their resources and their
strength; and when one incurred a danger, many aided and succored him; when one
wanted subsistence, another shared his food with him. Thus men associated to secure
their existence, to augment their powers, to protect their enjoyments; and self-love thus
became the principle of society.
Instructed afterwards by the experience of various and repeated accidents, by the fatigues
of a wandering life, by the distress of frequent scarcity, men reasoned with themselves
and said:
"Why consume our days in seeking scattered fruits from a parsimonious soil? why
exhaust ourselves in pursuing prey which eludes us in the woods or waters? why not
collect under our hands the animals that nourish us? why not apply our cares in
multiplying and preserving them? We will feed on their increase, be clothed in their
skins, and live exempt from the fatigues of the day and solicitude for the morrow."
And men, aiding one another, seized the nimble goat, the timid sheep; they tamed the
patient camel, the fierce bull, the impetuous horse; and, applauding their own industry,
they sat down in the joy of their souls, and began to taste repose and comfort: and self-
love, the principle of all reasoning, became the incitement to every art, and every
enjoyment.
When, therefore, men could pass long days in leisure, and in communication of their
thoughts, they began to contemplate the earth, the heavens, and their own existence as
objects of curiosity and reflection; they remarked the course of the seasons, the action of
the elements, the properties of fruits and plants; and applied their thoughts to the
multiplication of their enjoyments. And in some countries, having observed that certain
seeds contained a wholesome nourishment in a small volume, convenient for
transportation and preservation, they imitated the process of nature; they confided to the
earth rice, barley, and corn, which multiplied to the full measure of their hope; and
having found the means of obtaining within a small compass and without removal,
plentiful subsistence and durable stores, they established themselves in fixed habitations;
they built houses, villages, and towns; formed societies and nations; and self-love
produced all the developments of genius and of power.
Thus by the aid of his own faculties, man has raised himself to the astonishing height of
his present fortune. Too happy if, observing scrupulously the law of his being, he had
faithfully fulfilled its only and true object! But, by a fatal imprudence, sometimes
 
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