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The Ruins

Part I, Chapter 13
At these words, oppressed with the painful sentiment with which their severity
overwhelmed me: Woe to the nations! cried I, melting in tears; woe to myself! Ah! now it
is that I despair of the happiness of man! Since his miseries proceed from his heart; since
the remedy is in his own power, woe for ever to his existence! Who, indeed will ever be
able to restrain the lust of wealth in the strong and powerful? Who can enlighten the
ignorance of the weak? Who can teach the multitude to know their rights, and force their
chiefs to perform their duties? Thus the race of man is always doomed to suffer! Thus the
individual will not cease to oppress the individual, a nation to attack a nation; and days of
prosperity, of glory, for these regions, shall never return. Alas! conquerors will come;
they will drive out the oppressors, and fix themselves in their place; but, inheriting their
power, they will inherit their rapacity; and the earth will have changed tyrants, without
changing the tyranny.
Then, turning to the Genius, I exclaimed:
O Genius, despair hath settled on my soul. Knowing the nature of man, the perversity of
those who govern, and the debasement of the governed--this knowledge hath disgusted
me with life; and since there is no choice but to be the accomplice or the victim of
oppression, what remains to the man of virtue but to mingle his ashes with those of the
The Genius then gave me a look of severity, mingled with compassion; and after a few
moments of silence, he replied:
Virtue, then, consists in dying! The wicked man is indefatigable in consummating his
crime, and the just is discouraged from doing good at the first obstacle he encounters! But
such is the human heart. A little success intoxicates man with confidence; a reverse
overturns and confounds him. Always given up to the sensation of the moment, he
seldom judges things from their nature, but from the impulse of his passion.
Mortal, who despairest of the human race, on what profound combination of facts hast
thou established thy conclusion? Hast thou scrutinized the organization of sentient
beings, to determine with precision whether the instinctive force which moves them on to
happiness is essentially weaker than that which repels them from it? or, embracing in one
glance the history of the species, and judging the future by the past, hast thou shown that
all improvement is impossible? Say! hath human society, since its origin, made no
progress toward knowledge and a better state? Are men still in their forests, destitute of
everything, ignorant, stupid and ferocious? Are all the nations still in that age when
nothing was seen upon the globe but brutal robbers and brutal slaves? If at any time, in
any place, individuals have ameliorated, why shall not the whole mass ameliorate? If
partial societies have made improvements, what shall hinder the improvement of society