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

What is the Origin of the Inequality among Mankind; and whether such Inequality is
authorized by the Law of Nature?
'Tis of man I am to speak; and the very question, in answer to which I am to speak of
him, sufficiently informs me that I am going to speak to men; for to those alone, who are
not afraid of honouring truth, it belongs to propose discussions of this kind. I shall
therefore maintain with confidence the cause of mankind before the sages, who invite me
to stand up in its defence; and I shall think myself happy, if I can but behave in a manner
not unworthy of my subject and of my judges.
I conceive two species of inequality among men; one which I call natural, or physical
inequality, because it is established by nature, and consists in the difference of age,
health, bodily strength, and the qualities of the mind, or of the soul; the other which may
be termed moral, or political inequality, because it depends on a kind of convention, and
is established, or at least authorized, by the common consent of mankind. This species of
inequality consists in the different privileges, which some men enjoy, to the prejudice of
others, such as that of being richer, more honoured, more powerful, and even that of
exacting obedience from them.
It were absurd to ask, what is the cause of natural inequality, seeing the bare definition of
natural inequality answers the question: it would be more absurd still to enquire, if there
might not be some essential connection between the two species of inequality, as it would
be asking, in other words, if those who command are necessarily better men than those
who obey; and if strength of body or of mind, wisdom or virtue are always to be found in
individuals, in the same proportion with power, or riches: a question, fit perhaps to be
discussed by slaves in the hearing of their masters, but unbecoming free and reasonable
beings in quest of truth.
What therefore is precisely the subject of this discourse? It is to point out, in the progress
of things, that moment, when, right taking place of violence, nature became subject to
law; to display that chain of surprising events, in consequence of which the strong
submitted to serve the weak, and the people to purchase imaginary ease, at the expense of
real happiness.
The philosophers, who have examined the foundations of society, have, every one of
them, perceived the necessity of tracing it back to a state of nature, but not one of them
has ever arrived there. Some of them have not scrupled to attribute to man in that state the
ideas of justice and injustice, without troubling their heads to prove, that he really must
have had such ideas, or even that such ideas were useful to him: others have spoken of
the natural right of every man to keep what belongs to him, without letting us know what
they meant by the word belong; others, without further ceremony ascribing to the