The Rights of Man HTML version

V. Ways And Means Of Improving The Condition Of
In contemplating a subject that embraces with equatorial magnitude the whole region of
humanity it is impossible to confine the pursuit in one single direction. It takes ground on
every character and condition that appertains to man, and blends the individual, the
nation, and the world. From a small spark, kindled in America, a flame has arisen not to
be extinguished. Without consuming, like the Ultima Ratio Regum, it winds its progress
from nation to nation, and conquers by a silent operation. Man finds himself changed, he
scarcely perceives how. He acquires a knowledge of his rights by attending justly to his
interest, and discovers in the event that the strength and powers of despotism consist
wholly in the fear of resisting it, and that, in order "to be free, it is sufficient that he wills
Having in all the preceding parts of this work endeavoured to establish a system of
principles as a basis on which governments ought to be erected, I shall proceed in this, to
the ways and means of rendering them into practice. But in order to introduce this part of
the subject with more propriety, and stronger effect, some preliminary observations,
deducible from, or connected with, those principles, are necessary.
Whatever the form or constitution of government may be, it ought to have no other object
than the general happiness. When, instead of this, it operates to create and increase
wretchedness in any of the parts of society, it is on a wrong system, and reformation is
necessary. Customary language has classed the condition of man under the two
descriptions of civilised and uncivilised life. To the one it has ascribed felicity and
affluence; to the other hardship and want. But, however our imagination may be
impressed by painting and comparison, it is nevertheless true, that a great portion of
mankind, in what are called civilised countries, are in a state of poverty and
wretchedness, far below the condition of an Indian. I speak not of one country, but of all.
It is so in England, it is so all over Europe. Let us enquire into the cause.
It lies not in any natural defect in the principles of civilisation, but in preventing those
principles having a universal operation; the consequence of which is, a perpetual system
of war and expense, that drains the country, and defeats the general felicity of which
civilisation is capable. All the European governments (France now excepted) are
constructed not on the principle of universal civilisation, but on the reverse of it. So far as
those governments relate to each other, they are in the same condition as we conceive of
savage uncivilised life; they put themselves beyond the law as well of God as of man, and
are, with respect to principle and reciprocal conduct, like so many individuals in a state of
nature. The inhabitants of every country, under the civilisation of laws, easily civilise
together, but governments being yet in an uncivilised state, and almost continually at war,
they pervert the abundance which civilised life produces to carry on the uncivilised part