The Rights of Man HTML version
I. Of Society And Civilisation
Great part of that order which reigns among mankind is not the effect of government. It
has its origin in the principles of society and the natural constitution of man. It existed
prior to government, and would exist if the formality of government was abolished. The
mutual dependence and reciprocal interest which man has upon man, and all the parts of
civilised community upon each other, create that great chain of connection which holds it
together. The landholder, the farmer, the manufacturer, the merchant, the tradesman, and
every occupation, prospers by the aid which each receives from the other, and from the
whole. Common interest regulates their concerns, and forms their law; and the laws
which common usage ordains, have a greater influence than the laws of government. In
fine, society performs for itself almost everything which is ascribed to government.
To understand the nature and quantity of government proper for man, it is necessary to
attend to his character. As Nature created him for social life, she fitted him for the station
she intended. In all cases she made his natural wants greater than his individual powers.
No one man is capable, without the aid of society, of supplying his own wants, and those
wants, acting upon every individual, impel the whole of them into society, as naturally as
gravitation acts to a centre.
But she has gone further. She has not only forced man into society by a diversity of wants
which the reciprocal aid of each other can supply, but she has implanted in him a system
of social affections, which, though not necessary to his existence, are essential to his
happiness. There is no period in life when this love for society ceases to act. It begins and
ends with our being.
If we examine with attention into the composition and constitution of man, the diversity
of his wants, and the diversity of talents in different men for reciprocally accommodating
the wants of each other, his propensity to society, and consequently to preserve the
advantages resulting from it, we shall easily discover, that a great part of what is called
government is mere imposition.
Government is no farther necessary than to supply the few cases to which society and
civilisation are not conveniently competent; and instances are not wanting to show, that
everything which government can usefully add thereto, has been performed by the
common consent of society, without government.
For upwards of two years from the commencement of the American War, and to a longer
period in several of the American States, there were no established forms of government.
The old governments had been abolished, and the country was too much occupied in
defence to employ its attention in establishing new governments; yet during this interval
order and harmony were preserved as inviolate as in any country in Europe. There is a
natural aptness in man, and more so in society, because it embraces a greater variety of
abilities and resource, to accommodate itself to whatever situation it is in. The instant
formal government is abolished, society begins to act: a general association takes place,
and common interest produces common security.