The Rights of Man HTML version

III. Of The Old And New Systems Of Government
Nothing can appear more contradictory than the principles on which the old governments
began, and the condition to which society, civilisation and commerce are capable of
carrying mankind. Government, on the old system, is an assumption of power, for the
aggrandisement of itself; on the new, a delegation of power for the common benefit of
society. The former supports itself by keeping up a system of war; the latter promotes a
system of peace, as the true means of enriching a nation. The one encourages national
prejudices; the other promotes universal society, as the means of universal commerce.
The one measures its prosperity, by the quantity of revenue it extorts; the other proves its
excellence, by the small quantity of taxes it requires.
Mr. Burke has talked of old and new whigs. If he can amuse himself with childish names
and distinctions, I shall not interrupt his pleasure. It is not to him, but to the Abbe Sieyes,
that I address this chapter. I am already engaged to the latter gentleman to discuss the
subject of monarchical government; and as it naturally occurs in comparing the old and
new systems, I make this the opportunity of presenting to him my observations. I shall
occasionally take Mr. Burke in my way.
Though it might be proved that the system of government now called the New, is the
most ancient in principle of all that have existed, being founded on the original, inherent
Rights of Man: yet, as tyranny and the sword have suspended the exercise of those rights
for many centuries past, it serves better the purpose of distinction to call it the new, than
to claim the right of calling it the old.
The first general distinction between those two systems, is, that the one now called the
old is hereditary, either in whole or in part; and the new is entirely representative. It
rejects all hereditary government:
First, As being an imposition on mankind.
Secondly, As inadequate to the purposes for which government is necessary.
With respect to the first of these heads- It cannot be proved by what right hereditary
government could begin; neither does there exist within the compass of mortal power a
right to establish it. Man has no authority over posterity in matters of personal right; and,
therefore, no man, or body of men, had, or can have, a right to set up hereditary
government. Were even ourselves to come again into existence, instead of being
succeeded by posterity, we have not now the right of taking from ourselves the rights
which would then be ours. On what ground, then, do we pretend to take them from
All hereditary government is in its nature tyranny. An heritable crown, or an heritable
throne, or by what other fanciful name such things may be called, have no other
significant explanation than that mankind are heritable property. To inherit a government,
is to inherit the people, as if they were flocks and herds.