The Ruins HTML version

Part I, Chapter 8
In truth, scarcely were the faculties of men developed, when, inveigled by objects which
gratify the senses, they gave themselves up to unbridled desires. The sweet sensations
which nature had attached to their real wants, to endear to them their existence, no longer
satisfied them. Not content with the abundance offered by the earth or produced by
industry, they wished to accumulate enjoyments and coveted those possessed by their
fellow men. The strong man rose up against the feeble, to take from him the fruit of his
labor; the feeble invoked another feeble one to repel the violence. Two strong ones then
"Why fatigue ourselves to produce enjoyments which we may find in the hands of the
weak? Let us join and despoil them; they shall labor for us, and we will enjoy without
And the strong associating for oppression and the weak for resistance, men mutually
afflicted each other; and a general and fatal discord spread over the earth, in which the
passions, assuming a thousand new forms, have generated a continued chain of
Thus the same self-love which, moderate and prudent, was a principle of happiness and
perfection, becoming blind and disordered, was transformed into a corrupting poison; and
cupidity, offspring and companion of ignorance, became the cause of all the evils that
have desolated the earth.
Yes, ignorance and cupidity! these are the twin sources of all the torments of man! Biased
by these into false ideas of happiness, he has mistaken or broken the laws of nature in his
own relation with external objects; and injuring his own existence, has violated individual
morality; shutting through these his heart to compassion, and his mind to justice, he has
injured and afflicted his equal, and violated social morality. From ignorance and cupidity,
man has armed against man, family against family, tribe against tribe; and the earth is
become a theatre of blood, of discord, and of rapine. By ignorance and cupidity, a secret
war, fermenting in the bosom of every state, has separated citizen from citizen; and the
same society has divided itself into oppressors and oppressed, into masters and slaves; by
these, the heads of a nation, sometimes insolent and audacious, have forged its chains
within its own bowels; and mercenary avarice has founded political despotism.
Sometimes, hypocritical and cunning, they have called from heaven a lying power, and a
sacrilegious yoke; and credulous cupidity has founded religious despotism. By these have
been perverted the ideas of good and evil, just and unjust, vice and virtue; and nations
have wandered in a labyrinth of errors and calamities.
The cupidity of man and his ignorance,--these are the evil genii which have wasted the
earth! These are the decrees of fate which have overthrown empires! These are the