The Ruins HTML version

Part I, Chapter 10
Such, O man who seekest wisdom, such have been the causes of revolution in the ancient
states of which thou contemplatest the ruins! To whatever spot I direct my view, to
whatever period my thoughts recur, the same principles of growth or destruction, of rise
or fall, present themselves to my mind. Wherever a people is powerful, or an empire
prosperous, there the conventional laws are conformable with the laws of nature--the
government there procures for its citizens a free use of their faculties, equal security for
their persons and property. If, on the contrary, an empire goes to ruin, or dissolves, it is
because its laws have been vicious, or imperfect, or trodden under foot by a corrupt
government. If the laws and government, at first wise and just, become afterwards
depraved, it is because the alternation of good and evil is inherent to the heart of man, to
a change in his propensities, to his progress in knowledge, to a combination of
circumstances and events; as is proved by the history of the species.
In the infancy of nations, when men yet lived in the forest, subject to the same wants,
endowed with the same faculties, all were nearly equal in strength; and that equality was
a circumstance highly advantageous in the composition of society: as every individual,
thus feeling himself sufficiently independent of every other, no one was the slave, none
thought of being the master of another. Man, then a novice, knew neither servitude nor
tyranny; furnished with resources sufficient for his existence, he thought not of
borrowing from others; owning nothing, requiring nothing, he judged the rights of others
by his own, and formed ideas of justice sufficiently exact. Ignorant, moreover, in the art
of enjoyments, unable to produce more than his necessaries, possessing nothing
superfluous, cupidity remained dormant; or if excited, man, attacked in his real wants,
resisted it with energy, and the foresight of such resistance ensured a happy balance.
Thus original equality, in default of compact, maintained freedom of person, security of
property, good manners, and order. Every one labored by himself and for himself; and the
mind of man, being occupied, wandered not to culpable desires. He had few enjoyments,
but his wants were satisfied; and as indulgent nature had made them less than his
resources, the labor of his hands soon produced abundance--abundance, population; the
arts unfolded, culture extended, and the earth, covered with numerous inhabitants, was
divided into different dominions.
The relations of man becoming complicated, the internal order of societies became more
difficult to maintain. Time and industry having generated riches, cupidity became more
active; and because equality, practicable among individuals, could not subsist among
families, the natural equilibrium was broken; it became necessary to supply it by a
factitious equilibrium; to set up chiefs, to establish laws; and in the primitive
inexperience, it necessarily happened that these laws, occasioned by cupidity, assumed its
character. But different circumstances concurred to correct the disorder, and oblige
governments to be just.