The Ruins HTML version
Part I, Chapter 17
UNIVERSAL BASIS OF ALL RIGHT AND ALL LAW
The men chosen by the people to investigate the true principles of morals and of reason
then proceeded in the sacred object of their mission; and, after a long examination,
having discovered a fundamental and universal principle, a legislator arose and said to the
Here is the primordial basis, the physical origin of all justice and of all right.
Whatever be the active power, the moving cause, that governs the universe, since it has
given to all men the same organs, the same sensations, and the same wants, it has thereby
declared that it has given to all the same right to the use of its treasures, and that all men
are equal in the order of nature.
And, since this power has given to each man the necessary means of preserving his own
existence, it is evident that it has constituted them all independent one of another; that it
has created them free; that no one is subject to another; that each one is absolute
proprietor of his own person.
Equality and liberty are, therefore, two essential attributes of man, two laws of the
Divinity, constitutional and unchangeable, like the physical properties of matter.
Now, every individual being absolute master of his own person, it follows that a full and
free consent is a condition indispensable to all contracts and all engagements.
Again, since each individual is equal to another, it follows that the balance of what is
received and of what is given, should be strictly in equilibrium; so that the idea of justice,
of equity, necessarily imports that of equality.*
* The etymology of the words themselves trace out to us this connection: equilibrium,
equalitas, equitas, are all of one family, and the physical idea of equality, in the scales of
a balance, is the source and type of all the rest.
Equality and liberty are therefore the physical and unalterable basis of every union of
men in society, and of course the necessary and generating principle of every law and of
every system of regular government.*
* In the Declaration of Rights, there is an inversion of ideas in the first article, liberty
being placed before equality, from which it in reality springs. This defect is not to be
wondered at; the science of the rights of man is a new science: it was invented yesterday
by the Americans, to-day the French are perfecting it, but there yet remains a great deal to
be done. In the ideas that constitute it there is a genealogical order which, from us basis,