I MEAN to inquire if, in
the civil order, there can be any sure and legitimate rule of
administration, men being taken as they are and laws as they might be. In
this inquiry I shall endeavour always to unite what right sanctions with
what is prescribed by interest, in order that justice and utility may in
no case be divided.
I enter upon my task without proving the importance of the subject. I
shall be asked if I am a prince or a legislator, to write on politics. I
answer that I am neither, and that is why I do so. If I were a prince or a
legislator, I should not waste time in saying what wants doing; I should
do it, or hold my peace.
As I was born a citizen of a free State, and a member of the Sovereign,
I feel that, however feeble the influence my voice can have on public
affairs, the right of voting on them makes it my duty to study them: and I
am happy, when I reflect upon governments, to find my inquiries always
furnish me with new reasons for loving that of my own country.
1. SUBJECT OF THE FIRST BOOK
MAN is born free; and
everywhere he is in chains. One thinks himself the master of others, and
still remains a greater slave than they. How did this change come about? I
do not know. What can make it legitimate? That question I think I can
If I took into account only force, and the effects derived from it, I
should say: "As long as a people is compelled to obey, and obeys, it
does well; as soon as it can shake off the yoke, and shakes it off, it
does still better; for, regaining its liberty by the same right as took it
away, either it is justified in resuming it, or there was no justification
for those who took it away." But the social order is a sacred right
which is the basis of all other rights. Nevertheless, this right does not
come from nature, and must therefore be founded on conventions. Before
coming to that, I have to prove what I have just asserted.
2. THE FIRST SOCIETIES
THE most ancient of all
societies, and the only one that is natural, is the family: and even so
the children remain attached to the father only so long as they need him
for their preservation. As soon as this need ceases, the natural bond is
dissolved. The children, released from the obedience they owed to the
father, and the father, released from the care he owed his children,
return equally to independence. If they remain united, they continue so no
longer naturally, but voluntarily; and the family itself is then
maintained only by convention.
This common liberty results from the nature of man. His first law is to
provide for his own preservation, his first cares are those which he owes
to himself; and, as soon as he reaches years of discretion, he is the sole
judge of the proper means of preserving himself, and consequently becomes
his own master.
The family then may be called the first model of political societies:
the ruler corresponds to the father, and the people to the children; and
all, being born free and equal, alienate their liberty only for their own
advantage. The whole difference is that, in the family, the love of the
father for his children repays him for the care he takes of them, while,
in the State, the pleasure of commanding takes the place of the love which
the chief cannot have for the peoples under him.
Grotius denies that all human power is established in favour of the
governed, and quotes slavery as an example. His usual method of reasoning
is constantly to establish right by fact.1
It would be possible to employ a more logical method, but none could be
more favourable to tyrants.
It is then, according to Grotius, doubtful whether the human race
belongs to a hundred men, or that hundred men to the human race: and,
throughout his book, he seems to incline to the former alternative, which
is also the view of Hobbes. On this showing, the human species is divided
into so many herds of cattle, each with its ruler, who keeps guard over
them for the purpose of devouring them.
As a shepherd is of a nature superior to that of his flock, the
shepherds of men, i.e., their rulers, are of a nature superior to that of
the peoples under them. Thus, Philo tells us, the Emperor Caligula
reasoned, concluding equally well either that kings were gods, or that men
The reasoning of Caligula agrees with that of Hobbes and Grotius.
Aristotle, before any of them, had said that men are by no means equal
naturally, but that some are born for slavery, and others for dominion.
Aristotle was right; but he took the effect for the cause. Nothing can
be more certain than that every man born in slavery is born for slavery.
Slaves lose everything in their chains, even the desire of escaping from
them: they love their servitude, as the comrades of Ulysses loved their
brutish condition.2 If then there
are slaves by nature, it is because there have been slaves against nature.
Force made the first slaves, and their cowardice perpetuated the
I have said nothing of King Adam, or Emperor Noah, father of the three
great monarchs who shared out the universe, like the children of Saturn,
whom some scholars have recognised in them. I trust to getting due thanks
for my moderation; for, being a direct descendant of one of these princes,
perhaps of the eldest branch, how do I know that a verification of titles
might not leave me the legitimate king of the human race? In any case,
there can be no doubt that Adam was sovereign of the world, as Robinson
Crusoe was of his island, as long as he was its only inhabitant; and this
empire had the advantage that the monarch, safe on his throne, had no
rebellions, wars, or conspirators to fear.
3. THE RIGHT OF THE STRONGEST
THE strongest is never
strong enough to be always the master, unless he transforms strength into
right, and obedience into duty. Hence the right of the strongest, which,
though to all seeming meant ironically, is really laid down as a
fundamental principle. But are we never to have an explanation of this
phrase? Force is a physical power, and I fail to see what moral effect it
can have. To yield to force is an act of necessity, not of will — at
the most, an act of prudence. In what sense can it be a duty?
Suppose for a moment that this so-called "right" exists. I
maintain that the sole result is a mass of inexplicable nonsense. For, if
force creates right, the effect changes with the cause: every force that
is greater than the first succeeds to its right. As soon as it is possible
to disobey with impunity, disobedience is legitimate; and, the strongest
being always in the right, the only thing that matters is to act so as to
become the strongest. But what kind of right is that which perishes when
force fails? If we must obey perforce, there is no need to obey because we
ought; and if we are not forced to obey, we are under no obligation to do
so. Clearly, the word "right" adds nothing to force: in this
connection, it means absolutely nothing.
Obey the powers that be. If this means yield to force, it is a good
precept, but superfluous: I can answer for its never being violated. All
power comes from God, I admit; but so does all sickness: does that mean
that we are forbidden to call in the doctor? A brigand surprises me at the
edge of a wood: must I not merely surrender my purse on compulsion; but,
even if I could withhold it, am I in conscience bound to give it up? For
certainly the pistol he holds is also a power.
Let us then admit that force does not create right, and that we are
obliged to obey only legitimate powers. In that case, my original question
SINCE no man has a
natural authority over his fellow, and force creates no right, we must
conclude that conventions form the basis of all legitimate authority among
If an individual, says Grotius, can alienate his liberty and make
himself the slave of a master, why could not a whole people do the same
and make itself subject to a king? There are in this passage plenty of
ambiguous words which would need explaining; but let us confine ourselves
to the word alienate. To alienate is to give or to sell. Now, a
man who becomes the slave of another does not give himself; he sells
himself, at the least for his subsistence: but for what does a people sell
itself? A king is so far from furnishing his subjects with their
subsistence that he gets his own only from them; and, according to
Rabelais, kings do not live on nothing. Do subjects then give their
persons on condition that the king takes their goods also? I fail to see
what they have left to preserve.
It will be said that the despot assures his subjects civil tranquillity.
Granted; but what do they gain, if the wars his ambition brings down upon
them, his insatiable avidity, and the vexatious conduct of his ministers
press harder on them than their own dissensions would have done? What do
they gain, if the very tranquillity they enjoy is one of their miseries?
Tranquillity is found also in dungeons; but is that enough to make them
desirable places to live in? The Greeks imprisoned in the cave of the
Cyclops lived there very tranquilly, while they were awaiting their turn
to be devoured.
To say that a man gives himself gratuitously, is to say what is absurd
and inconceivable; such an act is null and illegitimate, from the mere
fact that he who does it is out of his mind. To say the same of a whole
people is to suppose a people of madmen; and madness creates no right.
Even if each man could alienate himself, he could not alienate his
children: they are born men and free; their liberty belongs to them, and
no one but they has the right to dispose of it. Before they come to years
of discretion, the father can, in their name, lay down conditions for
their preservation and well-being, but he cannot give them irrevocably and
without conditions: such a gift is contrary to the ends of nature, and
exceeds the rights of paternity. It would therefore be necessary, in order
to legitimise an arbitrary government, that in every generation the people
should be in a position to accept or reject it; but, were this so, the
government would be no longer arbitrary.
To renounce liberty is to renounce being a man, to surrender the rights
of humanity and even its duties. For him who renounces everything no
indemnity is possible. Such a renunciation is incompatible with man's
nature; to remove all liberty from his will is to remove all morality from
his acts. Finally, it is an empty and contradictory convention that sets
up, on the one side, absolute authority, and, on the other, unlimited
obedience. Is it not clear that we can be under no obligation to a person
from whom we have the right to exact everything? Does not this condition
alone, in the absence of equivalence or exchange, in itself involve the
nullity of the act? For what right can my slave have against me, when all
that he has belongs to me, and, his right being mine, this right of mine
against myself is a phrase devoid of meaning?
Grotius and the rest find in war another origin for the so-called right
of slavery. The victor having, as they hold, the right of killing the
vanquished, the latter can buy back his life at the price of his liberty;
and this convention is the more legitimate because it is to the advantage
of both parties.
But it is clear that this supposed right to kill the conquered is by no
means deducible from the state of war. Men, from the mere fact that, while
they are living in their primitive independence, they have no mutual
relations stable enough to constitute either the state of peace or the
state of war, cannot be naturally enemies. War is constituted by a
relation between things, and not between persons; and, as the state of war
cannot arise out of simple personal relations, but only out of real
relations, private war, or war of man with man, can exist neither in the
state of nature, where there is no constant property, nor in the social
state, where everything is under the authority of the laws.
Individual combats, duels and encounters, are acts which cannot
constitute a state; while the private wars, authorised by the
Establishments of Louis IX, King of France, and suspended by the Peace of
God, are abuses of feudalism, in itself an absurd system if ever there was
one, and contrary to the principles of natural right and to all good
War then is a relation, not between man and man, but between State and
State, and individuals are enemies only accidentally, not as men, nor even
as citizens,3 but as soldiers; not
as members of their country, but as its defenders. Finally, each State can
have for enemies only other States, and not men; for between things
disparate in nature there can be no real relation.
Furthermore, this principle is in conformity with the established rules
of all times and the constant practice of all civilised peoples.
Declarations of war are intimations less to powers than to their subjects.
The foreigner, whether king, individual, or people, who robs, kills or
detains the subjects, without declaring war on the prince, is not an
enemy, but a brigand. Even in real war, a just prince, while laying hands,
in the enemy's country, on all that belongs to the public, respects the
lives and goods of individuals: he respects rights on which his own are
founded. The object of the war being the destruction of the hostile State,
the other side has a right to kill its defenders, while they are bearing
arms; but as soon as they lay them down and surrender, they cease to be
enemies or instruments of the enemy, and become once more merely men,
whose life no one has any right to take. Sometimes it is possible to kill
the State without killing a single one of its members; and war gives no
right which is not necessary to the gaining of its object. These
principles are not those of Grotius: they are not based on the authority
of poets, but derived from the nature of reality and based on reason.
The right of conquest has no foundation other than the right of the
strongest. If war does not give the conqueror the right to massacre the
conquered peoples, the right to enslave them cannot be based upon a right
which does not exist. No one has a right to kill an enemy except when he
cannot make him a slave, and the right to enslave him cannot therefore be
derived from the right to kill him. It is accordingly an unfair exchange
to make him buy at the price of his liberty his life, over which the
victor holds no right. Is it not clear that there is a vicious circle in
founding the right of life and death on the right of slavery, and the
right of slavery on the right of life and death?
Even if we assume this terrible right to kill everybody, I maintain that
a slave made in war, or a conquered people, is under no obligation to a
master, except to obey him as far as he is compelled to do so. By taking
an equivalent for his life, the victor has not done him a favour; instead
of killing him without profit, he has killed him usefully. So far then is
he from acquiring over him any authority in addition to that of force,
that the state of war continues to subsist between them: their mutual
relation is the effect of it, and the usage of the right of war does not
imply a treaty of peace. A convention has indeed been made; but this
convention, so far from destroying the state of war, presupposes its
So, from whatever aspect we regard the question, the right of slavery is
null and void, not only as being illegitimate, but also because it is
absurd and meaningless. The words slave and right
contradict each other, and are mutually exclusive. It will always be
equally foolish for a man to say to a man or to a people: "I make
with you a convention wholly at your expense and wholly to my advantage; I
shall keep it as long as I like, and you will keep it as long as I like."
5. THAT WE MUST ALWAYS GO BACK TO A FIRST CONVENTION
EVEN if I granted all
that I have been refuting, the friends of despotism would be no better
off. There will always be a great difference between subduing a multitude
and ruling a society. Even if scattered individuals were successively
enslaved by one man, however numerous they might be, I still see no more
than a master and his slaves, and certainly not a people and its ruler; I
see what may be termed an aggregation, but not an association; there is as
yet neither public good nor body politic. The man in question, even if he
has enslaved half the world, is still only an individual; his interest,
apart from that of others, is still a purely private interest. If this
same man comes to die, his empire, after him, remains scattered and
without unity, as an oak falls and dissolves into a heap of ashes when the
fire has consumed it.
A people, says Grotius, can give itself to a king. Then, according to
Grotius, a people is a people before it gives itself. The gift is itself a
civil act, and implies public deliberation. It would be better, before
examining the act by which a people gives itself to a king, to examine
that by which it has become a people; for this act, being necessarily
prior to the other, is the true foundation of society.
Indeed, if there were no prior convention, where, unless the election
were unanimous, would be the obligation on the minority to submit to the
choice of the majority? How have a hundred men who wish for a master the
right to vote on behalf of ten who do not? The law of majority voting is
itself something established by convention, and presupposes unanimity, on
one occasion at least.
6. THE SOCIAL COMPACT
I SUPPOSE men to have
reached the point at which the obstacles in the way of their preservation
in the state of nature show their power of resistance to be greater than
the resources at the disposal of each individual for his maintenance in
that state. That primitive condition can then subsist no longer; and the
human race would perish unless it changed its manner of existence.
But, as men cannot engender new forces, but only unite and direct
existing ones, they have no other means of preserving themselves than the
formation, by aggregation, of a sum of forces great enough to overcome the
resistance. These they have to bring into play by means of a single motive
power, and cause to act in concert.
This sum of forces can arise only where several persons come together:
but, as the force and liberty of each man are the chief instruments of his
self-preservation, how can he pledge them without harming his own
interests, and neglecting the care he owes to himself? This difficulty, in
its bearing on my present subject, may be stated in the following terms:
"The problem is to find a form of association which will defend
and protect with the whole common force the person and goods of each
associate, and in which each, while uniting himself with all, may still
obey himself alone, and remain as free as before." This is the
fundamental problem of which the Social Contract provides the
The clauses of this contract are so determined by the nature of the act
that the slightest modification would make them vain and ineffective; so
that, although they have perhaps never been formally set forth, they are
everywhere the same and everywhere tacitly admitted and recognised, until,
on the violation of the social compact, each regains his original rights
and resumes his natural liberty, while losing the conventional liberty in
favour of which he renounced it.
These clauses, properly understood, may be reduced to one — the
total alienation of each associate, together with all his rights, to the
whole community; for, in the first place, as each gives himself
absolutely, the conditions are the same for all; and, this being so, no
one has any interest in making them burdensome to others.
Moreover, the alienation being without reserve, the union is as perfect
as it can be, and no associate has anything more to demand: for, if the
individuals retained certain rights, as there would be no common superior
to decide between them and the public, each, being on one point his own
judge, would ask to be so on all; the state of nature would thus continue,
and the association would necessarily become inoperative or tyrannical.
Finally, each man, in giving himself to all, gives himself to nobody;
and as there is no associate over whom he does not acquire the same right
as he yields others over himself, he gains an equivalent for everything he
loses, and an increase of force for the preservation of what he has.
If then we discard from the social compact what is not of its essence,
we shall find that it reduces itself to the following terms:
"Each of us puts his person and all his power in common under
the supreme direction of the general will, and, in our corporate capacity,
we receive each member as an indivisible part of the whole."
At once, in place of the individual personality of each contracting
party, this act of association creates a moral and collective body,
composed of as many members as the assembly contains votes, and receiving
from this act its unity, its common identity, its life and its will. This
public person, so formed by the union of all other persons formerly took
the name of city,4 and now
takes that of Republic or body politic; it is called by
its members State when passive. Sovereign when active, and
Power when compared with others like itself. Those who are
associated in it take collectively the name of people, and
severally are called citizens, as sharing in the sovereign power,
and subjects, as being under the laws of the State. But these
terms are often confused and taken one for another: it is enough to know
how to distinguish them when they are being used with precision.
7. THE SOVEREIGN
THIS formula shows us
that the act of association comprises a mutual undertaking between the
public and the individuals, and that each individual, in making a
contract, as we may say, with himself, is bound in a double capacity; as a
member of the Sovereign he is bound to the individuals, and as a member of
the State to the Sovereign. But the maxim of civil right, that no one is
bound by undertakings made to himself, does not apply in this case; for
there is a great difference between incurring an obligation to yourself
and incurring one to a whole of which you form a part.
Attention must further be called to the fact that public deliberation,
while competent to bind all the subjects to the Sovereign, because of the
two different capacities in which each of them may be regarded, cannot,
for the opposite reason, bind the Sovereign to itself; and that it is
consequently against the nature of the body politic for the Sovereign to
impose on itself a law which it cannot infringe. Being able to regard
itself in only one capacity, it is in the position of an individual who
makes a contract with himself; and this makes it clear that there neither
is nor can be any kind of fundamental law binding on the body of the
people — not even the social contract itself. This does not mean that
the body politic cannot enter into undertakings with others, provided the
contract is not infringed by them; for in relation to what is external to
it, it becomes a simple being, an individual.
But the body politic or the Sovereign, drawing its being wholly from the
sanctity of the contract, can never bind itself, even to an outsider, to
do anything derogatory to the original act, for instance, to alienate any
part of itself, or to submit to another Sovereign. Violation of the act by
which it exists would be self-annihilation; and that which is itself
nothing can create nothing.
As soon as this multitude is so united in one body, it is impossible to
offend against one of the members without attacking the body, and still
more to offend against the body without the members resenting it. Duty and
interest therefore equally oblige the two contracting parties to give each
other help; and the same men should seek to combine, in their double
capacity, all the advantages dependent upon that capacity.
Again, the Sovereign, being formed wholly of the individuals who compose
it, neither has nor can have any interest contrary to theirs; and
consequently the sovereign power need give no guarantee to its subjects,
because it is impossible for the body to wish to hurt all its members. We
shall also see later on that it cannot hurt any in particular. The
Sovereign, merely by virtue of what it is, is always what it should be.
This, however, is not the case with the relation of the subjects to the
Sovereign, which, despite the common interest, would have no security that
they would fulfil their undertakings, unless it found means to assure
itself of their fidelity.
In fact, each individual, as a man, may have a particular will contrary
or dissimilar to the general will which he has as a citizen. His
particular interest may speak to him quite differently from the common
interest: his absolute and naturally independent existence may make him
look upon what he owes to the common cause as a gratuitous contribution,
the loss of which will do less harm to others than the payment of it is
burdensome to himself; and, regarding the moral person which constitutes
the State as a persona ficta, because not a man, he may wish to
enjoy the rights of citizenship without being ready to fulfil the duties
of a subject. The continuance of such an injustice could not but prove the
undoing of the body politic.
In order then that the social compact may not be an empty formula, it
tacitly includes the undertaking, which alone can give force to the rest,
that whoever refuses to obey the general will shall be compelled to do so
by the whole body. This means nothing less than that he will be forced to
be free; for this is the condition which, by giving each citizen to his
country, secures him against all personal dependence. In this lies the key
to the working of the political machine; this alone legitimises civil
undertakings, which, without it, would be absurd, tyrannical, and liable
to the most frightful abuses.
8. THE CIVIL STATE
THE passage from the
state of nature to the civil state produces a very remarkable change in
man, by substituting justice for instinct in his conduct, and giving his
actions the morality they had formerly lacked. Then only, when the voice
of duty takes the place of physical impulses and right of appetite, does
man, who so far had considered only himself, find that he is forced to act
on different principles, and to consult his reason before listening to his
inclinations. Although, in this state, he deprives himself of some
advantages which he got from nature, he gains in return others so great,
his faculties are so stimulated and developed, his ideas so extended, his
feelings so ennobled, and his whole soul so uplifted, that, did not the
abuses of this new condition often degrade him below that which he left,
he would be bound to bless continually the happy moment which took him
from it for ever, and, instead of a stupid and unimaginative animal, made
him an intelligent being and a man.
Let us draw up the whole account in terms easily commensurable. What man
loses by the social contract is his natural liberty and an unlimited right
to everything he tries to get and succeeds in getting; what he gains is
civil liberty and the proprietorship of all he possesses. If we are to
avoid mistake in weighing one against the other, we must clearly
distinguish natural liberty, which is bounded only by the strength of the
individual, from civil liberty, which is limited by the general will; and
possession, which is merely the effect of force or the right of the first
occupier, from property, which can be founded only on a positive title.
We might, over and above all this, add, to what man acquires in the
civil state, moral liberty, which alone makes him truly master of himself;
for the mere impulse of appetite is slavery, while obedience to a law
which we prescribe to ourselves is liberty. But I have already said too
much on this head, and the philosophical meaning of the word liberty does
not now concern us.
9. REAL PROPERTY
EACH member of the
community gives himself to it, at the moment of its foundation, just as he
is, with all the resources at his command, including the goods he
possesses. This act does not make possession, in changing hands, change
its nature, and become property in the hands of the Sovereign; but, as the
forces of the city are incomparably greater than those of an individual,
public possession is also, in fact, stronger and more irrevocable, without
being any more legitimate, at any rate from the point of view of
foreigners. For the State, in relation to its members, is master of all
their goods by the social contract, which, within the State, is the basis
of all rights; but, in relation to other powers, it is so only by the
right of the first occupier, which it holds from its members.
The right of the first occupier, though more real than the right of the
strongest, becomes a real right only when the right of property has
already been established. Every man has naturally a right to everything he
needs; but the positive act which makes him proprietor of one thing
excludes him from everything else. Having his share, he ought to keep to
it, and can have no further right against the community. This is why the
right of the first occupier, which in the state of nature is so weak,
claims the respect of every man in civil society. In this right we are
respecting not so much what belongs to another as what does not belong to
In general, to establish the right of the first occupier over a plot of
ground, the following conditions are necessary: first, the land must not
yet be inhabited; secondly, a man must occupy only the amount he needs for
his subsistence; and, in the third place, possession must be taken, not by
an empty ceremony, but by labour and cultivation, the only sign of
proprietorship that should be respected by others, in default of a legal
In granting the right of first occupancy to necessity and labour, are we
not really stretching it as far as it can go? Is it possible to leave such
a right unlimited? Is it to be enough to set foot on a plot of common
ground, in order to be able to call yourself at once the master of it? Is
it to be enough that a man has the strength to expel others for a moment,
in order to establish his right to prevent them from ever returning? How
can a man or a people seize an immense territory and keep it from the rest
of the world except by a punishable usurpation, since all others are being
robbed, by such an act, of the place of habitation and the means of
subsistence which nature gave them in common? When Nunez Balboa, standing
on the sea-shore, took possession of the South Seas and the whole of South
America in the name of the crown of Castile, was that enough to dispossess
all their actual inhabitants, and to shut out from them all the princes of
the world? On such a showing, these ceremonies are idly multiplied, and
the Catholic King need only take possession all at once, from his
apartment, of the whole universe, merely making a subsequent reservation
about what was already in the possession of other princes.
We can imagine how the lands of individuals, where they were contiguous
and came to be united, became the public territory, and how the right of
Sovereignty, extending from the subjects over the lands they held, became
at once real and personal. The possessors were thus made more dependent,
and the forces at their command used to guarantee their fidelity. The
advantage of this does not seem to have been felt by ancient monarchs, who
called themselves Kings of the Persians, Scythians, or Macedonians, and
seemed to regard themselves more as rulers of men than as masters of a
country. Those of the present day more cleverly call themselves Kings of
France, Spain, England, etc.: thus holding the land, they are quite
confident of holding the inhabitants.
The peculiar fact about this alienation is that, in taking over the
goods of individuals, the community, so far from despoiling them, only
assures them legitimate possession, and changes usurpation into a true
right and enjoyment into proprietorship. Thus the possessors, being
regarded as depositaries of the public good, and having their rights
respected by all the members of the State and maintained against foreign
aggression by all its forces, have, by a cession which benefits both the
public and still more themselves, acquired, so to speak, all that they
gave up. This paradox may easily be explained by the distinction between
the rights which the Sovereign and the proprietor have over the same
estate, as we shall see later on.
It may also happen that men begin to unite one with another before they
possess anything, and that, subsequently occupying a tract of country
which is enough for all, they enjoy it in common, or share it out among
themselves, either equally or according to a scale fixed by the Sovereign.
However the acquisition be made, the right which each individual has to
his own estate is always subordinate to the right which the community has
over all: without this, there would be neither stability in the social
tie, nor real force in the exercise of Sovereignty.
I shall end this chapter and this book by remarking on a fact on which
the whole social system should rest: i.e., that, instead of destroying
natural inequality, the fundamental compact substitutes, for such physical
inequality as nature may have set up between men, an equality that is
moral and legitimate, and that men, who may be unequal in strength or
intelligence, become every one equal by convention and legal right.5
1. "Learned inquiries into
public right are often only the history of past abuses; and troubling to
study them too deeply is a profitless infatuation" (Essay on the
Interests of France in Relation to its Neighbours, by the Marquis
d'Argenson). This is exactly what Grotius has done.
2. See a short treatise of Plutarch's
entitled That Animals Reason.
3. The Romans, who understood and
respected the right of war more than any other nation on earth, carried
their scruples on this head so far that a citizen was not allowed to serve
as a volunteer without engaging himself expressly against the enemy, and
against such and such an enemy by name. A legion in which the younger Cato
was seeing his first service under Popilius having been reconstructed, the
elder Cato wrote to Popilius that, if he wished his son to continue
serving under him, he must administer to him a new military oath, because,
the first having been annulled, he was no longer able to bear arms against
the enemy. The same Cato wrote to his son telling him to take great care
not to go into battle before taking this new oath. I know that the siege
of Clusium and other isolated events can be quoted against me; but I am
citing laws and customs. The Romans are the people that least often
transgressed its laws; and no other people has had such good ones.
4. The real meaning of this word has
been almost wholly lost in modern times; most people mistake a town for a
city, and a townsman for a citizen. They do not know that houses make a
town, but citizens a city. The same mistake long ago cost the
Carthaginians dear. I have never read of the title of citizens being given
to the subjects of any prince, not even the ancient Macedonians or the
English of to-day, though they are nearer liberty than any one else. The
French alone everywhere familiarly adopt the name of citizens, because, as
can be seen from their dictionaries, they have no idea of its meaning;
otherwise they would be guilty in usurping it, of the crime of lèse-majesté:
among them, the name expresses a virtue, and not a right. When Bodin spoke
of our citizens and townsmen, he fell into a bad blunder in taking the one
class for the other. M. d'Alembert has avoided the error, and, in his
article on Geneva, has clearly distinguished the four orders of men (or
even five, counting mere foreigners) who dwell in our town, of which two
only compose the Republic. No other French writer, to my knowledge, has
understood the real meaning of the word citizen.
5. Under bad governments, this
equality is only apparent and illusory: it serves only to-keep the pauper
in his poverty and the rich man in the position he has usurped. In fact,
laws are always of use to those who possess and harmful to those who have
nothing: from which it follows that the social state is advantageous to
men only when all have something and none too much.
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