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from Dictionnaire Philosophique 1764
Born Francois-Marie Arouet (1694–1778), Voltaire was the free-thinking philosopher, poet, playwright, and author of tales (Candide, 1759) who wittily skewered the repressive measures of the Church and State in France and Europe. He challenged didactic religious beliefs and repeatedly called into question the literal truths of the Bible, which made him one of the most reviled and influential writers of intellectual and bourgeois France. "Policy" is one of the hundreds of essays he composed for the Dictionnaire Philosophique (a compendium first published in 1764, to which he continually added until his death). "How to procure for himself subsistence and accommodation, and protect himself from evil," he tells us, "comprises the whole object and business of man."
Voltaire has been made something of a scapegoat for the French Revolution's "excesses of reason," but more reasonable people have continued to appreciate his sense, his wit, and his advocacy of religious and ideological tolerance. "Certainly the philosophes did not destroy the old social order, for it was disintegrating of itself. Nor did they bring about the Revolution, the roots of which lay deep in the preceding centuries," writes Gaetano Salvemini. "But in their writings the future revolutionaries found not only moral justification for sweeping away the past but the materials they needed in setting up a new society. It was through the works of the philosophes that they learned, rightly or wrongly, the causes of their troubles and a possibility of better things."
SOURCE: Voltaire, Philosophical Dictionary, Volume VIII. Trans. William F. Fleming (Paris: E. R. DuMont, 1901), 225–232.
The policy of man consists, at first, in endeavoring to arrive at a state equal to that of animals, whom nature has furnished with food, clothing, and shelter. To attain this state is a matter of no little time and difficulty. How to procure for himself subsistence and accommodation, and protect himself from evil, comprises the whole object and business of man.
This evil exists everywhere; the four elements of nature conspire to form it. The barrenness of one-quarter part of the world, the numberless diseases to which we are subject, the multitude of strong and hostile animals by which we are surrounded, oblige us to be constantly on the alert in body and in mind, to guard against the various forms of evil.
No man, by his own individual care and exertion, can secure himself from evil; he requires assistance. Society therefore is as ancient as the world. This society consists sometimes of too many, and sometimes of too few. The vicissitudes of the world have often destroyed whole races of men and other animals, in many countries, and have multiplied them in others.
To enable a species to multiply, a tolerable climate and soil are necessary; and even with these advantages, men may be under the necessity of going unclothed, of suffering hunger, of being destitute of everything, and of perishing in misery.
Men are not like beavers, or bees, or silk-worms; they have no sure and infallible instinct which procures for them necessaries. Among a hundred men, there is scarcely one that possesses genius; and among women, scarcely one among five hundred.
It is only by means of genius that those arts are invented, which eventually furnish something of that accommodation which is the great object of all policy.
To attempt these arts with success, the assistance of others is requisite; hands to aid you, and minds sufficiently acute and unprejudiced to comprehend you, and sufficiently docile to obey you. Before, however, all this can be discovered and brought together, thousands of years roll on in ignorance and barbarism; thousands of efforts for improvement terminate only in abortion. At length, the outlines of an art are formed, but thousands of ages are still requisite to carry it to perfection.
When any one nation has become acquainted with metallurgy, it will certainly beat its neighbors and make slaves of them. You possess arrows and sabres, and were born in a climate that has rendered you robust. We are weak, and have only clubs and stones. You kill us, or if you permit us to live, it is that we may till your fields and build your houses. We sing some rustic ditty to dissipate your spleen or animate your languor, if we have any voice; or we blow on some pipes, in order to obtain from you clothing and bread. If our wives and daughters are handsome, you appropriate them without scruple to yourselves. The young gentleman, your son, not only takes advantage of the established policy, but adds new discoveries to this growing art. His servants proceed, by his orders, to emasculate my unfortunate boys, whom he then honors with the guardianship of his wives and mistresses. Such has been policy, the great art of making mankind contribute to individual advantage and enjoyment; and such is still policy throughout the largest portion of Asia.
Some nations, or rather hordes, having thus by superior strength and skill brought into subjection others, begin afterwards to fight with one another for the division of the spoil. Each petty nation maintains and pays soldiers. To encourage, and at the same time to control these soldiers, each possesses its gods, its oracles, and prophecies; each maintains and pays its soothsayers and slaughtering priests. These soothsayers or augurs begin with prophesying in favor of the heads of the nation; they afterwards prophesy for themselves and obtain a share in the government. The most powerful and shrewd prevail at last over the others, after ages of carnage which excite our horror, and of impostures which excite our laughter. Such is the regular course and completion of policy.
While these scenes of ravage and fraud are carried on in one portion of the globe, other nations, or rather clans, retire to mountain caverns, or districts surrounded by inaccessible swamps, marshes, or some verdant and solitary spot in the midst of vast deserts of burning sand, or some peninsular and consequently easily protected territory, to secure themselves against the tyrants of the continent. At length all become armed with nearly the same description of weapons; and blood flows from one extremity of the world to the other.
Men, however, cannot forever go on killing one another; and peace is consequently made, till either party thinks itself sufficiently strong to recommence the war. Those who can write draw up these treaties of peace; and the chiefs of every nation, with a view more successfully to impose upon their enemies, invoke the gods to attest with what sincerity they bind themselves to the observance of these compacts. Oaths of the most solemn character are invented and employed, and one party engages in the name of the great Somonocodom, and the other in that of Jupiter the Avenger, to live forever in peace and amity; while in the same names of Somonocodom and Jupiter, they take the first opportunity of cutting one another's throats.
In times of the greatest civilization and refinement, the lion of Æsop made a treaty with three animals, who were his neighbors. The object was to divide the common spoil into four equal parts. The lion, for certain incontestable and satisfactory reasons which he did not then deem it necessary to detail, but which he would be always ready to give in due time and place, first takes three parts out of the four for himself, and then threatens instant strangulation to whoever shall dare to touch the fourth. This is the true sublime of policy.
The object here is to accumulate for our own country the greatest quantity of power, honor, and enjoyment possible. To attain these in any extraordinary degree, much money is indispensable. In a democracy it is very difficult to accomplish this object. Every citizen is your rival; a democracy can never subsist but in a small territory. You may have wealth almost equal to your wishes through your own mercantile dealings, or transmitted in patrimony from your industrious and opulent grandfather; your fortune will excite jealousy and envy, but will purchase little real co-operation and service. If an affluent family ever bears sway in a democracy, it is not for a long time.
In an aristocracy, honors, pleasures, power, and money, are more easily obtainable. Great discretion, however, is necessary. If abuse is flagrant, revolution will be the consequence. Thus in a democracy all the citizens are equal. This species of government is at present rare, and appears to but little advantage, although it is in itself natural and wise. In artistocracy, inequality or superiority makes itself sensibly felt; but the less arrogant its demeanor, the more secure and successful will be its course.
Monarchy remains to be mentioned. In this, all mankind are made for one individual: he accumulates all honors with which he chooses to decorate himself, tastes all pleasures to which he feels an inclination, and exercises a power absolutely without control; provided, let it be remembered, that he has plenty of money. If he is deficient in that, he will be unsuccessful at home as well as abroad, and will soon be left destitute of power, pleasures, honors, and perhaps even of life.
While this personage has money, not only is he successful and happy himself, but his relations and principal servants are flourishing in full enjoyment also; and an immense multitude of hirelings labor for them the whole year round, in the vain hope that they shall themselves, some time or other, enjoy in their cottages the leisure and comfort which their sultans and pashas enjoy in their harems. Observe, however, what will probably happen.
A jolly, full-fed farmer was formerly in possession of a vast estate, consisting of fields, meadows, vineyards, orchards, and forests. A hundred laborers worked for him, while he dined with his family, drank his wine, and went to sleep. His principal domestics, who plundered him, dined next, and ate up nearly everything. Then came the laborers, for whom there was left only a very meagre and insufficient meal. They at first murmured, then openly complained, speedily lost all patience, and at last ate up the dinner prepared for their master, and turned him out of his house. The master said they were a set of scoundrels, a pack of undutiful and rebellious children who assaulted and abused their own father. The laborers replied that they had only obeyed the sacred law of nature, which he had violated. The dispute was finally referred to a soothsayer in the neighborhood, who was thought to be actually inspired. The holy man takes the farm into his own hands, and nearly famishes both the laborers and the master; till at length their feelings counteract their superstition, and the saint is in the end expelled in his turn. This is domestic policy.
There have been more examples than one of this description; and some consequences of this species of policy still subsist in all their strength. We may hope that in the course of ten or twelve thousand ages, when mankind become more enlightened, the great proprietors of estates, grown also more wise, will on the one hand treat their laborers rather better, and on the other take care not to be duped by soothsayers.CHAPTER 2
"A Summary View of the Rights of British America: Set Forth in Some Resolutions Intended for the Inspection of the Present Delegates of the People of Virginia, Now in Convention"
As a member of Virginia's revolutionary convention, Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) composed "A Summary View of the Rights of British America." The young, brilliant future President's arguments were forceful and clear. The American Revolution, long simmering, was now near boiling-point.
SOURCE: Thomas Jefferson, The Works of Thomas Jefferson. Ed. Paul Leicester Ford (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1904), 63–89.
A Summary View of the Rights of British America
Resolved, that it be an instruction to the said deputies, when assembled in general congress with the deputies from the other states of British America, to propose to the said congress that an humble and dutiful address be presented to his Majesty, begging leave to lay before him, as Chief Magistrate of the British empire, the united complaints of his Majesty's subjects in America; complaints which are excited by many unwarrantable encroachments and usurpations, attempted to be made by the Legislature of one part of the empire, upon those rights which God and the laws have given equally and independently to all. To represent to his Majesty that these his states have often individually made humble application to his imperial throne to obtain, through its intervention, some redress of their injured rights, to none of which was ever even an answer condescended; humbly to hope that this their joint address, penned in the language of truth, and divested of those expressions of servility which would persuade his Majesty that we were asking favours, and not rights, shall obtain from his Majesty a more respectful acceptance. And this his Majesty will think we have reason to expect when he reflects that he is no more than the chief officer of the people, appointed by the laws, and circumscribed with definite powers, to assist in working the great machine of government, erected for their use, and consequently subject to their superintendance. And in order that these our rights, as well as the invasions of them, may be laid more fully before his Majesty, to take a view of them from the origin and first settlement of these countries.
To remind him that our ancestors, before their emigration to America, were the free inhabitants of the British dominions in Europe, and possessed a right which nature has given to all men, of departing from the country in which chance, not choice, has placed them, of going in quest of new habitations, and of there establishing new societies, under such laws and regulations as to them shall seem most likely to promote public happiness. That their Saxon ancestors had, under this universal law, in like manner left their native wilds and woods in the north of Europe, had possessed themselves of the island of Britain, then less charged with inhabitants, and had established there that system of laws which has so long been the glory and protection of that country. Nor was ever any claim of superiority or dependence asserted over them by that mother country from which they had migrated; and were such a claim made, it is believed that his Majesty's subjects in Great Britain have too firm a feeling of the rights derived to them from their ancestors, to bow down the sovereignty of their state before such visionary pretensions. And it is thought that no circumstance has occurred to distinguish materially the British from the Saxon emigration. America was conquered, and her settlement made, and firmly established, at the expense of individuals, and not of the British public. Their own blood was spilt in acquiring lands for their settlements, their own fortunes expended in making that settlement effectual; for themselves they fought, for themselves they conquered, and for themselves alone they have right to hold. Not a shilling was ever issued from the public treasures of his Majesty, or his ancestors, for their assistance, till, of very late times, after the colonies had become established on a firm and permanent footing. That then, indeed, having become valuable to Great Britain for her commercial purposes, his Parliament was pleased to lend them assistance against the enemy, who would fain have drawn to herself the benefits of their commerce, to the great aggrandizement of herself, and danger of Great Britain. Such assistance, and in such circumstances, they had often before given to Portugal, and other allied states, with whom they carry on a commercial intercourse; yet these states never supposed, that by calling in her aid, they thereby submitted themselves to her sovereignty. Had such terms been proposed, they would have rejected them with disdain, and trusted for better to the moderation of their enemies, or to a vigorous exertion of their own force. We do not, however, mean to under-rate those aids, which to us were doubtless valuable, on whatever principles granted; but we would shew that they cannot give a title to that authority which the British Parliament would arrogate over us, and that they may amply be repaid by our giving to the inhabitants of Great Britain such exclusive privileges in trade as may be advantageous to them, and at the same time not too restrictive to ourselves. That settlements having been thus effected in the wilds of America, the emigrants thought proper to adopt that system of laws under which they had hitherto lived in the mother country, and to continue their union with her by submitting themselves to the same common Sovereign, who was thereby made the central link connecting the several parts of the empire thus newly multiplied.
Excerpted from THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO and Other Revolutionary Writings by Bob Blaisdell. Copyright © 2003 Dover Publications Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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