It is clear that men, enjoying the faculties connected with their
nature, are equal; they are equal when they perform animal functions,
and when they exercise their understanding. The King of China, the Great
Mogul, the Padisha of Turkey, cannot say to the least of men: "I forbid
you to digest, to go to the privy and to think." All the animals of each
species are equal among themselves. Animals by nature have over us the
advantage of independence. If a bull which is wooing a heifer is driven
away with the blows of the horns by a stronger bull, it goes in search
of another mistress in another field, and lives free. A cock, beaten by
a cock, consoles itself in another poultry-house. It is not so with us.
A little vizier exiles a bostangi to Lemnos: the vizier Azem exiles the
little vizier to Tenedos: the padisha exiles the little vizier Azem to
Rhodes: the Janissaries put the padisha in prison, and elect another who
will exile good Mussulmans as he chooses; people will still be very
obliged to him if he limits his sacred authority to this little
If this world were what it seems it should be, if man could find
everywhere in it an easy subsistence, and a climate suitable to his
nature, it is clear that it would be impossible for one man to enslave
another. If this globe were covered with wholesome fruits; if the air,
which should contribute to our life, gave us no diseases and a premature
death; if man had no need of lodging and bed other than those of the
buck and the deer; then the Gengis-kans and the Tamerlans would have no
servants other than their children, who would be folk honourable enough
to help them in their old age.
In the natural state enjoyed by all untamed quadrupeds, birds and
reptiles, man would be as happy as they; domination would then be a
chimera, an absurdity of which no one would think; for why seek servants
when you have no need of their service?
If it came into the head of some individual of tyrannous mind and brawny
arm to enslave a neighbour less strong than he, the thing would be
impossible; the oppressed would be on the Danube before the oppressor
had taken his measures on the Volga.
All men would then be necessarily equal, if they were without needs; the
poverty connected with our species subordinates one man to another; it
is not the inequality which is the real misfortune, it is the
dependence. It matters very little that So-and-so calls himself "His
Highness," and So-and-so "His Holiness"; but to serve the one or the
other is hard.
A big family has cultivated fruitful soil; two little families near by
have thankless and rebellious fields; the two poor families have to
serve the opulent family, or slaughter it: there is no difficulty in
that. One of the two indigent families offers its arms to the rich
family in order to have bread; the other goes to attack it and is
beaten. The serving family is the origin of the servants and the
workmen; the beaten family is the origin of the slaves.
In our unhappy world it is impossible for men living in society not to
be divided into two classes, the one the rich that commands, the other
the poor that serves; and these two are subdivided into a thousand, and
these thousand still have different gradations.
When the prizes are drawn you come to us: "I am a man like you," you
say. "I have two hands and two feet, as much pride as you, nay more, a
mind as disordered, at least, as inconsequent, as contradictory as
yours. I am a citizen of San Marino, or of Ragusa, or Vaugirard: give
me my share of the land. In our known hemisphere there are about fifty
thousand million arpents to cultivate, some passable, some sterile. We
are only about a thousand million featherless bipeds in this continent;
that makes fifty arpents apiece: be just; give me my fifty arpents."
"Go and take them in the land of the Cafres," we answer, "or the
Hottentots, or the Samoyedes; come to an amicable arrangement with them;
here all the shares are taken. If among us you want to eat, be clothed,
lodged, warmed, work for us as your father did; serve us or amuse us,
and you will be paid; otherwise you will be obliged to ask charity,
which would be too degrading to your sublime nature, and would stop your
being really the equal of kings, and even of country parsons, according
to the pretensions of your noble pride."
All the poor are not unhappy. The majority were born in that state, and
continual work stops their feeling their position too keenly; but when
they feel it, then one sees wars, like that of the popular party against
the senate party in Rome, like those of the peasants in Germany, England
and France. All these wars finish sooner or later with the subjection of
the people, because the powerful have money, and money is master of
everything in a state: I say in a state; for it is not the same between
nations. The nation which makes the best use of the sword will always
subjugate the nation which has more gold and less courage.
All men are born with a sufficiently violent liking for domination,
wealth and pleasure, and with much taste for idleness; consequently, all
men want their money and the wives or daughters of others, to be their
master, to subject them to all their caprices, and to do nothing, or at
least to do only very agreeable things. You see clearly that with these
fine inclinations it is as impossible for men to be equal as it is
impossible for two predicants or two professors of theology not to be
jealous of each other.
The human race, such as it is, cannot subsist unless there is an
infinity of useful men who possess nothing at all; for it is certain
that a man who is well off will not leave his own land to come to till
yours; and if you have need of a pair of shoes, it is not the Secretary
to the Privy Council who will make them for you. Equality, therefore, is
at once the most natural thing and the most fantastic.
As men go to excess in everything when they can, this inequality has
been exaggerated. It has been maintained in many countries that it was
not permissible for a citizen to leave the country where chance has
caused him to be born; the sense of this law is visibly: "This land is
so bad and so badly governed, that we forbid any individual to leave it,
for fear that everyone will leave it." Do better: make all your subjects
want to live in your country, and foreigners to come to it.
All men have the right in the bottom of their hearts to think themselves
entirely equal to other men: it does not follow from that that the
cardinal's cook should order his master to prepare him his dinner; but
the cook can say: "I am a man like my master; like him I was born
crying; like me he will die with the same pangs and the same ceremonies.
Both of us perform the same animal functions. If the Turks take
possession of Rome, and if then I am cardinal and my master cook, I
shall take him into my service." This discourse is reasonable and just;
but while waiting for the Great Turk to take possession of Rome, the
cook must do his duty, or else all human society is perverted.
As regards a man who is neither a cardinal's cook, nor endowed with any
other employment in the state; as regards a private person who is
connected with nothing, but who is vexed at being received everywhere
with an air of being patronized or scorned, who sees quite clearly that
many _monsignors_ have no more knowledge, wit or virtue than he, and who
at times is bored at waiting in their antechambers, what should he
decide to do? Why, to take himself off.