But perhaps the laws relating to property may be good for those who possess it, but oppressive to those who have none;---the poor are perchance more miserable than they would be without them.
The laws, in creating property, have created wealth; but with respect to poverty, it is not the work of the laws---it is the primitive condition of the human race. The man who lives only from day to day, is precisely the man in a state of nature. The savage, the poor in society, I acknowledge, obtain nothing but by painful labour; but in a state of nature, what could he obtain but at the price of his toil? Has not hunting its fatigues, fishing its dangers, war its uncertainties? And if man appear to love this adventurous life---if he have an instinct greedy of these kinds of perils---if the savage rejoice in the delights of an idleness so dearly purchased---ought it to be concluded that he is more happy than our day labourers? No: the labour of these is more uniform, but the reward is more certain ; the lot of the woman is more gentle, infancy and old age have more resources; the species multiplies in a proportion a thousand times greater, and this alone would suffice to show on which side is the superiority of happiness. Hence the laws, in creating property, have been benefactors to those who remain in their original poverty. They participate more or less in the pleasures, advantages, and resources of civilized society: their industry and labour place them among the candidates for fortune: they enjoy the pleasures of acquisition: hope mingles with their labours. The security which the law gives them, is this of little importance? Those who look from above at the inferior ranks, see all objects less than they really are; but at the base of the pyramid, it is the summit which disappears in its turn. So far from making these comparisons, they dream not of them; they are not tormented with impossibilities: so, that all things considered, the protection of the laws contributes as much to the happiness of the cottage, as to the security of the palace. It is surprising that so judicious a writer as Beccaria should have inserted, in a work dictated by the soundest philosophy, a doubt subversive of the social order. The right of property, says he, is a terrible right, and may not perhaps be necessary. Upon this right, tyrannical and sanguinary laws have been founded. It has been most frightfully abused; but the right itself presents only ideas of pleasure, of abundance, and of security. It is this right which has overcome the natural aversion, to labour which has bestowed on man the empire of the earth---which has led nations to give up their wandering habits---which has created a love of country and of posterity. To enjoy quickly---to enjoy without punishment,---this is the universal desire of man; this is the desire which is terrible, since it arms all those who possess nothing, against those who possess any thing. But the law, which restrains this desire, is the most splendid triumph of humanity over itself.[Back to:]