In consulting the grand principle of security, what ought the legislator to direct with regard to the mass of property which exists?
He ought to maintain the distribution which is actually established. This, under the name of justice, is with reason regarded as his first duty: it is a general and simple rule applicable to all states, adapted to all plans, even those which are most opposed to each other. There is nothing more diversified than the condition of property in America, England, Hungary, Russia: in the first country the cultivator is proprietor; in the second he is a farmer; in the third he is attached to the soil; in the fourth he is a slave. Still the supreme principle of security directs the preservation of all these distributions, how different soever their natures, and though they do not produce the same amount of happiness. For how shall a different distribution be made, without taking from some one what he possesses? how shall one party be stripped, without attacking the security of all? When your new distribution shall be disarranged, which it will be the day after its establishment, how will you be able to avoid making a second? Why should you not correct this also? and, in the meantime, what becomes of security? of happiness? of industry?
When security and equality are in opposition, there should be no hesitation: equality should give way. The first is the foundation of life---of subsistence---of abundance---of happiness; every thing depends on it. Equality only produces a certain portion of happiness: besides, though it may be created, it will always be imperfect; if it could exist for a day, the revolutions of the next day would disturb it. The establishment of equality is a chimera: the only thing which can be done is to diminish inequality.
If violent causes, such as a revolution in government, a schism, a conquest, produce the overthrow of property, it is a great calamity; but it is only transitory---it may be softened and even repaired by time. Industry is a vigorous plant, which resists numerous loppings, and in which the fruitful sap rises immediately upon the return of spring, But if property were overthrown with the direct intention of establishing equality of fortune, the evil would be irreparable: no more security---no more industry---no more abundance; society would relapse into the savage state from which it has arisen.
``Devant eux des cities, derriere, eux des deserts.''Such is the history of fanaticism. If equality ought to reign to-day, for the same reason it ought to reign always. It can only be preserved by the same violences by which it was established. It would require an army of inquisitors and executioners, deaf both to favouritism and complaint---insensible to the seductions of pleasure---inaccessible to personal interest---endowed with every virtue, and engaged in a service which would destroy them all. The level must be in perpetual motion, in order to smooth down whatever would rise above the legal line. Watchfulness must be uninterrupted, to restore the lack of those who have dissipated their portion, and to strip those who by means of labour have augmented, or by care have preserved, theirs. In such a state of things, prodigality would be wisdom, and none but the mad would be industrious. This pretended remedy, so gentle in appearance, would thus be found a deadly poison. It is a burning cautery, which would consume every thing till it reached the last principles of life. The sword of the enemy, in its wildest fury, is a thousand times less to be dreaded. It only causes partial evils, which time effaces and which industry repairs.
Some small societies, in the first effervescence of religious enthusiasm, have instituted, as a fundamental principle, the community of goods. Has happiness been increased thereby? The gentle motive of reward has been supplied by the doleful motive of punishment. Labour, so easy and so light when animated by hope, has been represented as a penance necessary in order to escape from eternal punishments. Hence, so long as the religious motive preserves its force, every one labours, but everyone groans. Does this motive grow weaker? The society divides itself into two classes: the one, degraded fanatics, contract all the vices of an unhappy superstition; the other, idle cheats, cause themselves to be supported in their idleness by the dupes by whom they surround themselves; whilst the cry for equality is only a pretext to cover the robbery which idleness perpetrates upon industry.
The prospects of benevolence and concord, which have seduced so many ardent minds, are, under this system, only the chimeras of the imagination. Whence should arise, in the division of labour, the determining motive to choose the most painful? who would undertake disagreeable and dirty tasks? who would be content with his lot, and not esteem the burthen of his neighbour lighter than his own? How many frauds would be attempted in order to throw that burthen upon another, from which a man would wish to exempt himself? and in the division of property, how impossible to satisfy every one, to preserve the appearance of equality, to prevent jealousies, quarrels, rivalries, preferences? Who shall put an end to the numberless disputes always arising? What an apparatus of penal laws would be required, to replace the gentle liberty of choice, and the natural reward of the cares which each one takes for himself? The one half of society would not suffice to govern the other. Hence this iniquitous and absurd system could only be maintained by political or religious slavery, such as that of the Helots among the Lacedemonians, and the Indians of Paraguay in the establishments of the Jesuits. Sublime inventions of legislators, who, for the establishment of equality. made two equal lots of evil and of good, and put all the evil on one side, and all the good upon the other.[Back to:]