Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAP. IX.: THE ORIGIN OF GOVERNMENT AND LAWS. - The Ruins: or a Survery of the Revolutions of Empires
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CHAP. IX.: THE ORIGIN OF GOVERNMENT AND LAWS. - Constantin-François Chasseboeuf, marquis de Volney, The Ruins: or a Survery of the Revolutions of Empires 
The Ruins: or a Survery of the Revolutions of Empires, 3rd ed. (London: J. Johnson, 1796).
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THE ORIGIN OF GOVERNMENT AND LAWS.
In truth, the period soon arrived when men, tired of the ills they occasioned each other, sighed after peace; and reflecting on the nature and causes of those ills, they said: “We mutually injure one another by our passions, and from a desire to grasp every thing we in reality possess nothing. What one ravishes to-day, another tears from him to-morrow, and our cupidity rebounds upon our own heads. Let us establish arbitrators, who shall decide our claims and appease our variances. When the strong rises up against the weak, the arbitrator shall repel him; and the life and property of each being under a common guarantee and protection, we shall enjoy all the blessings of nature.”
Conventions, tacit or expressed, were thus introduced into society, and became the rule of the actions of individuals, the measure of their claims, and the law of their reciprocal relations. Chiefs were appointed to enforce the observance of the compact, and to these the people entrusted the balance of rights, and the sword to punish violations.
Then a happy equilibrium of powers and of action was established, which constituted the public safety. The names of equity and justice were acknowledged and revered. Every man, able to enjoy in peace the fruits of his labour, gave himself up to all the energies of his soul; and activity, awakened and kept alive by the reality or the hope of enjoyment, forced art and nature to display all their treasures. The fields were covered with harvests, the valleys with flocks, the hills with vines, the sea with ships, and man was happy and powerful upon the earth.
The disorder his imprudence had caused, his wisdom thus remedied. But this wisdom was still the effect of the laws of nature in the organization of his being. It was to secure his own enjoyments, that he was led to respect those of another, and the desire of accumulation found its corrective in enlightened self-love.
Self-love, the eternal spring of action in every individual, was thus the necessary basis of all associations; and upon the observance of this natural law has the fate of every nation depended. Have the factitious and conventional laws of any society accorded with this law, and corresponded to its demands? In that case every man, prompted by an overpowering instinct, has exerted all the faculties of his nature, and the public felicity has been the result of the various portions of individual felicity. Have these laws, on the contrary, restrained the effort of man in his pursuit of happiness? In that case his heart, deprived of all its natural motives, has languished in inaction, and the oppression of individuals has engendered general weakness.
Self-love, impetuous and rash, renders man the enemy of man, and of consequence perpetually tends to the dissolution of society. It is for the art of legislation, and for the virtue of ministers, to temper the grasping selfishness of individuals, to keep each man’s desire to possess every thing in a nice equipoise, and thus to render the subjects happy, in order that, in the struggle of this with any other society, all the members should have an equal interest in the preservation and defence of the commonwealth.
From hence it follows, that the internal splendour and prosperity of empires, have been in proportion to the equity of their governments; and their external power respectively, in proportion to the number of persons interested in the maintenance of the political constitution, and their degree of interest in that maintenance.
On the other hand, the multiplication of men by complicating their ties, having rendered the demarcation of their rights a point of difficult decision; the perpetual play of the passions having given rise to unexpected incidents; the conventions that were formed having proved vicious, inadequate, or null; the authors of the laws having either misunderstood the object of them, or dissembled it, and the persons appointed to execute them, instead of restraining the inordinate desires of others, having abandoned themselves to the sway of their own avidity—society has, by these causes united, been thrown into trouble and disorder; and defective laws and unjust governments, the result of cupidity and ignorance, have been the foundation of the misfortunes of the people, and the subversion of states.