Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAP. XI.: GENERAL CAUSES OF THE REVOLUTIONS AND RUIN OF ANCIENT STATES. - The Ruins: or a Survery of the Revolutions of Empires
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CHAP. XI.: GENERAL CAUSES OF THE REVOLUTIONS AND RUIN OF ANCIENT STATES. - 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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GENERAL CAUSES OF THE REVOLUTIONS AND RUIN OF ANCIENT STATES.
In the mean time the inordinate desire of accumulation had excited a constant and universal struggle among men, and this struggle, prompting individuals and societies to reciprocal invasions, occasioned perpetual commotions and successive revolutions.
At first, in the savage and barbarous state of the first human beings, this inordinate desire, daring and ferocious in its nature, taught rapine, violence, and murder; and the progress of civilization was for a long time at a stand.
Afterwards, when societies began to be formed, the effect of bad habits communicating itself to laws and government, civil institutions became corrupt, and arbitrary and factitious rights were established, which gave the people depraved ideas of justice and morality.
Because one man, for example, was stronger than another, this inequality, the result of accident, was taken for the law of nature(l) ; and because the life of the weak was in his power, and he did not take it from him, he arrogated over his person the absurd right of property, and individual slavery prepared the way for the slavery of nations.
Because the chief of a family could exercise an absolute authority in his own house, he made his inclinations and affections the sole rule of his conduct; he conferred and withheld the conveniences and enjoyments of life without respect to the law of equality or justice, and paternal tyranny laid the foundation of political despotism(m) .
In societies formed upon such bases, time and industry having developed riches, inordinate desire, restricted by the laws, became artificial without being less active. Under the mask of union and civil peace, it engendered in the bosom of every state an intestine war, in which the citizens divided into opposite corps of orders, classes, and families, aimed to appropriate to themselves, under the name of supreme power, the ability of grasping and controlling every thing at the will of their passions. It is this spirit of rapacity, the disguises of which are innumerable, but its operation and end uniformly the same, that has been the perpetual scourge of nations.
Sometimes opposing social compact, or destroying that which already existed, it has abandoned the inhabitants of a country to the tumultuous shock of all their jarring principles; and the dissolved states, under the name of anarchy, have been tormented by the passions of every individual member.
Sometimes a people jealous of its liberty, having appointed agents to administer, these agents have assumed to themselves the powers of which they were only the guardians; have employed the public funds in corrupting elections, gaining partizans, and dividing the people against itself. By these means, from temporary, they have become perpetual, from elective, hereditary magistrates; and the state, agitated by the intrigues of the ambitious, by the bribes of the wealthy leaders of factions, by the venality of the indolent poor, by the empiricism of declaimers, has been troubled with all the inconveniences of democracy.
In one country, the chiefs, equal in strength, mutually afraid of each other, have formed vile compacts and coalitions, and portioning out power, rank, honours, have arrogated to themselves privileges and immunities; have erected themselves into separate bodies and distinct classes; have tyrannised in common over the people, and, under the name of aristocracy, the state has been tormented by the passions of the wealthy and the great.
In another country, tending to the same end by different means, sacred impostors have taken advantage of the credulity of the ignorant. In the secrecy of temples, and behind the veil of altars, they have made the Gods speak and act; have delivered oracles, worked pretended miracles, ordered sacrifices, imposed offerings, prescribed endowments; and, under the name of theocracy and religion, the state has been tormented by the passions of priests.
Sometimes, weary of its disorders or of its tyrants, a nation, to diminish the sources of its evils, gave itself a single master. In that case, if the powers of the prince were limited, his only desire was to extend them; if indefinite, he abused the trust that was confided to him; and, under the name of monarchy, the state was tormented by the passions of kings and princes.
Then the factious, taking advantage of the general discontent, flattered the people with the hope of a better master; they scattered gifts and promises, dethroned the despot to substitute themselves in his stead; and disputes for the succession or the division of power, have tormented the state with the disorders and devastations of civil war.
In fine, among these rivals, one individual more artful or more fortunate than the rest, gaining the ascendancy, concentred the whole power in himself. By a singular phenomenon, one man obtained the mastery over millions of his fellow-creatures, against their will, and without their consent; and thus the art of tyranny appears also to have been the offspring of inordinate desire. Observing the spirit of egotism that divided mankind, the ambitious adroitly fomented this spirit: he flattered the vanity of one, excited the jealousy of another, favoured the avarice of a third, enflamed the resentment of a fourth, irritated the passions of all. By opposing interests or prejudices, he sowed the seeds of divisions and hatred. He promised to the poor the spoil of the rich, to the rich the subjugation of the poor; threatened this man by that, one class by another; and isolating the citizens by distrust, he formed his own strength out of their weakness, and imposed on them the yoke of opinion, the knots of which they tied with their own hands. By means of the army he extorted contributions; by the contributions he disposed of the army; by the corresponding play of money and places, he bound all the people with a chain that was not to be broken, and the states which they composed fell into the slow decay of despotism.
Thus did one and the same spring, varying its action under all the forms that have been enumerated, incessantly attack the continuity of states, and an eternal circle of vicissitudes have sprung from an eternal circle of passions.
This constant spirit of egotism operated two principal effects equally destructive: the one, that by dividing societies into all their fractions, a state of debility was produced, which facilitated their dissolution; the other, that always tending to concentre the power in a single hand, it occasioned a successive absorption of societies and states, fatal to their peace and to their common existence(n) .
Just as in a single state, the nation had been absorbed in a party, that party in a family, and that family in an individual, there also existed an absorption of a similar kind between state and state, attended with all the mischiefs in the relative situation of nations, that the other produced in the civil relation of individuals. One city subjected its neighbour city, and the result of the conquest was a province; province swallowed up province, and thus produced a kingdom; between two kingdoms a conquest took place, and thus furnished an empire of unweildy bulk. Did the internal force of these states increase in proportion to their mass? On the contrary, it was diminished; and far from the condition of the people being happier, it became every day more oppressive and wretched, by causes inevitably flowing from the nature of things.
Because, as the boundaries of states became extended, their administration became more complicated and difficult; and to give motion to the mass it was necessary to increase the prerogatives of the sovereign, and all proportion was thus annihilated between the duty of governors and their power.
Because despots, feeling their weakness, dreaded all those circumstances that developed the force of nations, and made it their study to attenuate it.
Because nations, estranged from each other by the prejudices of ignorance and the ferocity of hatred, seconded the perversity of governments, and employing a standing force for reciprocal offence, aggravated their slavery.
Because, in proportion as the balance between states was broken, it became easy for the strong to overwhelm the weak.
Because, in proportion as state became blended with state, the people were stripped of their laws, their customs, every thing by which they were distinguished from each other, and thus lost the great mover selfishness, which gave them energy.
And despots, considering empires in the light of domains, and the people as their property, abandoned themselves to depredations, and the licentiousness of the most arbitrary authority.
And all the force and wealth of nations were converted into a supply for individual expence and personal caprice; and kings, in the wearisomeness of satiety, followed the dictates of every factitious and depraved taste(o) . They must have gardens constructed upon arches, and rivers carried to the summit of mountains; for them fertile fields must be changed into parks for deer, lakes formed where there was no water, and rocks elevated in those lakes; they must have palaces constructed of marble and porphyry, and the furniture ornamented with gold and diamonds. Millions of hands were thus employed in sterile labours; and the luxury of princes being imitated by their parasites, and descending step by step to the lowest ranks, became a general source of corruption and empoverishment.
And the ordinary tributes being no longer adequate to the insatiable thirst of enjoyment, they were augmented: the consequence of which was, that the cultivator, finding his toil increase without any indemnity, lost his courage; the merchant, seeing himself robbed, took a disgust to industry; the multitude, condemned to a state of poverty, exerted themselves no farther than the procurement of necessaries required, and every species of productive activity was at a stand.
And the surcharge of taxes rendering the possession of lands burthensome, the humble proprietor abandoned his field, or sold it to the man of opulence; and the mass of wealth centered in a few individuals. As the laws and institutions favoured this accumulation, nations were divided into a small body of indolent rich, and a multiude of mercenary poor. The people, reduced to indigence, debased themselves; the great, cloyed with superfiuity, became depraved; and the number of citizens interested in the preservation of the state decreasing, its strength and existence were by so much the more precarious.
In another view, as there was nothing to excite emulation or encourage instruction, the minds of men sunk into profound ignorance.
The administration of affairs being secret and mysterious, there existed no means of reform or hope of better times; and as the chiefs ruled only by violence and fraud, the people considered them but as a faction of public enemies, and all harmony between the governed and the governors was at an end.
The states of opulent Asia become enervated by all these vices, it happened at length that the vagrant and poor inhabitants of the deserts and the mountains adjacent, coveted the enjoyments of the fertile plains, and instigated by a common cupidity, they attacked polished empires, and overturned the thrones of despots. Such revolutions were rapid and easy, because the policy of tyrants had enfeebled the citizens, razed the fortresses, destroyed the warlike spirit of resistance, and because the oppressed subject was without personal interest, and the mercenary soldier without courage.
Hordes of barbarians having reduced whole nations to a state of slavery, it followed that empires, formed of a conquering and a vanquished people, united in their bosom two classes of men essentially opposite and inimical to each other. All the principles of society were dissolved. There was no longer either a common interest, or public spirit: on the contrary, a distinction of casts and conditions was established, that reduced the maintenance of disorder to a regular system; and accordingly as a man was descended from this or that blood, he was born vassal or tyrant, live stock or proprietor.
The oppressors being in this case less numerous than the oppressed, it became necessary, in order to support this false equilibrium, to bring the science of tyranny to perfection. The art of governing was now nothing more than that of subjecting the many to the few. To obtain an obedience so contrary to instinct, it was necessary to establish the most severe penalties; and the cruelty of the laws rendered the manners atrocious. The distinction of persons also establishing in the state two codes of justice, two species of rights, the people, placed between the natural inclinations of their hearts, and the oath they were obliged to pronounce, had two contradictory consciences; and their ideas of just and unjust had no longer any foundation in the understanding.
Under such a system the people fell into a state of depression and despair; and the accidents of nature increasing the preponderance of evil, terrified at this groupe of calamities, they referred the causes of them to superior and invisible powers: because they had tyrants upon earth, they supposed there to be tyrants in heaven; and superstition came in aid to aggravate the disasters of nations.
Hence originated gloomy and misanthropic systems of religion, which painted the Gods malignant and envious like human despots. To appease them, man offered the sacrifice of all his enjoyments, punished himself with privations, and overturned the laws of nature. Considering his pleasures as crimes, his sufferings as expiations, he endeavoured to cherish a passion for pain, and to renounce self-love; he persecuted his senses, detested his life, and by a self-denying and unsocial system of morals, nations were plunged in the sluggishness of death.
But as provident nature had endowed the heart of man with inexhaustible hope, perceiving his desires disappointed of happiness here, he pursued it elsewhere; by a sweet illusion, he formed to himself another country, an asylum, where, out of the reach of tyrants, he should regain all his rights. Hence a new disorder arose. Smitten with his imaginary world, man despised the world of nature: for chimerical hopes he neglected the reality. He no longer considered his life but as a fatiguing journey, a painful dream; his body as a prison that withheld him from his felicity; the earth as a place of exile and pilgrimage, which he disdained to cultivate. A sacred sloth then established itself in the world; the fields were deferted, waste lands increased, empires were dispeopled, monuments neglected, and every where ignorance, superstition and fanaticism uniting their baleful effects, multiplied devastations and ruins.
Thus, agitated by their own passions, men, whether in their individual capacity, or as collective bodies, always rapacious and improvident, passing from tyranny to slavery, from pride to abjectness, from presumption to despair, have been themselves the eternal instruments of their misfortunes.
Such was the simplicity of the principles that regulated the fate of ancient states; such was the series of causes and effects, consecutive and connected with each other, according to which they rose or fell in the scale of human welfare, just as the physical causes of the human heart were therein observed or infringed. A hundred divers nations, a hundred powerful empires, in their incessant vicissitudes, have read again and again these instructive lessons to mankind . . . And these lessons are mute and forgotten! The discases of past times have appeared again in the present! The heads of the different governments have practised again, without restraint, exploded projects of deception and despotism! The people have wandered as before in the labyrinths of superstition and ignorance!
And what, added the Genius, calling up his energies afresh, is the consequence of all this? Since experience is useless, since salutary examples are forgotten, the scenes which were acted before are now about to be renewed; revolutions will again agitate people and empires; powerful thrones will, as before, be overturned; and terrible catastrophes remind the human species, that the laws of nature, and the precepts of wisdom and truth, cannot be trampled upon in vain.
[Page 62. (l).]This inequality, the result of accident, was taken for the law of nature. Almost all the ancient philosophers and politicians have laid it down as a principle, that men are born unequal, that nature has created some to be free, and others to be slaves. Expressions of this kind are to be found in Aristotle, and even in Plato, called the divine, doubtless in the same sense as the mythological reveries which he promulgated. With all the people of antiquity, the Gauls, the Romans, the Athenians, the right of the strongest was the right of nations; and from the same principle are derived all the political disorders and public national crimes that at present exist.
[Page id. (m).]Paternal tyranny laid the foundation of political despotism. Upon this single expression it would be easy to write a long and important chapter. We might prove in it, beyond contradiction, that all the abuses of national governments have sprung from those of domestic government, from that government called patriarchal, which superficial minds have extolled without having analyzed it. Numberless facts demonstrate, that with every infant people, in every savage and barbarous state, the father, the chief of the family, is a despot, and a cruel and insolent despot. The wife is his slave, the children his servants. This king sleeps or smokes his pipe, while his wife and daughters perform all the drudgery of the house, and even that of tillage and cultivation, as far as occupations of this nature are practised in such societies; and no sooner have the boys acquired strength, than they are allowed to beat the females and make them serve and wait upon them as they do upon their fathers. Similar to this is the state of our own uncivilized peasants. In proportion as civilization spreads, the manners become milder, and the condition of the women improves, till, by a contrary excess, they arrive at dominion, and then a nation becomes effeminate and corrupt. It is remarkable, that parental authority is great according as the government is despotic. China, India, and Turkey are striking examples of this. One would suppose that tyrants gave themselves accomplices, and interested subaltern despots to maintain their authority. In opposition to this the Romans will be cited; but it remains to be proved that the Romans were men truly free; and their quick passage from their republican despotism to their abject servility under the emperors, gives room at least for considerable doubts as to that freedom.
[Page 67. (n).]Always tending to concenter the power in a single hand. It is remarkable, that this has in all instances been the constant progress of societies: beginning with a state of anarchy or democracy, that is, with a great division of power, they have passed to aristocracy, and from aristocracy to monarchy. Does it not hence follow, that those who constitute states under the democratic form, destine them to undergo all the intervening troubles between that and monarchy; and that the supreme administration by a single chief is the most natural government, as well as that best calculated for peace?
[Page 69. (o).]And kings followed the dictates of every depraved taste. It is equally worthy of remark, that the conduct and manners of princes and kings of every conntry and every age, are found to be precisely the same at similar periods, whether of the formation or dissolution of empires. History every where presents the same pictures of luxury and folly; of parks, gardens, lakes, rocks, palaces, furniture, excess of the table, wine, women, concluding with brutality.