Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAP. XV.: NEW AGE. - The Ruins: or a Survery of the Revolutions of Empires
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CHAP. XV.: NEW AGE. - 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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Scarcely had the Genius uttered to himself these words than an immense noise proceeded from the West, and turning my eyes to that quarter, I perceived at the extremity of the Mediterranean, in the country of one of the European nations, a prodigious movement, similar to what exists in the bosom of a large city when, pervaded with sedition, an innumerable people, like waves, fluctuate in the streets and public places. My ear, struck with their cries, which ascended to the very heavens, distinguished at intervals these phrases:
“What is this new prodigy? What this cruel and mysterious scourge? We are a numerous people, and we want strength! We have an excellent soil, and we are destitute of provision! We are active and laborious, and we live in indigence! We pay enormous tributes, and we are told that they are not sufficient! We are at peace without, and our persons and property are not safe within! What then is the secret enemy that devours us?”
From the midst of the concourse, some individual voices replied: “Erect a standard of distinction, and let all those who, by useful labours, contribute to the support and maintenance of society, gather round it, and you will discover the enemy that preys on your vitals.”
The standard being erected, the nation found itself suddenly divided into two bodies of unequal magnitude and dissimilar appearance: the one innumerable and nearly integral, exhibited, in the general poverty of their dress, and in their meagre and sunburnt faces, the marks of toil and wretchedness; the other a pretty groupe, a valueless faction, presented, in their rich attire, embroidered with gold and silver, and in their fleek and ruddy complexions, the symptoms of leisure and abundance. Considering these men more attentively, I perceived that the large body was constituted of labourers, artisans, tradesmen, and every profession useful to society; and that in the lesser groupe there were none but priests, courtiers, public accountants, commanders of troops, in short, the civil, military, or religious agents of government.
The two bodies being front to front assembled, and having looked with astonishment at each other, I saw the feelings of indignation and resentment spring up in the one, and a sort of panic in the other; and the large said to the small body:
Why stand you apart? Are you not of our number?
No, replied the groupe; you are the people; we are a privileged class; we have laws, customs, and rights peculiar to ourselves.
And what labour do you perform in the society?
None: we are not made to labour.
How then have you acquired your wealth?
By taking the pains to govern you.
To govern us! and is this what you call governing? We toil, and you enjoy; we produce, and you dissipate; wealth flows from us, and you absorb it. . . . Privileged men, class distinct from the people, form a nation apart, and govern yourselves(2) .
Then, deliberating on their new situation, some among the groupe said: Let us join the people, and partake their burthens and cares; for they are men like ourselves. Others replied: To mix with the herd would be degrading and vile; they are born to serve us, who are men of a superior race. The civil govenors said: the people are mild and naturally servile; let us speak to them in the name of the king and the law, and they will return to their duty. . . . People! the king decrees, the sovereign ordains.
The king cannot decree any thing which the safety of the people does not demand; the sovereign cannot ordain but according to law.
The law calls upon you for submission.
The law is the general will; and we will a new order.
You are in that case rebels.
A nation cannot be a rebel; tyrants only are rebels.
The king is on our side, and he enjoins you to submit.
Kings cannot be separated from the nation in which they reign. Our king cannot be on your side; you have only the phantom of his countenance.
Then the military governors advanced, and they said: The people are timorous; it is proper to threaten them; they will yield to the influence of force....Soldiers, chastise this insolent multitude!
Soldiers, our blood flows in your veins! will you strike your brothers? If the people be destroyed, who will maintain the army?
And the soldiers, grounding their arms, said to their chiefs: We are a part of the people; we whom you call upon to fight against them.
Then the ecclesiastical governors said: There is but one resource left. The people are superstitious; it is proper to overawe them with the names of God and religion.
Our dear brethren, our children, God has commissioned us to govern you.
Produce the patent of his commission.
You must have faith; reason leads men into guilt.
And would you govern us without reason?
God is the God of peace; religion enjoins you to obey.
No; justice goes before peace; obedience implies a law, and renders necessary the cognizance of it.
This world was intended for trial and suffering.
Do you then shew us the example of suffering.
Would you live without Gods or kings?
We abjure tyranny of every kind.
You must have mediators, persons who may act in your behalf.
Mediators with God, and mediators with the king! Courtiers and priests, your services are too expensive; henceforth we take our affairs into our own hands.
Then the smaller groupe exclaimed: It is over with us; the multitude are enlightened. And the people replied: You shall not be hurt; we are enlightened, and we will commit no violence. We desire nothing but our rights: resentment we cannot but feel, but we consent to pass it by: we were slaves, we might now command; but we ask only to be free, and free we are.
[Page 128. (2.)]And govern yourselves. This dialogue between the people and the indolent classes, is applicable to every society; it contains the seeds of all the political vices and disorders that prevail, and which may thus be defined; men who do nothing, and who devour the substance of others; and men who arrogate to themselves particular rights and exclusive privileges of wealth and indolence. Compare the Mamlouks of Egypt, the nobility of Europe, the Nairs of India, the Emirs of Arabia, the Patricians of Rome, the Christian clergy, the Imans, the Bramins, the Bonzes, the Lamas, &c. &c. and you will find in all the same characteristic feature,—“Men living in idleness at the expence of those who labour.”