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LETTER IV.: TO THE EDITOR OF THE SCOTS CHRONICLE. - John Millar, Letters of Sidney, on Inequality of Property. To which is added, a Treatise of the Effects of War on Commercial Prosperity 
Letters of Sidney, on Inequality of Property. To which is added, a Treatise of the Effects of War on Commercial Prsoperity (Edinburgh: the Office of the Scots Chronicle, 1796).
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TO THE EDITOR OF THE SCOTS CHRONICLE.
August 26. 1796.
The bad effects of great inequality of property are not confined to the very rich and the very poor, to those who may be considered as at the opposite terminations of the great chain of civilized society; they extend through every connecting link, contaminating the morals of the whole nation.
When the two extremes of opulence and want are continually before our eyes, it is natural that we should consider the one as including every thing we desire; the other, as connected with every thing we would wish to shun. Riches become associated in our imaginations with independence, splendour, happiness, and admiration; poverty, with servility, misery, and contempt. We transfer these qualities to the persons of those who compose the two opposite classes, and pay an involuntary respect to the opulent, while the indigent too often are treated with unmerited contempt* . A man is no longer valued according to his real worth, his intellectual and moral attainments, but according to his apparent wealth and splendour. Hence, the vice of avarice prevails; not that laudable desire of independence and comfort, which prompts to honest industry, but an insatiable thirst of gain, which roots out all the vitues, which produces envy, servility, hatred, and all manner of dishonesty.
Poverty becomes so disgusting to us, that we studiously avoid all communication with it, and avert our eyes from the miseries of our brethren. The first emotion which the appearance of the wretched excites in our minds, is a kind of repulsion; we hear the story of the poor with reluctance, and our sympathy with their distresses is impaired. Hence selfishness, uncharitableness, or that wretched substitute for kindness, which proceeds from ostentation. Meantime, we find a ready excuse in that general profligacy of the poor, which also originates from excessive inequality; we meet with so many instances of fraud and deceit in their stories, that unless we are unusually indulgent, we learn to consider all petitioners in the same point of view; and, that we may not be imposed upon by falsehood, we shut up every avenue to our hearts. I may be told, that immense sums are annually expended on the poor; I admit it; but still I am very far from praising the charity of the present age. Much is done from ostentation; much, though often very injudiciously, by public institution; something to escape importunity, but little, I fear, from feelings of true compassion. It is impossible that we can sympathise with those, whose situation inspires disgust, whose sufferings we are unwilling to investigate, whose characters, occupations, pleasures, and pains, are so different from our own.
Avarice and profusion, though opposite vices, are equally generated by excessive inequality. The dislike of poverty acts in different directions in people of opposite characters. While some are actuated by the fear of want, others are terrified at the contempt which follows it; in order to be reputed rich, they launch into expences which they can ill afford; and these expences soon bring on that poverty of which they so much dread the imputation.
To this source of profusion may be added another still more powerful, Imitation. The ostentatious pleasures of the rich create desires in their inferiors, who foolishly attempt to imitate their stile of living and expensive amusements; an emulation which has been aptly compared to a race between the different conditions and members of each particular rank, universally pervades society; and, although it is alternately the subject of regret and of ridicule, it will continue to prevail, while overgrown fortunes dazzle mankind by their extravagant brilliancy. The consequences are most destructive to morals and to happiness; and we may truly say, that, while we see avarice on the one hand, and profusion on the other, a reasonable economy can no where be found. No man, whatever be his rank of life, can live in the manner practised by his equals, and at the same time make a proper provision for his family. He is so beset with temptations, so goaded on by this foolish emulation, that, unless he is possessed of very considerable self-command, his expences will equal, if not exceed, his income. So notorious is this circumstance, that the man who marries before he has amassed a considerable fortune, is universally deemed highly imprudent: It is justly concluded, that it will afterwards be impossible for him to save, from his annual income, what may be sufficient to enable his children to maintain the rank in which they have been educated. Hence the frequency of celibacy, particularly in large towns, where emulation in expence is most prevalent. This prodigality is not confined to one rank or condition; it reaches, by a most destructive contagion, from the prince to the beggar; whatever a man’s property may be, we rarely find it equal to his wants; and in this view, all may be said to be equally poor.
Nothing can be more fatal to public spirit than this private extravagance. He who has ruined his fortune, or can make no proper provision for his family, has a powerful temptation constantly acting on his mind. He is sensible that his real situation will at last be known, and he anticipates the privation of habitual indulgences, the coldness of his former friends, the contempt of the world, and all the miseries of indigence. Poverty appears before him clad in all her horrors, and his virtue too often yields to so formidable an assailant. If he is in the lower ranks of life, he is led by degrees to the most flagitious enormities; if he is in a more elevated situation, he finds that one detectable crime may of itself retrieve his fortune, and he sells his conscience and his country. The same inequality of property which, by occasioning his extravagance, has led him into this humiliating situation, enables another to make the infamous purchase, and the influence of corruption spreads wide through the nation.
In those who carry on the infamous traffic of venality, all public principle must soon be annihilated: and their number is so great, their rank so imposing, that they may almost glory in their shame* . Meantime, the rest of the community, observing this open venality, and grossly deceived by many of those who still pretend to patriotism, become complete sceptics in politics. They see nothing around them but a factious contest for private emolument, a scramble for places; and they rashly conclude, that Public Spirit is a word destitute of meaning, used merely to impose on the credulity of mankind. To point out the destructive effects of this total disregard, and even disbelief, of patriotism, both on morals and politics, would surely be superfluous; to be convinced that it already prevails, we have only to look around us. Inequality of Property has produced two classes, the opulent who purchase, and the indigent who sell, the interests of their country; and this infamous traffic is not carried on secretly, but in open day, and with the most perfect publicity. Patriotism is scarcely pretended to by any person, except during a general election, and a serious belief in its existence is universally ridiculed. Can any man deny the truth of these assertions? Is any man so blind as not to perceive that the necessary consequences are, the most destructive corruption, the loss of every advantage which might be derived from free government, and the most deplorable degradation of human nature* . “Sitot,” says Rousseau, “que quelq’un dit des affaires de l’Etat, que m’importe? on doit compter que l’Etat est perdu.” Alas, for England! I am, Sir,
[* ]See Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments, Part I. Sec. 3.
[* ]See Lord Melcombe’s Diary, which contains the most honest confession of political depravity that ever was written.
[* ]“As soon as any citizen says, What are public affairs to me? we may consider the state as undone.”