« ZurückWeiter »
stronger the mutual benevolence is among the individuals, the nearer it approaches; till all distinction of property be, in a great measure, lost and confounded among them. Between married persons, the cement of friendship is by the laws supposed so strong as to abolish all division of possessions, and has often, in reality, the force ascribed to it. And it is observable, that, during the ardour of new enthusiasms, when every principle is inflamed into extravagance, the community of goods has frequently been attempted ; and nothing but experience of its inconveniencies, from the returning or disguised selfishness of men, could inake the imprudent fanatics adopt anew the ideas of justice and of separate property. So true is it that this virtue derives its existence entirely from its necessary use to the intercourse and social state of mankind.
To make this truth more evident, let us reverse the foregoing suppositions; and, carrying every thing to the opposite extreme, consider what would be the effect of these new situations. Suppose a society to fall into such want of all common necessaries, that the utmost frugality and industry cannot preserve the greater number from perishing, and the whole from extreme misery: It will readily, I believe, be admitted, that the strict laws of justice are suspended, in such a pressing emergence, and give place to the stronger motives of necessity and self-preservation. Is it any crime, after a shipwreck, to seize whatever means or instrument of safety one can lay hold of, without regard to former limitations of property? Or if a city besieged were perishing with hunger; can we imagine, that men will see any means of preservation before them, and lose their lives, from a scrupulous regard to what, in other situations, would be the rules of equity and justice? The USE and TENDEN
CY of that virtue is to procure happpiness and security, by preserving order in society: But where the society is ready to perish from extreme necessity, nó greater evil can be dreaded from violence and injustice; and every man may now provide for himself by all the means, which prudence can dictate, or humanity permit. The public, even in less urgent necessities, opens granaries, without the consent of proprietors; as justly supposing, that the authority of magistracy may, consistent with equity, extend so far: But were any number of men to assemble, without the tie of laws or civil jurisdiction; would an equal partition of bread in a famine, though effected by power and even violence, be regarded as criminal or injurious ?
Suppose likewise, that it should be a virtuous man's fate to fall into the society of ruffians; remote from the protection of laws and government; what conduct must he embrace in that melancholy situation? He sees such a desperate rapaciousness prevail; such a disregard to equity, such contempt of order, such stupid blindness to future consequences, as must immediately have the most tragical conclusion, and must terminate in destruction to the greater number, and in a total dissolution of society to the rest. He, mean while, can have no other expedient than to arm himself, to whomever the sword he seizes, or the buckler, may belong : To make provision of all means of defence and security : And his particular regard to justice being no longer of USE to his own safety or that of others, he must consult the dictates of self-preservation alone, without concern for those who no longer merit his care and attention.
When any man, even in political society, renders himself, by his crimes, obnoxious to the public, he is punished by the laws in his goods and person ; that is, the ordinary rules of justice are, with regard to him, suspended for a moment; and it becomes equitable to inHier on liim, for the benefit of society, what, otherwise, he could not suffer without wrong or injury. ''T': sool *1 The rage and violence of public war; what is it but a suspension of justice among the warring parties, who per. ceive, that this virtue is now no longer of any use or adi vantage to them? The laws of war, which then succeed to those of equity and justice, are rules calculated for the advantage and utility of that particular state, in which men are now placed. And were a civilized nation en gaged with barbarians, who observed no rules even of war; the former must also suspend their observance of them, where they no longer serve to any purpose ; and must render every action or rencounter as bloody and pernicious as possible to the first aggressors. :*** **. Thus, the rules of equity or justice depend entirely on the particular state and condition, in which men are placed, and owe their origin and existence to that UTK LITY, which results to the public from their strict and Tégular observanceCerReverse, in any considerable circumstance, the condition of men : Produce extreme abundance or extreme necessity : Implant in the human breast perfect modération and humanity, or perfeet ra. paciousness and malice: By rendering justice totally všeless, you thereby totally destray its essence, and suspend its obligation upon mankind. . 26 The common situation of society is a mediung amidst
all these extremes. We are naturally partial to ourselves, fatid to our friends, but are capable of learning the ad
antágé resulting from a more equitable conduct. Few erffoyments are given us from the open and liberal hand Hf hature, but by art, labour, and industry, we can ex . 2 នដូរ ។ * *
tract them in great abundance. Hence, the ideas of property become necessary in all civil society : Hence justice derives its usefulness to the public : And hence alone arises its merit and moral obligation.
These conclusions are so natural and obvious, that they have not escaped even the poets, in their descriptions of the, felicity attending the golden age or the reign of SATURN. The seasons, in that first period of nature, were so temperate, if we credit these agreeable fictions, that there was no necessity for men to provide themselýes with clothes and houses, as a security against the violence of heat and cold : The rivers flowed with wine and milk : The oaks yielded honey: And Nature spontáneously produced her greatest delicacies. Nor were these the chief advantages of that happy age. Tempests were not alone removed from nature; but those more furious tempests were unknown to human breasts, which now cause such uptoars and engender such confusion. Avarice; ambition; cruelty, selfishness, were never heard of: Cordial affection, compassion, sømpathy, were the only movements with which the mind was yet acquainted. Even the punetilious distinction of mine and thine was banished from among that happy race of mortals, and carried with it the very non tion of property and obligation, justice and injustice.cz
This poetical fiction of the golden age is, in some respects, of a piece with the philosophical fiction of the state of nature ; only that the former is represented as the most charming and most peaceable condition, which can possibly be imagined; whereas the latter is painted out as a state of mutual war and violence, attended with the most extreme necessity. On the first origin of mankind, we are told, their ignorance and savage nature were so prevalent, that they could give no mutual trust, but must each depend upon himself, and his own force or cunning for protection and security. No law was heard of: No rule of justice known: No distinction of property regarded : Power was the only measure of right; and a perpetual war of all against all was the res sult of mens untamed selfishness and barbarity *.
Whether such a condition of human nature could ever exist, or if it did, could continue so long as to merit the appellation of a state, may justly be doubted. Men are necessarily born in a family-society at least ; and are trained up by their parents to some rule of conduct and behaviour. But this must be admitted, that, if such a state of mutual war and violence was ever real; the suse pension of all laws of justice, from their absolute inutility, is a necessary and infallible consequence.
The more we vary our views of human life, and the newer and more unusual the lights are, in which we survey it, the more shall we be convinced, that the origin here assigned for the virtue of justice is real and satisfactory.
Were there a species of creatures intermingled with men, which, though rational, were possessed of such inferior strength, both of body and mind, that they were incapable of all resistance, and could never, upon the highest provocation, make us feel the effects of their resentment; the necessary consequence, I think, is, that we should be bound, by the laws of humanity, to give gentle usage to these creatures, but should not, properly speaking, lie under any restraint of justice with regard to them, nor could they possess any right or property, exclusive of such arbitrary lords. Our intercourse with them could not be called society, which supposes a de
See NOTE (S.)