An Enquiry concerning Political Justice

By William Godwin

Edited by Jack Lynch

These selections — just three chapters from book 8 — are the passages where Godwin engages most explicitly with property rights. The text comes from the first edition, An Enquiry concerning Political Justice, and Its Influence on General Virtue and Happiness, 2 vols. (London, 1793).

Book VIII:
Of Property

Chapter I:
Genuine System of Property Delineated

Importance of this topic. — Abuses to which it has been exposed. — Criterion of property justice. — Entitles each man to the supply of his animal wants as far as the general stock will afford it — To the means of well being. — Estimate of luxury. — Its pernicious effects on the individual who partakes of it. — Idea of labour as the foundation of property considered. — Its unreasonableness. — System of popular morality on this subject. — Defects of that system.

[8.1.1] The subject of property is the keystone that completes the fabric of political justice. According as our ideas respecting it are crude or correct, they will enlighten us as to the consequences of a simple form of society without government, and remove the prejudices that attach us to complexity. There is nothing that more powerfully tends to distort our judgment and opinions, than erroneous notions concerning the goods of fortune. Finally, the period that shall put an end to the system of coercion and punishment, is intimately connected with the circumstance of the property’s being placed upon an equitable basis.

[8.1.2] Various abuses of the most incontrovertible nature have insinuated themselves into the administration of property. Each of these abuses might usefully be made the subject of a separate investigation. We might enquire into the vexations of this sort that are produced by the dreams of national greatness or magistratical vanity. This would lead us to a just estimate of the different kinds of taxation, landed or mercantile, having the necessaries or the luxuries of life for their subject of operation. We might examine into the abuses which have adhered to the commercial system; monopolies, charters, patents, protecting duties, prohibitions and bounties. We might remark upon the consequences that flow from the feudal system and the system of ranks; seignorial duties, fines, conveyances, entails, estates freehold, copyhold and manorial, vassalage and primogeniture. We might consider the rights of the church; first fruits and tithes: and we might enquire into the propriety of the regulation by which a man, after having possessed as sovereign a considerable property during his life, is permitted to dispose of it at his pleasure, at the period which the laws of nature seem to have fixed as the termination of his authority. All these enquiries would tend to show the incalculable importance of this subject. But, excluding them all from the present enquiry, it shall be the business of what remains of this work to consider, not any particular abuses which have incidentally risen out of the administration of property, but those general principles by which it has in almost all cases been directed, and which, if erroneous, must not only be regarded as the source of the abuses above enumerated, but of others of innumerable kinds, too multifarious and subtle to enter into so brief a catalogue.

[8.1.3] What is the criterion that must determine whether this or that substance, capable of contributing to the benefit of a human being, ought to be considered as your property or mine? To this question there can be but one answer — Justice. Let us then recur to the principles of justice.

[8.1.4] To whom does any article of property, suppose a loaf of bread, justly belong? To him who most wants it, or to whom the possession of it will be most beneficial. Here are six men famished with hunger, and the loaf is, absolutely considered, capable of satisfying the cravings of them all. Who is it that has a reasonable claim to benefit by the qualities with which this loaf is endowed? They are all brothers perhaps, and the law of primogeniture bestows it exclusively to the eldest. But does justice confirm this award? The laws of different countries dispose of property in a thousand different ways; but there can be but one way which is most conformable to reason.

[8.1.5] It would have been easy to put a case much stronger than that which has just been stated. I have an hundred loaves in my possession and in the next street there is a poor man expiring with hunger, to whom one of these loaves would be the means of preserving his life. If I withhold this loaf from him, am I not unjust? If I impart it, am I not complying with what justice demands? To whom does the loaf justly belong?

[8.1.6] I suppose myself in other respects to be in easy circumstances, and that I do not want this bread as an object of barter or sale, to procure me any of the other necessities of a human being. Our animal wants have long since been defined, and are stated to consist of food, clothing and shelter. If justice have any meaning, nothing can be more iniquitous, than for one man to possess superfluities, while there is a human being in existence that is not adequately supplied with these.

[8.1.7] Justice does not stop here. Every man in entitled, so far as the general stock will suffice, not only to the means of being, but of well being. It is unjust, if one man labour to the destruction of his health or his life, that another man may abound in luxuries. It is unjust, if one man be deprived of leisure to cultivate his rational powers, while another man contributes not a single effort to add to the common stock. The faculties of one man are like the faculties of another man. Justice directs that each man, unless perhaps he be employed more beneficially to the public, should contribute to the cultivation of the common harvest, of which man consumes a share. This reciprocity indeed, as was observed when that subject was the matter of separate consideration, is of the very essence of justice. How the latter branch of it, the necessary labour, is to be secured, while each man is admitted to claim his share of the produce, we shall presently have occasion to enquire.

[8.1.8] This subject will be placed in a still more striking light, if we reflect for a moment on the nature of luxuries. The wealth of any state may intelligibly enough be considered as the aggregate of all the incomes, which are annually consumed within that state, without destroying the materials of an equal consumption in the ensuing year. Considering this income as being, what in almost all cases it will be found to be, the produce of the industry of the inhabitants, it will follow that in civilised countries the peasant does not consume more than the twentieth part of the produce of his labour, while his rich neighbour consumes perhaps the produce of the labour of twenty peasants. The benefit that arises to this favoured mortal ought surely to be very extraordinary.

[8.1.9] But nothing is more evident than that the condition of this man is the reverse of beneficial. The man of an hundred pounds per annum, if he understand his own happiness, is a thousand times more favourably circumstanced. What shall the rich man do with his enormous wealth? Shall he eat of innumerable dishes of the most expensive viands, or pour down hogsheads of the most highly flavoured wines? A frugal diet will contribute infinitely more to health, to a clear understanding, to chearful spirits, and even to the gratification of the appetites. Almost every other expence is an expence of ostentation. No man, but the most sordid epicure, would long continue to maintain even a plentiful table, if he had no spectators, visitors or servants, to behold his establishment. For whom are our sumptuous palaces and costly furniture, our equipages, and even our very clothes? The nobleman, who should for the first time let his imagination loose to conceive the style in which he would live, if he had nobody to observe, and no eye to please but his own, would no doubt be surprised to find that vanity had been the first mover in all his actions.

[8.1.10] The object of this vanity is to procure the admiration and applause of beholders. We need not here enter into the intrinsic value of applause. Taking it for granted that it is as estimable an acquisition as any man can suppose it, how contemptible is the source of applause to which the rich man has recourse? “Applaud me, because my ancestor has left me a great estate.” What merit is there in that? The first effect then of riches is to deprive their possessor of the genuine powers of understanding, and render him incapable of discerning absolute truth. They lead him to fix his affections on objects not accommodated to the wants and the structure of the human mind, and of consequence entail upon him disappointment and unhappiness. The greatest of all personal advantages are, independence of mind, which makes us feel that our satisfactions are not at the mercy either of men or of fortune; and activity of mind, the chearfulness that arises from industry perpetually employed about objects, of which our judgment acknowledges the intrinsic value.

[8.1.11] In this case we have compared the happiness of the man of extreme opulence with that of the man of one hundred pounds per annum. But the latter side of this alternative was assumed merely in compliance with existing prejudices. Even in the present state of human society we perceive, that a man, who should be perpetually earning the necessary competence by a very moderate industry, and with his pursuits uncrossed by the peevishness or caprice of his neighbours, would not be less happy than if he were born to that competence. In the state of society we are here contemplating, where, as will presently appear, the requisite industry will be of the lightest kind, it will be the reverse of a misfortune to any man, to find himself necessarily stimulated to a gentle activity, and in consequence to feel that no reverse of fortune could deprive him of the means of subsistence and contentment.

[8.1.12] But it has been alledged, “that we find among different men very different degrees of labour and industry, and that it is not just they should receive an equal reward.” It cannot indeed be denied that the attainments of men in virtue and usefulness ought by no means to be confounded. How far the present system of property contributes to their being equitably treated it is very easy to determine. The present system of property confers on one man immense wealth in consideration of an accident of his birth. He that from beggary ascends to opulence, is usually known not to have effected this transition by methods very creditable to his honesty or his usefulness. The most industrious and active member of society is frequently with great difficulty able to keep his family from starving.

[8.1.13] But, to pass over these iniquitous effects of the unequal distribution of property, let us consider the nature of the reward which is thus proposed to industry. If you be industrious, you shall have an hundred times more food than you can eat, and an hundred times more clothes than you can wear. Where is the justice of this? If I be the greatest benefactor the human species ever knew, is that a reason for bestowing on me what I do not want, especially when there are thousands to whom my superfluity would be of the greatest advantage? With this superfluity I can purchase nothing but gaudy ostentation and envy, nothing but the pitiful pleasure of returning to the poor under the name of generosity that to which reason gives them an irresistible claim, nothing but prejudice, error and vice.

[8.1.14] The doctrine of the injustice of accumulated property has been the foundation of all religious morality. The object of this morality has been, to excite men by individual virtue to repair this injustice. The most energetic teachers of religion have been irresistibly led to assert the precise truth upon this interesting subject. They have taught the rich, that they hold their wealth only as a trust, that they are strictly accountable for every atom of their expenditure, that they are merely administrators, and by no means proprietors in chief. The defect of this system is, that they rather excite us to palliate our injustice than to forsake it.

[8.1.15] No truth can be more simple than that which they inculcate. There is no action of any human being, and certainly no action that respects the disposition of property, that is not capable of better and worse, and concerning which reason and morality do not prescribe a specific conduct. He that sets out with acknowledging that other men are of the same nature as himself, and is capable of perceiving the precise place he would hold in the eye of an impartial spectator, must be fully sensible, that the money he employs in procuring an object of trifling or no advantage to himself, and which might have been employed in purchasing substantial and indispensible benefit to another, is unjustly employed. He that looks at his property with the eye of truth, will find that every shilling of it has received its destination from the dictates of justice. He will at the same time however be exposed to considerable pain, in consequence of his own ignorance as the precise disposition that justice and public utility require.

[8.1.16] Does any man doubt of the truth of these assertions? Does any man doubt that, when I employ a sum of money small or great in the purchase of an absolute luxury for myself, I am guilty of vice? It is high time that we should lay aside the very names of justice and virtue, or that we should acknowledge that they do not authorise us to accumulate luxuries upon ourselves, while we see others in want of the indispensible means of improvement and happiness.

[8.1.17] But, while religion inculcated on mankind the impartial nature of justice, its teachers have been too apt to treat the practice of justice, not as a debt, which it ought to be considered, but as an affair of spontaneous generosity and bounty. They have called upon the rich to be clement and merciful to the poor. The consequence of this has been that the rich, when they bestowed the most slender pittance of their enormous wealth in acts of charity, as they were called, took merit to themselves for what they gave, instead of considering themselves as delinquents for what they withheld.

[8.1.18] Religion is in reality in all its parts an accommodation to the prejudices and weaknesses of mankind. Its authors communicated to the world as much truth, as they calculated that the world would be willing to receive. But it is time that we should lay aside the instruction intended only for children in understanding, and contemplate the nature and principles of things. If religion has spoken out, and told us that it was just that all men should receive the supply of their wants, we should presently have been led to suspect that a gratuitous distribution to be made by the rich, was a very indirect and ineffectual way of arriving at this object. The experience of all ages has taught us, that this system is productive only of a very precarious supply. The principle object which it seems to propose, is to place this supply in the disposal of a few, enabling them to make a show of generosity with what is not truly their own, and to purchase the gratitude of the poor by payment of a debt. It is a system of clemency and charity, instead of a system of justice. It fills the rich with unreasonable pride by the spurious denominations with which it decorates their acts, and the poor with servility, by leading them to regard the slender comforts they obtain, not as their incontrovertible due, but as the good pleasure and the grace of their opulent neighbours.


Chapter II:
Benefits Arising from the Genuine System of Property

Contrasted with the mischiefs of the present system, as consisting — 1. In a sense of dependence. — 2. In the perpetual spectacle of injustice, leading men astray in their desires — And perverting the integrity of their judgments. — The rich are the true pensioners. — 3. In the discouragement of intellectual attainments. — 4. In the multiplication of vice — Generating the crimes of the poor — The passions of the rich — And the misfortunes of war. — 5. In depopulation.

[8.2.1] Having seen the justice of an equal distribution of property, let us next consider the benefits with which it would be attended. And here with grief it must be confessed, that, however great and extensive are the evils that are produced by monarchies and courts, by the imposture of priests and the iniquity of criminal laws, all these are imbecil and impotent compared with the evils that arise out of the established system of property.

[8.2.2] Its first effect is that which we have already mentioned, a sense of dependence. It is true that courts are mean spirited, intriguing and servile, and that this disposition is transferred by contagion from them to all ranks of society. But property brings home a servile and truckling spirit by no circuitous method to every house in the nation. Observe the pauper fawning with abject vileness upon his rich benefactor, and speechless with sensations of gratitude for having received that, which he ought to have claimed with an erect mien, and with a consciousness that his claim was irresistible. Observe the servants that follow in a rich man’s train, watchful of his looks, anticipating his commands, not daring to reply to his insolence, all their time and their efforts under the direction of his caprice. Observe the tradesman, how he studies the passions of his customers, not to correct, but to pamper them, the vileness of his flattery and the systematical constancy with which he exaggerates the merit of his commodities. Observe the practices of a popular election, where the great mass are purchased by obsequiousness, by intemperance and bribery, or driven by unmanly threats of poverty and persecution. Indeed “the age of chivalry is” not “gone!” The feudal spirit still survives, that reduced the great mass of mankind to the rank of slaves and cattle for the service of a few.

[8.2.3] We have heard much of visionary and theoretical improvements. It would indeed be visionary and theoretical to expect virtue from mankind, while they are thus subjected to hourly corruption, and bred from father to son to sell their independence and their conscience for the vile rewards that oppression has to bestow. No man can be either useful to others or happy to himself who is a stranger to the grace of firmness, and who is not habituated to prefer the dictates of his own sense of rectitude to all the tyranny of command, and allurements of temptation. Here again, as upon a former occasion, religion comes in to illustrate our thesis. Religion was the generous ebullition of men, who let their imagination loose on the grandest subjects, and wandered without restraint in the unbounded field of enquiry. It is not to be wondered at therefore if they brought home imperfect ideas of the sublimest views that intellect can furnish. In this instance religion teaches that the true perfection of man is to divest himself of the influence of passions; that he must have no artificial wants, no sensuality and no fear. But to divest the human species under the present system of the influence of passions is an extravagant speculation. The enquirer after truth and the benefactor of mankind will be desirous of removing from them those external impressions by which their evil propensities are cherished. The true object that should be kept in view, is to extirpate all ideas of condescension and superiority, to oblige every man to feel, that the kindness he exerts is what he is bound to perform, and the assistance he asks what he has a right to claim.

[8.2.4] A second evil that arises out of the established system of property is the perpetual spectacle of injustice it exhibits. This consists partly in luxury and partly in caprice. There is nothing more pernicious to the human mind than luxury. Mind, being in its own nature essentially active, necessarily fixes on some object public or personal, and in the latter case on the attainment of some excellence, or something which shall command the esteem and excellence of others. No propensity, absolutely considered, can be more valuable than this. But the established system of property directs it into the channel of the acquisition of wealth. The ostentation of the rich perpetually goads the spectator to the desire of opulence. Wealth, by the sentiments of servility and dependence it produces, makes the rich man stand forward as the only object of general esteem and deference. In vain are sobriety, integrity and industry, in vain the sublimest powers of mind and the most ardent benevolence, if their possessor be narrowed in his circumstances. To acquire wealth and to display it, is therefore the universal passion. The whole structure of human society is made a system of the narrowest selfishness. If self love and benevolence were apparently reconciled as to their object, a man might set out with the desire of eminence, and yet every day become more generous and philanthropical in his views. But the passion we are here describing is accustomed to be gratified at every step, by inhumanly trampling upon the interest of others. Wealth is acquired by overreaching our neighbours, and is spent in insulting them.

[8.2.5] The spectacle of injustice which the established system of property exhibits consists partly in caprice. If you would cherish in any man the love of rectitude you must take care that its principles be impressed on him, not only by words but actions. It sometimes happens during the period of education, that maxims of integrity and consistency are repeatedly inforced, and that the preceptor gives no quarter to the base suggestions of selfishness and cunning. But how is the lesson that has been read to the pupil confounded and reversed, when he enters upon the scene of the world? If he ask, “Why is this man honoured?” the ready answer is, “Because he is rich.” If he enquire farther, “Why is he rich?” the answer in most cases is, “From the accident of birth, or from a minute and sordid attention to the cares of gain.” The system of accumulated property is the offspring of civil policy; and civil policy, as we are taught to believe, is the production of accumulated wisdom. Thus the wisdom of legislators and senates has been employed, to secure a distribution of property the most profligate and unprincipled, that bids defiance to the maxims of justice and the nature of man. Humanity weeps over the distresses of the peasantry of all civilised nations and, when she turns from this spectacle to behold the luxury of their lords gross, imperious and prodigal, her sensations certainly are not less acute. This spectacle is the school in which mankind have been educated. They have been accustomed to the sight of injustice, oppression and iniquity, till their feelings are made callous, and their understandings incapable of apprehending the nature of true virtue.

[8.2.6] In beginning to point out the evils of accumulated property, we compared the extent of those evils with the correspondent evils of monarchies and courts. No circumstances under the latter have excited a more pointed disapprobation than pensions and pecuniary corruption, by means of which hundreds of individuals are rewarded, not for serving, but betraying the public, and the hard earnings of industry are employed to fatten the servile adherents of despotism. But the rent roll of the lands of England is a much more formidable pension list, than that which is supposed to be employed in the purchase of ministerial majorities. All riches, and especially all hereditary riches, are to be considered as the salary of a sinecure office, where the labourer and the manufacturer perform the duties, and the principal spends the income in luxury and idleness. Hereditary wealth is in reality a premium paid to idleness, an immense annuity expended to retain mankind in brutality and ignorance. The poor are kept in ignorance by the want of leisure. The rich are furnished indeed with the means of cultivation and literature, but they are paid for being dissipated and indolent. The most powerful means that malignity could have invented, are employed to prevent them from improving their talents, and becoming useful to the public.

[8.2.7] This leads us to observe, thirdly, that the established system of property, is the true levelling system with respect to the human species, by as much as the cultivation of intellect and truth, is more valuable and more characteristic of man, than the gratifications of vanity or appetite. Accumulated property treads the powers of thought in the dust, extinguishes the sparks of genius, and reduces the great mass of mankind to be immersed in sordid cares; beside depriving the rich, as we have already said, of the most salubrious and effectual motives to activity. If superfluity were banished, the necessity for the greater part of the manual industry of mankind would be superseded; and the rest, being amicably shared among all the active a vigorous members of the community, would be burthensome to none. Every man would have a frugal, yet wholsome diet; every man would go forth to that moderate exercise of his corporal functions that would give hilarity to the spirits; none would be made torpid with fatigue, but all would have leisure to cultivate the kindly and philanthropical affections of the soul, and to let loose his faculties in search of intellectual improvement. What a contrast does this scene present us with the present state of human society, where the peasant and the labourer work, till their understandings are benumbed with toil, their sinews contracted and made callous by being for ever on the stretch, and their bodies invaded with infirmities and surrendered to an untimely grave? What is the fruit of this disproportioned and unceasing toil? At evening they return to a family, famished with hunger, exposed half naked to the inclemencies of the sky, hardly sheltered, and denied the slenderest instruction, unless in a few instances where it is dispensed by the hands of ostentatious charity, and the first lessor communicated is unprincipled servility. All this while their rich neighbour — but we visited him before.

[8.2.8] How rapid and sublime would be the advances of intellect, if all men were admitted into the field of knowledge? At present, ninety-nine persons in an hundred are no more excited to any regular exertions of general and curious thought, than the brutes themselves. What would be the state of public mind in a nation, where all were wise, all had laid aside the shackles of prejudice and implicit faith, all adopted with fearless confidence the suggestions of truth, and the lethargy of the soul was dismissed for ever? It is to be presumed that the inequality of mind would in a certain degree be permanent; but it is reasonable to believe that the geniuses of such an age would far surpass the grandest exertions of intellect that are at present known. Genius would not be depressed with false wants and niggardly patronage. It would not exert itself with a sense of neglect and oppression rankling in its bosom. It would be freed from those apprehensions that perpetually recall us to the thought of personal emolument and of consequence would expatiate freely among sentiments of generosity and public good.

[8.2.9] From ideas of intellectual let us turn to moral improvement. And here it is obvious that all the occasions of crime would be cut off for ever. All men love justice. All men are conscious that man is a being of one common nature, and feel the propriety of the treatment the receive from one another being measured by a common standard. Every man is desirous of assisting another whether we should choose to ascribe this to an instinct implanted in his nature which renders this conduct a source of personal gratification, or to his perception of the reasonableness of such assistance. So necessary a part is this of the constitution of mind, that no man perpetrates any action however criminal without first having invented some sophistry, some palliation, by which he proves to himself that it is best to be done. Hence it appears, that offence, the invasion of one man upon the security of another, is a thought alien to mind, and which nothing could have reconciled to us but the sharp sting of necessity. To consider merely the present order of human society, it is evident that the first offence must have been his who began a monopoly. and took advantage of the weakness of his neighbours to secure certain exclusive privileges to himself. The man on the other hand who determined to put an end to this monopoly, and who peremptorily demanded what was superfluous to the possessor and would be of extreme benefit to himself, appeared to his own mind to be merely avenging the violated laws of justice. Were it not for the plausibleness of this apology, it is to be presumed that there would be no such thing as crime in the world.

[8.2.10] The fruitful source of crimes consists in this circumstance, one man’s possessing in abundance that of which another man is destitute. We must change the nature of mind, before we can prevent it from being powerfully influenced by this circumstance, when brought strongly home to its perceptions by the nature of its situation. Man must cease to have senses, the pleasures of appetite and vanity must cease to gratify, before he can look tamely at the monopoly of these pleasures. He must cease to have a sense of justice, before he can clearly and fully approve this mixed scene of superfluity and distress. It is true that the proper method of curing this inequality is by reason and not by violence. But the immediate tendency of the established system is to persuade men that reason is impotent. The injustice of which they complain is upheld by force, and they are too easily induced, by force to attempt its correction. All they endeavour is the partial correction of an injustice, which education tells them is necessary, but more powerful reason affirms to be tyrannical.

[8.2.11] Force grew out of monopoly. It might accidentally have occurred among savages whose appetites exceeded their supply, or whose passions were inflamed by the presence of the object of their desire; but it would gradually have died away, as reason and civilisation advanced. Accumulated property has fixed its empire; and henceforth all is an open contention of the strength and cunning of one party against the strength and cunning of the other. In this case the violent and premature struggles of the necessitous are undoubtedly an evil. They tend to defeat the very cause in the success of which they are most deeply interested; they tend to procrastinate the triumph of truth. But the true crime is in the malevolent and partial propensities of men, thinking only of themselves, and despising the emolument of others; and of these the rich have their share.

[8.2.12] The spirit of oppression, the spirit of servility, and the spirit of fraud, these are the immediate growth of the established system of property. These are alike hostile to intellectual and moral improvement. The other vices of envy, malice and revenge are their inseparable companions. In a state of society where men lived in the midst of plenty, and where all shared alike the bounties of nature, these sentiments would inevitably expire. The narrow principle of selfishness would vanish. No man being obliged to guard his little store, or provide with anxiety and pain for his restless wants, each would lose his own individual existence in the thought of the general good. No man would be an enemy to his neighbour, for they would have nothing for which to contend; and of consequence philanthropy would resume the empire which reason assigns her. Mind would be delivered from her perpetual anxiety about corporal support, and free to expatiate in the field of thought which is congenial to her. Each man would assist the enquiries of all.

[8.2.13] Let us fix our attention for a moment upon the revolution of principles and habits that immediately grow out of an unequal distribution of property. Till it was thus distributed men felt what their wants required, and sought the supply of those wants. All that was more than this, was regarded as indifferent. But no sooner is accumulation introduced, than they begin to study a variety of methods, for disposing of their superfluity with least emolument to their neighbour, or in other words by which it shall appear to be most their own. They do not long continue to buy commodities, before they begin to buy men. He that possesses or is the spectator of superfluity soon discovers the hold which it affords us on the minds of others. Hence the passions of vanity and ostentation. Hence the despotic manners of them who recollect with complacence the rank they occupy, and the restless ambition of those whose attention is engrossed by the possible future.

[8.2.14] Ambition is of all the passions of the human mind the most extensive in its ravages. It adds district to district, and kingdom to kingdom. It spreads bloodshed and calamity and conquest over the face of the earth. But the passion itself, as well as the means of gratifying it, is the produce of the prevailing system of property. It is only by means of accumulation that one man obtains an unresisted sway over multitudes of others. It is by means of a certain distribution of income that the present governments of the world are retained in existence. Nothing more easy than to plunge nations so organised into war. But, if Europe were at present covered with inhabitants, all of whom possessing competence, and none of them superfluity, what could induce its different countries to engage in hostility? If you would lead men to war, you must exhibit certain allurements. If you be not enabled by a system, already prevailing and which derives force from prescription, to hire them to your purposes, you must bring over each individual by dint of persuasion. How hopeless a task by such means to excite mankind to murder each other? It is clear then that war in every horrid form is the growth of unequal property. As long as this source of jealousy and corruption shall remain, it is visionary to talk of universal peace. As soon as the source shall be dried up, it will be impossible to exclude the consequence. It is property that forms men into one common mass, and makes them fit to be played upon like a brute machine. Were this stumbling block removed, each man would be united to his neighbour in love and mutual kindness a thousand times more than now: but each man would think and judge for himself. Let then the advocates for the prevailing system, at least consider what it is for which they plead, and be well assured that they have argument in its favour which will weigh against these disadvantages.

[8.2.15] There is on other circumstance which, although inferior to those above enumerated, deserves to be mentioned. This is population. It has been calculated that the average cultivation of Europe might be improved, so as to maintain five times her present number of inhabitants. There is a principle in human society by which population is perpetually kept down to the level of the means of subsistence. Thus among the wandering tribes of America and Asia, we never find through the lapse of ages, that population has so increased, as to render necessary the cultivation of the earth. Thus, among the civilised nations of Europe, by means of territorial monopoly the sources of subsistence are kept within a certain limit, and, if the population became overstocked, the lower ranks of the inhabitants would be still more incapable of procuring for themselves the necessaries of life. There are no doubt extraordinary concurrences of circumstances, by means of which changes are occasionally introduced in this respect; but in ordinary cases the standard of population is held in a manner stationary for centuries. Thus the established system of property may be considered as strangling a considerable portion of our children in their cradle. Whatever may be the value of the life of man, or rather whatever would be his capability of happiness in a free and equal state of society, the system we are here opposing may be considered as arresting upon the threshold of existence four fifths of that value and that happiness.


Chapter VIII:
Of the Means of Introducing the Genuine System of Property

Apprehensions that are entertained on this subject. — Idea of massacre. — Inference we ought to make upon supposition of the reality of these apprehensions. — Mischief by no means the necessary attendant on improvement. — Duties under this circumstance, 1. Of those who are qualified for public instructors — Temper — Sincerity. — Pernicious effects of dissimulation in this case. — 2. Of the rich and great. — Many of them may be expected to be advocates of equality. — Conduct which their interest as a body prescribes. — 3. Of the friends of equality in general. — Omnipotence of truth. — Importance of a mild and benevolent proceeding. — Connexion between liberty and equality. — Cause of equality will perpetually advance. — Symptoms of its progress. — Idea of its future success. — Conclusion.

[8.8.1] Having thus stated explicitly and without reserve the great branches of this illustrious picture, there is but one subject that remains. In what manner shall this interesting improvement of human society be carried into execution? Are there not certain steps that are desirable for this purpose? Are there not certain steps that are inevitable? Will not the period that must first elapse, necessarily be stained with a certain infusion of evil?

[8.8.2] No idea has excited greater horror in the minds of a multitude of persons, than that of the mischiefs that are to ensue from the dissemination of what they call levelling principles. They believe “that these principles will inevitably ferment in the minds of the vulgar, and that the attempt to carry them into execution will be attended with every species of calamity.” They represent to themselves “the uninformed and uncivilised part of mankind, as let loose from all restraint, and hurried into every kind of excess. Knowledge and taste, the improvements of intellect, the discoveries of sages, the beauties of poetry and art, are trampled under foot and extinguished by barbarians. It is another inundation of Goths and Vandals, with this bitter aggravation, that the viper that stings us to death was warmed in our own bosoms.”

[8.8.3] They conceive of the scene as “beginning in massacre.” They suppose “all that is great, preeminent and illustrious as ranking among the first victims. Such as are distinguished by peculiar elegance of manners or energy of diction and composition, will be the inevitable objects of envy and jealousy. Such as intrepidly exert themselves to succour the persecuted, or to declare to the public those truths which they are least inclined, but which are most necessary for them to hear, will be marked out for assassination.”

[8.8.4] Let us not, from any partiality to the system of equality delineated in this book, shrink from the picture here exhibited. Massacre is the too possible attendant upon revolution, and massacre is perhaps the most hateful scene allowing for its momentary duration, that any imagination can suggest. The fearful, hopeless expectation of the defeated, and the bloodhound fury of their conquerors, is a complication of mischief that all which has been told of infernal regions cannot surpass. The cold-blooded massacres that are perpetrated under the name of criminal justice fall short of these in their most frightful aggravations. The ministers and instruments of law have by custom reconciled their minds to the dreadful task they perform, and bear their respective parts in the most shocking enormities, without being sensible to the passions allied to those enormities. But the instruments of massacre are actuated with all the sentiments of fiends. Their eyes emit flashes of cruelty and rage. They pursue their victims from street to street and from house to house. They tear them from the arms of their fathers and their wives. They glut themselves with barbarity and insult, and utter shouts of horrid joy at the spectacle of their tortures.

[8.8.5] We have now contemplated the tremendous picture; what is the conclusion it behoves us to draw? Must we shrink from reason, from virtue and happiness? Suppose that the inevitable consequence of communicating truth were the temporary introduction of such a scene as has just been described, must we on that account refuse to communicate it? The crimes that were perpetrated would in no just estimate appear to be the result of truth, but of the error which had previously been infused. The impartial enquirer would behold them as the last struggles of expiring despotism, which, if it had survived, would have produced mischiefs, scarcely less atrocious in the hour of their commission, and infinitely more calamitous by the length of their duration. If we would judge truly, even admitting the unfavourable supposition above stated, we must contrast a moment of horror and distress with ages of felicity. No imagination can sufficiently conceive the mental improvement and the tranquil virtue that would succeed, were property once permitted to rest upon its genuine basis.

[8.8.6] And by what means suppress truth, and keep alive the salutary intoxication, the tranquillising insanity of mind which some men desire? Such has been too generally the policy of government through every age of the world. Have we slaves? We must assiduously retain them in ignorance. Have we colonies and dependencies? The great effort of our care is to keep them from being too populous and too prosperous. Have we subjects? It is “by impotence and misery that we endeavour to render them supple: plenty is fit for nothing but to make them unmanageable, disobedient and mutinous.” If this were the true philosophy of social institutions, well might we shrink from it with horror. How tremendous an abortion would the human species be found, if all that tended to make them wise, tended to make them unprincipled and profligate? But this it is impossible for any one to believe, who will lend the subject a moment’s impartial consideration. Can truth, the perception of justice and a desire to execute it, be the source of irretrievable ruin to mankind? It may be conceived that the first opening and illumination of mind will be attended with disorder. But every just reasoner must confess that regularity and happiness will succeed to this confusion. To refuse the remedy, were this picture of its operation ever so true, would be as if a man who had dislocated a limb, should refuse to undergo the pain of having it replaced. If mankind have hitherto lost the road of virtue and happiness, that can be no just reason why they should be suffered to go wrong for ever. We must not refuse a conviction of error, or even the treading over again some of the steps that were the result of it.

[8.8.7] Another question suggests itself under this head. Can we suppress truth? Can we arrest the progress of the enquiring mind? If we can, it will be done only by the most unmitigated despotism. Mind has a perpetual tendency to rise. It cannot be held down but by a power that counteracts its genuine tendency through every moment of its existence. Tyrannical and sanguinary must be the measures employed for this purpose. Miserable and disgustful must be the scene they produce. Their result will be thick darkness of the mind, timidity, servility, hypocrisy. This is the alternative, so far as there is any alternative in their power, between the opposite measures of which the princes and governments of the earth have now to choose: they must either suppress enquiry by the most arbitrary stretches of power, or preserve a clear and tranquil field in which every man shall be at liberty to discover and vindicate his opinion.

[8.8.8] No doubt it is the duty of governments to maintain the most unalterable neutrality in this important transaction. No doubt it is the duty of individuals to publish truth without diffidence or reserve, to publish it in its genuine form without seeking aid from the meretricious arts of publication. The more it is told, the more it is known in its true dimensions, and not in parts, the less it is possible that it should coalesce with or leave room for the pernicious effects of error. The true philanthropist will be eager, instead of suppressing discussion, to take an active share in the scene, to exert the full strength of his faculties in discovery, and to contribute by his exertions to render the operation of thought at once perspicuous and profound.

[8.8.9] It being then sufficiently evident that truth must be told at whatever expence, let us proceed to consider the precise amount of that expence, to enquire how much of confusion and violence is inseparable from the transit which mind has to accomplish. And here it plainly appears that mischief is by no means inseparable from the progress. In the mere circumstances of our acquiring knowledge and accumulating one truth after another there is no direct tendency to disorder. Evil can only spring from the clash of mind with mind, from one body of men in the community outstripping another in their ideas of improvement, and becoming impatient of the opposition they have to encounter.

[8.8.10] In this interesting period, in which mind shall arrive as it were at the true crisis of its story, there are high duties incumbent upon every branch of the community. First, upon those cultivated and powerful minds, that are fitted to be precursors to the rest in the discovery of truth. They are bound to be active, indefatigable and disinterested. It is incumbent upon them to abstain from inflammatory language, from all expressions of acrimony and resentment. It is absurd in any government to erect itself into a court of criticism in this respect, and to establish a criterion of liberality and decorum; but for that very reason it is doubly incumbent on those who communicate their thoughts to the public, to exercise a rigid censure over themselves. The tidings of liberty and equality are tidings of good will to all orders of men. They free the peasant from the iniquity that depresses his mind, and the privileged from the luxury and despotism by which he is corrupted. Let those who bear these tidings not stain their benignity, by showing that that benignity has not yet become the inmate of their hearts.

[8.8.11] Nor is it less necessary that they should be urged to tell the whole truth without disguise. No maxim can be more pernicious than that which would teach us to consult the temper of the times, and to tell only so much as we imagine our contemporaries will be able to bear. This practice is at present almost universal, and it is the mark of a very painful degree of depravity. We retail and mangle truth. We impart it to our fellows, not with the liberal measure with which we have received it, but with such parsimony as our own miserable prudence may chance to prescribe. We pretend that truths fit to be practised in one country, nay, truths which we confess to be eternally right, are not fit to be practised in another. That we may deceive others with a tranquil conscience, we begin deceiving ourselves. We put shackles on our minds, and dare not trust ourselves at large in the pursuit of truth. This practice took its commencement from the machinations of party, and the desire of one wise and adventurous leader to carry a troop of weak, timid and selfish supporters in his train. There is no reason why I should not declare in any assembly upon the face of the earth that I am a republican. There is no more reason why, being a republican under a monarchial government, I should enter into a desperate faction to invade the public tranquillity, than if I were monarchial under a republic. Every community of men, as well as every individual, must govern itself according to its ideas of justice. What I should desire is, not by violence to change its institutions, but by reason to change its ideas. I have no business with factions or intrigue; but simply to promulgate the truth, and to wait the tranquil progress of conviction. If there be any assembly that cannot bear this, of such an assembly I ought to be no member. It happens much oftener than we are willing to imagine, that “the post of honour,” or, which is better, the post of utility, “is a private station.”

[8.8.12] The dissimulation here censured, beside its ill effects upon him who practises it, and by degrading and unnerving his character upon society at large, has a particular ill consequence with respect to the point we are considering. It lays a mine, and prepares an explosion. This is the tendency of all unnatural restraint. Meanwhile the unfettered progress of truth is always salutary. Its advances are gradual, and each step prepares the general mind for that which is to follow. They are sudden and unprepared emanations of truth, that have the greatest tendency to deprive men of their sobriety and self command. Reserve in this respect is calculated at once, to give a rugged and angry tone to the multitude whenever they shall happen to discover what is thus concealed, and to mislead the depositaries of political power. It sooths them into false security, and prompts them to maintain an inauspicious obstinacy.

[8.8.13] Having considered what it is that belongs in such a crisis to the enlightened and wise, let us next turn our attention to a very different class of society, the rich and great. And here in the first place it may be remarked, that it is a very false calculation that leads us universally to despair of having these for the advocates of equality. Mankind are not so miserably selfish, as satirists and courtiers have supposed. We never engage in any action without enquiring what is the decision of justice respecting it. We are at all times anxious to satisfy ourselves that what our inclinations lead us to do, is innocent and right to be done. Since therefore justice occupies so large a share in the contemplations of the human mind, it cannot reasonably be doubted that a strong and commanding view of justice would prove a powerful motive to influence our choice. But that virtue which for whatever reason we have chosen, soon becomes recommended to us by a thousand other reasons. We find in it reputation, eminence, self complacence and the divine pleasures of an approving mind.

[8.8.14] The rich and great are far from callous to views of general felicity, when such views are brought before them with that evidence and attraction of which they are susceptible. From one dreadful disadvantage their minds are free. They have not been soured with unrelenting tyranny, or narrowed by the perpetual pressure of distress. They are particularly qualified to judge of the emptiness of that pomp and those gratifications, which are always most admired when they are seen from a distance. They will frequently be found considerably indifferent to these things, unless confirmed by habit and rendered inveterate by age. If you show them the attractions of gallantry and magnanimity in resigning them, they will often be resigned without reluctance. Wherever accident of any sort has introduced an active mind, there enterprise is a necessary consequence; and there are few persons so inactive, as to sit down for ever in the supine enjoyment of the indulgences to which they were born. The same spirit that has led forth the young nobility of successive ages to encounter the hardships of a camp, might easily be employed to render them champions of the cause of inequality. nor is it to be believed, that the circumstance of superior virtue and truth in this latter exertion, will be without its effect.

[8.8.15] But let us suppose a considerable party of the rich and great to be actuated by no view but to their emolument and ease. It is not difficult to show them, that their interest in this sense will admit of no more than a temperate and yielding resistance. Much no doubt of the future tranquillity or confusion of mankind depends upon the conduct of this party. To them I would say: “It is in vain for you to fight against truth. It is like endeavouring with the human hand to stop the inroad of the ocean. Retire betimes. Seek your safety in concession. If you will not go over to the standard of political justice, temporise at least with an enemy whom you cannot overcome. Much, inexpressibly much depends upon you. If you be wise, if you be prudent, if you would secure at least your lives and your personal ease amidst the shipwreck of monopoly and folly, you will be unwilling to irritate and defy. Unless by your rashness, there will be no confusion, no murder, not a drop of blood will be spilt, and you will yourselves be made happy. If you brave the storm and call down every species of odium on your heads, still it is possible, still it is to be hoped that the general tranquillity may be maintained. But, should it prove otherwise, you will have principally to answer for all the consequences that shall ensue.

[8.8.16] “Above all, do not be lulled into a rash and headlong security. We have already seen how much the hypocrisy and instability of the wise and enlightened of the present day, those who confess much, and have a confused view of still more, but dare not examine the whole with a steady and unshrinking eye, are calculated to increase this security. But there is a danger still more palpable. Do not be misled by the unthinking and seeming general cry of those who have no fixed principles. Addresses have been found in every age a very uncertain criterion of the future conduct of a people. Do not count upon the numerous train of your adherents, retainers and servants. They afford a very feeble dependence. They are men, and cannot be dead to the interests and claims of mankind. Some of them will adhere to you as long as a sordid interest seems to draw them in that direction. But the moment yours shall appear to be the losing cause, the same interest will carry them over to the enemy’s standard. They will disappear like the morning dew.

[8.8.17] “May I not hope that you are capable of receiving impression from another argument? Will you feel no compunction at the thought of resisting the greatest of all benefits? Are you content to be regarded by the most enlightened of your contemporaries, and to be handed down to the remotest posterity, as the obstinate adversaries of philanthropy and justice? Can you reconcile it to your own minds, that, for a sordid interest, for the cause of general corruption and abuse, you should be found active in stifling truth, and strangling the new born happiness of mankind?” Would to God it were possible to carry home this argument to the enlightened and accomplished advocates of aristocracy! Would to God they could be persuaded to consult neither passion, nor prejudice, nor the flights of imagination, in deciding upon so momentous a question! “We know that truth does not stand in need of your alliance to secure her triumph. We do not fear your enmity. But our hearts bleed to see such gallantry such talents and such virtue enslaved to prejudice, and entitled in error. It is for your sakes that we expostulate, and for the honour of human nature.”

[8.8.18] To the general mass of the adherents of the cause of justice it may be proper to say a few words. “If there be any force in the arguments of this work, thus much at least we are authorised to deduce from them, that truth is irresistible. If man be endowed with a rational nature, then whatever is clearly demonstrated to his understanding to have the most powerful recommendations, so long as that clearness is present to his mind, will inevitably engage his choice. It is to no purpose to say that mind is fluctuating and fickle; for it is so only in proportion as evidence is imperfect. Let the evidence be increased, and the persuasion will be made firmer, and the choice more uniform. It is the nature of individual mind to be perpetually adding to the stock of its ideas and knowledge. Similar to this is the nature of the general mind, exclusively of casualties which, arising from a more comprehensive order of things, appear to disturb the order of limited systems. This is confirmed to us, if a truth of this universal nature can derive confirmation from partial experiments, by the regular advances of the human mind from century to century, since the invention of printing.

[8.8.19] “Let then this axiom of the omnipotence of truth be the rudder of our undertakings. Let us not precipitately endeavour to accomplish that to-day, which the dissemination of truth will make unavoidable to-morrow. Let us not anxiously watch for occasions and events: the ascendancy of truth is independent of events. Let us anxiously refrain from violence: force is not conviction, and is extremely unworthy of the cause of justice. Let us admit into our bosoms neither contempt, animosity, resentment nor revenge. The cause of justice is the cause of humanity. Its advocates should overflow with universal good will. We should love this cause, for it conduces to the general happiness of mankind. We should love it, for there is not a man that lives, who in the natural and tranquil progress of things will not be made happier by its approach. The most powerful cause by which it has been retarded, is the mistake of its adherents, the air of ruggedness, brutishness and inflexibility which they have given to that which in itself is all benignity. Nothing less than this could have prevented the great mass of enquirers from bestowing upon it a patient examination. Be it the care of the now increasing advocates of equality to remove this obstacle to the success of their cause. We have but two plain duties, which, if we set out right, it is not easy to mistake. The first is an unwearied attention to the great instrument of justice, reason. We must divulge our sentiments with the utmost frankness. We must endeavour to impress them upon the minds of others. In this attempt we must give way to no discouragement. We must sharpen our intellectual weapons; add to the stock of our knowledge; be pervaded with a sense of the magnitude of our cause; and perpetually increase that calm presence of mind and self possession which must enable us to do justice to our principles. Our second duty is tranquillity.”

[8.8.20] It will not be right to pass over a question that will inevitably suggest itself to the mind of the reader. “If an equalisation of property be to take place, not by law, regulation or public institution, but only through the private conviction of individuals, in what manner shall it begin?” In answering this question it is not necessary to prove so simple a proposition, as that all republicanism, all equalisation of ranks and immunities, strongly tends towards an equalisation of property. Thus, in Sparta this last principle was completely admired. In Athens the public largesses were so great as almost to exempt the citizens from manual labour; and the rich and eminent only purchased a toleration for their advantages, by the liberal manner in which they opened their stores to the public. In Rome, agrarian laws, a wretched and ill chosen substitute for equality, but which grew out of the same spirit, were perpetually agitated. If men go on to increase in discernment, and this they certainly will with peculiar rapidity, when the ill-constructed governments which now retard their progress are removed, the same arguments which showed them the injustice of ranks, will show them the injustice of one man’s wanting that, which while it is in the possession of another, conduces in no respect to his well being.

[8.8.21] It is a common error to imagine, that this injustice will be felt only by the lower orders who suffer from it; and hence it would appear that it can only be corrected by violence. But in answer to this it may in the first place be observed that all suffer from it, the rich who engross, as well as the poor who want. Secondly, it has been clearly shown in the course of the present work, that men are not so entirely governed by self interest as has frequently been supposed. It has been shown, if possible, still more clearly, that the selfish are not governed solely by sensual gratification or the love of gain, but that the desire of eminence and distinction is in different degrees a universal passion. Thirdly and principally, the progress of truth is the most powerful of all causes. Nothing can be more absurd than to imagine that theory, in the best sense of the word, is not essentially connected with practice. That which we can be persuaded clearly and distinctly to approve, will inevitably modify our conduct. Mind is not an aggregate of various faculties contending with each other for the mastery, but on the contrary the will is in all cases correspondent to the last judgment of the understanding. When men shall distinctly and habitually perceive the folly of luxury, and when their neighbours are impressed with a similar disdain, it will be impossible that they should pursue the means of it with the same avidity as before.

[8.8.22] It will not be difficult perhaps to trace, in the progress of modern Europe from barbarism to refinement, a tendency towards the equalisation of property. In the feudal times, as now in India and other parts of the world, men were born to a certain station, and it was clearly impossible for a peasant to rise to the rank of a noble. Except the nobles there were no men that were rich; for commerce, either external or internal, had scarcely an existence. Commerce was one engine for throwing down this seemingly impregnable barrier, and shocking the prejudices of nobles, who were sufficiently willing to believe that their retainers were a different species of beings from themselves. Learning was another, and more powerful engine. In all ages of the church we see men of the basest origin rising to the highest eminence. Commerce proved that others could rise to wealth beside those who were cased in mail; but learning proved that the low-born were capable of surpassing their lords. The progressive effect of these ideas may easily be traced by the attentive observer. Long after learning began to unfold its powers, its votaries still submitted to those obsequious manners and servile dedications, which no man reviews at the present day without astonishment. It is but lately that men have known that intellectual excellence can accomplish its purposes without a patron. At present, among the civilised and well informed a man of slender wealth, but of great intellectual powers and a firm and virtuous mind, is constantly received with attention and deference and his purse-proud neighbour who should attempt to treat him superciliously, is sure to be discountenanced in his usurpation. The inhabitants of distant villages, where long established prejudices are slowly destroyed, would be astonished to see how comparatively small a share wealth has in determining the degree of attention with which men are treated in enlightened circles.

[8.8.23] These no doubt are but slight indications. It is with morality in this respect as it is with politics. The progress is at first so slow as for the most part to elude the observation of mankind; nor can it indeed be adequately perceived but by the contemplation and comparison of events during a considerable portion of time. After a certain interval, the scene is more fully unfolded, and the advances seem more rapid and decisive. While wealth was every thing, it was to be expected that men would acquire it, though at the expence of character and integrity. Absolute and universal truth had not yet shown itself so decidedly, as to be able to enter the lists with what dazzled the eye or gratified the sense. In proportion as the monopolies of ranks and companies are abolished, the value of superfluities will not fail to decline. In proportion as republicanism gains ground, men will come to be estimated for what they are, not for what force has given, and force may take away.

[8.8.24] Let us reflect for a moment on the gradual consequences of this revolution of opinion. Liberality of dealing will be among its earliest results, and of consequence accumulation will become less frequent and less enormous. Men will not be disposed, as now, to take advantage of each other’s distresses, and to demand a price for their aid, not measured by a general standard, but by the wants of an individual. They will not consider how much they can extort, but how much it is reasonable to require. The master tradesman who employs labourers under him, will be disposed to give a more ample reward to their industry; which he is at present enabled to tax chiefly by the neutral circumstance of having provided a capital. Liberality on the part of his employer will complete in the mind of the artisan, what ideas of political justice will probably have begun. He will no longer spend the little surplus of his earnings in that dissipation, which is at present one of the principal causes that subject him to the arbitrary pleasure of a superior. He will escape from the irresolution of slavery and the fetters of despair, and perceive that independence and ease are scarcely less within his reach than that of any other member of the community. This is a natural step towards the still farther progression, in which the labourer will receive entire whatever the consumer may be required to pay, without having a middle man, an idle and useless monopoliser, as he will then be found, to fatten upon his spoils.

[8.8.25] The same sentiments that lead to liberality of dealing, will also lead to liberality of distribution. The trader, who is unwilling to grow rich by extorting from his employer or his workmen, will also refuse to become rich by the not inferior injustice of withholding from his poor neighbour the supply he wants. The habit which was created in the former case of being contented with moderate gains, is closely connected with slender accumulation. He that is not anxious to add to his heap, will not be reluctant by a benevolent distribution to prevent its increase. Wealth was once almost the single object of pursuit that presented itself to the gross and uncultivated mind. Various objects will hereafter divide men’s attention, the love of liberty, the love of equality, the pursuits of art and the desire of knowledge. These objects will not, as now, be confined to a few, but will gradually be laid open to all. The love of liberty obviously leads to the love of man: the sentiment of benevolence will be increased, and the narrowness of the selfish affections will decline. The general diffusion of truth will be productive of general improvement; and men will daily approximate towards those views according to which every object will be appreciated at its true value. Add to which, that the improvement of which we speak is general, not individual. The progress is the progress of all. Each man will find his sentiments of justice and rectitude echoed, encouraged and strengthened by the sentiments of his neighbours. Apostacy will be made entirely improbable, because the apostate will incur, not only his own censure, but the censure of every beholder.

[8.8.26] One remark will suggest itself upon these considerations. “If the inevitable progress of improvement insensibly lead towards an equalisation of property, what need was there of proposing it as a specific object to men’s consideration?” The answer to this objection is easy. The improvement in question consists in a knowledge of truth. But our knowledge will be very imperfect so long as this great branch of universal justice fails to constitute a part of it. All truth is useful; can this truth, which is perhaps more fundamental than any, be without its benefits? Whatever be the object towards which mind spontaneously advances, it is of no mean importance to us to have a distinct view of that object. Our advances will thus become accelerated. It is a well known principle of morality, that he who proposes perfection to himself, though he will inevitably fall short of what he pursues, will make a more rapid progress, than he who is content to aim only at what is imperfect. The benefits to be derived in the interval from a view of equalisation, as one of the great objects towards which we are tending, are exceedingly conspicuous. Such a view will strongly conduce to make us disinterested now. It will teach us to look with contempt upon mercantile speculations, commercial prosperity, and the cares of gain. It will impress us with a just apprehension of what it is of which man is capable and in which his perfection consists; and will fix our ambition and activity upon the worthiest objects. Mind cannot arrive at any great and illustrious attainment, however much the nature of mind may carry us towards it, without feeling some presages of its approach; and it is reasonable to believe that, the earlier these presages are introduced, and the more distinct they are made, the more auspicious will be the event.