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ence satisfactorily explains the various effects which wealth has had upon these different nations, and throws a brilliant light upon its true nature.
The ancients and the people of the middle age knew and practised but one way to grow rich, and to increase and keep their riches: they placed their hope. and confidence in the right of the strongest, to which they made their institutions, their laws, their manners, and their customs, subservient. Their only object was to render their population numerous, brave, skilled in arms, and always ready to sacrifice themselves for the
purpose of subduing other nations and seizing their wealth.
But, by a singular fatality, it happened that, in proportion as these nations improved in military science, as their arms were successful and their wealth augmented by victories, their domination lost its stability, they became less able to defend themselves, their grandeur shortly declined, and they were soon subdued.
Both moralists and publicists have observed this phenomenon, and have thence inferred that wealth caused the fall of the great empires of antiquity: and it must be confessed, that their opinion appears indeed an immediate consequence of the most certain and best authenticated facts.
But have they not gone too far, when they magnified this consequence into a principle, and pronounced the wealth and safety of nations, and the opulence and preservation of empires, to be absolutely incompatible ? Had they inquired without prejudice into the causes
which rendered riches fatal to the Persians, to the Greeks, to the Carthaginians, to the Romans, and to the nations of the middle age, they would have perceived that these causes did not arise from a vice particularly inherent in wealth, but from the system of violence by which these nations acquired their riches; from the nature of their military government, which concentrated wealth in the least numerous class, and, as it enslaved or impoverished the other classes, rendered wealth equally fatal to the rich and to the poor, to individuals and to the state.
Among the Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans, the people were divided into two classes. One, composed of slaves, formed three-fourths, two-thirds, or at least half of the population. The other, composed of freemen, formed the state, the nation, the country.
Although all the individuals of this class had an equal right to the benefits of the social compact, they yet
did not share these benefits in equal portions. Independently of the inequality of individual faculties which in every community opposes the equal distribution of wealth, an essentially military government favoured this inequality, and aggravated its pressure and misery.
At the origin of empires, the vices of this concentration were not felt, because the military force consisted of all the citizens, and all had more or less share in the booty and riches conquered upon the enemy. The desire of wealth was at that period the surest pledge of victory, and the most powerful cause of the elevation and grandeur of the state. But when the whole body of the citizens was no longer wanted either for defence or for attack, when one part of the forces of the state sufficed for its views and projects, the military government became concentrated, and wealth, following the laws of this concentration, passed almost exclusively into the hands of those who were invested with power.
In vain did the classes, deprived of their share in the general riches, murmur and revolt at the voice of a tribune, a demagogue, an ephorus, or a popular orator; their cries were stifled or appeased, but the wrongs of which they complained were not repaired, and wealth always followed the bias of concentration. Matters went so far, that the greatest number of freemen had no means of subsistence, but what they derived from the generosity of their patrons, the liberality of candidates, and the distributions made by the public exchequer.
Such a distribution of wealth must inevitably prove fatal. It gave every thing to a small number of individuals, and denied every thing to the general mass of citizens. It created at once extreme poverty and extreme wealth; it placed want on one side, and on the other the arbitrary power of prolonging or ending its misery. It inevitably occasioned every disorder attendant on general depravity, perverted institutions, laws, and manners, corrupted the morals of the people, and subverted justice and humanity.
Slaves, over whom their masters generally had the right of life and death, were and must necessarily have been the passive instruments of their caprices and vices. The freemen who were poor, and dependent for their subsistence on the liberality and munificence of the wealthy, had not, and could not have, any other conduct, morality, or virtue, than that of their
patrons, magistrates, and benefactors.
The rich themselves, while they enjoyed their immense riches, had nothing to fear, nothing to hope, nothing to wish for. What virtues must they have been possessed of, not to be absolutely vicious ! What notions could they have of domestic duties, of the relations of masters and slaves, magistrates and citizens, nations and individuals ! The power of satisfying every desire vitiates them all, and renders virtue too difficult, not to say, impossible.
This distribution of wealth smothered every private and public virtue in the bud, and nurtured only the vices destructive of social order.
Both the slaves who were submissive to the will of their masters, and the freemen who depended on the kindness of their patrons, were indifferent to the fate of their country, and took no interest either in its safety or in its glory.
The rich, as sole possessors of wealth, and exclusively invested with public offices, shared, or contended for, the supreme power, made war or peace, maintained public order or fomented civil discords, and acted right or wrong, at their convenience or pleasure.
This concentration of wealth and power among the rich had so reduced the number of individuals interested in the safety of the state, that every page of ancient history records the difficulty of finding defenders for the country, and of levying and recruiting armies. We see the number of combatants decreasing every where in proportion to the increased wealth of the state and its concentration in one single class.
When the law of the Ephorus Epitadeus allowed the Spartans to sell their landed property and to dispose of it by will, and when the estates which had been distributed by Lycurgus among nine thousand citizens, were possessed by one hundred individuals, Sparta had no longer any soldiers, army, or power.
When Athens contained within her walls individuals possessed of three miles of land, while others had not wherewith to get buried, Demosthenes vainly proposed to raise an army of two thousand foot and five hundred horse ; a third only of which was to consist of citizens; no one was ready to defend a country which was become the property of a few families.
At Carthage, the wealth produced by comnierce and conquest did not follow the law of concentration of military governments : her political constitution did not accumulate it exclusively in the lap of one class of the people. Hence her citizens were not infected with any of the vices that occasioned the ruin of the other ancient nations, and though Carthage perished like them, it was neither from the same causes nor by the fatal influence of wealth.
But her riches did not prove of great utility for her defence; perhaps they were even rather unfavourable to those civil and political virtues which are so essential to the prosperity and preservation of states : the reason of this may again be found in the polluted source from which her riches sprang. As the fruits of