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But will the sense of justice, or the sense of shame, to which we are referred as the genuine correctives of idleness, cut a canal in century, or induce a body of individuals, already, according to the supposition, possessed of competence, to conduct the subterraneous operations of a mine? At the first stroke, then, of equality, we are deprived of the useful, as well as of the precious metals ; of coals, in many countries no less indispensable ; the produce of the richest districts is locked up or wasted, while the poorest are reduced to famine through the want of cultivation. There is not a manufacture, even after the exclusion of all luxury, that does not require processes very “inconsistent with the most desirable state of How then was this difficulty overcome in the “great practical authorities we have been considering? In a manner which must surely deter the advocates of equality from the defence even of their own system. In Sparta, four hundred thousand slaves were devoted to forty thousand citizens. In Crete, nine tenths of mankind were doomed to slavery, to support the citizens in total idleness, excepting those exercises proper for warriors. In Peru, it has already been observed, that "a great body of the inhabitants were kept in a state of servitude." And to this servitude, no doubt, the Peruvians were indebted for the celebrated road of the Yncas, extending from Cusco to Quito, about fifteen hundred miles.
human existence.” *
* The absence of luxuries, however ornamental, and even of the polite arts, might certainly be considered as desirable, if the condition of the main body of the people was in consequence improved. “ Servants, labourers, and workmen of different kinds, make up the far greater part of every
political society. No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.” (Smith's Wealth of Nations, b. i. 1. 8.) But the same great authority has observed with perfect truth, that the accommodation of an European prince does not always so much exceed that of an industrious and frugal peasant, as the accommodations of the latter exceed those of an African king." Every condition of life is alike a gainer by the arts of civilization.
The political advantage, therefore, of equality is, we see, a splendid image,* which crumbles at the touch : and there would be no surer method of fixing mankind in stationary barbarism, if the constitution of things had not positively forbidden that it should ever be introduced into real or general practice.
We are told, indeed, that a state of great intellectual improvement is to obviate the objection arising from indolence. Our experience, however, of the slow and painful progress of intellectual improvement does not authorize any sanguine expectations of a rapid or considerable advance beyond the present standard of civilized countries. The records of a hundred generations, during which we have a tolerable history of mankind, oblige us to conclude that there is no way by which the mind can be so effectually prompted to exertion, as by the prospect of those tangible rewards which minister comfort or supply necessity. When the race of men shall have been to such a degree improved, as to require no other motives of action * than benevolence, and a sense of public utility, the main prop will certainly be taken from the argument which I have here pursued. But in the mean time it is not presumptuous to conclude, that the situation best calculated to improve by exercise the faculties of man, is civil society, consisting, as it does, of unequal fortunes, ranks, and conditions.
* It is impossible that these obstacles to its practice should not have been felt by Mr. Godwin, during the close attention to the subject which his inquiry demanded; but by an ingenious rejection of all details, and an abundance of general remark, he has kept the total impracticability of the system out of the first view of the reader, who is charmed by the delusive prospect, and overlooks the impassable barriers that lie between.
* " The moment I require any farther reason for supplying you, than the cogency ofyour claim, the moment, in addition to the dictates of benevolence, I demand a prospect of reciprocal advantage to myself, there is an end of that political justice and pure equality of which I treat,” Pol. Just. ii. 513.
+ This must not be understood as favouring the accumulation of wealth into few hands. The more gradual the steps by which you ascend from the lowest to the highest fortune, the more advantageous is the state of the community. Much inconvenience results, in many countries, from the colossal fortunes of a few individuals, contrasted with general poverty. The civilization is always least advanced where any of the intermediate steps are wanting.
Whether Equality or Inequality of Ranks and
Fortunes, is the Condition best suited to the
Exercise of Virtue. If the advantages arising to mankind from their union in civil society could be pursued no farther, it would be a sufficient evidence of the Creator's wisdom, that he had provided for bringing the human race into a situation so favourable for the development of their faculties. But intelligence, though the distinguishing ornament of our species, is still to be held inferior and subservient to virtue. And since the great object of our existence on earth is believed to be moral discipline, it might be, difficult to reconcile the inequality of conditions with that main purpose of human life,