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unless a state consisting of such unequal conditions had a farther advantage, even beyond its first effect of bringing the mental faculties to their highest perfection. The truth is, however, that the inequality of conditions, which is the foundation of civil society, affords not only the best improvement of the human faculties, but the best trial of the human virtues; it is the nursery most suited to their formation, and the theatre most fitted for their exercise.
The advocates of equality are not contented with denying this ; they assert the very contrary.
“ Reduce all conditions to equality," it has been said, “and the great occasions of crime will be cut off for ever.” This bold declaration must not be admitted even in passing : for it is impossible to suppose any condition of things so equal, that no man shall desire what belongs to another. A change of this sort, if effected at all, must originate in the inward habits, and not in the outward situation of man. But the truer proposition is, that the great occasions of virtue would be cut off for ever, without any corresponding deduction on the score of vice.* A complete community of goods, if it could possibly exist on a large
* Pol. Justice, i 462. The observations of Aristotle on this subject deserve attention, because he had an opportunity of seeing that of which we have no instance, the actual operation of a certain degree of equality with some share of comparative civilization.
“ The bare necessaries of life, food and fuel, clothes to cover our nakedness, and a home to shelter us from the storm, comforts, which it is pretended, the equalization of property would enable all men to enjoy, are not the only incentives to injustice. The greatest crimes are committed for none of these things. It is not to avoid cold or hunger that tyrants cover themselves with blood; and states decree the most illustrious rewards, not to him who catches a thief, but to him who kills an usurper. Phaleas's plan of equalizing property is useful, therefore, against the least and most inconsiderable only of the evils which infest society, evils against which there is an appropriate remedy in industry and moderation.
“ The equalization of fortunes may have some slight tendency to stifle animosity and prevent dissension. But its effect is always inconsiderable, and often doubtful; since those who think themselves entitled to superiority will not patiently brook equality. The wickedness of man is boundless ; and is an evil that cannot be remedied by equalizing property, whether lands or moveables." Lib. 2. de Polit. chap. vii.; or v. of Dr. Gillies's translation, from which I here quote, as being sufficiently accurate for the purpose.
scale, might diminish the temptations to fraud and robbery ; but these constitute only a small part of the moral guilt of mankind; while, on the other hand, all those virtuous habits which derive both their origin and their perfections from the varieties of the human condition, all the dispositions of mind to which the different circumstances of civilized life give play and action, would lose the occasions under which they are now formed, and the opportunities in which they are displayed. The Platonic view of moral virtue, which places it in the contemplation of ideal excellence, may be consistent with a state of perfection, but is incompatible with a state of probation. Virtue is an active and energetic habit, arising from the various relations of human life, and exercised in the practice of real duties; so that, as you increase the number and variety of those relations, you enlarge its sphere of action ; and in proportion as you contract them, in proportion as you bring down the conditions of mankind towards an uniform level, you lower the standard, and reduce the degree of moral excellence.
may possibly be argued, that this description of virtue originates not in the nature of virtue itself, but in the situation of man; and that I represent as its essential property what is only its accidental quality. It may be thought, that although, according to the present constitution of things, man must certainly deny himself many gratifications, and repress his natural feelings and desires, in compliance with the laws ordained for his conduct : yet that he would be an equally virtuous being, if placed in circumstances that required no such reluctant exertion.
It is undeniable that there may be a species of virtue, visible and pleasing to the Creator, which shall consist in the internal habit of the mind, independent of any outward action; an equable, unmoved, pious, and pure state of the soul, not shining by victorious exertion against opposition, but admirable for its intrinsic excellence. There is nothing unintelligible in this idea of virtue, though it is rather an object of our conception than of experience. Such is
probably the virtue of beings, higher than ourselves in the scale of creation ; such may be our virtue hereafter, in a purer state, and in a purer world. It is superior in positive excellence to any that we can possibly acquire, because the difficulties and repulses which man encounters in his endeavours towards the perfection which he sets before him, are all so many proofs of his inferiority, and of the weakness of his moral principle.
The Deity however, when he determined to make this stage of existence a passage to another, in which the virtues here cultivated and exhibited should be rewarded, and the contrary habits punished in proportion, had it not in contemplation to create a perfect character, but to discipline an imperfect one. Therefore, he did not place human beings in a state where inherent virtue should be most sublime, but where practical virtue should be most conspicuous, and most properly the subject of reward. But untried virtue is the object of love, esteem, or admira