If some literary society wishes to undertake the dictionary of
contradictions, I subscribe for twenty folio volumes.
The world can exist only by contradictions: what is needed to abolish
them? to assemble the states of the human race. But from the manner in
which men are made, it would be a fresh contradiction if they were to
agree. Assemble all the rabbits of the universe, there will not be two
different opinions among them.
I know only two kinds of immutable beings on the earth, mathematicians
and animals; they are led by two invariable rules, demonstration and
instinct: and even the mathematicians have had some disputes, but the
animals have never varied.
The contrasts, the light and shade in which public men are represented
in history, are not contradictions, they are faithful portraits of human
Every day people condemn and admire Alexander the murderer of Clitus,
but the avenger of Greece, the conqueror of the Persians, and the
founder of Alexandria;
Caesar the debauchee, who robs the public treasury of Rome to reduce his
country to dependence; but whose clemency equals his valour, and whose
intelligence equals his courage;
Mohammed, impostor, brigand; but the sole religious legislator who had
courage, and who founded a great empire;
Cromwell the enthusiast, a rogue in his fanaticism even, judicial
assassin of his king, but as profound politician as brave warrior.
A thousand contrasts frequently crowd together, and these contrasts are
in nature; they are no more astonishing than a fine day followed by
Men are equally mad everywhere; they have made the laws little by
little, as gaps are repaired in a wall. Here eldest sons have taken all
they could from younger sons, there younger sons share equally.
Sometimes the Church has commanded the duel, sometimes she has
anathematized it. The partisans and the enemies of Aristotle have each
been excommunicated in their turn, as have those who wore long hair and
those who wore short. In this world we have perfect law only to rule a
species of madness called gaming. The rules of gaming are the only ones
which admit neither exception, relaxation, variety nor tyranny. A man
who has been a lackey, if he play at lansquenet with kings, is paid
without difficulty if he win; everywhere else the law is a sword with
which the stronger cut the weaker in pieces.
Nevertheless, this world exists as if everything were well ordered; the
irregularity is of our nature; our political world is like our globe, a
misshapen thing which always preserves itself. It would be mad to wish
that the mountains, the seas, the rivers, were traced in beautiful
regular forms; it would be still more mad to ask perfect wisdom of men;
it would be wishing to give wings to dogs or horns to eagles.