Random Quote #80 topic: voltaire-dict, Philosophical Dictionary by Voltaire, 1694-1778


The ins and outs of all governments have been closely examined recently.
Tell me then, you who have travelled, in what state, under what sort of
government you would choose to be born. I imagine that a great
land-owning lord in France would not be vexed to be born in Germany; he
would be sovereign instead of subject. A peer of France would be very
glad to have the privileges of the English peerage; he would be
legislator. The lawyer and the financier would be better off in France
than elsewhere.

But what country would a wise, free man, a man with a moderate fortune,
and without prejudices, choose?

A member of the government of Pondicherry, a learned man enough,
returned to Europe by land with a Brahmin better educated than the
ordinary Brahmin. "What do you think of the government of the Great
Mogul?" asked the councillor.

"I think it abominable," answered the Brahmin. "How can you expect a
state to be happily governed by the Tartars? Our rajahs, our omrahs, our
nabobs, are very content, but the citizens are hardly so; and millions
of citizens are something."

Reasoning, the councillor and the Brahmin traversed the whole of Upper
Asia. "I make the observation," said the Brahmin, "that there is not one
republic in all this vast part of the world."

"Formerly there was the republic of Tyre," said the councillor, "but it
did not last long; there was still another one in the direction of
Arabia Petrea, in a little corner called Palestine, if one can honour
with the name of republic a horde of thieves and usurers sometimes
governed by judges, sometimes by a species of kings, sometimes by
grand-pontiffs, become slave seven or eight times, and finally driven
out of the country which it had usurped."

"I imagine," said the Brahmin, "that one ought to find very few
republics on the earth. Men are rarely worthy of governing themselves.
This happiness should belong only to little peoples who hide themselves
in islands, or among the mountains, like rabbits who shun carnivorous
beasts; but in the long run they are discovered and devoured."

When the two travellers reached Asia Minor, the councillor said to the
Brahmin: "Would you believe that a republic was formed in a corner of
Italy, which lasted more than five hundred years, and which owned Asia
Minor, Asia, Africa, Greece, Gaul, Spain and the whole of Italy?"

"She soon became a monarchy, then," said the Brahmin.

"You have guessed right," said the other. "But this monarchy fell, and
every day we compose beautiful dissertations in order to find the cause
of its decadence and downfall."

"You take a deal of trouble," said the Indian. "This empire fell because
it existed. Everything has to fall. I hope as much will happen to the
Grand Mogul's empire."

"By the way," said the European, "do you consider that there should be
more honour in a despotic state, and more virtue in a republic?"

The Indian, having had explained to him what we mean by honour, answered
that honour was more necessary in a republic, and that one had more need
of virtue in a monarchical state. "For," said he, "a man who claims to
be elected by the people, will not be if he is dishonoured; whereas at
the court he could easily obtain a place, in accordance with a great
prince's maxim, that in order to succeed a courtier should have neither
honour nor character. As regards virtue, one must be prodigiously
virtuous to dare to say the truth. The virtuous man is much more at his
ease in a republic; he has no one to flatter."

"Do you think," said the man from Europe, "that laws and religions are
made for climates, just as one has to have furs in Moscow, and gauzy
stuffs in Delhi?"

"Without a doubt," answered the Brahmin. "All the laws which concern
material things are calculated for the meridian one lives in. A German
needs only one wife, and a Persian three or four.

"The rites of religion are of the same nature. How, if I were Christian,
should I say mass in my province where there is neither bread nor wine?
As regards dogmas, that is another matter; the climate has nothing to do
with them. Did not your religion begin in Asia, whence it was driven
out? does it not exist near the Baltic Sea, where it was unknown?"

"In what state, under what domination, would you like best to live?"
asked the councillor.

"Anywhere but where I do live," answered his companion. "And I have met
many Siamese, Tonkinese, Persians and Turks who said as much."

"But, once again," persisted the European, "what state would you

The Brahmin answered: "The state where only the laws are obeyed."

"That is an old answer," said the councillor.

"It is none the worse for that," said the Brahmin.

"Where is that country?" asked the councillor.

"We must look for it," answered the Brahmin.


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