“Constituted as it is, the human race cannot exist without vast numbers of workers who have no property at all, for certainly a man in easy circumstances will not leave his own land to cultivate yours; and if you want a pair of shoes you’ll not get a lawyer to make them for you. Equality is, then, both the most natural and the most impossible of things for men.”
“Equality” [pages 41-44] from Satirical Dictionary of Voltaire: Edited, illustrated and in a new English version by Paul McPharlin: The Peter Pauper Press, Mount Vernon, New York 1946
“This fact is perfectly clear. Men, in the functions common to all of them, are equal. They are equal in their mechanism and in the ability to use their senses. The emperor of China, the great mogul, or the Turkish pasha could never say to the lowest of his subjects, “I forbid you to digest your food, discharge the waste, or think”. Animals of every species are on this plane of equality with each other. If a bull, while paying his attentions to a cow, is driven away by the horns of another bull stronger than himself, he goes to seek another cow in another meadow, and lives in freedom.
A defeated cock finds consolation in another henroost. Not so with men. A petty vizier may banish a bostangi to Lemnos; the pasha banishes the vizier to Rhodes; janissaries imprison the pasha and elect another who in turn banishes the worthy faithful when and where he pleases, while they feel inexpressibly grateful to him for such a merciful display of his authority.
If the earth were all that it should be, if men could find easy and certain subsistence everywhere, together with a pleasant climate, obviously it would be impossible for one man to subjugate another. Should the globe be covered with wholesome fruits, and the air be so salubrious that we had no disease or premature death, man would require no more lodging than does the deer or roebuck, and Genghis Khans and Tamerlanes would have no other followers than their own families, who would be worthy persons, willing to serve them affectionately in their old age.
In that state of nature enjoyed by wild creatures, men would be as happy as they. Subservience would be ridiculous. What servants would be necessary when no service would be required?
If it should occur to someone with a talent for the tyrannical and an itching fist, to subjugate his less powerful neighbor, he would fail in his project. The victims would be on the Danube before the aggressor had completed preparations on the Volga.
All men would necessarily be equal if they had no wants. It is man’s misery that makes him an underdog; inequality is not the real grievance, but dependence. It matters little if one man be called his highness and another his holiness so long as none is called his lordship.
Say that one large family lives on a good piece of land and two small ones on poor land nearby. In order to live the poor families must serve the rich one, or attempt to destroy it. Now suppose that one poor family offers its services to the rich one for bread, and the other attacks it and is worsted. The first become servitors, the second slaves.
In this melancholy world it is impossible for men living in society not to become divided into the rich who command and the poor who obey. You may protest that you have two hands and feel just like the other fellow, and maybe a little more pride; that you have a mind as poor, slight, and muddled as his, and that you therefore want your fair share-of land. You may point out that there are fifty billion acres of good land, and a thousand million two-footed, featherless inhabitants of them, and demand your fifty. But wherever you ask them you will be told, get them from the . . . . ; there’s no room for you here. If you want food and lodging here, you’ll be told to work for somebody to get them; serve or amuse and you’ll be paid; if you won’t, you’ll have to beg, and that will be highly degrading to your lofty nature, and keep you from associating with kings, or even village curates, with whom you claim equality.
All the poor are not unhappy. Most of the poor are born that way; they have their work to keep them from feeling their situation too keenly. When they do become aware of it, there is a war, and the war is settled sooner or later by their resubjugation. For the masters have capital, and capital commands all within a state. But in a war between states, the one with the best iron may come out the winner over the one with more gold.
Every man is born with a will for power, wealth, and pleasure, and a way that is indolent. Every man consequently covets the goods, wife, or daughter of another; he wants to command and see others move at his bidding; and he wants to be idle, or to do nothing that is not perfectly agreeable. It is clear that men, having such amiable dispositions, can no more be equal than can a couple of preachers or teachers of divinity not be jealous of each other.
Constituted as it is, the human race cannot exist without vast numbers of workers who have no property at all, for certainly a man in easy circumstances will not leave his own land to cultivate yours; and if you want a pair of shoes you’ll not get a lawyer to make them for you. Equality is, then, both the most natural and the most impossible of things for men.”