OR, MEDITATION ON THE REVOLUTIONS OF EMPIRES
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CHARACTERS OF THE LAW OF NATURE.
What are the characters of the law of nature?
There can be assigned ten principal ones.
Which is the first?
To be inherent to the existence of things, and, consequently,
primitive and anterior to every other law: so that all those which
man has received, are only imitations of it, and their perfection
is ascertained by the resemblance they bear to this primordial
Which is the second?
To be derived immediately from God, and presented by him to
each man, whereas all other laws are presented to us by men, who
may be either deceived or deceivers.
Which is the third?
To be common to all times, and to all countries, that is to
say, one and universal.
Is no other law universal?
No: for no other is agreeable or applicable to all the people
of the earth; they are all local and accidental, originating from
circumstances of places and of persons; so that if such a man had
not existed, or such an event happened, such a law would never have
Which is the fourth character?
To be uniform and invariable.
Is no other law uniform and invariable?
No: for what is good and virtue according to one, is evil and
vice according to another; and what one and the same law approves
of at one time, it often condemns at another.
Which is the fifth character?
To be evident and palpable, because it consists entirely of
facts incessantly present to the senses, and to demonstration.
Are not other laws evident?
No: for they are founded on past and doubtful facts, on
equivocal and suspicious testimonies, and on proofs inaccessible to
Which is the sixth character?
To be reasonable, because its precepts and entire doctrine are
conformable to reason, and to the human understanding.
Is no other law reasonable?
No: for all are in contradiction to the reason and the
understanding of men, and tyrannically impose on him a blind and
Which is the seventh character?
To be just, because in that law, the penalties are
proportionate to the infractions.
Are not other laws just?
No: for they often exceed bounds, either in rewarding deserts,
or in punishing delinquencies, and consider as meritorious or
criminal, null or indifferent actions.
Which is the eighth character?
To be pacific and tolerant, because in the law of nature, all
men being brothers and equal in rights, it recommends to them only
peace and toleration, even for errors.
Are not other laws pacific?
No: for all preach dissension, discord, and war, and divide
mankind by exclusive pretensions of truth and domination.
Which is the ninth character?
To be equally beneficent to all men, in teaching them the true
means of becoming better and happier.
Are not other laws beneficent likewise?
No: for none of them teach the real means of attaining
happiness; all are confined to pernicious or futile practices; and
this is evident from facts, since after so many laws, so many
religions, so many legislators and prophets, men are still as
unhappy and ignorant, as they were six thousand years ago.
Which is the last character of the law of nature?
That it is alone sufficient to render men happier and better,
because it comprises all that is good and useful in other laws,
either civil or religious, that is to say, it constitutes
essentially the moral part of them; so that if other laws were
divested of it, they would be reduced to chimerical and imaginary
opinions devoid of any practical utility.
Recapitulate all those characters.
We have said that the law of nature is,
Primitive; 6. Reasonable;
Immediate; 7. Just;
Universal; 8. Pacific;
Invariable; 9. Beneficent: and
Evident; 10. Alone sufficient.
And such is the power of all these attributes of perfection and
truth, that when in their disputes the theologians can agree upon
no article of belief, they recur to the law of nature, the neglect
of which, say they, forced God to send from time to time prophets
to proclaim new laws; as if God enacted laws for particular
circumstances, as men do; especially when the first subsists in
such force, that we may assert it to have been at all times and in
all countries the rule of conscience for every man of sense or
If, as you say, it emanates immediately from God, does it teach
Yes, most positively: for, to any man whatever, who observes
with reflection the astonishing spectacle of the universe, the more
he meditates on the properties and attributes of each being, on the
admirable order and harmony of their motions, the more it is
demonstrated that there exists a supreme agent, a universal and
identic mover, designated by the appellation of God; and so true it
is that the law of nature suffices to elevate him to the knowledge
of God, that all which men have pretended to know by supernatural
means, has constantly turned out ridiculous and absurd, and that
they have ever been obliged to recur to the immutable conceptions
of natural reason.
Then it is not true that the followers of the law of nature are
No; it is not true; on the contrary, they entertain stronger
and nobler ideas of the Divinity than most other men; for they do
not sully him with the foul ingredients of all the weaknesses and
passions entailed on humanity.
What worship do they pay to him?
A worship wholly of action; the practice and observance of all
the rules which the supreme wisdom has imposed on the motion of
each being; eternal and unalterable rules, by which it maintains
the order and harmony of the universe, and which, in their
relations to man, constitute the law of nature.
Was the law of nature known before this period:
It has been at all times spoken of: most legislators pretend to
adopt it as the basis of their laws; but they only quote some of
its precepts, and have only vague ideas of its totality.
Because, though simple in its basis, it forms in its
developements and consequences, a complicated whole which requires
an extensive knowledge of facts, joined to all the sagacity of
Does not instinct alone teach the law of nature?
No; for by instinct is meant nothing more than that blind
sentiment by which we are actuated indiscriminately towards
everything that flatters the senses.
Why, then, is it said that the law of nature is engraved in the
hearts of all men.
It is said for two reasons: first, because it has been
remarked, that there are acts and sentiments common to all men, and
this proceeds from their common organization; secondly, because the
first philosophers believed that men were born with ideas already
formed, which is now demonstrated to be erroneous.
Philosophers, then, are fallible?
First, because they are men; secondly, because the ignorant
call all those who reason, right or wrong, philosophers; thirdly,
because those who reason on many subjects, and who are the first to
reason on them, are liable to be deceived.
If the law of nature be not written, must it not become
arbitrary and ideal?
No: because it consists entirely in facts, the demonstration of
which can be incessantly renewed to the senses, and constitutes a
science as accurate and precise as geometry and mathematics; and it
is because the law of nature forms an exact science, that men, born
ignorant and living inattentive and heedless, have had hitherto
only a superficial knowledge of it.