5 minutes • 901 words
Part of the Preliminary Discourse of the Editor relative to the Treatise on Natural Right, from the collection entitled “Physiocracy”
The natural right of man in its primitive and most comprehensive sense is, the right which man has to whatever is advantageous to him or according to some authors: ’the right which man has to whatever is necessary to his enjoyment'.
This right is subject, even by nature, to relations which vary its use so much, that we are obliged to define it in a very general manner. This definiition embraces all the different states in which man can exist.
But, in whatever circumstances we may suppose ourselves, whether we live in solitude, or in regular society, our right to what is necessary to our enjoyment, is founded on an imperious condition, by which we are impelled to preserve ourselves, under the penalty of suffering, and even of death. The last degree of punishment decreed by this sovereign law, is paramount to every other interest, and to every positive law.
The exercise of the right of doing whatever is advantageous to us, necessarily supposes the knowledge of what is advantageous to us.
It is of the essence of this right, to be enlightened by reflection, by judgment, by physical and moral arithmetick, and by a calculation of our true interest.
Without which, instead of employing our faculties in doing what would be advantageous, we should often employ them in doing what would be injurious. In that case, it could not be said, that we had exercised our natural right; and there would exist between the, principles of our conduct, and most of its effects, a gross and fatal contradiction.
The exercise of our natural right, is evidently and necessarily determined by absolute causes, which we should study and understand distinctly’: to which the mind is obliged rigidly to submit itself, and without conformity to which, we could de no action, either lawful or reasonable.
The right to things, necessary to our enjoyment, existed for the first man.
It exists for a single isolated individual.
Considered rigidly and abstractedly, in this elementary point of view, it precedes the social order, as well as the relations of justice and injustice.
But, in this case, as in every other, it is not less subject In its essence, to the physical laws of the natural and general order of the universe.
In this case, as in every other, it cannot be exercised with certainty, without the direction of an enlightened reason. In this case, as in every other, it is confined within different limits from those of the physical power of the individual, and to evident sovereign rules, from which the individual cannot deviate in any manner, but to his own prejudice.
A man entirely alone on a distant island, appears to have a choice of acting, or of being idle. But, as we have before remarked, he is constrained by nature to preserve himself, under the penalty of sufferance, and even of death. He will then, if he be not lad, by no means remain entirely idle..
He will labour to procure food, and to preserve himself against the attacks of other animals. He will learn, also, that it is not sufficient to satisfy by the labour of the moment his present wants; he will endeavour to accumulate and preserve, provisions against future contingencies, to afford him sustenance in those seasons when the earth yields none. Otherwise he would not exercise his right of doing what is advantageous to him: he would not fulfil the duty, imperiously dictated to him by nature and he would be promptly and severely punished for his negligence, by the inevitable effect of natural law.
If instead of a single individual, many men had met in an unsettled country, it is certain that .the strong would sometimes have the physical power to take away the provisions of the weak ; that two weak persons united together-nay, that by stratagem and address, even the most feeble person, might have the physical power to overcome the strongest, and take from him his prey, and even his life.
But it is equally certain, that they would abstain from conduct so dangerous, so disorderly, so fruitless of good, so calculated mutually to disturb the labour necessary to their subsistence, and the palpable danger of which, would be so certainly reciprocal.
They would immediately perceive, that such a state of war, could only terminate in the ruin of all and ’that in the mean time, they would all be constrained to lead a most miserable life, in which no one could enjoy, or even hope to enjoy, this right of doing what would be advantageous to him.
But men are interested only in securing the enjoyment fundamental right.
Each individual is admonished by the pressing wants of necessity, to employ his physical power for his preservation, instead of using it to hurt and destroy others.
Natural wants, fear, interest, and finally reason, would induce them to unite their efforts for the good of all - to submit to the rules of natural justice, and of reciprocal kindness - and would establish among them, social conventions, tacit or express, to secure to each the lawful use of his natural right to things necessary to his enjoyment-or, in other words, the liberty of profiting from the benefit he may derive from the natural order of things.