The Principles of Natural and Politic Law (1748)

Jean Jacques Burlamaqui

Further inquiry into what relates to human nature, by considering the different states of man.

I. THE different states of man are nothing more than the situation, wherein he finds himself in regard to the beings, that surround him with relations, thence resulting.

We shall be satisfied with taking here a cursory view of some of the principal states, and to render them distinguishable by their essential characteristics, without entering into an exact inquiry, which should naturally take place, when treating in particular of each state.

All these different states may be ranged under two general classes; some are primitive and original; others adventitious.

II. Primitive and original states are those, in which man finds himself placed by the very hand of God, independent of any human action.

Such is, in the first place, the state of man with regard to God; which is a state of absolute dependance. For let us make but never so small a use of our faculties, and enter into the study of ourselves, it will evidently appear, that it is from this first Being we hold our life, reason, and all other concomitant advantages; and that in this and every other respect we experience daily, in the most sensible manner, the effects of the power and goodness of the Creator.

III. Another primitive and original state is that, wherein men find themselves in respect to one another. They are all inhabitants of the same globe, placed in a kind of vicinity to each other; have all one common nature, the same faculties, same inclinations, wants, and desires. They cannot do without one another; and it is only by mutual assistance, they are capable of attaining to a state of ease and tranquility. Hence we observe a natural inclination in mankind, that draws them towards each other, and establishes a commerce of services and benevolence between them, whence results the common good of the whole, and the particular advantage of individuals. The natural state therefore of men among themselves is a state of union and society; society being nothing more than the union of several persons for their common advantage. Besides, it is evident that this must be a primitive state, because it is not the work of man, but established by divine institution. Natural society is a state of equality and liberty; a state, in which all men enjoy the same prerogatives, and an intire independence on any other power but God. For every man is naturally master of himself, and equal with his fellow creatures, so long as he does not subject himself to another person’s authority by a particular convention.

IV. The opposite state to that of society is solitude; that is, the condition, in which we imagine man would find himself, were he to live absolutely alone, abandoned to his own thoughts, and destitute of all commerce with those of his own species. Let us suppose a man arrived at the age of maturity, without having had the advantage of education or any correspondence with the rest of mankind, and consequently without any other knowledge than that, which he has of himself acquired; such a man would be undoubtedly the most miserable of all animals. We should discover nothing in him but weakness, savageness, and ignorance; scarce would he be able to satisfy the wants of his body, exposed, poor wretch, to perish with hunger or cold, or by the ravenous teeth of wild beasts. What a vast difference between such a state and that of society, which by the mutual succours, that men receive from one another, procures them all the knowledge, conveniency, and ease, that form the security, pleasure, and happiness of life? True it is, that all these advantages suppose that men, far from prejudicing one another, live in harmony and concord, and entertain this union by mutual good offices. This is what we call a state of peace, whereas those who endeavour to do harm, and those also, who find themselves obliged to guard against it, are in a state of war; a state of violence, diametrically opposite to that of society.

V. Let us observe, in the next place, that man finds himself naturally attached to the earth, from whose bosom he draws whatever is necessary for the preservation and conveniences of life. This situation produces another primitive state of man, which is likewise deserving of our attention.

Such in effect is the natural constitution of the human body, that it cannot subsist intirely of itself, and by the sole force of its temperament. Man, at all ages, stands in need of several external succours for his nourishment, as well as for repairing his strength, and keeping his faculties in proper order. For this reason our Creator has sown plentifully around us such things, as are necessary for our wants, and has implanted in us at the same time the instincts and qualifications, proper for applying these things to our advantage. The natural state therefore of man, considered in this light, and in respect to the goods of the earth, is a state of indigence and incessant wants, against which he would be incapable of providing in a suitable manner, were he not to exercise his industry by constant labor. Such are the principal of those states, that are called primitive and original.

VI. But man, being naturally a free agent, is capable of making great modifications in his primitive state, and of giving, by a variety of establishments, a new face to human life. Hence those adventitious states are formed, which are properly the work of man, wherein he finds himself placed by his own act and in consequence of establishments, whereof he himself is the author. Let us take a cursory view of the principal of these states.

The first, that presents itself to us, is the state of families. This is the most natural and ancient of all societies, and the very foundation of that, which is called national; for a people or nation is only an assemblage or composition of several families.

Families begin by marriage; and it is nature itself, that invites men to this union. Hence children arise, who by perpetuating the several families, prevent the extinction of human societies, and repair the breaches, made every day by death.

The family state is productive of various relations; as those of husband, wife, father, mother, children, brothers, sisters, and all the other degrees of kindred, which are the first tie of human society.

VII. Man, considered in his birth, is weakness and impotency itself; in regard as well to the body as to the soul. It is even remarkable, that the state of weakness and infancy lasts longer in man, than in any other animal. He is beset and pressed on all sides by a thousand wants, and destitute of knowledge, as well as strength, finds himself in an absolute incapacity of relieving them; he is therefore under a particular necessity of recurring to external assistance. Providence for this reason has inspired parents with that instinct or natural tenderness, which prompts them so eagerly to delight in the most troublesome cares for the preservation and good of those, whom they have brought into the world. It is likewise in consequence of this state of weakness and Ignorance, in which children are born, that they are naturally subject to their parents; whom nature has invested with all the authority and power necessary for governing those, whose advantage they are to study and procure.

VIII. The property of goods is another very Important establishment, which produces a new adventitious state. It modifies the right, which all men had originally to earthly goods; and, distinguishing carefully what belongs to individuals, ensures the quiet and peaceable enjoyment of what they possess; by which means it contributes to the maintenance of peace and harmony among mankind. But, since all men had originally a right to a common use of whatever the earth produces for their several wants, it is evident that, if this natural power Is actually restrained and limited in divers respects, this must necessarily arise from some human act; and consequently the state of property, which is the cause of those limitations, ought to be ranked among the adventitious states.

IX. But, among all the states, established by the act of man, there is none more considerable, than the civil state, or that of civil society and government. The essential character of this society, which distinguishes it from the forementioned society of nature, is the subordination to a supreme authority, exclusive of equality and independence. Mankind were originally divided into families only, and not into nations. Those families lived under the paternal government of the person, who was their chief, as their father or grandfather. But, when they came afterwards to increase and unite for their common defence, they composed a national body, governed by the will of him, or of those on whom they had conferred the authority. This is the origin of what we call civil government, and of the distinction of sovereign and subjects.

X. The civil state and property of goods produced several other establishments, which form the beauty and ornament of society, and from which many adventitious states arise; such as the different posts or offices of those, who have any share in the government; as magistrates, judges, stale officers, ministers of religion, physicians, etc. To which may be added the polite arts, trades agriculture, navigation, commerce, with their several dependences, whereby human life is so agreeably and advantageously diversified.

XI. Such are the principal states, produced by human consent. And yet, as these different modifications of the primitive state of man are the effect of his natural liberty, the new relations and different states thence arising may be very well considered, as so many natural states; provided however that the use, which men make of their liberty, in this respect, has nothing in it unconformable to their natural constitution, that is, to reason and the state of society.

It is therefore proper to observe, in relation to this subject, that when we speak of the natural state of man, we are to understand not only that natural and primitive state in which he is placed, as it were, by the hands of nature herself; but moreover all those, into which man enters by his own act and agreement, and that are conformable in the main to his nature, and contain nothing, but what is agreeable to his constitution and the end, for which he was formed. For since man himself, as a free and intelligent being, is able to see and know his situation, as also to discover his ultimate end, and in consequence thereof to take the right measures to attain it; it is properly in this light we should consider his natural state, to form thereof a just idea. That is, the natural state of man is, generally speaking, that, which is conformable to his nature, constitution, and reason, as well as the good use of his faculties, considered in their full maturity and perfection. We shall be particularly attentive to this remark, the importance of which will appear more sensibly by the application and use, that may be made thereof on several occasions.

XII. Let us not forget to observe likewise, that there is this difference between the primitive and adventitious states, that the former being annexed as it were, to the nature and constitution of man, such as he has received them from God, are for this very reason, common to all mankind. The same cannot be said of the adventitious states; which, supposing an human act or agreement, cannot of themselves be indifferently suitable to all men, but to those only, who contrived and procured them.

Let us add, in fine, that several of those states may be found combined and united in the same person, provided they have nothing incompatible in their nature. Thus the same person may be father of a family, judge, minister of state, etc. all at the same time.

Such are the ideas, we are to form of the nature and different state of man; and it is of all these parts united and compacted together, that the intire system of humanity is formed. These are like so many wheels of the same machine, which, combined and managed by a dexterous hand, conspire all to the same end; and, on the contrary, unskilfully directed, embarrass and destroy each other. But how man, in fine, is enabled to conduct himself in this prudent manner, and what rule he is to observe in order to attain this happy end, is what we have still to inquire, and forms the subject of the following chapters.