Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Parable of the Troglodytes

In the Persian Letters Montesquieu related the Parable of the Troglodytes, who abolished all government and lived in a paradise of laissez faire.

"Every seller took advantage of the consumer's need, and raised the price of the product. When a strong man stole the wife of a weak man, there was no law or magistrate to appeal to. Murder, rape, and robbery went unpunished except by private violence. ...
When the inhabitants of the highlands suffered from drought, the lowlanders let them starve; when the lowlanders suffered from flood the highlanders let them starve. Soon the tribe died out. Two families survived by emigration; they practiced mutual aid, raised their children in religion and virtue, and 'looked upon themselves as one single family.' But as they increased in number they found their customs inadequate to govern them; they chose a king, and submitted to laws."

"Montesquieu's conclusion: government is necessary, but it fails to function if it is not based on virtue in the ruler and the rules."

From Will Durant, the Age of Voltaire.
Part of a series on the Enlightenment.
The painting is An Iron Forge by Joseph Wright of Derby (1772).

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