Rights Versus Duty:

Society was composed of the small number of individuals who were possessors of the land, of capital, and of credit, and of the vast multitude who possessed nothing but the labour of their hands, and were compelled to sell that labour to the first class on any terms, in order to live. For such men, compelled to spend the whole day in material and monotonous exertion, and condemned to a continual struggle against hunger and want, what was liberty but an illusion, a bitter irony?
The only way to prevent this state of things would have been for the upper classes voluntarily to consent to reduce the hours of labour, while they increased its remuneration; to bestow an uniform and gratuitous education upon the multitude; to render the instruments of labour accessible to all, and create a credit for workmen of good capacity and of good intentions.
Now, why should they have done this? Was not well-being the end and aim of life? Was not prosperity the one thing desired by all? Why should they diminish their own enjoyments in favour of others? "Let those help themselves who can. When Society has secured to each individual the free exercise of those rights which are inherent in human nature, it has done all it is bound to do. If there be any one who, from some fatality of his own position, is unable to exercise any of these rights, let him resign himself to his fate, and not blame others."
It was natural they should speak thus, and thus in fact they spake. And this mode of regarding the poor by the privileged classes soon became the mode in which individuals regarded one another. Each man occupied himself with his own rights and the amelioration of his own position, without seeking to provide for others; and when those rights clashed with the rights of others, the result was a state of war—a war, not of blood, but of gold and craft; less manly than the other, but equally fatal; a relentless war in which those who possessed means inexorably crushed the weak and inexpert.
In this state of continual warfare, men were educated in selfishness and the exclusive greed of material well-being. Mere liberty of belief had destroyed all community of faith; mere liberty of education generated moral anarchy. Mankind, without any common bond, without unity of religious belief or aim, bent upon enjoyment and naught beyond, sought each and all to tread in their own path, little heeding if, in pursuing it, they trampled upon the bodies of their brothers—brothers in name, but enemies in fact.
Who shall persuade the man, believing solely in the theory of rights, that he is bound to strive for the common good, and occupy himself in the development of the social idea? Suppose he should rebel; suppose he should feel himself strong enough to say to you: "I break the social bond; my tendencies and my faculties invite me elsewhere; I have a sacred, an inviolable right to develop those tendencies and faculties, and I choose to be at war with the rest;" what answer can you make him within the limits of the Doctrine of Rights?
The theory of Rights may suffice to arouse men to overthrow the obstacles placed in their path by tyranny, but it is impotent where the object in view is to create a noble and powerful harmony between the various elements of which the nation is composed. With the theory of happiness as the primary aim of existence, we shall only produce egoists who will carry the old passions and desires into the new order of things, and introduce corruption into it a few months after. We have, therefore, to seek a Principle of Education superior to any such theory, and capiable of guiding mankind onwards toward their own improvement, of teaching them constancy and self sacrifice, and of uniting them with their fellow-men, without making them dependent either on the idea of a single man or the force of the majority.

This principle is DUTY. We must convince men that they are all sons of one sole God, and bound to fulfill and execute one sole law hereon earth; that each of them is bound to live, not for himself, but for others; that the aim of existence is not to be more or less happy, but to make ourselves and others more virtuous; that to struggle against injustice and error (wherever they exist), in the name and forthe benefit of their brothers, is not only a right but a Duty; a duty which may not be neglected without sin; the duty of their whole life.
When I say that the consciousness of your rights will never suffice to produce an important and durable progress, I do not ask you to renounce those rights. I merely say that such rights can only exist as a consequence of duties fulfilled, and that we must begin with fulfilling the last in order to achieve the first. And when I say that in proposing happiness, well-being, or material interests, as the aim of existence, we run the risk of producing egoists, I do not say that you ought never to occupy yourselves with these; but I do say that the exclusive endeavour after material interests, sought for, not as a means, but as an end, always leads to disastrous and deplorable results.

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