French Constitution says, There shall be no titles; and, of
consequence, all that class of equivocal generation which in
some countries is called "aristocracy" and in others
"nobility," is done away, and the peer is exalted into the
are but nicknames, and every nickname is a title. The thing
is perfectly harmless in itself, but it marks a sort of
foppery in the human character, which degrades it. It
reduces man into the diminutive of man in things which are
great, and the counterfeit of women in things which are
little. It talks about its fine blue ribbon like a girl, and
shows its new garter like a child. A certain writer, of some
antiquity, says: "When I was a child, I thought as a child;
but when I became a man, I put away childish things."
properly, from the elevated mind of France that the folly of
titles has fallen. It has outgrown the baby clothes of Count
and Duke, and breeched itself in manhood. France has not
leveled, it has exalted. It has put down the dwarf, to set
up the man. The punyism of a senseless word like Duke, Count
or Earl has ceased to please. Even those who possessed them
have disowned the gibberish, and as they outgrew the
rickets, have despised the rattle. The genuine mind of man,
thirsting for its native home, society, condemns the gewgaws
that separate him from it. Titles are like circles drawn by
the magician's wand, to contract the sphere of man's
felicity. He lives immured within the Bastille of a word,
and surveys at a distance the envied life of man.
then, any wonder that titles should fall in France? Is it
not a greater wonder that they should be kept up anywhere?
What are they? What is their worth, and "what is their
amount?" When we think or speak of a Judge or a General, we
associate with it the ideas of office and character; we
think of gravity in one and bravery in the other; but when
we use the word merely as a title, no ideas associate with
it. Through all the vocabulary of Adam there is not such an
animal as a Duke or a Count; neither can we connect any
certain ideas with the words. Whether they mean strength or
weakness, wisdom or folly, a child or a man, or the rider or
the horse, is all equivocal. What respect then can be paid
to that which describes nothing, and which means nothing?
Imagination has given figure and character to centaurs,
satyrs, and down to all the fairy tribe; but titles baffle
even the powers of fancy, and are a chimerical nondescript.
this is not all. If a whole country is disposed to hold them
in contempt, all their value is gone, and none will own
them. It is common opinion only that makes them anything, or
nothing, or worse than nothing. There is no occasion to take
titles away, for they take themselves away when society
concurs to ridicule them. This species of imaginary
consequence has visibly declined in every part of Europe,
and it hastens to its exit as the world of reason continues
to rise. There was a time when the lowest class of what are
called nobility was more thought of than the highest is now,
and when a man in armour riding throughout Christendom in
quest of adventures was more stared at than a modern Duke.
The world has seen this folly fall, and it has fallen by
being laughed at, and the farce of titles will follow its
fate. The patriots of France have discovered in good time
that rank and dignity in society must take a new ground. The
old one has fallen through. It must now take the substantial
ground of character, instead of the chimerical ground of
titles; and they have brought their titles to the altar, and
made of them a burnt-offering to Reason.
mischief had annexed itself to the folly of titles they
would not have been worth a serious and formal destruction,
such as the National Assembly have decreed them; and this
makes it necessary to enquire farther into the nature and
character of aristocracy.
then, which is called aristocracy in some countries and
nobility in others arose out of the governments founded upon
conquest. It was originally a military order for the purpose
of supporting military government (for such were all
governments founded in conquest); and to keep up a
succession of this order for the purpose for which it was
established, all the younger branches of those families were
disinherited and the law of primogenitureship set up.
The nature and character of aristocracy shows itself to us
in this law. It is the law against every other law of
nature, and Nature herself calls for its destruction.
Establish family justice, and aristocracy falls. By the
aristocratical law of primogenitureship, in a family of six
children five are exposed. Aristocracy has never more than
one child. The rest are begotten to be devoured. They are
thrown to the cannibal for prey, and the natural parent
prepares the unnatural repast.
everything which is out of nature in man affects, more or
less, the interest of society, so does this. All the
children which the aristocracy disowns (which are all except
the eldest) are, in general, cast like orphans on a parish,
to be provided for by the public, but at a greater charge.
Unnecessary offices and places in governments and courts are
created at the expense of the public to maintain them.
what kind of parental reflections can the father or mother
contemplate their younger offspring? By nature they are
children, and by marriage they are heirs; but by aristocracy
they are bastards and orphans. They are the flesh and blood
of their parents in the one line, and nothing akin to them
in the other. To restore, therefore, parents to their
children, and children to their parents -- relations to each
other, and man to society -- and to exterminate the monster
aristocracy, root and branch -- the French Constitution has
destroyed the law of Primogenitureship. Here then lies the
monster; and Mr. Burke, if he pleases, may write
Thomas Paine, "The Rights of Man"