Persian Letters/Letter 95
Usbek to Rhedi, at Venice
I HAVE never heard public law discussed, without a preliminary careful inquiry into the origin of society, which seems to me absurd. If men did not unite, if they avoided and fled from each other, it would be necessary to ask the reason, and to inquire why they kept apart; but we are all born with relations; a son comes into the world beside his father, and stays there: that is society, and the cause of society.
International law is better understood in Europe than in Asia; and yet it must be said that the passions of princes, the patience of the people, and the flattery of authors, have corrupted all its principles.
At the present time this law is a science which teaches princes to what length they may carry the violation of justice without injuring their own interests. What a design, Rhedi, to wish to harden the conscience by reducing iniquity to a system, by giving it rules, by settling its principles, and drawing inferences from it!
The absolute power of our sublime Sultans, which is a law to itself, produces no greater monstrosities than this unworthy art, which would bend justice, inflexible as it is.
One would say, Rhedi, that there are two species of justice wholly different from each other: one which regulates the affairs of individuals, and rules in civil law; another which settles the differences arising between peoples, and tyrannizes over international law; as if international law were not itself a civil law, not indeed of a particular country, but of the world.
I will explain to you in another letter my thoughts on this subject.
Paris, the 1st of the moon of Zilhage, 1716.