Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire

VENALITY.

The forger of whom we have spoken so much, who made the testament of Cardinal Richelieu, says in chapter iv.: “That it would be much better to allow venality and the ‘droit annuel’ to continue to exist, than to abolish these two establishments, which are not to be changed suddenly without shaking the state.”

All France repeated, and believed they repeated after Cardinal Richelieu, that the sale of offices of judicature was very advantageous. The abbé de St. Pierre was the first who, still believing that the pretended testament was the cardinal’s, dared to say in his observation on chapter iv.: “The cardinal engaged himself on a bad subject, in maintaining that the sale of places can be advantageous to the state. It is true that it is not possible to otherwise reimburse all the charges.”

Thus this abuse appeared to everybody, not only unreformable, but useful. They were so accustomed to this opprobrium that they did not feel it; it seemed eternal; yet a single man in a few months has overthrown it. Let us therefore repeat, that all may be done, all may be corrected; that the great fault of almost all who govern, is having but half wills and half means. If Peter the Great had not willed strongly, two thousand leagues of country would still be barbarous.

How can we give water in Paris to thirty thousand houses which want it? How can we pay the debts of the state? How can we throw off the dreaded tyranny of a foreign power, which is not a power, and to which we pay the first fruits as a tribute? Dare to wish it, and you will arrive at your object more easily than you extirpated the Jesuits, and purged the theatre of petits-maîtres.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:25