Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


Banishment for a term of years, or for life: a penalty inflicted on delinquents, or on individuals who are wished to be considered as such.

Not long ago it was the custom to banish from within the limits of the jurisdiction, for petty thefts, forgeries, and assaults, the result of which was that the offender became a great robber, forger, or murderer in some other jurisdiction. This is like throwing into a neighbor’s field the stones that incommode us in our own.

Those who have written on the laws of nations have tormented themselves greatly to determine whether a man who has been banished from his country can justly be said still to belong to that country. It might almost as well be asked whether a gambler, who has been driven away from the gaming-table, is still one of the players at that table.

If by the law of nature a man is permitted to choose his country, still more is the man who has lost the rights of a citizen at liberty to choose himself a new country. May he bear arms against his former fellow-citizens? Of this we have a thousand examples. How many French Protestants, naturalized in England, Holland, or Germany, have served, not only against France, but against armies in which their relatives, their own brothers, have fought? The Greeks in the armies of the king of Persia fought against the Greeks, their old fellow-countrymen. The Swiss in the service of Holland have fired upon the Swiss in the service of France. This is even worse than fighting against those who have banished you, for, after all, drawing the sword in revenge does not seem so bad as drawing it for hire.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01