The common sense of the masses never deserts them until demagogues stir them up to gain ends of their own; that common sense is based on the verities of social order; and the social order is the same everywhere, in Moscow as in London, in Geneva as in Calcutta. Given a certain number of families of unequal fortune in any given space, you will see an aristocracy forming under your eyes; there will be the patricians, the upper classes, and yet other ranks below them. Equality may be a right, but no power on earth can convert it into fact.

The Duchesse de Langeais by Honoré de Balzac, translated by Katharine Prescott Wormeley, Boston: Roberts Brothers, [1834]1890, p. 31. Complete PDF copy available from Google books and Gutenberg Project.

Here’s the original French version (also available online, from Wikisource):

Ce bon sens repose sur des vérités d’un ordre général, vraies à Moscou comme à Londres, vraies à Genève comme à Calcutta. Partout, lorsque vous rassemblerez des familles d’inégale fortune sur un espace donné, vous verrez se former des cercles supérieurs, des patriciens, des première, seconde et troisième sociétés. L’égalité sera peut-être un droit, mais aucune puissance humaine ne saura le convertir en fait.

Balzac’s novel was first published in 1834. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1948. The first article reads as follow:

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

See also Nietzsche on socialism and the principle of equality.


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