The most obvious division of society is into rich and poor; and it is no less obvious that the number of the former bear a great disproportion to those of the latter. The whole business of the poor is to administer to the idleness, folly, and luxury of the rich; and that of the rich, in return, is to find the best methods of confirming the slavery and increasing the burdens of the poor.
The second branch of the social passions is that which administers to society in general. With regard to this, I observe, that society, merely as society, without any particular heightenings, gives us no positive pleasure in the enjoyment; but absolute and entire solitude, that is, the total and perpetual exclusion from all society, is as great a positive pain as can almost be conceived. Therefore in the balance between the pleasure of general society, and the pain of absolute solitude, pain is the predominant idea. But the pleasure of any particular social enjoyment outweighs very considerably the uneasiness caused by the want of that particular enjoyment; so that the strongest sensations relative to the habitudes of particular society are sensations of pleasure. Good company, lively conversations, and the endearments of friendship, fill the mind with great pleasure; a temporary solitude, on the other hand, is itself agreeable. This may perhaps prove that we are creatures designed for contemplation as well as action; since solitude as well as society has its pleasures; as from the former observation we may discern that an entire life of solitude contradicts the purposes of our being, since death itself is scarcely an idea of more terror.
One of the first motives to civil society, and which becomes one of its fundamental rules, is, that no man should be judge in his own cause. By this each person has at once divested himself of the first fundamental right of uncovenanted man, that is, to judge for himself, and to assert his own cause. He abdicates all right to be his own governor. He inclusively, in a great measure, abandons the right of self-defence, the first law of Nature. Man cannot enjoy the rights of an uncivil and of a civil state together. That he may obtain justice, he gives up his right of determining what it is in points the most essential to him. That he may secure some liberty, he makes a surrender in trust of the whole of it.
Edmund Burke: Reflections on the Revolution in France, 1790.
Society is the true sphere of human virtue. In social, active life, difficulties will perpetually be met with; restraints of many kinds will be necessary; and studying to behave right in respect of these, is a discipline of the human heart useful to others and improving to itself. Suffering is no duty, but where it is necessary to avoid guilt, or to do good; nor pleasure a crime, but where it strengthens the influence of bad inclinations, or lessens the generous activity of nature.
We submit to the society of those that can inform us, but we seek the society of those whom we can inform. And men of genius ought not to be chagrined if they see blockheads favoured with a heartier welcome than themselves. For when we communicate knowledge we are raised in our own estimation, but when we receive it we are lowered.
As we ascend in society, like those who climb a mountain, we shall find that the clime of perpetual congelation commences with the higher circles, and the nearer we approach to the grand luminary the court, the more frigidity and apathy shall we experience.
The gradations even of rank, which are partly the cause and partly the effect of the highest social improvements, are accompanied with so many incidental evils that nothing but an enlarged contemplation of their ultimate tendency and effect could reconcile us to the monstrous incongruities and deformities they display, in wealth which ruins us possessor, titles which dignify the base, and influence exerted to none but the most mischievous purposes.
Robert Hall: Funeral Sermon for the Princess Charlotte.
Combine the frequent and familiar perpetuation of atrocious deeds with the dearth of great and generous actions, and you have the exact picture of that condition of society which completes the degradation of the species,the frightful contrast of dwarfish virtues and gigantic vices, where everything good is mean and little and everything evil is rank and luxuriant: a dead and sickening uniformity prevails, broken only at intervals by volcanic eruptions of anarchy and crime.
We are not, by ourselves, sufficient to furnish ourselves with competent stores for such a life as our nature doth desire; therefore we are naturally induced to seek communion and fellowship with others.
That the sacerdotal order should encroach on the functions of the civil government would, in our time, be a great evil. But that which in an age of good government is an evil may, in an age of grossly bad government, be a blessing. It is better that mankind should be governed by wise laws well administered, and by an enlightened public opinion, than by brute violence, by such a prelate as Dunstan than by such a warrior as Penda. A society sunk in ignorance, and ruled by mere physical force, has great reason to rejoice when a class of which the influence is intellectual and moral rises to ascendency. Such a class will doubtless abuse its power: but mental power, even when abused, is still a nobler and better power than that which consists merely in corporeal strength. We read in our Saxon chronicles of tyrants who, when at the height of greatness, were smitten by remorse, who abhorred the pleasures and dignities which they had purchased by guilt, who abdicated their crowns, and who sought to atone for their offences by cruel penances and incessant prayers. These stories have drawn forth bitter expressions of contempt from some writers, who, while they boasted of liberality, were in truth as narrow-minded as any monk of the dark ages, and whose habit was to apply to all events in the history of the world the standard received in the Parisian society of the eighteenth century. Yet surely a system which, however deformed by superstition, introduced strong moral restraints into communities previously governed only by vigour of muscle and by audacity of spirit, a system which taught the fiercest and mightiest ruler that he was, like his meanest bondman, a responsible being, might have seemed to deserve a more respectful mention from philosophers and philanthropists.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: History of England, vol. i., ch. i.
Were it not for some small remainders of piety and virtue which are yet left scattered among mankind, human society would in a short space disband and run into confusion, and the earth would grow wild and become a forest.