No man on earth is truly interested in sustaining error; sooner or later it is compelled to surrender to truth.
General interest tends to the enlightenment of mortals; even the passions sometimes contribute to the breaking of some of the chains of prejudice. Have not the passions of some sovereigns destroyed, within the past two centuries in some countries of Europe, the tyrannical power which a haughty Pontiff formerly exercised over all the princes of his sect? Politics, becoming more enlightened, has despoiled the clergy of an immense amount of property which credulity had accumulated in their hands. Should not this memorable example make even the priests realize that prejudices are but for a time, and that truth alone is capable of assuring a substantial well-being?
Have not the ministers of the Lord seen that in pampering the sovereigns, in forging Divine rights for them, and in delivering to them the people, bound hand and foot, they were making tyrants of them? Have they not reason to fear that these gigantic idols, whom they have raised to the skies, will crush them also some day? Do not a thousand examples prove that they ought to fear that these unchained lions, after having devoured nations, will in turn devour them?
We will respect the priests when they become citizens. Let them make use, if they can, of Heaven’s authority to create fear in those princes who incessantly desolate the earth; let them deprive them of the right of being unjust; let them recognize that no subject of a State enjoys living under tyranny; let them make the sovereigns feel that they themselves are not interested in exercising a power which, rendering them odious, injures their own safety, their own power, their own grandeur; finally, let the priests and the undeceived kings recognize that no power is safe that is not based upon truth, reason, and equity.
Here, Meslier is referring to “prejudice” as the pre-judgement that leaders, nobles, aristocrats, and popes are decent people deserving of veneration or power.
His attack is a familiar one for anyone from the post-enlightenment world, but when Meslier wrote this, he was still living in a world where the divine right of kings was a general justification for lodging political power on those who god had selected. I’m sure that Meslier’s republican egalitarianism made Voltaire smile.
One of the things that endeared Meslier to me was his political anti-authoritarianism; he sounds practically like an anarchist. His attacks against the authority of princes and crowns are almost as frequent as his attacks against popes and priests.
[* and by “republican” I am not referring to US political parties, which are republican only in name]