Chapter 3

The Laws Depend on the Nature of the People

by Montesquieu Icon

As soon as mankind enter into a state of society, they lose the sense of their weakness. Equality ceases, and then commences the state of war.

Each particular society begins to feel its strength. This leads to a state of war between different nations.

The individuals likewise of each society become sensible of their force= hence the principal advantages of this society they endeavour to convert to their own emolument; which constitutes a state of war between individuals.

These two different kinds of states give rise to human laws.

‘Political laws’ are those between governors and the governed in society.

‘Civil laws’ are those between citizens.

The ’laws of nations’ are the laws for the dealings between nations.

  • Its main principle is that nations should do as much good to one another as they can in peacetime. In war, they should do as little injury as possible, without prejudicing their real interests.
  • The object of war is victory
  • The object of victory is conquest
  • The object of conquest is preservation.

From this and the preceding principle all those rules are derived which constitute the law of nations.

All countries have a law of nations, not excepting the Iroquois themselves, though they devour their prisoners.

for they send and receive ambassadors, and understand the rights of war and peace.

The mischief is, that their law of nations is not founded on true principles.

the law of nations relating to all societies, there is a polity, or civil constitution, for each, particularly considered. No society can subsist without a form of government.

Gravina observes:

The united strength of individuals makes up the 'body politic'. The general strength may be in the hands of one person or of many.

Some think that the most natural government was that of a single person, as nature had established paternal authority, But this is wrong. If the power of a father is similar to a single government, then it follows that after the death of the father, the brothers, and the cousins after the decease of those brothers, refer to a government of many.

In this way, the political power is in the union of several families. This means that the natural goverment is based on the whims of whoever is in power.

The strength of individuals cannot be united without a conjunction of all their wills.

  • Gravina observes that the conjunction of those wills is the ‘civil state’.
  • This conjunection is generally governed by human reason in the same way that reason governs all the earth’s inhabitants.

The political and civil laws of each nation:

  • should be only the particular cases in which human reason is applied.
  • should be adapted to the people
    • It is a great chance if the laws of one nation suit another.
  • should be relative to the nature and principle of each government whether they:
    • form it like political laws; or
    • support it, like civil institutions.
  • should be relative to:
    • the climate of each country,
    • the quality of its soil,
    • its situation and extent,
    • the principal occupation of the natives, whether husbandmen, huntsmen, or shepherds.
  • should have a relation to:
    • the degree of liberty which the constitution will bear,
    • the religion of the inhabitants, their inclinations, riches, numbers, commerce, manners, and customs.

The laws have relations:

  • to each other and to their origin
  • to the intent of the legislator and to the order of things on which they are established

This work is about these relations as what I call the Spirit of Laws.

These have not separated the political from the civil institutions since I focus on their spirit which consists in the various relations of the laws to different objects.

I first examine the relations of laws to the nature and principle of each government. This principle has a strong influence on laws.


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