Superphysics Superphysics
Chapter 1-5


by Montesquieu Icon
4 minutes  • 768 words
Table of contents

The laws that establish political liberty, as it relates to the constitution, and those by which it is established, as it relates to the citizen. The former shall be the subject of this book; the latter I shall examine in the next.

Chapter 2: Different Meanings of Liberty

Liberty is the word that has the most meanings and has made the most impressions on the human mind. Some have taken it as:

  • a facility of deposing a person on whom they had conferred a tyrannical authority=
  • others, for the power of choosing a superior whom they are obliged to obey;
  • others, for the right of bearing arms, and of being thereby ena bled to use violence=
  • others, in fine, for the privilege of being governed by a native of their own country, or by their own laws.

One nation thought for a long time that liberty was in the privilege of wearing a long beard. Some have annexed liberty to one form of government exclusive of others. Those who had a republican taste applied it to this species of polity.

Those who liked a monarchical state gave it to monarchy. Thus they have all applied the name of liberty to the government most suitable to their own customs and i nclinations; and as, in republics, the people have not so constant and so p resent a view of the causes of their misery, and as the magistrates seem to act only in conformity to the laws, hence liberty is generally said to res ide in republics, and to be banished from monarchies.

In fine, as in democr acies the people seem to act almost as they please, this sort of government has been deemed the most free, and the power of the people has been confou nded with their liberty.

Chapter 3: In what Liberty consists

In democracies, the people seem to act as they please. But political liberty does not consist in an unlimited freedom.

In governments, that is, in societies directed by laws , liberty can consist only in the power of doing what we ought to will, and in not being constrained to do what we ought not to will.

We must have continually present to our minds the difference between independence and liberty. Liberty is a right of doing whatever the laws permit; and, if a citizen could do what they forb id, he would be no longer possessed of liberty, because all his fellow-citi zens would have the same power.

Chapter 4= The same Subject continued.

DEMOCRATIC and aristocratic states are n ot in their own nature free. Political liberty is to be found only in moder ate governments; and even in these it is not always found. It is there only when there is no abuse of power= but constant experience shews us that eve ry man invested with power is apt to abuse it, and to carry his authority a s far as it will go. Is it not strange, though true, to say, that virtue it self has need of limits?

To prevent this abuse, it is necessary, from the very nature of things, power should be a check to power. A governm ent may be so constituted, as no man shall be compelled to do things to whi ch the law does not oblige him, nor forced to abstain from things which the law permits.

Chapter 5= The End or View of different Go vernments.

THOUGH all governments have the same gen eral end, which is that of preservation, yet each has another particular object.

Increase of dominion was the object of Rome; war, that of Sparta; religion, that of the Jewish laws; commerce, that of Marseilles; public tranquillity, that of the laws of China*; navigation, that of the laws of Rhodes; natural liberty, that of the policy of the savages;

in general, the pleasures of the prince, tha t of despotic states; that of monarchies, the prince’s and the kingdom’s glory= the independence of individuals Edition= current; Page= [198] is the end aimed at by the laws of Poland; from thence results the oppression of the whole.

One nation there is also in the world, t hat has, for the direct end of its constitution, political liberty. We shal l presently examine the principles on which this liberty is founded= if the y are sound, liberty will appear in its highest perfection.

To discover political liberty in a constitution, no great labour is requisite. If we are capable of seeing it where it exists, it is soon found, and we need not go far in search of it.

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