Superphysics Superphysics
Chapters 19-22

A Prince should not engage himself in Commerce

by Montesquieu Icon
3 minutes  • 629 words
Table of contents

Chapter 19: A Prince should not engage in Commerce

Theophilus saw a vessel laden with merchandises for his wife Theodora and ordered it to be burnt. He said= “I am Emperor, and you make me the master of a galley. How shall these poor men gain a livelihood, if we take their trade out of their hands?”

He might have added:

  • “Who shall regulate us, if we monopolize all to ourselves?”
  • “Who shall oblige us to fulfil our engagements?”
  • “Our courtiers will follow our example. "
    • “They will be more greedy, and more unjust than us.”
    • “The people have some confidence in our justice.”
    • “They will have no confidence in our opulence.”

Chapter 20: Commerce Requires Men who are Competitive

All these numerous duties, which are the cause of their wants, are certain proofs of ours.

When the Portuguese and Spanish bore sway in the East Indies, commerce had such opulent branches. Their princes did not fail to seize them. This ruined their settlements in those parts of the world.

The viceroy of Goa granted exclusive privileges to particular persons.

The people had no confidence in these men. The commerce declined by the perpetual change of those to whom it was entrusted. Nobody took care to improve it, or to leave it entire to his successor. In short, the profit centered in a few hands, and was not sufficiently extended.

Chapter 21: The Commerce of the Nobility in a Monarchy

In a monarchy, it is contrary to the spirit of commerce for the nobility to be merchants.

The Emperors Honorius and Theodosius said:

“This would be pernicious to cities. It would remove the facility of buying and selling between the merchants and the plebeians.”

It is contrary to the spirit of monarchy, to admit the nobility into commerce.

The custom of suffering the nobility of England to trade, is one of those things which has there mostly contributed to weaken the monarchical government.

Chapter 22: A singular Reflection

Some people think that there should be laws in France to make the nobility enter commerce.

But these laws would destroy the nobility, without being of any advantage to trade. The practice of France is extremely wise.


  • are not nobles, though they may become so
  • hope to become nobility, without its actual inconveniencies.

The surest way of being advanced above their profession is to manage it well, or with success.

In despotic kingdoms, nobody can or should have emulation. Laws which oblige everyone to continue in his profession, and to give it to his children is of no use in such a despotic kingdom

No one can say that everyone will succeed better in his profession if he cannot change it for another.

I assert that a person will succeed best, when those who have excelled in one profession hope to arise to another profession.

The possibility of buying honour with gold, encourages many merchants to gain the wealth to buy it.

In France, the dignity of the long robe places its wearers in between the great nobility and the people. They have the privileges of the nobility, without their shining honours.

The warlike nobility likewise thinks that their wealth can still increase their fortunes.

who always serve their prince with their whole capital stock, and, when that is sunk, make room for others who follow their example;

They take the field so as to not be reproached for not doing their.

who, when they can no longer hope for riches, live in expectation of honours, and, when they have not obtained the latter, enjoy the consolation of having acquired glory:

All these things have necessarily added to the grandeur of France which has been increasing in power for three centuries. This is due to the goodness of its laws.

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