The Laws from the Nature of Governmentby Montesquieu
A monarchical or despotic government does not need virtue. The force of laws and the prince’s arm are enough to maintain it.
But in a popular state, virtue is necessary for its leaders.
A monarch can fix his mistakes by himself. But if a democratic leader suspends the laws of a corrupted state, then that state is certainly undone.
The English couldn’t establish democracy in the last century because their leaders did not have virtue. Their ambition was enflamed by the success of their most daring members which led to the spirit of faction. This caused instability.
This caused the people to try to erect a commonwealth but fail. In the end, they had to settle for a monarchy.
Sylla could not restore Rome to her liberty because she did not have much virtue left, as it was continually diminishing. She riveted every day her chains instead of being roused out of her lethargy by Cæsar, Tiberius, Caius, Claudius, Nero, and Domitian. She did not strike at the usurpation, but at the tyrant.
The politic Greeks lived under a popular government and were supported only by virtue. The modern Greeks are the opposite, entirely preoccupied with manufacture, commerce, finances, opulence, and luxury.
When virtue is banished, ambition invades the minds of the susceptible. Avarice then possesses the whole community.
The objects of their desires are changed. What they were fond of before is become indifferent. They were free while under the restraint of laws, but they would fain now be free to act against law.
Each citizen is like a slave who has run away from his master. He calls equity as rigour. He calls constraint what was rule of action. He calls fear what was precaution.
Frugality is replaced by avarice.
In the past, the wealth of individuals constituted the public treasure. But now this is become the patrimony of private persons. The members of the commonwealth riot on the public spoils. Its strength lies in the power of a few and the licentiousness of many.
Athens had the same number of forces both when she triumphed so gloriously and when she was enslaved with so much infamy.
- She had 20,000 citizens when she=
- defended the Greeks against the Persians,
- contended for empire with Sparta, and
- invaded Sicily
We may see, in Demosthenes, how difficult it was to awake her.
When Philip of Macedon attempted to lord over Greece, Athens dreaded him not as the enemy of her liberty, but of her pleasures. It had withstood so many defeats and had as often risen out of her ashes. It was overthrown at Chæronea and with one blow, deprived of all hopes of resource. It became easy to triumph over the Athenian forces as it had been difficult to subdue her virtue.
How was it possible for Carthage to maintain her ground?
When Hannibal tried to hinder Carthaginians from plundering the Roman republic, the Carthaginians complained of him to the Romans. Wretches, who would fain be citizens without a city, and beholden for their riches to their very destroyers!
Rome soon insisted on having 300 of their principal citizens as hostages. Carthage obliged them next to surrender their arms and ships and then declared war. From the desperate efforts of this defenceless city, one may judge of what she might have performed in her full vigour, and assisted by virtue.
Chapter 4: The Principle of Aristocracy
Virtue is also necessary in an aristocracy.
In an aristocracy, the nobility are restrained by the laws just as the people are. This causes the nobility to have less virtue than the leaders of a democracy. But how are the nobility to be restrained?
The nobility execute the laws against their colleagues and immediately perceive they are acting against themselves.
Virtue is, therefore, necessary in an aristocracy. This leads to an inherent vigour unknown to democracy. The nobles form a body which restrains the people more easily, but has difficulties restraining themselves.
Aristoracies subject the aristorats to the laws and exempt them at the same time. This restraint can be done in two ways=
- By a very eminent virtue
This puts the nobility on a level with the people in order to create a great republic
- By an inferior virtue
This puts the nobility on a level with each other for the sake of preservation.