Superphysics Superphysics
Chapters 5-7

Virtue is not the Principle of a monarchical Government

by Montesquieu Icon
4 minutes  • 678 words
Table of contents

Monarchies, policy effects great things with as little virtue as possible.

Thus, in the nicest machines, art has reduced the number of movements, springs, and wheels.

The state subsists independently of:

  • the love of our country
  • the thirst of true glory
  • self-denial
  • the sacrifice of our dearest interests, and
  • those heroic virtues which we admire in the ancients, and to us are known only by story.

Laws supply here the place of those virtues;

They are by no means wanted. The state dispenses with them. An action, performed here in secret, is, in some measure, of no consequence.

All crimes are, in their own nature, public. Yet there is a distinction between crimes really public and those that are private, which are so called, because they are more injurious to individuals than to the community, in republics, private crimes are more public; that is, they attack the constitution more than they do individuals.

In monarchies, public crimes are more private; that is, they are more prejudicial to private people than to the constitution.beg that no one will be offended with what I have been saying; my observations are founded on the unanimous testimony of historians.

I am not ignorant that virtuous princes are no such very rare instances.

In a monarchy, it is extremely difficult for the people to be virtuous*.

It has been known to historians in all ages and countries how the courts of monarchs were full of wretched courtiers who have=

  • primarily a perpetual ridicule on virtue
  • idleness
  • meanness mixed with pride
  • a desire of riches without industry
  • aversion to truth
  • flattery
  • perfidy
  • violation of engagements
  • contempt of civil duties
  • fear of the prince’s virtue
  • hope from his weakness

It is difficult:

  • for the leading men of the nation to be knaves, and the inferior sort to be honest.
  • for the leading men to be cheats, and the inferior men to rest satisfied with being only dupes

If there should chance to be some unlucky honest man† among the people, Cardinal Richelieu, in his political testament, seems to hint that a prince should take care not to employ him.

Virtue is not the spring of this government.

  • It is not excluded, but it is not the spring of government.

Chapter 6: How Virtue is supplied in a monarchical Government

It is high time for me to have done with this subject, lest I should be suspected of writing a satire against monarchical government. Far be it from me; if monarchy wants one spring, it is provided with another.

Honour, that is, the prejudice of every person and rank, supplies the place of the political virtue of which I have been speaking, and is every where her representative=

Honour can inspire the most glorious actions.

Joined with the force of laws, it may lead us to the end of government as well as virtue itself

., in well-regulated monarchies, they are almost all good subjects, and very few good men; for, to be a good man, a good intention is necessary*, and we should love our country not so much on our own account as out of regard to the community.

Chapter 7: The Principle of Monarchy

A monarchical government supposes pre-eminences, ranks, and a noble descent.

Honour naturally gives preferments and titles, which are thus proper in a monarchy but pernicious in a republic.

Titles give life to the government. These are not dangerous because they may be continually checked.

is with this kind of government as with the system of the universe, in which there is a power that constantly repels all bodies from the center, and a power of gravitation, that attracts them to it.

Honour sets all the parts of the body politic in motion. By its very action, it connects them.

Thus each individual advances the public good, while he only thinks of promoting his own interest.

Philosophically speaking, all the parts of the government are moved by a false honour.

  • But even this false honour is as useful to the public as true honour could possibly be to private people.

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