Superphysics Superphysics
Chapters 1-4

The Laws of Education

by Montesquieu Icon
6 minutes  • 1217 words
Table of contents

Chapter 1: Education in Monarchy and Despotism

The laws of education are the first impressions we receive.

They prepare us for civil life, every private family ought to be governed by the plan of that great household which comprehends them all.the people in general have a principle, their constituent parts, that is, the several families, will have one also.

The laws of education will be therefore different in each species of government= in monarchies, they will have honour for their object; in republics, virtue; in despotic governments, fear.

Chapter 2: Education in Monarchies

IN monarchies the principal branch of education is not taught in colleges or academies.

It commences, in some measure, at our setting out in the world; for this is the school of what we call honour, that universal preceptor, which ought every where to be our guide.

Here it is that we constantly hear three rules or maxims; viz. that we should have a certain nobleness in our virtues, a kind of frankness in our morals, and a particular politeness in our behaviour.

The virtues we are here taught are less what we owe to others than to ourselves; they are not so Edition= current; Page= [38] much what draws us towards society, as what distinguishes us from our fellow-citizens.

Here the actions of men are judged, not as virtuous, but as shining; not as just, but as great; not as reasonable, but as extraordinary.

When honour here meets with any thing noble in our actions, it is either a judge that approves them, or a sophister by whom they are excused.

It allows of gallantry, when united with the idea of sensible affection, or with that of conquest= this is the reason why we never meet with so strict a purity of morals in monarchies as in republican governments.

It allows of cunning and craft, when joined with the notion of greatness of soul, or importance of affairs; as, for instance, in politics, with whose finesses it is far from being offended.

It does not forbid adulation, but when separate from the idea of a large fortune, and connected only with the sense of our mean condition.

With regard to morals, I have observed, that the education of monarchies ought to admit of a certain frankness and open carriage: truth, therefore, in conversation, is here a necessary point.

But is it for the sake of truth? By no means. Truth is requisite only because a person habituated to veracity has an air of boldness and freedom.

A man of this stamp seems to lay a stress only on the things themselves, not on the manner in which they are received.

Hence, in proportion as this kind of frankness is commended, that of the common people is despised, which has nothing but truth and simplicity for its object.

The education of monarchies requires a certain politeness of behaviour.

Man, a social animal, is formed to please in society.

A person that would break through the rules of decency, so as to shock those he conversed with, would lose the public esteem, and become incapable of doing any good.

But politeness generally does not derive its original from so pure a source. It rises from a desire of distinguishing ourselves.

It is pride that renders us polite= we are flattered with being taken notice of for a behaviour that shews we are not of a mean condition, and that we have not been bred up with those who in all ages are considered as the scum of the people.

Politeness, in monarchies, is naturalised at court. One man excessively great renders every body else little. Hence that regard which is paid to our fellow-subjects.

Hence that politeness, equally pleasing to those by whom, as to those towards whom, it is practised; because it gives people to understand that a person actually belongs, or at least deserves to belong, to the court.

A court air consists in quitting a real for a borrowed greatness. The latter pleases the courtier more than the former. It inspires him with a certain disdainful modesty, which shews itself externally, but whose pride insensibly diminishes in proportion to its distance from the source of this greatness.

At court we find a delicacy of taste in every thing; a delicacy arising from the constant use of the superfluities of life; from the variety, and especially the satiety, of pleasures; from the multiplicity, and even confusion, of fancies; which, if they are but agreeable, are sure of being well received.

These are the things which properly fall within the province of education, in order to form what Edition= current; Page= [40] we call a man of honour, a man possessed of all the qualities and virtues requisite in this kind of government.

Here it is that honour interferes with every thing, mixing even with people’s manner of thinking, and directing their very principles.

To this whimsical honour it is owing that the virtues are only just what it pleases= it adds rules of its own invention to every thing prescribed to us= it extends or limits our duties according to its own fancy, whether they proceed from religion, politics, or morality.

There is nothing so strongly inculcated, in monarchies, by the laws, by religion, and honour, as submission to the prince’s will= but this very honour tells us, that the prince never ought to command a dishonourable action; because this would render us incapable of serving him.

Crillon refused to assassinate the duke of Guise, but offered to fight him. After the massacre of St. Bartholomew, Charles IX. having sent orders to the governors in the several provinces for the Hugonots to be murdered, viscount Dorte, who commanded at Bayonne, wrote thus to the king:

“Sire, among the inhabitants of this town, and your majesty’s troops, I could not find so much as one executioner. They are honest citizens, and brave soldiers. We jointly, therefore, beseech your majesty to command our arms and lives in things that are practicable.”

This great and generous soul looked upon a base action as a thing impossible.

There is nothing that honour more strongly recommends to the nobility, than to serve their prince in a military capacity= and indeed this is their favourite profession, because its dangers, its success, and even its miscarriages, are the road to grandeur. Yet this very law of its own making honour chooses to explain; and, in case of any affront, it requires or permits us to retire.

It insists also that we should be at liberty either to seek or to reject employments; a liberty which it prefers even to an ample fortune.

Laws of Honour

Honour therefore has its supreme laws, to which education is obliged to conform.†

  1. We are permitted to set a value upon our fortune, but are absolutely forbidden to set any value on our lives.

The is the chief law.

  1. When we are raised to a post or preferment, we should never do or permit any thing which implies that we look on ourselves as inferior to the rank we hold.

  2. Those things which honour forbids are more rigorously forbidden when the laws do not concur in the prohibition. Those it commands are more strongly insisted upon when they happen not to be commanded by law.

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