Superphysics Superphysics
Chapters 1-9

Governance Laws should be Relative to the Type of Government

by Montesquieu Icon
10 minutes  • 1976 words
Table of contents

The laws of governance should be relative to the principle of each government, just as the laws of education are.

The relation of laws to this principle strengthens the several springs of government. This principle derives from thence, in its turn, a new degree of vigour.

And thus it is, in mechanics, that action is al ways followed by re-action.

We examine this relation in each government, beginning with the republican state, whose principle is virtue.

Chapter 2: What is meant by Virtue in a Political State

VIRTUE in a republic is a most simple thing.

It is a love of the republic; it is a sensation, and not a consequence of acquired knowledge

a sensation that may be felt by the meanest as well as by the highest person in the state.

When the common people adopt good maxims, they adhere to them steadier than those we call gentlemen. It is very rare that corruption commences with the former.

Nay, they frequently deriv e from their imperfect light a stronger attachment to the established laws and customs.

The love of our country is conducive to a purity of morals which then is conducive to the former.

The less we are able to satisfy our private passions, the more we abandon ourselve s to those of a general nature. How comes it that monks are so fond of thei r order? It is owing to the very cause that renders the order insupportable.

Their rule debars them of all those things by which the ordinary passions are fed; there remains, therefore, only this passion for the very rule that torments them= the more austere it is, that is, the more it curbs their i nclinations, the more force it gives to the only passion left them.

Chapter 3: What is meant by a Love of the R epublic, in a Democracy.

A love of the republic, in a democracy, i s a love of the democracy; as the latter is that of equality.

A love of the democracy is, likewise, tha t of frugality. Since every individual ought here to enjoy the same happine ss and the same advantages, they should, consequently, taste the same plea sures and form the same hopes; which cannot be expected but from a general frugality.

The love of equality, in a democracy, lim its ambition to the sole desire, to the sole happiness, of doing greater se rvices to our country than the rest of our fellow-citizens. They cannot all render her equal services, but they all ought to serve her with equal alacrity. At our coming into the world, we contract an immense debt to our coun try, which we can never discharge.

Hence distinctions here arise from the pr inciple of equality, even when it seems to be removed by signal services or superior abilities.

The love of frugality limits the desire of having, to the study of procuring, necessarie s to our family, and superfluities to our country. Riches give a power whic h a citizen cannot use for himself, for then he would be no longer equal. T hey likewise procure pleasures which he ought not to enjoy, because these w ould be also repugnant to the equality.

Thus well-regulated democracies, by estab lishing domestic frugality, made way, at the same time, for public expences ; as was the case at Rome and Athens, when magnificence and profusion arose from the very fund of frugality. And, as religion commands us to have pure and unspotted hands, when we make our offerings to the gods, the laws requ ired a frugality of life, to enable them to be liberal to our country.

The good sense and happiness of individua ls depend greatly on the mediocrity of their abilities and fortunes. Theref ore, as a republic, where the laws have placed many in a middling station, is composed of wise men, it will be wisely governed; as it is composed of h appy men, it will be extremely happy.

Chapter 4= How the Love of Equality and Frugality is inspired

THE love of equality and of a frugal economy is greatly excited by equality and frugality themselves, in socie ties, where both these virtues are established by law.

In monarchies and despotic governments, n o body aims at equality; this does not so much as enter their thoughts; the y all aspire to superiority. People of the very lowest condition desire to emerge from their obscurity, only to lord it over their fellow-subjects.

It is the same with respect to frugality. To love it, we must practise and enjoy it. It is not those who are enervat ed with pleasure that are fond of a frugal life= were this natural and comm on, Alcibiades would never have been the admiration of the universe. Neithe r is it those who envy or admire the luxury of the great= people, that have present to their view none but rich men, or men miserable like themselves, detest their wretched condition, without loving or knowing the real term o r point of misery.

A true maxim it is, therefore, that, in o rder to love equality and frugality in a republic, these virtues must have been previously established by law.

Chapter 5: How the Laws establish Equality in a Democracy.

SOME ancient legislators, as Lycurgus and Romulus, made an equal division of lands. A settlement of this kind can ne ver take place but upon the foundation of a new republic, or when the old o ne is so corrupt, and the minds of the people are so disposed, Edition= current; Page= [55] that the p oor think themselves obliged to demand, and the rich obliged to consent to, a remedy of this nature.

If the legislator, in making a division o f this kind, does not enact laws, at the same time, to support it, he forms only a temporary constitution; inequality will break in where the laws hav e not precluded it, and the republic will be utterly undone.

Hence, for the preservation of this equal ity, it is absolutely necessary there should be some regulation in respect to womens dowries, donations, successions, testamentary settlements, and al l other forms of contracting. For, were it once allowed to dispose of our p roperty to whom and how we pleased, the will of each individual would distu rb the order of the fundamental law.

Solon, by permitting the Athenians, upon failure of issue*, to leave their estates to whom they pleased, acted contrary to the ancient law s, by which the estates were ordered to continue in the family of the testa torE280A0, and even contrary to his own laws; for, by abolishing debts, he had aimed at equality.

The law, which prohibited peopleE28099 s having two inheritances C2A7, was extremely well adapted for a democracy= it derived its orig in from the equal distribution of lands and portions made to each citizen. The law would not permit a single man to possess more than a single portion .

From the same source arose those laws by which the next relation was ordered to marry the heiress. This law was give n to the Jews after the like distribution. PlatoC2B6, who grounds his laws on this division, Edition= current; Page= [56] m ade the same regulation which had been received as a law by the Athenians.< /p>

At Athens, there was a law, whose spirit, in my opinion, has not been hitherto rightly understood. It was lawful to marry a sister only by the fatherE28099s side, but it was not permitted to espouse a sister by the same venter*. This custom was originally owing to republics, whose spi rit would not permit that two portions of land, and consequently two inheri tances, should devolve on the same person. A man, who married his sister on ly by the fatherE28099s side, could inherit but one estate, namely, that of his father; but, by espousing his sister by the same venter, it might h appen, that his sisterE28099s father, having no male issue, might leave her his estate, and, consequently, the brother, who married her, might be p ossessed of two.

Little will it avail to object what Philo saysE280A1, that, although the Athenians were allowed to marry a sister by the father’s side, and not by the mother, yet the contrary practice preva iled among the LacedC3A6monians, who were permitted to espouse a sister b y the motherE28099s side, and not by the father. For I find, i n StraboE280A0, tha t, at Sparta, whenever a woman was married to her brother, she had half his portion for her dowry. Plain it is, that this second law was made in order to prevent the bad consequences of the former. That the estate belonging t o the sisterE28099s family might not devolve on the brother, they gave half the brotherE28099s estate to the sister for her dowry.

Seneca, speaking of Silanus, who had married his siste r, says, that the permission was limited at Athens, but general at Alexandr ia. In a monarchical government there was very little concern about any suc h thing as a division of estates.

Excellent was that law, which, in order t o maintain this division of lands in a democracy, ordained, that a father, who had several children, should pitch upon one of them to inherit his port ion,C2A7 and leave t he others to be adopted, to the end that the number of citizens might alway s be kept upon an equality with that of the divisions.

Phaleas of Chalcedon contrived a very extraordinary me thod of rendering all fortunes equal, in a republic where there was the gre atest inequality. This was, that the rich should give fortunes with their d aughters to the poor, but receive none themselves; and that the poor should receive money for their daughters, instead of giving them fortunes. But I do not remember that a regulation of this kind ever took place in any repub lic. It lays the citizens under such hard and oppressive conditions, as wou ld make them detest the very equality which they designed to establish. It is proper sometimes that the laws should not seem to tend so directly to th e end they propose.

Though real equality be the very soul of a democracy, it is so difficult to establish, that an extreme exactness in this respect would not be always convenient. Sufficient it is to establish a census,* which shoul d reduce or fix the differences to a certain point= it is afterwards the bu siness of particular laws to level, as it were, the inequalities, by the d uties laid upon the rich, and by the ease afforded to the poor. It is moder ate riches alone that can give or suffer this sort of compensations; for, a s to men of over-grown estates, every thing which does not contribute to ad vance their power and honour is considered by them as an injury.

All inequality in democracies ought to be derived from the nature of the government, and even from the principle of equality. For example, it may be apprehended that people, who are obliged t o live by their labour, would be too much impoverished by a public employme nt, or neglect the duties attending it; that artisans would grow insolent; and that too great a number of freemen would overpower the ancient citizens.

In this case, the equality in a democracy may be suppressed, for the good of the state.

But this is only an apparent equality. A man ruined by a public employ ment would be in a worse condition than his fellow-citizens; and this same man, being obliged to neglect his duty, would reduce the rest to a worse co ndition than himself; and so on.

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