Superphysics Superphysics
Chapters 6-7

How the Laws Should Maintain Frugality in a Democracy

by Montesquieu Icon
7 minutes  • 1347 words
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IT is not sufficient, in a well-regulated democracy, that the divisions of land be equal.

  • They should also to be small, as was customary among the Romans.

Curius said to his soldiers: “God forbid that a citizen should look upon that as a small piece of land which is sufficient to maintain him.”

As equality of fortunes supports frugalit y, so the latter maintains the former. These things, though in themselves d ifferent, are of such a nature as to be unable to subsist separately= they reciprocally act upon each other= if one withdraws itself from a democracy, the other surely follows it.

True it is, that, when a democracy is fou nded in commerce, private people may acquire vast riches without a corrupti on of morals. This is because the spirit of commerce is naturally attended with that of frugality, C593conomy, moderation, labour, prudence, tranqui lity, order, and rule. So long as this spirit subsists, the riches it produ ces have no bad effect. The mischief is when excessive wealth destroys the spirit of commerce= then it is that the inconveniences of inequality begin to be felt.

In order to support this spirit, commerce should be carried on by the principal citizens: this should be their sole aim and study; this the chief object of the laws: and these very laws, by d ividing the estates of individuals in proportion to the increase of commerc e, should set every poor citizen so far at his ease, as to be able to work like the rest.

Every wealthy citizen in such a mediocrity, as to be obl iged to take some pains either in preserving or acquiring a fortune.

It is an excellent law, in a trading repu blic, to make an equal division of the paternal estate among the children. The consequence of this is, that, how great soever a fortune the father has made, his children, being not so rich as he, are induced to avoid luxury, and to work as he had done. I speak here only of trading republics; for, as to those that have no commerce, the legislator must pursue quite different measures.

In Greece there were two sorts of republi cs; the one military, like Sparta; the other commercial, as Athens.

In the former, the citizens were obliged to be idle; in the latter, endeavours wer e used to inspire them with the love of industry and labour.

Solon made idl eness a crime, and insisted that each citizen should give an account of his manner of getting a livelihood.

In a well-regulated democracy, where people’s expences should extend only to what is necessary, e very one ought to have it; for how should their wants be otherwise supplied.

Chapter 7: Other Methods of favouring the Principle of Democracy.

AN equal division of lands cannot be esta blished in all democracies. There are some circumstances in which a regulat ion of this nature would be impracticable, dangerous, and even subversive o f the constitution. We are not always obliged to proceed to extremes.

If this division of lands, which was designed to preserve the people’s morals, does not suit with the democracy, recourse must be h ad to other methods.

If a permanent body be established, to se rve as a rule and pattern of manners; a senate, to which years, virtue, gra vity, and eminent services, procure admittance; the senators, by being expo sed to public view like the statues of the gods, must naturally inspire eve ry family with sentiments of virtue.

Above all, this senate must steadily adhe re to the ancient institutions, and mind that the people and the magistrate s never swerve from them.

The preservation of the ancient customs i s a very considerable point in respect to manners. Since a corrupt people s eldom perform any memorable actions, Edition= current; Page= [61] seldom establish societies, build cit ies, or enact laws= on the contrary, since most institutions are derived fr om people whose manners are plain and simple, to keep up the ancient custom is the way to preserve the original purity of morals.

Besides, if, by some revolution, the stat e has happened to assume a new form, this seldom can be effected without in finite pains and labour, and hardly ever by idle and debauched persons. Eve n those who had been the instruments of the revolution were desirous it sho uld be relished; which is difficult to compass without good laws.


  • ancient institutions generally tend to reform the people’s manners.
  • modern institutions tend to corrupt them.

In the course of a long administration, the descent to vice is insensible. But there is no reascending to virtue without making the most generous efforts.

Should the term for senators be lifelong? Or should it be for a short time?

It should be for life, as was the custom at:

  • Rome*
  • Sparta
  • Athens

The senate at Athens changed every 3 months.

We must not confound it with the Areopagus, whose members, as standing patterns, were established for life.

My general maxim is that:

  • in a senate designed to be a rule and the depositary, as it were, of manners, the members should be chosen for life
  • in a senate intended for the administration of affairs, the members may be changed.

Aristotle says that the spirit and body waxes old.

  • This is true only in regard to a single magistrate.
  • It cannot be applied to a senatorian assembly.

At Athens, beside the Areopagus, there we re guardians of the public morals, as well as of the laws.

At Sparta, all the old men were censors.

At Rome, the censorship was committed to two particular magistra tes.

The senate watched over the people. The censors were to have an eye over the people and the senate.

Their office was to reform the corruptions of the republic, to stigmatize indolence, to censure neglects, and to corr ect mistakes= as to flagrant crimes, these were left to the punishment of t he laws.

That Roman law, which required the accusa tions in cases of adultery to be public, was admirably well calculated for preserving the purity of morals; it intimidated married women, as well as t hose who were to watch over their conduct.

Nothing contributes more to the preservat ion of morals than an extreme subordination of the young to the old. Thus t hey are both restrained, the former by their respect for those of advanced age, and the latter by their regard for themselves.

Nothing gives a greater force to the laws than a perfect subordination between the citizens and the magistrate. The great difference which Lycurgus established between Sparta and th e other cities (says Xenophon*) consists chiefly in the obedience the citizens shew to the laws= they run when the magistrate calls them. But, at Athens, a rich man would b e highly displeased to be thought dependent on the magistrate.

Paternal authority is likewise of great u se towards the preservation of morals. We have already observed, that, in a republic, there is not so coercive a force as in other governments. The la ws must therefore endeavour to supply this defect by some means or other; a nd this is done by paternal authority.

Fathers, at Rome, had the power of life a nd death over their children.E280A0 At Sparta every father had a right to correct another man’s child.

Paternal authority ended, at Rome, togeth er with the republic. In monarchies, where such a purity of morals is not r equired, they are controuled by no other authority than that of the magistr ates.

The Roman laws, which accustomed young pe ople to dependence, established a long minority. Perhaps we are mistaken in conforming to this custom= there is no necessity for so much constraint in monarchies.

This very subordination in a republic mig ht make it necessary for the father to continue in the possession of his children’s fortune during life, as was the custom at Rome. But this i s not agreeable to the spirit of monarchy.

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