Superphysics Superphysics
Chapters 1-4

New Consequences of the Principles of the three Governments

by Montesquieu Icon
9 minutes  • 1845 words
Table of contents

LUXURY indicates the inequality of fortunes.

If the riches of a state are equally divided, there will be no luxury, because luxury is founded merely on the inconveniences from the labour of others.

In order to have this equal distribution of riches, the law should give to each man only what is necessary for nature. If they exceed these bounds, some will spend, and others will acquire. These will lead to inequality.

Assuming 1 is the amount necessary for the support of nature=

  • Person A who has only what is barely necessary as 1 will have a luxury equal to 0
  • Person B who has double that sum, as 2, would have luxury equal to 1 [1 + 1]
  • Person C who has double Person B’s property, as 4, would have luxury equal to 3 [4 - 1]
  • Person D who has double Person C’s property, as 8, would have luxury equal to 7 [8 - 1]

In this way, the luxury and property of the subsequent individual is always double that of the preceding. A unit will be added in every progression.

In Plato’s republic, luxury might have been exactly calculated. There were four sorts of censuses, or rates of estates=

  1. The amount beyond poverty= here, luxury was equal to 0
  2. Double of the first= here, luxury was equal to 1
  3. Triple of the first= here, luxury was equal to 2
  4. Quadruple of the first= here, luxury was equal to 3

Thus, these followed an arithmetical proportion.

The luxury of different nations relative to each oher is dependent on a compound proportion to=

  • the inequality of fortunes among the subjects
  • the inequality of wealth in different states

In Poland, for example, there is an extreme inequality of fortunes. But the poverty of the whole hinders them from having so much luxury as in a more opulent government.

Luxury is also in proportion to the urban population, especially of the capital, relative to the rural. It is in a compound proportion to the riches of the state, to the inequality of private fortunes, and to the number of people settled in particular places.

In proportion to the populousness of towns, the inhabitants are filled with notions of vanity, and actuated by an am bition of distinguishing themselves by trifles. If they are very numerous, and most of them strangers to one another, their vanity redoubles, because there are greate r hopes of success.

As luxury inspires these hopes, each man assumes the ma rks of a superior condition= but, by endeavouring thus at distinction, ever y one becomes equal, and distinction ceases; as all are desirous of respect , nobody is regarded.

Hence arises a general inconvenience. Those who excel in a profession set what value they please on their labour= this example is followed by people of inferior abilities; and then there is an end of all proportion between our wants and the means of satisfying them. When I am forced to go to law, I must be able to fee council= when I am si ck, I must have it in my power to fee a physician.

It is the opinion of several, that the as sembling so great a multitude of people in capital cities is an obstruction to commerce, because the inhabitants are no longer at a proper distance from each other= but I cannot think so; for men have more desires, more wants , more fancies, when they live together.

Chapter 2: The Sumptuary Laws in a Democracy

A republic that has no inequality has no luxury.

Chapter 5 showed that this equal distribution constitutes the excellency of a republican government. Thus, the less luxury there is in a republic, the more it is perfect.

There was none among the old Romans and the Spartans.

In republics where this equality is not quite lost, the spirit of commerce, industry, and virtue, renders every man able and willing to live on his own property, and consequently prevents the growth of luxury.

Some republics insisted so eagerly in the laws on the new division of lands. They are dangerous only as they are subitaneous.

By reducing instantly the wealth of some, and increasing that of others, they form a revolution in each family, and must produce a general one in the state.

In proportion as luxury gains ground in a republic, the minds of the people are turned towards their particular interests. Those, who are allowed only what is necessary, have nothing but thei r own reputation and their country glory in view= but a soul depr aved by luxury has many other desires, and soon becomes an enemy to the law s that confine it. The luxury in which the garrison of Rhegio began to live was the cause of their massacring the inhabitants.

No sooner were the Romans corrupted than their desires became boundless and immense. Of this we may judge by the price they set on things. A pitcher of Falernian wine* was sold for 100 Roman denarii

  • a barrel of salt meat from the kingdom of Pontus cost 400 denarii
  • a good cook cost four talents
  • for boys, no price was reckoned too great.

When the whole world, impelled by the force of corruption, is immersed in voluptuousness what must then become of virtue?

Chapter 3: Sumptuary Laws in an Aristocracy

An ill-constituted aristocracy causes the wealth to center in the nobility, and yet they are not allowed to spend it. for, as luxury is contrary to the spirit of mode ration, it must be banished from thence.

This government comprehends, there fore, only people who are extremely poor, and cannot acquire; and people wh o are vastly rich, and cannot spend.

In Venice, they are compelled by the laws to moderation. They are so habituated to parsimony, that none but courtezan s can make them part with their money. Such is the method made use of for the support of industry=

The most contemptible of women may be profuse witho ut danger, whilst those who contribute to their extravagance consume their days in the greatest obscurity.

In this respect, the institutions of the principal Greek republics are admirable. The rich employed their money in festivals, musical choruses, chariots, horse-races, and chargeable offices. Wealth was therefore as burthensome there as poverty.

Chapter 4: Sumptuary Laws in a Monarchy

TACITUS says that the Suiones, a German nation, have a particular respect for riches. This was why they live under the government of one person. This shows:

  • that luxury is extremely proper for monarchies, and
  • that under this government there must be no sumptuary laws.

As riches, by the very constitution of mo narchies, are unequally divided, there is an absolute necessity for luxury. Were the rich not to be lavish, the poor would starve. It is even necessar y here that the expences of the opulent should be in proportion to the ineq uality of fortunes, and that luxury, as we have already observed, should in crease in this proportion. The augmentation of private wealth is owing to its having deprived one part of the citizens of their necessary support; thi s must therefore be restored to them.

Hence it is, that, for the preservation o f a monarchical state, luxury should continually increase, and to grow more extensive, as it rises from the labourer to the artificer, to the merchant, to the magistrate, to the nobility, to the great officers of state, up to the very prince; otherwise the nation will be undone.

In the reign of Augustus, the primitive Roman senate proposed to reform the manners and luxury of women. In Dio, Augustus eluded the importunate sollicitations of those senators. This was because he was founding a monarchy, and dissolving a republic.

Under Tiberius, the Caediles proposed, in the senate, the re-establishment of the ancient sumptuary laws. This prince, who did n ot want sense, opposed it. The state (said he) could not possibly subsist in the present situation of things. How could Rome, how could the provinces, live? We were frugal while we were only masters of one city= now we consume the riches of the whole globe, and employ both the masters and their slaves in our service. He plainly saw that sumptuary laws wou ld not suit the present form of government.

When a proposal was made, under the same emperor, to the senate, to prohibit the governors from carrying their wives with them into the provinces, because of the dissoluteness and irregularit y which followed those ladies, the proposal was rejected. It was said that the examples of ancient austerity had been changed into a more a greeable method of living. They found there was a necessity for different manners.

Luxury is therefore absolutely necessary in monarchies; as it is also in despotic states. In the former, it is the u se of liberty; in the latter, it is the abuse of servitude. A slave, appoin ted by his master to tyrannize over other wretches of the same condition, u ncertain of enjoying, to-morrow, the blessings of to-day, has no other feli city than that of glutting the pride, the passions, and voluptuousness, of the present moment.

Hence arises a very natural reflexion. Re publics end with luxury; monarchies with poverty.

Chapter 5: When Sumptuary Laws are Useful in a Monarchy

WHETHER it was from a republican spirit, or from some other particular circumstance, sumptuary laws were made in Arr agon, in the middle of the thirteenth century. James 1st ordained, th at neither the king, nor any of his subjects, should have above two sorts o f dishes at a meal, and that each dish should be dressed only one way, except it were game of their own killing.

In our days sumptuary laws have been also enacted in Sweden; but with a different view from those of Arragon.

A government may make sumptuary laws with a view to absolute frugality. This is the spirit of sumptuary laws in repu blics; and the very nature of the thing shews that such was the design of t hose of Arragon.

Sumptuary laws may likewise be establishe d with a design to promote a relative frugality. When a government, perceiv ing that foreign merchandizes, being at too high a price, will require such an exportation of home manufactures, as to deprive them of more advantages , by the loss of the latter, than they can receive from the possession of t he former, they will forbid their being introduced= and this is the spirit of the laws which in our days have been passed in Sweden. Such are the sumptuary laws proper for monarchies.

In general:

  • the poorer a state, the more it is ruined by its relative luxury, and consequently the more occasion it has for relative sumptuary laws.
  • the richer a state, the more it thrives by its relative luxury; for which reason, it must take particular care not to make any relative sumptuary laws.

This we shall better explain in the book on commerce*; here we treat only of absolute luxury.

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