Superphysics Superphysics
Chapter 1

The Corruption of Democracy, Aristocracy, Monarchy

by Montesquieu Icon
4 minutes  • 711 words

The principle of democracy is corrupted when:

  • the spirit of equality is extinct
  • the spirit of extreme equality exists

The people would think that they are on a level with those who command them. They would then want to:

  • manage everything themselves,
  • debate for the senate,
  • execute for the magistrate, and
  • decide for the judges.

When this is the case, virtue can no longer subsist in the republic. The people want to exercise the functions of the magistrates who cease to be revered. The deliberations of the senate are slighted. The senators and old age are no longer respected.

If there is no more respect for old age, there will be none for parents. Deference to husbands will be likewise thrown off, with submission to masters. This licentiousness will soon become general, and the trouble of command be as fatiguing as that of obedience.

Wives, children, slaves, will shake off all subjection. No longer will there be any such things as manners, order, or virtue.

Xenophon’s Banquet tells of a republic in which the people abused their equality. Each guest gives, in his turn, the reason why he is satisfied.

Chamides says:

I am content because of my poverty. When I was rich, I was obliged to pay my court to informers, knowing I was more liable to be hurt by them than capable of doing them harm. The republic constantly demanded some new tax of me. Since I am grown poor, nobody threatens me; I rather threaten others. I can go or stay where I please. The rich already rise from their seats and give me the way. I am a king; I was before a slave= I paid taxes to the republic; now it maintains me= I am no longer afraid of losing, but I hope to acquire.

The people fall into this misfortune when those in whom they confide, desirous of concealing their own corruption, endeavour to corrupt them. To disguise their own ambition, they speak to them only of the grandeur of the state; to conceal their own avarice, they incessantly slatter theirs.

The corruption will increase among the corrupters, and likewise among those who are already corrupted. The people will divide the public money among themselves, and, having added the administration of affairs to their indolence, will be for blending their poverty with the amusements of luxury. But, with their indolence and luxury, nothing but the public treasure will be able to satisfy their demands.

We must not be surprized to see votes being bought and sold. It is impossible to make great largesses to the people without great extortion= and, to compass this, the state must be subverted.

The greater the advantages they seem to derive from their liberty, the nearer they approach towards the critical moment of losing it. Petty tyrants arise, who have all the vices of a single tyrant.

The small remains of liberty soon become insupportable; a single tyrant starts up, and the people are stripped of every thing, even of the profits of their corruption.

Democracy has two excesses to avoid:

  • the spirit of inequality, which leads to aristocracy or monarchy; and
  • the spirit of extreme equality, which leads to despotic power, as the latter is completed by conquest.

Those who corrupted the Greek republics did not always become tyrants. This was because they had a greater passion for eloquence than for the military art. Besides, there reigned an implacable hatred in the breasts of the Greeks against those who subverted a republican government. This is why anarchy degenerated into annihilation, instead of being changed into tyranny.

Syracuse is situated in the midst of many petty states, whose government had been changed from oligarchy to tyranny. It is governed by a senate scarcely ever mentioned in history, underwent such miseries as are the consequence of a more than ordinary corruption.

This city, ever a prey to licentiousness or oppression, equally labouring under the sudden and alternate succession of liberty and servitude, and, notwithstanding her external strength, constantly determined to a revolution by the least foreign power.

It had in her bosom an immense multitude of people, whose fate it was to have always this cruel alternative, either of choosing a tyrant to govern them, or of acting the tyrant themselves.

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