Chapter 4

How Despotic Governments provide for their Safety

by Montesquieu Icon

Chapter 4: How Despotic Governments provide for their Security

Republics provide for their security by uniting.

Despotic governments do it by separating, and by keeping themselves single. They sacrifice a part of the country; and, by rav aging and desolating the frontiers, they render the heart of the empire inaccessible. This practice is more tolerable in large than in middling states.

A despotic government does all the mischief to itself that could be committed by a strong, cruel enemy. It preserves itself by putting the most distant provinces into the hands of a great vassal as a buffer.

The Mogul, the king of Persia, and the emperors of China, have their feudatories. The Turks put the Tartars, Moldavians, Walachians, and formerly the Transylvanians, between themselves and their enemies.

Chapter 5: How a monarchical Government provides for its Security

A monarchy never destroys itself like a despotic government.

It uses fortresses to defend its frontiers. The smallest land is disputed with military skill and resolution.

Despotic states make incursions against one another, but monarchies wage war.

Fortresses are proper for monarchies. Despotic governments are afraid of to entrust their officers with such a command, as none of them have any affection for the prince or his government.

Chapter 6: The defensive Force of States in general

TO preserve a state in its due force, it must have such an extent, as to admit of a proportion between the celerity with which it may be invaded, and that with which it may defeat the invasion.

A state should have a moderate size as to be able to defend itself well.

France and Spain are exactly of a proper extent. They have so easy a communication for their forces, as to be able to convey them immediately to what part they have a mind.

The armies unite and pass with rapidity from one frontier to another, without any apprehension of such difficulties as require time to remove.

It is extremely happy for France that th e capital stands near to the different frontiers in proportion to their weakness. The prince has a better view of each part of his country, accord ing as it is more exposed.

When a vast empire like Persia is attacked, it takes several months before the troops are assembled. and then they are not able to make such forced marches, for that space of time, as they could for fifteen days.

Should the army on the frontiers be defeated, it is soon dispersed, because there is no neighbouring place of retreat. The victor, meeting with no resistance, advances with all expedition, sits down before the capital, and lays siege to it, when there is scarce time sufficient to summon the governors of the provinces to its relief.

Those who foresee an approaching revolution hasten it by their disobedience= for men, whose fidelity is entirely owing to the danger of punishment, are easily corrupted as soon as it becomes distant; their aim is their own priv ate interest= the empire is subverted, the capital taken, and the conqueror disputes the several provinces with the governors.

The real power of a prince does not cons ist so much in the facility he meets with in making conquests, as in the difficulty an enemy finds in attacking him in the immutability of his condition. But the increase of territory obliges a govern ment to lay itself more open to an enemy.

Monarchs, therefore, should be endued with wisdom in order to increase their power, they ought likewise to have an equal share of prudence to confine it within bounds. Upon removing the inconveniences of too small a territory, they should have their eye consta ntly on the inconveniences which attend its extent.

Chapter 7: A Reflection

A great, long-reigning prince was accused by his enemies of intending to rule all of Europe. This would have been most fatal to:

  • his subjects
  • himself
  • his family
  • all of Europe.

Heaven knows our true interests. This is why It prevented his success in this. Instead of raising him to be the only sovereign in Europe, it made him happier by rendering him the most powerful.

The subjects of this prince become vain overseas. They would never have the solidity requisite for a European conquest. If defeated in one country, they would be unsuccessful everywhere else forever.

Chapter 8: A Case where a state’s defensive power is inferior to their offensive power

The lord of Coucy said to King Charles 5th that the English are easiest to overcome in their own country.

The same was observed of the Romans, Carthaginians, and every power that sends armies to distant countries. Such states would find it difficult to re-unite, by discipline and military force, its people who are divided by political or civil interests.

The lord of Coucy’s maxim is an exception to the general rule, which disapproves of wars against distant countries.

This exception confirms likewise the rule, because it takes place only with regard to those by whom such wars are undertaken.

Chapter 9: The relative Force of States

ALL grandeur, force, and power, are rela tive. Care, therefore, must be taken, that, in endeavouring to increase the real grandeur, the relative be not diminished.

Under the reign of Lewis 14th, France was at its highest pitch of relative grandeur. Germany had not yet produced su ch powerful princes as have since appeared in that country. Italy was in th e same case. England and Scotland were not yet formed into one united kingd om.

Arragon was not joined to Castile= the distant branches of the Spanish monarchy were weakened by it, and weakened it in their turn= and Muscovy wa s as little known in Europe as Crim-Tartary.

Chapter 10: The Weakness of neighbouring States

WHENSOEVER a state lies contiguous to an other that happens to be in its decline, the former should take care not to precipitate the ruin of the latter, because this is the happiest situation imaginable.

Nothing being so convenient as for one prince to be near another who receives for him all the rebuff and insults of fortune. It seldom happens that, by subduing such a state, the real power of the conqueror is as much increased as the relative is diminished.