Montesquieu
 

II.4 On laws in relation to the nature of monarchical government

Intermediate powers which are subor­di­nate and depen­dent cons­ti­tute the nature of monar­chi­cal govern­ment : in other words, where one man alone governs by fun­da­men­tal laws. I said subor­di­nate and depen­dent inter­me­diate powers : in truth, in a monar­chy the prince is the source of all power, poli­ti­cal and civil. These fun­da­men­tal laws neces­sa­rily sup­pose median chan­nels through which the autho­rity flows : for if there is nothing in a state but the flee­ting and capri­cious will of one man alone, nothing, and conse­quently no fun­da­men­tal law, can be fixed.

The most natu­ral subor­di­nate inter­me­diate power is that of the nobi­lity. It is in a sense part of the essence of monar­chy, the fun­da­men­tal maxim of which is : No monarch, no nobi­lity ; no nobi­lity, no monarch, but you have a des­pot.

Some peo­ple had the idea, in some sta­tes in Europe, of abo­li­shing all sei­gnio­rial courts. They did not see that they were trying to do what the English Parliament has done. Abolish the pre­ro­ga­ti­ves of the lords, the clergy, the nobi­lity, and the cities in a monar­chy, and you will soon have a popu­lar state, or else a des­po­tic state.

The tri­bu­nals of a great European state have for seve­ral cen­tu­ries been cons­tantly stri­king at the patri­mo­nial jus­tice dis­pen­sed by lords and eccle­sias­tics. We do not wish to cen­sure such wise magis­tra­tes, but we leave it to be deter­mi­ned to what degree their cons­ti­tu­tion can be chan­ged.

I am not obses­sed with the pri­vi­le­ges of eccle­sias­tics, but I would like for their juris­dic­tion to be fixed once and for all. The ques­tion is not whe­ther it was a good idea to esta­blish it, but if is esta­bli­shed, whe­ther it is part of the coun­try’s laws, and whe­ther it is eve­ryw­here rela­tive ; whe­ther, bet­ween two powers reco­gni­zed as inde­pen­dent, the condi­tions ought not to be reci­pro­cal, and whe­ther it is not the same thing to a good sub­ject to defend the prince’s jus­tice, or the limits which it has in all times reco­gni­zed.

The power of the clergy is as appro­priate in a monar­chy, espe­cially those which incline toward des­po­tism, as it is dan­ge­rous in a repu­blic. Where would Spain and Portugal be since they lost their laws without this power which alone checks arbi­trary autho­rity ? It is always a use­ful bar­rier when there is none other ; for as des­po­tism inflicts ter­ri­ble suf­fe­ring on human­kind, even the evil which limits it is a bene­fit.

As the sea, which seems it wants to cover the entire earth, is boun­ded by the gras­ses and the smal­lest sto­nes along the shore, so monarchs whose power appears limit­less come to a stop at the smal­lest obs­ta­cles, and subor­di­nate their natu­ral pride to pro­test and prayer.

The English, in order to favor free­dom, have remo­ved all the inter­me­diate autho­ri­ties that made up their monar­chy. They are quite right to pre­serve that free­dom ; should they ever lose it, they would be one of the most ensla­ved peo­ples on earth.

Mr. Law, through an equal igno­rance of repu­bli­can and monar­chi­cal cons­ti­tu­tions, was one of the grea­test pro­mo­ters of des­po­tism yet seen in Europe. Besides the unu­sually abrupt, uncom­mon, and unpre­ce­den­ted chan­ges he made, he wan­ted to sup­press the inter­me­diate ranks and abo­lish the poli­ti­cal bodies : he was dis­sol­ving the monar­chy with his fic­tio­nal reim­bur­se­ments,1 and see­med to want to redeem the cons­ti­tu­tion itself.

It is not enough to have inter­me­diate ranks in a monar­chy : there must also be a repo­si­tory of laws. This repo­si­tory can only lie in the poli­ti­cal bodies, which announce the laws when they are made, and recall them when they are for­got­ten. The igno­rance natu­ral to nobi­lity, its inat­ten­tion, and its contempt for civil govern­ment, require the exis­tence of a body that can cons­tantly res­cue the laws from the dust in which they are buried. The prince’s coun­cil is not a sui­ta­ble repo­si­tory. It is by its nature the repo­si­tory of the tem­po­rary will of the prince who exe­cu­tes, and not the repo­si­tory of the fun­da­men­tal laws. Besides, the monarch’s coun­cil is fore­ver chan­ging : it is not per­ma­nent ; it can­not pos­si­bly be large ; it does not enjoy a high enough level of confi­dence from the peo­ple : it is the­re­fore not in a posi­tion to guide them in dif­fi­cult times, nor to res­tore them to obe­dience.

In des­po­tic sta­tes, there are no fun­da­men­tal laws, nor is there any repo­si­tory of laws. That is why reli­gion usually has such strength in those coun­tries : it is because it pro­vi­des a sort of repo­si­tory and sta­bi­lity ; and if it is not reli­gion, it is the cus­toms that are reve­red in lieu of laws.

Ferdinand king of Aragon made himself a grand master in the orders, and that alone altered the constitution.