Montesquieu

As there must be vir­tue in a popu­lar govern­ment, it must also be pre­sent in the aris­to­cra­tic one. It is true that it is not so abso­lu­tely requi­site.

The com­mon peo­ple, which is in rela­tion to nobles what sub­jects are in rela­tion to the monarch, are contai­ned by their laws. They the­re­fore have less need of vir­tue than the peo­ple of a demo­cracy. But how will the nobles be contai­ned ? Those who must enforce the laws against their fel­low magis­tra­tes will imme­dia­tely sense that they are acting against them­sel­ves ; there must the­re­fore, by the nature of the cons­ti­tu­tion, be vir­tue in this body.

Aristocratic govern­ment has in itself a cer­tain strength which demo­cracy does not have. The nobles cons­ti­tute a body within it which, by its pre­ro­ga­tive and for its par­ti­cu­lar inte­rest, repres­ses the peo­ple ; in this res­pect, it is enough that there be laws for them to be car­ried out.

But as easy as it is for this body to repress the others, it is as hard for it to repress itself.1 Such is the nature of this cons­ti­tu­tion that it seems to place the same peo­ple under the autho­rity of the laws, and to pro­tect them from those laws.

Now such a body can repress itself in only two ways : either by great vir­tue, which cau­ses the nobles to find them­sel­ves in some sense equal with their peo­ple, which can make for a great repu­blic ; or by a les­ser vir­tue, which is a cer­tain mode­ra­tion that makes the nobles at least equal to each other, which assu­res their pre­ser­va­tion.

Moderation is the­re­fore the soul of these govern­ments. I mean one that is foun­ded on vir­tue, not the kind that comes from a cer­tain cowar­dice and indo­lence of the soul.

Public crimes will be subject to punishment there, because that is everyone’s business ; individual crimes will not be punished, because it is everyone’s business not to punish them.