Montesquieu

It is not in the public hou­ses where chil­dren are taught that monar­chies impart their prin­ci­pal edu­ca­tion ; it is when a per­son enters the world that edu­ca­tion in some sense begins. That is where the school of what is cal­led honor is found, that uni­ver­sal mas­ter who must guide us whe­re­ver we go.

That is where we see and we always hear three things : that in vir­tues we must main­tain a cer­tain nobi­lity, in mora­lity a cer­tain can­dor, and in man­ners a cer­tain poli­te­ness.

The vir­tues we are shown are always less what we owe to others than what we owe to our­sel­ves ; they are not so much what attracts us to our fel­low citi­zens as what dis­tin­gui­shes us from them.

Human actions there are not jud­ged as good, but as admi­ra­ble ; not as just, but as great ; not as rea­so­na­ble, but as extra­or­di­nary.

Honor, whe­ne­ver it can find some­thing noble in them, is either the judge that legi­ti­mi­zes them or the sophist that jus­ti­fies them.

It allows gal­lan­try when it is joi­ned with the idea of heart­felt sen­ti­ment, or to the notion of conquest : and this is the true rea­son why mora­lity is never as pure in monar­chies as in repu­bli­can govern­ments.

It allows decep­tion when it is com­bi­ned with the idea of gran­deur of spi­rit or gran­deur of cau­ses, as in poli­tics, the fine points of which do not offend it.

It pro­hi­bits adu­la­tion only when it is sepa­ra­ted from the idea of a great for­tune, and is joi­ned only with the awa­re­ness of its own ser­vi­lity.

With res­pect to morals, I have said that the edu­ca­tion of monar­chies ought to incor­po­rate a cer­tain can­dor. Thus they want some truth in our speech. But is that for love for truth ? Not at all. They want it because a man who is accus­to­med to utte­ring truth seems to be bold and free. Indeed, such a man seems to depend only on facts, and not on the man­ner in which someone else recei­ves them.

That is why, as much as they condone this sort of can­dor, they equally scorn the can­dor of com­mo­ners, the only objec­tive of which is truth and sim­pli­city.

In short, edu­ca­tion in monar­chies requi­res a cer­tain poli­te­ness of man­ners. People made for each other’s com­pany are also made to please each other ; and a man who did not observe the pro­prie­ties, offen­ding eve­ryone in his com­pany, would so deva­lue him­self that he would become inca­pa­ble of doing any­thing good.

But it is not in so pure a source that poli­te­ness cus­to­ma­rily ori­gi­na­tes. It comes from the desire to dis­tin­guish one­self. It is out of pride that we are civil : we feel flat­te­red to pos­sess man­ners that show that we are not com­mon, and that we have not asso­cia­ted with the sort of peo­ple who have always been fled.

In monar­chies, poli­te­ness is natu­ra­li­zed at court. An excee­din­gly tall man makes eve­ryone else short. Hence the consi­de­ra­tion we owe to eve­ry­body, from which ari­ses the poli­te­ness that flat­ters those who are polite as much as it does those with res­pect to whom they are polite, because it signi­fies belon­ging to the court, or being wor­thy of it.

The air of the court consists of lea­ving aside one’s own gran­deur for a bor­ro­wed one which flat­ters a cour­tier more than does his own. It confers a cer­tain lofty modesty which spreads afar, but of which the pride fades gra­dually in pro­por­tion to one’s dis­tance from the source of that gran­deur.

At court is found a deli­cacy of taste in all things which comes from conti­nual consump­tion of the trap­pings of a great for­tune, the variety and above all the las­si­tude of plea­su­res, from the mul­ti­pli­city and even the pro­fu­sion of extra­va­gan­ces, which when they are agreea­ble are always well recei­ved there.

It is on all these things that edu­ca­tion bears to form what is cal­led the gent­le­man, who has all the qua­li­ties and all the vir­tues that are desi­red in this govern­ment.

Honor, being a part of eve­ry­thing, enters into all modes of thin­king and all ways of fee­ling, and even gui­des the prin­ci­ples.

This pecu­liar honor makes vir­tues into only what it wants and as it wants them ; it impo­ses its own rules on eve­ry­thing that is pres­cri­bed to us, extends or cir­cum­scri­bes our duties at its plea­sure, whe­ther their source lies in reli­gion, in poli­tics, or in mora­lity.

There is nothing in monar­chy which the laws, reli­gion, and honor so pres­cribe as obe­dience to the prince’s desi­res : but this honor tells us that the prince must never pres­cribe an act that disho­nors us, because it would ren­der us una­ble to serve him.

Crillon refu­sed Henri III’s entreaty to assas­si­nate the Duc de Guise, but he offe­red to to duel him. After St. Bartholomew’s Day, after Charles IX wrote to all the gover­nors to have the Huguenots slaugh­te­red, Viscount d’Orthe, who was the com­man­der in Bayonne, wrote to the king : “Sire, among the inha­bi­tants and the men of war I have found none but good citi­zens, brave sol­diers, and not a sin­gle hang­man : the­re­fore they and I entreat Your Majesty to use our hands and our lives for things we can do.”1 Their great and gene­rous cou­rage regar­ded trea­chery as some­thing impos­si­ble.

There is nothing which honor more pres­cri­bes to the nobi­lity than to serve the prince in war. That is indeed the dis­tin­gui­shed pro­fes­sion, because its risks, its triumphs, and even its mis­for­tu­nes lead to great­ness. But while impo­sing this law, honor wants to be its judge ; and if it feels offen­ded, it requi­res or allows a man to retire to his home.

It would have us indif­fe­rently aspire to posi­tions or refuse them : that free­dom it holds even above for­tune.

Honor thus has its supreme rules, and edu­ca­tion is obli­ged to conform to them. The prin­ci­ple ones are, first, that we are indeed allo­wed to attach great impor­tance to our for­tune, but abso­lu­tely for­bid­den to attach any to our lives.

The second is that once we have been pla­ced in a rank, we must do or allow nothing that could reveal that we esteem our­sel­ves below even that rank.

The third, that the things which honor for­bids are more strictly for­bid­den when the laws as well pro­hi­bit them, and that the things it requi­res are more firmly requi­red when the laws do not call for them.

See d’Aubigné’s History.