Montesquieu

The ancient Greeks, convin­ced of the neces­sity of inculca­ting vir­tue in peo­ples living under a popu­lar govern­ment, crea­ted sin­gu­lar ins­ti­tu­tions for ins­pi­ring it. When you see in the life of Lycurgus the laws he gave to the Lacedæmonians, you think you are rea­ding the his­toire of the Severambians. The laws of Crete were the ori­gi­nals of Lacedæmon’s, and Plato’s were their cor­rec­tive.

Do pay some heed to the breadth of genius it took for those legis­la­tors to see that by going against all the accep­ted cus­toms, by confla­ting all the vir­tues, they would dis­play their wis­dom to the world. Lycurgus, mixing theft with the spi­rit of jus­tice, the har­shest sla­very with extreme free­dom, the most atro­cious sen­ti­ments with the grea­test mode­ra­tion, gave sta­bi­lity to his city. He see­med to be taking away all the resour­ces : the arts, trade, money, its walls : there they are ambi­tious without expec­ta­tion of a bet­ter life ; they have natu­ral sen­ti­ments without being either child, or hus­band, or father ; chas­tity even is depri­ved of modesty. It is by these paths that Sparta is led to great­ness and glory ; but with such infal­li­bi­lity in its ins­ti­tu­tions that nothing could be gai­ned against her by win­ning bat­tles if the enemy did not manage to take away her poli­ti­cal order.1

Crete and Laconia were gover­ned by these laws. Lacedæmon was the last to yield to the Macedonians, and Crete2 was the last prey of the Romans. The Samnites had these same ins­ti­tu­tions, and they were for those Romans the sub­ject of twenty-four vic­to­ries.3

We have seen this extra­or­di­nary aspect of Greek ins­ti­tu­tions in the dregs and cor­rup­tion of our modern times.4 An ups­tan­ding legis­la­tor has foun­ded a peo­ple for whom pro­bity appears as natu­ral as bra­very did to the Spartans. Mr. Penn is a veri­ta­ble Lycurgus ; and while Penn’s objec­tive was peace while the lat­ter’s was war, they are alike in the sin­gu­lar path on which they put their peo­ple, in the influence they held over free men, in the pre­ju­di­ces they over­came, in the pas­sions they sub­dued.

Paraguay can fur­nish us ano­ther exam­ple. It has been impu­ted as a crime to the Society,5 which regards the plea­sure of com­man­ding as the only good in life ; but it will always be admi­ra­ble to govern men by making them bet­ter off.6

It is glo­rious for the Society to have been the first to show in those regions the idea of reli­gion com­bi­ned with that of huma­nity. By repai­ring the devas­ta­tions of the Spanish, it began to heal one of the grea­test wounds that human­kind has yet suf­fe­red.

An exqui­site sense which that Society has for eve­ry­thing it calls honor, and its zeal for a reli­gion that is much more hum­bling to those who hear it than to those who preach it, have led it to under­take great things, and it has suc­cee­ded. It has brought scat­te­red peo­ples out of the woods, given them an assu­red sub­sis­tence, and clo­thed them ; and had it in this way done no more than increase indus­try among men, it would have accom­pli­shed a great deal.

Those who wish to create simi­lar ins­ti­tu­tions will esta­blish the com­mu­nal pro­perty of Plato’s Republic, the res­pect he pres­cri­bed for the gods, sepa­ra­tion from forei­gners for the pre­ser­va­tion of their ethos, and the city enga­gin­gin trade and not the citi­zens : they will pro­duce our arts without our luxury, and our needs without our desi­res.

They will ban money, which has the effect of bloa­ting men’s for­tune beyond the bounds that nature had pla­ced on it, and tea­ching men to pre­serve need­lessly what had been amas­sed in this way, mul­ti­plying desi­res without end, and impro­ving on nature, which had given us very limi­ted means of exci­ting our pas­sions and cor­rup­ting each other.

“The Epidamnians, sen­sing the cor­rup­tion of their ways from their com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the bar­ba­rians, elec­ted a magis­trate to effect all of their tra­ding in the name of the city and for the city.”7 That done, com­merce does not cor­rupt the cons­ti­tu­tion, and the cons­ti­tu­tion does not deprive society of the advan­ta­ges of com­merce.

Philopoemen forced the Lacedæmonians to abandon their way of nourishing their children, knowing full well that without it they would still possess great souls and lofty hearts : Plutarch, Life of Philopoemen ; see Livy, book XXXVIII.

She defended her laws and freedom for three years. See books XCVIII, XCIX, etc. of Livy, in the synopsis of Florus ; she put up more resistance than the greatest of kings.

Florus, book I.

In fæce Romuli [’in the dregs of Romulus’] (Cicero).

[I.e., the Society of Jesus (commonly known as the Jesuits), then known in particular for its far-flung missionary (but also commercial) activities.]

The Indians of Paraguay are not dependents of a particular lord, pay only a fifth of the tributes, and have firearms for their defense.

Plutarch, Greek Questions.