Montesquieu

The author’s fore­word

For the unders­tan­ding of the first four books of this work, it must be noted that what I call vir­tue in the repu­blic is love of the home­land, in other words love of equa­lity. It is not a moral vir­tue, nor a Christian vir­tue, it is poli­ti­cal vir­tue ; and this vir­tue is what dri­ves repu­bli­can govern­ment, as honor is what dri­ves monar­chy. I have the­re­fore cal­led poli­ti­cal vir­tue love of the home­land and of equa­lity. I have thought new thoughts ; it was essen­tial that I find new words for them or give the old ones new mea­nings. People who have not unders­tood this have attri­bu­ted to me absur­di­ties which would be repu­gnant in every coun­try on earth, because every coun­try on earth wants mora­lity.

Secondly, it must be remem­be­red that there is a very great dif­fe­rence bet­ween saying that a cer­tain qua­lity, modi­fi­ca­tion of mind, or vir­tue, is not what dri­ves a govern­ment, and saying that it is lacking under that govern­ment. If I said that a cer­tain wheel or cog is not the spring that makes this watch run, would one conclude that they are mis­sing in the watch ? So far is it from being true that moral and Christian vir­tues are exclu­ded from monar­chy, that even poli­ti­cal vir­tue is not exclu­ded. In a word, there is honor in the repu­blic, although poli­ti­cal vir­tue is what dri­ves it ; there is poli­ti­cal vir­tue in the monar­chy, although it is honor that dri­ves it.

Finally, the upright man evo­ked in book III, chap­ter 5 is not the righ­teous man of Christianity, but the poli­ti­cally upright man, who pos­ses­ses the poli­ti­cal vir­tue of which I have spo­ken. It is the man who loves the laws of his coun­try, and who acts out of love for the laws of his coun­try. I have cast a new light on all these things in the pre­sent edi­tion by iden­ti­fying the notions more clearly ; and in most of the pla­ces where I had used the word vir­tue, I have put poli­ti­cal vir­tue.