V.6 How the laws must maintain frugality in a democracy

It is not suf­fi­cient in a good demo­cracy for por­tions of land to be equal ; they must be small, as among the Romans. “God for­bid,” Curius would say to his sol­diers, “that a citi­zen should deem very small a piece of land suf­fi­cient to feed a man.”1

As equa­lity of for­tu­nes sus­tains fru­ga­lity, fru­ga­lity main­tains the equa­lity of for­tu­nes. These things, although dif­fe­rent, are such that they can­not sub­sist without each other ; each of them is cause and effect ; if one of them disap­pears from a demo­cracy, the other always fol­lows.

It is true that when demo­cracy is foun­ded on com­merce, it can very well hap­pen that indi­vi­duals pos­sess great wealth without their ways being cor­rup­ted. That is because the spi­rit of com­merce brings with it the spi­rit of fru­ga­lity, eco­nomy, mode­ra­tion, work, tem­pe­rance, tran­qui­lity, order and rule. Thus, while that spi­rit sur­vi­ves, the wealth it pro­du­ces has no adverse effect. The damage occurs when excess wealth des­troys that spi­rit of com­merce ; all of a sud­den disor­ders of ine­qua­lity arise which had not pre­viously been noti­cea­ble.

To main­tain the spi­rit of com­merce, it is essen­tial that the prin­ci­pal citi­zens them­sel­ves to prac­tice it ; that this spi­rit itself alone reign, and not be impe­ded by ano­ther ; that all the laws should favor it ; that those same laws, through their pro­vi­sions, divi­ding for­tu­nes as com­merce increa­ses them, make every poor citi­zen pros­pe­rous enough so he can work like the others, and each weal­thy citi­zen in a suf­fi­ciently modest situa­tion that he needs his work in order to pre­serve or acquire.

It is a very good law in a com­mer­cial repu­blic that gives all chil­dren an equal por­tion of the fathers’ estate. In that way, wha­te­ver for­tune the father has made, his chil­dren, always less rich than he, have rea­son to flee luxury and work as he did. I am spea­king only of com­mer­cial repu­blics ; for as for repu­blics which are not, the legis­la­tor has many other sta­tu­tes to make.2

In Greece there were two sorts of repu­blics. Some were mili­tary, like Lacedæmon ; others were com­mer­cial, like Athens. The first wan­ted citi­zens to be idle ; the others tried to give them a love for work. Solon made idle­ness a crime, and wan­ted every citi­zen to account for his means of ear­ning a living. Indeed, in a good demo­cracy, where one should spend only for what is neces­sary, each citi­zen must have it : for from whom could he receive it ?

They were asking for a larger portion of the conquered land (Plutarch, Moralia, lives of the ancient kings and captains).

Women’s dowries must be greatly limited there.