Montesquieu
 

V.7 Other means of favoring the principle of democracy

An equal divi­sion of land can­not be achie­ved in all demo­cra­cies. There are cir­cum­stan­ces where such an arran­ge­ment would be imprac­ti­ca­ble, dan­ge­rous, and even might be coun­ter to the cons­ti­tu­tion. It is not always neces­sary to take extreme paths. If it is seen in a demo­cracy that such a divi­sion, which must main­tain the ethos, is not wor­king, then recourse must be had to other means.

If one esta­bli­shes a fixed body which is in itself the moral rule, a senate to which age, vir­tue, gra­vity and ser­vi­ces give admit­tance, sena­tors expo­sed to the sight of the peo­ple as ima­ges of the gods will ins­pire sen­ti­ments that will be car­ried into the bosom of all the fami­lies.

It is espe­cially impor­tant that this senate cleave to the old ins­ti­tu­tions, and act so the peo­ple and the magis­tra­tes never contra­vene them.

There is much to be gai­ned, in terms of ethos, by kee­ping ancient cus­toms. As cor­rupt peo­ples rarely do great things, and have never esta­bli­shed socie­ties, foun­ded cities, or crea­ted laws, and on the contrary those who had a sim­ple and aus­tere ethos have crea­ted most set­tle­ments, recal­ling men to the old maxims is ordi­na­rily to lead them back to vir­tue.

Besides, if there has been some revo­lu­tion, and the state has taken on a new form, that can hardly have been accom­pli­shed without infi­nite pains and labors, and rarely with idle­ness and cor­rupt ways. The very men who have brought about the revo­lu­tion wan­ted it to be accep­ted, and could hardly have suc­cee­ded in that without good laws. Ancient ins­ti­tu­tions are thus usually cor­rec­ti­ves, and new ones abu­ses. In the course of a long govern­ment, things get imper­cep­ti­bly worse, and the good can­not be reco­ve­red without effort.

They were unsure whe­ther the mem­bers of the senate we are dis­cus­sing should be for life, or cho­sen for a term. Doubtless they should be cho­sen for life, as was prac­ti­ced in Rome,1 in Lacedæmon,2 and in Athens itself. For one must not confuse what was cal­led the senate in Athens, which was a body that chan­ged every three months, with the Areopagus, the mem­bers of which were esta­bli­shed for life, as per­pe­tual models.

The gene­ral maxim is this : in a senate made to serve as the rule, and so to speak as the repo­si­tory of the ethos, sena­tors should be elec­ted for life. In a senate crea­ted for pre­pa­ring busi­ness, the sena­tors can change.

The mind, says Aristotle, ages like the body. This reflec­tion is valid only for a sin­gle magis­trate, and can­not be applied to an assem­bly of sena­tors.

Besides the Areopagus, there were guar­dians of the ethos in Athens, and guar­dians of the laws.3 In Lacedæmon all the elderly were cen­sors. In Rome, cen­sor­ship was held by two desi­gna­ted magis­tra­tes. As the senate over­sees the peo­ple, there must be cen­sors to keep their eye on the peo­ple and the senate. They must res­tore eve­ry­thing that has been cor­rup­ted in the repu­blic, record tepid­ness, judge negli­gence, and cor­rect mis­ta­kes, just as the laws punish cri­mes.

Roman law, which made the accu­sa­tion of adul­tery public, was admi­ra­ble at main­tai­ning the purity of mora­lity ; it inti­mi­da­ted the women, and also inti­mi­da­ted those who were to over­see them.

Nothing main­tains mora­lity bet­ter than an extreme subor­di­na­tion of youth with res­pect to the aged. Both will be contai­ned, the for­mer by the res­pect they will have for the aged, and the lat­ter by the res­pect they will have for them­sel­ves.

Nothing gives the laws more force than the extreme subor­di­na­tion of citi­zens to magis­tra­tes. “The great dif­fe­rence which Lycurgus made bet­ween Lacedæmon and the other cities,” says Xenophon, “consists above all in his making the citi­zens obey the laws : they come run­ning when the magis­trate calls them. But in Athens a rich man would be devas­ta­ted if he were thought to be subor­di­nate to the magis­trate.”4

Paternal autho­rity too is most use­ful in main­tai­ning mora­lity. We have already said that there is no force as inhi­bi­ting in a repu­blic as in other govern­ments. The laws must the­re­fore attempt to pro­vide rein­for­ce­ment, and this they do through pater­nal autho­rity.

In Rome, fathers had the power of life and death over their chil­dren.5 In Lacedæmon, every father had the right to cor­rect ano­ther man’s child.

Paternal autho­rity was lost in Rome with the repu­blic. In monar­chies, where such pure mora­lity is of no inte­rest, eve­ryone is expec­ted to live under the power of the magis­tra­tes.

The laws of Rome, which had accus­to­med the youth to subor­di­na­tion, ins­ti­tu­ted a leng­thy mino­rity. Perhaps we were wrong to adopt this prac­tice ; in a monar­chy such cons­traint is not neces­sary.

This same subor­di­na­tion in the repu­blic could require the father to remain throu­ghout his life mas­ter of his chil­dren’s pro­perty, as was deter­mi­ned in Rome. But that is not in the spi­rit of monar­chy.

Magistrates there were annual, and senators lifelong.

Lycurgus, said Xenophon (The Constitution of the Lacedæmonians), wanted “for senators to be elected among the aged, so they would not neglect themselves even at the end of life ; and by making them judges of the courage of the youth, he made their old age more honorable than the strength of the young.”

The Æorpagus itself was subject to censure.

The Constitution of the Lacedæmonians.

We can see in Roman history to what advantage for the republic this authority was used. I shall speak only of the time of greatest corruption. Aulus Fulvius had set out to find Catiline ; his father recalled him and had him put to death (Sallust, De bello catilinæ).