Montesquieu

Particular rea­sons call for sump­tuary laws in some sta­tes. Population by the force of cli­mate can become too great, and at the same time the means of sus­tai­ning it can be so uncer­tain that it is well to put eve­ryone to work culti­va­ting the land. In such sta­tes, luxury is dan­ge­rous, and sump­tuary laws must be rigo­rous. Thus, to ascer­tain whe­ther luxury should be encou­ra­ged or for­bid­den, we must first look at the rela­tion­ship that exists bet­ween the num­ber of peo­ple and the means of pro­vi­ding them a living. In England, the soil pro­du­ces more grain than is nee­ded to feed those who work the land and those who pro­vide clo­thing. So there can be fri­vo­lous arts, and the­re­fore luxury. In France, enough grains are grown to feed the field hands and those who are employed in manu­fac­tu­ring. In addi­tion, foreign trade can, in exchange for fri­vo­lous things, yield back so many neces­sary things that luxury is hardly to be fea­red.

In China, on the contrary, the women are so fer­tile, and the human race mul­ti­plies to such a point, that the lands, howe­ver culti­va­ted they be, barely suf­fice to feed the inha­bi­tants. Luxury is the­re­fore per­ni­cious there, and the spi­rit of labor and eco­nomy is as man­da­tory as in any repu­blic there may be.1 They must apply them­sel­ves to neces­sary arts, and flee the sen­suous ones.

That is the spi­rit of the noble decrees of the Chinese empe­rors. “Our ances­tors,” said an empe­ror of the Tang family, “held as their maxim that if there was a man who was not tilling or a woman who was not occu­pied, someone in the empire was suf­fe­ring from the cold or from hun­ger… ”2 And on that prin­ci­ple he had an infi­nite num­ber of monas­te­ries of bon­zes des­troyed.

The third empe­ror of the twenty-first dynasty,3 to whom pre­cious sto­nes found in a mine were brought, had the mine clo­sed, not wan­ting to tire his peo­ple wor­king for some­thing that could nei­ther feed nor clo­the them.

“Our luxury is so great,” said Kiayventi, “that peo­ple deco­rate with embroi­dery the shoes of the young boys and girls they are obli­ged to sell.”4 With so many men busy making clo­thing for just one, how could there not be many who lack clo­thing ? There are ten men who consume the reve­nue of the lands against one farm wor­ker : how could there not be many peo­ple wan­ting for food ?

Luxury has always been checked there.

In a decree related by Father du Halde, vol. II, p. 497.

History of China, twenty-first dynasty, in Father du Halde’s work, vol. I.

In a speech related by Father du Halde, vol. II, p. 418.