Montesquieu

From the right of war deri­ves the right of conquest, which is its conse­quence ; it ought then to fol­low its spi­rit.

When a peo­ple is conque­red, the conque­ror’s right over it fol­lows four kinds of laws : the law of nature, which makes eve­ry­thing tend to the pre­ser­va­tion of spe­cies ; the law of natu­ral rea­son, which would have us do unto others as we would have them do unto us ; the law that forms poli­ti­cal socie­ties, which are such that nature has not limi­ted their dura­tion ; and finally the law deri­ved from the thing itself. Conquest is an acqui­si­tion ; the spi­rit of acqui­si­tion brings with it the spi­rit of pre­ser­va­tion and use, and not that of des­truc­tion.

A state which has conque­red ano­ther treats it in one of the fol­lo­wing four ways : it conti­nues to govern it accor­ding to its own laws, and assu­mes for itself only the exer­cise of the poli­ti­cal and civil govern­ment ; or it gives it a new poli­ti­cal and civil govern­ment ; or it des­troys the society and dis­per­ses it among others ; or finally it exter­mi­na­tes all the citi­zens.

The first man­ner is in kee­ping with the law of nations which we fol­low today ; the fourth is more in kee­ping with the Romans’ law of nations, on which point I leave you to judge how much bet­ter we have become. We must here ren­der homage to our modern times, to pre­sent rea­son, to today’s reli­gion, to our phi­lo­so­phy, to our ethos.

The authors of our public law, based on old his­to­ries, having gone beyond rigid cases, have fal­len into great errors. They have ven­tu­red into arbi­tra­ri­ness ; they have assu­med that conque­rors have I know not what right to kill, which has led them to deduce conse­quen­ces as dread­ful as the prin­ci­ple, and esta­blish maxims which conque­rors them­sel­ves, when they have had the least good sense, have never adop­ted. It is clear that once the conquest is accom­pli­shed, the conque­ror no lon­ger has the right to kill, since he is no lon­ger in the situa­tion of natu­ral defense and his own pre­ser­va­tion.

What made them think this way is that they belie­ved the conque­ror had the right to des­troy the society, whence they conclu­ded that he had the right to des­troy the men who make it up, which is a conse­quence fal­sely dedu­ced from a false prin­ci­ple. For it would not fol­low from the anni­hi­la­tion of the society that the men who com­pose it should also be anni­hi­la­ted. Society is the union of men, and not the men ; the citi­zen can perish and the man remain.

From the right to kill in conquest poli­ti­cians have dedu­ced the right to reduce to ser­vi­tude : but the conse­quence is as ill-foun­ded as the prin­ci­ple.

There is no right to reduce anyone to ser­vi­tude except when it is neces­sary for the pre­ser­va­tion of the conquest. The object of conquest is pre­ser­va­tion ; ser­vi­tude is never the object of the conquest ; but it can come about that it is a neces­sary means for achie­ving pre­ser­va­tion.

In that case, it is contrary to the nature of the thing for that ser­vi­tude to be per­ma­nent. The ensla­ved peo­ple must be able to become sub­jects. Slavery in conquest is an acci­den­tal phe­no­me­non. When, after a cer­tain time, all the parts of the conque­ring state have bound them­sel­ves to those of the conque­red state – through cus­toms, mar­ria­ges, laws, asso­cia­tions and a cer­tain confor­mity of mind – the ser­vi­tude must end. For the conque­ror’s rights are foun­ded only on the absence of these things, and the aver­sion of the two nations, which keeps each from pla­cing any trust in the other.

Thus, the conque­ror who redu­ces a peo­ple to ser­vi­tude must always reserve the means (and those means are mul­ti­ple) of ending it.

These are not vague things I am saying. Our fore­fa­thers who conque­red the Roman empire did just that. The laws they made in the heat, the action, the impe­tuo­sity, and the arro­gance of vic­tory were later atte­nua­ted ; their laws were harsh, and they made them impar­tial. The Burgundians, the Goths, and the Lombards wan­ted the Romans to be fore­ver the defea­ted peo­ple ; the laws of Euric, of Gundobad, and of Rotharis made com­pa­triots of the bar­ba­rian and the Roman.1

See the code of barbarian laws and Book XXVIII below.