Montesquieu

Instead of dedu­cing such fatal conse­quen­ces from the right of conquest, poli­ti­cal thin­kers would have done bet­ter to evoke the advan­ta­ges which that right can some­ti­mes confer on the defea­ted peo­ple. They would have been more sen­si­tive to them if our law of nations were exactly fol­lo­wed, and if it were esta­bli­shed throu­ghout the world.

States which are conque­red are not ordi­na­rily at the strength of their incep­tion. Corruption has come in ; the laws have cea­sed to be exe­cu­ted ; the govern­ment has become oppres­sive. Who can doubt that such a state would gain, and derive some advan­ta­ges even from conquest, if it was not des­truc­tive ? What would a govern­ment that had rea­ched the point where it can no lon­ger reform itself have to lose by being ove­rhau­led ? A conque­ror who enters among a peo­ple where by a thou­sand ruses and arti­fi­ces the rich man has pro­gres­si­vely prac­ti­ced infi­nite means of usur­pa­tion ; where the suf­fe­ring wretch, seeing what he thought of as abu­ses beco­ming laws, is oppres­sed and thinks it is wrong of him to feel it ; a conque­ror, I say, can throw eve­ry­thing off, and the muted tyranny is the first thing to suf­fer vio­lence.

We have, for exam­ple, seen sta­tes oppres­sed by tax far­mers relie­ved by a conque­ror who had nei­ther the com­mit­ments nor the needs of the legi­ti­mate prince. The abu­ses were cor­rec­ted even without the conque­ror cor­rec­ting them.

Sometimes the fru­ga­lity of the conque­ring nation has given it the capa­city of lea­ving to the van­qui­shed the neces­si­ties which they had been denied under the legi­ti­mate prince.

A conquest can des­troy harm­ful pre­ju­di­ces, and place a nation, if I may put it this way, under a bet­ter genie.

What good could the Spaniards not have done the Mexicans ? They had a mild reli­gion to offer them : they brought them pro­di­gious super­sti­tion. They could have freed the sla­ves, and they made sla­ves of free men. They could have unde­cei­ved them on the abuse of human sacri­fi­ces ; ins­tead of that, they exter­mi­na­ted them. I will have never done if I try to relate all the bene­fits they did not bring, and all the harm they did.

It is up to a conque­ror to repair a part of the harm he has done. This is how I define the right of conquest : a neces­sary right, legi­ti­mate and unfor­tu­nate, which always lea­ves an enor­mous debt to be paid to acquit one­self toward huma­nity.