Montesquieu
 

XI.13 General reflections on the state of Rome after the expulsion of the kings

One is never done with the Romans, as still today in their capi­tal one lea­ves the new pala­ces aside to go look for ruins, or as the eye which has res­ted on the bright flo­wers of the prai­ries likes to look at boul­ders and moun­tains.

Patrician fami­lies had always had great pre­ro­ga­ti­ves. These dis­tinc­tions, great under the kings, became much more signi­fi­cant after their expul­sion. That pro­vo­ked the jea­lousy of the ple­beians, who wan­ted to hum­ble them. The contes­ta­tions struck at the cons­ti­tu­tion without wea­ke­ning the govern­ment : for pro­vi­ded the magis­tra­cies main­tai­ned their autho­rity, it was fairly indif­fe­rent which family the magis­tra­tes belon­ged to.

An elec­tive monar­chy, as Rome was, neces­sa­rily sup­po­ses a power­ful aris­to­cra­tic body to sup­port it ; other­wise it turns qui­ckly into a tyranny or a popu­lar state. But a popu­lar state does not need this dis­tinc­tion of fami­lies to main­tain itself. That is why the patri­cians, who were neces­sary parts of the cons­ti­tu­tion in the time of the kings, became a super­fluous part of it in the time of the consuls ; the peo­ple could hum­ble them without des­troying them­sel­ves, and change the cons­ti­tu­tion without cor­rup­ting it.

When Servius Tullius had degra­ded the patri­cians, Rome had to fall from the hands of the kings into those of the peo­ple. But the peo­ple by hum­bling the patri­cians did not have to fear fal­ling back into the hands of kings.

A state can change in two ways : either because the cons­ti­tu­tion is impro­ved, or because it beco­mes cor­rupt. If the state has pre­ser­ved its prin­ci­ples, and the cons­ti­tu­tion chan­ges, that means it is impro­ving itself ; if it has lost its prin­ci­ples at a time when the cons­ti­tu­tion chan­ges, that means the cons­ti­tu­tion is beco­ming cor­rupt.

After the expul­sion of the kings, Rome should have been a demo­cracy. The peo­ple already had the legis­la­tive autho­rity : it was their una­ni­mous vote that had dri­ven out the kings ; and if they did not per­sist in that inten­tion, the Tarquins could at any moment return. To pre­tend that they would have wan­ted to get rid of them only to become the sla­ves of a few fami­lies was not rea­so­na­ble. The situa­tion of things the­re­fore requi­red that Rome be a demo­cracy, and yet she was not. The power of the prin­ci­pal citi­zens would have had to be tem­pe­red, and the laws to have ten­ded toward demo­cracy.

States often flou­rish more during the gra­dual pas­sage from one cons­ti­tu­tion to ano­ther than they did under either of the cons­ti­tu­tions. That is when all the resour­ces of the govern­ment are in play, when all the citi­zens have pre­ten­sions, when they attack or caress each other, and when there is noble emu­la­tion bet­ween those who defend the decli­ning cons­ti­tu­tion and the pro­po­nents of the one that pre­vails.