Montesquieu
 

XVIII.19 On the freedom of the Arabs and the servitude of the Tartars

The Arabs and the Tartars are pas­to­ral peo­ples. The Arabs are in the broad cate­gory we have men­tio­ned, and are free, whe­reas the Tartars (the most sin­gu­lar peo­ple on earth) live in poli­ti­cal sla­very. I have already given some of the rea­sons for this lat­ter fact, and have some to add.

They have no cities, they have no forests, they have few mar­shes, their rivers are almost always iced over, they inha­bit an immense plain, and they have gra­zing lands and herds, and conse­quently pos­ses­sions ; but they have no kind of retreat or defense. The minute a khan is defea­ted, they cut off his head ; his chil­dren are given the same treat­ment, and all his sub­jects belong to the vic­tor.1 They are not condem­ned to civil sla­very : they would be a bur­den to a sim­ple nation which has no land to till and requi­res no domes­tic ser­vice. So they add to the nation ; but in lieu of civil sla­very, we can ima­gine that poli­ti­cal sla­very must have been intro­du­ced.

Indeed, in a coun­try where the various hor­des are conti­nually war­ring with and conque­ring each other, in a coun­try where by the chief’s death the poli­ti­cal body of each defea­ted horde is always des­troyed, the nation in gene­ral can hardly be free, for there is not a sin­gle part of it that must not have been sub­ju­ga­ted many times over.

The van­qui­shed peo­ples may pre­serve some free­dom when thanks to the strength of their situa­tion they are in a posi­tion to make trea­ties after their defeat. But the Tartars, ever defen­se­less, have never been able to make condi­tions once defea­ted.

I said in chap­ter ii that the inha­bi­tants of culti­va­ted plains were hardly free ; cir­cum­stan­ces would have it that the Tartars, inha­bi­ting a unculti­va­ted plain, are in the same situa­tion.

Thus we should not be surprised if Mir Vais, after making himself master of Ispahan, had all the princes of the blood killed.