Montesquieu
 

XIX.5 How careful one must be not to change the general spirit of a nation

If there were a nation on earth that had a socia­ble humor, open­ness of heart, a joy in life, a taste, an ease in com­mu­ni­ca­ting its thoughts ; a lively nation, amia­ble, play­ful, some­ti­mes impru­dent, often indis­creet, and which besi­des had cou­rage, gene­ro­sity, can­dor, a cer­tain point of honor : it would be a mis­take to cons­train its man­ners with laws, lest one also cons­train its vir­tues. If in gene­ral the cha­rac­ter is good, what does it mat­ter if there are a few flaws ?

One could contain its women, enact laws to cor­rect their ways and limit their luxury : but who knows whe­ther a cer­tain taste would not be lost that might be the source of the nation’s wealth, and a refi­ne­ment that attracts forei­gners there ?

It is the legis­la­tor’s job to fol­low the spi­rit of the nation as long as it is not contrary to the prin­ci­ples of the govern­ment ; for we do nothing bet­ter than what we do freely and by fol­lo­wing our natu­ral genius.

Give a spi­rit of pedan­try to a natu­rally merry nation : the state will gain nothing, either at home or abroad. Let it do fri­vo­lous things seriously, and serious things cheer­fully.