Montesquieu
 

XIX.14 What are the natural means of changing a nation’s ethos and manners

We have said that laws were par­ti­cu­lar and pre­cise ins­ti­tu­tions of the legis­la­tor, and the ethos and the man­ners ins­ti­tu­tions of the nation as a whole. Whence it fol­lows that when you want to change the ethos and the man­ners, you should not do it by laws, which would appear too tyran­ni­cal ; it is bet­ter to change them with ano­ther ethos and other man­ners.

Thus, when a prince wishes to make great chan­ges in his nation, he needs to reform by the laws what is esta­bli­shed by the laws, and change by man­ners what is esta­bli­shed by man­ners ; and it is a very bad policy to change by laws what should be chan­ged by man­ners.

The law which obli­ged the Muscovites to have their beards and clo­thing shor­te­ned, and the vio­lence of Peter I, who had the long robes of peo­ple ente­ring the cities cut off at the knee, were tyran­ni­cal. There are means for pre­ven­ting cri­mes, which are penal­ties ; there are means for chan­ging man­ners, which are exam­ples.

The ease and rapi­dity with which this nation has impo­sed order on itself has shown clearly that that prince had too low an opi­nion of it, and that these peo­ples were not ani­mals, as he used to say. The vio­lent means he brought to bear were unne­ces­sary ; he would have achie­ved his goal just as well by gent­ler means.

He him­self expe­rien­ced the ease of such chan­ges. The women, confi­ned, were sla­ves of a sort ; he cal­led them to the court, had them dres­sed in the German man­ner, and sent them fabrics. The sex imme­dia­tely took a liking to a way of life that so flat­te­red their taste, their vanity, and their pas­sions, and they made the men appre­ciate it too.

What made this change easier was that the ethos of the time was foreign to the cli­mate, and had been brought there by the blen­ding of nations and by conquests. Pierre I, in giving the ways and man­ners of Europe to a European nation, encoun­te­red an open­ness he did not him­self expect. The influence of the cli­mate is the first influence of all.

Therefore he had no need of laws to change the ethos and the man­ners of his nation ; all he nee­ded to do was to ins­pire ano­ther ethos and other man­ners.

In gene­ral, peo­ple are very atta­ched to their cus­toms ; to sup­press them bru­tally is to make them unhappy : the­re­fore you should not change them, but get them to make the chan­ges them­sel­ves.

All effort that does not derive from neces­sity is tyran­ni­cal. The law is not a pure act of autho­rity : things that are inhe­rently indif­fe­rent are not its busi­ness.