XIX.16 How some legislators have confounded the principles that govern men

Ethos and man­ners are prac­ti­ces which the laws have not ins­ti­tu­ted, or could not, or did not wish to.

One dif­fe­rence bet­ween the laws and the ethos is that the laws more deter­mine the acts of the citi­zen, and the ethos more deter­mi­nes the acts of the man. One dif­fe­rence bet­ween the ethos and man­ners is that the first has more to do with inner conduct, the lat­ter with exte­rior.

Sometimes, in a state, these things are confla­ted1. Lycurgus made a sin­gle code for laws, ethos, and man­ners, and the legis­la­tors of China did like­wise.

We must not be sur­pri­sed if the legis­la­tors of Lacedæmon and China confla­ted laws, ethos and man­ners : it is because the ethos repre­sents the laws, and man­ners repre­sent the ethos.

The prin­ci­pal object of China’s legis­la­tors was to make their peo­ple live tran­quilly ; they wan­ted men to res­pect each other dee­ply, for each to be aware at every moment that he owed much to others, and that there was no citi­zen who did not depend in some res­pect on ano­ther citi­zen. They the­re­fore gave the most ela­bo­ra­tion to the rules of civi­lity.

Thus, among the Chinese peo­ples, vil­la­gers2 obser­ved cere­mo­nies among them­sel­ves the way peo­ple of high rank did, a most appro­priate means for ins­pi­ring gent­le­ness, main­tai­ning peace and good order among the peo­ple, and sup­pres­sing all the vices that ema­nate from an unfor­gi­ving spi­rit. Is a break with the rules of civi­lity not indeed an attempt to accom­mo­date one’s flaws more easily ?

Civility is in this res­pect bet­ter than poli­te­ness. Politeness flat­ters other peo­ple’s vices, and civi­lity keeps us from mani­fes­ting our own ; it is a bar­rier that men put bet­ween them to avoid cor­rup­ting each other.

Lycurgus, whose ins­ti­tu­tions were unfor­gi­ving, did not have civi­lity as his pur­pose when he fashio­ned man­ners ; his eyes were set on the war­like spi­rit he wan­ted to impart to his peo­ple. Men fore­ver cor­rec­ting, or fore­ver cor­rec­ted, who were fore­ver ins­truc­ting and fore­ver ins­truc­ted, equally sim­ple and rigid, were exer­ci­sing vir­tues amongst them­sel­ves rather than sho­wing res­pect.

Moses made a single code for the laws and religion. The early Romans conflated the ancient customs with the laws.

See Father du Halde.