Montesquieu
 

XIX.27 How the laws can contribute to the formation of the ways, manners, and character of a nation.

The cus­toms of a slave peo­ple are part of its ser­vi­tude ; those of a free peo­ple are part of its free­dom.

I have spo­ken in Book XI1 of a free peo­ple ; I have lis­ted the prin­ci­ples of its cons­ti­tu­tion : let us see the effects which had to fol­low, the cha­rac­ter which was able to form the ethos and man­ners that resul­ted from it.

I am not saying that cli­mate has not pro­du­ced a large por­tion of the laws, the ethos, and the man­ners in this nation ; but I am saying that the ethos and the man­ners of this nation should have a strong rela­tion­ship to its laws.

As there would be two visi­ble powers in this state – the legis­la­tive and the exe­cu­tive autho­ri­ties – and as every citi­zen would have his own will and assert his inde­pen­dence as he wished, most peo­ple would have more affec­tion for one of these autho­ri­ties than the other, as the mul­ti­tude does not usually pos­sess enough equity or good sense to be equally atta­ched to both.

And as the exe­cu­tive autho­rity, dis­po­sing of all the posi­tions, could offer great expec­ta­tions and never fears, eve­ryone who obtai­ned some­thing from it would be moti­va­ted to turn in its direc­tion, and it could be atta­cked by all those who would expect nothing from it.

All the pas­sions being free, hatred, envy, jea­lousy, and avid­ness to get rich and dis­tin­guish one­self would appear full-blown ; and if it were other­wise, the state would be like a man laid low by ill­ness, who has no pas­sions because he has no strength.

Any hatred there might be bet­ween the two par­ties would endure, because it would always be impo­tent.

Those par­ties being made up of free men, if one of them became too domi­nant, the effect of liberty would be that it would be brought down, whe­reas the citi­zens, like hands minis­te­ring to the body, would come and raise the other one back up.

As each indi­vi­dual, ever inde­pen­dent, would lar­gely fol­low his own whims and fan­ta­sies, peo­ple would often change party : they would aban­don one, lea­ving behind all their friends, to join ano­ther where they would find all their ene­mies, and in this nation they could often lose sight of the laws of friend­ship and hatred.

The monarch would be in the situa­tion of indi­vi­duals, and against the ordi­nary maxims of pru­dence, he would often be obli­ged to give his confi­dence to those who had most offen­ded him, and dis­miss those who had best ser­ved him, doing out of neces­sity what other prin­ces do by choice.

We fear mis­sing out on a bene­fit that we sense, but have no know­ledge of, and which can be dis­gui­sed to us ; and fear always enlar­ges objects. The peo­ple would be uneasy about their situa­tion and believe them­sel­ves in dan­ger even in the secu­rest of moments.

All the more so that those who would most vigo­rously oppose the exe­cu­tive autho­rity, una­ble to confess the self-inte­res­ted moti­ves of their oppo­si­tion, would increase the ter­rors of the peo­ple, who would never quite know whe­ther they were in dan­ger or not. But even that would tend to make them avoid the real perils to which they could sub­se­quently be expo­sed.

But this legis­la­tive body, having the peo­ple’s confi­dence, and being more enligh­te­ned than they, could help them over­come the bad impres­sions they had been given and calm these ins­tincts.

That is the great advan­tage this govern­ment would have over the ancient demo­cra­cies, in which the peo­ple had an imme­diate power ; for when ora­tors stir­red them up, these stir­rings always had their effect.

Thus, if the ter­rors impres­sed on them had no cer­tain object, they would pro­duce nothing but vain cla­mors and affronts ; and they would even have the good effect of sum­mo­ning all the govern­ment’s resour­ces and making all citi­zens pay atten­tion. But if they arose because the fun­da­men­tal laws were being over­tur­ned, they would be sul­len, omi­nous, and exces­sive, and would pro­duce catas­tro­phes.

Soon would come an mena­cing calm during which eve­ryone would unite against the autho­rity that had vio­la­ted the laws.

If, in the case where the anxie­ties have no clear object, some foreign power threa­te­ned the state and threa­te­ned its for­tune or its glory, at that point, with petty inte­rests yiel­ding to the grea­test ones, eve­ryone would unite behind the exe­cu­tive autho­rity.

Now if dis­pu­tes took shape because of the vio­la­tion of fun­da­men­tal laws, and a foreign power appea­red, there would be a revo­lu­tion which would change nei­ther the form of the govern­ment nor its cons­ti­tu­tion : for the revo­lu­tions for­med by liberty are only a confir­ma­tion of liberty.

A free nation can have a libe­ra­tor ; a sub­ju­ga­ted nation can only have ano­ther oppres­sor.

For any man who has enough force to drive out him who is already the abso­lute mas­ter in a state has enough to become the mas­ter him­self.

Since in order to enjoy liberty eve­ryone must be able to say what he thinks, and since to pre­serve it also eve­ryone must be able to say what he thinks, a citi­zen, in this state, would say and write any­thing the laws have not expressly for­bid­den him to say or write.

This nation, cons­tantly in fer­ment, could more easily be led by its pas­sions than by rea­son, which never pro­du­ces great effects on the minds of men ; and it would be easy for those who govern it to make it under­take things coun­ter to its true inte­rests.

This nation would cling pro­di­giously to its liberty, because that liberty would be genuine ; and in order to defend it, it might be that she would sacri­fice her pos­ses­sions, her com­forts, and her inte­rests, and that she would assume heavy taxes such as a des­po­tic prince would not dare to make his sub­jects bear.

But since she would have cer­tain know­ledge of the neces­sity of sub­mit­ting to them, since she would pay in the well-foun­ded expec­ta­tion of cea­sing to pay, the char­ges would be hea­vier than the impres­sion they made, whe­reas there are sta­tes where the impres­sion is infi­ni­tely grea­ter than the evil.

This nation would have cer­tain cre­dit, because she would bor­row from her­self, and pay her­self. It could hap­pen that she would under­take beyond her natu­ral strength, and make a show of immense fic­tio­nal wealth against her ene­mies, which the confi­dence and nature of her govern­ment would make real.

To pre­serve her liberty she would bor­row from her sub­jects, and her sub­jects, who would see that her cre­dit would be lost if she were conque­red, would have a fur­ther motive for making efforts to defend her free­dom.

If this nation lived on an island, she would not be a conque­ror, because sepa­rate conquests would wea­ken her. If the soil of this island was good, she would be even less a conque­ror, because she would not need war to increase her wealth ; and as no citi­zen would be depen­dent upon ano­ther citi­zen, each would make more of his liberty than of the glory of a few citi­zens, or of a sin­gle one.

Men of war would be regar­ded there as mem­bers of a pro­fes­sion that can be use­ful and often dan­ge­rous, as men whose ser­vi­ces are costly for the nation itself, and civil qua­li­ties would be more consi­de­red.

This nation, made com­for­ta­ble by peace and liberty, freed from des­truc­tive pre­ju­di­ces, would be incli­ned to become a tra­ding nation. If she had one of the pri­mary mate­rials that are used to make things on which the wor­ker’s hand can confer great value, she could create esta­blish­ments by which she could obtain the ful­lest enjoy­ment of that gift from hea­ven.

If this nation were in a nor­therly loca­tion, and had a large num­ber of sur­plus com­mo­di­ties, inas­much as she would also be short on a large num­ber of items which her cli­mate would not fur­nish, she would carry on a neces­sary, but great, trade with the peo­ples of the south ; and choo­sing the sta­tes she would favor with advan­ta­geous trade, she would make mutually bene­fi­cial trea­ties with the nation she had cho­sen.

In a state where, on the one hand, opu­lence was extreme, and on the other hand taxes exces­sive, one could scar­cely live without indus­try with a limi­ted for­tune. Many peo­ple under pre­text of tra­vel or health would leave their homes and go seek abun­dance even in lands of ser­vi­tude.

A tra­ding nation has a pro­di­gious num­ber of small pri­vate inte­rests, and can the­re­fore offend and be offen­ded in an infi­nite num­ber of ways. She would become supre­mely jea­lous, and would be more dis­tres­sed by the pros­pe­rity of others than she would enjoy her own.

And her laws, other­wise res­trai­ned and sim­ple, could be so rigid with res­pect to the tra­ding and ship­ping done in her ter­ri­tory that she would seem to be dea­ling solely with her ene­mies.

If this nation sent colo­nies afar, it would be to extend her trade more than her domi­na­tion.

As peo­ple like to esta­blish elsew­here what they find esta­bli­shed at home, she would endow the peo­ples of her colo­nies with the form of her own govern­ment ; and this govern­ment brin­ging pros­pe­rity with it, we would see great peo­ples for­ming in the very forests she was sen­ding them to inha­bit.

It could be that she once had sub­ju­ga­ted a neigh­bo­ring nation which by her situa­tion, the qua­lity of her ports, and the nature of her wealth would arouse her jea­lousy ; thus, although she would have given that nation her own laws, she would hold it very much in depen­dency, in such a way that the citi­zens would be free, and the state itself a slave.

The conque­red state would have a very good civil govern­ment, but it would be oppres­sed by the law of nations, and such laws from one nation to ano­ther would be impo­sed on it that its pros­pe­rity would be but pre­ca­rious and only in hol­ding for a mas­ter.

The domi­nant nation inha­bi­ting a large island, and being in pos­ses­sion of great trade, would have all sorts of means of acqui­ring sea for­ces ; and as the pre­ser­va­tion of her liberty would require that she have nei­ther stron­gholds, nor for­ti­fi­ca­tions, nor land armies, she would need a navy that could pro­tect her from inva­sions, and her marine would be super­ior to that of all the other powers which, having to use their finan­ces for war on land, would not have enough remai­ning for war at sea.

Mastery of the seas has always given natu­ral pride to the peo­ples who have pos­ses­sed it, because, fee­ling able to harm anyone, they believe their power has no limits but the ocean.

This nation could have great influence in its neigh­bors’ affairs. For as she would not use her power to conquer, her friend­ship would be more sought after, and her hos­ti­lity more fea­red, than the incons­tancy of her govern­ment and her inner agi­ta­tion would appear to per­mit.

Thus it would be the des­tiny of the exe­cu­tive autho­rity to be almost fore­ver unset­tled within, and res­pec­ted without.

Should this nation become at cer­tain times the cen­ter of European nego­tia­tions, she would bring to them a lit­tle more pro­bity and good faith than the others, because, the minis­ters being often obli­ged to jus­tify their conduct before a popu­lar coun­cil, their nego­tia­tions could not be secret, and they would be for­ced to be in this regard a lit­tle more straight­for­ward.

Moreover, as they would, in a cer­tain way, have to vouch for events to which devious conduct might give rise, the surest thing for them would be to take the straigh­test path.

If the nobles had at cer­tain times held immo­de­rate power in the nation, and the monarch had found the means of hum­bling them by rai­sing up the peo­ple, the point of extreme ser­vi­tude would have been bet­ween the moment when the great were hum­bled and the moment when the peo­ple began to feel their power.

It could be that this nation, having once been sub­ju­ga­ted to an arbi­trary power, had on seve­ral occa­sions pre­ser­ved its style, in such a way that on the base of a free govern­ment one would often find the form of an abso­lute govern­ment.

With res­pect to reli­gion, since in this state each citi­zen would have his own will, and conse­quently be gui­ded by his own unders­tan­ding, or his fan­cies, it would hap­pen either that eve­ryone would be quite indif­fe­rent to all sorts of reli­gions of wha­te­ver kind, in which case eve­ryone would be led to embrace the domi­nant reli­gion, or they would be zea­lous for reli­gion in gene­ral, in which case sects would mul­ti­ply.

It would not be impos­si­ble for there to be peo­ple in this nation who had no reli­gion, and yet would not wish to allow anyone to force them to change the one they would have if they had one : for they would imme­dia­tely sense that life and pos­ses­sions are no more their own than their way of thin­king, and that he who can deprive them of one can even more surely deprive them of the other.

If among the dif­fe­rent reli­gions there were one which they would have been temp­ted to esta­blish by the path of sla­very, it would be repul­sive to them, because as we judge things by the infe­ren­ces and acces­so­ries we bring to them, it could never come to mind along­side the notion of liberty.

The laws against those who might pro­fess this reli­gion would not be san­gui­nary, for liberty does not ima­gine such sorts of punish­ments ; but they would be so repres­sive that they would inflict all the pain that can be inflic­ted dis­pas­sio­na­tely.

It could in a thou­sand ways occur that the clergy would have so lit­tle influence that the other citi­zens would have more. Thus, ins­tead of sepa­ra­ting them­sel­ves, they would pre­fer to bear the same bur­dens as the laity, and form in this regard a sin­gle body ; but as they would always be see­king to attract the peo­ple’s res­pect, they would dis­tin­guish them­sel­ves by a more with­drawn life, more reser­ved conduct, and purer morals.

This clergy being una­ble to pro­tect reli­gion or to be pro­tec­ted by it, lacking the strength to force, would seek to per­suade ; and there would flow from their pens some excel­lent wri­tings to prove reve­la­tion and the pro­vi­dence of the great being.

It could hap­pen that peo­ple would elude their assem­blies, and not want to allow them to cor­rect even their own abu­ses, and that in a frenzy of liberty peo­ple would pre­fer to leave their reform incom­plete than to allow them to be refor­mers.

The digni­ties that are inte­gral to the fun­da­men­tal cons­ti­tu­tion would be more fixed than elsew­here ; but on the other hand the great in this land of liberty would draw clo­ser to the peo­ple ; the ranks would thus be more dis­tinct, and the per­sons more inter­mixed.

As those who govern have an autho­rity that rewinds itself, so to speak, and recons­ti­tu­tes itself every day, they would have more consi­de­ra­tion for peo­ple who are use­ful to them than for those who enter­tain them ; thus we would see few cour­tiers, flat­te­rers, syco­phants, in short fewer of all those sorts of peo­ple who make the great pay even for the emp­ti­ness of their minds.

No one would esteem men there for fri­vo­lous talents or attri­bu­tes, but for real qua­li­ties : and of those there are only two, wealth and per­so­nal merit.

There would be solid luxury, based not on the refi­ne­ment of vanity, but on that of real needs ; and no one would seek in things other plea­su­res that the ones nature has put there.

There would be great super­fluity to enjoy, and yet fri­vo­lous things would be for­bid­den : thus many who have more means than oppor­tu­ni­ties for spen­ding would use it in a strange man­ner, and in this nation there would be more wit than taste.

As peo­ple would always be occu­pied by their own inte­rests, they would lack the kind of civi­lity that is based on idle­ness, and they really would not have time for it.

The era of Roman civi­lity is the same as the era when arbi­trary power was esta­bli­shed. Absolute govern­ment pro­du­ces idle­ness, and idle­ness gives rise to civi­lity.

The more peo­ple there are in a nation who need to have defe­rence among them­sel­ves and not dis­please, the more civi­lity there is. But it is more the civi­lity of ethos than of man­ners that should dis­tin­guish us from bar­ba­rian peo­ples.

In a nation where every man in his own way would take part in the admi­nis­tra­tion of the state, the women ought to keep lit­tle com­pany with the men. They would the­re­fore be modest, which is to say timid ; that timi­dity would be their vir­tue, whe­reas the men wan­ting gal­lan­try would plunge them­sel­ves into a debau­chery that would leave them all their free­dom and lei­sure.

The laws having not been made for any indi­vi­dual more than ano­ther, eve­ryone would see him­self as a monarch, and the men in this nation would be more confe­de­ra­tes than com­pa­triots.

If the cli­mate had given to many peo­ple a rest­less mind and exten­ded views, in a coun­try where the cons­ti­tu­tion gave eve­ryone a share in the govern­ment and poli­ti­cal inte­rests, there would be much talk of poli­tics ; peo­ple would spend their lives cal­cu­la­ting events which, given the nature of things and the caprice of for­tune, which is to say of men, are hardly sub­ject to cal­cu­la­tion.

In a free nation it is very often indif­fe­rent whe­ther indi­vi­duals rea­son well or ill ; it suf­fi­ces that they rea­son : thence comes the free­dom that pro­tects from the effects of that very rea­so­ning.

Similarly, in a des­po­tic govern­ment it is equally per­ni­cious to rea­son well or ill ; it suf­fi­ces that they rea­son to contest the prin­ci­ple of the govern­ment.

Many peo­ple who would be unconcer­ned about plea­sing anyone would aban­don them­sel­ves to their humor ; most of them with some wit would be tor­men­ted by their very wit ; in their scorn or disaf­fec­tion for all things, they would be unhappy with so many rea­sons not to be unhappy.

With no citi­zen fea­ring any other citi­zen, this nation would be proud, for the pride of kings is based only on their inde­pen­dence.

Free nations are haughty ; the others can more easily be vain.

But these proud men, spen­ding much time with them­sel­ves, would often find them­sel­ves sur­roun­ded by per­sons unk­nown ; they would be timid, and most of the time they would mani­fest a strange mix­ture of pride and unjus­ti­fied shame.

The cha­rac­ter of the nation would appear above all in their crea­tive works, in which we would see contem­pla­tive men who had thought all by them­sel­ves.

Society tea­ches us to sense the ridi­cu­lous ; retreat makes us more sen­si­tive to vices. Their sati­ri­cal wri­tings would be fierce, and we would see many Juvenals among them before we found a Horace.

In extre­mely abso­lute monar­chies, his­to­rians are trai­tors to the truth, because they are not free to state it ; in extre­mely free sta­tes, they are trai­tors to the truth because of their very free­dom, which fore­ver pro­du­cing divi­sions, eve­ryone would become as as much the slave of the pre­ju­di­ces of his fac­tion as he would be of a des­pot.

Their poets would more often pos­sess that ori­gi­nal coar­se­ness of inven­tion than a cer­tain deli­cacy which taste imparts ; we would see in it some­thing more simi­lar to the force of Michelangelo than to the grace of Raphæl.

Ch. vi.