Montesquieu

Some per­sons, struck by what is prac­ti­ced in some sta­tes, think there ought to be laws in France to incite the nobi­lity to engage in com­merce. That would be the means of des­troying the nobi­lity without any bene­fit to com­merce. The prac­tice of this coun­try is very wise : its dea­lers are not nobles, but may become nobles ; they can anti­ci­pate the acqui­si­tion of nobi­lity without having its pre­sent disad­van­tage ; they have no surer means of rising above their pro­fes­sion than to prac­tice it well or prac­tice it suc­cess­fully, a thing which is ordi­na­rily atten­ded by com­pe­tence.

Laws which require eve­ryone to remain in his pro­fes­sion and pass it on to his chil­dren are not and can­not be use­ful except in des­po­tic sta­tes,1 where no one can be or ought to have aspi­ra­tions.

Let it not be said that eve­ryone will exer­cise his pro­fes­sion bet­ter when he can­not leave it for ano­ther. I say that eve­ryone will exer­cise his pro­fes­sion bet­ter when those who have excel­led in it have hopes of acce­ding to ano­ther.

The acqui­si­tion one can make of nobi­lity at a price pro­vi­des much encou­ra­ge­ment to mer­chants to put them­sel­ves in a posi­tion to achieve it. I do not exa­mine whe­ther it is good thing for us thus to give to wealth the prize of vir­tue : in cer­tain govern­ments that can be very use­ful.

In France the robed estate, which is bet­ween the great nobi­lity and the com­mo­ners, which while lacking the splen­dor of the for­mer has all its pri­vi­le­ges ; that estate which lea­ves indi­vi­duals in modest cir­cum­stan­ces while the body, which is the repo­si­tory of the laws, is glo­ri­fied ; that estate in which again the only means of dis­tin­gui­shing one­self is through com­pe­tence and vir­tue ; an hono­ra­ble pro­fes­sion, but which always lets you see a more dis­tin­gui­shed one : that most war­like nobi­lity that thinks that wha­te­ver one’s degree of wealth, he must make his for­tune, but that it is demea­ning to increase his wealth unless he first dis­si­pa­tes it ; that part of the nation that always ser­ves with its own pro­perty as capi­tal ; which, when it is rui­ned, yields its place to ano­ther part which again will serve with its own capi­tal, which goes to war so no one will dare to say it has not been to war ; which, when it can­not hope for riches, hopes for honors, and when it fails to obtain them takes com­fort because it has acqui­red honor : all these things have neces­sa­rily contri­bu­ted to the great­ness of this king­dom. And if in the last two or three cen­tu­ries it has stea­dily increa­sed its might, that must be attri­bu­ted to the qua­lity of its laws, and not to for­tune, which does not know such sorts of cons­tancy.

Indeed it is often thus instituted there.