Montesquieu

When a state finds itself depo­pu­la­ted because of par­ti­cu­lar acci­dents, wars, pla­gues, and fami­nes, there are resour­ces. The men who remain can pre­serve the spi­rit of work and indus­try ; they can seek to repair their mis­for­tu­nes and become more indus­trious through the cala­mity itself. The almost incu­ra­ble damage is when the depo­pu­la­tion has been long deve­lop­ping through an inner vice and bad govern­ment. Men have peri­shed from an imper­cep­ti­ble, ende­mic disease : born into lan­guor and misery, into vio­lence or the govern­ment’s pre­ju­di­ces, they have seen them­sel­ves des­troyed, often without per­cei­ving the cau­ses of their des­truc­tion. Countries deso­la­ted by des­po­tism, or by the exces­sive advan­ta­ges of the clergy over the laity, are two pro­mi­nent exam­ples of this.

To res­tore a state so depo­pu­la­ted, one would wait in vain for help from the chil­dren who might be born. There is no more time ; men in their wil­der­ness are without cou­rage or ini­tia­tive. With lands to feed a popu­la­tion, there is scarce enough food for a family. The popu­lace in these coun­tries have not even a share in their misery, in other words, in the fal­low lands that fill them. The clergy, the prince, the cities, the gran­dees, and some of the prin­ci­pal citi­zens have gra­dually become the owners of the entire region ; it is unculti­va­ted, but the des­troyed fami­lies have left them the pas­ture lands, and the wor­ker has nothing.

In this situa­tion, we would have to do through the whole length of the empire what the Romans did in part of theirs, to prac­tice, in the dearth of inha­bi­tants, what they obser­ved in their abun­dance : to dis­tri­bute lands to all the fami­lies that have nothing, and pro­cure for them the means of clea­ring and culti­va­ting them. This dis­tri­bu­tion should be done whe­ne­ver there is a man to receive it, so there would be not a moment lost for work.