Montesquieu

Usbek to the same


The leniency of a govern­ment contri­bu­tes mar­ve­lously to the pro­pa­ga­tion of the spe­cies. All repu­blics are cons­tant proof of this, and more than all Switzerland and Holland, which are the two worst coun­tries in Europe consi­de­ring the nature of the ter­rain, and which never­the­less are the most popu­lous.

Nothing so attracts forei­gners as free­dom, and opu­lence, which always fol­lows it : the first is sought after for itself, and needs attract peo­ple to coun­tries where they find the lat­ter.

The spe­cies mul­ti­plies in a coun­try where plenty fur­ni­shes enough for chil­dren while taking nothing from the sub­sis­tence of the fathers.

Even the equa­lity of citi­zens which ordi­na­rily pro­du­ces equa­lity among for­tu­nes, brings abun­dance and life to every part of the body poli­tic, and sha­res it all around.

Such is not the case of coun­tries sub­jec­ted to arbi­trary power : the prince, the cour­tiers, and some indi­vi­duals pos­sess all the wealth, while all the others groan in extreme poverty.

If a man is hard put, and feels his chil­dren will be poo­rer than he, he will not marry ; or if he mar­ries, he will fear having too many chil­dren, who could put him in even more dire straits, and end up in a sta­tion lower than their father.

I admit that the rus­tic or pea­sant once being mar­ried will pro­pa­gate indif­fe­rently, whe­ther he is rich or poor ; this consi­de­ra­tion does not affect him. He always has a sure heri­tage to leave to his chil­dren, which is his spade, and nothing ever pre­vents him from blindly fol­lo­wing nature’s ins­tinct.

But what use to a state is all these chil­dren who lan­guish in misery ? They almost all perish as qui­ckly as they are born. They never pros­per : frail and sickly, they die retail in a thou­sand ways, while they are car­ried off who­le­sale by the fre­quent conta­gious ill­nes­ses which poverty and mal­nu­tri­tion always pro­duce. Those who sur­vive them reach man­hood without pos­ses­sing its strength, and lan­guish the whole rest of their lives.

Men are like plants that never grow well if they are not well culti­va­ted : among wret­ched peo­ples the spe­cies loses, and even some­ti­mes dege­ne­ra­tes.

France can fur­nish a good exam­ple of all this. In past wars, the fear sha­red by all the chil­dren of a hou­se­hold that they will be enlis­ted in the mili­tia obli­ged them to marry,1 even at too ten­der an age and in the bosom of misery. From so many mar­ria­ges issued many chil­dren who are still being sought in France, and whom misery, famine, and disease have made to disap­pear.

Now if under such happy skies, in a realm as civi­li­zed as France, such obser­va­tions are made, what will it be like in other sta­tes ?

Paris this 23rd day of the moon of Rhamazan 1718

The militia, constituted in 1688, was supposed to recruit only unmarried men between the ages of twenty and forty.