Montesquieu

Usbek to the same


The ordi­nary effect of colo­nies is to wea­ken the coun­tries whence they are drawn, without popu­la­ting those where they are sent.

Men should remain where they are. There are disea­ses that come from tra­ding good air for bad, others that come pre­ci­sely from chan­ging.1

When a coun­try is unin­ha­bi­ted, that sug­gests some par­ti­cu­lar vice in the nature of the cli­mate ; thus, when men are taken from happy skies to send them to such a coun­try, the out­come we do pre­ci­sely the oppo­site of what we inten­ded.

This the Romans knew from expe­rience : they rele­ga­ted all the cri­mi­nals to Sardinia, and had Jews taken there ; they had to console them­sel­ves for their loss, which the contemp in which those wret­ches were held made very easy.

The great Shah Abas, inten­ding to deprive the Turks of means of main­tai­ning large armies on the bor­ders, trans­por­ted almost all the Armenians out­side of their coun­try, and sent more than twenty thou­sand fami­lies into the pro­vince of Gilan, almost all of whom peri­shed in very lit­tle time.

All the relo­ca­tions of peo­ples done in Constantinople have never suc­cee­ded.

That pro­di­gious num­ber of Negroes of which we have spo­ken has fai­led to fill America.2

Since the des­truc­tion of the Jews under Hadrian, Palestine has no inha­bi­tants.3

It must the­re­fore be admit­ted that great des­truc­tions are nearly irre­pa­ra­ble, because a peo­ple that fal­ters to a cer­tain degree remains in the same state, and if by chance it beco­mes re-esta­bli­shed, it takes cen­tu­ries to do so.

If in a state of decline, the least of the cir­cum­stan­ces which we have men­tio­ned should contri­bute, not only it is not res­to­red, but it decli­nes day by day, and tends towards its disap­pea­rance.

The expul­sion of the Moors from Spain is still felt as much as the first day ; far from this void being filled, it beco­mes grea­ter every day.

Since the devas­ta­tion of America, the Spanish who have taken the place of its for­mer inha­bi­tants have been una­ble to repo­pu­late it ; on the contrary, by a fate which I would bet­ter call an act of divine jus­tice, the des­troyers are des­troying them­sel­ves and was­ting away every day.

Princes the­re­fore should not plan to popu­late large coun­tries with colo­nies. I am not saying they will not some­ti­mes suc­ceed ; there are cli­mes so favo­ra­ble that the spe­cies always mul­ti­plies in it, wit­ness those islands which have been popu­la­ted by the sick aban­do­ned there by various ves­sels,4 and at once reco­ve­red their health.5

But were these colo­nies to suc­ceed, ins­tead of increa­sing their power, they would merely share it, unless they not very large, like those we send to occupy some base for trade.

The Carthaginians like the Spanish had dis­co­ve­red America, or at least some large islands where they car­ried on a huge trade ; but when they saw the num­ber of their inha­bi­tants dimi­nish, that wise repu­blic for­bade its sub­jects that trade and that route.6

I dare to say that ins­tead of having Spaniards go to the Indies, all the Indians and the mulat­toes should be sent back to Spain ; all of that monar­chy’s dis­per­sed peo­ples should be res­to­red ; and if even the half of these great colo­nies sur­vi­ved, Spain would become the most for­mi­da­ble power in Europe.

Empires can be com­pa­red to a tree with bran­ches so exten­ded that they draw all the sap from the trunk, and serve only to pro­vide shade.

Nothing should bet­ter cor­rect prin­ces from the rage of dis­tant conquests than the exam­ple of the Portuguese and the Spanish.

Those two nations had conque­red immense realms with inconcei­va­ble rapi­dity, more sur­pri­sed at their vic­to­ries than the conque­red peo­ples at their defeat, sought means of pre­ser­ving them ; each went about it in a dif­fe­rent way.

The Spanish, des­pai­ring of retai­ning the loyalty of conque­red nations, elec­ted to exter­mi­nate them, and to send loyal peo­ple there from Spain ; never was a hor­ri­ble design more exactly exe­cu­ted. A peo­ple which was as nume­rous as all those of Europe put toge­ther disap­pea­red from the earth at the arri­val of these bar­ba­rians, who see­med, in dis­co­ve­ring the Indies, to have tried at the same time to dis­co­ver to men what was the ulti­mate degree of cruelty.

By that bar­ba­rity they kept that coun­try under their domi­na­tion. Judge the­reby how devas­ta­ting conquests are, since such are their effects. For indeed this hor­ri­ble remedy was uni­que ; how else could they have kept so many mil­lions of men in obe­dience ? How could they sus­tain a civil war from such a dis­tance ? What would have become of them if they had allo­wed those peo­ples time to get over their won­der­ment at the arri­val of these new gods, and the fear of their thun­der­bolts ?7

As for the Portuguese, they took a com­ple­tely oppo­site path : they did not use cruel­ties, and were soon dri­ven out of all the coun­tries they had dis­co­ve­red ; the Dutch favo­red the rebel­lion of those peo­ples, and bene­fit­ted from it.8

What prince would envy the fate of these conque­rors ? Who would want these conquests on these condi­tions ? Some were qui­ckly dri­ven out ; the others made was­te­lands of them, and did the same to their own coun­tries.

It is the fate of heroes to ruin them­sel­ves conque­ring coun­tries that they sud­denly lose, or sub­ju­ga­ting nations they are them­sel­ves obli­ged to des­troy, like that fool who was­ted away buying sta­tues which he cast into the sea, and mir­rors which he imme­dia­tely broke.9

Paris this 18th day of the moon of Rhamazan 1718

Edition D here adds the following paragraph : “The air becomes charged, like plants, with particles of the soil of every country. It so acts upon us that our temperament is fixed by it. When we are transported into another country, we become ill. Liquids being accustomed to a certain consistency, solids to a certain disposition, both to a certain degree of movement, can no longer tolerate others, and resist adjusting to new conditions.”

See letter 114.

The Jewish population of Palestine was destroyed in 135 C.E. following a revolt against the emperor Hadrian, who wanted to build a Roman colony in Jerusalem.

The author is perhaps referring to the Île de Bourbon [author’s note].

The anecdote is drawn from Étienne de Flacourt’s Histoire de la grande île de Madagascar (Paris : Pierre L’Amy, 1658), p. 258-259.

The source of the affirmation is not known.

The indigenous peoples in some places offered little resistance, notably the Astecs under Moctezuma : for an analysis of this wonderment and fear, see Tzvetan Todorov, “Moctezuma et les signes” in La Conquête de l’Amérique : la question de l’autre (Paris : Seuil, 1982, p. 68-103), and Les Morales de l’histoire (Paris, 1991, p. 88-98).

The Dutch took advantage of the annexation of Portugal by Philip II to take Portuguese colonies at the end of the sixteenth century.

This allusion has not been identified.