Montesquieu

Usbek to the same


Up until now we have spo­ken of the Muslim coun­tries, and sought the rea­son why they were less popu­lous than those sta­tes that were sub­jec­ted to domi­na­tion by the Romans ; let us now exa­mine what has pro­du­ced this effect among the Christians.

Divorce was allo­wed in the pagan reli­gion, and it was for­bid­den to Christians. This change, which at first appea­red to be of so lit­tle conse­quence, gra­dually had ter­ri­ble out­co­mes, and such that they can hardly be belie­ved.

Not only was all the satis­fac­tion of mar­riage taken away, but also harm was done to its pur­pose ; by trying to tigh­ten its bonds, they loo­se­ned them, and ins­tead of uni­ting hearts, as they pre­ten­ded, they sepa­ra­ted them fore­ver.

In such a free act, and where the heart must have such a large share, they intro­du­ced cons­traint, neces­sity, and even the fata­lity of des­tiny. They dis­coun­ted the dis­plea­su­res, the whims, and the unso­cia­bi­lity of the humors ; they tried to fixate the heart, in other words what is most varia­ble and incons­tant in nature ; they atta­ched irre­trie­va­bly and without hope peo­ple weigh­ted down by each other, and almost always badly mat­ched ; and they acted like those tyrants who had live men bound to dead bodies.1

Nothing contri­bu­ted more to the mutual attach­ment than the faculty of divorce : a hus­band and a wife were encou­ra­ged to bear domes­tic bur­dens patiently, kno­wing that it was in their power to end them ; and they often kept this power in hand their whole lives without invo­king it, because of the sole consi­de­ra­tion that they were free to do so.

It is not the same with Christians, made by their pre­sent bur­dens to des­pair of the future. Of the draw­backs of mar­riage they see only the dura­tion, and so to speak their eter­nity : whence the disen­chant­ments, the dis­cords, the contempt, and it is so much lost for pos­te­rity. Scarcely are they three years into mar­riage before they neglect its essen­tials ; they spend thirty chilly years toge­ther ; inter­nal sepa­ra­tions come into exis­tence that are as strong and per­haps more per­ni­cious than if they were public ; each lives and remains auto­no­mous : and all this to the pre­ju­dice of future gene­ra­tions. Soon a man disen­chan­ted by an ever­las­ting wife will turn to women of plea­sure, a sha­me­ful trade, and so harm­ful to society, which without ful­filling the object of mariage repre­sents at best only its plea­su­res.

If of two per­sons thus bound there is one who is not sui­ted to the design of nature and the pro­po­ga­tion of the spe­cies either by tem­pe­ra­ment or by age, they both bury the other with them­sel­ves, making the other as use­less as one is one­self.

Therefore we should not be sur­pri­sed if among Christians we see so many mar­ria­ges sup­ply such a small num­ber of citi­zens. Divorce is abo­li­shed ; ill-assor­ted mar­ria­ges are never pat­ched up ; women no lon­ger pass suc­ces­si­vely, as they did among the Romans, into the hands of seve­ral hus­bands, who in the pro­cess made the most they could of it.

I dare to say that if, in a repu­blic like Lacedaemon, where the citi­zens were cons­tantly cons­trai­ned by sin­gu­lar and subtle laws, and in which there was but one family, which was the repu­blic, it had been esta­bli­shed that hus­bands should change wives every year, a count­less peo­ple would have been born of it.2

It is rather dif­fi­cult to unders­tand quite what led Christians to abo­lish divorce. Marriage in all the nations on earth is a contract sub­ject to all the conven­tions, and only those that could have wea­ke­ned its pur­pose ought to have been bani­shed.3 But Christians do not at all look at mar­riage from this pers­pec­tive, so they have great dif­fi­culty saying what it is. They do not make it consist in the plea­sure of the sen­ses ; on the contrary, as I have already said, they seem to want to banish that from mar­riage as much as they can ; but it is an image, a figure, and some­thing mys­te­rious which I do not unders­tand.4

Paris this 19th day of the moon of Chahban 1718

An example of the tyranny of Mezentius, which justifies the revolt of his subjects in Virgil’s Æneid, (VIII, v. 485-491).

The faltering of Sparta, reduced to a few dozen citizens at the time of Alexander’s conquest, is well known. War losses and especially a rigorous policy forbidding any restocking of the body of citizens were the principal causes.

The Spirit of Law will in part draw the consequences : if marriage is a contract, it is not religion that should determine its statutes (XXVI, 9).

An allusion to Church’s “mystic body of Christ” and to Biblical comparisons between marriage and the relation of Jesus to the Church.