Montesquieu

Usbek to the same


You are see­king the rea­son why the earth is less peo­pled than it used to be, and if you look clo­sely, you will see that the great dif­fe­rence comes from the dif­fe­rence that has occur­red place in beha­vior.

Ever since the Christian and Muhammadan reli­gions divi­ded up the Roman world, things have much chan­ged : these two reli­gions are by no means as favo­ra­ble to the pro­pa­ga­tion of the spe­cies as the reli­gion of those mas­ters of the world.

In the lat­ter, poly­gamy was for­bid­den, and in that it had a very great advan­tage over the Muhammadan reli­gion ; it per­mit­ted divorce, which gave it ano­ther, not less consi­de­ra­ble, advan­tage over Christianity.

I find nothing so contra­dic­tory as this plu­ra­lity of wives allo­wed by the holy Qur’an and the com­mand to satisfy them com­man­ded in the same book. See your wives, says the Prophet, because you are as neces­sary to them as their gar­ments, and they are as neces­sary to you as yours. That is a pre­cept that makes the life of a true Muslim very deman­ding. Must not he who has the four wives esta­bli­shed by the Law, and only an equal num­ber of concu­bi­nes and sla­ves, be wei­ghed down by so many gar­ments ?1

Your wives are your plo­wing, says the Prophet again ; go the­re­fore to your plo­wing, do your souls good, and one day you shall find it.2

I regard a good Muslim as an ath­lete, fated to com­pete conti­nually, but who, soon weak and weigh­ted down by his ini­tial fati­gues, lan­gui­shes in the very field of vic­tory, and finds him­self, so to speak, buried under his own triumphs.

Nature always acts deli­be­ra­tely, and so to speak eco­no­mi­cally ; her ope­ra­tions are never vio­lent ; even in her pro­duc­tions she wants tem­pe­rance ; she never pro­ceeds but with method and mea­sure. If she is for­ced, she soon falls into lan­guor ; she uses what strength she has remai­ning to pre­serve her­self, utterly losing her pro­duc­tive vir­tue and repro­duc­tive potency.

It is in this state of break­down that this mul­ti­pli­city of wives always puts us, more likely to exhaust us than to satisfy us. It is quite usual in Persia to see a man in a pro­di­gious sera­glio with a very small num­ber of chil­dren ; even these chil­dren are for the most part weak and unheal­thy, and affec­ted by their father’s lan­guor.

This is not all : the wives, obli­ged to a for­ced conti­nence, need men to guard them who can only be eunuchs3 : reli­gion, jea­lousy, and even rea­son do not allow others to approach them. There must be a large num­ber of these guar­dians, either to main­tain tran­quillity within, amidst the wars which these wives are conti­nually wage against each other ; or to pre­vent attempts from without. Thus a man who has ten wives or concu­bi­nes needs at least as many eunuchs to guard them. But what a loss for society, this large num­ber of men dead at birth ! What depo­pu­la­tion must neces­sa­rily ensue !4

Slave girls who are in the sera­glio to serve with the eunuchs : this large num­ber of women grow old there almost all in a pathe­tic vir­gi­nity5 ; they can­not marry as long as they remain there, and their mis­tres­ses once accus­to­med to them, almost never let them go.

That is how one sin­gle man alone occu­pies so many sub­jects of both sexes for his plea­su­res, makes them die to the state, and ren­ders them use­less for the pro­pa­ga­tion of the spe­cies.

Constantinople and Isfahan are the capi­tals of the two grea­test empi­res on earth : that is where eve­ry­thing must lead, and where peo­ples drawn in a thou­sand ways come from eve­ryw­here. And yet they perish by them­sel­ves, and they would soon be des­troyed if the sove­rei­gns did not in almost every cen­tury bring entire nations to repo­pu­late them. I shall com­plete this topic in ano­ther let­ter.

Paris this 13th day of the moon of Chahban 1718

“They are clothing for you and you are clothing for them” (Qur’an, 2:187).

“Your wives are a place of sowing of seed for you, so come to your place of cultivation however you wish and put forth [righteousness] for yourselves” (Qur’an, 2:223).

According to the Qur’an, the only men who may approach women are close relatives or eunuchs (24:31).

This argument is similar to that invoked in the eighteenth century against the chastity of priests, who remain outside the procreative economy (see letter 113).

See letter 51.