Montesquieu

Usbek to the same


To fol­low the thought of my last let­ter, here is more or less what a fairly sen­si­ble European said to me the other day.

The worst choice the prin­ces of Asia could make is to hide as they are doing. They want to make them­sel­ves more res­pec­ta­ble ; but they make royalty res­pec­ted and not the king, and attach the mind of the sub­jects to a cer­tain throne and not to a cer­tain per­son.

This invi­si­ble autho­rity that governs is always the same for the peo­ple. Although ten kings, which they know only by name, have slit each others’ throats one after the other, they are aware of no dif­fe­rence ; it is as if they have been gover­ned suc­ces­si­vely by spi­rits.

If the contemp­ti­ble par­ri­cide1 of our great king Henri IV2 had stab­bed an Indian king, mas­ter of the royal seal and an immense trea­sure that would have see­med to be amas­sed for him, he would have tran­quilly taken up the reins of the empire without a sin­gle man thin­king of cal­ling for his king, his family and his chil­dren.

People mar­vel that there is almost never any change in the govern­ment of Oriental prin­ces ; and why is that, if not because it is tyran­ni­cal and hor­ri­ble ?

Changes can only come about through the prince or the peo­ple ; but there, the prin­ces are not about to make any, because at such a high level of autho­rity they have all they can ; if they chan­ged some­thing, it could only be to their pre­ju­dice.

As for the sub­jects, if one of them concei­ves some reso­lu­tion, he can­not pos­si­bly carry it out against the state ; he would have to coun­ter all at once a for­mi­da­ble and always sin­gle autho­rity ; he has nei­ther the time nor the means. But he has only to go to the source of that power, and needs only one hand and one ins­tant.

The mur­de­rer mounts the throne while the monarch des­cends from it, falls, and expi­res at his feet.3

A mal­content in Europe thinks to main­tain some secret infor­mants, mix with the ene­mies, seize some stron­ghold, pro­voke some vain mur­murs among the sub­jects.

A mal­content in Asia goes straight to the prince, sur­pri­ses, stri­kes, over­throws ; he obli­te­ra­tes the very thought of him : in a moment the slave and the mas­ter, in a moment usur­per and legi­ti­mate.

Woe be the king who has but one head ; he seems to accu­mu­late all his autho­rity on it only to indi­cate to the first volun­teer the spot where he will find it all.

Paris this 17th day of the moon of Rebiab II, 1717

Parricide was a frequent synonym for régicide.

Ravaillac (1610).

See letter 78 : letters from Isfahan dated 30 June 1719 announce the coup d’état in India and the assassination of the Great Mogul. See also Antoine Galland, La Mort du sultan Osman, ou le rétablissement de Mustapha sur le trône (Paris, 1678).