Montesquieu

Usbek to Rhedi in Venice


I have never heard anyone speak of public law1 without first trying to exa­mine clo­sely the ori­gin of socie­ties, which appears ridi­cu­lous to me. If men for­med none, it they sepa­ra­ted and fled each other, we would have to ask why, and exa­mine why they stay apart. But they are born all lin­ked to each other ; a son is born in his father’s house and there remains : such is society, and the cause of society.

Public law is bet­ter known in Europe than in Asia ; yet it can be said that the pas­sions of prin­ces, the patience of peo­ples, and the flat­tery of authors have cor­rup­ted all its prin­ci­ples.

This law, such as it is today, is a science that tea­ches prin­ces to what extent they can vio­late jus­tice without har­ming their own inte­rests. What a pur­pose, Rhedi, trying to make ini­quity into a sys­tem so as to tou­ghen their cons­cience, giving its rules, for­ming its prin­ci­ples, and dra­wing its conse­quen­ces !

The unli­mi­ted autho­rity of our sublime sul­tans, which has no rule but itself, does not pro­duce more mons­ters than this unwor­thy art that seeks to make jus­tice bend, howe­ver inflexi­ble it is.

One would say, Rhedi, that there are two very dif­fe­rent jus­ti­ces : one that deci­des indi­vi­dual mat­ters, and pre­vails in civil law ; and ano­ther which deci­des the dis­pu­tes that arise bet­ween peo­ples, which domi­na­tes public law, as if public law was not itself a civil law, not to be sure that of a par­ti­cu­lar coun­try, but of the world.

I shall explain to you in ano­ther let­ter my thought the­reu­pon.

Paris this 1st day of the moon of Zilhagé 1716

The term droit public is a synonym of droit des gens or international law, as the letter’s last paragraph reminds us ; the only issue here is therefore between a conquering people and a conquered one.