Montesquieu

Usbek to Ibben in Smyrna


The desire for glory is no dif­fe­rent from the ins­tinct all crea­tu­res have for their own pre­ser­va­tion. It seems that we aug­ment our being when we can pro­ject it into the memory of others : it is a new life we acquire, and which beco­mes as pre­cious to us as the one we have recei­ved from hea­ven.

But as all men are not equally atta­ched to life, they also are not equally res­pon­sive to glory. That noble pas­sion is indeed always engra­ved in their hearts, but ima­gi­na­tion and edu­ca­tion modify it in a thou­sand ways.

This dif­fe­rence which is found from one man to the next is felt even more bet­ween one peo­ple and ano­ther.

One can posit as a rule that in every state the desire for glory increa­ses with the sub­jects’ free­dom, and dimi­ni­shes with it ; glory is never the com­pa­nion of ser­vi­tude.1

A man of good sense said to me the other day : In France we are in many res­pects freer than in Persia, and so we love glory more. This happy fancy makes a Frenchman do willin­gly and with plea­sure what your sul­tan obtains from his sub­jects only by kee­ping tor­ture and rewards cons­tantly before their eyes.

And so among us the prince is jea­lous of the honor of the least of his sub­jects. To main­tain it there are res­pec­ta­ble tri­bu­nals2 : it is the sacred trea­sure of the nation, and the only one of which the sove­reign is not the mas­ter, which he can­not be without coun­te­ring his own inte­rests. Thus, if a sub­ject feels him­self woun­ded in his honor by his prince, either by some pre­fe­rence3 or by the sligh­test sign of dis­dain, he imme­dia­tely lea­ves the court, his posi­tion, and his ser­vice, and with­draws to his estate.

The dif­fe­rence to be found bet­ween French troops and yours is that yours, com­po­sed of natu­rally cowardly sla­ves, over­come the fear of death only by the fear of punish­ment, which pro­du­ces in the soul a new sort of ter­ror that more or less numbs it ; whe­reas ours face the blows with delec­ta­tion, and banish fear by a satis­fac­tion that is super­ior to it.

But the sanc­tuary of honor, repu­ta­tion, and vir­tue seems to be esta­bli­shed in repu­blics and in coun­tries where one can speak the word home­land. In Rome, in Athens, in Lacedaemon,4 honor alone paid for the most signal ser­vi­ces. A crown of oak lea­ves or lau­rel, a sta­tue, a eulogy were an immense reward for a bat­tle won or city cap­tu­red.

There, a man who had accom­pli­shed a great feat dee­med him­self suf­fi­ciently rewar­ded by that feat itself. He could not see one of his com­pa­triots without fee­ling the plea­sure of being his bene­fac­tor ; he coun­ted the num­ber of his ser­vi­ces by the num­ber of his fel­low citi­zens. Every man is capa­ble of doing good to ano­ther man ; but to contri­bute to the hap­pi­ness of an entire society is to be like the gods.

But must not such noble emu­la­tion be enti­rely extin­gui­shed in the hearts of your Persians, among whom func­tions and digni­ties are only attri­bu­tes of the sove­reign’s fancy ? Reputation and vertu there are regar­ded as ima­gi­nary if they are not accom­pa­nied by the prince’s favor, with which they are born and like­wise die. A man who has the esteem of the public for him is never sure not to be disho­no­red tomor­row : today he is a gene­ral of the army ; the prince might be about to make him his cook, and he will no lon­ger have any praise to hope for beyond being congra­tu­la­ted for a good stew.

Paris this 15th day of the moon of Gemmadi II, 1715

Honor will become the principle of monarchical power in The Spirit of Law (III, 7) ; it is likewise the feeling of shame that substitutes for punishment in a moderated government. But here honor has a broader meaning.

Reference to the tribunal des maréchaux de France, founded in Paris to judge questions of noble honor and prevent duels.

I.e., someone else received a promotion which he was anticipating.

Sparta.