Chapters 11-15

The Severity of Government

by Montesquieu

Chapter 11: The Severity of Government

MEN who have absolutely nothing, such as beggars, have many children.

  • This proceeds from their being in the case of a rising people.
  • It costs the father nothing to give his art to his offspring, who even in their infancy are the instruments of this art.

These people multiply in a rich or superstitious country because they do not support the burden of society.

  • They themselves the burden.

But men are poor only because they live under a severe government.

  • Their government regards their fields as a cause of vexation, less as the source of their subsistence.

These men have few children.

  • They have not even subsistence for themselves; how then can they think of dividing it?

They are unable to take care of their own persons when they are sick; how then can they attend to the wants of creatures whose infancy is a continual sickness?

It is pretended by some, who are apt to talk of things which they have never examined, that the greater the poverty of the subjects, the more numerous their families: that the more they are loaded with taxes, the more industriously they endeavour to put themselves in a station in which they will be able to pay them: two sophisms, which have always destroyed, and will for ever be the destruction of monarchies.

The severity of government may be carried to such an extreme, as to make the natural sentiments destructive of the natural sentiments themselves. Would the women of* America have refused to bear children, had their masters been less cruel?

Chapter 12: Male-Female Ratio in different Countries.

I HAVE already observed,† that there are born in Europe rather more boys than girls. It has been remarked, [130] that in *Japan there are born rather more girls than boys: all things compared, there must be more fruitful women in Japan than in Europe, and consequently it must be more populous.

We are informed†, that at Bantam there are ten girls to one boy. A disproportion like this must cause the number of families there, to be to the number of those of other climates, as 1 to 51/2; which is a prodigious difference. Their families may be much larger indeed; but there must be few men in circumstances sufficient to provide for so large a family.

Chapter 13: Sea-port Towns

IN sea-port towns, where men expose themselves to a thousand dangers, and go abroad to live or die in distant climates, there are fewer men than women: and yet we see more children there than in other places. This proceeds from the greater ease with which they procure the means of subsistence. Perhaps even the oily parts of fish are more proper to furnish that matter which contributes to generation. This may be one of the causes of the infinite number of people in ‡Japan and China∥, where they live almost wholly on §fish. If this be the case, certain monastic rules, which oblige the monks to live on fish, must be contrary to the spirit of the legislator himself.

Chapter 14: the Productions of the Earth which require a greater or less Number of Men.

PASTURE lands are but little peopled, because they find employment only for a few. Corn lands employ a great many men, and vineyards infinitely more.

It has been a frequent complaint in England*, that the increase of pasture land diminished the inhabitants; and it has been observed in France, that the prodigious number of vineyards is one of the great causes of the multitude of people.

Those countries where coal-pits furnish a proper substance for fuel, have this advantage over others, that not having the same occasion for forests, the lands may be cultivated.

In countries productive of rice, they are at vast pains in watering the land; a great number of men must therefore be employed. Besides, there is less land required to furnish subsistence for a family, than in those which produce other kinds of grain. In fine, the land which is elsewhere employed in raising cattle, serves immediately for the subsistence of man; and the labour, which in other places is performed by cattle, is there performed by men; so that the culture of the soil becomes to man an immense manufacture.

Chapter 15: Population size with relation to the Arts.

WHEN there is an Agrarian law, and the lands are equally divided, the country may be extremely well peopled, though there are but few arts; because every citizen receives from the cultivation of his land whatever is necessary for his subsistence, and all the citizens together consume all the fruits of the earth. Thus it was in some republics.

In our present situation, in which lands are unequally distributed, they produce much more than those who cultivate them are able to consume; if the arts therefore should be neglected, and nothing minded but agriculture, the country could not be peopled. Those who cultivate, or employ others to cultivate, having corn to spare, nothing would engage them to work the following year: the fruits of the earth would not be consumed by the indolent;

These would have nothing with which they could purchase them. It is necessary then that the arts should be established, in order that the produce of the land may be consumed by the labourer and the artificer. In a word, it is now proper that many should cultivate much more than is necessary for their own use. For this purpose, they must have a desire of enjoying superfluities; and these they can receive only from the artificer.

The machines designed to abridge art, are not always useful. If a piece of workmanship is of a moderate price, such as is equally agreeable to the maker and the buyer, those machines which would render the manufacture more simple, or, in other words, diminish the number of workmen, would be [133] pernicious. And if water-mills were not every where established, I should not have believed them so useful as is pretended, because they have deprived an infinite multitude of their employment, a vast number of persons of the use of water, and great part of the land of its fertility.

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