Chapters 8

Honour in a Despotism, Principles of Despotism

by Montesquieu Icon

Honour is not the Principle of a despotic Government.

In a despotism, mankind is all equal. No one person can prefer himself to another

Yet, they are all slaves, they can give themselves no sort of preference., as honour has its laws and rules; as it knows not how to submit; as it depends, in a great measure, on a man’s own caprice, and not on that of another person;

Honor can only be found in countries where the constitution=

  • is fixed, and
  • governed by settled laws.

Can despotism bear with honour?

This glories in the contempt of life, and that is founded in the power of taking it away.

How can honour, on the other hand, bear with despotism?

The former has its fixed rules and peculiar caprices, but the latter is directed by no rule, and its own caprices are subversive of all others.,

therefore, a thing unknown in arbitrary governments, some of which have not even a proper word to express it*, is the prevailing principle in monarchies;

here it gives life to the whole body politic, to the laws, and even to the virtues themselves.

Chapter 9: The Principle of Despotic Government

The following are necessary:

  • virtue in a republic
  • honour in a monarchy
  • fear in a despotism

In a despotism:

  • there is no need for virtue
  • honour would be extremely dangerous
  • the prince’s immense power is devolved entirely on those whom he likes

Thus, persons who can set a value on themselves would likely create disturbances. Fear can depress their spirits and extinguish ambition.

A moderate despotism can relax its springs with no danger. It supports itself by the laws and by its own internal strength.

But, when a despotic prince ceases one single moment to instantly demolish those whom he has empowered, then all is over.

Fear was the spring of his government and it no longer subsists. The people are left without a protector.

It is probably in this sense the Cadis maintained that the Grand Seignior was not obliged to keep his word or oath, when he limited thereby his authority.

It is necessary that the people should be judged by laws, and the great men by the caprice of the prince; that the lives of the lowest subjects should be safe, and the bashaw’s head ever in danger. We cannot mention these monstrous governments without horror.

The Sophi of Persia, dethroned, in our days, by Mahomet, the son of Miriveis, saw the constitution subverted, before this revolution, because he had been too sparing of blood*.informs us, that the horrid cruelties of Domitian struck such a terror into the governors, that the people recovered themselves a little under his reign§. Thus a torrent overflows one side of a country, and, on the other, leaves fields untouched, where the eye is refreshed by the prospect of fine meadows.

Chapter 10: Difference of Obedience in moderate and despotic Governments

In Despotic states, the nature of government requires the most passive obedience.

Once the prince’s will is made known, it should infallibly produce its effect. They have no limitations or restrictions; no mediums, terms, equivalents, or remonstrances; no change to propose=

Man is a creature that blindly submits to the absolute will of the sovereign.a country like this, they are no more allowed to represent their apprehensions of a future danger than to impute their miscarriage to the capriciousness of fortune. Man’s portion here, like that of beasts, is instinct, compliance, and punishment.does it then avail to plead the sentiments of nature, filial respect, conjugal or parental tenderness, the laws of honour, or want of health; the order is given, and that is sufficient.

Persia, when the king has condemned a person, it is no longer lawful to mention his name or to intercede in his favour. Even if the prince were intoxicated, or non compos, the decree must be executed*; otherwise he would contradict himself, and the law admits of no contradiction. This has been the way of thinking in that country in all ages= as the order, which Ahasuerus gave, to exterminate the Jews, could not be revoked, they were allowed the liberty of defending themselves.thing, however, may be sometimes opposed to the prince’s will, namely, religion.

They will slay a parent if the prince so commands. But he cannot oblige them to drink wine. The laws of religion are of a superior nature, because they bind the sovereign as well as the subject.

But, with respect to the law of nature, it is otherwise. The prince is no longer supposed to be a man.

In monarchical and moderate states, the power is limited by its very spring, I mean, by honour, which, like a monarch, reigns over the prince and his people.

They will not alledge to their sovereign, the laws of religion; a courtier would be apprehensive of rendering himself ridiculous.

But the laws of honour will be appealed to on all occasions. Hence arise the restrictions necessary to obedience= honour is naturally subject to whims, by which the subject’s submission will be ever directed.the manner of obeying be different, in these two kinds of government, the power is the same.

On which side soever the monarch turns, he inclines the scale, and is obeyed. The whole difference is, that, in a monarchy, the prince receives instruction, at the same time that his ministers have greater abilities, and are more versed in public affairs, than the ministers of a despotic government.

Chapter 11: Reflections on the preceding Chapters

These principles imply that=

  • a republic should be virtuous, even if it might not be
  • a monarchy should be actuated by honour, even if it might not be
  • a despotism should be actuated by fear, even if it might not be

Otherwise the government is imperfect


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