Chapters 6-8= The Simple Spirit of the Laws by Montesquieu Volume 1

Greek Institutions and Manners

September 9, 2015

Chapter 6= Some Institutions among the Greeks

THE ancient Greeks, convinced of the necessity that people who live under a popular government should be trained up to virtue, made very singular institutions in order to inspire it. Upon seeing, in the life of Lycurgus, the laws that legislator gave to the Lacedæmonians, I imagine I am reading the history of the Sevarambes. The laws of Crete were the model of those of Sparta; and those of Plato reformed them.

Let us reflect here a little on the extensive genius with which those legislators must have been endowed, to perceive that, by striking at received customs, and by confounding all manner of virtues, they should display their wisdom to the universe. Lycurgus, by blending theft with the spirit of justice, the hardest servitude with excess of liberty, the most rigid sentiments with the greatest moderation, gave stability to his city. He seemed to deprive her of all resources, such as arts, commerce, money, walls= ambition prevailed among the citizens, without hopes or improving their fortune= they had natural sentiments without the tie of a son, husband, or father; and chastity was stript even of modesty and shame. This was the road that led Sparta to grandeur and glory; and so infallible were these institutions, that it signified nothing to gain a victory over that republic, without subverting her polity.*

By these laws Crete and Laconia were governed. Sparta was the last that fell a prey to the Macedonians, and Crete to the Romans.† The Samnites had the same institutions, which furnished those very Romans with the subject of four and twenty triumphs.∥⚓✪

A character so extraordinary in the institutions of Greece has shewn itself lately in the dregs and corruption of modern times.‡ A very honest legislator has formed a people, to whom probity seems as natural as bravery to the Spartans. Mr. Penn is a real Lycurgus; and, though the former made peace his principal aim, as the latter did war, yet they resemble one another in the singular way of living to which they reduced their people, in the ascendant they had over free men, in the prejudices they overcame, and in the passions which they subdued.

Another example we have from Paraguay. This has been the subject of an invidious charge against a society that considers the pleasure of commanding as the only happiness in life= but it will be ever a Edition= current; Page= [46] glorious undertaking to render government subservient to human happiness.§

It is glorious indeed for this society to have been the first in pointing out to those countries the idea of religion joined with that of humanity. By repairing the devastations of the Spaniards, she has begun to heal one of the most dangerous wounds that the human species ever received.

An exquisite sensibility to whatever she distinguishes by the name of honour, joined to her zeal for a religion which is far more humbling in respect to those who receive than to those who preach its doctrines, has set her upon vast undertakings, which she has accomplished with success. She has drawn wild people from their woods, secured them a maintenance, and clothed their nakedness; and, had she only, by this step, improved the industry of mankind, it would have been sufficient to eternize her fame.

They, who shall attempt hereafter to introduce the like institutions, must establish the community of goods, as prescribed in Plato’s Republic; that high respect he required for the gods; that separation from strangers, for the preservation of morals; and an extensive commerce, carried on by the community, and not by private citizens. They must give our arts without our luxury, and our wants without our desires.

They must prescribe money, the effect of which is to swell people’s fortunes beyond the bounds prescribed by nature; to learn to preserve for no purpose what has been idly hoarded up; to multiply without end our desires; and to supply the sterility Edition= current; Page= [47] of nature, of whom we have received very scanty means of inflaming our passions and of corrupting each other.

“The Epidamnians†, perceiving their morals depraved by conversing with barbarians, chose a magistrate for making all contracts and sales, in the name and behalf of the city.” Commerce then does not corrupt the constitution, and the constitution does not deprive the society of the advantages of commerce.

Chapter 7= How these singular Institutions may be of Service

INSTITUTIONS of this kind may be proper in republics, because they have virtue for their principle= but, to excite men to honour, in monarchies, or to imprint fear, in despotic governments, less pains are necessary.

Besides, they cannot take place but in a small state*, in which there is a possibility of a general education, and of training up the body of the people like a single family.

The laws of Minos, of Lycurgus, and of Plato, suppose a particular attention and care which the citizens ought to have over one another’s conduct. But an attention of this kind cannot be expected in the confusion and multitude of affairs in which a large nation is intangled.

In institutions of this kind, money, as we have above observed, must be banished. But, in great societies, the multiplicity, variety, embarrassment, and importance, of affairs, as well as the facility of purchasing, and the slowness of exchange, require a Edition= current; Page= [48] common measure. In order to extend or support our power, we must be possessed of the means to which, by the unanimous consent of mankind, this power is annexed.

Chapter 8= Explication of a Paradox of the Ancients, in Respect to Manners

Polybius was a judicious writer. He informs us that music was necessary to soften the manners of the Arcadians who lived in a cold gloomy country.

The inhabitants of Cynete slighted music and were the cruellest of all the Greeks. No other town was so immersed in luxury and debauch.

Plato affirms that a change in music can only be done by changing the frame of government. Aristotle seems to have written his politics only to contradict Plato. He agrees with him in the power and influence of music over the manners of the people. This was also the opinion of Theophrastus, Plutarch, and of all the ancients.

It is an opinion grounded on mature reflection being one of the principles of their polity. Thus it was with music that they enacted laws, and how they required cities should be governed.*

[ *Translator’s Note= Music here is not audible music, but philosophy-religion-worship (poetry), feeling, and mentality. ]

In the Greek cities, especially those whose principal object was war, all lucrative arts and professions were considered as unworthy of a freeman.

Xenophon says=

“Most arts corrupt and enervate the bodies of those that exercise them. They oblige them to sit under a shade or near the fire. They can find no leisure either for their friends or for the republic.”

Aristotle says that it was only by the corruption of some democracies that artisans became freemen. He maintains that a well-regulated republic will never give them the right and freedom of the city.

Agriculture was, likewise, a servile profession. It was done by the inhabitants of conquered countries such as the Helotes, Spartans, Periecians, Cretans, Penestes, Thessalians, etc.

Every kind of low commerce was infamous among the Greeks as it obliged a citizen to serve and wait on a slave, a lodger, or a foreigner. This notion clashed with the spirit of Greek liberty. Hence Plato, in his laws, orders a citizen to be punished if he attempted to concern himself with trade.

Thus, in the Greek republics, the magistrates were extremely embarrassed. They would not have the citizens apply themselves to trade, to agriculture, or to the arts, and yet they would not have them idle. They found, therefore, employment for them in gymnic and military exercises and none else were allowed by their institution.

Hence, the Greeks are a society of wrestlers and boxers. Now, these exercises having a natural tendency to render people hardy and fierce, there was a necessity for tempering them with others that might soften their manners.

For this purpose, music, which influences the mind by means of the corporeal organs, was extremely proper. It is a kind of medium between manly exercises, which harden the body, and speculative sciences, which are apt to render us unsociable and sour. It cannot be said that music inspired virtue, for this would be inconceivable; but it prevented the effects of a savage institution, and enabled the soul to have such a share in the education as it could never have had without the assistance of harmony.

Let us suppose, among ourselves, a society of men, so passionately fond of hunting as to make it their sole employment= they would, doubtless, contract thereby a kind of rusticity and fierceness=

but, if they happen to imbibe a taste for music, we should quickly perceive a sensible difference in their customs and manners. In short, the exercises used by the Greeks could raise only one kind of passions, viz. fierceness, indignation, and cruelty= but music excites all these, and is, likewise, able to inspire the soul with a sense of pity, lenity, tenderness, and love. Our moral writers, who declaim so vehemently against the stage, sufficiently demonstrate the power of music over the mind.

If the society abovementioned were to have no other music than that of drums and the sound of the trumpet, would it not be more difficult to accomplish this end than by the more melting tones of softer harmony? The ancients were, therefore, in the right, when, under particular circumstances, they preferred one mode to another, in regard to manners.

Music is pitched on preferable to any other entertainment because, of all sensible pleasures, there is none that less corrupts the soul. We blush to read, in Plutarch, that the Thebans, in order to soften the manners of their youth, authorised, by law, a passion which should be proscribed by all nations.