Chapters 19

New Consequences of the Principles of the three Governments

by Montesquieu Icon

Chapter 19: New Consequences of the Principles of the three Governments

Question 1: Should the laws oblige a subject to accept of a public employment?

They should in a republic, but not in a monarchical government.

In a republic, public employments are attestations of virtue, depositums with which a citizen is entrusted by his country, for whose sake alone he ought to live, to act, and to think; consequently, he cannot refuse them¶. In the latter, public offices are testimonies of honour= now, such is the capriciousness of honour, that it chooses to accept of none of these testimonies but when and in what manner it pleases.

The late king of Sardinia inflicted punishments* on his subjects who refused the dignities and public offices of the state. In this he unknowingly followed republican ideas= but his manner of governing, in other respects, sufficiently proves that this was not his intention.

Question 2: Should a subject be obliged to accept of a post in the army inferior to that which he held before?

Among the Romans, it was usual to see a captain serve the next year under his lieutenant†. This is because virtue in republics requires a continual sacrifice of our persons and of our repugnances for the good of the state. But, in monarchies, honour, true or false, will never bear with what it calls degrading itself.

In despotic governments, where honour, posts, and ranks, are equally abused, they indiscriminately make of a prince a scullion, and of a scullion a prince.

Question 3: Should civil and military employments be conferred on the same person?

In republics, they should be joined, but in monarchies separated.

In the former, it would be extremely dangerous to make the profession of arms a particular state, distinct from that of civil functions; and, in the latter, no less dangerous would it be to confer these two employments on the same person.

In republics, a person takes up arms only with a view to defend his country and its laws; it is because he is a citizen he makes himself, for a while, a soldier. Were these two distinct states, the person who, under arms, thinks himself a citizen, would soon be made sensible he is only a soldier.

In monarchies, they, whose condition engages them in the profession of arms, have nothing but glory, or, at least, honour or fortune, in view. To men, therefore, like these, the prince should never give any civil employments; on the contrary, they ought to be checked by the civil magistrate, that the same persons may not have, at the same time, the confidence of the people and the power to abuse it‡.

We have only to cast an eye on a nation that may be justly called a republic disguised under the form of monarchy, and we shall see how jealous they are of making a separate order of the profession of arms, Edition= current; Page= [89] and how the military state is constantly allied with that of the citizen, and even sometimes of the magistrate, to the end that these qualities may be a pledge for their country which should never be forgotten.

The division of civil and military employments, made by the Romans after the extinction of the republic, was not an arbitrary thing= it was a consequence of the change which happened in the constitution of Rome; it was natural to a monarchical government; and, what was only commenced under Augustus∥, succeeding emperors§ were obliged to finish, in order to temper the military government.

Procopius, therefore, the competitor of Valens, the emperor, was very much to blame, when, conferring the proconsular dignity¶ upon Hormisdas, a prince of the blood-royal of Persia, he restored to this magistracy the military command of which it had been formerly possessed, unless, indeed, he had very particular reasons for so doing. A person, that aspires to the sovereignty, concerns himself less about what is serviceable to the state than what is likely to promote his own interest.

Question 4: Should public employments be sold?

In despotic governments, they should not. where the subjects must be instantaneously placed or displaced by the prince.

But, in monarchies, this custom is not at all improper, by reason it is an inducement to engage in that, as a family employment, which would not be undertaken through a motive of virtue= it fixes, likewise, every one to his duty, and renders the several orders of the kingdom more permanent. Suidas* very justly observes, that Anastasius had changed the empire into a kind of aristocracy, by selling all public employments.

Plato cannot bear with this prostitution: “This is exactly (says he) as if a person were to be made a mariner or pilot of a ship for his money. Is it possible that this rule should be bad in every other employment of life and hold good only in the administration of a republic?”

But Plato speaks of a republic founded on virtue, and we of a monarchy.

In monarchies, (where, though there were no such thing as a regular sale of public offices, still the indigence and avidity of the courtier would equally prompt him to expose them to sale,) chance will furnish better subjects than the prince’s choice. In short, the method of attaining to honours through riches inspires and cherishes industry‡, a thing extremely wanting in this kind of government.

Question 5: In what kind of government are censors necessary?

They are necessary in a republic, where the principle of government is virtue.

We must not imagine that criminal actions only are destructive of virtue; it is destroyed also by omissions, by neglects, by a certain coolness in the love of our country, by bad examples, and by the seeds of corruption. Whatever does not openly violate, but elude, the laws; does not subvert, but weaken, them; ought to fall under the enquiry and correction of the censors.

We are surprised at the punishment of the Areopagite for killing a sparrow, which, to escape the pursuit of a hawk, had taken shelter in his bosom. Surprised we are, also, that an Areopagite should put Edition= current; Page= [91] his son to death for pulling out the eyes of a little bird. But let us reflect, that the question here does not relate to a criminal sentence, but to a judgement concerning manners in a republic founded on manners.

In monarchies there should be no censors= the former are founded on honour, and the nature of honour is to have the whole world for its censor. Every man who fails in this article is subject to the reproaches even of those who are void of honour.

Here the censors would be spoilt by the very people whom they ought to correct= they could not prevail against the corruption of a monarchy; the corruption rather would be too strong against them.

Hence it is obvious, that there ought to be no censors in despotic governments. The example of China seems to derogate from this rule= but we shall see, in the course of this work, the particular reasons of that institution.