Chapters 3-5

The Spirit of extreme Equality

by Montesquieu Icon

AS distant as heaven is from earth, so is the true spirit of equality from that of extreme equality. The former does not imply that every body should command, or that no one should be commanded, but that we obey or command our equals. It endeavours not to shake off the authority of a master, but that its masters should be none but its equals.

In the state of nature, all men are born equal. But they cannot continue in this equality for society makes them lose it. They recover it only by the protection of the laws.

In a well regulated democracy, men are equal only as citizens. But in a badly regulated one, they are equal also as magistrates, senators, judges, fathers, husbands, or masters.

The natural place of virtue is near to liberty. But it is closer to servitude than to excessive liberty.

Chapter 4: Particular Cause of the Corruption of the People

GREAT success, especially when chiefly owing to the people, intoxicates them to such a degree that it is impossible to contain them within bounds.

Jealous of their magistrates, they soon bec ome jealous likewise of the magistracy; enemies to those who govern, they soon prove enemies also to the constitution. Thus it was that the victory over the Persians, in the straits of Salamis, corrupted the republic of Athens and thus the defeat of the Athenians ruined the republic of Syracuse.

Marseilles never experienced those great transitions from lowness to grandeur; this was owing to the prudent conduc t of that republic, who always preserved her principles.

Chapter 5: The Corruption of the Principle of Aristocracy

ARISTOCRACY is corrupted if the power of the nobles becomes arbitrary= when this is the case, there can no longer b e any virtue either in the governors or the governed.

If the reigning families observe the law s, it is a monarchy with several monarchs, and, in its own nature, one of t he most excellent; for almost all these monarchs are tied down by the laws. But, when they do not observe them, it is a despotic state, swayed by a gr eat many despotic princes.

In the latter case, the republic consist s only in the nobles= the body governing is the republic; and the body gove rned is the despotic state; which form two of the most heterogeneous bodies in the world.

The extremity of corruption is when the power of the nobles becomes hereditary for then they can hardly have any moderation. If th ey are only a few, their power is greater, but their security less; if they are a larger number, their power is less, and their security greater= inso much, that power goes on increasing and security diminishing, up to the very despotic prince, who is encircled with excess of power and danger.

The great number, therefore, of nobles, in an hereditary aristocracy, renders the government less violent= but, as there is less virtue, they fall into a spirit of supineness and negligence, by which the state loses all its strength and activityC2B6.

An aristocracy may maintain the full vig our of its constitution, if the laws be such as are apt to render the noble s more sensible of the perils and fatigues, than of the pleasure, of comman d; and if the government be in such a situation as to have something to dre ad, while security shelters under its protection, and uncertainty threatens from abroad.

As a certain kind of confidence forms th e glory and stability of monarchies, republics, on the contrary, must have something to apprehend*< /a>. A fear of the Persians supported the laws of Greece.

Carthage and Rome were alarmed and strengthened by each other. Strange, that, the greater se curity those states enjoyed, the more, like stagnated waters, they were sub ject to corruption!

Chapter 6: The Corruption of the Principle of Monarchy

Democracies are subverted when the people despoil the senate, the magistrates, and judges, of their functions. The multitude usurps the power.

Monarchies are corrupted when the prince insensibly deprives societies or cities of their privileges. The prince usurps the power.

The destruction of the dynasties of Tsin and SoC3BCi (says a Chinese author) was owing to this. The princes, instead of confining themselves, like their ancestors, to a general in spection, the only one worthy of a sovereign, wanted to govern every thing immediately by themselves.

Monarchy is destroyed, when a prince:

  • thinks he shews a greater exertion of power in changing, than in conforming to , the order of things
  • deprives some of his subjects of their hered itary employments to bestow them arbitrarily upon others
  • is fo nder of being guided by fancy than judgement.
  • directs everything entirely to himself
  • calls the state to his capital, the capital to his court, and the court to his own person
  • mistakes his authority, his situation, and the love of his people
  • is not fully persuaded that a monarch ought to think himself secure, as a despotic prince ought to think himself in danger.

Chapter 7: Continued

THE principle of monarchy is corrupted, when the first dignities are marks of the first servitude, when the great m en are deprived of public respect, and rendered the low tools of arbitrary power.

It is still more corrupted, when honour is set up in contradiction to honours, and when men are capable of being lo aded, at the very same time, with infamy and with dignities.

It is corrupted, when the prince changes his justice into severity; when he puts, like the Roman emperors, a Medusa’s head on his breast and when he assumes that menacing and terrible air which Commodus ordered to be given to his statues.

Again, it is corrupted, when mean and ab ject souls grow vain of the pomp attending their servitude, and imagine tha t the motive which induces them to be entirely devoted to their prince exem pts them from all duty to their country.

But if it be true, (and indeed the exper ience of all ages has shewn it,) that, in proportion as the power of the mo narch becomes boundless and immense, his security diminishes, is the corrup ting of this power, and the altering of its very nature, a less crime than that of high-treason against the prince?