Chapters 3-5

Danger of the Corruption of the Principle of Monarchical Government

by Montesquieu Icon

THE danger is not when the state passes from one moderate to another moderate government, a republic to a monarchy, or from a monarchy to a republic, but when it switches from a moderate to a despotic government.

Most of the European nations are still governed by the principles of morality.

But if, from a long abuse of power, or the fury of conquest, despotic sway should prevail, neither morals nor climate would be able to withstand its baleful influence.

And then human nature would be exposed, for some time at least, even in t his beautiful part of the world, to the insults with which she has been abused in the other three.

Chapter 9: How ready the Nobility are to defend the Throne.

THE English nobility buried themselves, with Charles 1st, under the ruins of the throne.

Before that time, when Philip the second endeavoured to tempt the French with the allureme nt of liberty, the crown was constantly supported by a nobility who think it an honour to obey a king, but consider it as the lowest disgrace to share the power with the people.

The house of Austria has ever used her e ndeavours to oppress the Hungarian nobility; little thinking how serviceabl e that very nobility would be one day to her. She would fain have drained their country of money, of which they had no plenty; but took no notice of t he men, with whom it abounded. When princes combined to dismember her domin ions, the several parts of that monarchy fell motionless, as it were, one u pon another.

No life was then to be seen but in those very nobles, who, res enting the affronts offered to the sovereign, and forgetting the injuries d one to themselves, took up arms to avenge her cause, and considered it as the highest glory bravely to die and to forgive.

Chapter 10: The Corruption of the Principle of despotic Government

THE principle of despotic government is subject to a continual corruption, because it is, even in its nature, corru pt. Other governments are destroyed by particular accidents, which do viole nce to the principles of each constitution; this is ruined by its own intri nsic imperfections, when some accidental causes do not prevent the corrupting of its principles.

It maintains itself, therefore, only when circumstanc es, drawn from the climate, religion, situation, or genius of the people, oblige it to conform to order, and to admit of some rule. By these things it s nature is forced, without being changed; its ferocity remains; and it is made tame and tractable only for a time.

Chapter 11: Natural Effects of the Goodness a nd Corruption of the Principles of Government.

WHEN once the principles of government a re corrupted, the very best laws become bad, and turn against the state= but, when the principles are sound, even bad laws have the same effect as goo d; the force of the principle draws every thing to it.

The inhabitants of Crete used a very sin gular method, to keep the principal magistrates dependent on the laws; which was that of insurrection. Part of the citizen s rose up in arms, put the magistrates to flight, and obliged them to return to a private life. This was supposed to be done in consequence of the law.

One would ha ve imagined that an institution of this nature, which established sedition to hinder the abuse of power, would have subverted any republic whatsoever; and yet it did not subvert that of Crete. The reason is this= *

When the ancients would express a people that had the strongest affection for their country, they were sure to ment ion the inhabitants of Crete= Our country, said Plato,E280A0 a name so dear to the Cretans. They called it by a n ame which signifies the love of a mother for her children.E280A1 Now, the love of our country sets every thing to right.

The laws of Poland have likewise their < span class3D"ital">insurrection= but the inconveniences thence aris ing plainly shew that the people of Crete alone were capable of using such a remedy with success.

The gymnic exercises, established among the Greeks, had the same dependence on the goodness of the principle of gov ernment. It was the Spartans and Cretans (said Plato) that opened tho se celebrated academies which gave them so eminent a rank in the world. Mod esty at first was alarmed; but it yielded to the public utility.

In Plato’s time these institutions were admirable,C2A7 as they had a relation to a very important object, which was the military art. But, when virtue fled fro m Greece, the military art was destroyed by these institutions; people appe ared then on the arena, not for improvement, but for debauch.

Plutarch informs us, that the Romans in his time were of opin ion that those games had been the principal cause of the slavery into which the Greeks were fallen. On the contrary, it was the slavery of the Greeks that corrupted those exercises.

In Plutarch’s time their fighting naked in the parks, and their wrestling, infected the young people with a spirit of cowa rdice, inclined them to infamous passions, and made them mere dancers= but, under Epaminondas, the exercise of wrestling made the Thebans win the famo us battle of Leuctra.

There are very few laws which are not go od, while the state retains its principles. Here I may apply what Epicurus said of riches: It is not the liquor, but the vessel, that is corr upted.

Chapter 12: Continued

IN Rome the judges were chosen at first from the order of senators.

This privilege the Gracchi transferred to the knights. Drusus gave it to the senators and knights; Sylla to the senators only; Cotta to the senators, knights, and public treasurers.

Caesar excluded the latter. Antony made decuries of senators, knights, and centurions.

When once a republic is corrupted, there is no possibility of remedying any of the growing evils, but by removing t he corruption and restoring its lost principles.

Every other correction is either useless or a new evil. While Rome preserved her principles entire, t he judicial power might, without any abuse, be lodged in the hands of senat ors= but, as soon as this city became corrupt, to whatever body that power was transferred, whether to the senate, to the knights, to the treasurers, to two of those bodies, to all three together, or to any other; matters sti ll went wrong. The knights had no more virtue than the senate; the treasure rs no more than the knights; and these as little as the centurions.

After the people of Rome had obtained th e privilege of sharing the magistracy with the patricians, it was natural t o think that their flatterers would immediately become arbiters of the gove rnment. But no such thing ever happened. It was observable, that the very p eople, who had rendered the plebeians capable of public offices, ever fixed their choice upon the patricians.

Because they were virtuous, they were ma gnanimous; and, because they were free, they had a contempt of power. But, when their morals were corrupted, the more power they were possessed of, th e less prudent was their conduct; till, at length, upon becoming their own tyrants and slaves, they lost the strength of liberty, to fall into the wea kness and impotency of licentiousness.

Chapter 13: The Effect of an Oath among virtuous People

Livy says that the Romans were the nation that stayed uncorrupted and respected moderation and poverty the longest.

Such was the influence of an oath among those people, that nothing bound them stronger to the laws. They often did more, for the observance of an oath, than they would ever have performed for the thirst of glory, or for the love of their country.

When Quintus Cincinnatus the consul wanted to raise an army in the city against the Equi and the Volsci, the tribunes opposed him. He said that all those, who have taken an oath to the consul of the preceding year, march under my banner.

In vain did the tribunes cry out that this oath was no longer binding, and that, when they took it, Quintus was but a private person= the people were more religious than those who p retended to direct them; they would not listen to the distinctions or equiv ocations of the tribunes.

When the same people thought of retiring to the Sacred Mount, they felt some remorse fr om the oath they had taken to the consuls that they would follow them into the field. They entered then into a design of killing the consuls, but dropped it when they were given to understand that their oath would still be binding. Now, it i s easy to judge of the notion they entertained of the violation of an oath, from the crime they intended to commit.

After the battle of CannC3A6 the peopl e were seized with such a panic, that they would fain have retired to Sicily but, Scipio having prevailed upon them to swear they would not stir from Rome, the fear of violating this oath surpassed all other apprehensions. Rome was a ship held by two anchors, religion and morality, in the midst of a furious tempest.

Chapter 14: How the smallest Change of the Constitution leads to the Ruin of its Principles

ARISTOTLE mentions Carthage as a well regulated republic.

Polybius tells us,* that there was this inconvenience, at Carthage, in the second Punic war, that the senate had lost almost all their authority.

Livy tells us that, when Hannibal returned to Carthage, he found that the magistrates and the principal citizens had abused their powe r, and converted the public revenues to their private emolument.

The virtue , therefore, of the magistrates, and the authority of the senate, both fell at the same time; and all was owing to the same cause.

Everyone knows the wonderful effects of the censorship among the Romans.

There was a time when it grew burdensome, but still it was supported because there was more luxury than corruption.

Claudius weakened its authority. This caused the corruption to become greater than the luxury.

The censorship dwindled away of itself.

After various interruptions and resumptions, it was entirely laid aside till it became altogether useless till the reigns of Augustus and Claudius.

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