Charles Louis de Secondat Montesquieu


I ask a favor that I fear will not be granted; it is that one not judge by a moment's reading the work of twenty years, that one approve or condemn the book as a whole and not some few sentences. - Preface

If one wants to seek the design of the author, one can find it only in the design of the work. - Preface

Each nation will find here the reasons for its maxims, and the consequence will naturally be drawn from them that changes can be proposed only by those who are born fortunate enough to fathom by a stroke of genius the whole of a state's constitution.

It is not a matter of indifference that the people be enlightened. The prejudices of magistrates began as the prejudices of the nation. In a time of ignorance, one has no doubts even while doing the greatest evils; in an enlightened age, one trembles even while doing the greatest goods. One feels the old abuses and sees their correction, but one also sees the abuses of the correction itself. One lets an ill remain if one fears something worse; one lets a good remain if one is in doubt about a better. One looks at the parts only in order to judge the whole; one examines all the causes in order to see the results. - Preface

As soon as matters are seen from a certain distance, such sallies vanish; they usually arise only because the mind attaches itself to a single point and forsakes all others.

Here I call prejudices not what makes one unaware of certain things but what makes one unaware of oneself.

By seeking to instruct men one can practice the general virtue that includes love of all. Man, that flexible being who adapts himself in society to the thoughts and impressions of others, is equally capable of knowing his own nature when it is shown to him, and of losing even the feeling of it when it is concealed from him. - Preface

Though the intelligent world also has laws that are invariable by their nature, unlike the physical world, it does not follow its laws consistently. The reason for this is that particular intelligent beings are limited by their nature and are consequently subject to error; furthermore, it is in their nature to act by themselves. Therefore, they do not consistently follow their primitive laws or even always follow the laws they give themselves. 1-1-1

Man, as a physical being, is governed by invariable laws like other bodies. As an intelligent being, he constantly violates the laws god has established and changes those he himself establishes; he must guide himself, and yet he is a limited being; he is subject to ignorance and error, as are all finite intelligences; he loses even the imperfect knowledge he has. As a feeling creature, he falls subject to a thousand passions. Such a being could at any moment forget his creator; god has called him back to him by the laws of religion. Such a being could at any moment forget himself; philosophers have reminded him of himself by the laws of morality. Made for living in society, he could forget his fellows; legistlators have returned him to his duties by political and civil laws. 1-1-1

M. makes use of a concept of political virtue, which in a republic is love of the homeland, that is, love of equality, as a the key mechanism that makes republican government move, as honor makes monarchy move. He notes that a government can have one of these mechanisms in it, even though it is not one of the mechanisms that causes the main movement of that particular government. So monarchy can have virtue, and republics can have honor, but they don't cause the movements of those governments. The good man is the man who loves the laws of his country and who acts from love of the laws of his country.

He says he has sought the underlying principles governing the actions of men and history, without prejudice, but from their nature. Many of the truths he writes will be seen only after one sees the chain connecting them with others, and the more one reflects on the details the more one will feel the certainty of the principles.

Laws are the necessary, consistently established relations deriving from the nature of things. All beings have their laws: god, nature, animals, man, etc. He thinks it is obvious a god created everything according to consistent laws and that he continues to preserve those laws, otherwise, everything would be destroyed. Particular intelligent beings can have laws that they have made, like fairness and justice, and before these are made they were always possible according to the Laws already established. So justice is objective, even before just laws are made by man, just like the laws of radii still exist before any particular circle is drawn; so that when men create their laws it is just to adhere to the absolute laws of fairness. He lists some things he thinks are fair. Though the intelligent world also has laws that are invariable by their nature, unlike the physical world, it does not follow its laws consistently. Intelligent beings are limited by their nature and are consequently subject to error; furthermore, it is in their nature to act by themselves. Therefore, they do not consistently follow their primitive laws or even always follow the laws they give themselves. He thinks animals preserve their being through seeking pleasure, and have natural laws because they are united in feeling, but have no positive laws because they are not united in knowledge, then writes some more on their limitations and on man's.

Man, as a physical being, is governed by invariable laws like other bodies. As an intelligent being, he constantly violates the laws god has established and changes those he himself establishes; he must guide himself, and yet he is a limited being; he is subject to ignorance and error, as are all finite intelligences; he loses even the imperfect knowledge he has. As a feeling creature, he falls subject to a thousand passions. Such a being could at any moment forget his creator; god has called him back to him by the laws of religion. Such a being could at any moment forget himself; philosophers have reminded him of himself by the laws of morality. Made for living in society, he could forget his fellows; legistlators have returned him to his duties by political and civil laws. 1-1-1

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