The Spirit of Laws (1758)/Book IX

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The Spirit of Laws, Volume I  (1758)  by Montesquieu, translated by Thomas Nugent
Book IX

Of Laws in the relation they bear to a defensive Force.

In what manner Republics provide for their Safety.

Book IX.
Chap. 1.
IF a republic is small, it is destroyed by a foreign force; if it be large, it is ruined by an internal imperfection[1].

To this twofold inconvenience both Democracies and Aristocracies are equally liable, and that whether they be good or bad. The evil is in the very thing itself; and no form can redress it.

It is therefore very probable that mankind would have been at length obliged to live constantly under the government of a single person, had they not contrived a kind of constitution that has all the internal advantages of a republican, together with the external force of a monarchical, government. I mean a confederate republic.

This form of government is a convention by which several small states agree to become members of a larger one which they intend to form. It is a kind of assemblage of societies, that constitute a new one, capable of increasing by means of new associations, till they arrive to such a degree of power, Book IX.
Chap. 1.
as to be able to provide for the security of the united body.

It was these associations that contributed so long to the prosperity of Greece. By these the Romans attacked the universe, and by these alone the universe withstood them: for when Rome was arrived to her highest pitch of grandeur, it was the associations behind the Danube and the Rhine, associations formed by the terror of her arms, that enabled the Barbarians to resist her.

From hence it proceeds that Holland,[2] Germany, and the Swiss Cantons, are considered in Europe as perpetual republics.

The associations of cities were formerly more necessary than in our times. A weak defenceless town was exposed to greater dangers. By conquest it was deprived not only of the executive and legislative power, as at present, but moreover of all human property[3].

A republic of this kind able to withstand an external force, may support itself without any internal corruption; the form of this society prevents all manner of inconveniencies.

If a single member should attempt to usurp the supreme authority, he could not be supposed to have an equal authority and credit in all the confederate states. Were he to have too great an influence over one, this would alarm the rest; were he to subdue a part, that which would still remain free, might oppose him with forces independent of those which he Book IX.
Chap. 1. & 2.
had usurped, and overpower him before he could be settled in his usurpation.

Should a popular insurrection happen in one of the confederate states, the others are able to quell it. Should abuses creep into one part, they are reformed by those that remain sound. The state may be destroyed on one side, and not on the other; the confederacy may be dissolved, and the confederates preserve their sovereignty.

As this government is composed of petty republics, it enjoys the internal happiness of each; and with respect to its external situation, it is possessed by means of the association, of all the advantages of large monarchies.

That a confederate Government ought to be composed of states of the same nature, especially of the republican Kind.

THE Canaanites were destroyed, by reason they were petty monarchies that had no union nor confederacy for their common defence: And indeed a confederacy is not agreeable to the nature of petty monarchies.

As the confederate republic of Germany consists of free cities, and of petty states subject to different princes, experience shews us that it is much more imperfect than that of Holland and Swisserland.

The spirit of monarchy is war and enlargement of dominion: peace and moderation is the spirit of a republic. These two kinds of government cannot naturally subsist in a confederate republic.

Book IX.
Chap. 3.
Thus we observe in the Roman history, that when the Veientes had chosen a king, they were immediately abandoned by all the other petty republics of Tuscany. Greece was undone as soon as the kings of Macedon obtained a feat among the Amphietyons.

The confederate republic of Germany, composed of princes and free towns, subsists by means of a chief, who is in some respects the magistrate of the union, in others the monarch.

Other requisites in a confederate Republic.

IN the republic of Holland one province cannot conclude an alliance without the consent of the others. This law, which is an excellent one and even necessary in a confederate republic, is wanting in the Germanic constitution, where it would prevent the misfortunes that may happen to the whole confederacy, through the imprudence, ambition, or avarice of a single member. A republic united by a political confederacy, has given itself intirely up, and has nothing more to resign.

It is difficult for the united states, to be all of an equal extent and power. The Lycian[4] republic H- was an association of twenty three towns; the large ones had three votes in the common council, the middling ones two, and the small towns one. The Dutch republic consists of seven provinces, of different extent of territory, which have each one voice.

The cities of Lycia[5] contributed to the expences of the state, according to the proportion of suffrages. The provinces of the united Netherlands Book IX.
Chap. 4.
cannot follow this proportion; they must be directed by that of their power.

In Lycia[6] the judges and town magistrates were elected by the common council, and according to the proportion already mentioned. In the republic of Holland they are not chosen by the common council, but each town names its magistrates. Were I to give a model of an excellent confederate republic, I should pitch upon that of Lycia.

In what manner despotic Governments provide for their security.

AS republics provide for their security by uniting, despotic governments do it by separating, and by keeping themselves, as it were, single. They sacrifice a part of the country, and by ravaging and desolating the frontiers, they render the heart of the empire inaccessilble.

It is a received axiom in geometry, that the greater the extent of bodies, the more their circumference is relatively small. This practice therefore of laying the frontiers waste, is more tolerable in large than in middling states.

A despotic government does all the mischief to itself that could be done by a cruel enemy, whose progress it could not refill.

It preserves itself likewise by another kind of separation, which is by putting the most distant provinces into the hands of a feudatary prince. The Mogul, the king of Persia, and the emperors of China have their feudataries; and the Turks have found their account in putting the Tartars, the Book IX.
Chap. 5. & 6.
Moldavians, the Walachians, and formerly the Transilvanians between themselves and their enemies.

In what manner a Monarchical Government provides for its Security.

A Monarchy never destroys itself like a despotic government. But a kingdom of a moderate extent is liable to sudden invasions: It must therefore have strong holds to defend its frontiers; and troops to garrison those holds. The least spot of ground is disputed with art, with courage, and obstinacy. Despotic states make incursions against one another; it is monarchies only that wage war.

Fortresses are proper for monarchies; despotic governments are afraid of them. They dare not intrust them to any body, for there is no one that has a love for the prince or his government.

Of the defensive Force of States in general.

TO preserve a state in its due force, it must have such an extent, as to admit of a proportion between the quickness with which it may be invaded, and that with which it may render the invasion abortive. As an invader may instantly appear on all sides, it is requisite that the state should be able to make on all sides its defence; consequently it should be of a moderate extent, proportioned to the degree of velocity that nature has given to man to enable him to move from one place to another.

Book IX.
Chap. 6.
France and Spain are exactly of a proper extent. They have so easy a communication for their forces, as to be able to convey them immediately to what part they have a mind; the armies unite and pass with rapidity from one frontier to another, without any apprehension of such difficulties as require time to remove.

It is extremely happy for France, that the capital stands nearer to the different frontiers in proportion to their weakness; and the prince has a better view of each part of his country in proportion as it is more exposed.

But when a vast empire, like Persia, is attacked, it is several months before the troops are able to assemble; and then they cannot make such forced marches for that length of time, as they can for fifteen days. If the army on the frontiers is beaten, it is certainly dispersed, because there is no neighbouring place of retreat. The victor, meeting with no resistance, advances with all expedition, sits down before the capital and lays siege to it, when there is scarce time enough to give notice to the governors of the provinces to come to its relief. Those who foresee an imminent revolution, hasten it by their disobedience. For men whole fidelity is intirely owing to the proximity of punishment, are easily corrupted as soon as it becomes distant; their aim is their own private interest. The empire is subverted, the capital taken, and the conqueror disputes the several provinces with the governors.

The real power of a prince does not consist so much in the facility he meets with in making conquests, as in the difficulty an enemy finds in Book IX
Chap. 7.
attacking him, and, if I may so speak, in the immutability of his condition. But the increase of territory obliges a government to expose new sides by which it may be attacked.

As monarchs therefore ought to be endued with wisdom in order to increase, they ought likewise to have an equal share of prudence to limit, their power. Upon removing the inconveniencies of too small a territory, they ought to have their eye constantly on the inconveniencies that attend its immoderate enlargement.

A Reflection.

THE enemies of a great prince, whose reign was protracted to an unusual length, have very often accused him, rather, I believe, from their own fears, than upon any solid foundation, of having formed and carried on a project of universal monarchy. Had he succeeded, nothing would have been more fatal to Europe, to his ancient subjects, to himself, and to his family. Heaven that knows our true interests, served him more by defeats, than it could have done by victories. Instead of making him the only sovereign in Europe, it favoured him more by rendering him the most powerful.

The subjects of this prince, who in foreign countries are never affected but with what they have forsaken ; who on leaving their own homes look upon glory as a sovereign good, and in distant countries as an obstacle to their return ; who displease you even by their good qualities, because they seem Book IX.
Chap. 8.
to be joined with an air of contempt; who are capable of supporting wounds, perils, and fatigues, but not the loss of their pleasures ; who love nothing so much as gaiety, and console themselves for the loss of a battle by singing a ballad on the general; those subjects, I say, would never have been able to compass an enterprize, so as to render it impossible to be defeated in one country, without miscarrying in all the others , nor to miscarry for a moment without miscarrying for ever.

A particular Case in which the defensive Force of a State is inferior to the offensive.

IT was a saying of the lord of Coucy to king Charles V. that the English are never weaker, nor easier overcome than in their own country. The same was observed of the Romans; the same of the Carthaginians; and the same always will happen to every power that sends armies to distant countries, in order to reunite by dint of discipline and military power, those who are divided among themselves by political or civil interests. The state finds itself weakened by the disorder that still continues, and more so by the remedy.

The lord of Coucy's maxim is an exception to the general rule, which disapproves of wars against distant countries. And this exception confirms likewise the rule, because it takes place only in respect to those by whom such wars are undertaken.

Of the relative Force of States.

Book IX.
Chap. 9, & 10.
ALL grandeur, force, and power are relative. Care therefore must be taken that in endeavouring to increase the real grandeur, the relative be not diminished.

Under the reign of Lewis XIV. France was at its highest pitch of relative grandeur. Germany had not yet such great monarchs as it has since produced. Italy was in the same case. England and Scotland were not yet formed into one united kingdom. Arragon was not joined to Castile; the distant parts of the Spanish monarchy were weakened by it, and weakened it in their turn; and Muscovy was as little known in Europe, as Crim Tartary.

Of the Weakness of neighbouring States.

WHENSOEVER a state lies contiguous to another that happens to be in its decline, the former ought to take particular care not to precipitate the latter's ruin, because this is the happiest situation imaginable; nothing being so convenient for one prince as to be near another who receives for him all the rebuffs and insults of fortune. And it seldom happens that by subduing such a slate, the real power of the conqueror is as much increased, as the relative is diminished.

  1. Fato potentiœ, non suâ vi nixæ. Tacit.
  2. It is composed of about fifty different republics. State of the United Provinces by M. Janisson.
  3. Civil liberty, goods, wives, children, temples, and even burying places.
  4. Strabo lib. 14.
  5. Strabo lib. 4.
  6. Ibid.