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PART III.: SOME EXPLANATIONS OF THE SPIRIT OF LAWS. - Charles Louis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu, Complete Works, vol. 4 Familiar Letters; Miscellaneous Pieces; The Temple of Gnidus; A Defence of the Spirit of Laws 
The Complete Works of M. de Montesquieu (London: T. Evans, 1777), 4 vols. Vol. 4.
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WE have seen in the two first parts, all that results from so many bitter criticisms is, That the Author of The Spirit of Laws has not performed his work according to the plan and views of his Critics; and that if his Critics had wrote a work on the same subject, they would have thrown in a great many things which they know. It also follows from thence, that they are divines, and that the Author is a civilian; that they think themselves qualified to do his business, and that he has not the presumption to believe himself fit for theirs. In fine, it follows from thence, that, instead of attacking him with such acrimony, they had better have made themselves sensible of the value of what he has said in favour of religion, which he has with equal ardour respected and defended. I shall now make some reflexions.
That manner of reasoning is not good, which, being employed against any good book whatsoever, may make it appear as bad as any bad book whatsoever; and which, being used against any bad book whatsoever, may make it appear as good as any good book whatsoever.
That manner of reasoning is not just, which, to the subject in debate, calls in others that have no relation to it, and confounds the several sciences, and the ideas belonging to each.
We ought not to dispute, on a work wrote on any of the sciences, with reasons that may attack the science itself.
When a person writes a criticism on a work, and on a work of considerable extent and importance, he ought to endeavour to procure a particular knowledge of the science which is the subject of that work, and carefully to read the approved authors who have already wrote upon it; in order to see, whether the Author has deviated from the usual received manner of treating the subject.
When an Author explains himself by word of mouth, or by his writings, which are the images of those words, it is contrary to reason to quit the exterior signs of his thoughts, to run in search of his thoughts themselves; because none but himself is capable of knowing his thoughts. It is much worse, when his thoughts are good, and bad ones are attributed to him.
When a person writes against an Author, and becomes exasperated against him, he ought to prove the character he gives him by what he says, and not what he says by the character he gives him.
When we see that an author’s intention is in general good, we shall be seldomer mistaken if, in certain places which we think equivocal, we judge according to the general intention, than if we allow him a particular bad intention.
In books wrote for amusement, three or four pages give an idea of the style, and the charms of the work: but, in books of reasoning, we retain nothing if we do not retain the whole chain.
As it is very difficult to write a good work, and very easy to write a critique upon it, because the Author has all his defiles to guard, and the Critic has only one of them to force; the latter ought not to fail: but if it happens that he has continually failed, he must be inexcusable.
Besides, as the Critic may be chargeable with an ostentation of his superiority over others, and as the usual effect of the criticism is giving some delicious moments to human pride; those who give themselves up to it deserve to be treated with strict justice, but very seldom with indulgence.
And as, of all the different kinds of writing, it is that in which it is most difficult to shew a good temper, we ought to take care not to increase, by the bitterness of words, this unhappiness in the subject.
When we write on grand and noble subjects, it is not sufficient for us to consult our zeal; we ought also to consult our abilities, and if heaven has not blessed us with great talents, we may supply the want of them by distrust of ourselves, exactness, labour, and reflexion.
The art of finding, in what has naturally a good sense, all the bad senses which a person by false reasoning is capable of giving it, is of no use to mankind; and those who practise it are like the ravens that fly from living bodies, and hover on all sides in search of carcases.
A like manner of criticising produces two grand inconveniencies. The first is, That it hurts the mind of the reader, by exhibiting a mixture of truth and falshood, of good and evil: he is accustomed to seek for a bad sense in things that have naturally a good one; whence he is easily led to the disposition of searching for a good sense in things that have naturally a bad one: it thus make him lose the faculty of reasoning justly, and throws him into all the subtilties of a false logic. The second inconvenience is, That, in rendering, by this manner of reasoning, good books suspected, we have no arms left with which we can attack those that are bad: so that the public has no rule whereby to distinguish them. If those are treated as Spinosists and Deists who are not, what shall be said to those who are?
Though we ought readily to think, that those who write against us on subjects in which all mankind are interested, are prompted to do this only by the impulses of Christian charity; yet, as it is the nature of that virtue rarely to conceal itself, as it will shine in spite of ourselves, and sparkle and blaze on all sides, if it happens that, in two pieces wrote one after another against the same person, no trace can be found of that amiable virtue, that it does not appear in any phrase, in any turn, in any word, or expression, he who has written such works must have just cause to fear that he was not led to it by Christian charity.
And as virtues merely human are, in us, the effect of what is called a good disposition; if it be impossible to discover any vestige of this good disposition, the public may conclude from thence, that these pieces are not even the effect of the human virtues.
In the judgment of mankind, it is easier to see the actions, than to be convinced of the sincerity of the motives; and it is more easy to believe, that the action of uttering atrocious abuse is an evil, than it is to be persuaded, that the motive which prompted to it is good.
When a man is fixed in a state intended to render religion respected, and which religion itself renders respectable, and attacks before the men of the world one of that body, it is essentially necessary that he should maintain, by his manner of acting, the superiority of his character. The world is very corrupt: but there are certain passions found there that are kept under great restraint: because there are others more favoured that forbid their appearance. Consider the men of the world in their behaviour to each other; there is nothing so timid; pride durst not reveal its secrets, and, in the regard it has for others, it quits itself only to gain new strength. Christianity gives us the habit of subduing this pride; the world gives us the habit of concealing it. With the little virtue we have, what would become of us, if our whole souls were set at liberty, and if we were not attentive to the least word, to the least signs, the least gestures? Now when men, venerable and respectable by their characters, shew passions which the men of the world durst not suffer to break out to public view, these begin to think themselves better than they really are; and this is a great evil.
We men of the world are also so weak, that we ought to be treated with the utmost care and precaution. Therefore when a priest lets us see all the external marks of violent passions, what would he have us think of what passes within his breast? Can he hope that we, rash as we are in judging, will not judge accordingly?
It is observable that, in the conversations and disputes of men of a harsh and obstinate temper, as they strive not to inform and assist each other, but to obtain a victory, they fly from truth, not in proportion to the greatness or littleness of their minds, but according to the greater or less caprice and inflexibility of their dispositions. The contrary happens to those to whom nature or education has given candour and ingenuity. As their disputes are mutual succours, they have the same object in view; they think differently only that they may think alike, and find and acknowledge the force of truth in proportion to the strength of evidence: this is the reward of a good disposition.
When a man writes on religious subjects, he ought not to depend so much on the credulity of those who read, as to say things contrary to good sense; because, by increasing his credit with those who have more piety than understanding, he loses his credit with others who have more understanding than piety.
And as religion best defends itself, it suffers greater prejudice by being badly defended, than if it was not defended at all.
If it should happen that a man, after having lost his readers, should attack a person of some reputation, and thus obtain the means of being read; one might suspect that, under the pretence of sacrificing this victim to religion, he sacrificed him to his own self-love.
The manner of criticising of which we are treating, is the only thing in the world most capable of limiting the extent, and diminishing, if I may use the term, the sum-total of national genius. Theology has its bounds and its forms; because, the truths it teaches being known, men are not allowed to deviate from them. Here then genius cannot take her flight, she being in a manner circumscribed in a circle. But, to pretend to place the same inclosure about those who treat of human sciences, is mocking the world. The principles of geometry are very true; but if we apply them to things of taste, we shall make reason itself talk unreasonably. Nothing stifles knowledge more, than covering every thing with a doctor’s robe; and the men who would be for ever teaching, are great hindrances to learning. There is no genius that is not contracted by being inveloped by a million of vain scruples. Have you the best intention in the world, they will force you yourself to doubt of it. You can no longer employ your endeavour to speak or write with propriety, when you are perplexed with the fear of expressing yourself ill; and when, instead of pursuing your thought, you are only busied about chusing such terms as may escape the subtilty of the critics. They come to put a biggin on your head, each saying at every word, Take care of falling; you would speak like yourself, but I would have you speak like me. Do you endeavour to soar aloft? They stop you by pulling your sleeve. Have you life and strength? They deprive you of it in an instant. Do you rise a little? they take their rule, and, lifting up their heads, call you to come down that they may measure you. Do you run your course? They would have you examine all the stones the ants have thrown up in your way. No science nor literature is proof against this pedantry. The present age has formed academies; but they would make us re-enter the schools of the darker ages. Descartes, however, may give assurance to those who, with a genius infinitely beneath his, have the same good intentions. That great man was incessantly charged with atheism; and yet there are not now employed against the Atheists stronger arguments than his.
We ought to regard criticisms as personal only, in the cases where those who made them have been willing to render them so. It is certainly very allowable to criticise the works presented to the public; because it would be ridiculous for those who are willing to inlighten others, to be averse to be inlightened themselves. Those who give us information are the companions of our labours. If the Critic and the Author are both in search of truth, they have the same interest; for truth is a blessing designed for allmankind: they are then confederates, and not enemies.
It is with great pleasure that I now lay down the pen. I should have continued to have kept silence, if, in keeping it, many persons had not concluded that I had been reduced to it.
SOME EXPLANATIONS OF THE SPIRIT OF LAWS.
SOME persons have made this objection: In The Spirit of Laws, honour or fear, and not virtue, is represented as the principle upon which certain governments are founded, and virtue is represented as the principle of only a few others: whence it follows, that the christian virtues are not required in most governments.
To this it is answered, that the Author has placed this note in the fifth chapter of the third book: “I speak here of political virtue, which is a moral virtue as directed to the general advantage; very little of private moral virtue, and not at all of that virtue which has a relation to revealed truths.” In the following chapter is another note that refers to this, and to the second and third chapters of the fifth book. This virtue the Author has defined the love of our country; and the love of our country he has defined the love of equality and frugality. The whole fifth book rests on these principles. When a writer has defined a word in his work, when he has given, if I may use the expression, his dictionary, ought not his words to be understood according to the signification he has given them?
The word Virtue, like most of the words in all languages, is taken in several acceptations: sometimes it signifies the christian virtues; sometimes the pagan virtues; and often, a certain christian virtue, or a particular pagan virtue; it likewise sometimes signifies fortitude; and in some languages it means a certain capacity for an art, or for certain arts. It is what precedes, or what follows the word, that fixes its signification: but here the Author has done more—he has several times given his definition. This objection has therefore been only made on account of the work being read with too much rapidity.
THE Author has said in the third chapter of the second book, “The best aristocracy is that in which the part of the people who have no share in the legislature is so small and inconsiderable, that the governing party have no interest in oppressing them. Thus, when Antipater made a Law at Athens, that whosoever was not worth two thousand drachms should be excluded from the right of suffrage* , he formed by this means the best aristocracy possible; because this was so small a sum, that it excluded very few, and not one of any rank or consideration in the city. Aristocratical families ought therefore, as much as possible, to level themselves in appearance with the people. The more an aristocracy borders on democracy, the nearer it approaches to perfection; and it is the more imperfect, in proportion as it draws towards monarchy.”
In a letter inserted in the Journal de Travaux for the month of April 1749, this quotation is objected against the Author. The writer says, that he has open before him the place quoted, and there finds, that there were only nine thousand persons who had the sum prescribed by Antipater; and that there were twenty-two thousand who wanted it: whence it is concluded that the Author has misapplied his quotations, the small number having the sum required, and the large number being excluded for the want of it.
It were to be wished, that he who has made this critical remark had paid greater attention to what both the Author and Diodorus have said.
1. There were not twenty-two thousand who wanted this sum in Antipater’s republic. The twenty-two thousand persons mentioned by Diodorus were sent away and established in Thrace; and there only remained to form this republic, the nine thousand citizens who had the sum, and those of the lower people who would not set out for Thrace. The reader may consult Diodorus.
2. Though there had remained twenty-two thousand persons at Athens, who wanted the above sum, the objection would not be the less unjust. The words great and small are relative. Nine thousand Sovereigns in a state are an immense number; and twenty-two thousand subjects in the same state, is a number extremely small.
[* ]Diodorus, lib. xviii. p. 601. Rhodoman’s edition.