The spirit of laws by Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu

particular cases. In mechanics there are frictions by which the effects

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particular cases. In mechanics there are frictions by which the effects
of the theory are frequently changed or retarded; and policy has also
its frictions.


1. Father Du Halde, i, p. 112.

2. The Chinese books make mention of this. Ibid., iv, p. 448.

3. See Travels to the North, viii; the History of the Tartars; and

Father Du Halde, iv.

4. Tartary is, then, a kind of flat mountain.

5. As Vouty V, emperor of the fifth dynasty.

6. The Scythians thrice conquered Asia, and thrice were driven thence.

Justin, ii. 3.

7. This is in no way contrary to what I shall say in book xxviii. 20

concerning the manner of thinking among the German nations in respect to
the cudgel; let the instrument be what it will, the power or action of
beating was always considered by them as an affront.

8. The waters lose themselves or evaporate before or after their streams

are united.

9. The petty barbarous nations of America are called by the Spaniards

Indios Bravos and are much more difficult to subdue than the great
empires of Mexico and Peru.

Book XVIII. Of Laws in the Relation They Bear to the Nature of the Soil

1. How the Nature of the Soil has an Influence on the Laws. The goodness

of the land, in any country, naturally establishes subjection and
dependence. The husbandmen, who compose the principal part of the
people, are not very jealous of their liberty; they are too busy and too
intent on their own private affairs. A country which overflows with
wealth is afraid of pillage, afraid of an army. "Who is there that forms
this goodly party?" said Cicero to Atticus;[1] "are they the men of
commerce and husbandry? Let us not imagine that these are averse to
monarchy -- these to whom all governments are equal, as soon as they
bestow tranquillity."

Thus monarchy is more frequently found in fruitful countries, and a

republican government in those which are not so; and this is sometimes a
sufficient compensation for the inconveniences they suffer by the
sterility of the land.

The barrenness of the Attic soil established there a democracy; and the

fertility of that of Lacedæmonia an aristocratic constitution. For in
those times Greece was averse to the government of a single person, and
aristocracy bore the nearest resemblance to that government.

Plutarch says[2] that the Cilonian sedition having been appeased at

Athens, the city fell into its ancient dissensions, and was divided into
as many parties as there were kinds of land in Attica. The men who
inhabited the eminences would, by all means, have a popular government;
those of the flat, open country demanded a government composed of the
chiefs; and they who were near the sea desired a mixture of both.

2. The same Subject continued. These fertile provinces are always of a

level surface, where the inhabitants are unable to dispute against a
stronger power; they are then obliged to submit; and when they have once
submitted, the spirit of liberty cannot return; the wealth of the
country is a pledge of their fidelity. But in mountainous districts, as
they have but little, they may preserve what they have. The liberty they
enjoy, or, in other words, the government they are under, is the only
blessing worthy of their defence. It reigns, therefore, more in
mountainous and rugged countries than in those which nature seems to
have most favoured.

The mountaineers preserve a more moderate government, because they are

not so liable to be conquered. They defend themselves easily, and are
attacked with difficulty; ammunition and provisions are collected and
carried against them with great expense, for the country furnishes none.
It is, then, a more arduous, a more dangerous, enterprise to make war
against them; and all the laws that can be enacted for the safety of the
people are there of least use.

3. What Countries are best cultivated. Countries are not cultivated in

proportion to their fertility, but to their liberty; and if we make an
imaginary division of the earth, we shall be astonished to see in most
ages deserts in the most fruitful parts, and great nations in those
where nature seems to refuse everything.

It is natural for a people to leave a bad soil to seek a better, and not

to leave a good soil to go in search of worse. Most invasions have,
therefore, been made in countries which nature seems to have formed for
happiness; and as nothing is more nearly allied than desolation and
invasion, the best provinces are most frequently depopulated, while the
frightful countries of the north continue always inhabited, from their
being almost uninhabitable.

We find by what historians tell us of the passage of the people of

Scandinavia along the banks of the Danube that this was not a conquest,
but only a migration into desert countries.

These happy climates must therefore have been depopulated by other

migrations, though we know not the tragic scenes that happened. "It
appears by many monuments of antiquity," says Aristotle,[3] "that the
Sardinians were a Grecian colony. They were formerly very rich; and
Aristeus, so famed for his love of agriculture, was their law-giver. But
they have since fallen to decay; for the Carthaginians, becoming their
masters, destroyed everything proper tor the nourishment of man, and
forbade the cultivation of the lands on pain of death." Sardinia was not
recovered in the time of Aristotle, nor is it to this day.

The most temperate parts of Persia, Turkey, Muscovy, and Poland have not

been able to recover perfectly from the devastations of the Tartars.

4. New Effects of the Fertility and Barrenness of Countries. The

barrenness of the earth renders men industrious, sober, inured to
hardship, courageous, and fit for war; they are obliged to procure by
labour what the earth refuses to bestow spontaneously. The fertility of
a country gives ease, effeminacy, and a certain fondness for the
preservation of life. It has been remarked that the German troops raised
in those places where the peasants are rich, as, for instance, in
Saxony, are not so good as the others. Military laws may provide against
this inconvenience by a more severe discipline.

5. Of the Inhabitants of Islands. The inhabitants of islands have a

higher relish for liberty than those of the continent. Islands are
commonly of small extent;[4] one part of the people cannot be so easily
employed to oppress the other; the sea separates them from great
empires; tyranny cannot so well support itself within a small compass:
conquerors are stopped by the sea; and the islanders, being without the
reach of their arms, more easily preserve their own laws.

6. Of Countries raised by the Industry of Man. Those countries which the

industry of man has rendered habitable, and which stand in need of the
same industry to provide for their subsistence, require a mild and
moderate government. There are principally three of this species: the
two fine provinces of Kiang-nan and Tsekiang in China; Egypt, and

The ancient emperors of China were not conquerors. The first thing they

did to aggrandise themselves was what gave the highest proof of their
wisdom. They raised from beneath the waters two of the finest provinces
of the empire; these owe their existence to the labour of man. And it is
the inexpressible fertility of these two provinces which has given
Europe such ideas of the felicity of that vast country. But a continual
and necessary care to preserve from destruction so considerable a part
of the empire demanded rather the manners of a wise than of a voluptuous
nation, rather the lawful authority of a monarch than the tyrannic sway
of a despotic prince. Power was, therefore, necessarily moderated in
that country, as it was formerly in Egypt, and as it is now in Holland,
which nature has made to attend to herself, and not to be abandoned to
negligence or caprice.

Thus, in spite of the climate of China, where they are naturally led to

a servile obedience; in spite of the apprehensions which follow too
great an extent of empire, the first legislators of this country were
obliged to make excellent laws, and the government was frequently
obliged to follow them.

7. Of human Industry. Mankind by their industry, and by the influence of

good laws, have rendered the earth more proper for their abode. We see
rivers flow where there have been lakes and marshes: this is a benefit
which nature has not bestowed; but it is a benefit maintained and
supplied by nature. When the Persians[5] were masters of Asia, they
permitted those who conveyed a spring to any place which had not been
watered before to enjoy the benefit for five generations; and as a
number of rivulets flowed from Mount Taurus, they spared no expense in
directing the course of their streams. At this day, without knowing how
they came thither, they are found in the fields and gardens.

Thus, as destructive nations produce evils more durable than themselves,

the actions of an industrious people are the source of blessings which
last when they are no more.

8. The general Relation of Laws. The laws have a very great relation to

the manner in which the several nations procure their subsistence. There
should be a code of laws of a much larger extent for a nation attached
to trade and navigation than for people who are content with cultivating
the earth. There should be a much greater for the latter than for those
who subsist by their flocks and herds. There must be a still greater for
these than for such as live by hunting.

9. Of the Soil of America. The cause of there being such a number of

savage nations in America is the fertility of the earth, which
spontaneously produces many fruits capable of affording them
nourishment. If the women cultivate a spot of land around their
cottages, the maize grows up presently; and hunting and fishing put the
men in a state of complete abundance. Besides, black cattle, as cows,
buffaloes, &c., thrive there better than carnivorous beasts. The latter
have always reigned in Africa.

We should not, I believe, have all these advantages in Europe if the

land was left uncultivated; it would scarcely produce anything besides
forests of oaks and other barren trees.

10. Of Population in the Relation it bears to the Manner of procuring

Subsistence. Let us see in what proportion countries are peopled where
the inhabitants do not cultivate the earth. As the produce of
uncultivated land is to that of land improved by culture, so the number
of savages in one country is to that of husbandmen in another: and when
the people who cultivate the land cultivate also the arts, this is also
in such proportions as would require a minute detail.

They can scarcely form a great nation. If they are herdsmen and

shepherds, they have need of an extensive country to furnish subsistence
for a small number; if they live by hunting, their number must be still
less, and in order to find the means of life they must constitute a very
small nation.

Their country commonly abounds with forests, which, as the inhabitants

have not the art of draining off the waters, are filled with bogs; here
each troop canton themselves, and form a petty nation.

11. Of savage and barbarous Nations. There is this difference between

savage and barbarous nations: the former are dispersed clans, which for
some particular reason cannot be joined in a body; and the latter are
commonly small nations, capable of being united. The savages are
generally hunters; the barbarians are herdsmen and shepherds.

This appears plain in the north of Asia. The people of Siberia cannot

live in bodies, because they are unable to find subsistence; the Tartars
may live in bodies for some time, because their herds and flocks may for
a time be reassembled. All the clans may then be reunited, and this is
effected when one chief has subdued many others; after which they may do
two things -- either separate, or set out with a design to make a great
conquest in some southern empire.

12. Of the Law of Nations among People who do not cultivate the Earth.

As these people do not live in circumscribed territories, many causes of
strife arise between them; they quarrel about waste land as we about
inheritances. Thus they find frequent occasions for war, in disputes in
relation either to their hunting, their fishing, the pasture for their
cattle, or the violent seizing of their slaves; and as they are not
possessed of landed property, they have many things to regulate by the
law of nations, and but few to decide by the civil law.

13. Of the Civil Laws of those Nations who do not cultivate the Earth.

The division of lands is what principally increases the civil code.
Among nations where they have not made this division there are very few
civil laws.

The institutions of these people may be called manners rather than laws.

Among such nations as these the old men, who remember things past, have

great authority; they cannot there be distinguished by wealth, but by
wisdom and valour.

These people wander and disperse themselves in pasture grounds or in

forests. Marriage cannot there have the security which it has among us,
where it is fixed by the habitation, and where the wife continues in one
house; they may then more easily change their wives, possess many, and
sometimes mix indifferently like brutes.

Nations of herdsmen and shepherds cannot leave their cattle, which are

their subsistence; neither can they separate themselves from their
wives, who look after them. All this ought, then, to go together,
especially as living generally in a flat open country, where there are
few places of considerable strength, their wives, their children, their
flocks, may become the prey of their enemies.

The laws regulate the division of plunder, and give, like our Salic

laws, a particular attention to theft.

14. Of the political State of the People who do not cultivate the Land.

These people enjoy great liberty; for as they do not cultivate the
earth, they are not fixed: they are wanderers and vagabonds; and if a
chief should deprive them of their liberty, they would immediately go
and seek it under another, or retire into the woods, and there live with
their families. The liberty of the man is so great among these people
that it necessarily draws after it that of the citizen.

15. Of People who know the Use of Money. Aristippus, being cast away,

swam and got safely to the next shore, where, beholding geometrical
figures traced in the sand, he was seized with a transport of joy,
judging that he was among Greeks, and not in a nation of barbarians.

Should you ever happen to be cast by some adventure among an unknown

people; upon seeing a piece of money you may be assured that you have
arrived in a civilised country.

The culture of lands requires the use of money. This culture supposes

many inventions and many degrees of knowledge; and we always see
ingenuity, the arts, and a sense of want making their progress with an
equal pace. All this conduces to the establishment of a sign of value.

Torrents and eruptions have made the discovery that metals are contained

in the bowels of the earth.[6] When once they have been separated, they
have easily been applied to their proper use.

16. Of Civil Laws among People who know not the Use of Money. When a

people have not the use of money, they are seldom acquainted with any
other injustice than that which arises from violence; and the weak, by
uniting, defend themselves from its effects. They have nothing there but
political regulations. But where money is established, they are subject
to that injustice which proceeds from craft -- an injustice that may be
exercised in a thousand ways. Hence they are forced to have good civil
laws, which spring up with the new practices of iniquity.

In countries where they have no specie, the robber takes only bare

movables, which have no mutual resemblance. But where they make use of
money, the robber takes the signs, and these always resemble each other.
In the former nothing can be concealed, because the robber takes along
with him the proofs of his conviction; but in the latter it is quite the

17. Of political Laws among Nations who have not the Use of Money. The

greatest security of the liberties of a people who do not cultivate the
earth is their not knowing the use of money. What is gained by hunting,
fishing, or keeping herds of cattle cannot be assembled in such great
quantity, nor be sufficiently preserved, for one man to find himself in
a condition to corrupt many others: but when, instead of this, a man has
a sign of riches, he may obtain a large quantity of these signs, and
distribute them as he pleases.

The people who have no money have but few wants; and these are supplied

with ease, and in an equal manner. Equality is then unavoidable; and
hence it proceeds that their chiefs are not despotic.

If what travellers tell us be true, the constitution of a nation of

Louisiana, called the Natches, is an exception to this. Their chief
disposes of the goods of all his subjects, and obliges them to work and
toil, according to his pleasure.[7] He has a power like that of the
grand signior, and they cannot even refuse him their heads. When the
presumptive heir enters the world, they devote all the sucking children
to his service during his life. One would imagine that this is the great
Sesostris. He is treated in his cottage with as much ceremony as an
emperor of Japan or China.

18. Of the Power of Superstition. The prejudices of superstition are

superior to all others, and have the strongest influence on the human
mind. Thus, though the savage nations have naturally no knowledge of
despotic tyranny, still they feel the weight of it. They adore the sun;
and if their chief had not imagined that he was the brother of this
glorious luminary, they would have thought him a wretch like themselves.

19. Of the Liberty of the Arabs and the Servitude of the Tartars. The

Arabs and Tartars are nations of herdsmen and shepherds. The Arabs find
themselves in that situation of which we have been speaking, and are
therefore free; whilst the Tartars (the most singular people on earth)
are involved in a political slavery.[8] I have already given reasons for
this[9] and shall now assign some others.

They have no towns, no forests, and but few marshes; their rivers are

generally frozen, and they dwell in a level country of an immense
extent. They have pasture for their herds and flocks, and consequently
property; but they have no kind of retreat, or place of safety. A khan
is no sooner overcome than they cut off his head; his children are
treated in the same manner,[10] and all his subjects belong to the
conqueror. These are not condemned to a civil slavery, for in that case
they would be a burden to a simple people, who have no lands to
cultivate, and no need of any domestic service. They therefore add to
the bulk of the nation; but instead of civil servitude, a political
slavery must naturally be introduced among them.

It is apparent that in a country where the several clans make continual

war, and are perpetually conquering each other; in a country where, by
the death of the chief, the body politic of the vanquished clan is
always destroyed, the nation in general can enjoy but little freedom;
for there is not a single party that must not have been often subdued.

A conquered people may preserve some degree of liberty when, by the

strength of their situation, they are in a state that will admit of
capitulating after their defeat. But the Tartars, always defenceless,
being once overcome, can never be able to obtain conditions.

I have said, in chapter 2, that the inhabitants of cultivated plains are

seldom free. Circumstances have occurred to put the Tartars, who dwell
in uncultivated plains, in the same situation.

20. Of the Law of Nations as practised by the Tartars. The Tartars

appear to be mild and humane among themselves; and yet they are most
cruel conquerors: when they take cities they put the inhabitants to the
sword, and imagine that they act humanely if they only sell the people,
or distribute them among their soldiers.

They have destroyed Asia, from India even to the Mediterranean; and all

the country which forms the east of Persia they have rendered a desert.

The law of nations is owing, I think, to the following cause. These

people having no towns, all their wars are carried on with eagerness and
impetuosity. They fight whenever they hope to conquer; and when they
have no such hope, they join the stronger army. With such customs, it is
contrary to the law of nations that a city incapable of repelling their
attack should stop their progress. They regard not cities as an
association of inhabitants, but as places made to bid defiance to their
power. They besiege them without military skill, and expose themselves
greatly in the attack; and therefore revenge themselves on all those who
have spilled their blood.

21. The Civil Law of the Tartars. Father Du Halde says that amongst the

Tartars the youngest of the males is always the heir, by reason that as
soon as the elder brothers are capable of leading a pastoral life they
leave the house with a certain number of cattle, given them by their
father, and build a new habitation. The last of the males, who continues
at home with the father, is then his natural heir.

I have heard that a like custom was also observed in some small

districts of England; and we find it still in Brittany, in the duchy of
Rohan, where it obtains with regard to ignoble tenures. This is
doubtless a pastoral law conveyed thither by some of the people of
Britain, or established by some German nation. By Cæsar and Tacitus we
are informed that the latter cultivated but little land.

22. Of a Civil Law of the German Nations. I shall here explain how that

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