Short summary - The Spirit of Laws - Montesquieu

French literature summaries - 2021

Short summary - The Spirit of Laws

In the preface, the author says that he derives his principles from the very nature of things. The infinite variety of laws and morals is by no means due to the arbitrariness of fantasy: particular cases are subject to general principles, and the history of any people follows from them as a consequence. It is useless to blame the establishment of this or that country, and only those persons who have received from birth the gift of genius to penetrate the entire organization of the state with one glance have the right to propose changes. The main task is to educate, for the prejudices inherent in the governing bodies were originally the prejudices of the people. If the author could heal people from their inherent prejudices, he would consider himself the happiest of mortals.
Everything has its own laws: they are in the deity, and in the material world, and in beings of the superhuman mind, and in animals, and in humans. It is the greatest absurdity to assert that the phenomena of the visible world are governed by blind destiny. God relates to the world as a creator and protector: he creates according to the same laws by which he protects. Consequently, the work of creation only seems to be an act of arbitrariness, for it presupposes a number of rules - just as inevitable as the fate of atheists. All laws are preceded by the laws of nature arising from the very structure of the human being. A man in a natural state feels his weakness, because everything makes him awe and puts him to flight - therefore the world is the first natural law. A feeling of weakness is combined with a feeling of one's needs - the desire to get food for oneself is the second natural law. Mutual attraction, inherent in all animals of the same breed, gave rise to the third law - a request made by man to man. But people are tied by such threads that animals do not have - that is why the desire to live in society is the fourth natural law.
As soon as people unite in society, they lose consciousness of their weakness - equality disappears and war begins. Each individual society begins to realize its strength - hence the state of war between peoples. The laws governing the relationship between them constitute international law. Individuals in every society begin to feel their strength - hence the war between citizens. The laws governing the relationship between them constitute civil law. In addition to international law, which applies to all societies, each of them individually is governed by its own laws - together they form the political state of the state. The forces of individuals cannot unite without the unity of their will, which forms the civil state of society.
Generally speaking, the law is the human mind, since it governs all the peoples of the earth, and the political and civil laws of each people should be no more than special cases of the application of this reason. These laws are in such close correspondence with the characteristics of the people for whom they are established that only in extremely rare cases the laws of one people can be suitable for another people. Laws must be consistent with the nature and principles of the established government; the physical properties of the country and its climate - cold, hot or temperate; soil qualities; the way of life of its peoples - farmers, hunters or shepherds; the degree of freedom allowed by the structure of the state; religion of the population, its inclinations, wealth, numbers, trade, morals and customs. The totality of all these relationships can be called the "spirit of laws."
There are three types of government: republican, monarchical, and despotic. In a republic, the supreme power is in the hands of either the entire people or a part of it; under a monarchy, one person rules, but by means of established unchanging laws; despotism is characterized by the fact that everything moves by the will and arbitrariness of one person outside of any laws and regulations.
If in the republic the supreme power belongs to the entire people, then this is democracy. When the supreme power is in the hands of a part of the people, such rule is called aristocracy. In a democracy, the people are in some respects the sovereign, and in some respects they are the subjects. He is the sovereign only by virtue of votes, by which he expresses his will. The will of the sovereign is the sovereign himself, therefore the laws that determine the right to vote are fundamental for this type of government. In the aristocracy, the supreme power is in the hands of a group of persons: these persons issue laws and make them obey, and the rest of the people is in relation to them what the subjects of the monarchy are in relation to the sovereign. The worst of the aristocracy is the one where the part of the people who obey is in civil slavery to the one who commands: an example is the aristocracy of Poland, where the peasants are slaves to the nobility. Excessive power given to one citizen in a republic constitutes a monarchy and even more than a monarchy. In a monarchy, laws protect the state structure or adapt to it, therefore the principle of government restrains the sovereign - in a republic, a citizen who has seized extraordinary power has much more opportunities to abuse it, since he does not meet opposition from laws that did not provide for this circumstance.
In a monarchy, the source of all political and civil power is the sovereign himself, but there are also intermediary channels through which power moves. Eliminate the prerogatives of lords, clergy, nobility and cities in the monarchy, and very soon you will get a state either popular or despotic as a result. In despotic states, where there are no basic laws, there are also no institutions protecting them. This explains the special strength that religion usually acquires in these countries: it replaces the continuously operating guardian institution; sometimes, the place of religion is taken by customs, which are worshiped instead of laws.
Each type of government has its own principles: a republic needs virtue, a monarchy needs honor, and a despotic government needs fear. It does not need virtue, and honor would be dangerous for him. When an entire nation lives according to some principles, all its constituent parts, that is, families, live according to the same principles. The laws of upbringing are the first that a person meets in his life. They differ according to the type of government: in monarchies their subject is honor, in republics - virtue, in despotism - fear. No government needs education to the extent that the republican government does. Fear in despotic states arises by itself under the influence of threats and punishments. Honor in monarchies finds support in the passions of man and itself serves as their support. But political virtue is selflessness - a very difficult thing. This virtue can be defined as love for the laws and the fatherland - love, which requires a constant preference for the public good over the personal, lies at the foundation of all private virtues. This love receives special strength in democracies, because only there the government is entrusted to every citizen.
Virtue in the republic is a very simple thing: it is love for the republic, this is a feeling, and not a series of information. It is as accessible to the last person in the state as to the one who takes the first place in it. Love for the republic in a democracy is love for democracy, and love for democracy is love for equality. The laws of such a state should in every possible way support the general desire for equality. In monarchies and in despotic states, no one strives for equality: even the thought of this does not occur to anyone, for everyone there strives for exaltation. People of the lowest position want to get out of it only in order to dominate other people. Since the principle of monarchical government is honor, the laws must support the know, which is, so to speak, and the creator and creation of this honor. Under despotic rule, you do not need to have many laws: everything rests on two or three ideas, and new ones are not required. When Charles XII, being in Bender, met some opposition to his will from the Swedish Senate, he wrote to the senators that he would send his boot to command them. This boot would command no worse than a despotic sovereign.
The disintegration of every board almost always begins with the dissolution of principles. The principle of democracy disintegrates not only when the spirit of equality is lost, but also when the spirit of equality is taken to an extreme and everyone wants to be equal to those whom he has elected to rule. In this case, the people refuse to recognize the authorities they themselves have appointed and wants to do everything themselves: to consult instead of the Senate, to rule instead of officials and to judge instead of judges. Then there is no place for virtue in the republic. The people want to fulfill the duties of rulers, which means that the rulers are no longer respected. The aristocracy suffers damage when the power of the nobility becomes arbitrary: at the same time, there can no longer be virtue either for those who govern or those that govern. Monarchies perish when the prerogatives of estates and the privileges of cities are gradually abolished. In the first case, they go to the despotism of all; in the second, to the despotism of one. The principle of monarchy also disintegrates when the highest positions in the state become the last stages of slavery, when dignitaries are deprived of the respect of the people and turn them into a miserable instrument of tyranny. The principle of the despotic state is continually decaying because it is flawed by its very nature. If the principles of government have gone bad, the best laws become bad and turn against the state; when principles are sound, even bad laws produce the same consequences as good ones, the power of the principle conquers everything.
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Republic, by its very nature, requires a small territory, otherwise it will not hold out. In a large republic there will be more wealth, and, consequently, immoderate desires. A monarchical state should be of medium size: if it were small, it would have formed as a republic; and if it were too extensive, then the first persons of the state, strong in their very position, being far from the sovereign and having their own court, could cease to obey him - they would not be frightened by the threat of too distant and delayed punishment. The vast size of the empire is a prerequisite for despotic rule. It is necessary that the remoteness of the places where the orders of the ruler are sent to be balanced by the speed of their execution; that fear should serve as an obstacle holding back the negligence on the part of the chiefs of distant regions; so that one person is the personification of the law.
Small republics perish from an external enemy, and large ones - from an internal ulcer. Republics protect themselves by uniting with each other, while despotic states for the same purpose separate and, one might say, isolate themselves from each other. Sacrificing part of their country, they devastate the outskirts and turn them into a desert, as a result of which the core of the state becomes inaccessible. The monarchy never destroys itself, but a medium-sized state can be invaded - therefore the monarchy has fortresses to defend the borders and an army to defend these fortresses. The smallest piece of land defends itself there with great skill, tenacity and courage. Despotic states make invasions against each other - wars are fought only between monarchies.
In every state there are three types of power: legislative power, executive power in charge of international law, and executive power in charge of civil law. The latter power can be called the judiciary, and the second - simply the executive power of the state. If the legislative and executive powers are united in one person or institution, then there will be no freedom, since one can fear that this monarch or this senate will create tyrannical laws in order to apply them tyrannically as well. There will be no freedom even if the judiciary is not separated from the legislative and executive branches. If it is combined with the legislative power, then the life and freedom of the citizen will be at the mercy of arbitrariness, for the judge will be the legislator. If the judiciary is combined with the executive, then the judge is able to become the oppressor. Sovereigns who strove for despotism always began by uniting in their person all the separate powers. The Turks, where these three powers are united in the person of the Sultan, have a terrifying despotism. But the British managed to establish an excellent system of balance of power through laws.
Political slavery depends on the nature of the climate. Excessive heat undermines the strength and vigor of people, and the cold climate gives the mind and body a certain strength that makes people capable of long, difficult, great and courageous actions. This difference can be observed not only when comparing one people with another, but also when comparing different regions of the same country: the peoples of North China are more courageous than the peoples of South China; the peoples of South Korea are inferior in this respect to the peoples of North Korea. It should not be surprising that the cowardice of the peoples of the hot climate almost always led them to slavery, while the courage of the peoples of the cold climate kept them free. It should be added that the islanders are more inclined towards freedom than the inhabitants of the continent. The islands are usually small in size, and it is more difficult to use one part of the population to oppress another. They are separated from large empires by the sea, which blocks the path of conquerors and prevents them from supporting tyrannical rule, so it is easier for the islanders to maintain their laws. Trade has a great influence on the laws, for it heals people from burdensome prejudices. It can be considered almost a general rule that wherever morals are meek, there is trade, and wherever there is trade, there is also meek morals. Thanks to trade, all peoples learned the customs of other peoples and were able to compare them. This led to beneficial consequences. But the spirit of commerce, uniting nations, does not unite individuals. In countries where people are only inspired by the spirit of commerce, all their deeds and even moral virtues become the subject of bargaining. At the same time, the spirit of commerce generates in people a sense of strict justice: this feeling is opposite, on the one hand, to the desire for robbery, and on the other, to those moral virtues that encourage us not only to pursue our own benefits unswervingly, but also to sacrifice them for the sake of other people. It can be said that the laws of commerce improve manners for the same reason they destroy them. Trade corrupts pure morals - Plato spoke about this. At the same time, it polishes and softens barbaric morals, for the complete absence of trade leads to robberies. Some peoples sacrifice trade interests for the sake of political interests. England has always sacrificed political interests for the sake of her trade. This people, better than any other people in the world, was able to take advantage of three elements that are of great importance: religion, trade and freedom. Muscovy would like to abandon its despotism - and cannot. Trade, in order to become solid, requires transactions of exchange, but transactions of exchange are contrary to all the laws of this country. The subjects of the empire, like slaves, do not have the right, without special permission, either to go abroad or send their property there - therefore, the exchange rate, which makes it possible to transfer money from one country to another, contradicts the laws of Muscovy, and trade by its nature contradicts such restrictions ...
The laws of the country are strongly influenced by religion. Even among false religions one can find those that are most consistent with the goals of public good - although they do not lead a person to the afterlife bliss, they can contribute a lot to his earthly happiness. If we compare only the character of the Christian and Mohammedan religions, one should unconditionally accept the first and reject the second, because it is much more obvious that religion should soften the mores of people, somehow which of them is true. The Mohammedan sovereigns incessantly sow death around them and themselves perish a violent death. Woe to humanity when religion is given by a conqueror. The Mohammedan religion continues to inspire people with the same spirit of extermination that created it. On the contrary, pure despotism is alien to the Christian religion: thanks to the meekness so insistently prescribed by the gospel, it resists the indomitable anger that prompts the sovereign to arbitrariness and cruelty. Only the Christian religion prevented despotism from establishing itself in Ethiopia, despite the vastness of this empire and its bad climate - thus the customs and laws of Europe were introduced inside Africa. Когда два века назад христианскую религию постигло злополучное разделение, северные народы приняли протестантство, южные же остались католиками. Причина этому та, что у северных народов существует и всегда будет существовать дух независимости и свободы, поэтому религия без видимого главы более соответствует духу независимости этого климата, чем та, которая имеет подобного главу.
Свобода человека заключается главным образом в том, чтобы его не принуждали совершать действия, которые закон ему не предписывает. Начала государственного права требуют, чтобы всякий человек подчинялся уголовному и гражданскому праву той страны, в которой он находится. Эти начала были жестоко нарушены испанцами в Перу: инку Атауальпа можно было судить лишь на основании международного права, а они судили его на основании государственного и гражданского права. Но верхом их безрассудства было то, что они осудили его на основании государственных и гражданских законов своей страны.
Дух умеренности должен быть духом законодателя, ибо политическое благо, как и благо нравственное, всегда находится между двумя пределами. Например, для свободы необходимы судебные формальности, но число их может быть столь велико, что они станут препятствовать целям тех самых законов, которые их установили: при этом граждане потеряют свободу и безопасность, обвинитель не будет иметь возможности доказать обвинение, а обвиняемый — оправдаться. При составлении законов должно соблюдать известные правила. Слог их должен быть сжатым. Законы двенадцати таблиц служили образцом точности — дети заучивали их на память. Новеллы же Юстиниана были столь многословны, что их пришлось сократить. Слог законов должен быть простым и не допускать различных толкований. Закон Гонория наказывал смертью того, кто покупал вольноотпущенника, как раба, или же причинял ему беспокойство. Не следовало употреблять столь неопределенное выражение. Понятие причиняемого человеку беспокойства всецело зависит от степени его впечатлительности. Законы не должны вдаваться в тонкости: они предназначены для людей посредственных и содержат в себе не искусство логики, а здравые понятия простого отца семейства. Когда закон не нуждается в исключениях, ограничениях и видоизменениях, то лучше всего обходиться без них, поскольку такие подробности влекут за собой новые подробности. Ни в коем случае нельзя давать законам форму, которая противна природе вещей: так, в проскрипции принца Оранского Филипп II обещал пять тысяч экю и дворянство тому, кто совершит убийство — этот король одновременно попрал понятия чести, нравственности и религии. Наконец, законам должна быть присуща известная чистота. Предназначенные для наказания людской злобы, они должны сами обладать совершенной непорочностью.