The Spirit of Laws - Vol. 1

By Charles de Secondat Montesquieu; Thomas Nugent | Go to book overview

BOOK VII
CONSEQUENCES OF THE DIFFERENT PRINCIPLES OF THE THREE GOVERNMENTS WITH RESPECT TO SUMPTUARY LAWS, LUXURY, AND THE CONDITION OF WOMEN

1. -- Of Luxury

LUXURY is ever in proportion to the inequality of fortunes. If the riches of a state are equally divided there will be no luxury; for it is founded merely on the conveniences acquired by the labor of others.

In order to have this equal distribution of riches, the law ought to give to each man only what is necessary for nature. If they exceed these bounds, some will spend, and others will acquire, by which means an inequality will be established.

Supposing what is necessary for the support of nature to be equal to a given sum, the luxury of those who have only what is barely necessary will be equal to a cipher: if a person happens to have double that sum, his luxury will be equal to one; he that has double the latter's substance will have a luxury equal to three; if this be still doubled, there will be a luxury equal to seven; so that the property of the subsequent individual being always supposed double to that of the preceding, the luxury will increase double, and a unit be always added, in this progression, 0, 1, 3, 7, 15, 31, 63, 127.

In Plato's republic,a luxury might have been exactly calculated. There were four sorts of censuses or rates of estates. The first was exactly the term beyond poverty, the second was double, the third triple, the fourth quadruple to the first. In the first census, luxury was equal to a cipher; in the second to

____________________
a
The first census was the hereditary share in land, and Plato would not allow them to have, in other effects, above a triple of the hereditary share. See his "Laws," book V.

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