The Spirit of Laws; A Discourse on the Origin of Inequality; A Discourse on Political Economy; The Social Contract

By Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu; Jean Jacques Rousseau | Go to book overview

agement is established--witness Persia and China.1 The unhappiest of all are those where the prince farms out his sea-ports and trading cities. The history of monarchies abounds with mischiefs done by the farmers of the revenue.

Incensed at the oppressive extortions of the publicans, Nero formed a magnanimous but impracticable scheme of abolishing all kinds of imposts. He did not think of managing the revenues by commissioners, but he made four edicts:2 that the laws enacted against publicans, which had hitherto been kept secret, should be promulgated; that they should exact no claims for above a year backward; that there should be a prætor established to determine their pretensions without any formality; and that the merchants should pay no duty for their vessels. These were the halcyon days of that emperor.

20. Of the Farmers of the Revenues. When the lucrative profession of a farmer of the revenue becomes likewise a post of honour, the state is ruined. It may do well enough in despotic governments, where this employment is oftentimes exercised by the governors themselves. But it is by no means proper in a republic, since a custom of the like nature destroyed that of Rome. Nor is it better in monarchies, nothing being more opposite to the spirit of this government. All the other orders of the state are dissatisfied; honour loses its whole value; the gradual and natural means of distinction are no longer respected; and the very principle of the government is subverted.

It is true indeed that scandalous fortunes were raised in former times; but this was one of the calamities of the Fifty Years' War. These riches were then considered as ridiculous; now we admire them.

Every profession has its particular lot. That of the tax-gatherers is wealth; and wealth is its own reward. Glory and honour fall to the share of that nobility who are sensible of no other happiness. Respect and esteem are for those ministers and magistrates whose whole life is a continued series of labour, and who watch day and night over the welfare of the empire.

. . .


BOOK XIV. OF LAWS IN RELATION TO THE
NATURE OF THE CLIMATE

1. General Idea. If it be true that the temper of the mind and the passions of the heart are extremely different in different climates, the laws ought to be in relation both to the variety of those passions and to the variety of those tempers.

2. Of the Difference of Men in different Climates. Cold air constringes the extremities of the external fibres of the body;3 this increases their elasticity, and favours the return of the blood from the extreme parts to the heart. It contracts4 those very fibres; consequently it increases also their force. On the contrary, warm air relaxes and lengthens the extremes of the fibres; of course it diminishes their force and elasticity.

People are therefore more vigorous in cold climates. Here the action of the heart and the reaction of the extremities of the fibres are better performed, the temperature of the humours is greater, the blood moves more freely towards the heart, and reciprocally the heart has more power. This superiority of strength must produce various effects; for instance, a greater boldness, that is, more courage; a greater sense of superiority, that is, less desire of revenge; a greater opinion of security, that is, more frankness, less suspicion, policy, and cunning. In short, this must be productive of very different tempers. Put a man into a close, warm place, and for the reasons above given he will feel a great faintness. If under this circumstance you propose a bold enterprise to him, I believe you will find him very little disposed towards it; his present weakness will throw him into despondency; he will be afraid of everything, being in a state of total incapacity. The inhabitants of warm countries are, like old men, timorous; the people in cold countries are, like young men, brave. If we reflect on the late wars,5 which are more recent in our memory, and in which we can better distinguish some particular effects that escape us at a greater distance of time, we shall find

____________________
1
See Sir John Chardin Travels through Persia, vi.
2
Tacitus, Annals, xiii. 51.
3
This appears even in the countenance: in cold weather people look thinner.
4
We know that it shortens iron.
5
Those for the succession to the Spanish monarchy.

-102-

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