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

ward will be in danger of losing the north; but he who fixes it on the north may easily preserve the south. I do not speak of 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.


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 says2 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

____________________
1
Book vii. 7.
2
Solon.
3
Or he who wrote the book De Mirabilibus.

-125-

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