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

trade and industry has been established in England.

At Rome, the hospitals place every one at his ease except those who labour, except those who are industrious, except those who have land, except those who are engaged in trade.

I have observed that wealthy nations have need of hospitals, because fortune subjects them to a thousand accidents; but it is plain that transient assistances are much better than perpetual foundations. The evil is momentary; it is necessary, therefore, that the succour should be of the same nature, and that it be applied to particular accidents.


BOOK XXIV. OF LAWS IN RELATION TO RELIGION CONSIDERED IN
ITSELF, AND IN ITS DOCTRINES

1. Of Religion in General. As amidst several degrees of darkness we may form a judgment of those which are the least thick, and among precipices which are the least deep, so we may search among false religions for those that are most conformable to the welfare of society; for those which, though they have not the effect of leading men to the felicity of another life, may contribute most to their happiness in this.

I shall examine, therefore, the several religions of the world, in relation only to the good they produce in civil society, whether I speak of that which has its root in heaven, or of those which spring from the earth.

As in this work I am not a divine but a political writer, I may here advance things which are not otherwise true than as they correspond with a worldly manner of thinking, not as considered in their relation to truths of a more sublime nature.

With regard to the true religion, a person of the least degree of impartiality must see that I have never pretended to make its interests submit to those of a political nature, but rather to unite them; now, in order to unite, it is necessary that we should know them.

The Christian religion, which ordains that men should love each other, would, without doubt, have every nation blest with the best civil, the best political laws; because these, next to this religion, are the greatest good that men can give and receive.

2. A Paradox of M. Bayle's. M. Bayle has pretended to prove1 that it is better to be an Atheist than an Idolater; that is, in other words, that it is less dangerous to have no religion at all than a bad one. "I had rather," said he, "it should be said of me that I had no existence than that I am a villain." This is only a sophism founded on this, that it is of no importance to the human race to believe that a certain man exists, whereas it is extremely useful for them to believe the existence of a God. From the idea of his non-existence immediately follows that of our independence; or, if we cannot conceive this idea, that of disobedience. To say that religion is not a restraining motive, because it does not always restrain, is equally absurd as to say that the civil laws are not a restraining motive. It is a false way of reasoning against religion to collect, in a large work, a long detail of the evils it has produced if we do not give at the same time an enumeration of the advantages which have flowed from it. Were I to relate all the evils that have arisen in the world from civil laws, from monarchy, and from republican government, I might tell of frightful things. Were it of no advantage for subjects to have religion, it would still be of some, if princes had it, and if they whitened with foam the only rein which can restrain those who fear not human laws.

A prince who loves and fears religion is a lion, who stoops to the hand that strokes, or to the voice that appeases him. He who fears and hates religion is like the savage beast that growls and bites the chain which prevents his flying on the passenger. He who has no religion at all is that terrible animal who perceives his liberty only when he tears in pieces and when he devours.

The question is not to know whether it would be better that a certain man or a certain people had no religion than to abuse what they have, but to know what is the least evil, that religion be sometimes abused, or that there be no such restraint as religion an mankind.

To diminish the horror of Atheism, they lay too much to the charge of idolatry. It is far from being true that when the ancients raised altars to a particular vice, they intended to show that they loved the vice; this signified,

____________________
1
Thoughts on the Comet, Continuation of Thoughts an the Comet, ii.

-200-

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