The Spirit of Laws - Vol. 1

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

THE ANALYSIS OF "THE SPIRIT OF LAWS"

BY JEAN LE ROND D'ALEMBERT

THE generality of literary men who have mentioned "The Spirit of Laws," having rather endeavored to criticise it than to give a just idea of it, we shall endeavor to supply what they ought to have done, and to explain its plan, its nature, and its objects. Those who may think this Analysis too long will, perhaps, be of opinion, after having read it, that there was no other way of making the author's method properly understood. It ought also to be remembered that the history of celebrated writers is little more than that of their thoughts and their works, and that this part of their history is the most essential and most useful.

BOOK I. -- Men in the state of nature, abstracted from all religion, in those disputes which they may have, know no other law than that of all animals, the right of the strongest; the establishment of society ought to be regarded as a kind of treaty against this unjust title -- a treaty destined to establish a sort of balance between the different divisions of the human race.

But it happens in the moral, as in the physical equilibrium, that it is seldom perfect and stable, and the treaties of the human race are like treaties among our princes -- perpetual sources of dispute. Interest, necessity, and pleasure made men associate together. The same motives urge them continually to desire the advantages of society without the burdens of it; and it is in this sense that we may say with our author that men, from the time they enter society, are in a state of war. For war supposes in those who make it, if not an equality of strength, at least an assumption of this equality: whence arise the mutual desire and hope of conquest. Now, in a state of society, if the balance among men be never perfect, neither is it, on the other hand, very unequal. But, in a state of nature, on the contrary, they would either have nothing to dispute about, or, if neces-

-xv-

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