The Spirit of Laws - Vol. 1

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

BOOK X
OF LAWS IN THE RELATION THEY BEAR TO OFFENSIVE FORCE

1. -- Of offensive Force.

OFFENSIVE force is regulated by the law of nations, which is the political law of each country considered in its relation to every other.


2. -- Of War

The life of governments is like that of man. The latter has a right to kill in case of natural defence: the former have a right to wage war for their own preservation.

In the case of natural defence I have a right to kill, because my life is in respect to me what the life of my antagonist is to him: in the same manner a state wages war because its preservation is like that of any other being.

With individuals the right of natural defence does not imply a necessity of attacking. Instead of attacking they need only have recourse to proper tribunals. They cannot, therefore, exercise this right of defence but in sudden cases, when immediate death would be the consequence of waiting for the assistance of the law. But with states the right of natural defence carries along with it sometimes the necessity of attacking; as, for instance, when one nation sees that a continuance of peace will enable another to destroy her, and that to attack that nation instantly is the only way to prevent her own destruction.

Thence it follows that petty states have oftener a right to declare war than great ones, because they are oftener in the case of being afraid of destruction.

The right, therefore, of war is derived from necessity and strict justice. If those who direct the conscience or councils of princes do not abide by this maxim, the consequence is

-133-

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